Chapter 1: Assignment
Tim McManus assigns groups for a project in his English class. The students are not happy.
Chapter One: Assignment
Tim McManus looked down at the sheet in front of him and sighed. He had no doubt that most of the students would not be too happy about the groups he'd assigned them, but it was for the best, he knew. The kids were too used to hanging out in their own groups, and they needed to get a new perspective. Plus, he was sick and tired of all the fighting that went on in his classroom; English literature was not supposed to involve so much name calling and threats to beat each other up over minor disagreements.
"All right, everybody listen up. This semester's project will have everybody working in pairs. Each pair will have to pick one character from any of the books we've read this year and do a character analysis. You'll get a little bit of time today to pick a character, and we'll be working on this project for the next couple weeks," Mr. McManus said. "Now listen carefully for your name. I don't want to have to do this twice."
The class collectively groaned at the suggestion of a project – and Tim would never understand why the students had such a fervent hatred for projects – but when he started calling out the groups, the groans got louder. "Miguel Alvarez and Arnold Jackson. Ryan O'Reily and Simon Adebisi –"
"Hey, McManus!" Ryan exclaimed. "Are you crazy? I can't work with Adebisi!" The righteous indignation his face might have been funny in some other situation, but McManus was already annoyed. O'Reily tended to piss him off even on a good day, always riling up the other students against each other. Kid had his fingers in too many pies, and McManus didn't like it at all.
"I don't want to hear it," McManus replied. "Shut up and let me finish." He continued to read off the list of groups, to more complaints from the students. He finished with "Tobias Beecher and Chris Keller," and was not at all surprised when Tobias's arm shot straight up upon hearing his partner's name.
"Mr. McManus!" Tobias looked like he was going to have a fit over this. Toby was a good kid, if such a thing could be said about any of the students. He worked hard, got good grades, rarely complained. In fact, Tim wished he could have more students like Toby, but he knew that was never going to happen. He just hoped that by putting Toby with Chris, the former's influence might rub off on the latter and maybe tone Chris's attitude down just a bit. It was only for a couple weeks for this one project, but McManus had high hopes.
"No, Beecher, I'm not changing the groups," McManus said. "If I hear any complaining, I'm docking your grades. Now stop whining and get into your groups, all right? I'm going to be going around and checking in with everybody. You have to have your character chosen by the end of the class period, all right?" He looked around at the rest of the students and saw only annoyed and frustrated faces. Sometimes he could not believe how spoiled some of these kids were; they acted like they should just everything they wanted just because they were teenagers. Well, they'd learn the real world wasn't going to bend to their will that quickly. He sighed and waited while the kids got into their groups.
Tobias Beecher always sat in the front row of the classroom so he could see the board better – even with his glasses, his vision still wasn't perfect. He also found it easier to contribute to the class discussion when he was right up front; it was the same in every class.
Now, though, it was easier for him to get out of his chair and walk over to Mr. McManus's desk while the rest of the students were getting into the groups. "Mr. McManus," he said softly. "Um, I think you made a mistake. You know I can't work with somebody like Chris Keller," he said.
Mr. McManus gave him a withering look. Toby had seen that look before, but it had never been directed at him, and he wasn't sure what to think of that. "I told you, Toby, I don't want to hear it. I'm not changing the groups no matter how much you complain about it. Now get with your partner and start choosing a character. You've only got ten minutes left of the class period, and you'll have even less if you keep whining. I meant what I said about docking your grade."
Toby sighed. He wanted to argue that there was no way he could keep up his steady stream of A's if he was working with a slacker like Chris. His GPA was going to be ruined, and how was he ever going to get into law school that way? His father was going to be very disappointed in him. However, Mr. McManus didn't look too receptive to suggestions right now, so Toby decided that it wasn't worth arguing right now. He'd try again tomorrow.
Turning around to go back to his desk, Toby realized that Chris had already pushed two desks together and was sitting in his with his hands folded on top of his own desk, waiting for Toby. The smirk on his face just made Toby wary about what the other boy could possibly be thinking; Toby wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Chris winked at him. "You gonna sit, or are you gonna stand there and admire my physique?"
Toby tried and failed not to blush. Chris Keller was one of those guys who thought a wife beater and jeans constituted a school-appropriate outfit. Granted, Toby had to admit that Chris did have a nice, muscular body – probably from beating up all the freshmen after school – but that didn't mean that Toby was staring at him or anything like that.
He sat. "I want to do our project on Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings," Toby said. He'd come up with the idea as soon as McManus had told them what the project was going to be. Ideas were already forming in his head and he didn't want Chris to ruin them.
Chris stared at him. "Well I didn't like that book," he said, shrugging. "Let's pick something different." He leaned forward in his chair, sliding his hand across the table to rest it atop Toby's.
Instantly, Toby flinched away, pulling his hand out of Chris's reach. "Don't touch me," he said. "And we're not doing something different. I want to do the project on Sam Gamgee, so that's what we're doing." He spoke with an air of finality and hoped that Chris couldn't detect the waver in his voice. It was stupid to be so affected by a simple touch of the hand, but he was.
"Christ, you are so tense," Chris said, holding up his hands in defense, like he thought Toby was going to attack him. "It's just a project. It's not the end of the fuckin world." He shook his head. "Calm the fuck down. We'll do the stupid hobbit if that's what you want." He waved his hand dismissively and went back to leaning in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest.
Toby ignored that and started jotting things down in his notebook.
McManus approached their desks. "Did you boys pick a character yet?" he asked.
"Sam from Lord of the Rings," Toby said immediately.
McManus nodded, but he didn't leave right away. "You do realize that the both of you are supposed to be working on this project together." He looked at Toby. "Toby, you're missing the point of the project if you do all the work yourself." He looked as though he was going to say something else, but the end-of-class bell rang, interrupting whatever he'd intended to say.
"Hey Beecher! How's it hanging, sweet pea?" The taunting, sing-song voice made Toby's hands clench up on his lunch tray. The one thing Toby dreaded about lunch time was that it meant he had to deal with Vern Shillinger, Oswald High School's resident asshole. Ever since Toby had started high school as a freshman, Shillinger had taken it upon himself to make Toby's life a living hell. He'd done a good job so far, but apparently that wasn't enough. No, Shillinger and his friends delighted in making Toby miserable and they weren't going to stop it any time soon.
"Just ignore him," Bob said quietly. He was walking beside Toby and carrying a lunch tray of his own. Bob was one of the few friends Toby had at this school. Being smart wasn't something that really earned one a lot of friends in high school, and Toby spent too much time on his school work to have any spare time to bother with a social life. Bob understood that, hence why he and Toby were friends.
Following Bob's advice, Toby continued to walk toward the lunch table with Bob, doing the best that he could to ignore the laughing that was going on behind him. He could imagine what sorts of gestures Shillinger was making at his back, but Toby did his best to pretend as though he didn't notice.
Finally, Shillinger seemed to get tired of Toby's lack of response, because he brushed past Toby and walked off toward his own lunch table, but not before he bumped Toby's arm, nearly knocking the tray out of the smaller boy's hands.
His buddies all laughed at that, giggling amongst themselves all the way to their table. Toby was reminded of a pack of hyenas from a nature documentary. He just wished some lion would come and gobble them all up, leaving nothing but bloody carcasses for the vultures to pick at.
Toby and Bob reached the table where Agamemnon and Augustus were already seated without any further incident, and Toby promptly started in on his soggy French fries. He wondered to himself why he hadn't bothered to pack a lunch when he knew that the food at home would be better than this slop, but didn't get very far in that thought process when suddenly –
"Hey, Shillinger, I think you owe Beecher an apology!" Chris Keller's voice traveled the length of the cafeteria with no trouble, and about half of the large number of students present in the cafeteria turned to look at him, heads swiveling around to see what was going on.
Toby was white as a ghost. What was Chris doing? Why did he have to bring Toby into it?
"What the fuck are you yelling about, Keller?" Shillinger said, standing up from his table. One of his friends – the one with all the tattoos, whose name Toby could not remember – stood up as well.
Keller was halfway across the cafeteria from Shillinger and his pals, but he radiated an air of authority that drew all eyes toward him, Toby included. "Beecher? You just knocked into him and you didn't even apologize." And when Keller pointed over to his table, where Toby was sitting – well, having the entire cafeteria looking at him made Toby want to crawl into a hole and die.
"Don't know what you're talking about," Shillinger said. "Maybe you should mind your own fuckin business." He stepped closer and Toby could tell even from where he was sitting that Shillinger was starting to tense up, like he wanted to start something.
It was at this point that the lunch monitor, Ms. Howell, finally decided to step in. "All right, you two. Keep it down. We're trying to have lunch here." She looked at Keller as though challenging him to keep going. The thing was that Ms. Howell was almost a good match for Chris in a fight.
Chris didn't take her unspoken challenge, though. Instead, he sauntered over to Toby's table, making Bob scoot over to make room for him, across the table from Toby.
"Hey," he said, like maybe he thought Toby wouldn't say anything about the way he'd just insinuated himself into their group without a second though. "Shillinger's kind of a dick, isn't he?"
"Do you think I'm going to be your friend now because you stuck up for me?" Toby asked, incredulous at Chris's attitude. "How easy do you think I am?"
Augustus looked like he wanted to make a joke of that, but Bob elbowed him before he could.
Chris smirked. "Look, Toby, I'm cool if you don't want to be friends," he said, and leaned across the table. "But we do have to work on this project together, and it'll be a hell of a lot easier if you decide to be civil to me." Then he reached onto Toby's tray and took a French fry, popping it into his mouth.
"Let me guess," Augustus said, "McManus's class?" He sighed a little. "He put me with Chucky Pancamo for that project. I don't know what the hell he thinks he's doing. How the hell am I supposed to work with a muscle head like Chucky?" He shook his head. "I'll end up doing all the work."
Toby ignored him and instead looked at Chris again. "Fine," he said. "We're working on the project, but after that, we're not hanging out together, okay? We're not friends and we never will be."
Chris seemed to accept this. "Good. We'll meet at your house after school to get started." He snagged another French fry off Toby's plate before scooting off the bench and wandering off.
It was only after he'd walked off that Toby realized what Chris had said. "Wait – my house?" he said, looking to his friends for confirmation that he'd heard correctly.
"Looks like somebody's going to have a fun afternoon," teased Augustus.
Toby wasn't so sure about that.
Like I said, I fudged with the ages. Most of the inmates are students, and everybody that's not an inmate (Sister Pete, McManus, etc) is probably a teacher of some kind.
Chapter 2: After School
Toby and Chris end up at Toby's house to work on their project a bit more.
Chapter Two: After School
School was finally finished for the day, and Toby found himself out in the parking lot with Bob Rebadow, leaning against the back bumper of Bob's hand-me-down Honda Civic. While Toby had his own car, his parents wouldn't let him drive it to school. They were afraid that somebody was going to try to vandalize it while it sat in the parking long, and Toby didn't blame them for thinking that. He wouldn't be surprised if Shillinger would do something like that as a "joke," keying a rude nickname onto the car's new paint job. So, because Toby wasn't allowed to drive his car to school, he got rides to and from school with Bob instead. It was a hell of a lot better that than the school bus.
"We should just go," Toby said, sighing impatiently. He didn't want to wait here any longer.
"I thought we were waiting for Chris," Bob said. "Don't you have to work on that project together tonight?" he asked. He tilted his head a bit as though he were trying to see inside Toby's head.
"Look, it's ten past. If he was going to come, he should have been here already," Toby pointed out. "I'm not going to waste time with him anyway. He's a dick." The venom in his voice was surprising even to Toby himself, but he was already annoyed with Chris.
He was about to open his mouth again to tell Bob that they really should just head home when somebody on a motorcycle drove up and nearly ran the two of them over, stopping the bike next to Bob's car. Even before the rider took his helmet off, Toby knew that it was Chris on the bike.
"You ready?" Chris asked him.
"Pardon?" Toby stared. Chris couldn't possibly mean –
"You'll have to ride in the bitch seat," Chris said, "but you'll fit. I'll even let you have the helmet." He winked before tossing the helmet at Toby, who managed to catch it, though just barely.
"You want me to ride your motorcycle?" Toby asked incredulously. "Are you insane?" He glanced at Bob for support in this statement, but his friend just shrugged noncommittally.
"It's perfectly safe," Chris said. "And how else do you think we're going to get to your house? My bike's not gonna fit in the truck of your friend's car," he pointed out.
Toby had to concede that point. "I've never been on a motorcycle before," he admitted.
Chris grinned at that. "Of course you haven't. You're a spoiled rich boy honor student. Now stop whining and put on the fuckin helmet so you can have the second best ride of your life." He winked exaggeratedly at his little joke, and then teasingly licked his lips at Toby.
As much as he didn't want to, Toby found himself blushing at Chris's horrible innuendo. Bob just looked shocked, and Toby was surprised that Bob even got the joke, but maybe it was Chris's gestures that had him offended rather than the intent behind his comment.
"All right," Toby said. He put on the helmet and fastened the chin strap, feeling something akin to dread ball up in the pit of his stomach. He could only hope that Chris knew what he was doing and wasn't purposely trying to kill Toby or anything like that. He told himself that it was just a motorcycle; it wasn't as though he was hang-gliding or waterskiing. People rode motorcycles every day and didn't die.
He climbed onto the seat and took a minute to make himself comfortable, which was hard considering the design of the bike and the fact that it did not appear to have been made to comfortably seat two people. There was enough room for Toby, at least, but he had to lean really closely to Chris in order to hold on and feel safe.
"That's right, babe. Get right up close. Wouldn't want you to fall off," Chris encouraged. "Tuck your arms around my waist," he urged.
While Toby objected to being called 'babe,' he did follow Chris's advice and tucked in close.
"You ready?" Chris asked him.
Afraid to move too much for fear of losing his grip, Toby just nodded against Chris's back.
"All right," Chris said, and that was all the warning Toby got before he started the bike up again and they squealed out of the parking lot with Toby holding on tight. He didn't even get to wave goodbye to Bob on the way out.
It occurred to him, once they were driving down the main road toward the better part of town, that he hadn't told Chris where he lived. Chris didn't ask him, either, but he apparently knew where to go regardless. Toby told himself that there was a good reason for that; maybe Chris had asked one of Toby's friends at some point. There didn't have to be a sinister reason for it, right?
After a ride that seemed to last both far too long and not long enough, Chris pulled his motorcycle into Toby's driveway and turned it off, kicking the stand down.
Toby climbed off as quickly as he could, working the buckle on the helmet. "All right," he said. "Let's get this started. I've got a lot of other homework to work on today, too, and I don't have all night to waste on this project." Maybe he was being a bit rude, but really, the best defense was a good offense, and he really didn't want to have to deal with Chris's attitude any more than necessary.
Chris followed him into the house, holding the helmet that Toby had handed him. Once inside, Toby allowed Chris a couple minutes to do the usually gaping and staring that his friends did whenever they came over. Being rich meant that everyone was always shocked at the size of the house, the ornate decorations, the expensive furniture. He'd gotten used to it, but it was still annoying.
Briefly, Toby wondered if it would be all right having a delinquent like Chris in his house. What if Chris stole something? What if he broke something, or made a mess or –
Well, he'd just make sure to get Chris out of the house before his parents came home, and he'd keep a good eye on the guy to make sure that nothing terrible happened. He could do this; it couldn't be that bad, right? He'd had friends over before to work on school projects. This was no different, except that the 'friend' in question really wasn't a friend, just a self-proclaimed bad-ass who smoked out behind the school when the teachers weren't paying attention. Toby could handle this.
"Got anything to eat in this joint?" Chris asked, brushing past Toby and into the kitchen. "Wow," he said upon opening the fridge. "Even you rich people eat pizza!" He exited the fridge, brandishing a plate of leftover takeout pizza as though it was some kind of embarrassing evidence. "Mind if I have some?" he asked, but without waiting for Toby's reply, he just peeled the plastic wrap off and took a slice.
Toby shrugged. "Go ahead. As long as you can eat and help me with the project at the same time, then I really don't care what you eat." It was just pizza, anyway, not filet mignon. His parents wouldn't mind whether it got eaten or not, or who was the one eating it.
While Chris devoured the pizza with all the gusto of a man that hadn't eaten in days, Toby took out his notes from class and his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and set them both on the kitchen table before sitting down next to Chris. He already had a good idea of where he wanted to take this assignment – a discussion about Sam's loyalty to Frodo, and how that made him the true hero of the story.
Chris started on his second slice of cold pizza and watched over Toby's shoulder as he took notes. "You know what I think?" he said after swallowing a mouthful of food. "I think this Sam character obviously has a thing for Frodo. I mean, no gardener would go all the way around Middle Earth with his employer if there wasn't something else going on there."
It took a moment for Toby to find anything to say. He was surprised to find that Chris had apparently actually read the assigned book in the first place, and even more surprised to find that Chris had actually understood enough of it to hold the opinion that Sam had a crush on Frodo. When he did speak, it was to say, "I'm sorry, what? You think that the hobbits are gay?"
Chris rolled his eyes. "Not all of 'em, but they could be. Mostly I think Sam's gay for Frodo, but I didn't read the books, so I don't know if Frodo's gay back, but come on, Toby, you don't see it?" Then he got that knowing smirk on his face again as he leaned closer, placing his hand on the top of Toby's thigh. "We should do our project on that. Analysis of how Sam is so clearly gay for Frodo Baggins. Wouldn't that be sweet?" he asked with a grin.
For one long moment, Toby found himself distracted by the way Chris's eyes pierced his own, by the proximity of Chris's body and the other boy's body heat, the heady masculine scent that should not have affected him so much. Then he shook himself out of it. "What? No, Chris, we're not writing our paper about Sam being gay. McManus would fail us both, and I don't need any failing grades." He was thinking about his future with law school again.
Chris was sitting on the edge of his chair now, pushing his knee into the side of Toby's leg and then sliding his hand just a bit further up Toby's thigh. "McManus won't care," he said in a low voice. "As long as we do the assignment and it's not total crap, he won't care what our topic is. C'mon, Toby, you know my idea is a good one." He was close enough that Toby could smell the pizza on his breath.
I'm not gay, Toby told himself. I'm not attracted to Chris. No matter what he told his head, though, his body begged to differ. He'd never been this irrationally horny before, other than the time he'd had that completely crazy sex dream about the assistant principal, Ms. Reimondo, who was like forty. He forced out a shaky breath, hoping that he wasn't blushing profusely. "All right," he said carefully. "We'll go with your topic, but you're going to have to help me find parts of the text that support your theory. We are not going to just blindly make this statement without any proof," he said.
Chris scooted back in his chair, taking his hand off Toby's leg and backing away. "Sweet," he said. Gone was the seductive face and the flirty touching; he acted as though he hadn't even been touching Toby in the first place, and it was confusing as hell for Toby. "Well, then, I guess we'd better get started."
What in the hell just happened? Toby thought. Had Chris just seduced him into agreeing with his suggestion for the project? The part that upset Toby the most was that he'd fallen for it! For a moment there, he'd even found himself wondering what it would have felt like to kiss another boy – to kiss Chris. Now he just felt like an idiot for not realizing that he was being played by a master.
Still a bit shaken, he took out his copy of the novel. "Why don't we start by trying to find some passages in the book that support your theory," he said, and began flipping through the pages.
"Oh wait," Chris said. "Let me grab my bag. I already marked a couple sections that might help." He was out of the chair in a flash, off to get his bag – though Toby didn't remember him having one when they'd come in. Where had he hidden it? On his bike? Was there even room for it there?
Toby took Chris's momentary absence as a chance to calm himself down. It was stupid of him to react so strongly to Chris when the other boy had hardly even done anything to him. A couple touches and a flirtatious smile was hardly enough to be considered seduction, and yet, here he was, feeling completely and thoroughly debauched. And they hadn't even kissed or anything! He wondered what his friends would say if he told them, but he vetoed that idea right off.
"You know, rich boy, you shouldn't think so hard," Chris told him as he returned with a ratty, well-used copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. "You're gonna bust a blood vessel that way." He winked at Toby as he slumped down into the chair again, flipping open to a bookmarked page in the novel. He slid the book over to Toby. "How's that for starters?" he asked, pointing to a specific paragraph.
"Hmm, that might be good," Toby said, and he uncapped his pen so that he could mark that down. He wondered when Chris had done all this work; he appeared to have marked quite a few sections down. Was he actually going to be helping out with this project after all?
Toby decided that he would accept Chris's help at face value. He wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth; not when it was such a welcome surprise.
Chris stood, slowly. He stretched his arms above his head, and Toby ignored the way his wife-beater rode up and the way his muscles flexed. He knew Chris was just trying to tease him, and he didn't want the other boy to know that it was working.
"Well," said Chris. "I guess if you're kicking me out..." He shrugged. "Walk me to the door?" He gave Toby what was probably supposed to be a sad-puppy face, but it just looked silly on him.
As much as he knew it was probably a bad idea, he agreed, stopping what he was doing to walk with Chris to the front of the house. "How old are you that you can't even walk to the door by yourself?" Toby asked, scoffing. He was teasing, of course, but he also wished that Chris had just shown himself out.
Chris shrugged. He grabbed the doorknob as though he was going to leave, but then he seemed to think better of it. He turned around and was suddenly in Toby's personal space before Toby could blink. He had one hand on Toby's arm and the other on his hip; his entire lower body was pressed tight to Toby's as he leaned in close.
Toby held his breath, afraid to even move. He didn't know what he should do, so he did nothing but stand there like a deer caught in the headlights. His body, though, responded just fine. Oh god, Chris can feel that, can't he? Oh fuck.
Instead of the kiss that Toby had been anticipating, though, Chris just huffed a laugh and released Toby as quickly as he'd grabbed him in the first place. "Thought so," he said with a grin. This time, he went for the door. "See you at school tomorrow, Toby," he called before he shut the door behind himself.
Toby stood in the front hall for a long moment, once again left wondering what had just happened. If he wasn't careful, Chris Keller was going to be the death of him.
Er, so I said that I wasn't going to apologize anymore. So hopefully everybody's still kind of in character, though I worry a bit about Rebadow, he's hard to capture right, I think.
Chapter 3: Awkward
Ryan O'Reily wants Toby to switch groups, but when he can't get to Toby, he goes through Chris. Meanwhile, Toby is struggling with his feelings after what happened at his house.
Chapter Three: Awkward
It was the morning after his encounter with Chris at his place, and Toby was at his locker, putting away the books he wouldn't need until the end of the day, when he heard somebody calling his name from down the long, mostly empty hallway.
He looked up to see Ryan O'Reily headed his way. The lanky Irish kid jogged up to him, coming to a stop about a foot or so away. Ryan braced his hand on the metal locker next to Toby's. "Beecher," he said calmly. "So you're working with Keller on that project for McManus, right?" he asked. "I'm thinking you and me should switch. I can work with Keller and you can work with Adebisi," he added with that trademark you-know-you-wanna smile. Ryan was used to getting what he wanted from everybody; he knew how to jerk people around like he was a puppeteer. It was practically his trademark.
When Toby looked a bit skeptical, Ryan continued. "I could make it worth your while," he said, and glanced around real quick before he mimed drinking from a glass.
Toby knew what that meant, and while the offer was tempting, he also thought of Chris last night, the almost-kiss that he'd spent all night dreaming about. "No thanks," Toby said, and after checking that he had everything he needed, he closed his locker. "Mr. McManus said we couldn't switch groups, and he got pretty pissed at me when I asked him. And if you think I'd pick Adebisi over Keller, then you need to reconsider. Adebisi would chew me up and spit me out!"
Besides, Toby really didn't want to think of Chris turning his seductive charm on Ryan – or Ryan using his wily ways to get Chris to do what he wanted. The idea of those two working together gave Toby a shudder; the two of them were scary enough separately, but together they could be dangerous.
Toby hefted his bag over his shoulder and slammed his locker shut. First period was Calculus and he wanted to get there before Shillinger spotted him. The hallways were the worst place for Toby to be during classes; Shillinger had eyes everywhere, and he looked for every possible opportunity to get under Toby's skin and provoke a reaction from him.
"Thanks for nothin', Beecher," Ryan grumbled. Realizing that he wasn't going to get what he wanted, Ryan started off down the hallway. He kicked the trash can by the water fountain, which only caused the school cop, Officer Murphy to shout at him about respecting school property, dammit.
Toby watched for a minute as Ryan flashed his defiant grin at Murphy, but the cop did not seem nearly as impressed as the other students usually were. "Get to class, O'Reily," Officer Murphy said. "And if I catch you doing that again, there are going to be some serious consequences. Got it?"
Ryan grinned again and said something that Toby couldn't hear. It made Officer Murphy's cheeks flush with something, though, and the cop was the one who walked away first, stalking down the hall with his face still pink. It was unsettling to see an adult so affected by Ryan's words.
Toby couldn't help being a bit worried about the fact that even somebody like Officer Murphy – a cop who was supposed to keep the kids in line – could be intimidated by Ryan O'Reily. He was left with the feeling that if Ryan had wanted to switch groups for the project so badly, he would have gotten Toby to do it. He had to watch out for that kid – just like he was already watching out for Shillinger and his buddies, and watching out for Chris's next move. He definitely had his hands full now, as though things weren't already bad enough for him.
Sighing, Toby pushed the thoughts aside and made his way down the hall toward his classroom. The math wing was down at the other end of the school from where he was, and he would have to walk fast if he wanted to get there unscathed. Keep your head down; don't make eye contact.
Sometimes high school felt like a prison; the walls closed him in, locked up with all these other animals that were just out to get him. There was no civilization in a place like this. Sure, the teachers tried to keep everybody under control, but there was only so much they could do. Officer Murphy was there a couple days a week, and his presence was usually enough to stop most fights, but that wasn't enough, either. Quelling the potential for violence was one thing, but the words being thrown around were much harder to stop – threats, insults, and nasty rumors. If you weren't at the top of the chain, then you were going to get eaten, and neither the teachers nor Officer Murphy could do much about that.
He made it to the math wing, but he was still down the hall from the room where his classroom was when they found him. Shillinger wasn't alone – of course he wasn't alone; bullies never traveled by themselves – and today he had two friends with him. Toby didn't remember their names, but it didn't really matter; they were all interchangeable to him.
"Hey, Tobias, where are you going?" Shillinger said. "Don't you want to come play with us?" he asked. His hand brushed Toby's shoulder, causing the smaller boy to flinch. "C'mon, Beecher."
"Stop it," Toby said in quiet voice, not nearly loud enough to sound forceful, but he didn't know what else to do. What chance did he have against Shillinger and his two friends? Toby knew that even if he and Shillinger were the only ones there, he still wouldn't stand a chance.
"Stop it," whined one of Shillinger's friends in an exaggerated version of Toby's voice. "You're such a fuckin pussy, Beecher," the guy said.
"Hey, Robson, watch your language," Shillinger said. "Don't call Tobias names like that. If you call him names, he might start crying, and I really don't want to see him blubbering like a baby."
Toby tried to push past them so he could continue on down the hallway, but Shillinger grabbed his arm, fingers tight on Toby's bicep. There was going to be a bruise there later, he was sure of it.
"Let me go," he said. As much as he wanted to turn around and just punch Shillinger across the face, he knew there was no way he'd get away with it. Robson and the other guy would have him in a headlock before he could even get his arm ready for the punch. Not to mention the fact that a teacher would probably be over in three seconds flat, and who would get in trouble? Not Shillinger, of course.
"You heard the man, Vern," said a voice that Toby really wasn't hoping to hear this early in the morning. "Let him go." The voice was coming from behind Toby, but he knew without looking that Chris had decided to show up and, once again, try to play white knight for Toby. He wasn't sure how to feel about that; why had Chris taken such an interest in him in the first place?
"Oh, how cute. You're sticking up for your boyfriend," Shillinger sneered.
"What's the matter, Vern, you jealous?" Chris asked. He finally stepped out into Toby's line of vision, and Toby found his heartbeat intensifying merely at the sight of the other boy; he felt all the more pathetic over it, too. He was frustrated with his own uncontrollable attraction.
Shillinger faltered a bit, but then he got a glint in his eye that made Toby shudder. That look was never a good sign. "Fat chance of that," Shillinger said. "I'm not a goddamn fag like you."
Chris moved so fast that Toby barely saw it coming; in a flash he'd knocked Shillinger to the ground, his hands at the other boy's throat. No sooner had he done that than Mr. Metzger appeared out of nowhere, grabbing the hood of Chris's blue sweatshirt to pull him off.
"Keller, you know the rules," Mr. Metzger said. "No fighting! You and I will be taking a trip to Principal Glynn's office," he growled. Still holding Chris by the collar, Mr. Metzger looked down at Shillinger with concern. "Vern, you okay?" he asked.
The other boy seemed to be milking it for all it was worth. He hadn't even bothered getting up off the floor yet, instead choosing to lie there looking hurt. "I'm all right," he said.
Then Mr. Metzger turned to Toby. "Beecher, don't you have a class you should be going to? If I catch you in the middle of a fight again, you'll be written up, too." With that, he hauled Chris off toward the office, leaving the others behind.
Toby did not wait around for Shillinger to get up, instead booking it down the hall to his classroom. It was only when he was safely in the room that he allowed himself to relax a little bit. Still, he was upset that Mr. Metzger had busted Chris for attacking Shillinger, but not Shillinger for provoking the attack. And why had Chris gotten so upset in the first place?
Why did he insist on sticking his nose into Toby's business? All he was doing was making things worse for Toby, especially if he ended up getting written up just for being there when Chris decided to go nuts and try to beat somebody else up. Toby didn't like to think about that happening, but if it did, he'd have some choice words for Chris.
Rather than respond to Chris's comments, Toby was thinking instead about the incident earlier. "You know, you don't have to stick up for me all the time," he told Chris. "I can handle myself just fine, all right?" he added. "I don't know why you're suddenly taking an interest in my business, but you are just making things worse by coming in and threatening Shillinger. Just stick to the project, okay?"
"Jesus, Toby, is this what I get for trying to be nice to you?" Chris asked. "You sure know how to wound a guy." He put a hand to his chest and looked hurt, but Toby knew it was an act.
Mr. McManus came in and started the class before Toby could respond to Chris, but Toby didn't mind, because he didn't know what he'd say to Chris. He had too many questions on his mind.
About fifteen minutes into class and midway through the discussion on Lord of the Flies, a folded up piece of paper landed on Toby's desk. He glanced over at Chris to see the other boy staring straight ahead, hands folded on top of his desk, looking as innocent as he possibly could.
Rolling his eyes at Chris's dumb acting, Toby unfolded the paper as surreptitiously as he could. The handwriting was a cramped, messy scrawl that would have been hard to read had Chris not written in all capital letters. YOU SHOULD COME OVER THIS WEEKEND TO WATCH LORD OF THE RINGS WITH ME SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT HOW GAY SAM IS FOR FRODO.
Toby's one word response was 'no' and then he folded the paper up, waiting until McManus's back was turned before he tossed it back onto Chris's desk. From the corner of his eye, Toby saw Ryan O'Reily watching them from a desk diagonal from Chris's with an indescribable look on his face. Was Ryan going to rat on them for passing notes? Toby sure hoped not, but he wouldn't be surprised.
But Ryan said nothing, not even when Chris passed the paper back to Toby. MY DAD WON'T BE HOME AND I CAN SCORE US SOME BEER. I BET YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO THIS WEEKEND ANYWAY RIGHT?
What do you want from me? Toby hesitated to write anything else on there, afraid that if he asked Chris about the almost kiss, he'd get an answer he didn't want to hear.
COME OVER ON SATURDAY AND FIND OUT, the note urged, with a little winking face next to it. Toby sighed quietly for a minute before responding with: I don't even know where you live, Chris. The note was returned rather quickly with Chris's address written on it, along with I CAN DRAW YOU A MAP IF YOU NEED IT. IS THAT A YES THEN? I guess so. I don't need a map. I know where that is. GOOD, COME AROUND ONE PM AND BRING FOOD. Toby did not respond to that, instead tucking the note away.
When class was over, Chris stood up and stretched as though he'd been sitting for three hours instead of less than one. His shirt rode up just a bit and Toby tried to ignore the strip of skin that was suddenly visible. "What class do you have next?" Chris asked.
Toby focused on shoving his books into his backpack as he tried to figure out Chris's angle. "Why, do you think I can't make it there myself?" he asked. "Shillinger isn't hiding behind every corner waiting for me, you know," he added. He realized that his tone was a bit harsh, but he didn't want Chris to think he was that easy. He didn't want Chris to think that he needed him. Toby didn't need anybody.
Chris, however, seemed unfazed by the tone Toby had used. He opened his mouth to say something in response, but was cut off when Ryan approached the two of them.
Toby wondered if Ryan was going to ask about switching groups again, but the Irishman only had eyes for Chris. "Hey, Keller. Can I talk to you for a minute?" Ryan asked. He glanced at Toby before adding, "In private?"
"Sure," Chris said. He picked up his bag from next to his desk. "I'll see you later, Toby," he said with a wink, before allowing himself to be taken aside by Ryan. The two of them left the classroom together, huddled almost too closely together in Toby's opinion.
He told himself that it was nothing to worry about as he headed off to his next class. Whatever was going on between the two of them would be just fine. It couldn't be anything too serious anyway.
While Toby wanted to be understanding to his friend's plight – because he knew what a douchebag Chucky could be – his attention was drawn to one of the cafeteria tables in the back where Chris and Ryan were sitting together and talking. Toby couldn't help wondering what the hell they had to say to each other. They'd left McManus's class together over an hour ago; they couldn't possibly have that much to talk about, could they?
"What about you, Toby? How did it go yesterday with Chris?" Bob asked. His tone was gentle, but Toby couldn't tell what Bob was thinking.
Toby paused for a moment as he debated with himself how much to tell them. If he told them that Chris had nearly kissed him, he'd have to tell them that he was starting to realize that he might be attracted to Chris. He'd never before even considered that he might be anything but straight, and he wouldn't even know how to broach such a topic with his friends; as far as he knew, they were all straight as well. They'd probably never even imagined being with another guy.
"It was all right," was the answer he finally gave. "I mean, we actually got some work done, so that's good. We're going to work on it at his house on Saturday, too." Then he shrugged, hoping that he came across as nonchalant. He didn't want them to realize how nervous he was. He didn't want them to press the issue and have them realize he was hiding something.
Bob looked a bit worried. "Are you sure that's a good idea? Going to his house alone?" he asked. "Chris Keller is a bit... dangerous, don't you think?" It was obvious that he was trying to be polite about it, but Toby could tell that Bob didn't hold a high opinion of Chris.
Shrugging, Toby picked at his food. "He's not so bad," he said. "I don't think he would do anything to hurt me. Besides," he added with a bright, though somewhat fake, smile. "I'm a big boy. I think I can handle myself." Toby wasn't entirely sure if he was trying to convince his friends or himself, but he hoped like hell that he was right about Chris Keller, otherwise he was in trouble.
Part of me wants to make this grittier and more like the show, with the drugs and the sex and the violence, but I admit that I am terrible at the sort of thing, so I'm sorry for that.
Chapter 4: All Or Nothing
After school again, but this time Toby ends up at Chris's house.
FOUR: "ALL OR NOTHING"
The address that Chris had given Toby was actually in a fairly nice neighborhood – it wasn't as nice as where Toby lived, but it was near enough to middle class to be surprising. Upon realizing what he'd just assumed, Toby admonished himself. Just because Chris was a thug – or thought he was – didn't mean that he had to live in a trailer park or something. He knew it wasn't right to make generalizations about people, but in Chris's case it was hard not to make assumptions about his character. The guy was like a walking, talking stereotype of every thug ever, but there was still that side of him that Toby couldn't understand. Why was he so interested in Toby in the first place?
Sighing quietly to himself, Toby parked his car in the driveway next to Chris's motorcycle, then grabbed the bag of takeout food from the passenger side of the car before getting out. He debated for a moment before locking his car; better to be safe than sorry, he told himself. Besides, he'd been lucky that his parents had given him permission to take the car. They would probably never let him drive again if it ended up getting stolen or broken into just because he was careless.
With the bag of food in his hand, Toby walked up to the front door of the small two-story brick house. He told himself that there was nothing to be nervous about; he and Chris would just watch the movie together and share some food. There wouldn't be anything more to it than that, and Toby shouldn't have worried so much about it.
Still, Bob Rebadow's warning was still ringing in Toby's head. Chris Keller is a bit... dangerous, don't you think? He knew that in a way Bob was right. All he had to do was remember the way Chris had gotten his body to react just by standing too closely and know that it was true. Part of Toby wanted to believe that Chris's intentions were good, even if he knew that trusting somebody like Chris wasn't a good idea. He already knew from the way he'd been treated by Shillinger and his buddies from day one that guys like that didn't just befriend guys like Toby without some ulterior motive.
"Gonna stand out on the front step all day?" Chris's voice reminded Toby where he was, and he looked up to see the other boy standing in the open doorway grinning at Toby. The other boy wore his usual wife beater and blue jeans, but his feet were clad only in a pair of white socks. Toby told himself that there was absolutely nothing erotic about that image.
"I didn't know what kind of food to bring, so I just got Chinese. I hope that's okay," Toby said, holding up the bag as evidence. "I didn't know if you were going to want pizza again after last time."
Chris just shrugged and stepped back from the door, leaving enough room for Toby to enter the house – but not enough room that Toby could do so without his body touching Chris's. As it was, he stepped over the threshold and his arm brushed Chris's chest. Don't freak out, Toby, he told himself.
After closing the door behind them, Chris took the bag from Toby's hands and led him into the living room, which was just to the left of the main hallway. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing to the couch. "You want anything to drink? A beer, maybe?"
"Water is fine," Toby answered. A beer didn't sound like a very good idea, not when he was already so keyed up thinking about what had happened the last time they had been alone together. Would today be a repeat of that? Worse than that thought was that Toby still wasn't sure how he would feel about it if it happened again. He realized that he might even have been looking forward to it.
After putting the food on the table in front of the couch, Chris left to go get the drinks, and Toby was once again alone with his thoughts. Placing his hands on his knees and taking a slow breath, he told himself that it would be okay. If Chris tried anything funny, he could just politely but firmly refuse, telling Chris that he was straight and therefore not interested in the other boy's advances. The only problem with that approach was that he might have a bit of an issue convincing his own body of that. Even now, something stirred at the memory of how Chris had felt being that close to him and touching him that way. He'd never felt that way about anybody before and it was scaring him.
"You know, Toby," Chris said as he returned to the room with drinks for the both of them. "I don't get why Vern picks on you so much." He slouched down on the couch next to Toby, leaving very little room between them for personal space. Then he watched Toby, clearly waiting for an actual answer.
Toby shrugged. "Hell if I know. He's just a bully and I'm just an easy target." It wasn't as though there was complicated math involved there. Toby was a weak nerd – and he knew that; it wasn't something he'd ever bothered to deny – and Shillinger was a strong guy with a lot of strong friends to back him up. That was the only explanation really needed. Maybe Chris couldn't see that from where he stood; he probably didn't realize what a horrible person Shillinger could be.
Chris smiled brightly, choosing not to respond to Toby. "So you wanna pass over some of that food? I'm starving." He leaned across Toby to grab the takeout bag, his own arm brushing across Toby's chest in what had to be a deliberate way. He was trying to push Toby to react, but it wasn't going to work. Toby was going to stand firm on this.
Rather than push the issue – because he really didn't want to talk or think about Shillinger any more than he needed to – Toby went along with the change of topic and helped himself to the food as well. He'd bought more than he thought that they'd need, because he remembered the way Chris had devoured the pizza. He probably had to eat a lot to maintain those muscles, too. Briefly, Toby wondered if Chris would help Toby train in the gym at school, but then he realized almost immediately that it would be dangerous to be that close to Chris, all sweaty and possibly shirtless.
After they'd both dished out some food, Chris started up the DVD. Toby had already seen the movie several times before, but never in his previous viewings had he ever considered the idea that Sam had any sort of non-platonic feelings toward Frodo. When Toby and Chris had picked through the book the other day, it had become easier to see gayness everywhere. Toby had started to wonder whether Chris often went through novels in search of any content that could be even remotely gay. What would be the point in that? Was it something he got off on, maybe? Toby realized that he would never understand Chris Keller, so he may as well have just stopped trying.
Toby waited until Chris was relaxed before he asked a question that had been bothering him since the day before. "Are you, ah, friends with Ryan O'Reily?" he asked carefully. "I mean, you guys were talking a lot on Friday. I'm just curious, I guess," he added. He knew that the question didn't come across as innocent as he'd intended – no, he just sounded like a jealous girlfriend – and he almost cringed.
The question didn't seem to faze Chris much at all, though, and he just shrugged. "I don't know as Ryan has all that many friends, but I don't think I'd call myself his friend, either. He just wants me to help him out with something. Don't worry about it." He shrugged a second time and then took a bite of his eggroll, effectively ending that line of questioning.
His answer, however, had only given Toby more questions to think about. What was Chris helping Ryan with? Why was Chris helping Ryan if he didn't consider them to be friends? Why did Ryan need Chris? Why couldn't Ryan handle his own problems? Toby did not ask any of the questions, though, and instead decided to concentrate on the movie. Sam was going to show up on the screen soon, and he wanted to see if Chris's theory for the books held true for the movies as well. They could probably include a little bit about it in their report, even if technically it was only supposed to be about the book.
For a while, the two boys watched the movie together quietly. Toby tried to concentrate on his food and on what was happening on screen, but he couldn't help but be aware of Chris's body. Though they weren't touching, Chris's strong presence made it hard for Toby to ignore him.
Even just sitting there and watching the television screen, Chris couldn't stay completely motionless. He tapped his fingers on his knee. He shifted in his seat. He took sips from the can of soda and then he twisted the tab off the top. He even started fiddling with his napkin, tearing it into pieces until Toby finally grabbed his hand and pried the napkin pieces away from him.
"Jesus, could you quit with that?" Toby asked, irritated. "I mean, honestly, Chris. Just sit still for a minute." Toby put the little pieces of the napkin into one of the empty takeout containers.
Chris smirked at him. "Am I bothering you, Tobias?" There was something about his tone that Toby didn't know what to make of, but worse was being called 'Tobias' – he hated that because it just reminded him of Shillinger. Chris, however, seemed to think he was funny, though. He started jiggling his leg just to piss Toby off, and in turn it made the whole couch shake.
"I'm serious, Chris," Toby said. "You're distracting me. Would you just stop it already?" He sighed a bit in frustration, gritting his jaw. Chris was trying to piss him off, and it was working.
The grin never left Chris's face, but now it was accompanied by a challenging look in his eye. "Make me, Toby."
Without thinking about his actions, Toby reached over and placed his hand on Chris's knee, pressing down slightly. It stopped the leg jiggling, at least, but then Toby became aware of the way he was touching Chris, and of the way Chris was looking at him as well. He couldn't bring himself to move it, though. He felt caught by Chris's gaze, trapped like a startled deer.
"I was wrong about you, wasn't I?" Chris asked in a soft voice. "You're not so shy and innocent, are you?" He put his hand – which was warm and strong, Toby couldn't help noticing – on top of Toby's, turn Toby's hand palm-up and threading their fingers together. Toby still did nothing; he didn't know quite what he should do. "Go ahead," Chris said. "You can kiss me if you want."
"I don't –" began Toby. "I mean I'm not – You've got it all wrong, Chris. I'm not even gay," he insisted, but even as he spoke, he knew that he wasn't very convincing. How could he be convincing when he didn't even believe what he was saying?
Chris slid closer to Toby on the couch. Their thighs were touching now, and Chris's shoulder pressed into Toby's. "That's okay," Chris said with a shrug. "Neither am I. But it don't mean that I'm not attracted to you. And I know you're hot for me, Toby. I didn’t even have to kiss you when I was over at your house the other day and you still went crazy for me," Chris reminded him, as though Toby might have forgotten since then. "But really, it's just a kiss, right? It can't hurt to try." He brushed his thumb over the back of Toby's hand and leaned in just a bit closer. His eyes flicked down to Toby's lips and then back to meet his eyes.
There was no way to respond to that, Toby knew. Chris was right in that Toby was attracted to him, but that didn't mean that kissing was the next logical step, did it? What if Toby went ahead with it, but he didn't like it? Worse, what if he did like it? What if he liked it too much? This would not have a happy ending no matter which way it went. He should have listened to Bob's advice in the first place; coming here had been a terrible idea. Chris's influence was dangerous.
"You can't just tell me to kiss you," Toby said. It was the flimsiest argument he'd ever heard, but he could not think of anything else to say, partially because he knew that he kind of wanted to go ahead with the kiss. "I think maybe I should just go home," he said carefully. But Toby still didn't move his hand. His stupid body was betraying him, refusing to listen to his brain telling him that it was a horrible idea. "Let go of my hand," he said, trying to stay calm.
Chris obeyed, releasing Toby's hands and holding his own up in defense, but he was smiling.
Before he knew what he was doing, Toby found his hands on Chris's shoulders, his whole body leaning toward Chris as though there was some sort of magnetic pull between the two of them. There was a split second when Toby's brain screamed at him to stop this madness, but it was too late. Toby's eyes slid shut as he closed the distance between them, pressing his mouth to Chris's in a soft, gentle kiss.
It was barely more than a brush of the lips, and Toby pulled back before too long. He didn't know what to say or what to think. Granted, he'd only kissed a couple times before, but usually the other person kissed him back – which Chris had certainly not done.
Chris was watching him. "Is that it?" he asked.
"What do you mean, 'is that it'?" Toby asked. "What else do you want me to do? I'm not exactly as expert at this kind of thing." He felt dumb upon admitting that to Chris, but he was also annoyed at Chris's flippant attitude toward what was a big moment in Toby's life.
Rather than tease Toby or respond to his angry outburst, Chris was calm. He cupped Toby's face with his hands and looked him in the eyes. "Here," he said in a gentle tone that Toby was not used to hearing from him. "Let me." This time he was the one closing the gap between them to capture Toby's mouth in a kiss that was nothing at all like the first one.
For starters, Chris clearly knew what he was doing. He knew the right amount of pressure to use with his mouth, and he knew which way to tilt his head so that they fit together, and he knew how to pull away just as Toby was starting to see how good it could feel. Chris smiled. "Well?" he said teasingly. "How was that? Little bit better that way, right?" he asked.
Feeling bold, or perhaps just giddy from the kiss and the way it had made him feel, Toby found himself saying, "I don't know, maybe we should try again," with a grin on his face. And this time he met Chris halfway, bracing his hands on Chris's knees as their mouths met again. The kiss was more frantic than the first two. It was the kiss of someone who has finally discovered what kissing is supposed to feel like and never wants to do anything else. Toby felt his body grow warm and he ached inside – ached to be closer, to have Chris touching him everywhere. He could not get enough of it.
Chris broke the kiss again, but only so he could push Toby back against the couch and climb into his lap, straddling Toby with a knee on either side of his waist before he started kissing again, coaxing Toby's mouth open.
Now Toby really was burning up, with Chris's body pressed up against his, especially their lower bodies, and Toby was pretty sure he had never been more turned on in his entire life. He pushed up the hem of Chris's shirt to sneak his hands underneath. For a moment he realized that this shouldn't have felt so good. Before Chris, he'd never so much as thought about another guy, but now he had his hand up Chris's shirt and Chris's body grinding into his and he was actually enjoying himself. How could he ever have denied his attraction to Chris when his body clearly knew what it wanted?
Toby could feel himself drowning in the kiss, losing all sense of his surroundings except for Chris, for Chris's body and his hands and his mouth, the way he teased Toby with a roll of his hips, his hard-on painfully obvious to the both of them. It was only when Chris's hands started to fumble with the buttons on his jeans that Toby's brain finally kicked in.
Reluctantly, he pushed at Chris's chest until the other boy finally backed off. "I don't know if that's a good idea," Toby said, but the erection straining in his pants said otherwise. "It's just," and he didn't know what to say. 'Bob Rebadow thinks you're dangerous'? 'I want you too much'? 'I'm waiting until marriage'? Nothing seemed right. "I can't," he said finally. "I'm sorry, Chris. I just don't think that I can do this right now. Can you get off me, please?" he asked, his voice trembling faintly.
Chris got up off the couch in a huff, his entire body suddenly wound up tight. "Well, fuck you too, Toby!" he growled, angry enough that Toby didn't know what to do. "If that's what you want, I won't fucking touch you anymore, but don't try to trick yourself into thinking it was just me. I knew you were into it, too." Chris looked as though he was poised to fight, but Toby had no idea where all the unjustified anger was coming from. He worried what Chris might do to him.
Toby stood up and took a step toward Chris, afraid to touch the other boy just yet. "That's not what I meant, Chris," he said. "You'll have to forgive me, but I'm still new to this, okay? And just because I don’t' want to have sex in the middle of your living room after the first time we kiss doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but I think I need to go home, because I have kind of a lot to think about right now." He waited a moment to see if Chris would say anything, but the other boy was just watching him warily. Toby continued, "I'll see you at school on Monday, Chris."
He left before he could convince himself that to stay would be a good idea. He really did have a lot to think about, but he wasn't quite sure where to start. As he drove home, he realized that there was one thing he knew for sure about all of this – Bob was right. Chris Keller was a dangerous guy.
Chapter 5: Always the Quiet Ones
Toby gets intro trouble in class. Ryan gets into trouble outside of class.
Not a lot of Toby/Chris in this chapter.
CHAPTER FIVE: ALWAYS THE QUIET ONES
It was now a month into the character analysis project that Tim McManus had assigned to his English classes and now he was starting to doubt his abilities as a teacher. When the idea for the project – and for the unconventional, assigned pairings – had come to him, he'd envisioned his students learning to get along, to appreciate each other and perhaps have more respect for the differences of others.
It hadn't even been a full month that they'd worked on this project, really. He'd only given them three class periods so far to work on it, and in each of his English classes, he realized that he clearly hadn't been thinking straight. Almost none of the groups he'd assigned seemed to be working very well together despite his efforts to the contrary. In his first and second period classes, he'd had to keep a close eye on the groups to keep the kids from following through on their threats to each other.
Earlier today, he'd even had to call in Officer Murphy to keep Joey D'Angelo from attacking Johnny Post. The two had spent most of the period glaring at each other, Johnny occasionally snapping out a smart remark in Joey's direction. Officer Murphy had been none too pleased about it, but his presence had done wonders in quelling the potential violence.
It was third period now, though, and while Tim didn't have Officer Murphy there to be a commanding presence, he didn't think he would need it with these students. Today he was just having them work with their partners so he could get a better idea on which groups were working out and which ones would need supervision. He could only hope that this class would work better in their groups than the first two periods.
At the front of the room were Miguel Alvarez and Arnold Jackson – called "Poet" by his friends because he was always writing poetry in that ratty notebook he carried everywhere he went. The two of them had chosen to write about Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, which had surprised Tim a bit, since he figured none of the boys would be all that interested in a book that was mainly a romance. After they'd begun the project, Arnold had come to Tim and asked if it was all right that he used poetry for his part of the project. Tim had agreed immediately; he knew that Arnold's poetry was good and Tim wanted to encourage the kid to write as much as he could.
Now, though, Arnold was reading his poetry aloud to Miguel, but the Latino didn't appear interested. "Nobody wants to hear your shitty-ass poetry, amigo," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Well fuck you," Arnold said. "Let's see you write anything better," he challenged. As Miguel appeared to consider the offer, Tim's gaze slid over to the other groups.
Shirley Bellinger and Dino Ortolani seemed to be getting along quite well at the back of the classroom. Tim hadn't had to check up on them since the first day, when Shirley had declared her interest in doing their project on Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
"I feel a special connection with her," she'd told him on that first day. Dino had gone along with it, but Tim imagined that had more to do with getting to work with a pretty, charming girl like Shirley than out of any particular emotional connection to the character.
Tim couldn't hear what they were saying right now, due to the noise from the other groups, but he saw the way that Shirley put her hand on Dino's arm to whisper in his ear. Oh yeah, she had him wrapped around her little finger.
Most of the discussions from the other groups appeared to be pretty heated, and he could only hope that the students were just being exceptionally passionate about Scout Finch and Holden Caulfield instead of just spending the class period trash-talking each other.
It was Ryan and Adebisi that he was most worried about, though. They'd chosen – well, Ryan had chosen – to write about George from Of Mice and Men. The boys had already gotten into an argument about who was going to make the poster, and then over whether George was really a good guy or not, and then over whether they'd fuck Curly's wife – Tim had shut down that conversation pretty quickly. Today, though, they were both pretty quiet. Ryan was writing things down and Adebisi was gluing pictures to the poster board. Still, Tim was just a bit wary. It was more like the calm before a storm than anything he could really relax over.
On the far left of the room, Chris and Toby appeared to be working well together. Toby actually seemed happy, instead of scared and withdrawn like he usually was. Chris appeared to have softened a bit – or at least he wasn't always looking like he was ready to start a fight all the time. Maybe Tim had been right to put those two together. It looked like Toby really was good for Chris, and vice versa.
Happy that everything seemed to be going as well as could be expected, Tim turned back to the essay tests he had to grade for his first period class. He sighed. On the top of the stack was Chucky Pancamo's test. Tim hated going through his because the boy's handwriting was terrible; it was nearly impossible to read even on a good day, and in this case, it looked like Chucky had been in a hurry to finish the test and had not put any care at all into his penmanship.
He had managed to struggle through the first page and was moving on to the second when he heard, "I'm not your fucking bitch!" His head shot up just in time to see a very angry looking Tobias Beecher rise to his feet and launch himself at Chris Keller. Chris and his chair tumbled to the ground before Tim could react, and Toby was on top of him, wrapping his hands around Chris's throat. Tim had never seen Toby that angry before and he, like the rest of the class, was frozen in shock at first.
"Kick his ass, Beecher!" encouraged Miguel eagerly.
That was enough to spur Tim into action, and he came out from around the desk, grabbing Toby by the back of his shirt. Tim had been expecting a bit of a struggle, but Toby came easily enough, releasing Chris's neck as Tim hauled him to his feet.
"Tobias Beecher, I have no idea what came over you, but I'm disappointed in you! I thought you were above this kind of thing!" Really, if Toby was going to be starting fights, how could he expect any of the others to stay in line?
"Did you hear what he said to me?" Toby asked, glaring down at Chris.
"Fuck you," Chris spat. "You know it's true."
Toby made another move toward Chris, but Tim managed to hold him back quite easily. Toby wasn't nearly as strong as he apparently thought he was.
"That's it," Tim said. "Principal Glynn's office for the both of you, right now. O'Reily, will you walk them down for me, make sure they don't start up again?"
Ryan grinned. "Of course!" He was way too eager to take the job, but Tim would have rather sent him than any of the other students; Ryan was at least somewhat trustworthy. Sean Murphy, the school's security officer with whom Tim was sort of friends, often spoke favorably of Ryan. Tim wasn't sure that he could fully trust the kid, but with a simple task like walking a couple of kids to the office, surely Ryan could handle it without getting into too much trouble.
While Chris rose slowly to his feet, Tim went back to his desk to grab the phone and call Leo to let him know the boys were on their way so at least he'd be expecting them. "And you come straight back, Ryan," Tim told the other boy. "No stopping to chit-chat, all right?"
The boys left, and Tim sighed to himself. He was annoyed that now he'd have to get his class back on track after that outburst. "Okay, everybody. Enough gawking. You've only got twenty more minutes today to work on the projects, so get back to work."
Ryan O'Reily, however, had no loyalties to any one group, and he prided himself on his observational skills. He knew how to find a person's weakness and use that to his own advantage.
He wasn't blind, either, and it didn't take a lot to see what was going on between the two guys that he was currently escorting down to the office. Toby was easy enough to read, though. Right now, his whole body was wound tight and his hands were clenched into fists at his side. He kept glancing over at Chris and then looking ahead, like he thought he was being coy or subtle. It was obvious that something was up – and something more than the fight between them. Knowing Chris like he did, Ryan had a pretty good idea what it was, too.
Nobody spoke until Ryan dropped them off at the principal's office. "Have fun, you two," he said, giving them a little wave before they went inside. Toby's expression was still stormy and dangerous, but Chris just had his usual swagger as he followed Toby in through the office door.
Ryan didn't miss the way Chris's hand hovered at Toby's back for a minute – like he was going to rest it there in a reassuring gesture – before Chris dropped it to his side instead. Ryan filed that information away for later, knowing it might come in handy.
Now that the other two were all set, Ryan had to go back to class like Mr. McManus had asked him. Rather than heading back the way he'd come, though, Ryan decided to take a little detour. His brother, Cyril, would be in art class right now, and Ryan wanted to check up on how he was doing. He couldn't help being a bit overprotective over Cyril – it came with being a big brother, and the fact that Cyril was a little 'slow' just made Ryan feel an even stronger protective instinct.
When Ryan rounded the corner to the art wing, he saw the school's security officer, Sean Murphy, standing over by the lockers next to the closed classroom door – Cyril's art class.
Officer Murphy was lean and fit, with dark hair and a strong nose. Plus, he was young – mid-twenties was Ryan's guess, though he couldn't be sure because Murphy would never give him a straight answer when he asked. What Ryan liked best about the guy, though, was that Officer Murphy was hot, and he was hot for Ryan, too. Sure, he acted like he wasn't, but Ryan wasn't stupid; he knew the signs. He also knew how to use that to his advantage. It was easy to get Murphy to do favors for him now.
"Hey O'Reily, you supposed to be somewhere?" Murphy asked as Ryan approached him. "Class ain't over for fifteen minutes," he added.
"Just walked Chris and Toby to the principal's office," Ryan said. "You can call Mr. McManus and ask him. He's the one who sent me. I'm just on the way back to class now." Ryan flashed his best innocent look at the officer, and was rewarded with a hint of a smile on the older man's face.
"Ain't you goin' the wrong way?" Murphy asked, raising his eyebrows.
Gesturing to the closed classroom door to their left, Ryan said, "I just wanted to see how Cyril was doing. Think he's doing all right?" As much as he wanted to peek in through the window, Ryan knew that it was a bad idea. If Cyril's teacher saw him, she'd probably tell the principal that he wasn't in class, and he'd get in trouble again. She didn't seem to understand Ryan's concern toward his brother; she didn't know what it was like to be the one person your brother relied on.
Murphy shrugged. "Shillinger and Robson were picking on him before class started, but I broke it up before anything happened," he answered.
Ryan couldn't control the white-hot anger that rolled over him. "What? Fucking dicks! Why didn't you fucking tell me? I'm gonna kick their fuckin' asses!" He clenched his fists, ready to find Shillinger and knock the asshole's teeth in for even getting anywhere near Cyril.
Murphy grabbed Ryan's wrist. "Hey, kid, calm down. I told you, nothing happened. Cyril's gonna be fine. If I catch you fighting, you're gonna be in trouble, and how is that going to help your brother?" he asked. His voice was hard, but his grip on Ryan's wrist was harder.
He was right. If Ryan got suspended, then who would be there to watch out for Cyril? "All right," Ryan said calmly. "I won't get into any fights." He'd find some other way to get back at Shillinger and all of his asshole buddies. Oh, they would definitely pay.
Now that he'd calmed down a bit, Ryan noticed that Officer Murphy still held onto his wrist, but his grip had softened a bit. Ryan shifted just a bit closer so that he was standing in front of Officer Murphy, only an inch or so of space between them. "Did you think about that offer I made you? What do you think about it, Officer Murphy?" he asked.
And there it was – not a blush because the guy would never blush – but Murphy was definitely flustered. "Ryan, that's not appropriate," he said gruffly. "Now get the hell back to class before I send you to Glynn's office." He was trying to give Ryan an angry look, but it wasn't working well.
That was the same response Ryan had gotten the first time he'd made the offer a couple weeks ago – when he'd leaned in close, hand on Murphy's chest, and given him suggestions on what they could do in the broom closet. He'd gotten the same flustered, obviously turned-on attitude, with a threat to send him to Principal Glynn's office. He didn't do it then, and Ryan knew he wouldn't do it now, either.
"I'm eighteen years old," Ryan reminded him. "It wouldn't be illegal or anything, and you're obviously attracted to me." He slid closer, pressing his body up close with Officer Murphy's. The cop was just as turn on as Ryan was, judging by his breathing and the bulge in his uniform pants. His eyes had gotten darker with lust; there was no way he could hide how he was feeling now.
Even more telling was that Murphy didn't stop him as Ryan leaned up – and not very far, because the height difference between them was negligible – and kissed him on the lips. It was more than a peck, but it was less than a full on make out session like Ryan was used to with other people. Still, it was hot, especially when Murphy moved to kiss him back, resting his free hand on Ryan's hip.
It was over too quickly in Ryan's opinion, but he knew it wasn't safe to be doing this sort of thing in the school hallways. Really, they'd been lucky that no one had found the, but then again, everyone else was probably in class like they were supposed to be.
"I better get back to Mr. McManus's class," Ryan said nonchalantly. "See you around, Officer Murphy." With those words, Ryan sauntered off down the hallway back to the classroom. He'd definitely given Murphy something to think about. Meanwhile, he had to find a way to get back at Shillinger so the fuck would never touch Cyril again. Maybe he could get Keller's help – after all, the guy owed him.
Finally, he said, "I have detention after school today. Chris and I got into a fight in McManus's class and now we're both in detention." That much was the truth, even if the whole argument was Chris's fault for saying all those shitty things about him. Toby got mad all over again just thinking about it.
"You got into a fight, Toby?" Agamemnon exclaimed. "Holy cow, why?" While he looked shocked and kind of impressed, Bob just looked disappointed in Toby.
"Because Chris Keller is a dick. I don't know why I ever thought that we could be friends." While Toby wasn't naïve enough to think that Chris could be in love with him, he still thought that the kisses had meant something. He'd been over to Chris's house twice since the first kiss, and both times it had ended with Chris cornering Toby on the couch, kissing him as though their lives depended on it. Toby could no longer deny his attraction to Chris, and nor did he want to, but when Chris had said the things he did during class, Toby hadn't been able to stop himself from reacting.
Bob was still watching Toby carefully. "Do you want to talk about it? Why did Chris get you so upset? I'd thought the two of you were getting along a lot better these last couple of weeks. Has something changed?" he asked.
Shrugging, Toby decided not to elaborate. "I'll get over it," he said, even if he knew that he wouldn't, at least not that quickly.
He thought back to what had happened in the classroom to make him so upset. The two of them had been working quietly on their project when Chris's hand had brushed Toby's leg under the desk. It was an intimate gesture, one that made Toby uncomfortable, considering that they were in a public place, right in the full view of the other students.
He'd asked Chris to stop, but Chris hadn't listened – at least, not until Toby had forcibly removed the hand. A few minutes later, though, it was back, creeping further up Toby's thigh. Rather than being turned on, Toby had been highly annoyed at that point. He'd removed the hand again, glaring at Chris.
This had caused Chris to give Toby a little speech about how Toby needed to stop being a prude, because he was Chris's bitch now and there was nothing he could do about it. That was when Toby had shouted out and attacked him.
Looking back now, Toby realized that his reaction had been just a bit over the top, but he really hadn't liked the look on Chris's face when he'd called Toby the bitch – as though he knew that Toby was under his control now, and that it had been part of his plan the entire time. That had really hurt.
"Well, if he keeps bothering you, maybe you should talk to one of the teachers about it," Bob suggested. "Or the counselor, Mr. Mukada. He's usually very helpful when I need to talk to somebody," he added helpfully.
"Yeah, maybe," Toby answered noncommittally. He doubted that was going to happen, though. What good would a counselor do? Toby sighed and stood up from the table. "I'll see you guys later." He really didn't want to sit here and stew over it any longer. He feared that if he did, he might have found himself telling his friends more details about what had happened between him and Chris, and he still didn't feel comfortable revealing to them his newfound sexuality. He wasn't sure that he'd like whatever their reactions might be.
Toby spent the rest of his lunch period in the library, wondering what the hell he'd done to get himself into this mess. Why had Chris targeted him? Why had he allowed himself to fall for it? Was he really that hard-up that he'd accepted attention from Chris Keller, thinking it might be genuine?
Maybe what he needed was a girlfriend – or a boyfriend... somebody that wasn't going to fuck him over just for the fun of it. But Toby dismissed that idea right away. Who the hell would ever go out with him? All the girls were out of his league, and there were only two out gay guys in school, but they were already dating each other. Toby didn't have any options. His life sucked.
Chapter 6: Asking for Help
Toby's in detention after school. He has a talk with Officer Murphy.
SIX: "ASKING FOR HELP"
Because Chris and Toby were in detention for getting into a fight with each other, Principal Glynn had decided that they couldn't be kept in the same room – even with teacher supervision, he hadn't apparently trusted them enough. Toby imagined that had something to do with Chris's history rather than out of any distrust for what Toby might do. Still, he didn't complain about it; he'd be happy not to see Chris ever again after what the guy had said to him.
Toby's detention was held in the small, windowless computer lab, with Officer Murphy reading his book and keeping an eye on Toby. He didn't mind Murphy so much; the security officer was better than most of the teachers and he was actually friendly to a lot of the students. He also didn't seem too concerned with how Toby spent the detention, even though the rules were technically that he was supposed to be doing his homework in silence.
Because didn't really have any interest in working on his homework at the moment, Toby instead stared down at his open notebook and found his thoughts coming back to Chris once again. He was upset with himself for still thinking about Chris, for allowing himself to have gotten caught up into all of this mess in the first place. He shouldn't have allowed Chris to touch him that very first time. The fact that he'd let the other boy get away with it had just shown Chris how weak Toby really was, and now it was irreversible. Chris knew just how to get at him, and he'd done a damn good job of fucking up Toby's life.
"You all right there, Beecher?" Murphy asked. He wasn't reading his book anymore, and instead had leaned onto his forearms on the desk and was looking at Toby with evident concern.
Toby blinked. "I don't know," he answered honestly. He'd surprised himself with that comment, because if it had been Bob or Agamemnon asking him, he probably would have just said that he was fine and left it at that. Maybe he had trouble lying to an adult like Officer Murphy. "Can I ask you something?" Toby said. Or maybe he just wanted to talk to a neutral party.
Officer Murphy seemed to understand that this wasn't going to be a question regarding the homework or something otherwise innocuous, for which Toby was grateful. He stood up and walked around the desk, coming to sit in the chair next to Toby instead. He faced the student with his hands folded on top of the table. "You okay, Toby? You can ask me whatever you want and I'll do my best."
Now that they were closer together, Toby found himself a bit nervous about what he had to say. What exactly was he going to ask? What kind of advice could Officer Murphy possibly give him? Still, he'd already started; he might as well get on with the rest of it. "Have you ever – I mean, if you start thinking you might have feelings for somebody that you shouldn't?" He realized that it wasn't exactly a question, but he didn't know how else to word it. "Say there was somebody that you knew wasn't right for you, but you couldn't help wanting them anyway. What are you supposed to do?"
The expression on Murphy's face was not what Toby had expected – something akin to guilt? What could he possibly have to feel guilty over? Then the guilt was gone as quickly as it had appeared, and instead he smiled, though it wasn't a big one like the kind Chris would have had.
Stop thinking about Chris, Toby told himself, but he knew it wasn't going to happen.
"It depends on the situation," Officer Murphy said carefully. "I don't want to advise you to do something that could be illegal," he said, "but maybe if you give me a little more information, I could help you with what you are going through. You don't have to give me names or anything, but is it like a teacher or something?" he asked.
"Oh god no!" Toby exclaimed, shocked. "Ew, no." He shook his head vehemently. There weren't any teachers at the school that Toby could ever be interested in; most of them were much older than he was, and in any rate, being in love with a teacher was a little weird. "It's not –" Toby took a breath, letting it out in a whoosh. "It's another guy," he said kind of quietly, ashamed at himself.
He was waiting for some kind of shocked response, or perhaps a disapproving look, but instead what he got was a relieved smile and then Murphy put his hand on top of Toby's reassuringly. "Look, Tobias," he said carefully.
"Toby," corrected the boy. "I don't like being called Tobias," he added. He hated that name, especially for the one person it reminded him of.
"Sorry," Murphy said. "Toby, look, I don't know what people are telling you, or what the issue is, but there ain't nothin wrong with falling in love with a guy. It happens, okay? And you aren't a bad person for it, and it certainly ain't nothin to feel guilty over."
As much as he wanted to believe what Murphy was telling him, it was hard for Toby to imagine that it was perfectly all right to have these feelings for Chris. If it was all right, then why did it hurt him so goddamn much? "But if it's somebody that hurts you? Like he says things and I know he's trying to provoke me, but it hurts, and I don't know why I can feel this way for him anymore, even after all that," he insisted. "I mean, if I was gonna fall in love with another guy, I wish it could have been somebody that actually really liked me instead of somebody that's fucking with me just for the hell of it." He shrugged.
"You aren't talking about Schillinger, are you? 'Cause I gotta tell you, Toby, as much as I respect you, I think Schillinger ain't a good kid and nothing good can come with messing with him," Officer Murphy said warningly. "There's gotta be a lot of other guys out there that won't hurt you."
"It's not Schillinger," Toby said. "I'm not stupid." The very idea made him shudder.
He wasn't sure that telling Murphy who it really was would be any better, because really, was Keller any less dangerous than Schillinger? Sure, there wasn't the physical bullying or the name calling, but in the time that he and Chris had spent together, Chris had already messed with Toby's head too much that he barely knew which end was up anymore.
Before Toby got a chance to say anything else though – not that he knew what to say in the first place – there was a knock on the door to the classroom.
Murphy got up, and when he opened the door, Ryan O'Reily was standing there looking smug. "Hey, Officer Murphy, what's happening?" asked Ryan. He glanced past the security officer at Toby and winked. "Hey Sean, can I talk to you for a minute?" he asked, turning back Officer Murphy.
Toby could not miss the way Ryan's hand was flat on the officer's chest, or the way the student looked up at the officer. The whole thing just seemed a bit weird to him. What was Ryan doing here, and why was he looking at Murphy like that? Why was Murphy looking so flustered over it, too? Toby remembered that day in the hallway between them and wondered if this was related to that moment. Was there something between them? Was Ryan messing around with Officer Murphy?
Officer Murphy glanced back at Toby. "I'm covering detention right now, O'Reily. Come back another time." He grabbed Ryan's wrist and tried to push the kid out the door, but Ryan didn't budge.
"Murphy, look, Beecher isn't going anywhere. He's a good kid; he can stay in here alone for a couple minutes. Please?" Ryan said, and he leaned closer to the officer, lining their bodies up in a way that reminded Toby of the way Chris had touched him; it was an incredibly intimate gesture, one that Toby wasn't sure he should have been privy to. Was Ryan aware of what he was doing?
Suddenly, it was all too clear what was going on here, and Toby felt his body get hot all over. Ryan and Officer Murphy? Wasn't that kind of illegal? He couldn't open his mouth to say anything, so shocked was he by what he was seeing.
"Toby, are you going to be all right in here for a minute?" Officer Murphy asked. He was holding Ryan at arm's length now, as though that would take back the image that Toby had just seen. Well, it wasn't going to work – how was he ever going to forget that? He'd have to ask Ryan about it later, because there was no way he was going to ask Officer Murphy why he was letting a student – and a troublemaker like Ryan O'Reily, no less – basically feel him up. It was just weird.
"Yeah," Toby said. "I'm just doing my homework anyway," he added, and picked up his pencil in an attempt to pretend that he was actually busy.
Officer Murphy let himself be led out of the room by Ryan, leaving Toby in the room alone.
Toby sat awkwardly for a moment before he turned to his notebook. No sooner had he flipped to a fresh page to start on his homework for History when the door to the classroom opened again. Toby looked up, expecting to see Officer Murphy returning, but he was surprised to see that it was Chris who appeared in the doorway, looking as cocky as usual.
For one heart-stopping moment, Toby couldn't breathe. The very sight of Chris made it hard for Toby to remember that he was supposed to be mad at the other boy for what had happened in class that day. It was Chris's fault for having said all those things, and Chris's fault for being a dick and Chris's fault for making Toby want him so much, for fucking with Toby's head and climbing inside and staying there.
Before Toby could react properly, Chris had crossed the room and settled himself into the chair next to Toby, scooting closer and putting his arm over the back of Toby's chair. There was scarcely any space between the two of them, but Toby couldn't find the energy to move away.
"Toby," Chris said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said those things, and I didn't mean it." As he looked at Toby, his eyes were intense and pleading. He looked sincere.
"Maybe you shouldn't have said it in the first place," Toby grumbled. He tried to ignore Chris, but of course that was next to impossible. The least he could do was feign nonchalance, but he was sure that Chris could see through his façade; Chris could see through all of Toby's bullshit.
Chris's hand came around to rub against Toby's arm. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I don't know what that was, but I didn't mean it. I don't want to hurt you, Toby." He sounded sincere, too, and Toby wanted nothing more than to believe the words that were coming out of Chris's mouth.
Toby took a deep breath, but that didn't help him calm down by much. He couldn't think of what he wanted to say to Chris, so he settled for something simple. "Why aren't you in detention?" he asked. "How did you get out of detention? How did you know I was alone in here anyway?"
Shrugging, Chris grinned. "Well, I got Ryan to do a little favor for me. He's keeping Murphy distracted for a little bit so that I can talk to you. And I told Lopresti that I had to use the bathroom. He could care less, though. He's too busy flirting with Howell to care what I'm doing." Chris leaned in a little bit closer. "So what do you say, Toby. Do you forgive me?" He lowered his voice for the second part of the sentence, and Toby felt his whole body on alert.
Instead of saying anything, Toby found himself being pulled closer to Chris almost subconsciously. In the next instant, they were kissing, though Toby would be hard pressed to say who had started it. All he knew was that Chris was touching him and it wasn't enough.
He found his hands clutching Chris's t-shirt as he deepened the kiss, practically climbing into the other boy's lap to get closer. Every other thought, every other feeling had flown out the window; all he could think of was their bodies together and the way it felt to kiss Chris again. Every time it happened between them felt like the first time, and Toby couldn't get over how nice it was to be kissing somebody – somebody like Chris who knew what they were doing and knew how to tease a response out of him.
Momentarily, Toby forgot where he was as he made himself comfortable in Chris's grasp, his own hands releasing Chris's shirt only to reach around and cup the back of his head. He slid his fingers through Chris's short hair, reveling in how soft it felt under his hands.
Then the sound of a cell-phone ring tone disrupted the both of them from what they were doing, and Chris pulled away, disentangling himself from Toby's grip. "That's my phone," he said apologetically. "I told Ryan to text me when he and Murphy are coming back," he added. Chris dug his phone out of his pocket to check the message. "Yeah, they're on their way. I'd better scram so I don't get another detention for leaving detention," Chris said.
But instead of leaving right away, as Toby knew he probably had to do, Chris leaned forward to kiss Toby again. The one kiss led to another, and soon Toby's hands were buried in Chris's hair again, returning the kiss as though life depended on it. In this moment, he couldn't imagine what reason he could have to be upset with Chris about, not when it felt so good to kiss him and have his hands on Toby's chest like that. The way they fit together, it was as though they were built for each other; it was perfect.
"Hey, Keller, what the hell are you doing here?" Murphy's voice cut through the moment like a sharp knife, and Toby pulled back, face aflame.
The officer was standing in the doorway with his arms over his chest, looking very much like a mother who has just walked in on her kid with his hand in the cookie jar.
Chris wasn't embarrassed or guilty, though; he just grinned that easy smile as he got up from the chair. "Sorry, Officer Murphy. I was just paying Toby a visit. I didn't mean to cause you any trouble." The look on his face was the picture of innocence; Toby was almost fooled, but he could tell that Officer Murphy definitely wasn't.
"Does Lopresti know you're here? You'd better get back there, or I'm going to be having a talk with Glynn about you," Murphy said to Chris, narrowing his gaze.
Shrugging, Chris left the room, brushing past Officer Murphy as he did so.
Toby pretended like he wasn't watching Chris leave. At the same time, he held his breath, knowing that Officer Murphy probably had a few choice words for him after that display. Toby wasn't really sure that he wanted to have the kind of talk that Murphy wanted to have; he didn't want to be admonished or corrected for what he'd done. He felt guilty about it enough already.
"You all right, Beecher?" Officer Murphy asked.
Rather than answer him right away, Toby sighed, running a hand through his hair in an attempt to straighten it out a bit. Chris had probably mussed it all up and now Toby looked a mess. Then he realized how stupid it was to be worrying about his hair when there was so much else going on here.
Officer Murphy spoke up again. "If you want to talk, I might suggest going to the school counselor. I know you kids don't like that kinda thing, but Mukada's a good guy, and he's good about the confidentiality thing. Just some advice." He shrugged.
"Thanks," Toby said.
He turned back to his homework, but his hands were shaking. He shouldn't have let Chris get to him so much, but Toby knew that there was no going back now. Chris had dug down deep and gotten under his skin like a tattoo. He was going to be there forever, whether Toby liked it or not.
Chapter 7: After Shocks
Toby finally gets around to talking to the counselor. Ryan and Chris do some talking.
CHAPTER SEVEN: "AFTER SHOCKS"
It wasn't until study hall a week later – after that detention, the conversation with Officer Murphy, and of course, the kissing from Chris – when Toby finally convinced himself that he needed to talk to somebody about what was going on inside his head. He still didn't know how to broach the topic with any of his friends, nor did he want to, because he knew that it would turn into a drawn-out discussion about how come he'd never told them that he was gay. The topic wasn't really something that he wanted to deal with when he had these other conflicting thoughts and emotions fighting for dominance inside his head.
Because his friends were off the table as far as someone to talk to, he knew that his next best option would have to be the guidance counselor. With his mind made up, Toby gathered up his books and went up front to where the study hall monitor, Mr. Lopresti, was sitting and reading a book.
When Mr. Lopresti asked Toby why he wanted to see the counselor, Toby made up some bullshit about wanting to talk about college applications. While Mr. Lopresti looked skeptical about Toby's admittedly flimsy excuse, he still signed the hall pass to allow Toby to leave study hall.
Taking the pass and his backpack with him – because he couldn't be sure how long it would take him with Mr. Mukada - Toby headed down the hall to the counselor's office. When he got there, he saw that Mr. Mukada's door was shut, the "in session" sign hanging off the knob. Not sure what he should do, Toby waited for a minute before knocking on the door.
A moment later, the door opened and Mr. Mukada leaned out, one hand on the door knob. "Oh, Toby. I'm just finishing up with another student. I'll be right with you," he said gently. When Toby nodded, Mr. Mukada went back into the room and shut the door behind him.
Toby sat down on the bench beside the door to wait. With the time to himself, Toby was free to think about all that happened between him and Chris and what it could mean, as though he hadn't already spent weeks doing the very same thing ever since that very first moment between them. When Chris had given him that look in class when Mr. McManus had put them in a group together, he hadn't known that things would have been so drastically different. That moment seemed so long ago, now that he looked back; it was practically a lifetime away from where he was now.
One thing Toby knew for sure was that he was definitely physically attracted to Chris, though whether Chris was genuinely attracted to him or not was hard to know for sure. A part of him still wondered if Chris wasn't screwing with his head in some kind of twisted game.
He thought of the way Chris had snuck into detention to apologize to him, and how that had led to kissing; Toby had liked the kissing and the apology. Two days after that, they'd been finishing up the project at Chris's house and there had been more kissing, more groping – a LOT of groping – that had eventually led to them dry humping on the couch. Chris had pushed Toby down against the back of the couch and ground their bodies together. Toby had been unable to stop himself from coming in his jeans. He'd had to drive the whole way home in the same pants; that had been uncomfortable.
But even after all that good stuff, there were things like this morning. Chris had made a crack about how "easy" Toby was and then he got upset because Toby was upset, and now they weren't speaking again. It was just so frustrating how everything went back and forth so quickly.
The door to Mr. Mukada's office opened again, and out stepped Miguel Alvarez, followed closely by the guidance counselor. It was hard not to see the way that Mr. Mukada had his hand on Miguel's back as anything less than something intimate. Immediately after thinking that, Toby wondered if maybe he was just extra sensitive after seeing the moment between Ryan and Officer Murphy; maybe he was just reading too much into it. Mr. Mukada was just a touchy-feely kind of guy with everybody, wasn't he?
"Let me sign your hall pass," Mr. Mukada said to Miguel. After he did so, the slender boy left, and Mr. Mukada turned to Toby. "Come on in, Toby. Sorry to keep you waiting," he added, holding the door open so that Toby could enter. He shut the door behind them and waited for Toby to sit before he took a seat behind the desk.
"Well, Toby, I believe this is a first, isn't it? You haven't been here before, have you?" Mr. Mukada asked. When Toby confirmed that it was true, Mr. Mukada continued. "Well, I'll start by telling you that anything you decided to share with me here today is confidential - unless of course, the information you give me leads me to believe you could harm yourself or others. Is that okay?"
Toby nodded. "I just need some - well, guidance, I guess. I'm feeling kind of conflicted over some stuff and I'm afraid to go to my friends," he admitted.
The counselor smiled softly. "That's what I'm here for," he said. "What's troubling you?"
Sighing, Toby wondered where to begin. "I'm not gay," he blurted out before he could stop himself. Realizing how that sounded, he continued, "Not that it's bad, but I've always been into girls! Or, well, I thought I was. I never even thought about a guy before, and then Chris came along and –" he sighed again. "I don't know what's happening to me." He shrugged his shoulders, realizing how stupid this whole thing sounded. He shouldn't have been complaining about it in the first place; he was lucky that a guy like Chris even paid attention to him at all.
Mr. Mukada leaned forward across his desk. "So it sounds to me like you're a little worried about your sexuality. Are you developing feelings for someone in particular, or are these just general feelings toward other boys?" He was giving Toby a gentle, understanding look; he was so sincere about it, too, which Toby found comforting. If nothing else, at least there was that.
"It's just one guy," Toby said. "And we kissed a couple times, but I still don't know if he likes me or if he's just messing with me." Toby looked at his hands, and then up at the clock on the wall. He couldn't bring his eyes to Mr. Mukada's face. "I think about him constantly, and kissing him feels –" Here, he stopped, unable to find the words. Kissing Chris was an indescribable feeling, and there was no way he could find words to tell Mr. Mukada how it felt.
"Well," Mr. Mukada broke in, once again with a gentle, comforting voice, "you're a teenager, and it's perfectly natural to be unsure about your sexuality. It's fine to explore that, and it sounds like that is what you've been doing," he said gently. "I can understand how hard it is to know what is going on inside your head when it feels like your emotions are going everywhere," he added. "I don't think you should expect to know everything right away."
While Toby knew what the counselor was saying was true, he still didn't like the way it sounded. He didn't want to wait until he'd grown up before he knew what was going on with his feelings; he wanted answers right now, dammit! "So it's not wrong, then?" Toby asked. "I mean, it's okay that I might be in love –" and there, he'd said the word. It was out, and there was no taking it back. He hadn't fully considered that he was in love, but then it had just popped out of his mouth. Did that mean that he could possibly be in love with Christopher Keller?
"Love is never wrong," assured Mr. Mukada with a smile. Toby's thoughts flashed back to the way that Mr. Mukada had touched Miguel, and then to the way that Ryan had touched Officer Murphy that day. Was it true what Mr. Mukada said, that love was never wrong? If so, that meant it was all right that Ryan was possibly involved with Officer Murphy – a man a lot older than him, even if Ryan was eighteen? Did it mean that it was okay that Mr. Mukada looked at Miguel Alvarez like he saw something special in the boy? Of course, Toby was making the assumption that what Ryan had with Officer Murphy – if there was anything – was love and not just sex. Knowing Ryan, it probably wasn't more than just getting his rocks off.
He looked at his hands again. "Even if it hurts?" he asked. "I mean, it's one thing if I like kissing him and stuff, but it's another if he keeps saying stuff about me that hurts, like he's trying to make me mad. I don't know what his deal is half the time."
There was a silence that seemed to go on forever, and Toby finally looked up to meet the counselor's gaze. Mr. Mukada was watching him but seemed to be searching for something to say. That worried Toby; wasn't it his job to know the right thing to say to the students?
Finally, Mr. Mukada spoke. "I can't speak for your relationship with this boy because I'm not in your place and I don't know everything that's going on, but I do want to say this: if you honestly believe that this boy is doing these things to hurt you, then I don't think it's safe for you to continue to associate with him. However, I also want you to realize that this boy is a teenager like you are, and he's most likely going through the same emotional turmoil that you are. Maybe these feelings are new to him, too, and in that case you should give him a chance," Mr. Mukada urged. "Ultimately, though, Toby, you have to look inside yourself to know what feels right. Trust your instinct."
Well if that wasn't the most pointless advice Toby had ever heard, he didn't know what was. If all he had to do was trust himself, then why had he bothered to come here in the first place? He'd wanted to go to the guidance counselor because he didn't know what to do. That was the man's job.
Frustrated, he stood up. "Thank you," he said. "I think I'll go back to class now." He picked up his backpack. Mr. Mukada did not argue, and he signed Toby's hall pass for him without another word. Class was over in another six minutes anyway, so Toby left the room with his hall pass in hand.
Rather than go back to study hall, Toby spent the rest of the period walking slowly to his next class. Just before the bell was due to ring for the end of the period, Toby rounded the corner to the science wing and he saw Ryan and Officer Murphy standing in the hall. They didn't see him approach, but Toby could definitely see what they were doing.
Ryan had the officer pushed up against the wall, and he was leaning up to kiss him on the mouth. Even from the distance, Toby could see that it was an intense, open-mouthed kind of kiss. He was almost blushing from the intensity of it; it reminded him of the way Chris had kissed him.
When the bell rang, the two of them split apart quickly, though Ryan leaned up to whisper something to Officer Murphy before he walked off. The older man's eyes followed Ryan as the kid walked away, but when Ryan was gone, the officer straightened his shirt and his hair.
Toby stood there for a moment in shock. He'd known from before that there was something going on, but he'd sort of assumed that Ryan was the one screwing with Officer Murphy. It hadn't occurred to him that it was mutual – and seeing them kiss like that had been eye opening at least. He didn't know what to say or do, but he waited a moment longer before heading down the hallway.
Unfortunately for Toby, Vern was coming from the opposite direction with one of his friends, and he spotted Toby right away. The grin that lit up on the other boy's face was creepy, and Toby found himself tensing up instinctively. It was too late to run, and where could he go anyway? He'd have to pass Vern and his friend to get to his class anyway; he might as well get it over with now.
Schillinger came to stand in front of Toby, blocking his attempt to continue down the hallway. "Hey, sweet pea. Haven't seen you in a while. How have you been?" He reached forward and put his hand on Toby's shoulder. To an outsider, the gesture might have seemed friendly, but Toby knew better.
Flinching, Toby tried to pull away, but Schillinger's grip tightened. "I have to get to class," Toby said, his voice wavering despite his attempt to remain calm. Having Schillinger that close to him affected Toby as much as Chris would, though in an entirely different sort of way. There was certainly no lust for Vern, but Toby's body was aware of the other boy's presence all the same.
"What's the matter, Tobias? Your boyfriend isn't around to protect you, is he?" Schillinger asked. Toby's lack of response seemed to be enough for him, because Schillinger proceeded to grab Toby's backpack off the boy's shoulder. "What you got in here, huh?" he asked.
Schillinger opened up Toby's backpack and started pulling things out – text books, pens, notebooks – and passing them to his friend. The friend had a stupid grin on his face as he dropped Toby's book on the floor and stepped on it, cracking the spine and bending the cover. He snapped the pencils in half and dropped those, and then he ripped the cover off Toby's notebook before crumpling that up, too.
When Vern took out Toby's wallet, he dropped the now-empty backpack on the floor in favor of the wallet. "Well, rich boy, how much cash you got in here?" he asked, and opened the wallet.
"Schillinger, what the fuck are you doing?" Officer Murphy's voice was like a Godsend as he approached to grab Schillinger by the shoulder, snatching Toby's wallet out of the boy's hands. "And Mark? You want to get suspended again? We just went over this shit last week. Don't you guys ever learn?" he growled, looking more pissed off than Toby had seen him before.
Both Schillinger and his friend put on false expressions of remorse. "Gee, Officer Murphy, we were just helping Toby here clean out his bag," said Schillinger innocently.
"Pick that shit up and give Toby his wallet back," Murphy said. "And then you and I are taking a trip to see Principal Glynn, because this is fuckin ridiculous."
Grumbling, Schillinger bent down to pick up Toby's books as he'd been ordered. His friend did the same, looking equally as displeased with the request. Toby stood awkwardly, afraid that if he spoke that Vern or his friend might try something, even with the officer right there watching them.
The next person to show up was not the person Toby wanted to see right now – Mr. Metzger, the same teacher who had gotten Chris into trouble for defending Toby against Schillinger. "Officer Murphy, what's going on here?" he asked.
Before Murphy could answer the question, Vern was standing up straight again with Toby's ripped notebook dangling from his hands. "Toby dropped his things on the floor so we were helping him pick it up, but Officer Murphy thinks we were causing trouble, and he wants to send us to the principal," Schillinger said. "Tell him that we're not like that," he added. "We don't cause trouble, do we, Mark?"
Schillinger's friend nodded. "We were just helping Toby out," he added.
Both boys put grins on their face that might have passed for innocent, had Toby not already known that they were anything but. Still, Mr. Metzger seemed to take it at face value. "These boys are fine," he said. "Why don't you get off to class?" he said. "Toby can pick up his own stuff."
With a quick look at Officer Murphy, Mr. Metzger led Vern and Mark away, leaving Toby with his torn and broken books on the floor for him to pick up. After the others were gone, Officer Murphy helped Toby pick his things up as well.
Toby looked at the destroyed text books and notebooks; he'd have to pay the school back for new ones, and monetarily that wasn't an issue, but it was going to be hard to do his Physics class work with a book that was in such poor shape. That was on top of the fact that Schillinger had apparently gotten away with it again due to Mr. Metzger being on his side. Life just wasn't fair, was it?
"I'm sorry, Toby," Officer Murphy said. "I'll talk to the principal and see what I can do, but it's going to be my word against theirs," he added with a shrug.
Toby wanted to say something to Officer Murphy about Ryan, but he couldn't find the words. Instead, he just shoved the last of the books in his bag. "Thanks," he said quietly, and zipped up his backpack so he could head off to class. That was really all he could do.
After the school day was over, Ryan walked as fast as he could down to the other end of the school where Cyril's classroom was. Usually he'd have his brother meet him at the car, but for the past couple weeks, Ryan had made Cyril wait for him in his classroom instead of trying to have him brave the halls of the school on his own. That was the fault of Schillinger and Robson for messing with Cyril the way they had. Ryan didn't want to give them a chance to get to him again.
When he got to the classroom, Ryan was infuriated to find that Cyril was not alone. No, that fucking asshole Robson had Cyril backed into the lockers and he was saying something to him – something bad, judging by the look on Cyril's face. Then again, when did Robson say anything nice?
"Hey, Robson, why don't you fuck off?" Ryan growled as he approached. He wanted to knock Robson's fucking head off; the guy was a dick and he deserved terrible things to happen to him. Ryan could certainly arrange something for him, but he'd also promised Murphy that he wouldn't fight.
Robson backed off, but he didn't leave. Instead, he just grinned at Ryan. "Come to join the party, Ryan? Me and Cyril were just having a nice little chat," he explained in a falsely pleasant voice. He reached for Cyril, but the other boy flinched away, shooting a pleading look at Ryan.
"Get your hands off him, you cock sucker!" Ryan exclaimed. He was about ready to punch Robson's lights out when, out of nowhere, Mr. Metzger appeared in the hallway, arms crossed over his chest in a menacing manner. Even his face pissed Ryan off.
"Are you instigating fights, Mr. O'Reily?" asked Metzger. He looked entirely too pleased with himself, but he was a teacher, so Ryan couldn't argue with him. "Take your brother and go home," Metzger said. "If I catch you threatening people again, it's straight to detention," he warned.
Rather than stay and argue his point, Ryan grabbed Cyril by the sleeve and dragged his brother away. In his head, he was already thinking ahead to what kind of revenge he needed to get on Schillinger. Until this point, it had mostly been kicking around ideas, but nothing had stuck just yet.
Cyril chattered all the way home about how his day had been, and Ryan listened half-heartedly. He needed to think about what he could do to the assholes. He'd promised Murphy no fighting, but that didn't mean he couldn't get somebody else to fight for him. Keller hated those guys as much as he did, and Ryan knew if he played his game right, he could get Chris to help him out, to take this to the next step. So far, the other boy had been reluctant, but if Ryan brought up Toby, Chris would fold pretty easily. If not Chris, well, Ryan could probably find somebody else to bribe. Like Murphy.
When they got home, Ryan called up Chris right off. It only took a short phone conversation to get the other boy to agree to come over. After he hung up, Ryan helped Cyril with his homework and half-heartedly worked on his own as he waited for Chris.
They'd just finished up the last of Cyril's work when the knock came at the door. "Why don't you grab a snack and go watch some TV, Cyril?" Ryan asked his brother.
Cyril nodded carefully. "Okay, Ryan," he said with a smile.
While his brother opened the fridge to find a snack, Ryan went to answer the door.
Keller was leaning against the side of the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. He wore nonchalance like it was an expression made specifically for him, but Ryan was skilled enough in reading people that he knew it was only an act. Keller was interested in the proposition Ryan had for him. That was good; Keller was Ryan's best bet on getting the plan to go through without a hitch. He didn't want to have to rely on anybody else at this point; there wasn't anybody he felt comfortable asking. It wasn't like Ryan had anybody he'd really consider a friend.
"Come on in," Ryan said, and Chris entered. Ryan checked to make sure that Cyril was in the living room and watching television before he led Chris into the dining room instead. He didn't want Cyril to be a part of this conversation; there was the chance that Cyril would repeat what he'd heard, or maybe try to stop Ryan from doing anything, and he didn't need that.
They sat down at the dining room table, and Keller kind of spread out, leaning back in the chair and stretching his legs out under the table. Ryan didn't remember the other guy being that big; maybe it was posturing, like he was trying to show who was in charge here. Yeah, well he had another thing coming if he thought he could order an O'Reily around.
"So, what exactly did you have in mind for Schillinger?" Chris asked. "I'm all for getting back at him, too, but I'm not that interested in getting suspended, and Glynn says if I get in any more fights, then that's what he's gonna do." He shrugged.
Ryan leaned forward. "There ain't gonna be any fighting, all right. What we gotta do is figure out a way to get Schillinger in trouble without it even looking like we're involved."
In theory, it was a great idea. It was just a matter of finding the right way to go about it and put it into practice. He knew that if it came down to it, he could get Officer Murphy – Sean, as Ryan could not help thinking of him now – on their side. Maybe he could help them out if Mr. Metzger decided to get involved on Robson's side of the whole deal.
"Well I'm listening, O'Reily," Chris said. "Tell me what you got. I want to get back at these assholes, anyway, especially for the shit they did to Toby." He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back further in the chair.
"Look, I really don't give a shit about what's going on with you and Toby, because that's your business," Ryan told Chris. He couldn't really see what Chris would want with the kid anyway; Toby was a wuss who couldn't stick up for himself. Ryan had better taste than a guy like that, but maybe Chris saw something that Ryan didn't – though what the fuck that could be, he had no idea.
"It's your business because it has to do with Schillinger and his buddies," Chris told him. "Wouldn't have pegged you for a homophobe, O'Reily," he said, and the look he gave Ryan was scary, like maybe he knew something that he wasn't telling. There was no way Chris could know about Officer Murphy, could he? God, even Chris wasn't that good.
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Ryan exclaimed, and then glanced over to the doorway, hoping that Cyril hadn't heard that outburst.
Chris shrugged. "All I'm saying is that you and I aren't that different. So don't be judging me, all right? Now let's figure out what we're gonna do about these assholes. If we let them get away with it for too much longer, things are just gonna get that much worse. And if I do this, maybe things'll be better with me and Toby." He said the last part a bit softer, and Ryan couldn't miss the way Chris looked down at his hands. He was avoiding Ryan's gaze on purpose.
Fuck, did Chris think he was in love with Toby? Well that was certainly going to make things difficult – or maybe it would make things easier. Love could make people do crazy things, and Ryan could figure out how to use that to his advantage.
I'm worried about the characterization of Father/Mr. Mukada... :-/
Chapter 8: Almost Perfect
Chris and Toby have yet another discussion about their on-again, off-again "thing."
Ryan and Chris's plan comes to fruition.
AND there is a dramatic moment during lunch.
This chapter is so freakin' LONG, but there is really nowhere I could split it into two, so I'm sorry for that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
EIGHT: "ALMOST PERFECT"
Toby had spent the weekend mulling over what Mr. Mukada had told him, and while he hadn't come to a conclusion yet, Toby was sick of the whole thing. He was sick of fighting, sick of these stupid feelings inside of him that told him he was in love with Chris combating the thoughts in his head that told him it was wrong. He was sick of having to fight his own feelings, and most of all, he was sick of being unable to tell any of his friends what was going on, either. He was sure that they were getting annoyed with his constant moping over the whole situation.
Now it was Wednesday, and Toby hadn't spoken with Chris since they'd had their argument. He sat with his friends at lunch and he tried not to think of the other boy, but it was proving difficult.
"Don't look now," said Agamemnon, "but here comes Chris Keller." He was looking over Toby's shoulder at the entrance to the cafeteria, but his expression was mild and nonchalant about it, as though he didn't have any idea how much his words alone could affect his friend.
Toby, on the other hand, could not resist twisting around in his seat to see Chris walk in. As usual, his heart thrummed in his chest so loudly that he could hear nothing else. His eyes blocked out everything but Chris and the way he sauntered over to them. By the way he walked, it was obvious that Chris was well aware of the eyes that were on him. Chris wouldn't be Chris if he didn't act like he was the center of attention, whether he was or not.
When he approached their table, Chris came to stand by Toby, putting his hand on the back of the chair. Though he wasn't touching Toby, the other boy could still feel the presence of Chris's hand as though there was actual physical contact between them. "Hey, Toby, can I talk to you?" he said in a quiet voice, softer than Toby was used to from him.
Looking into Chris's eyes, Toby knew instantly that he wasn't going to be able to say no. "Now?" he asked. "I'm eating lunch." It was a flimsy attempt at rejection. There was no way that Chris was going to fall for that, but Toby figured it was worth a shot anyway.
"Look, Toby, I'm sorry," Chris said, still in that calm, quiet voice. His mouth was close to Toby's ear, his breath sending shivers down Toby's spine. "I shouldn't have said that shit to you, and I want to make it up to you. Can we talk some place more private? Unless you want your friends to be a part of this conversation," he added. His hand slipped off the back of the chair and onto Toby's shoulder.
The heat from Chris's hand felt as though it was going to burn right through his shirt with the touch. He was too afraid to turn and see the expressions on Bob and Agamemnon's faces, especially when they'd see that overt gesture from Chris. Without turning to glance at his friends, Toby rose from the chair and let Chris lead him out of the lunch room.
After a short walk, they ended up in the men's room just down the hall. When Chris locked the door behind them, Toby got a little worried. He got more worried when Chris backed Toby into the wall by the sinks, leaving the smaller boy with no place to escape. The fact that Toby didn't even try was a testament to the feelings he had toward Chris – feelings that he was never going to be able to get rid of.
"I know I was shit to you, Toby," Chris said in a low, even voice. "I don't know what I'm doing half the time, and then you come along and fuck everything up for me. You're the first time I ever felt like this about anybody and I keep being an asshole to you, and I'm so sorry for all of it, Toby." He put his hands on Toby's face like he was trying to hold him there – like he thought that if he didn't, Toby might try to leave. Surely he knew by now that Toby couldn't leave.
Unable to tear his gaze from Chris's, Toby instead let out a sigh. "You've been messing with my head since that first day when you came over to my house," Toby told him. "I thought you were playing some kind of game with me and I still don't know what you want from me. Before you came along I never had any doubts about – well, I thought I was straight, okay? After everything that we did together, it's hard to think that anymore." He didn't want to say the L-word, not yet, even if it was welling up inside of him. "God, Chris, I don't know what the hell is going on with me, with this thing we have."
Chris smiled. "Oh Toby," he said, and before Toby knew what was happening, he'd leaned forward and they were kissing again, without any pretext or explanation or anything that suggested that the argument or apology or whatever they were having was over.
As usual, Toby's body responded before his brain could have any say in the matter. His hands reached to clutch at the front of Chris's shirt and his hips canted forward to come into contact with the rest of Chris's body. It was impossible to deny the chemistry between them, even after everything else that they'd gone through. It would all come down to this, the feeling of their bodies together and the way Toby's heart beat in time with Chris's. Nothing else mattered.
When Chris pulled away, he had a small smile on his face. "You smell really good," he said, and pressed his face into Toby's neck to inhale again. "What are you wearing?" His hand was firm on Toby's waist, and Toby could feel the heat even through the t-shirt he wore.
"What?" Toby blinked. "Oh. I put on some of my dad's cologne this morning." It had been a spur of the moment idea, but the bottle had been sitting there on the bathroom sink – forgotten by his father in the elder Beecher's rush to get to work – and Toby had helped himself to a little.
Chris's hand was tight on his waist and his mouth was on Toby's neck. "It smells really sexy," he said in a low voice. "God, Toby." The last sound was closer to a growl than words, and when Chris's mouth found the pulse point on Toby's neck, Toby sucked in a breath. The tip of Chris's tongue licked along the vein, and Toby found his head tilting back to allow Chris more access.
The reality of what they were doing – and where they were doing it – should have hit him by now, but he was lost in the sensation of Chris's body against his and the mouth on his neck. He let out a sigh before he knew what he was doing, and his hands loosened a bit on Chris's t-shirt as his brain shut down in response to the actions.
Time seemed to slow down as they kissed, but then Chris pulled away. "You should wear that all the time," he whispered into Toby's ear. Then he rolled his hips against Toby's, teasing another gasp from the other boy's mouth. "Then again, maybe you'd better not. I won't be able to concentrate in McManus's class with you smelling so good." He smiled again, and captured Toby's mouth before the other boy could make any sort of comment in response.
Rather than argue, Toby just grabbed Chris's shoulders again and kissed him back. There would be time to talk later.
"I'll see you later, all right, Toby?" he said. When Toby nodded, Chris released the other boy's wrist and headed off in the opposite direction. Toby watched him go before turning to go back to the cafeteria where his friends were still waiting.
When he arrived back at the lunch table, both Bob and Agamemnon were looking at him expectantly. Neither of them spoke, though, and Toby knew they were expecting him to say something. How could he explain everything to them in the short time they had left in the period? There was no way he could summarize the feelings rolling around in his mind into a five minute conversation.
He sighed, and finally just decided to blurt it out. "Chris Keller and I are boyfriends," Toby said. The word felt strange coming out of his mouth, but for fuck's sake he and Chris had just talked about it before they'd left the bathroom. Of course, Toby had been a bit dazed from the kissing when he'd agreed to it, so the reality of what it meant to be boyfriends was only hitting him now.
The non-reaction from his friends was more telling than anything they could have said aloud. Then Bob smiled – and the funny thing was that it didn't seem forced, despite all of the warnings Bob had given him about Chris before now – and said, "Congratulations, Toby."
Agamemnon nodded. "That's great!" he said. "It's nice to see you happy."
The bell rang before either of them could say anything else, and Toby gathered up the rest of his lunch, tossing it in the trash. He wasn't all that hungry anyway – not with this new development in his life. Things were finally starting to look up for Toby. He only hoped it would last.
"Hey, buddy, let's go," Ryan said, clapping his brother on the shoulder. "Keller's gonna be waiting for us in the parking lot. You all set?" he asked.
Nodding, Cyril shouldered his backpack and followed Ryan outside, the puppet still on his hand.
Ryan couldn't stand the thing. Ever since Ms. Reimondo had given it to him, Cyril wouldn't take it off – except when he was showering – and he was always whispering at it. Gave Ryan the creeps, to be honest. He didn't have the heart to say that to his brother, though, so he just put up with it.
When they got out to Ryan's car, Chris Keller was already there, sitting on the back bumper like he belonged there. Though Ryan knew that Chris was the guy to help him out with the job with Schillinger, he still didn't have to like the guy. Chris's attitude that he owned everything pissed Ryan off. The guy was not the center of the universe, no matter how much he seemed to think he was.
"Get off my car, asshole," Ryan said. "Jesus, show some respect."
Chris hopped off. "You want me to show respect for that piece of shit? Fuck, O'Reily, you got shitty taste in cars." He gave the car a look of disdain, wrinkling his nose.
"Oh, baby, he didn't mean that!" Ryan said to the car, patting the back end as though it were a pet or a person rather than a piece of machinery. Then he shot a glare at Keller. "So, did you get the job done or not?" He was annoyed that he had to ask in the first place.
Keller shrugged, a hint of a smirk playing on his face. Ryan wanted to wipe it off. "What do you think, O'Reily?" he asked. "You give me a job, I'm gonna get it done." Then he raised his eyebrows. "Not like I need to do it anymore, anyway. Toby's already forgiven me."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Like I give a fuck about your relationship with Beecher. He's a pussy anyway," he added, all the while knowing he was baiting Chris.
Instantly Chris's expression changed. "You want to say that again, dickhead? Toby ain't no fuckin pussy." He looked like he was ready to fight, and Ryan saw the way his arms flexed dangerously.
There was no way he could take Keller in a fight, but Ryan wondered if it was worth a shot anyway. The guy was clearly deluded if he was in love with Beecher of all people; love – or lust, whatever it was – could make a guy do some stupid things. Ryan thought of Officer Murphy for a moment, but pushed those thoughts away immediately. Love wasn't the word to describe what Ryan felt for the older man and it would be stupid to think that's what it was.
"Ryan," Cyril said imploringly, "don't fight," he begged.
He didn't even have to look at his brother to know what look was on Cyril's face. Ryan hated when Cyril got that look, almost as much as he hated when Cyril saw him like this with other people. His brother didn't need to know about this shit. He sighed. "Fine, Keller. Beecher isn't a fuckin pussy, but hell if I know why you like him so fucking much. As far as I know he ain't done much for you. But you promise you did what I asked?" He wanted to get back on track to what they were supposed to be focused on in the first place. Arguing with Chris about Toby wasn't getting them anywhere.
"I told you I fuckin did it, all right?" Chris growled. "And if I get caught for this, asshole, I'm taking you down with me. This is on your head." He pointed a finger threateningly at Ryan. "You better do your part tomorrow, and then I want my fuckin payment."
Ryan nodded. "You'll get it, Jesus. Just meet me after school tomorrow and we'll get sorted out. But if this don't work out, you aren't getting shit," he added. "I only pay for a job well done."
"Don't you worry, O'Reily; I always do a good job," Chris said ominously. With those final words, he strolled off to the other end of the student parking lot.
Ryan turned back to Cyril. "All right, buddy, let's go," he said, unlocking the car. He helped his brother into the passenger seat before walking around to the driver's side.
When Ryan started up the car and backed out of the parking space, Cyril spoke. "Ryan, what is Chris doing for you?" he asked. "Are you doing something bad?" He was frowning, and he held the puppet up like he was going to make it talk to Ryan.
Before he could, Ryan grabbed it with his free hand, keeping his eyes on the road. "Don't fuckin wave that thing at me," he said. "And no, Keller and I aren't doing anything bad, all right, Cyril? Keep your mouth shut about it." The harsh tone was probably a little bit over the top, but he wanted Cyril to understand. "This is private stuff, and if you tell anybody, we're gonna get in trouble, okay? Keep it a secret." At least he knew that word would stick.
Cyril nodded. "Yes, Ryan." And when Ryan released the puppet so he could put his hands back on the steering wheel, Cyril nodded the puppet's head, too. Ryan rolled his eyes at that, but at least Cyril seemed to understand; that was all he really cared about right now.
The hallways began to clear as everyone rushed off to class before the bell, but Ryan wasn't in a hurry. He knew where Sean – Officer Murphy – would be this time of day, and he knew he had some information that he knew the officer would be interested to have.
Sean was waiting right where Ryan knew he would be – standing guard outside the auditorium. The auditorium was off-limits during school hours, but kids liked to sneak in behind the stage for quick make-out sessions – and sometimes more than that, if they could get away with it. Sean probably thought he was doing them a favor, but really, what was wrong with two kids trying to get a little nookie to break up the monotony of the school day? Ryan sure as hell couldn't blame 'em.
"Hey," Ryan said, sidling up to the man. He took a quick look around before he got up closer to Sean that probably he would have done if there had been other people in sight. Since they were essentially alone, Ryan didn't bother with pretense.
Externally, at least, Sean was the very picture of stoic. "What do you want, O'Reily?"
"I got some info you might like to hear, you being an officer of the law and all that," Ryan said. "The very good of the school population is in danger."
Sean didn't buy it. "Oh, sure, O'Reily. Like you care about the good of the school," he said, rolling his eyes. But the exasperated sigh that left his mouth was for show; he was interested.
"Well, fine, if I'm bugging you, I can just go and you can let the crime in this school run rampant." Ryan shrugged and did his best to look the part of the concerned citizen. His hands did a little wandering, though, perhaps a little lower than they should have. Sean was packing a sizeable bulge, though, and Ryan liked to see the shocked look on his face when he cupped it with his hand. It was thrilling to able to have that sort of control over somebody. Ryan liked power.
"All right, O'Reily, talk. I ain't got all fuckin day. I'm working, and you gotta get to class before the bell," Sean said. He grabbed Ryan's wrist in his hands, but he didn't tug very hard.
Nevertheless, Ryan moved his hand to a somewhat safer place – Sean's hip – before leaning up to whisper into Sean's ear. When he pulled away, he could see that Sean was trying hard not to act as intrigued as he clearly felt. "You know, for the good of the school, you might wanna do something about that," Ryan finished aloud. Then he patted Sean on the shoulder.
Ryan turned to go – he didn't want to be too late for Mineo's class – but when a thought occurred to him, he turned back one last time. "I got study hall fifth period, if you wanna clear your schedule," he said with a wink. He left it at that as he walked off. As much fun as it was teasing Murphy, he did have somewhere to be. If he'd planned things out correctly, just about lunch time would be when things were gonna go down, and he couldn't wait for the fireworks.
Toby was trying to be comfortable with the fact that Chris was eating his lunch with one hand, leaving the other hand on Toby's leg, but it was hard. He wasn't used to public displays of affection like this, but he was afraid to say anything to Chris and cause another fight between the two of them. What they had seemed to be so fragile that he constantly worried he might do something to make Chris realize what a mistake he was making.
Instead of saying anything, Toby focused on his lunch; it was a dumb thing to get so concerned with when being with Chris brought so many other benefits. Toby realized that he was probably just being a little bit of a prude about it, since this was the first time he'd ever been with a guy like this.
"Since when does Officer Murphy come here during lunch?" Bob asked, looking past Toby to the entrance of the cafeteria. "I thought he usually left that up to the lunch monitors," he said.
Toby and Chris both twisted around in their seats to see what Bob was talking about.
Officer Murphy entered the cafeteria with purpose and he was headed straight for the table where Vern Schillinger sat with his friends. Upon realizing this, Toby's stomach clenched up with anticipation. Was Schillinger going to get in trouble for something? That would be a first.
Through the noise of the cafeteria, Toby could not hear anything from that far away, but he saw that Officer Murphy had indeed approached Schillinger. The officer had put his hand on the boy's shoulder as he bent down to speak with him. Toby had never before wished he could read lips, but he made the wish desperately at that moment; he needed to know what Officer Murphy was saying to Vern.
When Officer Murphy removed his hand, Vern stood up from the table, but it was clear that the boy was barely containing his rage. That could only mean one thing – Schillinger was definitely in trouble. Toby was curious what offense had been the one he'd gotten in trouble for.
"Looks like Vern finally got what was coming to him," Chris said into Toby's ear.
Officer Murphy was in the process of walking Vern out of the cafeteria when suddenly there was a loud crack that sounded like – well, Toby thought it sounded like a firecracker going off, but the idea was so absurd that he didn't believe that could be that could be what he'd heard.
Every single student in the cafeteria, Toby included, swiveled around to the front of the cafeteria, where the sound had come from. Toby was utterly in shock to see the French exchange student, Guilluame, standing on his chair and waving a gun in his hand.
"Oh shit," said Chris in a low voice. His hand tightened on Toby's leg.
All around them were gasps and shouts of fear from the other students, but everybody seemed to be too scared to move right away. Toby was frozen where he sat.
"Hey, kid, put the gun down," said Officer Murphy in a calm, authoritative voice. "You don't want to hurt anybody, do you?" he asked.
Toby wondered how the hell the guy could be this calm when there was a gun being waved around so unpredictably. Meanwhile, his whole body was trembling, even where Chris was squeezing his leg so hard that it was going numb. Toby could not believe this was happening; Guilluame had always seemed like a nice guy, even if he was kind of shy and a bit of a loner.
Guilluame said something in French and then waved the gun again. Holding the gun above him, he squeezed the trigger and shot out one of the fluorescent lights that lined the ceiling. At that, there were more gasps from the students, and a couple students actually ducked out of their chairs and onto the floor, under the tables. Toby was too frozen to do anything but watch in horror at first.
Officer Murphy was holding his hands up in a defensive gesture as he took a tentative step toward the student. "You really don't want to do this," he said. "Give me the gun, kid."
But Guilluame didn't look convinced. "You know nothing," he said to the officer. He put both hands on the gun and held it out in front of him, pointing the weapon at Officer Murphy. His hands were trembling, judging by the way the gun shook in his hands, but his face was blank.
More students gasped and hid under their tables. Toby and his friends did the same, though for a moment, Chris looked like he was ready to do something stupid, like maybe go up there and try to talk to Guilluame or wrestle the gun away from him. Toby grabbed Chris's arm and tugged him under the table before he could. "Don't even," he whispered, narrowing his eyes at the other boy. "Don't be stupid, Chris."
There was another crack of the gun being shot, and then Officer Murphy stumbled back, falling to the floor. It was nothing like in the movies when people fall gracefully, eyes fluttering closed as they clutch their chests. Murphy just crumpled, hitting the ground with a thud. The gasps and screams from the other students became louder, but when Toby realized that Officer Murphy had been shot, all the sound seemed to get sucked out of the room.
Toby saw the man lying on the floor in a heap. He saw Ryan crawl to Murphy's side, out in the open with no regard for his own safety. He felt Chris's hand tighten on his arm and the other boy's breath was hot in Toby's ear; he might have been talking, but Toby could hear nothing other than his own heartbeat and the blood rushing in his ears.
Things seemed to happen quickly after that. Apparently in shock from what he'd done, Guilluame dropped the gun as though it were on fire. Mr. Lopresti swooped in to restrain Guilluame, holding the student's hands behind his back. The boy didn't even struggle against the teacher.
Ms. Howell grabbed the gun from the ground and quickly emptied the chamber, leaving Toby to wonder where she'd learned to do that. He'd seen his father shoot on the gun range before, but even Toby's father didn't empty a gun that fast; she'd clearly had a lot of practice.
Chris squeezed Toby's shoulder again, though this gesture was a bit gentler than it had been before. Instead of being done out of fright and terror, it was an attempt at comfort. Toby was grateful for that. "Are you all right?" Chris asked quietly. "I almost pissed myself when he started waving that thing around," he said. Toby just nodded, unable to speak right away.
"All right, I need everybody to calm down," Ms. Howell said, her voice clear and firm even through the chaos around her. "I want you all to go into the auditorium and have a seat. You can take your lunches in there if you need to. Just remain calm, all right?" She went on to say more, but it was drowned out by the sounds of the students grabbing their things and leaving the cafeteria as quickly as they could.
After they crawled out from under the table, Toby's heart was still pounding like a drum in his chest. Chris grabbed Toby's shirt and pulled him into a tight hug. They stood there for a moment, holding each other close, ignoring everybody else around them. In that moment, Toby didn't care who was watching; he was just so happy to have Chris there close and alive.
They were still there when most of the other students had left and the EMTs arrived to put the injured Officer Murphy onto their stretcher. The school nurse, Mrs. Nathan was also there. She had to hold Ryan back as the EMTs led Officer Murphy away. Ryan looked like he was about ready to follow them out to the ambulance, but he let Mrs. Nathan restrain him.
Toby wanted to say something to Ryan, but he couldn't think of anything appropriate. Instead, he let Chris lead him, not to the auditorium, but down the hall to the men's room for a private moment between the two of them. Neither of them could speak, but Toby knew that they didn't need words.
Of course, when Mr. Lopresti found them fifteen minutes later, they were in a somewhat compromising position. They got a bit of a talking to from Mr. Lopresti, and then another from Principal Glynn, who was already on high-stress alert from Guilluame's outburst.
"What the fuck is this?" he asked. "Is everybody trying to give me a fucking heart attack or what?" Glynn said, shaking his head. "Look, I don't have time to deal with this shit." He turned to Mr. Lopresti, who was still standing there, waiting. "They can go. I still gotta deal with Vern Schillinger and James Robson and if you ask me, having drugs in school is a bigger deal than some kids trying to get it on in the men's room." With a wave of his hand, he turned back to his phone.
Mr. Lopresti let them go, somewhat reluctantly.
Though Toby was curious about what Principal Glynn had let slip – Schillinger had drugs in school? – he decided he'd worry about that later. He had Chris's hand in his own as they left the office, and they were both alive and what else did he need?
...and, I know, like, some stuff didn't get resolved.
YES, there is an epilogue coming, but it doesn't focus on Chris and Toby. I deliberately left them a little open-ended.
I have more to say about the end of this, but I will wait until I have posted the final chapter/epilogue.
Chapter 9: All's Well That Ends Well
Epilogue of sorts -- Ryan finally founds out how Officer Murphy fared after the shooting.
EPILOGUE: "ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL"
"...only Sean Murphy, the school's security officer, was injured. He's currently at Benchley Memorial recuperating from a gunshot wound to the shoulder. The student who had shot the gun was taken into custody shortly after the incident and –"
Ryan switched the television off before the news report could go into further detail. He hadn't heard anything about Sean since the EMTs had taken him away in the ambulance. Principal Glynn hadn't exactly been forthcoming with information, either.
"I don't know why you're so goddamn interested in Officer Murphy, O'Reily, but I don't like it. Stop asking me. He'll be back at school when he's recovered. Until then, leave me the fuck alone about it, okay?" That was the speech he'd gotten the last time he'd been to Glynn's office, and though he didn't want to, Ryan had promised not to bug the guy anymore.
The news report hadn't given him anymore than he didn't already know, and he was frustrated. He'd already called the hospital four times, but because he wasn't family, nobody would tell him anything. He did charm the receptionist into taking down a note to give to Sean, though. At least he knew he still had it – not that he'd ever had any doubt about his abilities.
Four days had passed and Ryan hadn't heard a thing. The note he'd left for Sean had his home number on it and a request to call him, but since he hadn't gotten a phone call, Ryan was assuming that the receptionist hadn't actually given the note to Sean – either that, or the guy was ignoring him for another reason. He didn't want to think about that. Meanwhile, Toby and Chris were walking around school with stars in their eyes all the goddamn time; it was sickening.
"Ryan?" Cyril's voice broke into Ryan's thoughts, and he glanced over to see his brother sitting next to him on the couch, still playing with that stupid puppet. "Is Officer Murphy gonna be okay?" he asked. "I like him. I don't want him to be hurt."
"Me neither, Cyril," Ryan said with a sigh. "He's probably fine, but nobody's telling me anything." He shook his head and then stood up from the couch. "Let's go make some dinner. You hungry, buddy?" he asked.
Though he couldn't cook much, Ryan knew how to work the oven, and it didn't take a genius to cook a frozen pizza. Half an hour later, the two of them were enjoying the slightly-burnt pizza when the phone rang.
Ryan was up out of his chair before the third ring. "Sup?" he said into the phone, hoping he didn't sound too breathless. He had only one guess as to who was on the other line, and he hoped he was right.
"Uh, Ryan? It's Sean," said the voice he'd been waiting to hear. "I got your note," he added with a small chuckle. At least he sounded like he was doing well; Ryan could relax a little knowing that.
"Yeah?" he said. "You know, Sean, you don't gotta get yourself shot just to look cool in front of everybody else," he added. The grin on his face probably looked stupid, but he couldn't help himself.
Sean laughed. "Oh, you weren't impressed?" he asked. "Well, fuck you, O'Reily. I'll have you know, there's a lotta nice lookin' nurses here. I could have my pick."
Rather than take the bait – because it was just bait, right? Sean didn't mean it like that, did he? – Ryan just took a deep breath. "Are you gonna be released from the hospital any time soon? They already said I can't visit you because I'm not family. But I really wanna come see you." He clamped his mouth shut before he started spouting stuff that he didn't need to say just yet, but he was sure that Sean could already tell that Ryan was nearing dangerous territory.
"They said I should be discharged tomorrow night," Sean said. "I won't be back to work for a little bit, but sounds like I'll be home tomorrow night. You can come see me there if you want."
"Listen, Ryan," Sean began, and the way he exhaled told Ryan that some kind of serious conversation was forthcoming. "I think –"
"Don't start with that," Ryan said. "Save the talking for later. Just – get better, okay? Call me when you're out and we'll get together." He wished that he could see Sean's face, but he'd have to settle for the phone until tomorrow.
Sean sighed. "Okay. I'll call you tomorrow. I gotta go for now. The hot nurse is here to change my bandages," he said, and Ryan could practically see the smirk on his face.
"Yeah, well fuck you, Murphy," Ryan answered. He could hardly wait until tomorrow night, and his mind was already skipping ahead to the things they could do in the privacy of Sean's apartment. At school, their activities were limited to stolen kisses in the hallway, but without the threat of being caught – well, there was a lot that could happen.
"Love you too," said Sean in a light voice.
For a moment Ryan froze. Then, he forced out, "What?"
"Uh –" Sean seemed to be as shocked as Ryan was. "Fuck. Ah, forget I said anything, okay? I really gotta go. I'll call you," he said again.
Before Ryan could form a proper answer, the dial tone was ringing in his ear. He hung the phone up and stood for a moment, wondering what the fuck had happened. All he really knew was that he and Sean would have a fuck of a lot to talk about come tomorrow.
AND THAT IS IT.
Now, as for what I wanted to say about this AU --
I am very tempted to continue using this high school AU to write about other characters -- perhaps more Ryan/Sean, something with Miguel, something with Hoyt (?) or any of the other tens of characters that show up on Oz that I didn't even mention yet. We shall see if I end up doing that, though. :-)