North Carolina School or Science and Math
Durham, North Carolina
“So what’re your dreams and goals, anyway?” Stefen asked suddenly. Vanyel started and looked over at his roommate. Stefen was leaning his desk chair so far back Vanyel was surprised he didn’t tip over. “You never did tell me.”
Vanyel laughed. “We got distracted,” he agreed, remembering one of the “get-to-know-you” activities they’d done during orientation. “You asked me about my family, and it went downhill from there.”
Stefen shuddered dramatically. “I can’t believe they’re pig farmers. You seem so normal. Other than the accent,” he allowed.
“This’s my big chance to get out of taking over the farm,” Vanyel reminded him. “Dad thinks I’m gonna go back and take over, but Mekeal’s welcome to it. He wants to go organic or something. Good luck with that! If I never go back to Ayden I’ll be just as happy.”
Stefen nodded absently, his mind obviously miles away. Vanyel waited patiently; he’d discovered Stefen was a lot more fun if Vanyel let him finish thinking things through. Stefen didn’t look it, with all those strawberry-blond curls, but he was quite the practical joker. Not that anyone could prove that it was them.
“Dreams and goals,” Stefen reminded him after a few moments of silence. Vanyel sighed. Looked like Stefen wasn’t going to let himself be distracted this time.
“It’s going to sound silly, since this is a school of science and math, but I want to be a musician,” Vanyel admitted, staring blindly at his desk. “Dad always said that ‘music can’t be a profession,’ and ‘you can’t live on dreams, son,’ but I—”
Two warm hands on his shoulders silenced him, and Vanyel looked up to see Stefen’s face looking down at him seriously. Stefen rarely did serious, and the attempt was even more comical upside-down; Vanyel felt his heart lift at the sight. “So that’s where you’ve been disappearing to every week!” Stefen’s serious face broke into a smile, and Vanyel smiled helplessly back. “What instrument do you play?”
“Violin, but I’m not very good at it.”
“So what are you good at, then? You don’t seem to love the violin, so...?”
“Piano,” Vanyel said, and somehow it was easy to say that to Stefen, when he’d never said it to anyone else. “I used to sneak into the church on weekdays and practice.”
Stefen’s brow creased. “Isn’t there a class for piano or something?”
Vanyel nodded. “Classical Piano and Guitar Theory and Practice.”
“And you’re in Orchestra instead why?”
Vanyel shrugged. He had no explanation, none that he would admit anyway.
“Well, that won’t do,” Stefen said. “You’re gonna have to play for me sometime soon, and then I can tell you how good you are and that you have no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. I bet you’ll make a world-class pianist someday.”
“Okay,” Vanyel promised, shocking himself, then realized that Stefen was still hanging over him. The other boy’s hands were hot on his shoulders, and Vanyel blushed. “Um—”
He was interrupted by the door slamming open. “Spin-the-bottle in the Student Center, come on let’s go!” Savil commanded, then covered her mouth. “Oops, you don’t think Starwind heard me, do you?”
Stefen rolled his eyes at her nickname for their Student Life Instructor. “If he did he’d just pretend he didn’t. I think you make him nervous. Who else’s going?”
“Donni, Mardic, Medren, Tantras, me, you and Vanyel makes seven,” she answered.
Vanyel considered. “Kind of heavy on the guys there, isn’t it?”
Savil laughed. “This is the twenty-first century! Worries like that are so 1999. C’mon already, they’ll start without us!”
“It’s already nine,” Vanyel pointed out, stalling. “That doesn’t leave much time.” Truth was, he wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to kiss any of the people listed, but Savil was hard to say no to.
Stefen pulled Vanyel out of his chair, his large warm hand gripping Vanyel’s, and Vanyel felt his objections die. “That’s a whole hour if we skip happy-half,” he said, and Vanyel could only nod dumbly and follow them out the door.
“Kiss him! Kiss him!” The circle of students chanted. Donni grinned, leaned across the circle, and planted a big, wet kiss squarely on Mardic’s lips.
“It’s not as exciting when they’re already dating,” Savil complained. “Now last year, before the Big Confession, that was funny! Spin the bottle really is the best for bringing things out into the open.”
“You just like laughing at other people’s embarrassment,” Tantras replied, wrinkling his nose at Savil. Then he groaned. “Oh no, it’s my turn, isn’t it?”
“Spin it! Spin it!”
Tantras spun the bottle, crossing his fingers obviously as it slowed, slowed, slowed...and stopped. He looked up at Savil and grinned. “Aw, man! I bet you have cooties!”
“Just kiss her already!” Medren said impatiently. “She’s enjoying every minute of this—don’t give her any more attention.”
Tantras scooted across the circle on his hands and knees, kissed Savil on the cheek, and scooted back to his seat. “There! Your turn, Vanyel.”
Vanyel eyed the bottle much as one would a very venomous snake. He was already regretting having agreed to this, and he hadn’t even had to kiss anybody yet. He looked up at Stefen pleadingly, but his roommate just shook his head at him.
“Just do it,” Stefen advised him. “Get it over with quickly, and maybe there won’t be time for another turn.”
“Yeah, and you can always kiss whoever on the cheek like I did,” Tantras added.
“Where’s everybody else, anyway?” Vanyel asked, stalling for time. Normally the Student Center was buzzing, but tonight it was empty except for them. Not that he was complaining about the fortuitous lack of an audience or anything.
“They’re at the moregy,” Mardic answered. “A moregy is a group of at least twenty people piled on top of each other in a field,” he explained at the confused looks from the juniors in the circle. “I think it was started back in...2001, wasn’t it, Donni?”
“No, it was the class of 2002,” Donni corrected him. “Now stop stalling, Vanyel.”
“Right. No problem,” Vanyel muttered to himself as he spun the bottle. “Easy at pie...” he trailed off. The bottle was pointing at Stefen. “Um.” Vanyel focused on Stefen’s chin, unable to look in the boy’s eyes and sure he was blushing bright red. Just a kiss on the cheek. No problem.
Vanyel leaned over, aiming for Stefen’s cheek, just now noticing that Stefen was blushing as well—wait, why was Stefen blushing? What did he have to be embarrassed about? Vanyel was the one doing the kissing here—but Stefen turned at the last minute and Vanyel ended up actually kissing him.
On the mouth.
Stefen’s mouth was soft and warm, and that was all Vanyel had time to think before he wrenched himself away. He felt like sinking into the floor. Why wasn’t he an ostrich? Burying his head in the sand would be so nice right about now.
Any longer and he might not have been able to stop.
“Um.” Vanyel stuttered. “Um. Bathroom!” He blindly pushed the bottle away and ran for it.
“Stefen!” Savil hissed angrily. Stefen stopped staring after Vanyel’s disappearing back and looked at her. “What are you still waiting here for? Go after him already!”
Go after him. Right! Stefen forced his brain to start working again. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked weakly.
Stefen found Vanyel washing his hands in the public restroom. “Hey,” he greeted, surprising himself with how low his voice came out.
Vanyel looked up and gave him a weak smile. “Hey.”
Vanyel looked away, his cheeks flushing again. He had such fair skin, Stefen thought, and his lashes were dark against his cheek when he blinked. He was beautiful. Stefen found himself taking a step closer and forced himself to stop. “Vanyel?”
Vanyel looked up at him, and Stefen drew in a quick breath. For a second, in the harsh fluorescent lighting, he could have sworn that Vanyel’s eyes were silver. Those eyes caught and held Stefen’s. “Yeah,” Vanyel whispered. “I’m okay.”
Stefen took another step forward. He was close enough now to lift a hand and caress Vanyel’s cheek, so he did. “Mind if I kiss you again?”
Vanyel stared up at him, then nodded. Stefen slid his other hand into Vanyel’s hair, that gorgeous black hair that had been calling to him for weeks now, leaned in, and kissed Vanyel. Properly this time, not just the little peck of before. Vanyel wrapped his arms around Stefen’s neck, and tilted his head a little, and oh.
When they finally parted, Stefen leaned his forehead against Vanyel’s, keeping his hands firmly entwined in that long black hair. “We okay?” he asked again.
“...yeah,” Vanyel said, and leaned back in for another kiss.
Vanyel was dreaming. He dreamt he was in a cold, white place, all alone, and with something bad coming. Something that hated him, something that would kill him if it had the chance, and Vanyel was alone in this empty place with no way to stop it.
Vanyel knew that he was dreaming, and yet he couldn’t wake up. The Thing got closer—
“Vanyel! Vanyel, wake up!” a familiar voice said in his ear.
Vanyel gasped and opened his eyes. “’Lendel?” he asked the shape above him. Wait, that wasn’t right. He tried again. “Stefen?”
“What did you call me?” Stefen demanded, an odd tone in his voice. Vanyel frowned and struggled to sit up.
Stefen leaned back enough that Vanyel could sit up, and then repeated, “What did you just call me?”
Vanyel frowned and tried to think past the terror of the dream. “Lendel, I think, but why would I call you that? Your name is Stefen.”
“Stefen is my middle name,” Stefen said, “remember? I told everyone to call me that, because—”
“Because your first name’s so horrible you wouldn’t even say it, said your mom must have gotten it out of an old fantasy book or something,” Vanyel finished.
“My name is Tylendel,” Stefen said quietly. Vanyel gaped at him. “What were you dreaming?” Stefen asked suddenly.
Vanyel blinked in surprise but answered. “I don’t remember exactly. I was cold, I think, and there was something bad coming. It feels like an old, old dream, but I’m sure I’ve never had it before.”
“I knew you were dreaming something bad,” Stefen confessed, “even though you weren’t making any noise or anything. You shouldn’t have been dreaming that. You’re not alone.”
Vanyel shivered at the odd tone in Stefen’s voice. “You’re cold,” the other boy realized, and then Vanyel was being pulled close and held tightly. Vanyel tucked his head under Stefen’s chin, relishing the warm arms around him and for once not worrying about looking strong. Stefen was right: he wasn’t alone now. Not anymore.
“I’ve never believed in reincarnation before,” Stefen mused.
Vanyel laughed. “I’d find you in any lifetime, I think. No matter what.”
Stefen smiled into his hair. “You can call me ‘Lendel, you know. I’d only take that from you, ashke, but you’re welcome to it.”
“I’d like that,” Vanyel replied, not questioning the odd take on his last name. That, too, felt right.