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Sailors, Convicts, Scarlet Women

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After the third incident in as many days, Jamie begins to suspect that this guy is following him around on purpose.

He doesn't have the cautiousness or the arrogance of a new student, but Jamie can't imagine that he's just been there at Edison High the whole time. A kid like that, Jamie would've noticed. The first time Jamie sees him, just a week after the winter semester starts, he shows up to Mrs. Frye's math class ten minutes late, apologizes for another five minutes before finally sitting down (right next to Jamie), and proceeds to shuffle his feet, tap his pen, and hum under his breath for the rest of the class. Jamie thinks about telling him to stop, but in the end he just puts his head down, lets his hair fall around him like a curtain, and focuses on his algebra.

"Thank god it's lunchtime, I'm starving," the not-new kid says, when the bell goes. He has bright orange hair in weird little spikes and a big grin on his face, like he's telling a joke. Jamie tries to think of something to say back, but before he can come up with anything the kid is gone, out the door, leaving a half-chewed pen top on the desk behind him. He goes so quickly that Jamie imagines him leaving his big toothy grin behind, too, like a Cheshire Cat.

*

He doesn't see the not-new kid in the lunchroom, but does see him again the next day, between periods. He's standing with a bunch of senior boys who are all a head taller than him, juggling two apples and an orange – probably taken from peoples' lunches. The seniors are laughing and grinning, and they keep laughing and grinning when the not-new kid makes a mistake, drops the fruit, starts chasing an orange down the hallway, and crashes into Patricia Plummer, scattering her books and notes all over the floor. Teddy Brackett breaks off from the rest of the boys and walks up behind the not-new kid, who's now half-kneeling on the floor and apologizing, and Jamie knows exactly what's coming next – a boot in the rear to send him sprawling on his face, more laughter, maybe a kick-me sign for good measure. He hates all that juvenile bullshit.

He gets to the kid before Teddy does and crouches down beside him, helping him to pick up Patricia's notes. He looks over the kid's shoulder to glare at Teddy, who sneers at him but, reluctantly, walks on by like he never meant to do anything in the first place.

"Later, Hyneman," Teddy growls. Jamie just keeps glaring until he's gone.

"Thanks," the kid says, smiling at him.

Jamie nods. "Probably better to stay away from those guys," he offers. The kid glances back over his shoulder where all of Teddy's friends are still standing, and sort of winces.

"Yeah, okay," he says.

"Can I have my books back now?" Patricia asks from somewhere above them, obviously impatient. They both stand up and hand over her stuff. "Thank you, jeez," she says, and walks away. Jamie turns to go too.

"Hey, thanks again," the kid calls after him. Jamie keeps on walking.

*

The same kid shows up again the day after that, when Jamie's alone in the shop classroom, minding his own business. He half-runs through the big double doors at the back of the shop, then sees Jamie working with the screen printer and does a double-take.

"Oh!" he says, and then, recognizing Jamie, "hey, how's it going?"

"Fine," Jamie says. "Are you allowed to be in here?"

"Are you?" the kid laughs.

"Mr. Wiens lets me work in here after school," Jamie says. "I have a key."

The kid nods vigorously. "Yeah, yeah, he said I could, too. Said someone would be here to supervise. I'm supposed to do some extra-credit work to catch up." While he talks, he starts taking books out of his bag and tossing them casually around the workspace until he comes to a crumpled piece of paper. This he smoothes out on top of his math textbook and stares at for a minute before turning back to look at Jamie again. Jamie pretends to be looking at the squeegee in front of him.

"Hey, uh, your name is Jamie, right?"

Jamie looks up and stares at him. The kid has a lot of freckles, high on his cheeks and across his nose. Jamie tucks a strand of hair behind his ear.

"Yeah. How'd you know that?"

Another big grin, and the not-new kid waves his hand in the air, like it doesn't matter. "Asked someone. I'm Adam. I just transferred here. Never been to Indiana before, and then suddenly, boom, I'm living here. Are you – is that silk screening? Like with stencils and ink?"

Jamie shrugs.

"I've never seen one of those in a high school shop class. That's the stuff that Andy Warhol guy does, right? Brillo boxes and Jackie Kennedy, I love all that."

Now the kid – Adam – is coming over to him, tripping over the strap of his backpack, stumbling, and then correcting himself easily, like almost-falling-down is just how he walks. Jamie's so distracted by that weird combination of clumsiness and grace that he doesn't think to hide the stencils before Adam gets a look at them.

"Oh man, these are so cool. Did you trace them out of an art book or something?" Adam runs a finger over the top design, then flicks down to the next, and the next. His fingers are all freckly, too, covered in little brown splotches. He glances up at Jamie, waiting for an answer to his question, face so open and honestly interested that Jamie can't help but be honest too.

"I made them. Um, I – drew them. I draw things sometimes," he says, and he can feel himself stumbling over his words the way Adam stumbled over his feet. It makes him feel stupid and clumsy.

But Adam's just nodding, flipping through the stencils again. "Abstract, huh? But symmetrical. Geometrical. Nice. Are they for t-shirts, or what?"

Jamie can't ever remember being asked this many questions in so short a span of time. He feels nettled, uncomfortable. "Maybe," he says.

"Cool," Adam says. Then he licks his lips and nods again, puts down the designs and goes back over to the sprawl of his stuff on the workbench. "Uh, well, I'll leave you alone now, sorry to bother you, I'm just gonna be working with the grinder and the buffer over there."

"What are you making?" Jamie calls after him. Adam spins on his heel and grins, then starts walking backwards towards the other side of the shop. He trips again, over the leg of the bench, but recovers, and his grin stays in place.

"I don't know yet," he says.

*

Kicking Adam out of the shop so that he can lock up takes longer than Jamie would've thought possible, so he ends up speeding in his old pickup just to get to work on time. He walks through the front door of the pet store five minutes late anyway, but Mr. Stone doesn't seem to notice, greeting him casually without looking away from his newspaper.

"The big fish tanks need cleaning," Mr. Stone says, once Jamie has his apron on, which makes him think that his lateness was noticed after all. Jamie sighs and starts walking back towards the tanks.

"Hey, girl," Jamie says, stopping to stroke Clementine as he goes past her cage. She smells his hands with her tongue curiously, and Jamie takes a minute to make sure she's got plenty of water and that her heat rock is turned on. "I think we got a dead rabbit for you tonight," he tells her. She coils herself loosely around his wrist, pressing up against the warmth of his pulse-point. He smiles and gently disentangles her, setting her back down and closing the cage again.

When he's done cleaning out the tanks, a couple hours later, he goes back up front to take a break, putting a quarter in the vending machine outside for a can of coke. Mr. Stone is setting up a new open-topped glass cage near the register.

"Puppies?" Jamie asks.

"Always an impulse buy," Mr. Stone agrees. He nods at a cardboard box in the corner. "Go on and bring them here, would ya? I'm just about done setting up."

He fetches the squirming, barking cardboard carton, and sure enough when he opens it a half-dozen puppies pour out, falling all over each other, nipping at each others' necks, tiny tongues wagging. They're all maybe a couple months old, obviously from the same litter, and fuzzy. Jamie usually likes the snakes better, but these are pretty cute too. They're all jumping at the wall, standing on their back legs and begging, nosing at Jamie's hand when he reaches down to pet them.

"That one's gonna be tough to sell," Mr. Stone says, and Jamie sees the pup he's pointing at – a little skinny one with a round black spot on the side of his belly, hanging back away from the others.

"Yeah," Jamie agrees. People always buy the cheerful, stupid-looking ones first. He looks the scrawny one over assessingly. "Maybe I could train it or something," he offers.

Mr. Stone shrugs. "Do what you like on your own time," he grumbles.

Jamie frowns down at the dog, ignoring all its eager, adorable siblings and petting its head slowly. "Hey pup," he says. "Sit."

The puppy doesn't sit, but it licks his fingers.

"I guess we're gonna have to work on that."

*

He keeps seeing Adam around, in the metal shop after school, in the hallways, in the corner store near the school, where he sees Adam buying a package of cigarettes. Jamie actively keeps an eye on him in the shop after school – when Mr. Wiens isn't there, Jamie's responsible for the equipment – and on top of that Adam's just noticeable, bright orange hair and fast hands and that really loud laugh that made Mrs. Taylor glare at him in English class. He prattles away at Jamie whenever they're in the same room, and Jamie mostly nods and grunts, a little annoyed by all the chatter but sometimes kind of interested in Adam's talk about model airplanes or computers. He watches the thing that Adam's building out of metal, still not sure after two weeks of what the heck it is, but unwilling to ask again.

"Hey, Jamie," Adam calls one day, when Jamie's busy sanding some fine details into the train set he's building. "Can you come over here? The drill press is making a funny noise."

Jamie claps his hands to get rid of the sawdust and walks over, pulling a rubber band from his pocket to tie his hair back. Adam stares at him.

"What?" Jamie asks.

"Nothing. Um, I like your hair." When Jamie doesn't say anything, Adam continues, "Uh, it's making a sort of rrrrrrr-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-RRRRRRRR noise. You know, like rrrrrrrrrrr-RUH-RUH. Like that."

"Probably the spindle. Let me see." Jamie checks that the machine is unplugged, then ducks under the arbor. Sure enough, the spindle is dry again. "This old machine goes through a lot of lube for some reason," he says. He finds some grease and starts lubing up the grooves. "Oh, and the retaining nut is loose."

"I'll get you a socket wrench," Adam offers.

"Okay, the grooves should be all greased up and ready to go," Jamie says, a couple minutes later.

"Groovy," Adam says, and then giggles. Jamie laughs too, even though it's dumb.

When they plug the machine back in, it's not making any funny noises. "Good as new," Jamie says.

Adam picks up the strangely twisted piece of metal that he was trying to put a hole in. "Maybe I'll leave this for tomorrow anyway," he says. "It's about time for you to go, isn't it?"

Jamie's watch says 5:05. Normally he shoos Adam out by five at the latest so he can get to the pet store. "Nah, I'm not working today."

"Oh," Adam says. He fidgets. "Well, I'm gonna pack up anyway. I'm supposed to be home for dinner pretty soon."

They end up ready to leave at about the same time. As Jamie locks the doors behind them, Adam hoists his backpack up on both shoulders and starts walking.

"C'mon, I'll give you a ride," Jamie calls abruptly, and turns to walk to his truck without looking back to see if Adam is following.

Adam is. "Are you sure?" he asks, looking doubtfully at the truck.

"It won't take long."

"You don't know where I live."

Jamie shrugs. "It doesn't matter. There's not much town. Nowhere to go."

After a second, Adam climbs into the passenger seat and pats the vinyl, looking up to smile at Jamie. "Nice ride," he says. "What is it, a '65?"

"'63," Jamie corrects, as he starts it up. "You don't have a car."

"Nah, I'm not sixteen till next month," Adam says. "Hey, mind if I smoke?"

"Roll down the window. And don't get ash on the floor."

"Cool. It's just down Washington, off of Park."

Jamie nods and turns left when they get to the road. Adam's occupied with the window and his pack of Luckies and his lighter, so there's quiet for a little while.

"You're fifteen but you're already a junior?" Jamie asks, into the silence.

Adam answers on the exhale, shaking his head. "I'm a sophomore, I'm just taking some junior-level classes. I tested out of the sophomore ones. You're a junior, though," he says, but his voice goes up on the end of the sentence like he's asking a question.

"Sorta. I missed some school last year, so I'm kinda halfway between junior and senior. I won't graduate till next year."

"Were you sick or something?"

Jamie stops at a red light. "No."

"Okay, okay, just asking," Adam says. "Anyway, listen, I wanna say thanks again for helping me out the other week. Um, with Teddy. Those guys are jerks."

The light turns green. Jamie turns right onto Washington. "You don't have to keep thanking me. It's fine." He sounds annoyed, even to himself.

There's a pause, and then Adam says, "It's this one here on the left. Thirty-two."

Jamie pulls in at thirty-two Washington Street, and Adam opens the door to hop out.

"Hey Adam," Jamie says.

"Yeah?"

Jamie smiles; he can't help himself. "If you ever want to ride in my truck again, take that cigarette butt with you. And roll up the window before you go."

Adam's whole face lights up, like Jamie's just given him a present or something. "Yeah, okay," he says.

He waits there on the lawn while Jamie pulls out onto the street again, and Jamie waves to him before he drives off.

*

"So I hear you made a friend," Scottie says to him a few days later, when they're sitting out on the lawn behind the pet store after his shift. She takes a swig of whiskey from her flask and raises an eyebrow at him. "A sophomore, no less."

"Shut up," Jamie says. Then he frowns at the puppy standing on the grass in front of him. "Sit, Gordon."

Gordon sits. Jamie scritches his head and tells him he's a good boy. Gordon stands back up and wags his tail and licks Jamie's fingers.

"Hey, you taught him a trick," Scottie cheers. "Congratulations." She passes him the flask.

Jamie takes a drink, then coughs.

"It's not exactly top shelf, that stuff," Scottie warns.

"Yeah, no kidding."

"So, I'm serious though, I wanna hear about your new friend." She nudges at Jamie with her bony shoulder, and Jamie rolls his eyes.

"Some, some kid who needs to be supervised in the shop after school. I don't know, Mr. Wiens is too lazy to, uh, supervise us himself when someone needs to do extra credit, so he – "

"I heard you got between him and Teddy Brackett," she interrupts. Jamie winces. "And Kari says she saw you guys driving around the other day."

"Whatever," he says, frowning. "At least he's good with the machines, I guess. And he's smart, he's in junior math with me."

"Aw," Scottie grins. "He should sign up for autoshop. It's boring since you left. Also all the guys are assholes."

"That's why I left."

"I thought you left because all us grease monkeys were harshing your artistic vision," she says. Jamie reaches over and shoves at her shoulder, and she laughs.

Jamie takes another sip from the flask, going slower this time. "Lie down, Gordon."

Gordon lies down, then immediately rolls over and kicks at Jamie's hands. Jamie sighs and rubs his belly.

"So, your dad gonna let you get that tattoo?" he asks.

"Tattoos are for sailors, convicts, and scarlet women," Scottie replies primly, and Jamie chuckles.

"Those all sound like good career choices to me."

She snorts. "Hell, I'll be eighteen pretty soon. Out from under fascist rule. I'll do what I want then."

"Yeah," Jamie says.

*

Scottie and Kari aren't the only ones to notice them hanging out, mostly because Adam doesn't seem to care who he's seen palling around with. The girls whisper and laugh behind their hands, but Adam keeps on sitting next to Jamie in math class, even when Gary Brewer drops the advanced track and a free seat opens up. The boys grin feral grins and stick out their feet to trip them in the hallways, but Adam just steps over them like they're not there and walks with Jamie to the shop after school. Jamie keeps on offering him a ride home when they're done, even against his better judgment, and in return Adam will stick something up his nose, or balance something on his chin, or pull quarters out from behind Jamie's ears, just to make Jamie crack up, magic trick after magic trick.

And then Adam comes up to him one day in the lunchroom and sits down at his table, without even a by-your-leave.

"What's up," Adam asks, pulling an apple out of a brown paper bag and grimacing at it. "Do you want this? I don't know why my mom keeps putting these in my lunch, she knows I hate fruit."

"Uh, sure," Jamie says. Adam hands him the apple.

"I heard there's a party this weekend at David Roberts' house," Adam says, unwrapping a peanut butter sandwich and taking a big bite. "Are you going?"

"No. I have to work."

"What, at night? I thought you had some kind of after-school job."

"I do – I'm just – "

"Because I'm not going, and I thought we could hang out instead," Adam interrupts.

Jamie takes a bite of the apple and chews for a minute. "What, like, you want me to let you in to the shop or something?"

Adam shrugs. "Or something." He leans forward across the table, and Jamie can't help but lean forward too, to meet him. "Thing is, I was thinking we could – "

"Hope I'm not interrupting," Teddy Brackett says, throwing a leg over the bench beside Adam and sitting down next to him. "I just thought I'd come over and see what you freaks could possibly be talking about."

"Fuck off, Teddy," Jamie says, but it's choked off, quiet; he can't get it past his throat. Teddy turns slowly to look at Jamie.

"Hey," he says brightly, like he's just had a great idea, "have you even told the new kid here about your adventures last year?" Jamie doesn't answer, so Teddy continues, "Jamie here ran away and got himself arrested. You're hanging out with a convicted criminal, kid." He turns from Jamie to smile at Adam again.

"Shut up," Adam says, swallowing hard.

"I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true," Teddy protests, holding his hands up innocently.

"It isn't true," Jamie growls.

Teddy stands up and backs away. "Hey, I'm just trying to help the kid out, Hyneman. I know my dad doesn't want me anywhere near you. Just thought I should give our Adam here," he squeezes Adam's shoulder, "the same opportunity to choose for himself."

Adam shrugs his shoulder violently, dislodging Teddy's hand, but Jamie can see a blush creeping up his neck.

"It isn't true," Jamie says, in a low voice. He can feel everyone looking at them, all the eyes in the cafeteria turned on them. He wants to say more, but can't with all these people around, watching, listening.

"It's okay," Adam says quickly. "We don't have to – "

"Anyway, I have to go," Jamie says, and leaves.

*

That afternoon Jamie waits around the shop classroom, pretending that he's not watching the door, and figures out what to say when Adam shows up. If Adam shows up. He probably has to; he has to finish his project, after all, to get the credit for the course. Jamie practices what he wants to say, runs the words over and over in his head until they start getting confused again, and then he settles in and carves the final touches into the train set and waits.

When Adam does walk in, long after the final bell has rung, Jamie's ready for him, speaking before Adam can beat him to it. "What Teddy said is true," he says, all in a burst. Adam's eyes widen, and he sets down his backpack and opens his mouth.

"You ran away? You're a criminal? You – " he stops, and a crease appears between his eyebrows.

Jamie takes a deep breath. "I ran away last year. And I got a job at a garage, fixing cars. I would've been fine, but they fired me when they found out I wasn't eighteen and then I ran outta money." He can see the question still lingering in Adam's eyes, so he goes on: "I got put in juvie cuz the cops found me in the park. They called my parents to come get me. I didn't break any laws or anything."

"Except for, like, running away."

Jamie considers this. "I don't think that's technically illegal. You can't kidnap yourself. Or transport yourself across state lines."

Adam's eyes widen. "You ran away and left the state?"

"California," Jamie says, and Adam's eyes go wider; "San Francisco," he clarifies, and Adam's jaw drops a little.

"You – " he pauses, and laughs, but it's kind of forced, not like his usual laugh. "I guess that's where you learned to look like a hippie." Adam reaches out and tugs on a strand of Jamie's hair. Jamie doesn't say anything. "San Francisco. Wow. So you ran away – did you drive?"

"Hitchhiked."

"So you ran away and hitchhiked to San Francisco and now you're back and the other kids are . . . " Adam waved his hand in an impatient gesture that somehow communicated Teddy Brackett and all his bullshit, "assholes to you about it."

Jamie shrugs. "It was kinda like this before. Now they just have an excuse is all."

There's a long pause, then Adam says, "Why'd you run away?"

Jamie gave all kinds of reasons to the police and Freddy at the garage and the social services women and his parents and the Principal and Mr. Wiens, who'd put him on probation for three months before letting him have his old shop key back, but now Jamie can't remember any of them, not a single one. Such a responsible young man, Mr. Barrett, the guidance counselor, had said. I can't imagine why . . .

"I was bored," Jamie says. It feels like a revelation.

Adam lights up at that, like it's the answer he was hoping for, like it's the solution to a math problem, and Jamie feels a strange flash of recognition. It spurs him to speak again, and he says, "I was bored and nobody around here wants to – to make anything, it's just – " he stops, frustrated, unable to find the words.

"It's just the farmers and the store owners and the ladies' auxiliary craft fair and bake sale," Adam says quickly, picking it up for him. "It's the people who do the same things their parents did, and their grandparents, and never live more than ten miles from where they were born and never . . . never imagine anything at all, Jamie, I know, I – " He pauses and reaches into the pocket of his jeans, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. When he smoothes it out, Jamie sees that it's a picture of some kind of metal statue or something, built to look sort of like an animal. It's posed so that it's bending its head down, and there's a little girl standing next to it, reaching up. "I brought this to show you," Adam says. "I found it in an old magazine in the library. This guy in England or Holland or something, he's making – it's kinetic sculpture, it's a robot. He calls it The Senster. It follows you, it responds to sound and movement, it bends toward the audience – "

Jamie reaches out to take the torn, crumpled magazine page from Adam's hand, and Adam just keeps talking, going on about motion sensors and articulated hydraulic joints and Doppler radar until he finally, finally runs out of words and then because Jamie can't think of anything else to do he steps into the space between them and kisses Adam, slowly and carefully, till he can't bear it anymore.

When he pulls back Adam's breathing hard but his eyes are bright and his smile is the wide sweet one that Jamie knows is for real. Jamie doesn't feel like himself, he feels more like himself than he has in months, he feels strange and reckless, he feels like he's in a dream. He reaches down and takes Adam's hand in his.

"C'mon," he says, "I wanna show you something."

Adam squeezes his hand and says okay and Jesus, Jamie and yes and when they get to Jamie's truck he doesn't even ask where they're going, just rolls down the window and lights a cigarette and waits.

*

He doesn't say a word until they get there, and then he gives Jamie a dubious look. "A pet store?"

"I work here," Jamie says, in lieu of an explanation. Adam looks even more dubious, but follows him around back. "The store's closed on Mondays, but we can get in through the window to the stock room," Jamie explains.

"Okay," Adam says gamely, and accepts the boost that Jamie offers, putting his worn sneaker into the saddle of Jamie's hands, putting his palm warm on Jamie's shoulder for balance. Jamie blushes, thinking of the position they're in, how close they are, but then Adam's up and away through the window, so Jamie scrambles up a stack of wooden crates to follow.

"Though here," Jamie says, leading the way. He doesn't want them to be seen from the street, so he doesn't turn on any lights until they get to the office. "This is it."

"Jamie, tell me we're not robbing the place," Adam says, and Jamie turns to stare at him. "Because I gotta say, if I'm going to embark on a life of crime with a known convict, I think I should start a little further up the scale than taking a pet store for all it's worth."

"Shut up," Jamie says, which only makes the smile hovering around Adam's mouth break into a full grin.

"So, what are we supposed to be looking at?"

"This," Jamie says. In the back of the office, there's an old safe sitting against the wall. Jamie hops up to sit on it. "When I came back, my parents let me get a job on the condition that I don't see any of the money till I'm eighteen." He stares at the safe, the lock. He doesn't know how he could hate an inanimate object so much, but he does. "It's all in here. Old man Stone has it in a fucking coffee tin."

Adam nods. "And then you'll leave?"

"Maybe."

Adam walks up to the safe, stands between Jamie's splayed legs. He puts his palms tentatively on Jamie's thighs.

"I want to – can I – " he says, and then he leans forward and kisses Jamie, and Jamie kisses back, and it's hot and wet and exactly what Jamie was looking for when he packed everything he cared about in the world into one backpack, when he stuck his thumb out on Route 40, headed west. Jamie brings his hands up to touch Adam's back, cup his shoulderblades. Adam makes a noise in the back of his throat and Jamie just keeps kissing him.

Long minutes later, Adam groans and drops his head onto Jamie's shoulder. "When's your birthday?" he asks.

"Little less than a year."

"Okay," Adam says. "Okay." They both breathe for a long minute. "Did I tell you, this is my fifth high school so far?"

"No," Jamie says.

"It is. We move a lot, for my dad's work, and every place is the same, like you said, people who'll never see anything or go anywhere or, or make anything. So many Teddy Bracketts, Jamie. I just – I wanna stop somewhere. Do something real. Build something."

Jamie wishes he knew what to say, but he doesn't. He never does. He keeps his hands on Adam's back, but that feels awkward.

"Wanna come see the store?" he asks, finally. "There are puppies."

Adam laughs. "Yeah, sure."

He shows Adam the tropical fish, the cage full of kittens, the iguana. He introduces him to Clementine, and Adam nods and strokes her back and says that she's beautiful. When they get near the front, the puppies start barking in the high-pitched voices, and Jamie goes to shush them. When that doesn't work, he gives them each a treat from the pail on the counter, and they settle down.

"They're new," he says, by way of explanation.

"Yeah," Adam says, peering into the cage. "Do they have names?"

"We're not supposed to name the cats or the dogs," Jamie says, "but I named one of them anyway. And taught him to sit and stuff."

"Which one?"

Jamie pulls Gordon out from the cage and hands him to Adam. "This is Gordon," Jamie says.

Gordon puts a paw on Adam's shoulder and licks his chin. "Ew," Adam laughs. "Nice to meet you, Gordon. Hey – I get it, it's Gordon like Flash Gordon, right?"

"No, it's just Gordon like . . . Gordon."

"Man, I have got to get you some comic books," Adam says, rolling his eyes and scritching Gordon's head.

For some reason, that makes Jamie feel warm inside, the way kissing Adam in the back office made him feel warm. "Okay," he says.

Gordon licks Adam's face again, and Adam squirms. "Hey! He's – ha, he's really cute, Jamie."

"He's smart, too. He does tricks." He reaches out and pets the dog, his fingers all tangled up with Adam's. "He sits, and stays, and lies down, and shakes – Gordon, Gordon, shake! Shake!" Gordon squirms around in Adam's arms to look at him. "Shake, Gordon," Jamie repeats, and Gordon lifts one paw up and bats at the air. Jamie shakes with him. "Good boy!"

Adam gives Gordon a little smacking kiss on the top of the head. "How come nobody's bought him yet?"

There are only three remaining of the litter; the other four have been sold already. "I hide him. When there's a kid or someone here. It's just – I don't want him to go to some toddler who's gonna pull his tail and ruin his training."

"Right," Adam says.

"Shake, Gordon," Jamie says again, and Gordon gamely offers his paw.

Adam raises an eyebrow and looks like he's about to say something, but then a car turns into the parking lot out front, its headlights flashing into the store. They both freeze. Gordon barks, and Jamie winces. The car turns around and heads back out, turning back the way it came.

"Just someone turning around," Adam whispers.

"Yeah, but we should probably go."

Adam puts Gordon back in his cage, and they make sure everything's in order before they go out the back door. No one will ever know we were here, Jamie thinks, and that makes him feel cold, anxious.

When Jamie drops Adam off, he kind of wants to kiss him again, but doesn't know how, or if it's even a good idea, here in front of his house. Adam looks at him for a second, then looks down at his shoes. "Um, I guess I'll see you at school tomorrow," he says.

"Yeah," Jamie agrees, and then Adam's gone, jogging through the cool night air to the front steps, stepping into the warm light and disappearing behind the door.

*

There's a math test at school the next day, and Jamie walks into the classroom expecting to be annoyed by Adam's wide array of relentless nervous ticks – pen-tapping, humming, squirming in his seat, writing really loudly – but Adam isn't there when he arrives. As Mrs. Frye hands out the test papers and admonishes them not to cheat, he keeps expecting Adam to show up any minute, breathless and smiling his excuses. But he doesn't. Eventually Jamie forces himself to stop watching the door and settles into the test, finding the radius of C3 and calculating the area of the shaded region in terms of x. It's weirdly quiet in the classroom, just the sound of pencils on paper.

The silence makes it hard to concentrate.

After school Jamie hangs around the shop, even though he doesn't feel like building anything, then heads out to the pet store at five. He realizes suddenly that he could call Adam, and then almost immediately remembers that they never exchanged phone numbers.

"I'll need you to clean out the back room," Mr. Stone tells him, by way of greeting, "And kill some rats for Clementine."

"Okay," Jamie says, walking towards the supply cupboard for the broom. He walks past the cage with the puppies in it, and – "Hey, where's, uh, that dog, the runt?"

"Oh, I meant to tell you," Mr. Stone says, and he actually sounds happy for once. "Some kid came in and bought him today. I guess your training paid off."

Jamie blinks. "Oh." There's a sinking feeling in his stomach. He tries not to look at the other two dogs still playing around in the cage. "You – that's great."

"Keep up the good work, young man," Mr. Stone beams. "We'll make a businessman out of you yet."

*

Adam's not in school the next day either, or the day after that, and Jamie has to admit to himself that he's getting worried. He spends long hours in the shop by himself, painting all the little wooden trains and building a set of tracks to go with them, assembling the new mailbox for Mrs. Johnson, with rebar in it this time in case Mr. Johnson tries to run over this one over too, cutting stencil after stencil for the screen printer and then throwing them all out. He's just thinking about starting something new, maybe the sign he's making for Mr. Kroegar's new bookstore, when he hears footsteps on the shop floor behind him.

"Oh, there you are," Scottie says, and Jamie turns around. "Your mom called my house looking for you, said Mrs. Wesley called her because Mr. Stone told her that you weren't at work today, and – how did she put it – 'you're not doing a very good job of proving your reliability when you cut out on work and don't come home and don't tell anyone where on earth you are.'" This last is delivered in a crisp, clipped tone, a perfect imitation of Jamie's mother.

"Crap." Jamie flings off his apron and starts packing his stuff. "I forgot I even had a shift today," he says.

Scottie steps closer and closes her fingers around his wrist. "Slow down, there's no rush. It's after seven, the pet shop will be closing soon anyway."

"Crap," he says again.

"I just figured, when your mom called, that you were hanging out with Adam," Scottie says, picking up the toy caboose and looking it over critically. "This for Craig?"

"I – uh, yeah, it's for his birthday, I – "

"In June, right? What are you guys, six years apart?"

"Seven," Jamie answers. "What – why would I be hanging out with, with Adam, he's been, not been in school the last few days."

Scottie raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, that's what happens when you get suspended. This is really nice work, Jamie. I like that you carved in the little dudes in the windows."

Jamie's face feels hot. "He got suspended?"

"You really don't talk to anyone here, do you?" At Jamie's glare, she raises her hands in surrender. "All right, all right. Jeez, I don't know how you avoid this kind of stuff. On Tuesday morning Teddy Brackett ran into Adam in the parking lot and started something. I don't know what went down, except I know that Teddy is a piece of slow-roasted shit and Adam is like half his size, so. And they both got three days suspension for fighting." When Jamie opens his mouth to reply, she rolls right over him. "And that's all I know, so don't ask me no more questions, I got no more answers."

"Okay." Jamie starts tidying up the shop and putting things away; he has to make sure it's clean for Mr. Wiens' class tomorrow before he can lock up and go.

"Anyway, you'd better go home, or call your mom," Scottie says, turning to go. "She sounded pissed."

*

Jamie's mom is pissed, but Jamie doesn't particularly care, getting up to leave the house less than twenty minutes after he got there.

"Where do you think you're going?" she calls from the kitchen, when he sees him heading for the front door.

He pulls on his shoes and grabs his keys. "Out," he says. "I just came home for supper. I got stuff to do."

She comes out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishtowel and sighing. "Jimmy, this isn't a hotel, you can't just – "

"I can leave whenever I want," Jamie interrupts.

She purses her lips together. When she speaks, her voice is soft, gentle. "After all we went through, after all our talks, that's where we are? Threats?"

Jamie hesitates. "I'm coming back, mom," he says. "I'll be – I'm just going to a friend's house, I'll be back before dad gets home."

She shrugs. "I hope so," she says.

*

When Jamie pulls up at thirty-two Washington Street, he sits in the cab in the dark for a long time. He doesn't even know why he's there, what he's going to do, what he's going to say.

He's still lost in thought when there's a soft tap on the driver's side window. Jamie rolls it down obligingly.

"Hey," Adam says.

"Hey."

"Didja come to see Gordon?"

"No," Jamie says. Adam's got a cut on his forehead and a black eye but he's smiling like always. "Gordon's here?"

Adam shrugs. "When I got suspended, I had nothing else to do all day, so I went and bought him. It was kind of an impulse buy. I figured I could keep him for you until – you know. Until you can take him."

Jamie doesn't say anything for a minute, and Adam's smile slowly flattens. There's a lump in his throat, but Jamie swallows, then meets Adam's eyes. "Thank – thank you," he says. "I – thanks, Adam."

Adam beams. "You have to come over and help me walk him. And make sure I don't ruin his training."

"Or pull his tail," Jamie mutters. He has to wipe at his eyes for a second, but Adam pretends not to notice.

"Well, will you come inside at least?" Adam says, after a while. "It's cold out here." Jamie sees that he's just wearing a t-shirt and jeans and flip-flops, and even though it's May, it's been getting down to freezing at night.

"Why didn't you just wear a coat to go outside, like normal people?" Jamie says, getting out of the truck.

"I don't know, maybe because normal people don't have to go fetch their – their friends from the front yard. Normal people have friends who come up and knock on the door."

Jamie catches Adam by the wrist before he can get to the steps, pulls him around the side of the house.

"We're not – " he says, and then he gets his other hand around Adam's other wrist and holds him still and kisses him hard, pushing him up against the vinyl siding. Adam groans and kisses back and – twists his wrists inside the hard circles of Jamie's palms. Jamie tightens his grip just a little. Adam breaks the kiss slowly, laughs silently in a puff of air against Jamie's mouth, and, enunciating carefully, says,

"Ow."

Jamie smiles at him, and his heart beats hard in his chest, and he says, "Normal. We're not normal."

"No shit," Adam agrees, his breath coming fast. "Cmon, c'mon, c'mon." He pulls free of Jamie's hold on him and goes back around the front, leading Jamie up the front steps. "C'mon, c'mon." He bangs open the front door, then yells, "Dad, I have a friend over, his name is Jamie, we're going to my room."

"Okay!" calls a voice, from the other side of the house. There's a set of stairs right in front of the door, and Adam runs immediately up them, then turns left down the hall and leads Jamie into a small bedroom.

"Your dad doesn't care you were suspended?"

"I don't usually get into fights. He believed me when I said it was the other guy."

Jamie suddenly remembers Teddy Brackett, and now they're inside, in the light, Adam's bruises show up far more visibly on his face. Something like rage coils in Jamie's stomach, tight like a fist. "Do you want me to beat him up? I don't mind. I've done it before."

"Yeah, sure, that's in no way a terrible plan. Jamie, I threw the first punch."

Jamie squints at him.

"I did," Adam insists. "He came up to me, said some shit about you, and I threw the first punch."

"No you didn't."

Adam sighs in defeat. "No, I didn't. But I sure as hell threw the second one, though."

Jamie laughs, and while he's distracted Adam kisses him again.

"Wait," he says, "what if your dad comes in?"

"Let him come in," Adam grins. "He can throw me out of the house for being a homo, and then you and I can run away to San Francisco together."

Jamie doesn't think he's ever wanted anything so badly in his whole life.

"Okay," he whispers, and unzips Adam's jeans.

*

The weird part is, they go to school again the next day like nothing's happened. Math class is the same, all the people are the same, even Jamie is the same, really. He seriously considers beating the crap out of Teddy Brackett even though Adam asked him not to, but then he actually sees the guy in the hallway, limping and bruised with a giant bite-mark on his hand, and laughs so hard that all the anger just drains out of him. Everyone around him thinks he's a huge freak, but that's pretty much the same as always, too.

He hangs out with Scottie at lunch, while Adam's making up the math test he missed, and she doesn't say much and he doesn't say much and it's good. Quiet. Jamie thinks a lot.

When they're packing up their trash and getting ready to go back to class, he stops her with a hand on her elbow and asks, "You're not going to go work in your father's garage when you're done here, are you?"

Scottie laughs. "Hell no. I'm gonna be nowhere near Indiana. Tokyo, maybe. Melbourne. Leningrad looks good."

Jamie nods. "What do you think of California?"

"Excuse me?"

"We – we should set up our own shop," Jamie says slowly.

She looks at him for a second, her expression shifting from puzzled to solemn. "I've got some inheritance money coming to me from my aunt," she says, cautiously.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. What kind of shop would we set up?"

Jamie feels a wide grin split his face. "I don't know yet," he says.

*

When he gets to the shop classroom after final period, Adam's already waiting there for him.

"Hey," Jamie says, suddenly shy. He tucks a piece of hair behind his ear.

"Hey," Adam returns. Jamie opens the shop door. "Guess what?"

"I don't like guessing," Jamie says.

"Tough," Adam says. "Guess what."

He sighs. "What."

"Today's the day I finish my metalwork project," Adam says, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Oh yeah? Cuz I thought you were just building a heap of twisted metal or something."

"Well, if I were, it would be art. But no, I'm not. C'mere, I want you to see. And I need you to help me with the welds."

Jamie follows after him, watches as Adam takes the pieces he's been shaping all semester and begins slotting them together, one by one, putting in welds every now and then, mostly relying on an ingenious system of slots and counterbalance to keep it from collapsing. When he's about halfway done, an hour later, he puts his welding mask up and turns to Jamie.

"Know what it is yet?"

Jamie shakes his head.

"K, let's get a coke then."

They do, and then Adam goes back to it, working with a single-minded determination that Jamie's never really seen in him before. The pile of loose pieces gets smaller and smaller, and the thing Adam's welding, the puzzle he's putting together, gets bigger, more spherical, then less spherical, then –

"Holy shit," Jamie says, as Adam slots in the last piece, puts in the last tiny weld. The outside pieces are light, thin rods, and the whole thing, on the outside, is a gleaming polished silver.

"A great retrosnub icosidodecahedron," Adam says triumphantly. "Sixty vertices, ninety-two faces, but still a uniform polyhedron."

Jamie stares at it, the three-dimensional blooming metal flower on the workbench. It's useless and perfect and beautiful. "I think Mr. Wiens was probably expecting something more along the lines of a hanging plant basket," he says.

"Mrs. Frye was talking about them the first day I came into math class," Adam explains. "Hey, do you think she'll let me count it as a project for math, too?"

"Probably not," Jamie says. Adam takes off his mask, gloves, and welding apron and sets them all aside.

"Help me move it onto the back bench?"

Jamie picks up one side of Adam's monstrosity of a shop project and they manage to get it to the back grading bench without dropping it on anyone's feet. "It's actually a giant spiky flesh-piercing cannonball," Jamie comments, and Adam huffs out a laugh.

They get packed up, and Jamie drives Adam home in time for dinner, just like usual. In the truck, Adam reaches over and clasps Jamie's hand with his. Jamie looks down at their interlocked fingers.

"Hey Adam, can I ask you for something?"

Adam looks puzzled. "Yeah, Jamie, sure," he says.

"Can I have your phone number?"

Adam laughs, then finds a pen and writes it on the back of Jamie's hand.

"Try it out after dinner," he says, and jumps out of the cab.

*

Turns out there's a new movie playing, some science-fiction thing that Adam wants to see, so after shoveling down dinner they both meet up again at the theater. They get popcorn and sit in the very back row, which is Jamie's favorite place to be, and settle in as the projector behind them starts to flicker.

Jamie leans in towards Adam's ear, the way you do when you're whispering to someone at the movies. Jamie kisses him on the temple, softly, just because he can, amazed at this new freedom. Adam shivers.

"So, I had a great idea today," Jamie says. On the screen, bright blue words appear: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .

"Yeah? What was that?"

"I'm not sure," Jamie says. "But when I figure it out, I'll let you know."