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Stacking the Dice

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Connor hates Wednesday afternoons.

On this particular one, he's stuck inside on a gorgeous sunny day. The windows of their classroom are cracked open, and lingering scent of summer drifts in, heat and humidity and ragweed, the last gasp before autumn changes the colors of the leaves. But it's not the same as being out there, getting in an afternoon jog through the park down the street from his house as the sun shines down on his face, a warm breeze almost cooling his skin.

If Connor had been thinking this through, he could have decided that he had enough extracurriculars, with his social calendar as filled as it is. But no, he had to decide to play overachiever and ruin his senior year.

"So," Michaela says, drumming her fingers against her desk. "about the reading..."

They've rearranged the desks in this classroom, usually aligned in neat, straight lines, into a haphazard circle. Laurel says, "I get that it's important to understand why Miranda v. Arizona was such a key court decision, but I'm not sure why we all have write up a five page essay about it afterwards."

Every Wednesday, their study group convenes. The weekly sessions have been organized by Annalise Keating, law professor extraordinaire, who is almost definitely overqualified to teach AP U.S. Government at West Middleton High. Her husband died under suspicious circumstances last year after he became a prime suspect for the murder of a college student who he might also have impregnated. Connor could see how going on sabbatical would seem appealing after that.

The five people in the study group are the best and brightest of her class, the teacher's pets who managed to finagle an invite to an extracurricular that will glow especially bright in the middle of an already glowing college application. Connor appreciates being selected, but he resents being forced to spend extra time after school with these numbskulls. It's almost like The Breakfast Club, with the exception that it's entirely voluntary. He has no one to blame but himself.

"I'm not convinced she reads any of those," Wes says. "Ms. Winterbottom just gave me a check on the last one we did." Ms. Winterbottom is one of the other lawyers at Professor Keating's law firm. Connor has no idea what she gets paid in order to be willing to grade high school essays once a week, but he hopes it's good.

"Oh?" Asher says, wearing his best smug-douche grin, "She gave me a check-plus. It's because she's totally into me." He holds up two fingers in a V and then licks between them.

Laurel shoots him her dirtiest glare. "Gross, Asher. No woman in her right mind would want to touch you."

Connor, who has never been one of those gays who finds vaginas particularly disgusting, feels a little nauseated himself. "Let's just focus on our work so we can all go home." His phone buzzes with a text. It's probably from Jeff, the guy he met at the Banana Republic in the mall last weekend. "The less I have to see of you guys the happier I am." Professor Keating doesn't usually stick around to supervise or anything like that. She's far more likely to hand them a bunch of work and then collect it sometime before next Wednesday rolls around. Technically, none of them need to be here at all. But Professor Keating will poke her head in at odd times, and her wrath is not pleasant if she doesn't see you sitting there, working as hard as everyone else. Wes found that out the hard way a couple weeks ago.

Michaela's answering smile is sickly sweet. "Oh, I'm sorry. Are we cockblocking you right now?" Connor would say he has a very good reason for hating Michaela Pratt, like the fact that she's a stone cold bitch or the fact that she is more than willing to pick up Connor's sloppy seconds, but really, the reason he hates her is because she's far too good at everything. Her hair is never out of place, her grades always edging past Connor's in the ten-way race for valedictorian, and she won student class president in a landslide because everyone was terrified of what would happen if she didn't win.

"No, because there's no way your pretty prom princess routine can ruin my game," Connor sneers.

"I wasn't aware that you had any game to ruin, Connor," Michaela continues. "You always seem to go after the desperate, closeted ones."

Okay, now that was just unfair. You fuck a guy on the football team one time, and it follows you around forever. "I totally have game. Name any guy in this school, and I can have him on his knees begging for my cock by Thanksgiving," Connor says.

She tilts her head, considering it. "Okay, but I get to name the stakes. Loser does the winner's assignments for the study group for the rest of the year. Really does the assignments. No printing out two copies of the same essay."

"Guys," Wes says, trying to interject, "Maybe we could--"

Laurel rolls her eyes. "Just let them go at it. It's easier that way."

"Aw, sounds like someone's having trouble with her college applications," Connor says to Michaela. He tilts his head to the side and smirks at her. "Deal."

She smiles, entirely too broadly for someone who is going to lose. "Oliver Hampton."

Connor snorts. That's barely even a challenge. Oliver's new, only having started at the beginning of the year, and somehow, he decided that hanging out with the gigantic nerds wasn't some kind of social suicide. Though as an Asian guy with glasses, maybe he just embraced his destiny instead of fighting it. According to the school gossip, he's out. At least that's what his Facebook profile says. Connor's half-considered trying to sleep with him before -- the guy's cute in a dorky sort of way -- but he also gives off this awkward vibe every time Connor's seen him in class. Connor doesn't have anything against virgins, but he can't be bothered with the shy, nervous types. They're just way too much work for a mediocre lay. "No problem," Connor says, "I'll be done by next Monday." He leans back in his chair. There's no way he can focus on his reading while there's still plans to be made. Besides, it's going to be Michaela's responsibility from here on out.

"Sure you will," Michaela says. She's once again focused on her work, holding a bright orange highlighter in one hand, like she can't even be bothered to look Connor in the face while talking to him.

Connor says, "You might as well starting writing up two essays, Michaela. I expect you to have mine finished by Tuesday afternoon."

Michaela's expression is completely serene. "Get me proof on Monday, and then we'll talk."

---

Connor has been passing by signs advertising the computer club taped to the walls for weeks now. For the most part, he's been ignoring them and their ugly clip art robots and Comic Sans text along with the tacky rainbow-colored signs for the gay-straight alliance and the student newspaper ones which use a lot of bold and exclamation points. When he actually stops to take a look at them, he finds out that the computer club meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school in the computer lab.

Following the trail of nerds is probably the easiest way to get a chance to talk to Oliver in a neutral social setting, and Connor is on a strict deadline for himself. He wants to get this whole thing done with as soon as possible, so he shows up in the hallway outside the computer lab Thursday afternoon after the last bell of the day has rung.

He can hear the sound of people as soon as he gets within five feet of the computer lab door, lots of incomprehensible babble that would usually be a total boner killer. As a rule, Connor doesn't go to these lengths to get laid, but a bet is a bet, and his reputation is at stake here.

When he opens the door, eight pairs of eyes (okay, more like sixteen if you count the glasses) turn to look at him, and the room goes silent.

"Hi," Oliver says. "Are you lost?" He's the Asian one at the back, sitting on the floor, cross-legged with a Roomba in front of him and a laptop balanced on his knees.

Connor puts on his best charm-the-parents smile and tries not to feel overdressed compared to the ratty t-shirts and jeans that everyone else is wearing. "I just saw the signs up and thought that maybe I'd give it a shot. Technology is a growing industry, after all."

"Uh," Oliver says, "sure." All the nerds awkwardly look at each other for a few moments before Oliver clears his throat. "You can work with me on my project."

Connor can feel his grin getting even wider, even faker. "Great!" he says. "I'm Connor, by the way." He tosses his bag onto the floor and settles down right next to Oliver.

"I'm Oliver," Oliver says with a small, awkward wave of his hand. He shifts his computer over so that Connor can also get a good look at his screen, but Connor does him one better and leans over Oliver's shoulder. He knows he's breathing onto Oliver's neck. From here, Connor can tell that Oliver doesn't wear cologne or aftershave and that Oliver smells like clean soap and a little like the greasy tater tots they had at lunch.

He can feel Oliver stiffen slightly before forcing himself to relax, and Connor pulls back just a little bit. No need to overplay his hand just yet. "So, what are you working on?"

"Uh, I was mostly poking around its API to see if I could make it do something useful and--" He starts rambling on about something, and Connor's eyes start glazing over. Thankfully, Oliver's attention is on the screen in front of him, so he doesn't notice that Connor's attention is elsewhere.

The other nerds are off in their own little world, focused on their own laptops -- some of them frowning intently at their screens, others typing so fast that Connor cringes in imagined carpal tunnel, a few of them are having an argument about programming languages that Connor doesn't understand. But for the most part, people stick to their own projects, lost in their own worlds. It's less like they're club and more like a bunch of people sitting in the same space at the same time. From this angle, he has a good look at Oliver, too. Definitely cuter than the dorky glasses would indicate. Connor finds himself admiring the cut of Oliver's cheekbones.

"So, uh, how much Python do you know already?" Oliver asks. "I was thinking of using the pyrobot library instead of trying to do anything in C++."

"Um," Connor says. In most situations like this, he'd fake it until he'd made it, but he's not entirely sure where to start faking this one.

"Oh," Oliver says. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed--" He shakes his head. "It's just that everyone else who comes to these things seems to have been programming since they were in diapers." His voice drops to a whisper. "I think they've managed to scare everyone else off."

"Nah, it's fine. I know I'm still new at all of this." Connor puts on his most charming you-know-you-want-to-fuck-me smile. "How about you and I grab some coffee and you can recommend some good introductory books to read over biscotti?"

Oliver blinks in surprise, as if he just noticed that Connor was flirting with him, his expression turning thoughtful and serious. "Wait," he says, slowly, drawing out the syllables. "Is this a date-coffee or a friend-coffee?"

It wouldn't exactly be a date-date -- coffee for him is a chance for him to size up a guy, determine if he's too weird or too creepy, and then decide whose house they're going to afterwards. But he gets the impression that Oliver is the kind of guy who likes to be wooed a little bit. "Date-coffee," he admits, "if you want."

"Uh," Oliver says. He looks startled, a deer in headlights. "Um, sorry, but no."

That takes Connor back. "Oh?" he asks. Sure, he's been turned down before, but it's rare. This is why he hates having to deal with the shy ones. They're so difficult to read. "Any particular reason for that?"

"Yeah, I have a boyfriend," Oliver says. He half-smiles, sheepish. "Sorry."

"Oh," Connor says.