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The Great Pretender

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In the last weeks of the summer of 1958, Stiles spent a lot of time watching. He didn’t speak to a soul, didn’t try to stand out, just watched the teenagers of Beacon Hills as they played it up from afar while he tried to determine their rank. He’d moved from Long Beach in time for the new school year and there was nothing more important than falling in with the top studs on the first day of school. Stiles was grateful for the fact that the teenagers in the town were all so self-involved that they never noticed him watching, in the back of the diner, in a far corner of the local juke joint or loitering in the lobby of the cinema.

He’d determined pretty quickly that the top stud at Beacon Hills High was a kid called Jackson, in typical top stud style he had teen idol looks accompanied with a bad attitude and a snarl to match. Jackson had a girl, Lydia, she took self-involvement to new heights but with those lips and that Rita Hayworth hair, not even Stiles could argue she didn’t have a good reason for it. He figured his best way in was through the shyer one of the gang, Scott, with the big brown eyes and the pompadour so high you’d think he was a greaser; he didn’t say a lot but always had a smile on his face. He was probably a hophead, his girl Allison definitely was, but they were the exact type of friends he wanted to make.

It was only in the early mornings when all the kids were still sleeping off whatever they’d taken the night before that Stiles took a break from watching and ran, like he’d done every other morning along the beach before he’d come to Beacon Hills. At first he’d run the empty streets at the break of dawn and take in the sights, but it didn’t take long for the interminable rows of identical houses to dull his mind. He needed visual stimulation, even if it was just the movement of the wind in the trees or the ocean rolling in, so after a few days of little boxes he’d decided to keep running into the Beacon Hills Preserve on the edge of town. He didn’t know how far the preserve stretched, the maps of Beacon County still had only had as much detail as they’d had when the town was settled.

On the second day exploring the preserve he’d found a creek that looked like it had probably been a local swimming hole at some point in the past. There were large trees that had grown over the creek like an archway shielding the creek from the sun, and a large rock that jutted out behind the trees that looked like it had almost been put there on purpose. There weren’t the usual signs of current use, no empty Coca-Cola bottles or cigarette butts littered the rocks or grass surrounding the creek. Stiles liked the solitude though, it was nice to be in his own head where the only sound for miles were the native birds out of sight in the high trees above. He slipped out of his gym shorts and t-shirt before diving shallowly into the creek. It can’t have been later than seven in the morning, and was shocked at the warmth of the water compared to the freezing Pacific Ocean he was used to swimming in.

His quick dip to cool off after his long run had turned into a lazy swim that he was in no rush to end. The sun was up in the sky now, and he floated on his back looking at the tiny rays stealing through gaps between the leaves of the trees, creating patterns on the water. He was so mesmerized by it that when a car pulled up in the distance it took until the moment he heard the splash of the water nearby to process the fact that he was no longer alone in the creek. He moved from lying on his back to treading water so he could face the intruder.

Whoever it was hadn’t come up for air yet, but about five seconds later a man emerged a foot from Stiles, facing him with a look of annoyance. He had dark hair, almost transparent green eyes, and was the most attractive man Stiles had ever seen in person, maybe even on screen too.

“What are you doing here?” The man asked with clear irritation.

Stiles shot his eyes around the edge of the creek looking for private property signs he’d missed, “There aren’t any private property signs.”

The man frowned, “Well it is. We don’t need signs, everyone knows better than to come here.”

Stiles gulped, “I didn’t see a house anywhere.”

“Because there isn’t one,” he scowled.

“Wow I bet you’re popular.”

“All I ever wanted, to be popular,” he mocked as he turned to swim away from Stiles, “you can leave now.”

“Yeah, yeah, I was leaving anyway.”

The man dived under the water ignoring Stiles. Stiles climbed up on to the bank and if he took a little longer to get dressed as he watched the muscles on the man’s back flex while he swam, well the asshole was none the wiser.

Stiles was back at the creek the next day, the man hadn’t shown up when Stiles had finished his swim, but his compulsion to annoy and to look was stronger than the need to stay out of trouble so he laid out with his dry clothes under his head on the rock behind the trees, listening to the birds, waiting for the sound of an engine. He must have drifted off for a moment in the warm sun because he woke with a jolt, his sun shadowed by the large man from the day before standing over him looking even less impressed than he had been a day earlier.

“What part of private property did you have a hard time comprehending?”

Stiles furrowed his eyebrows as if considering, then sat up on the rock, “I’d say it’s the private part that really leaves me dead on the vine.”

“I could call the sheriff.”

Stiles shrugged, “Okay, you got a magic phone you can call the sheriff on from out here, go ahead.”

The man’s face was set in a permanent scowl it seemed, but instead of countering Stiles he exhaled deeply out of his nose before stripping off in front of Stiles and diving into the creek. It took a little while before Stiles’ brain caught up with his body’s reaction to seeing this man, who he knew was built from the glimpse he’d caught the day before, but the close up view had confirmed his hypothesis that this man was a model for American Man or another beefcake magazine.

Stiles dived back in not long after the man and swam close to him, “Are you a bodybuilder?”

The man just shot him a look of disgust and didn’t answer, but when he realized Stiles wasn’t going anywhere he finally sighed, “No. Do you always make a point of annoying strangers and asking stupid questions?”

Stiles nodded, “My elementary report cards always said, prone to impulsive, inappropriate and unexplainable behavior.”

“I’m not interested.”

Stiles grinned, “But you haven’t swum away yet.”

The man raised both his eyebrows before swimming away, not acknowledging Stiles for the rest of his swim, ignoring Stiles’ wave goodbye when he’d padded back to his car.

Despite this man’s aversion to Stiles, he never asked him to leave again, and by the Sunday before the new school year started back the man had even started talking back a little.

“You ever going to tell me your name?” Stiles asked as he laid out on the rock, the man a foot away lying alongside him.

“You never told me yours,” the man said absently.

“Maybe mine isn’t a very good name.”


“Fits,” he turned his head to face Derek, and was surprised to see him looking straight back at Stiles.

“You got a girl, Derek?”

“None of your business,” he snapped, his face hardening.

Stiles held back his smile, “S’pose you’re right.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“Well perhaps I just think you’re real cute,” Stiles laughed, then felt a little guilty when Derek’s face reddened with humiliation.

“You shouldn’t say things like that. This is a small town, people’ll get the wrong idea about you.”

“Yup, I really shouldn’t. But maybe I want you to get the wrong idea about me.”

Derek’s eyes lingered on Stiles’ face a split second too long before his eyes quickly trailed down Stiles’ naked chest. Derek squeezed his eyes shut for a moment then stood, “It’s almost ten,” he said as if that would make sense as a goodbye then took off in an almost sprint to his car.