"It all started when Christenson hooked up with Stafford," Ray shrugs while the other boys try not to look uncomfortable in the principal’s office.
"Well... That's not really true. It started way, WAY before that."
"Yeah, but the shit truly hit the fan when Christenson hooked up with Stafford. Not that it was that spectacular, mind you. You've seen Christenson; he's not exactly the epitome of a wild sex machine. Epitome? What the fuck does that mean? It's not even a proper big word. Shit, Fick's been rubbing off on me. Ew," Ray makes a face.
"Yes, thank you Ray," Nate’s look is half amused, half mortified at Ray’s vocabulary.
"Anyway," It obvious Brad just wants to get it over with.
"Christenson. Hooking up with Stafford," Principal Higgins supplies helpfully.
"They're like puppies, really. I mean you would have to be a real dick to be mean to them."
"Apparently it's not so difficult for some retards," Walt mutters to himself.
"We're surrounded by them, that’s for sure. But we're not retards--"
"Besides. We were already friends with Hasser. One puppy, more or less, doesn't make a difference."
"I'm not a puppy, you know."
"Says you. Where was I. Oh, yes. Puppies. You can't tell them no. It gets you on Santa's Naughty list. Which... I suppose I wouldn't mind, what with a proper spanking an--"
"Right. You gotta let them go to prom together, man, I mean, sir. It's a bit pathetic, but apparently it's their dream and whatnot. We'll babysit, if that’ll help. I mean, nobody fucks with us, Brad here practically rules this joint."
The silence is heavily loaded.
"And by that I mean he would, if this school wasn't ruled totally and completely by you..."
It really did start way before the shit hit the fan over Christenson hooking up with Stafford. For Ray, it started seven years before, to be exact. It started when a ten year old Bradley Colbert moved down the street from Joshua Person – Ray’s lame alter ego.
The very next day, Joshua's mother dragged him to visit their new neighbors. She introduced herself and her son to the Colberts and the adults quickly decided it would be a good idea to leave the boys to play, while they chatted about the neighborhood.
The boys spent a good two minutes just staring at each other, before Josh decided to break the silence.
"We can be friends, but you have to call me Ray."
"Why?" Bradley frowned, confused.
"Because it's a much better name than Joshua. Joshua sounds like a retards' name. I'm not a retard."
Bradley looked at Joshua, concentration obvious on his ten year old face.
"Ray is an awesome name," he admitted. "Can I be Brad? I don't like my name. And I want to have friends.”
"Brad's a cool name. You look like a Brad. Bradley's... Blah."
Brad nodded. "We'll be awesome friends."
Ray smiled happily at him. "Hey, did you unpack your toys yet?"
Brad, who had unpacked his toys the day they moved in, smiled back.
"I have Transformers. You can be Bumblebee."
Ray liked being Bumblebee. Brad ended up being Optimus Prime. Their friendship, as Ray often said later on, turned out epic.
There was a short hiccup during 9th Grade when Nate Fick moved to town and became the first and only threat to Brad’s and Ray's friendship. At least according to Ray, not that he would ever admit to that. When Ray saw Brad with the new kid after History, he wasn't worried at first, but the new kid refused to go away. Even worse, Brad refused to let the new kid go away. Suddenly, the two of them were talking about stuff that Ray didn't care for nor had any idea about. They kept exchanging those looks that seemed to be a language all on their own.
For those first two months, Ray hated Nate Fick with the strength of a thousand suns.
Then, one day, on the way home, Brad punched him in the arm.
"Stop being a dick," Brad said calmly after Ray stopped calling him names.
"Who's punching who here?!" Ray demanded.
"Stop being a dick to Nate," Brad clarified.
Ray looked away and shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, right," Brad sounded angry.
"Why do you even care if I'm being a dick to the new kid?"
"Nate's my friend."
"And what am I?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Brad stopped and glared at Ray. "What the fuck is this about?"
"Nothing! Go be friends with your precious Nate, Bradley. See if I care."
"Come on, Ray. Don't be a girl. You sound like you're about to make me choose, him or you. It would really suck if I had to do that."
"Yeah, I just bet," Ray muttered.
"I already promised him I'd write our History paper with him. Everybody's paired off already; he‘d have a hard time finding a new partner."
It took Ray a moment to understand what Brad was saying, but once he did, he smiled at Brad happily.
"I suppose you're right. It would be a dick move to leave the guy without a partner."
The next day, Ray wasn't exactly nice to Nate, but he did move to the side, making space for Nate at their regular table at lunch.
With every passing day, Ray warmed up to Nate. The crisis was averted, and Brad and Ray remained the best of friends.
Then, shit hit the fan. At least according to Ray. In reality, it wasn't so much the fact that Christenson hooked up with Stafford. It was more the fact that after they hooked up, Christenson and Stafford decided to keep hooking up, and they didn't really hide it.
It started slow; with them sitting closer than usual at lunch. Then a rumor started that somebody saw them making out under the bleachers. More rumors soon followed. Somebody saw them holding hands. Somebody saw them on a date. Somebody else saw them having sex in Stafford's car. Someone saw them entering a gay club in town. Somebody saw Christenson in drag, sucking Stafford off in a dark alley behind the diner. Though that last one was probably fake and nobody would be surprised if it was Ray who made it up.
No matter how many of those rumors were actually true, or how many of them were made up, they all had the same effect.
People started to notice Christenson and Stafford. They started to pay attention to them, and in all the wrong ways.
Jocks started to push them into lockers, they were called names and people made fun of them in all sorts of ways.
When it hits the fan, shit is not pretty.
"I think we should invite Christenson and Stafford to sit with us at lunch," Nate suggested after they left English, the only class Brad, Ray, Walt, Poke and Nate had together, and walked toward cafeteria.
Everybody looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.
"Why would we do that?" Ray frowned at the suggestion, which seemed a bit out of the blue.
"They could use some friends," Nate shrugged, but it was obvious he expected their group to do the right thing.
"Can we at least fuck with them first?" Ray looked at Brad pleadingly. "We could send you first, all looming and dangerous and watch them shit themselves before we invite them for tea and cookies."
Brad grinned, clearly liking the idea.
"We can't do that, Ray!"
"And why not? Unlike you, Mr. Oh-I have-to-save-the-world-and-solve-all-its-problems before sixth period, I like a little entertainment before adopting yet another stray."
"When was the last time you adopted a stray?" Nate asked ignoring what was clearly an attempt to bait him.
"We adopted you, didn't we?" Ray pointed out, not hiding how smug it made him feel. The entire group laughed and Nate had to acknowledge Ray's point.
"Fair enough," he nodded with a smile. "I suppose you did."
With that, the discussion seemed to reach its conclusion. They didn’t talk about details but when they reached cafeteria, Brad, Ray and Walt went toward the table where Christenson and Stafford sat and Nate and Poke went for their usual table.
"Hate to break it to you guys, but your digs suck." Ray made a disgusted face.
"Wouldn't wish this table on my worst enemy," Brad agreed.
"Don't lie, Brad, Schwetje would look awesome here and you wouldn't mind his digs then."
"Come on," Brad nodded at the two boys who, to their credit, looked only half scared. "You're not eating here."
"Where-- where are we eating?" Christenson asked carefully.
"With us, you retard," Ray told him and rolled his eyes. Why people had problems seeing the obvious, was beyond him.
"It would give us some extra time to discuss that assignment," Walt offered, looking at Stafford.
Ray poked Walt in a demand to know what the fuck he was talking about.
"We're taking AP Chem together," Walt explained.
"You pervs!" Ray punched Walt's arm happily.
"AP Chem, Ray. Not AP Bio," Brad pointed out.
Ray gave that information some thought before he smiled a wide, happy smile, pulled Stafford to his feet and wrapped his arm around Stafford's shoulders.
"So, this AP Chem shit... does it mean you can cook up some X for me? Because it would take spiking the punch to a whole new level I would love to explore," Ray asked as he lead Stafford to the "cool kids because Ray says so" table.
In the end, Nate got what he wanted. Christenson and Stafford spent their lunch hour at Brad's table and were smoothly incorporated into the group's other activities. Nobody wanted to fuck with Brad, or the rest of them for that matter, so even though wild and often fake rumors still circulated around the school, nobody was bullying Christenson and Stafford, or Q-Tip as Ray was determined to call the boy.
Christenson and Stafford ended up being a very good fit for their group. After they realized it wasn't any kind of a prank and they wouldn't end up thrown into a dumpster. It took some convincing, and Brad was comfortable leaving it all to Nate to deal with, since it was his idea in the first place, but the two of them finally started to act more and more comfortable.
Brad kept an eye on them through it all. At first, to make sure nobody fucked with the couple. He hadn’t really cared for them before, but once he claimed them as friends, he'd be damned if he let anything happen to them. Later on, watching Christenson and Stafford became a form of entertainment in a way. Watching the two of them test the waters, seeing what they could and couldn’t do when the gang was around. Figuring out how many of Ray's insults were meant, and how many of them were thrown around for the hell of it.
When, several months later, he realized Christenson and Stafford were truly part of their group, it should have been the end of the watching-- looking out for the two. It wasn't though.
Even after that, Brad continued to watch the two of them. He never outright stared; he had more stealth than that. But he always glanced in their direction, cataloging everything they did, every facial expression. He never treated the two boys any different though. He considered them a part of their group and he made sure everybody knew it. Which is why Brad was confident nobody would question him, or even notice his interest in the couple.
He should've known better.
Just because everybody else saw what Brad wanted them to see didn't mean that Ray would fall for that too.
"So, are we changing our minds?" he asked Brad one day when they were walking home from school; the only time when it was just the two of them. "We hating on Q-Tip and his boytoy now? Because, shit, Brad, it would suck, I kinda like those retards, but you know I'll be right there with you if that's what you want."
"What the fuck, Ray?"
"I should be the one asking that. You've been staring at the gays like you expect them to start butt-fucking in front on you, which you well know they won't. You were there when I talked to them about not corrupting our Walt; he's far too young to witness even the most wonderful perversions the world has to offer. So, what the fuck, homes?"
"I'm not staring at anyone, Ray," Brad responded all too quickly, hoping that straight out denial would work just this once.
"I'm sorry, Bradley, do I really look like your precious Nate? I have to, or you wouldn't think I'd let you go full on moron on me. When have you ever managed to work out your shit on your own?"
Brad rolled his eyes. "Get over yourself, Ray. Nothing is going on."
"Do you really think I'm going to buy that shit? How long have we known each other, Brad? How long?"
"Fuck you, Ray," the frustration in Brad's voice was now more evident. He wanted to shut Ray up, but no valid arguments appeared in his head, and so he went with an insult.
It didn't affect Ray one bit though.
"In your motherfucking dreams, homes," came a quick reply. "Right now, I'm so fucking grateful to your Christ-killing parents, I think I'll be buying your mom flowers for the rest of her life, because if they caved in and got you that fucking car, you'd be holed up under it and I wouldn't be able to do this," he said and promptly punched Brad in the arm. Hard.
Brad raised his fists a little, his first instinct, to hit Ray right back. He didn't though. He knew that with all the anger and frustration that was pumping through his veins right there and then, if he forgot himself, he could really hurt Ray, and then he'd never forgive himself. So he just took a deep breath and forced his hands to relax.
"I'm not staring at them," he said and ignored Ray when he made doubtful noises. "I'm not. I was looking out for them. Now-- now it's something different." He shrugged. He didn't know how to describe it, but was unwilling to admit that.
"Bad different or good different?" Ray asked with a frown.
"I'm not sure yet."
"Not even the faintest idea?"
Brad hesitated, because if he really thought about it, something he’d refused to do so far, he might be able to put words to what's going on.
"Ha! So you do have an idea of what's different."
Brad glared at Ray. Sometimes he really hated that Ray knew him so well.
"I think I want what they have," Brad said without looking at Ray.
"Like--" Ray hesitated but Brad could hear disgust in his voice. "The hand holding, pet names and the whole relationship? I stop paying attention to you for five seconds and you turn into a girl?"
Before he could think about it, he hit Ray over the head.
"Okay, not that," Ray corrected himself. "So if it's not the puppy love then what it is that they have that the Iceman wants? Come on, Brad. Talk to your dear pal Ray-Ray."
"I might be..." He made a vague gesture.
"Be what?" Ray asked, confused.
There. He’d said it.
"That's it? For fuck's sake, you made it sound like you're dying. I thought I'd be writing your fucking eulogy or some other shit," Ray said and rolled his eyes. "Should've known it was something retarded."
In retrospect, Brad couldn't decide whether telling Ray was a good or a bad idea. On one hand, telling somebody, telling Ray, felt awesome. Like Brad no longer had to look over his shoulder and second guess. At the same time, it did mean that he could kiss his privacy goodbye, because Ray would not let it go. The gossip was just too juicy.
Though, next day at lunch, Brad was surprised at how subtle, by Ray's standards of course, his best friend was when they met with the rest of their group.
"Alright kids, new rules," said Ray right after he sat down at their table. "Making fun of the gays is no longer allowed."
Brad closed his eyes and shook his head. He knew what was coming but didn't have the desire to react. The others were mostly confused by what seemed like a random remark.
"I'm pretty sure you're the only one who's been making fun of the gays, as you've put it," there was nothing mean in Nate's tone, there rarely was, but it still sounds like a reprimand.
"You've been making fun of us since the beginning," Christenson added. "What’s changed now?"
"You're an idiot," Ray said without even stopping to think about what he's saying. "Q-Tip should really dump your ass and move on to greener pastures. You two are pretty pathetic. Brad, on the other hand, is my best friend and deserves better treatment."
There was silence at the table. It was like everybody froze at the same time. It was obvious the guys were trying to figure out if Ray was serious, if he was implying what they thought he was implying. Brad wondered how it would affect their friendship, so he looked at Nate. He didn't say anything, but he was pretty sure Nate could see the question Brad refused to ask written all over his face.
Nate raised his eyebrow.
Brad shrugged, because what else could he add.
Nate smiled and nodded.
"Oh for fuck's sake, enough with the telepathy shit! Just because Brad's into dick now, doesn't mean you two have to eye-fuck in front of everyone!" Ray punched Brad on the arm and glared at Nate.
Walt started to shake with silent laughter; Stafford wasn't even half as subtle. Just like that, everything was back to normal. Brad still felt surreal, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but nothing happened for the rest of the day. Brad shouldn't have let that lull him into a false sense of security.
He was walking home with Ray, as he was prone to do, when Ray decided to go back to the fact that Brad was gay. Apparently it was Ray's new and favorite topic.
"We should get you laid," Ray announced loudly. Brad looked around to make sure nobody had heard him.
"I'm perfectly capable of achieving that goal on my very own, Ray," Brad kept his voice calm.
"I'm not talking about your hand, Bradley. I'm talking about an actual human being. I mean Q-Tip is having more sex than you. Hell, I'm pretty sure Walt is scoring some with that Emo chick from Calculus. I know you don't want to push your gay onto unsuspecting strangers, good for you, but there has to be someone willing to be seduced by your Iceman dick!"
"Again, I'm perfectly capable of getting laid on my own, thank you Ray."
It seemed Ray was on a roll, though.
"You could try one of the jocks. They wouldn't be intimidated by your size, and there has to be a closet case or two there somewhere," Ray looked at Brad, clearly waiting for an opinion.
Brad just looked at him. It wasn't even a glare. That suggestion didn't deserve a glare. Just a look, telling Ray how much of an idiot he was being. Even more than usual.
"Okay, okay. Nobody is telling you to go fuck Encino Man; fuck knows what you'd catch. I'm just saying--" Brad glared this time and Ray raised his hands defensively. "Fine, I'm not saying anything!"
Brad nodded, glad the conversation was over. The peace lasted three minutes, maybe.
"What about Nate? He looks a bit gay. And he wouldn't even hold it against you if he's not completely gay. So it wouldn't even be all that humiliating."
Brad's first reaction was to roll his eyes and tell Ray what a fucking retard he was. But before he could do that, a thought occurred to him. Maybe Ray wasn't as high on crack as Brad first thought. He looked at Ray thoughtfully, as he considered the idea.
He was already close friends with Nate. They could talk for hours without getting bored. They understood each other without words. Nate also tolerated Ray so Brad wouldn't have to give up his best friend just to get laid. And Ray was right, not that Brad would ever admit that out loud, if Nate wasn't attracted to Brad he would let him down gently, without damaging their friendship. Of that Brad was sure.
"Maybe I should ask him out," he said more to himself than to Ray.
When Ray didn't respond, Brad looked up to see Ray's stunned expression.
Brad didn't ask Nate out the next day. He didn't ask Nate out the day after that. In fact, he didn't ask Nate out the following week, either. It was all business as usual. This, from Ray’s point of view, was both good and bad.
Bad, because if anyone deserved to get laid, it was Brad.
Good, because it gave Ray time to realize how much he hated the idea of Brad hooking up with Saint Nate. Okay, so maybe that was bad too.
If Ray was the kind of a guy who wondered about his own feelings, he would probably start questioning himself about the reasons for the relief he felt. But Ray was simple minded and honest with himself. Best friend trumps telepathy and intellectual conversations. It doesn't, however, trump sex. If Brad ever decided to actually go ahead and fuck Nate, Ray would have to satisfy himself with second place in Brad's heart.
Not that Ray cared about Brad's heart. Feelings were for pussies. Then again, Brad was Ray's best friend since forever, so he wanted Brad happy. Getting laid made Ray happy, so it should work on Brad too.
Nate couldn't be trusted. Obviously. Their other friends were out of the question. Even if, on their good days, they weren't exactly retards, none of them deserved to rise in the ranks. Well, maybe Walt. But Brad would eat the boy alive and Ray was very fond of Walt. He’d always wanted a puppy.
He couldn't trust a stranger either. Brad was a big enough idiot to end up with a broken heart and Ray would be stuck picking up the fucking pieces. And he hated cleaning up other people's messes.
That left Ray himself, which, Ray supposed, he wouldn't mind. He saw Brad in the showers. And the idea was kinda exciting if Ray allowed himself to imagine how it would be to...
"Well fuck," Ray muttered. "I might be gay for fucking Colbert."
For the first time in his life, Ray was faced with a problem that he couldn't share with Brad. It was killing him. Brad was Ray's best friend since forever and Ray was fucking diligent about destroying anything that could come between them. Now he was that thing that would most likely come between them. It sucked, and not in the fun, slutty way.
He was miserable and it showed.
"You okay?" Brad bumped their shoulders together. When Ray looked up he saw that Brad was really concerned, which made Ray feel even worse.
"You've been unusually quiet," Brad added when Ray didn't reply right away.
"Finished the fucking essay and I think I might be crashing. No more adrenaline, or some other fuck, I wasn't paying attention when Hasser was explaining that shit."
It seemed to ease Brad's mind, but it didn't help Ray's at all. For the first time since they’d played Transformers for that very first time, Ray had lied to Brad.
He was going crazy with guilt. This was the only reason why, after school was finally over, instead of going home with Brad, he announced he'd be staying behind to wait for Nate.
"The fuck?" Brad's reaction was understandable.
"Homes, there's this fine, fine chick in Nate's French class and I really want to get to know her better."
"Want me to come with you?"
"Fuck no," Ray responded far too quickly. "If you go, the two of you will just end up staring lovingly into each other's eyes and I won't even get a word in, with that fucking telepathy shit."
"Fine. Let me know how it goes with the French chick," Brad nodded but Ray would swear something was off in his voice. He probably suspected Ray wasn't telling him the truth.
Nate seemed only half surprised when Ray grabbed him outside the school and dragged him to Nate's car.
"Should I be afraid?" he asked with a fucking amused grin on his face.
"What? No, why would you? Shut up, we need to talk." Ray shook his head.
Nate raised his eyebrow and Ray wanted to deck him. Explained why the two of them didn't hang out much. Nate irritated Ray. But right now, Ray needed the guy, so he would be the most patient guy in the history of patient guys.
"You usually talk to Brad, rarely to me," Nate pointed out.
"Yeah. But it's about Brad, so I can't talk to the Iceman about it."
That did the trick and Ray got all of Nate's attention.
"Brad," Ray responded, his voice slightly raised. He immediately looked around to make sure nobody paid any attention to them.
"What's wrong with Brad?"
"He's gay, didn't you get the memo?" Ray's annoyance probably showed.
"I thought that wasn't a problem. Only the other day you were--"
"Of course it's a problem!" Ray threw hands in the air, frustrated that Nate didn't understand Ray the way Brad did. The fact that Ray had to spell everything out annoyed him to no end. "Because I'm pretty sure I'm fucking gay for Brad, even though I drool over that hottie in your French class. I was perfectly happy, being unaware of my huge ass crush on Brad, but then he had to go gay. Everything is going to go to hell now!"
"I'm pretty sure Brad didn’t decide to suddenly go gay, Ray."
Ray shrugged and refused to look at Nate. Talking to Nate was useless.
"You're useless," he told him.
"I think you're overreacting, Ray. You just need to talk to Brad about it."
"That's rich coming from you," Ray glared at him. "You barely talk to Brad yourself."
"Just trust me on this one," Nate smiled, like he knew something, and patted Ray on the shoulder.
"We don't want to suggest that you can't control your own school, fuck no," Ray tries his best to sound reassuring.
"Sorry. Where was I...?”
"Principal Higgins not controlling the school," Walt supplies helpfully.
"Oh. Yeah. We're not saying that. But you know people our age can be pretty sneaky. I mean I've been pulling pranks in this school for three years and you've never actually proved anything. It's a bit pathetic, if you ask me."
"What Ray is trying to say, in his own retarded way, is that we're concerned about our fellow students and at the same time want them to have the fullest experience possible. And we're willing to make sure other fucktards--"
"Not as enlightened fellow students," Nate quickly corrects Brad’s language.
"--not as enlightened fellow students, thank you Nate, that they won't attempt to destroy the experience for everyone else."
"We won't even try to spike the punch; drunken retards are even more annoying."
"Very considerate of you, Mr. Person."
"I know right? But don't think we'll be all saints. I'm planning on having lots of filthy gay sex afterwards."
There’s silence when nobody knows how to react to that statement. Finally, Brad clears his throat.
"Is there something you wanted to tell me, Ray?"
"Fuck no. Talking about feelings with you, Brad, is like slitting your wrists the wrong way. You want to die already, but can't because you made one mistake. Which, in my case, was befriending a huge-ass Jew who suffers from serious emotional retardation. So I figure I’d just put my tongue down your throat after the party and see how that communicates my feelings. But I'm not taking you to prom, bitch. I'm not turning into Christenson."
Brad stares at him for a moment and Ray can’t help but notice how he’s trying to stop himself from smiling.
"Alright gentlemen, I think this is your cue. Go back to class."
"But will you let Q-Tip and Christenson go to prom together?"
"I never said they couldn't and I don't know what gave you the idea they were banned from prom."
"But Encino Man--"
"Is so dead."
"Why didn't you say anything, sir?"
"I've tried to tell you from the start, but this meeting turned out to be very informative. You said past three years, Mr. Person?"
"What? I didn't say anything. Come guys, let's blow this joint."
"Goodbye Principal Higgins."
"Goodbye Mr. Fick."
"Yo, Nate, stop doing that telepathic shit with people who are not Brad!"