John was already half in the bag, and the party had only been going for an hour. He watched the cheerleaders running through their routine by the bonfire and shook his head. He’d never seen the appeal.
“Johnny! You want in on volleyball?” Dustin climbed up the side of the rusted tractor that John was sitting on. “It’s track versus football.”
“Yeah. Sure.” John tipped his plastic cup back and drained the rest of his beer. He jumped off the tractor and slipped out of his letter jacket, tossing it aside carelessly.
They didn’t have a proper net, just a row of old wooden crates, and the court lines were deeply etched in the dirt. There was some shuffling around and John ended up serving first for the track team. Before he could even get the ball in play the cheerleaders had lined up on either side of the court, cheering for their favorites over the Springsteen song belting out of Moze’s boombox.
Despite the varying degrees of intoxication on both sides it was a pretty good game. At least until John spiked the ball into someone’s face, and that was only because Benji Pike was an alcoholic lightweight. The bloody nose broke up the game, with the track team in the lead by two points. John managed to avoid most of the high-fiving and made his way back to the keg for a refill.
The new guy was there, kind of hovering at the fringes of the party. He was in John’s AP Calculus class, a transfer that had just moved to town a couple months ago. Rodney…something. He was kind of a weirdo: he wore his hair in a punk style that hung in his face, he was supposedly some kind of genius who’d already been accepted to college even though his parents were making him finish high school first, and he didn’t seem to have any friends.
“You want a beer?” John asked him. He felt bad for the guy. Anyone who ate alone in the cafeteria was to be pitied.
Rodney looked startled, and shook his head. “I don’t drink.”
“Who comes to a party and doesn’t drink?” John filled a cup for him and pushed it into his hands. “Come on. Bottoms up.”
“What…uh…what kind is it?” Rodney sniffed at the contents of the cup.
“You really don’t drink, do you? It’s cheap, which means it tastes a little like warm piss, but it’ll get you drunk just the same as the pricey stuff.” John filled his own cup and set a good example by gulping half of it down in one swallow. “You get a couple in you and you won’t notice the difference.”
If he’d been hosting the party the beer would’ve been the good stuff that came in bottles. It wasn’t like his dad couldn’t afford it, and he never seemed to mind when John had parties as long as they didn’t get too out of hand.
“I heard it was your birthday last week,” Rodney said. He looked like he was trying to be nonchalant with the cup but he was holding it too tightly. “So, uh. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” One more year and John could finally get away from his dad, and his obnoxious little brother, and the too-big house they all shared. One more year till he could be free and stop pretending that he was going to be the business man his father wanted.
“You guys always party out here? It’s pretty far from town.”
“That’s the point.”
The old Palmer farm was a popular place to hang out and drink. It was far enough from town not to draw unwanted attention, the barn was still in pretty good shape, and there was an outhouse they could use.
“How’d you even know we were having a party?” John asked out of curiosity. The guest list was normally confined to the popular and pretty people. Not that Rodney wasn’t good looking, because he totally was – John had noticed that the very first day – but he was a mathlete, and a member of the chess club. John loved numbers, and he was pretty awesome at them, but mathletes? That would’ve been social suicide.
New Kids on the Block played on the boombox, which generated much squealing from the cheerleaders; Moze never went for anything too far from the mainstream. John preferred country music himself, especially Johnny Cash. That guy was cooler than any boy band could ever be.
“I have every right to be here,” Rodney snapped. The beer in his cup sloshed a little over the side and he took a sip from it without even seeming to realize what he was doing.
“Jeez, chill out. I was just asking.” John finished his beer and poured another.
“If you must know, I’m here to make sure my sister doesn’t get into any trouble.”
“You have a sister?” How did he not know that? He turned to look at his fellow party-goers. “Which one is she?”
“Why? So you can hit on her? She’s only a Freshman, you know. Too young for you.”
“I don’t want to hit on her,” John protested with a scowl. He never hit on girls, rarely even dated them. But sometimes he had to, because if his friends found out that guys turned him on instead of girls they’d make his life miserable.
“Oh. Well, she’s a cheerleader.”
Once Rodney said that John could pick her out. She looked too young to be on the squad, her curly blonde hair pulled back in pigtails. They shared a family resemblance, with the big blue eyes and everything. Rodney’s mouth, though, was much more interesting because it tilted down on one side in the quirkiest way. John wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
“But she’s not just some empty-headed pom-pom girl,” Rodney said defensively, as if John had said something to the contrary. “Jeannie’s almost as smart as I am. She’s already taking AP Chemistry.”
“Good for Jeannie. I still don’t want to date her.”
“She’s too young for you.”
“We covered that.” John nodded at the bonfire. “I’m going back over. You want to come?”
“No. I’m fine.” Rodney took another sip of the beer, making a face as he did so.
John just rolled his eyes. “You’re at a party. Maybe you should loosen up.”
He didn’t know why he cared what Rodney did. The jocks obviously weren’t his crowd –the football players would eat him alive – but John couldn’t just leave him standing there in the shadows watching everyone else have a good time.
Rodney opened his mouth, probably to protest some more, but before he could get a word out Lanie, captain of the cheer squad, appeared. She had the look of someone who’d just been making out – slightly puffy lips, mussed hair – and she immediately attached herself to John’s arm.
“Johnnnnny, come dance with me.”
“I don’t dance,” John said. He tried to pull his arm free. “Besides, where’s Chaz?”
“Chaz is boring. We’re through.” Lanie batted her eyes at him. “Well, tonight anyway.”
Rodney cleared his throat, drawing John’s attention. Unfortunately Lanie noticed him too.
“Hey, you’re the new guy. What’s your name?” She flicked her long, blonde hair over one shoulder. “I’m Lanie Goodrich.”
“Um…Rodney. Rodney McKay.” He took a big gulp of beer and immediately started to choke.
Lanie giggled, but immediately abandoned John so that she could helpfully pound Rodney on the back. “Aww, you poor thing! You okay?”
John felt irrationally irritated. He’d only just met Rodney himself, there was no reason why he should want all his attention, or for Rodney to look at him with the same flustered, awed expression he was currently bestowing on the pom-pom queen.
“So if you’re not with Chaz, who’ve you been sucking face with?” John asked, a bit nastier than he’d meant. Lanie just giggled again.
“Anyone who wants to.” She thrust her breasts at Rodney, subtle as a chainsaw. “You want to?”
“He’s a mathlete!” John blurted out. Rodney shot him a wide-eyed look of betrayal, and Lanie actually took a step back.
“Eww. You’re a nerd?”
“No! I’m a genius. That transcends labels.” Rodney sounded confident but his body language said otherwise: his shoulders came up, his head dipped down, and it looked to John that he would’ve welcomed a convenient hole opening up at his feet.
“Whatever.” Just like that Lanie dismissed both of them and set her sights on the nearest jock, homing in on him like a missile.
“Thanks a lot, jerk,” Rodney said, turning an angry glare on John. “She totally wanted me until you opened your big mouth.”
John knew he should feel guilty, but he didn’t. Just relieved. “Trust me, I did you a favor. She’s a total slut. You’d be making out with the whole football team by proxy.”
He didn’t know what he expected. A thank you, maybe. Or a laugh. But instead Rodney glanced over at the bonfire and actually licked his lips. John’s breath caught in his throat, just for a second.
“And you assume her being a slut – which is your opinion by the way – would make me want to kiss her less? You’re an idiot.”
“I was just trying to help you out,” John lied.
“Well I don’t need your help.” Rodney drained the last of his beer and shoved past John to pour himself another. “I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions, thank you very much. If you’d wanted the cheerleader for yourself you should’ve just said so. Or danced with her when she asked.”
“You’re not cheerleader material.” John was getting angry. And maybe a little turned on by Rodney’s downturned mouth and the sharp focus of his attention.
“You don’t know anything about me!” Rodney snapped.
Somehow they’d moved into each other’s personal space, faces just inches apart. Rodney’s breath smelled of beer and chocolate, and John’s own breath quickened in response. They were kissing close, and he could see the moment Rodney realized it too by the way his face flushed.
“Maybe we could get better acquainted,” John suggested as nonchalantly as he could manage.
“You’re the most…what? We could what?” Rodney looked startled, but interested. That was enough for John.
There was a spot out behind the barn where vines had overgrown an open door, creating a little alcove that was almost completely hidden from view. The main make-out spot was up in the hay loft, but that was for the normal kids. Guys like John needed to be more circumspect.
“This is…wow. Kind of creepy, actually.”
Maybe for Rodney, but John found the small space charged with possibility. It was dark, the little bit of moonlight that filtered in through the leaves and vines dappling Rodney’s skin. They were pressed close together, so that John could feel every breath that Rodney took.
“You do this a lot?” Rodney asked, his voice hushed.
John shook his head. “No.”
“Oh. Good. Well…bottoms up.”
Rodney grabbed a fistful of John’s t-shirt and pulled him closer still, until their lips were mashed together. It wasn’t John’s first kiss, with another guy or otherwise, but this time it felt different. Better. Rodney was enthusiastic, if a little sloppy, and he made the most amazing noises in the back of his throat. It wasn’t long before John’s whole body was thrumming with desire.
“Wow,” Rodney panted. “You’re good at that.”
John slid his hands up under Rodney’s shirt, splaying his fingers across warm skin. “I’m good at other things, too.” He could easily think of three or four things they could do right there, under cover of the foliage, but Rodney pushed him back.
“My sister is out there!” he hissed. “And I just met you.”
“You’re not that kind of girl?” John teased. He moved in for another kiss and Rodney didn’t put up a fight. Instead he pressed John back against the door and grabbed his ass. “Oh, yeah.”
“Are all jocks this slutty?” Rodney asked. His mouth curved into a crooked smile and John felt short of breath again.
“Maybe you’re just that hot,” John replied, and almost laughed out loud when Rodney flushed. “You know, my dad’s going out of town next weekend. You want to come over? Hang out?”
“Hang out or make out?”
“Both?” John asked hopefully. “But if you just want to hang, I have Super Mario on NES. And lots of videos we could watch. I just got Temple of Doom.”
Rodney gave him a speculative look. “You’d just want to hang out with me, even if we don’t get physical?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“You don’t even know me.”
John shrugged. “I know enough to want to know more.”
“This isn’t some kind of trick, is it? Some jock hazing thing? Because I can assure you that I’ve both been there and done that, and even though you’re a pretty good kisser –”
“Rodney!” John interrupted. He was torn between laughing and wanting to punch whoever had messed with Rodney in the past. “It’s not a trick. I just…like you.”
“So you really want to just hang out with me.”
“And maybe do more kissing.”
“I wouldn’t say no to that.” John nodded enthusiastically. “But listen, we can’t tell anyone about this, okay? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but…well, you know.”
Rodney kissed him then, and it was surprisingly soft and sweet. “I know. And if you don’t acknowledge me at school on Monday I understand. I mean, you’d be a jerk but I’m willing to overlook that.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not like that.” At least John hoped that was true. Becoming friends with a brainiac like Rodney would make him the butt of some jokes, but it wouldn’t kill him socially. And really, did he care that much about what his friends thought? In another year he’d be gone and he had no plans on coming back.
“If you say so. Um…I’m gonna go find Jeannie, make sure she hasn’t gotten dragged off by a football player.” Rodney ducked under the vines. “See you Monday.”
John didn’t immediately follow; he had an erection to will away before he rejoined the party. He’d taken a big chance, sucking face with the new kid. What if Rodney didn’t keep to his word? John looked down and saw Rodney’s cup sitting in the grass, still half full of beer.
“Fuck it,” he murmured to himself. Whatever happened he’d deal with it. He picked up the cup and lifted it in a toast. “Bottoms up.”