One of the many privileges of having a single room is never having to deal with a roommate waking you up before 10am. That is, unless you’re best friends with someone like Calum Hood. Then you’re woken up, without warning, at any given hour of the day and you’re left to curse your choice in friends.
“Get up, get up!” Obnoxious banging sounds from the other side of the dorm’s door, accompanying Calum’s loud voice. “Up you fucker! We’re gonna miss the French toast!”
Luke groans unintelligible words into his pillow. The wonderful dream he’d been having about a hot, shirtless boy rubbing suntan lotion over his body is completely ruined. Calum’s relentless knocking continues on for another minute while Luke lies there, checks the time, and just wants to die, please.
“Calum!” Ashton’s bright voice joins the noise in the hallway. “Stop it, you’re going to wake the whole floor up!”
“I don’t give a fuck about the floor,” Calum snaps, although he stops the banging. “I care about the breakfast we’re missing because Princess Luke won’t GET UP!”
Luke groans again before he shoves himself up from the bed and stumbles across the room. He rips open the door hard enough to push Calum back, flailing from his spot leaning against it. It’s a small victory, even if he doesn’t fall on his ass.
“I’m up,” Luke growls.
“You’re half naked,” Ashton giggles, gesturing to where Luke’s only wearing a pair of SpongeBob boxers. “The café has a dress code, you know.”
Calum quickly recovers from his fumble and grins wickedly at Luke. “You have three minutes.” Then he takes Ashton’s arm and leads them out of the hall, towards the commons.
Luke rolls his eyes to himself and goes back in his room to get dressed. Stupid of him to pick morning people as his best friends.
The commons are barely alive when Luke eventually arrives for breakfast. All the normal, sane students are enjoying their last two days of freedom and sleeping in before school starts on Monday. Luke envies them, but he can’t help his amused smile when he approaches his friends, found at their usual cushioned booth beside the window. Calum claimed the spot as his throne two years prior, mostly for the view of the emerald pitch outside, his playing kingdom.
Luke finds Ashton frowning in disgust as he eyes Calum across the table. The dark-haired boy has his plate full of four French toast pieces, smothered in maple syrup—pieces that are rapidly disappearing into his mouth.
“Slow down before you choke, Cal.” Luke tells him when he sits down.
“He’s a savage,” Ashton mutters. His own plate is lightly occupied by fruit. Luke gratefully takes the banana Ash offers him. “You’re going to puke on Coach Donald.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Irwin.” Calum says once he finally swallows. “I need to store up as much energy as possible for training today.”
Luke turns a practiced deaf ear to their following argument over nutritious breakfast food. Disagreeing with each other over every topic is part of some bizarre way that Calum and Ashton’s friendship works. Luke gave up long ago trying to understand it and just resigns to playing the peacemaker whenever necessary.
He hopes at some point that the ongoing sexual tension between them will finally be resolved, but that is another thing Luke gave up on forcing to happen. Eventually, Luke had decided, Calum will get over himself and spend his time wooing Ashton instead of antagonizing him. Until then, Luke leaves them to their love-bickering and pulls out the book he brought from upstairs.
“Incoming,” Ashton warns a few minutes later, causing Luke to glance up from his novel. This time his frown is aimed across the room. Luke looks to the double doors of the café just in time to see half of the hockey team burst inside. Instantly the noise volume of the room is amplified as the rowdy boys shout and shove at each other on their way to the breakfast line.
Luke’s eyes scan over the group as subtly as he can, feeling his heart thump in quick, hopeful beats. He checks again and again, but there’s no head of bleach blonde in the group. No number 10 found on the back of any of the maroon jerseys.
Of course his friends catch him looking. “Aww, look at the disappointment on his face!” Calum coos, much louder than necessary. “Poor little Lukey.”
“Shut up,” Luke whines. He can feel his cheeks heating up and tries to focus back on his book. It’s useless as Calum and Ashton burst into laughter. Ash’s manic giggles are impossible to resist, though Luke bites hard on his lip to not give in and join them.
“It’s okay, Lukey.” Ashton pats his hand, smiling at him appeasingly. “You’ll get to ogle at Michael in class soon, I promise.”
“Shh!” Luke hisses, casting a nervous eye over at the hockey boys. Thankfully all of them are too preoccupied throwing scraps of sausages at each other to hear them. “I don’t ogle at anyone,” Luke tells them, frowning at the smug looks on his best friends’ faces. “I don’t!”
“Okay, okay!” Calum swallows back his laughter, raising a placating hand at Luke. “Relax, Lukey, don’t get your tutu all twisted up!”
At that Luke rolls his eyes and gets up from the booth. Ashton calls after him as he walks away, apologizing for their teasing, but Luke ignores him. He knows Calum will settle down after he gets his morning drills in—his best friend is always at his most obnoxious at this hour, pent up with unleashed energy. Luke will meet up with them later.
He hadn’t planned on hitting the studio until much later, but he is already up, thanks to those lovable morons. Luke decides to head there anyway. The air is crisp and cool when Luke steps out of Duffy Hall, making him pull his blue cardigan tighter against his body. Luckily the walk to the studio is a short one, just across the large pond that sits in front of their dorm building.
Luke remembers his first trip to Waverly Academy, being only thirteen and swooning over the campus, each new building the tour guide introduced more impressive than the last. It was like something out of a dream—beautiful limestone architecture, endless acres of manicured grass framed by snow-capped mountains in the distance. The arch bridges that decorated the ponds and clock tower at the main entrance added to the castle-like flair of Waverly. The only thing missing was a moat.
Now, four years later, the magic had long since wore off. That might have something to do with the students rather the campus’s fault, though. It certainly determined how Luke plugs in his headphones, blasting Enya and avoids the gazes of most people he passes on his walk. Calum would say the best defense is a good offense, but Luke couldn’t agree.
Luke uses the key Madame Fabre gifted to him last year to unlock the small building that houses the dance rooms. Luke is one of many artistic students to attend Waverly and is grateful someone else’s wealthy daddy donated the funds to pay for the two-story studio (a generation donation following the indoor Jacuzzi in every dorm building and the brand new sushi bar at the marketplace).
Luke’s favorite room on the second floor is perfectly empty when he walks in. It’s the biggest in the building, but Luke favors it because the entire north wall is made of clear glass. A breathtaking view of the whole campus greets you as soon as you step inside. Luke takes a moment to admire the scene before he sets his things down and strips out of his clothes, down to his black tights and a simple T-shirt.
Once his CD is playing in Madame Fabre’s stereo, Luke stretches and warms-up for a couple of songs. His crankiness at being woken up early melts away as the blood starts pumping through his body. A good hour or five could have passed while Luke dances. The sensation that comes with the flow of his movements is indefinable; another world entirely where he can fly across the wooden floors and transforms into a person greater than himself. Someone no one at this school, no one anywhere, can mock or even reach. He’s untouchable.
A few hours afterward Luke spots Ashton sitting on the bleachers. He waves as soon as he sees Luke, one hand tightly holding onto his cup of hot chocolate so it doesn’t spill out.
“Here,” Luke reaches over to take Ashton’s glasses off. They always fog up during cool days like this and it’s usually up to him or Calum to clear them up for Ashton, who never seems to notice. Luke uses his sleeve to wipe them clean then slides them back onto his friend’s face.
“Thanks.” Ashton beams at him gratefully. “Did you have fun practicing?”
“Yep.” Luke leans back in his seat. “Not as much fun as Cal seems to be having though.”
They both look to the field where Calum and the rest of the soccer team are in the middle of an intense round of sprints. Calum of course is barely breaking a sweat, but most of his teammates aren’t so lucky. Luke takes a moment to appreciate the sweat-dampened torsos of the other boys.
Ashton rolls his eyes playfully. “I swear he has some kind of pain kink. He loves the drills more than the actual playing!”
“You would know all about Hood’s kinks wouldn’t you, Ashley?”
Luke cringes at the husky sound of Nate Kingsley’s taunting voice behind them. The tall brunette rounds the bench to face them, a vicious smirk planted on his handsome face. His loyal followers Colton and Marcus flank them with familiar gleams in their eyes that make Luke’s stomach wrench painfully. Here we go…
“Wait a minute.” Colton lets out a bark of laughter. “I thought it was little Lukey that plays Hood’s wife. Or do you two share?”
The nickname sounds crude and wrong coming out of his mouth. Luke hates it almost as his inability to do nothing but sit there scowling as they laugh.
“L-leave us a-alone.” Ashton whispers. It’s nearly inaudible, but it’s more than Luke can produce.
Nate’s smirk twists into a feral smile, flashing flawless white teeth. “What did you say?”
Ashton’s cheeks tint pink and he stays silent this time. It makes Luke angrier than any stupid comments they could make could, seeing his friend so upset. Not for the first time Luke fantasizes about standing up, pushing Nate and his buddies off the bleachers and knocking the laughter out of their mouths. But he can’t move.
“That’s what I thought, sweetheart.” Nate’s dark blue eyes flash to Luke. “Wipe that glare off your face, Barbie. Unless of course you want me to find your tiara.”
Luke feels his breath catch, a horrible mixture of dizziness and nausea punching him in the chest. In his mind’s eye he sees a younger Nate, grinning at him through polished glass. Colton and Marcus are there too, their howling laughter so much louder than the rest of the crowd’s.
He barely hears Ashton’s soft call of his name before a green and yellow ball soars through the air and collides into the back of Nate’s head. Two more balls follow in rapid succession, hitting Colton and Marcus’s heads respectively.
“Hey fuckfaces!” Calum’s voice bellows from the field. “Get the fuck away from my friends before we find out how far I can shove my cleats down your throats!”
“Hood!” Coach Donald starts yelling at Calum about his language and focus during practice, but Luke blocks the rest of it out of his mind.
Nate rolls his eyes. “Let’s go.”
The other boys follow him as he scurries away, pretending that Calum’s threat didn’t send them running. It almost makes him smile. Luke watches until they disappear around the corner, out of the stadium.
Ashton sighs. “I’m getting really tired of dealing with that whenever we step out of our damn dorm rooms.”
Normally Luke would jump at the chance to tease Ashton about his rare swearing, but his heart isn’t anywhere up for it right then. Luke stays quiet as they wait out the rest of Calum’s practice, his mood steadily darkening. He too is sick of Nate’s harassment, sick of the constant reminders of the worst year of Luke’s life. He’s angrier with himself than anyone though.
All it would take is one time of Luke standing up to them for Nate to back off. Luke’s taller than all three of them and has years’ worth of rigorous dance training behind his punch. He could do it, without Calum’s help. But every time they come near, Luke clams up like he’s forgotten how to speak. He’s left to seethe in frustration when they saunter off until next time.
Ashton thankfully doesn’t try to engage him in conversation, focusing his attention on his sketchbook instead. He’s working on something that involves a superhero that suspiciously looks like Calum. Luke will have to ask him about it later.
Calum’s scowling when he jogs up to them as soon as Coach Donald lets them go. “Are you guys okay?”
“It’s fine.” Ashton tells him, shoving his sketchbook into his pin-covered bag. “Let’s just get out of here.”’
Calum nods, dropping it, and they start heading out of the stadium. They’re about halfway to the exit when someone shouts Calum’s name behind them.
One of his teammates lopes over to them. His bright orange hair is matted to his forehead with sweat. “What’s up, Mason?” Calum asks him.
“I forgot to give you this.” Mason fishes out a scrap of black paper from his bag and hands it to Calum. “There’s a party tonight in Bexley’s lounge. James will kill me if I don’t invite you.”
“A paper invitation?” Calum smirks at him scathingly. “Bro, who does these anymore?”
Mason rolls his eyes. “Can you come or not?”
Calum pauses, glancing at Ashton and Luke worriedly. “Am I gonna have to bring my cleats?”
Mason shakes his head. “This isn’t a party for the brats. Just the boys, a few of the usual suspects. No trust fund dickheads, I swear.”
Calum grins. “Then we’ll be there.”