They're at the back porch of Chuckie's house. Their parents are out and the sky is clear.
"Can you stop that?" Tommy asks, looking at Phil. Phil is smoking. It's a habit he picked up last year, in sophomore year. Tommy often says it's a bad habit.
Phil takes his cigarette out and lets out a thin stream of smoke. "Why?" he says. "It's not hurting anybody."
"Potentially." Tommy crinkles his nose and then covers it.
"Tommy's right," says Chuckie, glancing at Phil as well. "It could give you - lung cancer, or, somethin'."
"Pah, lung cancer." Phil sticks it back in his mouth. "We're all gonna die one day, anyways."
"Don't say that!" Chuckie says. "Don't be a Negative Nancy, Phil."
Phil snorts, and thinks, only Chuckie would say Negative Nancy nowadays. He blows out another stream of smoke.
Sometimes, Tommy makes out with Kimi on the porch. Chuckie likes to pretend that he doesn't know, or at least notice.
They're not even dating.
"This is nice," says Tommy when his cheek is pressed against Kimi's, both of their scents soaking into the air. He drifts his fingers in Kimi's hair, thinks of how soft it is.
"It is," Kimi mutters, breathless. One of Tommy's hands is up her shirt, and dances across her ribs. She giggles.
Chuckie comes outside then, and says, "Tommy, your mom is - " He stops at what he sees, but when neither Kimi nor Tommy turn to look at him, he continues. "Tommy, your mom is here."
"Oh, thanks." Tommy pulls away. He kisses Kimi on the cheek and she giggles. "Bye Kimi," he says to her. Then, as he leaves, "See ya later, Chuck."
Chuckie watches his best friend leave. Kimi walks inside, but Chuckie stays on the porch for a minute longer.
"I don't understand it," Chuckie says to Phil.
"Don't understand what?" Phil's not smoking anymore, but he's bouncing a soccer ball on his knees. He's gotten better since high school years.
"Girls," says Chuckie.
"Oh," says Phil, and then laughs. "Girls are easy, man. Just got to say the right things, touch them in the right places."
"Yeah, but they're so complicated." Chuckie swings his legs off the edge of the porch. "They always expect you to - and they never say anything directly, it's so confusing."
"To be honest, I gotta agree with you on that," says Phil. He sits next to him, and their legs brush. "Guys would be much easier."
"Yeah," says Chuckie, and then laughs. "Too bad we're not girls, huh?"
"Hey Phil," says Tommy, stepping out to the back porch. "Where's Chuckie?"
Phil's lying on the porch. He's chewing on gum and pretending to sleep, although the fact that he's chewing his gum probably negates his pretension to sleep.
"Inside," he says, not opening his eyes and jerking his thumb back. He hits Tommy's leg. "Said that I could do homework with him, but I decided to come outside."
"Oh." Tommy sits next to him. "I guess I'll stay out here with you, then."
"Nah, nah." Phil waves his hand. "Go on, hang out with your best friend. I'm good just being here by myself."
"No, it's fine," says Tommy.
Phil opens his eyes. He turns his head a little so he's looking at Tommy. "Dude, so you'll let your best friend alone and stay with me?" he says.
Tommy shrugs. "Not that - this is just his house, so I think that - " He breaks off and shrugs again.
Phil lays his head back down and closes his eyes again. "Right," he says, and then, "okay." He smiles a little, though.
"Phil," says Chuckie, later. "It's nine at night, you should probably be going home now - "
Phil takes him by the shoulder and leans in and kisses him.
Chuckie jumps back.
"What the heck?" he squawks, because he doesn't say anything worse than that. "Phil, what the - what the heck was that?"
Phil shrugs and puts the cigarette back in his mouth. "Just felt like kissin' ya," he says.
Chuckie wipes his mouth and crinkles his nose, but only because he feels like he should. Phil had tasted like smoke and mint. More mint, though.
"What," says Chuckie, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. Then, what he feels like is belated, "I'm not gay."
"Never said you were," says Phil, looking thoughtfully up at the sky. There's a full moon. "I'm not gay either."
"But you - you kissed me!" says Chuckie.
"Keep it down," says Phil. "And I told you that I felt like kissing you. Doesn't make me gay."
"But - yes it - gah!" Chuckie tugs at his bright orange hair in exasperation.
Phil waves his hand at him, holding onto his cigarette. "Don't think too much about it, it didn't mean anything," he says. "And," he adds, "don't mention it to Tommy, either? Please?" He looks at Chuckie and Chuckie can read something like desperation in his eyes.
Chuckie doesn't understand this at all but he nods, because that's the kind of guy he is. "Okay," he says, and tries not to remember Phil's taste.
Phil and Chuckie (and Tommy and everyone) know that Chuckie breaks easily. For something like this, it takes a week before he does.
Chuckie and Tommy are on Chuckie's porch and Chuckie asks, "Why do you kiss my sister so much?"
Tommy pauses, because it's the first time Chuckie's ever brought it up. Mentioned it. Ever.
"What - I," he says. "We're not dating, you know."
"Yeah, and that's why I'm asking," says Chuckie, doing his best not to sound accusatory. He isn't annoyed by it, he isn't. "I just want to know."
Tommy shrugs one shoulder. His right one. "I'm just attracted to her, I guess," he says. "I kiss a lot of girls."
"Right now?" says Chuckie, awed.
Tommy nods. "Yeah," he says. "They want to kiss me and I want to kiss them. I'm not - going out with any of them, though."
"Oh," says Chuckie. "Then why don't you just get a girlfriend? Then you can kiss her whenever you want?"
Tommy laughs and says, "Chuckie, I can already kiss a lot of girls whenever I want." He dangles his wrists off the porch fence.
Chuckie frowns. That doesn't sound right to him. "Tommy," he says, and then stops.
"Yeah?" Tommy turns to him.
"I," says Chuckie, and then looks down. His cheeks are getting as red as his freckles, as his hair. "Phil kissed me last week," he says all in a rush, hoping that Tommy wouldn't understand.
Tommy does, because he's Chuckie's best friend. "What? Why?" he exclaims. "What - is Phil gay or some - "
"He said he's not," says Chuckie. "He just said that he wanted to kiss me or something. I don't know," he mumbles.
Tommy sighs, "Bullshit. Y'can't just kiss guys and not be gay."
"Does that mean," says Chuckie, "you're not gay?"
Tommy opens his mouth, but then looks thoughtful. "Well," he says. "I've kissed some guys before. It's not that bad."
Chuckie feels as though he should be happier than this, but his heart sinks at Tommy's words. "Oh," he says. "So you are gay, or - "
"Dunno," says Tommy, and blows his bubblegum thoughtfully. "I just like kissing, really."
Chuckie's heart leaps in his throat then. "Then," he says to Tommy. "Would you mind kissing me, Tommy?"
Tommy laughs and Chuckie's heart goes back where it's supposed to be, sinking deep down inside of him. "I can't do that," he says. "You're my best friend, Chuckie."
Phil kisses him and Tommy says, "You're as good of a kisser as Lil is, Phil."
"You hurt Chuckie," says Phil, and then punches him in the nose.
Tommy stares at Phil, bewildered, clutching his face. Phil may have dislocated his jaw. "What the hell, Phil?" he says.
"You hurt Chuckie," Phil repeats. "He told me at school today."
"No I - " Tommy shakes his head. "If I did, then why didn't he say anything when I came here?"
"I don't know," says Phil. "You know how Chuckie is. He doesn't want to hurt anyone. Especially you." He narrows his eyes.
Tommy feels guilty for something he didn't know he did. "Phil, I - "
Phil leaves and Tommy continues clutching his face. He doesn't know why he can't get the taste of smoke and mint off his tongue.
"I don't know why," says Tommy when Chuckie comes out on the porch later, "but I'm sorry, okay? I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry."
Chuckie quietly joins him at the porch ledge. Places his arms on the fence. Their elbows touch.
"It's okay," Chuckie murmurs. "It's no big deal; I'm a bit confused, too."
Tommy turns to him. "Confused about what?"
Chuckie shakes his head, waves his hand dismissively. "It's nothing," he says, but Tommy is still worried.
He decides to let it go. "Phil kissed me too, you know," he says.
Chuckie laughs. "You think he's trying to say something?" he asks.
"Say what?" says Tommy.
"Never mind," says Chuckie.
"No," says Tommy, and then takes Chuckie by the shoulders and turns him so they're facing each other. "Tell me, Chuckie," he says.
Chuckie sighs and pulls himself out of Tommy's grip. "It's nothing," he mutters, going back to look off the porch.
Tommy watches at him for a bit longer but Chuckie doesn't react. Tommy puts his elbows on the railing again.
"Tommy," says Chuckie suddenly, and from the corner of his eye, Tommy can see that Chuckie's not looking at him. Purposefully. "What would you do if I told you - if I told you I was gay?" His voice goes down at the last word.
Tommy furrows hie eyebrows a bit. "It's no big deal for me; remember what I told you?"
"What if I told you that I liked you?" Chuckie's voice is even quieter.
"What?" says Tommy.
"I hate myself," says Chuckie, burying his face in his hands. "I really hate myself. Argh." He hits his head on the porch fence repeatedly.
"If you bleed, I'm not responsible," says Phil. Chuckie's dad has asked him to not smoke out here, so he can't anymore. At least, when Mr. Finster's around.
"I hate myself," Chuckie repeats.
"Yeah, I think I heard that the first five bajillion times," says Phil. "Not to mention all day in school, and yesterday, too - "
"Tommy won't talk to me!" Chuckie wails.
"I know," says Phil, and then sighs.
He glances at Chuckie. Chuckie looks pathetic, with his head on his knees, arms wrapping around them. This isn't what he wanted.
"Hey," he says, and then walks over to Chuckie. Sits down next to him and puts a hand on his back. "He'll get over it, you know."
"But it's not just that I like guys," says Chuckie. "It's 'cause I like him." He sniffles a little and Phil thinks, oh great, he's crying. Chuckie's just like a girl.
"There, there," he says awkwardly, and then touches Chuckie's face. When Chuckie brings his head up to look at him, Phil leans in a little. Kisses him on the lips.
This time, Chuckie doesn't pull back. He doesn't exactly respond, but he feels hesitant and Phil can practically feel the waves of uncertainty wash over him. Chuckie is contagious.
Phil pulls back, equally unsure.
"Do you like me, Phil?" Chuckie asks. His eyes are large and bleary behind his glasses.
Phil sits back. "I just like people," he says. "Don't really care." When he looks at Chuckie again, he says, "I like Tommy, too."
"You do?" Chuckie's eyes go wide.
"Yeah," says Phil. "And Kimi, and Dil, and Susie, and my sister..."
Chuckie laughs and Phil's lips quirk up. "What about Angelica?" he says.
"Oh god, no, not Angelica," says Phil. And then, contemplatively, "Well, she is foxy..."
Chuckie laughs again and nudges Phil's side. Phil laughs as well and bumps his knee against Chuckie's. Chuckie doesn't seem to mind at all when he bumps back.
"The fuck?" says Tommy when he walks in on Phil and Chuckie making out on Chuckie's porch.
One of Phil's hands is teasing on the hem of Chuckie's shirt and the other is tugging at his hair, the little tufts of orange-almost-red. They both break apart from each other but don't move their hands (Chuckie is gripping onto Phil's shoulders.) They look at Tommy.
"Oh, hi Tommy," says Phil as if he and Chuckie had been playing video games. Chuckie's face goes tomato red.
"What the fuck," says Tommy, coming over to them. Chuckie thinks that he might pull Chuckie away from Phil (and Chuckie doesn't want that.) "Chuckie, I thought you liked me."
"I did," says Chuckie defensively. "I mean, I still do."
"Then why are you - " He gestures to Phil exasperatedly.
Phil shrugs and blows into Tommy's face. Tommy makes a face. "You said no, so I was second choice," he says, putting an arm around Chuckie protectively even though they're still pressed against each other. His other hand is still on the edge of Chuckie's shirt.
Chuckie frowns at Phil. "You're not second choice," he says. "You're just - " Then, gulping, even though Tommy is right there, "You're my first choice."
"Chuckie, what," says Tommy. "What - you said you liked me - "
"Yeah, and then you wouldn't talk to me or look at me after that!" says Chuckie defiantly. "And that's not my fault! But Phil likes me and I like him now, and at least he didn't ignore me like my best friend did!"
"You should've given me time!" says Tommy. "I was going to - I was going to come around some time - "
"Yeah, and then what? Then you'll confess your love for me?" Chuckie's glare is as fiery as his hair. He doesn't even sound that upset, just annoyed, which impresses Phil. "Screw you, Tommy," he mutters.
Tommy's frustrated, and he doesn't know if it's because he'd seen Chuckie kissing Phil or because of just everything Chuckie's said. He tears him away from Phil and plants one on him.
It's awful and their teeth and noses bump against each other and Chuckie breaks away immediately. "Tommy," he says, "what the hell?" and both Tommy and Phil flinch visibly.
"Chuckie," says Tommy. "I - " He reaches out like he wants to touch Chuckie, but Chuckie just storms away.
Tommy turns to Phil, apology in his eyes. "I," he says to Phil, but doesn't even bring himself to say sorry.
Phil exhales deeply and Tommy expects to see him breathe out smoke. "You can't get everything you want, Tommy," he says.
"No," says Tommy, and then laughs. "Fuck, Chuckie, you can't expect me to not kiss girls anymore - "
"But you're with us now, Tommy, that's practically cheating!" says Chuckie.
"Us," says Phil, and then smiles. He likes the sound of that.
"But have you kissed a girl before?" says Tommy. "They're so fun, and, like, soft, and they make these funny little noises when you touch them - "
"Sounds like Chuckie," says Phil, and he and Tommy laugh.
Chuckie squawks, "Hey!"
"I've kissed a girl before," says Phil.
Tommy and Chuckie turn to him. "Who?"
"Lil," says Phil, and at the look of disgust on both their faces, says, "It wasn't that bad. It was more experimental for the both of us." He shrugs and burns out the end of this cigarette on the wooden railing. It's in the same place as one before so Mr. Finster won't notice. Although he might notice the smell.
"That's weird," says Chuckie.
"That's gross, I'd never kiss Dil," says Tommy.
"Maybe because he's Dil, though," says Chuckie.
Tommy nods. "True," he says.
Phil says, "Just don't kiss girls as much anymore, okay? If just for Chuckie here." He nudges him. "Chuckie gets insecure about this kind of stuff."
"True," says Tommy, and when Chuckie looks like he's about to protest, Tommy wraps an arm around his waist and presses their bodies tight. That shuts Chuckie up.
Phil grins at them, and then places the stubbed cigarette into his pocket. "Am I not allowed to kiss other girls too?" he says.
"Of course not!" says Chuckie, turning at him. Phil's always liked the way Chuckie lives, looks at people - like there's no one else in the world. "You're not allowed to kiss anyone else Phil, girls or guys. Because." He looks at the both of them, Tommy and Phil. "We're," he says. "We're - we're together, right?"
This time they both laugh, and Tommy reaches out to hold Phil instead. His arm is across Chuckie's back, though, snug against both of them.
"Don't know when we weren't," says Phil, and the ground is the world beneath their feet.