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What Great Traditions?

It was a warm morning in late summer. East of Toronto, just off Highway 48, stood the ivy-covered buildings of Macdonald Hall. Inside the Headmaster's Office, Mr. Sturgeon, known to his students as The Fish, was enjoying one of the last quiet mornings before school began.

He took a sip of his coffee, and turned to his mail. One letter with a handwritten address on the envelope caught his eye.

He turned it over to read the return address, and his eyebrows rose. Mrs. Margaret O'Neal.

He opened the letter and read it through once. Then he read a second time, more slowly. Then he got up to consult a medical reference book sitting on the bookshelf.

"Oh, dear," he said to himself. "Well." He drained his mug of coffee. "Well."

~~~

Boots O'Neal entered Dormitory 3, dragging his luggage and trying his best to ignore his brother, Edward. Down the hall he caught sight of his roommate and best friend Bruno Walton leaving Room 306. Bruno waved at him, his face lighting up, and headed towards them.

Boots waved back at him.

The familiar, warm feeling of seeing his best friend again was interrupted by the presence of his bratty younger brother, however.

"Edward, give it a rest," he said.

"And you better not try to steal all my friends this year," Edward continued belligerently.

"Come on, why would I even want your friends?" Boots demanded.

"Hi Boots," Bruno said warmly. He regarded Edward coolly. "Edward."

"Hey, Bruno," Boots said, grinning at him.

Edward glared at Bruno without greeting him, and turned back to his brother.

"Just because you spent all summer parading around the pool --" he began.

"Parading?" Bruno repeated in fascination.

Boots flushed. "I was a lifeguard! It was my job!"

"-- And stealing all my friends away," Edward went on. "That doesn't mean I'm going to put up with it here." He scowled at them.

"I didn't steal any of your friends!" Boots said. "Your stupid friends kept hanging around, even when I told them I was working!"

"Maybe your friends are just smart enough to recognize the better O'Neal brother when they meet him," Bruno put in loyally.

"Yeah, well, I don't want anything to do with you this year," Edward said stubbornly.

"Fine with me!" Boots said, crossing his arms.

Edward picked up his suitcase, stuck his nose in the air, and stalked away.

"Phew," Bruno said. "People must be lining up to be his friend. He's such a ray of sunshine!"

"Sorry about that," Boots said. "I was hoping he'd be better this year about us being at the same school. But this isn't a great start."

"Ah well," Bruno said philosophically. "Who needs his stupid friends, anyway?"

Bruno's unruly dark hair was falling into his face, and Boots had to suppress the urge to reach out and thread his fingers through it. His heart sped up a little, and he bit his lip. His subconscious got the better of him sometimes. He resolutely avoided looking directly at Bruno's smiling mouth.

As Bruno picked up one of Boots' suitcases, a few other boys noisily came down the hallway, too.

"Boots!" one of them called. "Hi!"

Boots waved back.

"Friend of yours?" Bruno said curiously.

"Not that I know of," Boots said.

"Friend of Edward's?" Bruno asked, eyebrow raised.

"I don't know," Boots said, shrugging. "He was chatting to me outside, too. I don't recognize him."

Bruno clapped him cheerfully on the shoulder. "C'mon," he said. "I'm hanging the posters up."

"Crookedly?" Boots said, and watched Bruno's face break out into a wide grin.

"Of course!" he said.

"Hi, by the way," Boots added as they reached the door of Room 306.

"We already said hi," Bruno said, but he grinned at Boots again anyway. "Hi."

They shook hands, and then Bruno tugged Boots into a hug.

"Hi," Boots murmured, his nose buried in Bruno's warm throat.

~~~

That night they waited until Mr. Fudge's light went out. Then, as was customary in the first week of school, they slipped out the window of Room 306, and headed across the highway to Miss Scrimmage's Boarding School for Young Ladies.

They paused just before they crept across the highway.

"This is the last first time we'll come over to Scrimmage's at the beginning of the year," Bruno said.

Boots let out a breath. "Yeah," he said quietly.

Bruno flashed a grin at him. "Come on," he said. "Let's make it count."

Diane's blond head popped out of the window above them, and she waved cheerfully at them. One at a time, they climbed up the drain pipe and into the girls' room.

They exchanged greetings all around.

"So," Cathy said. "This is our last year of school."

The four friends regarded each other solemnly.

"What have we not yet accomplished?" Bruno said.

Boots shook his head. "Getting expelled, for one thing," he said. "And I'd like to not accomplish that one."

"Oh, don't be such a pessimist!" Cathy said airily.

"I want to beat those turkeys at York Academy in the hockey game this year," Bruno said. Every year the Macdonald Hall Macs played a game against their highly ranked rivals, the York Academy Cougars. The Cougars generally won.

"Oh, okay, yeah," Boots said. "That would be a good thing."

"I want a legacy," Cathy said. "We need an apprentice to carry on our great traditions here at Scrimmage's."

"What great traditions are those?" Diane said skeptically.

Cathy grinned. "Don't you think Miss Scrimmage will miss us when we're gone?"

"No," Diane said feelingly. "She'll probably be relieved for the peace and quiet."

"What if she's lonely and bored without us around?" Cathy went on. "I don't want to just abandon her."

"She'll still have all the younger girls," Boots pointed out.

"Yeah, but that's not the same," Cathy said.

"She'll still have The Fish," Bruno said, grinning.

There was a chorus of laughter. The acrimonious relationship between Miss Scrimmage and Mr. Sturgeon was mostly a source of amusement for their students.

After the boys finished their snacks and scrambled down the drainpipe to head back to Madonald Hall, Diane said, quietly, " Are you really worried about Miss Scrimmage?"

"Don't worry," Cathy said. "We'll figure something out. We've got a whole year."

~~~

The next morning Boots woke before his alarm, feeling hot and itchy under his pyjamas. He'd thrown off his sheets in the night. He felt muzzy and a little dizzy, and his skin felt like it was stretched tight across his whole body.

And his dick was hard and aching in his boxers.

The faint sound of snoring was coming from Bruno's side of the room. Boots let out a long, shaky breath and let his hand steal down under the elastic of his pyjama pants.

The moment his fingers touched his dick, heat flooded through his body, so bright and spine-tingling that he gasped out loud. He stuffed his other hand in his mouth to prevent more sounds from coming out, and waited for a long moment in frozen, turned-on horror, until he was sure he could hear Bruno's snoring over the sound of his own hammering heart.

Then, with his hand clamped to his mouth, it only took a few strokes before his whole body tensed, shockingly fast and abrupt, and he came all over his stomach and sheets.

It took a few minutes for him to catch his breath and shake the heavy woolen feeling from his brain. He turned his head guiltily to the bed on the other side of the room, but Bruno was still sprawled and snoring, dead to the world. Boots' stomach clenched in guilt and anxiety.

This was not like any other wet dream he'd had before. Even after that shocking orgasm, the itchy restless feeling was still there, lingering under his skin.

He let out a breath. He hoped this was not some new and terrible way for his subconscious to make life miserable for him.

He got up on shaky legs and crept red-faced and guilty to the bathroom.

Stupid Genes

Over the next week, several different guys waved and called out greetings to Boots. He'd never spoken to them before. He always waved back, a little nonplussed but wanting to be friendly. The guys at the Hall all seemed friendlier this year. It was a little unexpected, but it wasn't like it was a problem.

At the end of the week, there was an envelope taped to the door of Room 306 with Boots' name written on it. There was no note, but the envelope contained a single square of chocolate, still in its gold wrapper.

"Who is this from?" Boots said, surprised.

"Maybe you have a secret admirer!" Bruno said. He flopped down on his bed and grinned up at Boots.

"Haha," Boots said without humour. "Yeah, right."

"If you won't eat it, I will," Bruno added.

"Hey, hands off," Boots said.

They settled in to do homework. Boots stared at the chocolate and thought about all the cheerful greetings he'd received in the past week. Maybe one of them was a secret admirer like Bruno said. He stole a quick glance over to the other side of the room, where Bruno was chewing absent-mindedly on the end of a pencil.

He looked away again and shook his head. The chocolate was a nice gesture and all, but Boots was not a fan of this anonymity thing.

~~~

"Hey, Boots," Larry Wilson, the office messenger, said at dinner the next day. "The Fish wants to see you in his office."

Boots paled.

"We haven't even done anything this year!" Bruno exclaimed.

"Bruno, we were over at Scrimmage's a few nights ago," Boots hissed.

Bruno waved his hand. "Right, but there's no way the Fish knows about that," he said.

"He doesn't want to see both of you," Larry said. "He just wants to see Boots."

"What?" Bruno said.

"What?" Boots said.

They stared at each other. Neither one could remember a time when only one of them had been called to the Fish's office.

"Come on," Bruno said. "I'll walk over with you."

"What do you think he wants?" Boots said nervously. An awful thought struck him. "Do you think something happened to my parents?"

They reached the Headmaster's office. Bruno put his hands on Boot's upper arms and squeezed reassuringly. "Listen," he said. "Whatever happens, I'm gonna wait right out here for you, okay?"

Boots nodded, and Bruno gave him a small smile and let go of his arms. He walked nervously into the office, and Mrs. Davis waved him through.

At his knock, Mr. Sturgeon said, "Enter."

Boots came in and sat automatically on the hard wooden bench in front of the Headmaster's desk. The bench felt oddly huge and empty without Bruno sitting next to him. He glanced at the Headmaster nervously.

"Hello, O'Neal," Mr. Sturgeon said.

"Is everyone at home all right, sir?" Boots blurted out.

"Yes, of course, " Mr. Sturgeon said quickly. "The matter I wish to discuss is something quite different."

Boots felt a wash of relief come over him. "Thank you, sir."

"It is a matter of some delicacy," Mr. Sturgeon said after a brief pause. "At the beginning of the year, I received a letter from your mother. About a particular genetic condition in your family's heritage."

Boots stared at Mr. Sturgeon in surprise. His mother had written to The Fish about that?

"Oh," he said. "That."

"Yes," Mr. Sturgeon said. "As you say, that."

Boots shifted uncomfortably on the bench, abruptly conscious of the rather intimate details of the genetic condition in his family's history. He wondered how explicit his mom had been about the condition. "Sir, I don't know what my mother told you," he said urgently. "But it doesn't affect every single member of my family, and it doesn't manifest until long after puberty, and anyway I've never shown any signs of it --"

"Calm down, O'Neal," Mr. Sturgeon said kindly. "You're not in trouble. Far from it. Your mother was simply concerned, as am I, that you make sure that you're taking care of yourself and keep track of any signs of distress, either emotional or physical."

Boots winced, and stared at the floor.

"Your mother told me about some of the symptoms," Mr. Sturgeon continued.

"Oh, yeah," Boots said, flushing, and hoping to forestall The Fish from saying anything else on the topic. "I know them, sir."

It was a kind of genetic anomaly on his mother's side of the family. His mom called it a gift. Apparently, his grandmother had found his grandfather because of it. But Boots squirmed a little even remembering some of those humiliating conversations with his parents about the symptoms: the instinctual, uncontrollable urges he might feel, or the overwhelming sexual attraction and fixation on one individual person. There was a reason his grandparents had been married quickly.

His parents had been careful to tell Boots and Edward about the possibility that it would manifest for them. But it didn't occur until after puberty, and it was unlikely they'd both get it, anyway. His mom had never manifested.

There were also the pheromones. Pheromones to attract a ... mate.

Boots knew his face was bright red, but he managed to meet The Fish's gaze.

"O'Neal," Mr. Sturgeon said gently. "Macdonald Hall will do everything in its power to support you if you do start to show signs of this condition. I want you to promise me that if you recognize any of the symptoms, you will let me or your parents know, so that we can take steps to make sure that you remain happy and healthy."

Mr. Sturgeon regarded Boots with great seriousness. His usual cold, fishy stare seemed a little softer somehow. Boots managed to make himself nod. "Yes, sir," he said.

But all the odd little things that had been happening since he'd arrived at the Hall last week were suddenly racing through his head.

Guys he didn't know smiling and waving at him.

A secret admirer.

The intense wet dream that had repeated every night for the last three nights.

It hadn't started last week either. Boots flushed to remember the compliments and greetings he'd received at the pool this summer. The girl down the street had invited him to come see her hockey card collection, and she'd never even spoken to him before. And then Edward had accused him of stealing all his friends --

What if --

But that wasn't how the anomaly worked. It wasn't supposed to make people nice to him. That didn't make any sense.

Boots felt himself squirming on the bench, and made himself stop. He looked up at The Fish.

"Sir?" Boots said. Mr. Sturgeon looked at him inquiringly. "Did you … tell anyone else, sir?"

Mr. Sturgeon shook his head. "No," he said. "I have not told a soul. Is there anyone you would like me to tell? Mr. Fudge, perhaps?"

"No," Boots said quickly. "No. No, thank you."

"All right," Mr. Sturgeon said kindly. "I will not tell anyone, unless it's a medical emergency."

"Thank you, sir," Boots said. "Is there anything else, sir?"

"No, O'Neal," Mr. Sturgeon said slowly. "You are free to go."

Boots got out of there as quickly as he could.

~~~

"Is everyone all right?" Bruno said. True to his word, he was leaning against the wall outside the Headmaster's office. When he saw Boots, he straightened and came right towards him.

"Everyone's fine," Boots said faintly.

"Well, that's a relief!" Bruno said. He stared at Boots. "Isn't it?"

"Yes," he said.

"Well, then?" Bruno demanded. "What did he want?"

"Oh," Boots said. "It's, uh --"

He stared at Bruno. His friend stared back. Boots had to tell him something -- he wanted to tell Bruno the truth. But, well. Since it was a non-issue anyway, then what was the point of telling Bruno about this strange and off-putting thing that was maybe a part of Boots' stupid genes? Boots hadn't ever bothered to tell anyone about it before. People didn't go around telling all their friends that their family genes had a history of kidney disease, for example.

"Boots?" Bruno said, his voice getting worried. "Are you okay?"

"Sure," he said, his voice cracking a bit. He cleared his throat. "Yeah."

Bruno didn't look away. "Let's go back to our room," he said.

Boots nodded.

But everything kept whirring around his head the whole way back to Dormitory 3. If he did manifest, then, despite what Mr. Sturgeon had said, things would probably change. After all, Macdonald Hall couldn't in good conscience allow a -- a sexualized genetic freak to sleep in the same room as another student. Maybe they couldn't even allow him to play hockey. Or hang out in the rec hall. Or go to dances at Scrimmage's. Maybe they couldn't even allow him to attend classes.

"Okay," Bruno said, once they were safely back in Room 306. "Spill. You're starting to freak me out."

"Okay," Boots sighed.

He and Bruno told each other pretty much everything. He trusted Bruno. He'd probably tell Bruno about the kidney disease thing at one point, if he had it. Besides, maybe if Bruno knew about it, he'd be able to help if things went -- wrong.

Which they almost certainly wouldn't. He was way too young.

But. Take steps was what The Fish had said. What did that mean?

Boots said, awkwardly, "You haven't been feeling any -- urges related to me lately, have you?"

Bruno stared at him. "What?"

Boots flushed. "No! Not like that. Not exactly. I mean, any urges to be nice to me or something?"

"Nice to you? What on earth are you talking about? Do you think I've been mean to you?" Bruno said, looking confused.

He hadn't been acting any differently. And he was the one who should be the most affected by the pheromones, if Boots was starting to emit them, since he lived with Boots and hung out with him all the time.

If Bruno wasn't affected, maybe it was all nothing after all.

He took a deep breath, and explained about the genetic anomaly in his family and his mom's letter to The Fish.

Bruno digested this. "So you don't have it? You're not sick or anything?"

"No," Boots said. "Definitely not."

"Well," Bruno said. "I'm glad it wasn't anything more serious!" He regarded Boots carefully. "If you're okay, then why did your mom write to The Fish?"

Boots frowned. He'd been wondering the same thing. "I don't know," he said. "But if I do get it --" He swallowed. "What if they make me leave the Hall?"

"They wouldn't!" Bruno said. "For being sick?"

"It's not really being sick," Boots said miserably. "And it could be dangerous to have a walking pheromone machine in a high school."

Bruno's face was determined. "Well, we won't let that happen," he said.

Despite himself, Boots felt a little relieved. Bruno was basically the personification of stubbornness and, god help him, but Boots loved him for it.

"You probably won't get it anyway, right?" Bruno added. "But I'm glad you told me, just in case. Macdonald Hall is not going to lose you!"

~~~

That night, Boots startled awake in the middle of the night. His sheets were already on the floor, and his skin was hot all over. Almost without thinking, he reached down to curl his hand around his dick.

After he came hard and fast all over his pyjama pants, he lay in the dark, panting and listening to Bruno's soft snores on the other side of the room.

He was going to have to do twice as much laundry as usual this year, he thought dizzily to himself. His whole body was still buzzing a little, softer but still insistent.

He stumbled into the bathroom and jerked off a second time.

~~~

Miss Scrimmage sat down at the desk in her study to open the morning's mail. She nibbled on a digestive biscuit and took a sip of tea.The first two letters were bills, and she put those aside for now.

The third was a humourous letter that was clearly from one of her students. The writer claimed to work at a patisserie in Montréal and invited the Baking Club to visit for a weekend. Miss Scrimmage knew it was one of her students, as a real French patisserie would never have misspelled beignet. She chuckled warmly.

Well, the younger girls hadn't had the opportunity yet to visit Montréal. Perhaps she should indulge them. Especially since they were clearly enthusiastic about the idea.

The final letter she had saved for last. It was from her longtime pen pal who lived in a charming fourth floor apartment in Nîmes, France. Miss Scrimmage smiled, pleased. Letters from Genevieve were precious and were always a highlight of her week.

She opened the envelope and held the letter to her nose for a moment. She could smell a faint whiff of Genevieve's expensive perfume. She unfolded out the letter and read the opening sentences, before immediately letting out a high-pitched shriek, and fainting dead away.

~~~

Cathy and Diane heard the commotion from their room, and appeared quickly in Miss Scrimmage's study. Two younger girls were helping Miss Scrimmage over to the couch so that she could lie down, while two others were fanning her with the electrical bills.

"Oh, girls, oh, girls," Miss Scrimmage was saying. "I'm perfectly all right --"

"You fainted, Miss Scrimmage!" Allison Liu said tearfully. "I'm so, so sorry --"

"Now, now, dear," Miss Scrimmage began.

"What did you do?" Cathy interrupted, glaring at Allison. Allison was a new girl at Miss Scrimmage's, a few years younger than Cathy and Diane.

"We thought it would be funny," Allison said, wiping tears away. "I never thought Miss Scrimmage would take it so seriously!"

She handed Cathy a copy of the letter from the fake Montréal patisserie.

"It was simply a misunderstanding," Miss Scrimmage said.

Cathy scanned the letter quickly. "Sloppy," she said.

Allison squared her shoulders defensively. "Sloppy?" she repeated, her eyes narrowing.

"Hmm, yes," Cathy said. "You misspelled beignet, and this isn't a real Montréal street address."

"Catherine, dear, please," Miss Scrimmage said. "It wasn't Allison's letter that caused me to faint. I received some -- some rather surprising news from an old friend."

"What kind of news?" Diane asked.

"Oh," Miss Scrimmage said. "It's nothing to concern you girls. Now," she added, sitting up. "I feel much recovered. Thank you, girls, for all your devoted attention. Now, off with you! I believe lunch break is almost over now."

Cathy reluctantly allowed herself to be herded out of the room, casting a lingering look back at Miss Scrimmage's desk where the morning's mail was sitting.

 

Gifts, Gifts, and More Gifts

"Ew," Bruno said the next night at dinner. "Broccoli."

"Don't turn your nose up at green vegetables," Wilbur Hackenschleimer said, frowning at him. "When cooked and seasoned correctly, they are delicious."

"Yeah, it's the 'when cooked correctly' part that I object to," Bruno said.

Boots rolled his eyes. "Broccoli's fine," he said, and ignored Bruno's withering look.

"It's actually a member of the brassicas, a subset of the cabbage family," Elmer Drimsdale explained.

"Just put more butter on it," advised Mark Davies.

"Brassicas?" Larry repeated. "That sounds like an Italian mob."

Bruno glanced speculatively around the table. "It's a shame we can't start a committee to eliminate --"

"Shhh!" chorused all the guys at the table.

"No more committees!"

"I like broccoli!"

"I've raked my last leaf for Bruno Walton's committees!"

"You don't mess with the Brassicas!"

"Okay, okay," Bruno said,. "Jeez. You don't all have to crawl down my throat. I'm a reasonable guy."

"Ha!" said Mark, with great feeling. Some of the guys nodded in agreement.

Bruno looked wounded. Boots patted his arm sympathetically, ignored the urge to curl his fingers around Bruno's muscles. "Eat your broccoli," he said before Bruno could open his mouth to defend himself.

"Hey, Boots," Wilbur said, looking up from his chicken and rice, with brassicas on the side. "You want my apple?"

Conversation halted. Chris Talbot dropped his fork onto his plate where it landed with a clang.

"What?" Boots said.

"What?" said Bruno.

Wilbur blinked. "What?" he repeated. He held the apple out to Boots, who stared at it for a long moment and then accepted it gingerly.

"Uh," he said. "Thanks?"

"You're welcome," Wilbur said generously. He went back to eating his lunch.

There was another dumbfounded silence.

"Are you a pod person?" Bruno demanded. "Are you under mind control? Did you poison that apple?"

Wilbur looked offended. "No," he said.

"You just gave Boots some of your food!" Bruno exclaimed. "Voluntarily!"

"Are you proposing or something?" Pete Anderson put in.

"It does seem out of character," Larry said, eyeing Wilbur strangely.

"Hey! I'm a generous guy," Wilbur said.

"Not about food you're not," Sidney Rampulsky said. "One time you threatened to disembowel me and eat my intestines if I even touched your peanut butter!"

"You don't count," Wilbur said. "You'd be just as likely to trip and bleed all over the jar."

Sidney frowned. "That only happened once!"

There was general laughter around the table.

Boots was still looking at Wilbur oddly.

"Are you sure you don't want it back?" he said quietly to Wilbur, once conversation had started up again at the other side of the table.

"I gave it to you," WIlbur said, a little plaintively.

"No, right, yeah," Boots said. "Thanks again."

Wilbur smiled at him.

"What I don't get," Pete was saying, "is who's the baby of the Brassicas family?"

Later that afternoon, on the way to Biology, two guys Boots knew from the swim team tried to fight over carrying his books. Boots had to use his captain voice on them to get them to stop.

It still didn't make sense. It wasn't like WIlbur or either of the swim team guys had tried to ask him on a date or -- or pull him into a closet and ravish him. Wilbur had just given Boots an apple. That was all.

That was all. Right?

~~~

Two days later, Elmer knocked on the door to Room 306.

"Hey, Elm!" Bruno said grandly, pushing his homework aside. "Come on in!"

"Hello, Bruno, Melvin," Elmer said.

Boots made a face. "Melvin?" he repeated. "Come on, Elmer, you've always called me Boots."

Elmer's face fell. "Sorry," he said. He looked dejected.

Boots felt inordinately guilty. "It's okay," he said. "Anyway, what's in the box?"

Elmer smiled tentatively at him. "It's for you!"

"Oh," Boots said. "Um, thanks."

"You got Boots a present but not me?" Bruno said. "Elm, I'm hurt. I'm shocked. I'm disappointed. Didn't we live together for a time? Didn't we forge roommate bonds --"

"I lived with Elmer, too," Boots pointed out.

"It's a matter of principle --" Bruno began, but he stopped when Boots drew a misshapen colourful toque out of the box. There was a bobble on the top of it.

"Oh," Boots said. "This is -- wow. It's not even my birthday."

"Oh, I know!" Elmer said cheerfully. "This is just because."

"Did you make it?" Bruno asked, fascinated.

"Oh, yes," Elmer said. "I've taken up knitting as a form of creative relaxation. It is an excellent way to strengthen the flexor muscles." He beamed at Boots. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, yeah," Boots said. "Definitely."

"Great!" Elmer said. "I can't wait to see you wearing it!"

With that, he disappeared down the hall.

Bruno and Boots stared at the creation in Boots' hands.

"I didn't know they made wool in such vivid technicolour," Boots said at last.

Bruno laughed. "I'd say Elmer is your secret admirer," he said, "except he could never come up with a gift as normal as chocolate."

"What the hell," Boots said.

~~~

At hockey practice the next day, Boots was offered two new pairs of hockey laces and five sticks of gum, all of which he turned down, before Coach Flynn said, annoyed, "Why is my whole team babbling about gum? You can't play hockey chewing gum! Everyone spit out their gum!"

Boots pulled his jersey over his head and studiously looked at the ground while the guys reluctantly spat out their gum. He tugged on the collar of his jersey, feeling itchy and awkward.

Bruno nudged his shoulder. "I didn't know you were such a fan of gum," he said, grinning.

Boots wrinkled his nose. "I'm not!" he protested.

"They're giving you fealty, as is your right as co-captain," Bruno said confidently. He raised his voice, "Hey, guys, if you offer stuff to Boots, you have to offer it to me, too! We're co-captains, remember?"

"Coach just made me throw away all my gum!" Sidney said indignantly.

"Yeah, yeah," Bruno said. "For next time, though. When you bring the candy remember to bring some for me, too! That's what Boots wants."

He winked and grinned at Boots.

Boots rolled his eyes, grateful that not everyone was staring at him anymore. Some of the guys were being a little weird this year, that was all. There was nothing wrong with generosity.

During practice, Boots scored fifteen goals during drills.

"You were on fire out there!" Bruno panted, sliding up to him by the side of the boards, while Coach Flynn called the defence together.

"I think Coach is right," Boots said worriedly. "The guys seem out of practice."

The defence had barely put up resistance when Boots had taken his turn. Pete, the goalie, had actually cheered when Boots scored on him, a simple wrist-shot that Pete should have been able to save.

"Really?" Bruno frowned. "They seemed normal when it was my turn."

They watched as Calvin Fitzghart let out a blood-curdling yell and took off down the ice on a breakaway drill. The defence handily followed his puck-handling toward the net, and stopped his wild shot while Calvin crashed loudly to the ice and skidded into the boards behind the net. He got to his feet and waved his stick to show that he was okay.

"Huh," Boots said. "They seemed okay that time."

"The team's just a bit rusty," Bruno said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll be ready by the time we play those York turkeys!"

"Sure, yeah," Boots said. He shifted on his skates. His skin still felt overly sensitive and hot under his hockey pads, even after the exertions of practice. He skated to the bench to get a drink of water, and three guys rushed to hand him their water bottles.

~~~

Cathy scrambled out the window of Miss Scrimmage's study and crept through the bushes to where Diane was waiting, crouched in a bed of petunias.

"Got it!" she said in a hoarse whisper.

Diane turned on the flashlight, and the two of them skimmed the letter quickly.

"It seems like an okay letter," Diane whispered doubtfully. "This Genevieve lady doesn't have any bad news. She even says she wants to come for a visit!"

Cathy frowned. "There's got to be something …"

"She has smelly perfume though," Diane said, wrinkling her nose. "Maybe a whiff of this was what made Miss Scrimmage faint."

Cathy sat upright. "Oh my god," she hissed.

"What?"

"Who sends letters drenched in perfume?"

"Um," said Diane. "Frenchwomen?"

"Lovers," Cathy exclaimed. "Genevieve and Miss Scrimmage are totally in love!"

"If they're so in love," objected Diane, "then why did Miss Scrimmage faint when she read this?"

Cathy frowned.

"Miss Scrimmage hasn't posted any mail since she read this," Diane said. Cathy nodded. Allison Liu and some of the younger girls had been charged with watching Miss Scrimmage's outgoing letter tray, which had remained unusually empty. "That means she hasn't written back to Genevieve yet."

Cathy looked up to the dark windows of Miss Scrimmage's bedroom consideringly. "What's she waiting for?" she wondered.

~~~

"Hey!" Edward said, cornering Boots the following evening in the rec hall. "Tell all your friends to back off."

"What?" Boots said. "Who?"

Edward glared at him. "It's not funny. And it's a waste of time."

"What is?" Boots said, still bewildered.

"All your friends constantly knocking on my door and asking What's Boots' favourite colour? What's his favourite sport? Does he like romantic walks around the campus?" Edward stomped his foot. "Enough, already! It's way too annoying!"

"Why would anyone want to know what my favourite colour is?" Boots said.

"How should I know?" Edward demanded. "I don't care why! Tell them to stop."

He stalked away.

"What was that about?" Bruno said, coming up behind Boots and nudging him in the shoulder.

Boots shook his head. "My brother being weird." He paused. "Has anyone, uh. Asked you about me?"

"Asked me what about you?"

"My favourite colour or something."

Bruno broke into a grin. "Is this about your secret admirer?" he said.

Boots flushed. "No!" he said. The secret admirer had left candy and chocolate on the door of Room 306 several times in the past week. There was never a note. The most recent time, there had been a smaller piece of chocolate left for Bruno, too. News from the hockey's team dressing room had clearly gotten around. Bruno thought it was hilarious.

Bruno clapped him on the back. His hand was warm even through Boots' T-shirt, and it made Boots shiver.

"I would tell you if people were asking me about you," Bruno said reassuringly, still grinning.

"Right," Boots said, and tried to let the matter drop.

~~~

It didn't want to be dropped, though.

That night he woke up in a sweat again, his cock aching. He moaned and buried his face in his pillow until he came, panting and hot and still unsatisfied, with Bruno asleep on the bed across the room.

And the next day at lunch, when Boots came back from the bathroom, Mark and Pete were arguing over who should carry Boots' books to English class. Bruno ended the argument by declaring that he was going to carry them and then he sat on them so no one else could take them from him.

"Uh, thanks," Boots said, smoothing out the impression of Bruno's butt on his duotang.

"Anytime," Bruno said grandly.

That evening, Boots lay down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Bruno was paging through a magazine on his own bed. Both of them were ignoring their homework.

"Do things seem weird to you?" Boots asked suddenly.

Bruno glanced up at him. "What things? Weird how?"

"I mean, like -- " Boots waved his hand. "I don't know," he said. "Well, have you noticed people have been, uh, overly nice to me lately?"

Bruno flung himself dramatically onto his pillows. "Nice to you? Oh no!" he exclaimed.

"Okay, I know," Boots said, ducking his head. "But, like. Mark and Pete were arguing over carrying my books. Elmer gave me that weird toque. Wilbur gave me his apple. No one ever tries to stop me scoring at hockey practice. And guys keep offering to give me things and do my homework and stuff. And there's my secret admirer, too."

"Wait, wait," Bruno said. "Back up. Did you say yes to the homework thing?"

"What? No!" Boots said.

"Well, could you go back and ask them if they'd be willing to do your awesome roommate's homework instead?" Bruno asked. He winked when Boots groaned.

"Bruno!" he said. "This is serious! I'm wondering if it's -- " He lowered his voice, and looked down at the ground. "If it's my stupid genes thing."

Bruno was silent for long enough that Boots glanced up at him again. Bruno was lying on his bed motionless, looking at Boots.

"It could be starting to manifest," Boots said. He tapped his foot nervously. "Maybe my pheromones are starting to leak out uncontrollably and it's making people be, uh. Be nice to me."

Bruno stared at him for so long that Boots started to fidget.

"Like they're being nice to you because they want to have sex with you?" Bruno said finally.

Boots flushed. "I mean, I don't know," he said. "Not everyone. Not you, obviously."

"Right," Bruno said slowly.

"You haven't had any uncontrollable urges to be nice to me -- have you?"

Boots waited, breathless, his heart caught in his throat.

"Well, no," Bruno admitted.

Boots' heart crumpled. It had been a stupid thought anyway. "Maybe you're immune," he managed.

"Huh," Bruno said.

Boots swallowed. "I just mean -- maybe this is what happens if a person doesn't, uh, figure out how to deal with their pheromones."

"So there's a way to deal with them!" Bruno exclaimed. "I knew there must be. So if you are pheromone-ing, we can do that."

Boots thought about the methods his mom had talked about for how to deal with excess pheromones and felt himself blush bright red.

"Right," he mumbled.

"What's that face about?" Bruno demanded. "Is it the sex thing? We need to find a girlfriend for you to have sex with?"

Hearing Bruno talk about sex might be the worst thing that had ever happened to Boots. "Oh, God," he said. "No."

"Oh," Bruno said, and paused. "Or a boyfriend?"

"Um," Boots croaked. "Also no."

Bruno paused again. "No sex?" he said finally. "Are you sure?"

Boots fumbled for words. "It's not --" he started, his face on fire. "Theoretically, either a girlfriend or a boyfriend would be fine. But -- I don't want anyone to have sex with me just because the pheromones are making them want to."

Bruno's face shifted into an expression that Boots couldn't quite decipher. For one long, unending moment, he was terrified that Bruno was about to suggest that Boots could have sex with him.

"Okay," Bruno said finally, his voice gentle. "Okay. So we'll come up with another way to distract everybody."

Really Badass

"I thought we agreed no more committees," Mark said, frowning. "In fact, I distinctly remember that The Fish decreed no more committees."

"This isn't a committee, per se," Bruno said, waving his hand expansively. He was wearing a dark-coloured sweater that made his shoulders look really broad, and Boots was having trouble not staring at him when he kept gesturing wildly like that.

"Are you sure?" Chris said. "It sounds kind of like one."

"We are simply a group of friends who have decided to help out another friend."

"Help out who?" Wilbur said suspiciously. "And how?"

"Well," Bruno said. "It's for our good friend Boots here." He leaned forward and, distractingly, his hair fell into his dark eyes. "But it's also for the sake of the hockey team!" he continued. "And the sanctity of Macdonald Hall! As we speak, the very foundation of honour and friendship is crumbling around us --"

"Okay, okay," Larry interrupted. "We get it, it's a Bruno Walton Special."

"It's okay, Bruno," Boots said. "I've got this."

Bruno subsided, but not before shooting a glare at Larry.

"Listen, guys," Boots said, clearing his throat. His fingers were gripping the edge of the chair he was sitting on. "It's kind of embarrassing. It's, um. A medical thing."

There was a chorus of sympathy from around the table.

"Are you okay?" Pete asked.

"Yeah, I'm okay," Boots said quickly. "It's, well, it's pheromones, to be exact. Some of you may have noticed recently that, um. People have been giving me extra things or -- or doing special things for me."

There was a confused rumbling around the table as the guys all looked at one another and then looked away in embarrassment.

"I appreciate the gesture!" Boots went on. "But it's not voluntary. I mean, the guys are doing it because I'm releasing all these extra pheromones. It makes people want to make me happy."

"Hmm," Elmer said. "How interesting. Pheromones are chemicals, generally external to the body, that trigger responses in other members of the same species. It would make sense that your pheromones have caused a reaction in your peers. In the wild, it can be a call of alarm or warning. But of course, more often it's related to sex."

There was silence, and everyone looked back at Boots. Boots felt his face turn bright red.

"How often?" Sidney said.

"Thanks, Elmer," Boots said before Elmer could open his mouth. "Guys, it's just an instinctual chemical response. I know none of you actually want to have sex with me." He paused. "And I don't want to have sex with any of you either!"

He carefully didn't look in Bruno's direction.

"Right," Bruno said briskly. "So the plan is to invent a relationship for Boots here, so people will realize he's unavailable and stop trying to court him."

Boots choked. "Court me?" he repeated.

Bruno rolled his eyes and gestured impatiently. "Also, now that you guys all know about it, you're immune."

Boots shook his head, but Elmer jumped in before he could say anything. "That is a fallacy," he said disapprovingly. "And it is unethical to spread false information like that." He paused and looked at Boots apologetically. "However, knowing about it does have the effect of increased self-awareness and self-reflection, at least in my own case. I fear I may have fallen into the pheromone trap myself. I'm sorry for any discomfort I caused you."

"Oh, no," Boots said. "It's okay, Elmer. I'm sorry my pheromones made you start knitting."

Elmer's face cleared. "Oh no! I started knitting back in July. It's excellent strengthening exercises, as I said." He paused, looking rueful. "I hadn't intended to distribute any of my gifts to until Christmas, however."

"Oh," Boots said. "Wow. So we'll all have matching -- uh, things?"

"Lucky us," mumbled Chris.

"I'm sorry, too," Pete said. "Now that I'm thinking about it, I think I let you score a bunch of easy goals on me."

All the other guys started chiming in, too, with varying expressions of apology and embarrassment.

"Okay, okay!" Bruno exclaimed. "Enough apologizing. We're all self-aware now or whatever, so we can come up with a plan to get Boots into a long-term committed relationship. Right?"

"Will that work?" Mark said doubtfully.

That was the question, Boots thought ruefully. It really was a Bruno Walton Special, and no one knew if the crazy thing was actually going to work.

"It's worked on you guys," Bruno pointed out. "Do any of you want to jump Boots' bones anymore?"

There was an awkward silence. "No?" Sidney said. "I don't think so."

"Right then," Bruno said. "Tonight Boots and I are going to Scrimmage's to see if we can get him a girlfriend. Tomorrow, you'll all be in charge of spreading the word. Got it?"

There were nods of agreement.

Wilbur, who was sitting next to Boots, nudged him quietly. "This has all the signs," he whispered, "of a committee. But I'll do it for you, Boots."

Boots felt a little quiver go down his spine. What if the guys were going along with it because they still wanted to be nice to him?

"I'm not giving you any more of my lunch, though," Wilbur added, and Boots grinned at him in relief. Good old reliable Wilbur. "Jeez, I don't know what I was thinking."

~~~

That night, two dark shadows slipped across the highway to Miss Scrimmage's and tossed a pebble at Cathy and Diane's window.

"I don't know about this," Boots whispered nervously.

"Don't worry," Bruno said confidently.

"You always say that," Boots said. "It's not as comforting as you seem to think it is."

When Cathy's head popped out, she waved them up the drainpipe.

They exchanged greetings.

"Just a moment," Cathy said. "This calls for food."

She knocked on the wall across from the window, a complex pattern of quick, short taps. A single knock came back in response.

"What was all that?" Boots said.

"Oh, just placing an order," Cathy said airily. "Sit down, make yourselves at home."

"What brings you here this evening?" Diane asked.

"We've got a delicate problem," Bruno said with great seriousness.

Leaving out the exact details, Bruno and Boots explained the fact that Boots was in need of a relationship.

Cathy nodded with great seriousness. "We're dealing with our own problems of the heart here, too," she said, but was interrupted by a soft tap on the door.

Diane got up to answer it, and a new girl came in with a tray of chicken and bread from the kitchens.

"Allison, these are the guys," Cathy said. "Guys, meet Allison."

The boys chorused a greeting. Allison nodded at them, raised her eyebrows in Cathy's direction, and left without a word.

"She's Cathy's protégée," Diane explained.

"Huh," Bruno said thoughtfully.

"She's still got a lot to learn," Cathy added. She held up her plate disapprovingly. "She forgot salt and pepper."

As they ate, Cathy and Diane told the guys about Miss Scrimmage's love letters.

"Who would have guessed Miss Scrimmage has been secretly in love with someone this whole time?" Boots said.

Bruno snapped his fingers. "That's it!" he said. "Boots could have been harbouring a secret love for years! And you've only just learned it's reciprocated!"

"Like with his best friend?" Cathy suggested innocently.

"Uh," Boots said, his mouth dry.

Bruno waved his hand airily. "With whoever!" he said. "You got anyone in mind?"

"Well," Diane said carefully. "I know there are a few girls who wouldn't mind being Boots' girlfriend. But I'm not sure any of them want to be his pretend girlfriend." She paused. "Now that I'm thinking about it, more girls than usual have been talking about him this year." She eyed him speculatively.

Oh, great, Boots thought. The pheromones were spreading to Scrimmage's.

"This was a stupid idea," he said, flushing.

"Or," Bruno said, his eyes gleaming. "Maybe it's your pen pal."

Boots' heart fluttered in his chest. He was so weak for that particular expression on Bruno's face.

"I don't have a pen pal," he protested.

"Not that you've told us about!" Bruno exclaimed. He rubbed his hands together in excitement. "He's been your boyfriend for ages, but you've been embarrassed to mention him to the guys because you thought everyone would think you were making him up."

"You are making him up!" Boots pointed out.

"It's not such a bad idea," Cathy admitted. "I mean, if you've decided for sure to go fictional."

"Thanks for the food," Bruno said, standing up. "C'mon, Boots. Let's head home. We've got boyfriend news to spread!"

Boots sighed in resignation, waved goodbye to the girls, and followed him out the window.

They didn't get very far, however.

"Halt!" a voice shouted.

Bruno and Boots froze.

"Caught you!" Miss Scrimmage announced. She was wearing her nightgown and was carrying her shot gun. The boys immediately both put their hands in the air.

"How dare you come over here to terrorize a defenceless woman and her innocent girls!" Miss Scrimmage said.

"Now would be a good time to shoot some pheromones at her until she drops that shotgun," Bruno hissed.

"That's not how it works and you know it!" Boots hissed back.

"Now, turn! And march!"

They had just reached the highway when there was a scream from behind them. The boys froze. Miss Scrimmage paused, wavering between the two miscreants she had in hand and an unknown danger back at her school.

The scream came again. Bruno and Boots both recognized it this time as a very distinctive Cathy Burton kind of scream.

"Miss Scrimmage!" she hollered. "Oh, come quick, Miss Scrimmage!"

Miss Scrimmage glared at her two captives. "It's your lucky day, punks. Don't think I won't be phoning your Headmaster about this!"

Then she turned and raced back to her school and her innocent girls.

Bruno and Boots didn't wait around to hear what excuse Cathy and Diane came up with for screeching in the middle of the night. They hightailed it back to Macdonald Hall and Dormitory 3.

"She called us punks!" Boots gasped.

"True love is making her really badass," Bruno panted.

~~~

"Oh, Miss Scrimmage," Cathy said. "You were so brave! We were so worried for you!"

Miss Scrimmage patted her hand. "There, there," she said. "There's no need to worry about me. Those nasty boys across the road are no match for me!"

"Oh, but, Miss Scrimmage," Diane said, wiping her eyes. "They're not nasty at all! We love them!"

"You do?" Miss Scrimmage said, surprised. "Those hooligans?"

"We do!" Cathy nodded, hiccuping.

"Have you ever been in love, Miss Scrimmage?" Diane added.

A strange expression crossed Miss Scrimmage's face. "Oh," she said. "Well, I --"

"Yes?" Diane said hopefully.

Perhaps Miss Scrimmage was warmed by her girls' own romantic confidences. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour. But she felt compelled to respond with something she'd never told anyone before. "There is a certain person that I -- have romantic feelings for," she admitted.

Both Cathy and Diane gazed at her, their eyes bright.

Miss Scrimmage giggled. "I do!" she said. "I'm not afraid to admit it any longer! I have romantic feelings! Oh! Oh, my goodness!"

"That's so wonderful, Miss Scrimmage!" Diane said, and she and Cathy shared a gleeful smile.

"Would you invite them to the school?" Cathy said hopefully. "We so dearly want to see you happy, Miss Scrimmage!"

"Yes," Miss Scrimmage said, dabbing the corner of her eye with her handkerchief. "Yes, I could do that. Yes, certainly." She stood up. "Are you all right now, girls?" They nodded, and she stood up cheerfully. "Good night, then! I have a letter to write."

~~~

She also had one phone call to make.

Mr. Sturgeon was awakened by the ringing telephone.

"Hello? Miss Scrimmage? … Do you know what time it is?" Mr. Sturgeon, who had received far too many calls of this kind was already putting on his slippers and reaching for his housecoat. "Miss Scrimmage, tell me immediately: do you have your shotgun? Do you have any students of Macdonald Hall in your custody? … Oh, thank god!"

He pulled his feet back into bed and pressed a hand to his forehead. "I beg your pardon," he said. "Miss Scrimmage, I object to the nickname 'Head Hooligan' for a number of reasons … Did you just refer to two of my students as Romeos? … Did you say 'in love'? … No, I do not need a hearing aid! … Miss Scrimmage, calm down. It is very hard to understand you when you squeal like that … What? Dinner? Madam, if you called at this infernal hour just to invite us to dinner, I will hang up this phone right now! … Hello? Hello?"

He stared at the phone. "She hung up!" he said to his wife.

"She asked us to dinner?" Mrs. Sturgeon said sleepily. "How nice."

Mr. Sturgeon blinked. "I have the distinct feeling that she is going to introduce us to her one true love," he said. "And I have absolutely no idea what to expect."

~~~

Allison Liu reported that when the postman arrived at the school that morning, Miss Scrimmage had been waiting for him. She personally handed him a pink envelope addressed internationally and labelled Express Post.

Cheers went up throughout the school, and Cathy gripped Diane's hand and grinned.

One True Love or Whatever

"Boots!"

It was the first time that Boots had dared to stick his head out the door of his room. It was two days since they'd decided on the pen pal plan, and the non-committee committee had begun spreading the word. He winced, and turned to see who was calling his name.

His brother Edward was storming up to him. He was waving a copy of The Macdonald Hall Press. "You didn't tell me you were dating someone!"

"Edward --"

"This article says you've been dating this pen pal guy for months!"

Boots snatched the newspaper out of his hands and groaned. When Bruno went ahead with telling everyone at the school, he went all out. Boots was half surprised he hadn't hired a skywriter to spell out MELVIN "BOOTS" O'NEAL HAS A BOYFRIEND.


Hockey Captain Off the Market, Sources Say
by Mark Davies

Sources close to Macdonald Hall Macs' captain Melvin 'Boots' O'Neal have informed this reporter that the hockey star is not on the market. In fact, the private and closed-mouthed star has apparently been otherwise engaged since the summer.

"He likes his privacy," one close friend explained. "He didn't want to reject anyone because he's such a nice guy. But he's definitely not looking for anything romantic."

Who is the lucky object of our captain's attention? A longtime pen pal named Gavin G. Gunhold, reportedly a son of the notorious Brassicas crime family.

"Gavin's special to him," the source explained. "He's very happy."

This is indeed sad news for two campuses of hopeful romantics. We wish our captain only the best in his future romantic life!


Boots sputtered. "Brassicas?!" he repeated.

He reread the short article again. Bruno and Mark had done a thorough job of making it sound like Boots was pining over someone.

Except -- the name of the non-existent someone was one that a lot of guys on campus would recognize.

"Who the hell is this Gavin guy?" Edward demanded. "Since when do you have a pen pal? And he's a member of a crime family?"

Boots yanked his brother into his room and shut the door.

"I'm telling Mom about this!" Edward added.

"I don't have a boyfriend," Boots said. "He doesn't exist."

"Everyone on campus is talking about him!"

"Listen, please don't tell Mom. She'll make me leave the Hall." Boots took a deep breath. "It's my stupid genes," he said miserably. "I think they're starting to manifest."

Edward stared at him. "What? But it's way too early!"

"I know, okay?" Boots said. "But I don't know how else to explain everything except for the pheromones! There was the stuff at the pool this summer, and then when I get to the Hall, all the guys are being way too nice to me and giving me stuff and --"

"Okay, okay," Edward said. "And the -- " He paused and made a face. "The urges?"

Boots nodded jerkily, his face red.

"Well, have you told him yet?" Edward said.

"Who?"

Edward nodded to Bruno's empty side of the room.

"Oh," Boots said. "Well, yeah. He's the one who came up with the idea to make up this fake relationship, so people would stop bothering me. You know, if they thought I was unavailable."

"Huh," Edward said after a moment. "What I meant was -- have you told him he's your one true love or whatever?"

"What?"

"That would be a much simpler way of solving this whole mess," Edward added.

"What?" Boots said again.

"Or is it someone at Scrimmage's?" Edward continued. "I mean, I assumed, but you could've --"

"No one's my one true love!"

"Well, someone must be," Edward said reasonably. "Something must have prompted your early manifestation."

Boots gaped at him. "What -- you think my subconscious thinks I found my one true love or -- or whatever and decided to manifest my stupid pheromones early?"

Edward made a face. "What a scientifically inaccurate way to put it. But, essentially, yes."

"And you think it's -- that it's --"

"Well, yes," Edward said. "You've talked about him literally for years."

"Oh my god," Boots whispered.

"What? Are you worried he'll say no?" Edward demanded.

At that moment Bruno flung the door open with his usual dramatic flair and strolled into the room. "Boots! Have you read today's paper?" He paused. "Oh. Hello, Edward," he said coolly.

"Hello," Edward said.

"What are you doing here?" Bruno asked.

"Quizzing my brother about his romantic intentions," Edward said, his eyes on Boots' face. Boots winced. "You wouldn't ever let him down, would you, Bruno?"

"Of course not," Bruno said indignantly.

"See?" Edward said meaningfully. He looked at Boots. "Well, think about it. Save us all some grief. The school newspaper doesn't need to be plagued with horrific articles like this one."

He stalked out of the room

"Horrific article?" Bruno said, offended. "It was a masterpiece!"

"Gavin G. Gunhold?" Boots said. "Bruno, the guys will remember that name! We made him up to screw with Mr. Wizzle's computer! Everyone knows he doesn't actually exist. The Fish knows he doesn't exist!"

Bruno waved his hand. "That's why I picked it. All the older guys will realize that you're unavailable, but they'll also know it isn't really because you're dating a guy named Gavin. They'll back off!" He grinned. "That's why I added the bit about the Brassicas. Anyone who doesn't recognize Gavin and isn't daunted by your lack of availability might be scared off if they think you have a secret boyfriend in the mob!"

"Oh my god," Boots said weakly.

"It's a perfect plan."

Boots shook his head skeptically. "What about when The Fish reads it?"

"Don't worry so much!" Bruno said. "He'll think it was a joke."

Boots sat down miserably. "Do the guys all think I'm a jerk?" he said. "Announcing the fact that I'm in a relationship in the newspaper like that?"

"Not the guys who know you," Bruno said loyally. "You'll see."

~~~

Boots was surprised to find that Bruno was mostly right. Guys didn't fight amongst themselves to sit next to him, or to give him candy or gum. Even his secret admirer's gifts came to a halt. Only a couple of the bravest ones gave him notes that said things likeJust in case Gavin breaks your heart, call me! and I could be your next pen pal xoxo. Boots flushed bright red when he read them.

When he showed them to Bruno, he just grinned. "See?" he said. "They're backing off!"

"Yeah," Boots said worriedly.

"Don't worry," Bruno said. "Keep those deadly pheromones of yours focused on that hockey game coming up. We need to beat those turkeys!"

Boots didn't tell Bruno what Edward had said. After all, Boots had known Bruno since he was twelve years old. How could his stupid pheromones be triggered by a relationship he'd had for years? It didn't make any sense.

Anyway, the whole question was pointless, since Bruno clearly wasn't in love back. He was one of the few people who seemed completely unaffected by Boots' stupid pheromones.

So he clearly wasn't Boots' one true love or whatever. Edward was wrong.

~~~

The annual hockey game between the Macdonald Hall Macs and York Academy Cougars was only a few days later. Most of the team had been too distracted by the upcoming game to pay attention to Boots anymore. And the rest of the school had quieted down, too.

It was a relief. Maybe Bruno had been right about being unavailable after all, Boots thought.

Although, it would be nice if he could get a break from the intense sex dreams.

On the day of the game, some of the guys in the locker room smacked Boots on the ass, but that was usual for hockey players, and Boots didn't let it bother him.

As it turned out, it wasn't his team he needed to worry about at all.

"Heyyyyyy," one of the York Academy guys said when Boots lined up to take the first face-off of the game.

"Yeah?" Boots said grimly. "Shut up."

Then he won the face-off, deked around the startled player, and took off up the ice.

It was the beginning of a strange and lopsided game.

Most of the York Academy Cougars were so turned around by Boots' pheromones, they could barely handle the puck, much less shoot. By the end of the first period, Macdonald Hall was up 3-0.

"Oh my god," Bruno said in the changing room.

His face was pink, his hair was sweaty, his eyes were bright, and Boots was really annoyed that he was turned on by any of it.

"I can't believe I didn't think about using your pheromones like a weapon!" Bruno went on.

"Shut up!" Boots hissed.

"Hey, Boots," Pete said. "Just checking, but you're still with that Gavin guy, right?"

Boots flushed. "Yeah, I'm, uh, focused elsewhere romantically," he said finally.

"Aw, well," Pete said lightly. "I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Brassicas, anyway."

Boots choked. Bruno thumped him on the back.

"Okay, men," Coach Flynn said. "Let's get out there and show them what we're made of!"

"We're made of pure pheromones!" Bruno said under his breath.

"Shut up!" Boots hissed again.

Bruno grinned at him. "Sorry," he said unrepentantly. "I think we're going to win this game!"

"Don't you think," Boots said, and swallowed. "Don't you think it's sort of cheating?"

"No way!" Bruno said. "If those guys are dumb enough to get distracted by a guy who smells good even in hockey gear, then that's their problem!"

"You think I smell good?" Boots said dumbly.

"What?"

"Nothing, never mind," Boots said.

It got worse in the second period, but not because of the Cougars.

Maybe it took a while for the pheromones to permeate the audience, Boots thought as the cheerleaders from Scrimmage's stopped chanting Go Macs go! and started chanting Boots! Boots! Boots!

"Oh my god," Boots said on the bench, putting his head in his gloves.

"Sounds like you have a few fans, O'Neal," Coach Flynn said, bemused.

In the next few shifts, the York Academy Cougars became more aggressive the louder the Scrimmage's cheerleaders became. Only they weren't focused on scoring goals. They were focused on Boots.

"Oh my god," Boots gasped.

Bruno pounded him on the back with excitement. "This is great!" he exclaimed. "They're so distracted by you, they've given us a million chances."

"Bruno, on that last shift, two of them almost started fighting each other!"

Bruno chortled. "I saw that! It was amazing."

"It's not amazing," Boots hissed. "It's pretty much cheating!"

Bruno scoffed.

Before he could say anything, the referee blew his whistle. Two of the Cougars were wrestling each other to the ice. The referee and a few of the Macs had to step in to keep them apart.

"That's probably unrelated," Bruno said, although he sounded doubtful.

Just then, one of the guys looked over at the bench, waved and yelled, "Hey, O'Neal!" before he was escorted out of the game.

Boots felt his heart sink. "Oh no," he said.

The second period was over minutes later. The score was 7-1.

Boots sat on the bench in the changing room, feeling sick to his stomach. The rest of the team was exuberant.

Until Mr. Sturgeon showed up.

"Excuse me, boys, Coach Flynn," he said. "O'Neal, please speak with me in the hallway."

Boots shot Bruno a glance. Bruno looked worried.

Boots followed The Fish out into the hallway, his stomach in knots. He knew it was pointless to try to get away with it anymore. It must be pretty obvious that he was spewing his stupid pheromones all over the entire arena. And if people were smelling him and getting violent --

"O'Neal," Mr. Sturgeon said quietly. "Is there something you need to tell me?"

"I'm sorry, sir," Boots blurted out. "I think I'm manifesting and I can't get it to stop."

 

Extra Leaky Pheromones

"Oh, sweetheart," said his mom over the phone. "I can't believe you didn't tell me."

Boots had been allowed to use the phone in Mr. Sturgeon's office. The hockey game was over. Boots had not played in the final period, but the Macs had still won 8-3.

"I'm sorry," Boots mumbled. "I thought you might make me leave the Hall."

"We know how much you love it there," Mrs. O'Neal said. "But Melvin, honey, we're more worried about you."

"I know," Boots said. "It's just -- it's my last year."

His mom proceeded to ask him a series of increasingly detailed personal questions that made Boots want to die in embarrassment. Then she explained that it didn't sound like he was experiencing the full effect of the pheromones. Something had clearly triggered him earlier than usual, like Edward had said, but it would likely wear off in a few weeks.

"It would still be easier on you, though, sweetheart," his mom said, "if you decided on someone. I don't mean to have sex with them!" she added quickly. Boots stifled a groan. He and his mom had already had that talk, too. "But even emotionally it can be hard to be on your own during this period."

"There's no one to decide on," Boots said. "And anyway, I'm not alone. I have Bruno."

There was a pause. "If you did have someone you were romantically interested in," his mom said carefully. "It wouldn't matter to us who it was." She hesitated again. "Edward mentioned that your feelings for --"

"No," Boots said quickly. "No, Mom."

"It makes sense," his mom continued, horrifyingly.

"It's not reciprocated," Boots blurted out.

"Oh, sweetheart," his mom said.

"So, it's not an option."

"All right," she said softly. "All right."

~~~

Afterwards, he had to talk to Mr. Sturgeon again.

"Well, O'Neal," the Headmaster said.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said. He stared miserably at the floor. If the conversation with his mom had been embarrassing, this one was likely to be a hundred times worse.

"Do I take it that the recent article about your, er, romantic partner was a part of a charade?"

"A fake one," Boots said hurriedly. "And yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I thought it might be easier if people didn't think I was, um, available."

"Well," Mr. Sturgeon said. "I must say that I was very proud of you for speaking openly about your sexuality. Even as I wondered about the paramour I knew to be false."

Boots flushed. "Thank you, sir," he mumbled. "But I didn't write the article."

"No," Mr. Sturgeon said wryly. "I am fully aware of who wrote it and who was its source. Nevertheless, I want you to know that Macdonald Hall is dedicated to supporting your continued education and participation in the school." Boots lifted his head, abruptly hopeful. "However, your behaviour has put a number of your fellow students and the students of York Academy at risk. Not to mention the danger to your own health and well-being. That is unacceptable. i am obligated to set some stipulations on your future here to ensure that does not happen again. These are not optional. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," Boots said, and his heart was already soaring at the idea of a future at the Hall.

~~~

"Hey," Bruno said, when Boots slipped back into Room 306. The lights were on, but Bruno was lying down on his bed.

"Hey," Boots said.

"Is everything okay? You're not expelled, right?"

"No," Boots said. "They're not kicking me out. I have to go see a counsellor in town twice a week, though."

"Good," Bruno said fervently. "Not about the counsellor. About you staying. And maybe about the counsellor, too, if you're into it."

"Yeah, maybe," Boots said. He toed off his shoes and climbed into his bed. "My mom says it probably isn't the real manifestation, or else it would be a lot worse. She thinks it'll go away in a few weeks."

"Oh!" Bruno said. "That's great. Maybe things can go back to normal around here!"

Boots laughed tiredly. "I don't think things are ever normal around you, Bruno," he said.

"Hey," he added before they fell asleep. "Thanks for helping me with all this."

"Hey," Bruno said. "What are best friends for?"

~~~

Boots was reaching for his cock even before he realized he was awake, his heart pounding in his chest and his blood thrumming in his veins.

He twisted his fingers around his dick and immediately pressed the heel of his other hand into his mouth to stifle the moan he let out.

When he came moments later, hot and sharp, his back arched up off the bed.

In the aftermath, with his pulse still pounding in his head, it took him a long time to realize that something felt odd.

He couldn't hear Bruno's snores.

Boots froze and turned his head towards the other bed.

"Bruno?" he whispered.

There was a pause for long enough that Boots started to think Bruno was still asleep. Then he said, "Is that -- Has it been like that this whole time?"

"What?" Boots said, caught between humiliation and guilt.

Before Boots realized what he was doing, Bruno had flicked on the light on the bedside table.

"Hey --" Boots said and yanked the sheets over himself. "What if Mr. Fudge sees --"

Bruno was staring at him. "It sounded, uh. Intense," he said.

Boots flushed. "Um. Yeah. It's my own pheromones, I guess. Sorry."

"Wouldn't it be -- uh, better, with someone else?" Bruno looked a little flustered. "I mean, not going through it alone, like your grandmother?"

Boots stared at the ceiling. "I don't have anything to compare it with, but. Like I told you, I don't want anyone to -- you know --"

"Fuck you?"

Boots' face felt like it was on fire. "I only want them to do it if they like me! Not because of my stupid pheromones. And besides, no one I like even responds to them."

There was a pause and then Bruno sat up on his bed. "Wait, what?" he said.

"What?" Boots parroted. "I just mean these pheromones are making everyone crazy and it just --"

"Not everyone," Bruno said.

"No," Boots agreed. "Not everyone. Not you."

"Not me," Bruno repeated.

"Right. But a lot of people, still," Boots said.

"Right," Bruno said. "Only you just said no one you liked responded to them. Indicating that maybe you did like someone. Do like someone."

Boots wished they could turn the light off. "What?" he said, cheeks hot. "I didn't say I liked anyone."

"You didn't say you didn't," Bruno pointed out.

"Even if I did," Boots said, defensively, "you said yourself, they didn't respond to my pheromones. So."

"Like me," Bruno said.

Boots glared at him. "And other people," he said. "What's your point?"

"Boots," Bruno said softly. "Boots, I didn't need extra leaky pheromones to tell me how much I liked you."

Boots' breath was stuck in his throat. "What?" he croaked.

"Maybe your pheromones didn't make me extra nice to you because I already like you," Bruno said. "However delicious they smelled."

There was an eerie moment where Boots felt like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff, and the subconscious part of his brain that wanted to climb Bruno like a tree set off a siren in Boots' head.

"You thought my pheromones smelled good?" he said faintly.

"No," Bruno said firmly. "I think you smell good."

Boots' heart was beating in his ears, and the siren kicked up three notches all at once.

"I, uh," he said breathlessly. "I really want to touch you right now, but I'm kind of gross."

"Oh my god, I don't care," Bruno said, and they both scrambled to move. Boots fell onto Bruno's bed as Bruno threw his covers off, and they were touching. Bruno's hands were gripping Boots' arms, and Boots' fingers were sinking into Bruno's dark hair.

"Hi," Bruno gasped. His eyes were dark and wide and he opened his mouth to wet his lips and Boots had just come but his body did not seem to care about that at all.

"Hi," Boots managed.

Bruno leaned forward to kiss him, his hand skimming across Boots' shoulder to the pulse point in his neck. Boots opened his mouth on a gasp and kissed back.

Yes yes yes, Boots' subconscious was yelling, and Boots ignored it to tug Bruno closer, pressing their chests together.

But Bruno was pulling at the hem of Boots' T-shirt, so Boots pulled back far enough to yank it over his head and helped Bruno take his off, too. Bruno grinned at him from under his unruly dark hair, and Boots surged forward to kiss him again.

Bruno moaned into his mouth, and this was officially the hottest thing that had happened to Boots, ever.

"Bruno," he gasped, and slid his hands down Bruno's bared skin. His muscles were warm and smooth, and Boots wanted to touch him forever.

Bruno's hand slid through the come that was starting to dry on Boots' stomach, already a little tacky. Even so, Boots' muscles tensed and his cock twitched.

"It was so hot hearing you jerk off," Bruno whispered, and Boots flushed. "I wanted to climb all over you."

He pushed Bruno down on his back, and both of them made a noise when their hips pressed together. Boots could feel Bruno's dick against his hip through layers of pyjamas and boxers, and god, he wanted more.

"Take off your pants," he demanded, and Bruno nodded frantically.

Both of their legs got tangled while they attempted to strip, but then they were pressed against each other again and there were no clothes between them and it felt a thousand times more intense. Boots heard himself moaning into Bruno's mouth.

"Yeah," Boots muttered.

"Yeah?" Bruno said breathlessly.

Boots pressed his face into Bruno's sweat-damp neck, where his dark hair curled soft and wet, mouthing at the hot skin there. Bruno arched his neck, and slid his hand over the curve of Boots' ass.

Boots wrapped his hand around Bruno's dick. It felt amazing, hot and heavy in his palm. Bruno was breathing fast and his hips were stuttering against Boots. He was pretty sure Bruno wasn't going to last long, and the thought made the subconscious part of his brain greedy. He sped up his strokes. Bruno panted in his ear and came in a long exhale that was almost a whine, and his body slumped against the bed.

"Holy shit," he said.

He slid his own hand around Boots' dick, and even though he'd really only just come, it only took three strokes for Boots to come again, spilling messily over Bruno's hipbone.

"Yeah," Boots panted. "Holy shit."

He lifted his head to see Bruno grinning dopily at him.

"We should turn the light off so Mr. Fudge doesn't catch us," Boots said.

Bruno hummed and leaned up to kiss him lightly.

It was a few more minutes before either of them managed to reach over to switch off the lamp.

"There's a wet spot in both of our beds now," Bruno said sleepily. "We did not plan that very well."

Boots hid his face in Bruno's neck to muffle his laughter and fell asleep not long after, warm and comfortable and, finally, satisfied.

~~~

The next day at lunch, Bruno stood on his chair and said loudly, "We have an announcement!"

"Oh god," Boots said.

Bruno flashed him a grin. "As you may know, Boots O'Neal is romantically unavailable. However, it is not, as many of you may believe, because he is dating a mysterious and well-connected pen pal named Gavin. It is actually because he is dating me!"

There was a light round of applause.

"Congratulations!"

"Mazel tov!"

"I thought that Gavin guy didn't exist!"

"Wasn't Boots was already dating Bruno?"

"Hey, Eric! Don't you have a pen pal?"

"I love broccoli."

Their table of friends congratulated them, too.

Bruno sat back down, beaming widely. Boots rolled his eyes, and smiled back.

"You're better than a pen pal," he whispered.

"I distinctly remember you saying you didn't have a pen pal," Bruno whispered back.

Boots just grinned at him, and reached out to grab hold of Bruno's hand.

Epilogue

"I think this is the first time we've been here for dinner," Mrs. Sturgeon said brightly, as she knocked on the door of Miss Scrimmage's apartment.

"Watch out for ninja attacks," Mr. Sturgeon said. "You never know what the girls here are learning." He smiled humourlessly. "Then again, neither does Miss Scrimmage."

"Oh, hush, William," said Mrs. Sturgeon. "Be nice."

Miss Scrimmage flung the door open, a blinding smile on her face.

"Welcome!" she said, and ushered them inside her apartment.

"This is my darling Genevieve," Miss Scrimmage said happily.

Genevieve rose gracefully form her seat. She was tall and slender, and her smile was kind.

"Bonjour," she murmured.

"Genevieve is an author," Miss Scrimmage confided proudly. "Of three critically-acclaimed novels. Do you read in la langue française at all, Mr. Sturgeon?"

"No," Mr. Sturgeon said drily. "My French is quite rusty."

"Oh!" Miss Scrimmage exclaimed. "It is the language of the heart!"

"Indeed?"

"It is so nice to have my friends meet at last!" Miss Scrimmage went on, as Mrs. Sturgeon exchanged pleasantries with Genevieve. She fluttered back over to Genevieve's side, and took her hand. Genevieve bestowed a glowing smile on her, and pressed her lips fondly to Miss Scrimmage's fingers.

"Admit it, you're a little pleased to see her so happy," Mrs. Sturgeon whispered. She was smiling at the two of them.

"I'm relieved she has someone who seems to have common sense," Mr. Sturgeon said, "and who will hopefully keep her away from that infernal shotgun."

His wife sent him a knowing look. Mr. Sturgeon turned his gaze towards Miss Scrimmage and Genevieve again. He had to admit, in the privacy of his own head, that they did look rather handsome together.

~~~

In the kitchen, the Baking Club was putting the finishing touches on the evening's special dessert: coconut banana pie with a generous dose of wasabi.

"I'm so proud," Cathy said to Allison, who had been directing the creation of the dessert.

Allison squirmed. "Whatever," she said.

Cathy rolled her eyes. "You haven't finished your training yet, squirt."

Diane sniffed. "I'm just so happy Miss Scrimmage is happy!"

The girls nodded in agreement.

"Miss Scrimmage certainly won't be too lonely without us around next year," Cathy said.

"Hey!" Allison said. "Most of us aren't going anywhere."

Cathy grinned. "Our last year isn't even half over," she added. "Just think of all the fun we could get up to!"

The End