Val 'n Tyne

by Hans Schreiber and Flip McHooter

Chapter 5

Warning! This story is a work of fiction written by a legal age adult. Any similarity between the fictional characters and any live person is purely coincidental. This story contains fictional descriptions of sexual activity between consenting minor youth. If you are under the age of 18, and/or if you are offended by this content, and/or if it is illegal in your jurisdiction to possess or read such material, please leave now and do not read this story as neither the internet host nor the author can be responsible for your actions. Please, always practice safe sex; no momentary thrill is worth your life.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be transmitted or reproduced in whole or in part in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Author or Publisher, except where permitted by law. Copyright © 2012 by Hans Schreiber and Flip McHooter.

Special thanks to our editor, Pablo.

This work is a collaboration between Hans Schreiber and Flip McHooter. Please send your comments to Hans at h.schreiber@hushmail.com and to Flip at 1977.flip@gmail.com

Val was in the shower when a knock came at the door. He shut the water off and called out "What?"

"Did something happen at school yesterday? I just got a call from a secretary at school and they want you to report to the principal's office instead of first period this morning. Do you know why?" His mom's voice had a twinge of concern to it.

Val's stomach flopped. He started imagining all the possibilities. The pictures, the fight at practice, or the problem with Nick in the locker room were all potential bombs waiting to go off. He immediately wished he hadn't gone along with Tyne's big scheme. "No, not really."

"Well, do you think I should go with you?" she asked.

Val definitely thought she should NOT go with him. The idea of that happening really scared him. He could hear his mother's voice in his head as the Photoshop enhanced picture of Nick was displayed, saying, "My, he certainly has a large penis, doesn't he?" He didn't need a repeat of last night's dinner.

Val realized he'd left too long of a pause and tried to sound as casual and convincing as he could by replying, "No, I think it has something to do with basketball, something about practice. It's no big deal, I'm sure. I'll handle it."

"All right, Vallie dear. I need to take Violet to school now but if you need me, call my cell phone. I'll make sure I have it with me."

"Okay, I will, but I'm sure it's no big deal." He turned the shower back on and washed his hair.

Val was a little bit sick to his stomach all the way to school. He parked his big truck in his usual spot and hit the sidewalk just as Noah did. Noah was dressed in tight purple jeans and a tight knit, grey, crew neck with purple and black Vans. It looked like he might have a couple new piercings in his eyebrow, but he couldn't really be sure. Val thought how even though Noah was weird, he did have some style about him. "Hey, Noah."

"Oh, hi Val-erie. I heard you had a fab dinner party last night." Noah cocked his head and gave Val a wicked grin.

"Shut up."

"I also heard it was a GINORMOUS success," Noah said, stretching out his hands in front of his crotch.

"Tyne promised me he wasn't going to say that to anybody. And stop that. You're in public, you freak." Val swatted Noah's hands away.

"Listen, honey, I ain't just "any-body" here. I'm Noah, and me and Tyne are very tight – like two dicks in the same mouth. We tell each other everything. And just so you know, I wouldn't let him off the phone last night until he spilled his guts. He finally caved at midnight. Don't worry, though, I won't tell anyone else."

"You better not, if you value your life." Val said it with a little more venom than intended, but his nerves were already on edge over the meeting in the office. "Where's Tyne? I thought you two were joined at the hip?"

"Ewww, you're cute when you're a little pissed. But then, you're cute when you're not pissed too. Tyne has a dentist appointment this morning. Hey, isn't your first period the other way?" Noah asked.

"I have to go meet with Mr. Andrews in the office," Val said nervously.

"Uh-oh. So do I. I bet I can guess the topic," Noah said. "I bet those pictures fell into enemy hands."

"I knew it was a bad idea. I just had a feeling we shouldn't have done it." Val pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand in frustration. "What if we get expelled over this?"

"Stop!" Noah reached up and took Val's bulging bicep in his grip and turned Val to face him. "Listen, big boy, you can't go in there with that attitude. We have to get our story straight and stick to it. You don't know anything about any pictures except the ones that were on Nick's phone and you only know about those because you accidentally saw them when you were messing with it. We're throwing Lizzy under the fucking short bus here, remember?"

"But you told her that I gave you those pictures," Val said. "We're screwed."

"Nobody knows that besides you, me and Tyne, cowboy."

"Shit! I suck at lying. My mom 's the only one I can ever lie to and that's just because she's so totally clueless."

"Well, just pretend you're talking to your mom in there. Let's assume they accuse you of taking the pictures and giving them to me. You have to deny, deny, deny. Get a little mad about it. Throw it in Lizzy's face that she's been talking shit about you being gay all week ever since that assignment. Tell them you broke up with her and that she's been spreading it that you're gay to get even. Stick to that and leave the rest of the lying to me. I am a freaking drama queen after all."

"I don't know. I'm really nervous."

"Listen, when you're in a basketball game and the game's on the line and you got the ball, are you thinking about blowing it or you thinking about scoring?"

"Scoring, but …" Noah cut him off.

"But shit. Go in there and think about winning. Now, come on before we're late. Walk this way." Noah placed one hand on his hip and started swiveling his hips like a runway model.

That broke the tension and Val cracked up. "I don't think I can walk that way. I might break something. You're a freaking nutcase, but I see why Tyne likes hanging around with you. You better be good at acting or we're screwed."

"Oh honey, I'm good. Believe me."

The two entered the office and saw not only Lizzy but also Nick sitting there. They both looked miserable. Val's nerves exploded and he thought he might get physically sick. Noah walked in behind Val and purposely sat away from everyone. He plugged his iPod into his ears, crossed his legs and began swinging his leg and bobbing his head in time to the music. He acted like he didn't have a care in the world. His antics broke the tension for Val. Nick's face looked as if he'd just drank a pint of curdled milk and Lizzy rolled her eyes in disgust at Noah. Val went to the desk and told the clerk he had an appointment with Mr. Andrews. He preferred to stand at the desk and wait rather than sit and be glared at.

Before long, Mr. Andrews came out and called them all into a small conference room. He had a thin, manila envelope in his hands. Noah acted both confused and annoyed about why he was being called in with the others. It was truly worthy of an Emmy. Val became more confident that Noah just might be able to pull this off, and he decided right there to take the ball and drive to the basket himself.

"We have a problem, and before I involve anyone else, I wanted to sort this out a little and hear all sides of the story. Yesterday, in the student council meeting, Mrs. Smith intercepted a couple of disturbing photos of Mr. Hardcastle and Mr. Wallace that were in Miss Borden's possession. The story gets cloudy from there. Miss Borden, do you want to tell me how you got those photos."

Nick shot Val a menacing glance, obviously assuming Val had somehow given Lizzy pics from his phone. Noah continued to look confused and vaguely disinterested. Before Lizzy found her voice, Noah jumped in and asked, "Excuse me, Mr. Andrews, why am I here? I barely even know these people." It was said with such confused innocence that Val struggled not to smile.

"Just let Miss Borden speak, Noah." Noah plopped back in his plastic chair and folded his arms with an impatient air about him.

"Well, I was waiting by the library for Regina to show up, so we could walk into the student council meeting together, when Noah here came up to me and said he had to talk to me." Noah cocked his head back and wrinkled his brow, looking from Lizzy to Mr. Andrews and back to Lizzy.

"Noah showed me these two pictures and said he heard that I had been telling people that Val had given naked pictures of himself and of Nick over to him."

"What? Girl, you are messed up," Noah blurted. "I heard all the rumors you been spreading about Val and my best friend, Tyne, being gay because they have to go on some stupid date thing for Ms. Harris' class, but this is going too far, sister. Just because Val dumped your sorry ass, you got no right to be trashing him and dragging me into it."

"Mr. Silverstein, watch your language."

"Sorry, Mr. Andrews," Noah said, "but lies like that just piss me off."

"Lies? I'm not lying. You know perfectly well you gave me those pictures, you little fairy. You're the one lying," Lizzy fumed. Noah acted completely offended and all wounded.

"Miss Borden! That is very inappropriate. You owe Mr. Silverstein an apology."

"Apology? He needs to apologize to me. He's the one that's lying. Where else would I have gotten those pictures?" Lizzy was starting to lose it.

"Maybe you took them yourself," Noah snipped.

"They were taken in the boys' locker room dorkface," Lizzy snapped back. "I can't get in there."

"Well how would I have known that, since I don't have any idea what kind of pictures you're even talking about?" Noah shot back.

"All right, All right, enough of this. Both of you stop it. So Noah, you're saying you didn't meet with Lizzy and you didn't give her any pictures, is that right?"

"That's right. I think she made it up because of Val dumping her and because I'm Tyne's friend. I'm sure you've heard all the crap about Val 'n Tyne because of Ms. Harris' assignment for two guys and two girls to go out on a mock date. Well, that's what got all this started."

"Yes, I' m well aware. I intend to put an end to that today. Ms. Harris needs to find another way to make her point. I was opposed to implementing that whole class into the curriculum in the first place. It's been a source of continuous controversy from the beginning," Mr. Andrews lamented.

Val suddenly realized that Mr. Andrews was planning to cancel the date assignment for Ms. Harris' class. He realized how sad that would make Tyne and that this whole picture thing might ruin it for him. Val felt bad over it and was focused on those thoughts when Mr. Andrews addressed him. "So, Mr. Hardcastle, did you give inappropriate pictures of yourself and of Nick to Noah."

"What? I'm sorry, what did you ask?"

"Did you and Mr. Wallace take inappropriate pictures of each other in the locker room and did you give them to Mr. Silverstein here?" As the question sunk in, Val realized he didn't even have to lie. He could honestly say no to that question.

"No, of course not. I would never do something like that." He said it with believable conviction.

"Well, how do you explain these pictures then?" Mr. Andrews pulled the pictures out of the manila envelope and as he was doing so, Nick and Val locked eyes and poor Nick looked like he was going to cry. He was expecting to see one of the pictures he had actually taken of Val and worried the one of Dane might be in there as well. Val already knew what to expect, so he was more collected.

Mr. Andrews handed each boy their own picture and Nick suddenly exploded with laughter. He was pounding his fist on the table and shaking with an uncontrollable belly laugh.

"Mr. Wallace, I don't see anything funny in this situation. Laughter is very inappropriate," Mr. Andrews chided.

"Are you kidding? Did you look at this? God, I wish this were me. I don't know who this is, but it sure as hell isn't me. Val, look at this!" Val looked and started to laugh along with Nick, acting like he'd never seen it before.

"Mr. Andrews," Val said between chuckles, "I've shared a locker next to Nick for basketball all season long and I've seen him naked a lot. I'm pretty sure that little thing he's got dangling between his legs could never grow that big."

"Yeah, if you want proof, send Lizzy out of the room and I can show you." Nick said, rebounding to his old, overly confident self. "I don't know what kind of bullshit Lizzy is trying to pull, but she called me right after Val dumped her and told me she'd dumped Val. She claimed that Val told her he was gay. Then she told me that Val told her that he had taken pictures of me naked in the locker room and given them to Noah. I didn't believe her, of course, and just kind of ignored it. This is hilarious. I really will prove it to you, if you want me to." Nick grabbed his beige cloth-woven belt and pulled the loose end free of the first loop.

"NO! Of course I don't want you to prove it." Mr. Andrews threw both of his hands up in the 'stop' motion.

"And if you look closely at this one, you can see that it's not really me, either," Val said. "First of all, that's not our locker room and both locker rooms are completely different. Someone obviously did some Photoshop work on this to make it look like me. There's a part of a tattoo on this guy's arm right there and I don't have any tattoos. Look, see?" Val pointed to the spot on the arm where a part of the tattoo had not been covered over and then he pulled up his shirt sleeve and flexed his massive bicep. Noah nearly drooled on the table.

Noah leaned in to get a peek as Nick slid his picture across the table to give it back to Mr. Andrews. Noah shrieked with delight like a little girl at a Justin Bieber concert. "Whew, did it suddenly get hot in here or is it just me?" He started rapidly waving both hands in front of his face. Val had to suck both lips between his teeth and bite down hard to keep from laughing.

Mr. Andrews shot Noah an irritated look, collected back the pictures, and stuffed them back in the envelope. Nick was still wiping his eyes and struggling not to break out laughing again. Part of his laughter was just relief over the whole shit pile not falling on him like he had expected. The other part was the ridiculousness of someone thinking that was really his dick.

"Miss Borden, did you call Nick and tell him those things about Val being gay and about him giving Noah pictures?" Mr. Andrews asked.

"Well yes, but …" Mr. Andrews didn't let her finish her 'but'.

"And did you put up the Val 'n Tyne dance posters, making a joke out of the assignment that Mr. Hardcastle and Mr., uhh what is Tyne's last name?" Everyone just shrugged so he continued, "Making a joke out of Val and Tyne's class assignment?"

"Well yes, I admitted that already to Mrs. Smith. I was just trying to get at Val, but I didn't make up those pictures. Noah gave them to me, honest."

Mr. Andrews sat back and said, "I think you boys can go. Lizzy, I want you to remain. Boys, get an admittance slip from the desk and then go to class." None of them had to be told twice and they scrambled out the door. Once they got their notices to give their teachers, they hustled outside and as soon as they were clear of the office, Nick started cracking up again.

"Can you believe that bitch tried to pass those pictures off as us? I'm definitely flattered though," Nick said. And then giving Val a playful shove, he said "What was with that comment about the 'little thing dangling between my legs'? Hell, I'm no freak of nature like you and the guy in that pic, but I'm not that little."

"Oh God, I was just praying Mr. Andrews was going to let you drop your jeans and show us your junk. So disappointing." Noah said.

"Yeah, I bet you were wishing for that, you'd love to see what I'm packing, wouldn't you?" Nick said, hiking up his sagging pants. Then he turned and said to Val, "But it sounded like Mr. Andrews is gonna snap that date shit with Ms. Harris, so you're gonna be off the hook with Tyne for Saturday. Life can go back to normal and we can hang together this weekend. That thing I told you about that we could do together still stands anytime, if you want to. Just so you know. This will help settle shit down with all the team issues too."

"Yeah, I guess." Val was downcast. That part about the date with Tyne really troubled him. Then it sunk in what Nick was trying to tell him and he got pissed. He didn't even care that Noah was standing right there. "Dude, I told you already, I don't need to explore my gay side and I don't want to do that shit with you. You're my friend for god's sake. If you're so F'n determined about making out with another dude, Noah's right here and I'm sure he'd love to go out with you!"

"Oh, hell yeah I would!" Noah practically screamed, and then he did a little dance waving his arms in the air. When he came back to earth he said, "We could go to the dance tonight, and I could come over early and give you some fashion tips, not too much of course, and no pink, it doesn't work with your skin tone but then maybe just enough to help you bring out your … "

"Shut the fuck up! Both of you." Nick turned and stormed off to his class. It hurt so bad that he couldn't have Val the way he wanted. He tried to think of some skank that he could take to the dance, but what he really wanted was to curl up and die.

"Well, that didn't go very well, did it? Are you sure he's on my team?" Noah asked.

"Yeah, I think he is. The problem is, he's all confused and I just can't handle him coming on to me anymore. At first, I thought he was just F'n with me. Then, when he confessed doing sex shit with his cousin, I realized he was probably being serious. When I saw the pics he'd taken, I knew he was into it. Or maybe he's just bisexual and does it with anybody he can. I'm not really sure, but all I do know is that he's my friend and he's got issues going on. He seems to think that since we're friends, we should just do it together like it's no big deal. Even all the sex he has with girls is just meaningless sex; he never has any friendship or emotion mixed in with it. That's just messed up. He doesn't get that if I messed around with him, it would ruin our friendship for me. Honestly, it makes me sad."

"Listen, tiger, I'm no Okra Winfried, but why don't you tell him what you just told me? Tell him you're flattered but it's just not your thing. Tell him you just want to be friends like you always were. Tell him you're Black Angus and he's The Cheesecake Factory."

"What the F is that supposed to mean?" Val asked, totally confused.

"You know, Black Angus is just about one thing, big beefy steaks, but Cheesecake Factory has a lot of options and variety."

Val stared at Noah, thinking what a deep guy he really could be underneath all his weird exterior.

After a few seconds of difficult silence, Noah asked Val quietly, "Does it bother you that he wants a bat instead of a glove? I mean, do you really care that he likes guys that way?"

"No, I don't. I really don't give a shit. All I really want is for him to lay off me," Val said, sadly. "He can screw whoever he wants. I just want him to go back to being my friend."

"Well, then try to see it from his side. He's gone from a Kinsey zero to God - I don't even know what, in like sixty seconds. And to be perfectly honest, I might sound all that, but I've never, ever, been with a guy. It's not an easy thing to do when you're gay and sixteen in a homophobic high school. And right now, the fucking hormones are screaming at us to find a way to get some action. He probably saw a shot at shutting those moaning whores up by getting some with you and now you're shutting him down after he took the risk."

"You know, Noah, you're pretty freakin' smart. Even though I only get about half of what you say, I think you nailed it right on the head, so to speak. He's after me because he thought I wouldn't shut him down. I guess in a way, I was like a safe test for him. It must be really hard to stick your toe out of the closet."

"Maybe for some boys, but baby, I broke the fucking door down, smashed it to smithereens and never looked back!" Noah flexed his scrawny arms and struck another of his famous poses, "And I still ain't got any. It's tough out there."

"You crack me up, dude, I'll tell you that. But you know, have you ever thought that if you toned it down a little, you might catch a guy? You're a little intimidating."

"Oh, pumpkin. You just don't get it, do you? That would be like me asking you to put on a cheerleading dress so you could cozy up to the cheerleaders. It doesn't work that way. Me not wearing makeup would be like you in that cheerleading outfit without panties."

Val started laughing at the thought of that. "I guess you're right. I'm sorry. You're you and I'm me. I get it. C'mon, we better get to class. Wait a second. What if you really did tone it down, just a little tiny bit? You know, I'm not saying everything, but what if you lose most of the makeup and maybe half of your piercings? Then maybe Nick wouldn't be so intimidated?"

"Intimidated? Really? Well, I suppose I could give it a try if you think it would help with Nick. I do have flawless skin, I shit you not. But I'm not going to make a habit out of it."

"If you do that, I'll talk to Nick before the game and maybe push him in your direction. We'll make this a little test, okay? If you get what you want, and he gets what he needs, then maybe he'll leave me alone so that he and I can go back to being friends again and I'll get what I want," Val said.

"Done! But you have to do something for me. If this date thing gets cancelled, please, please, please don't ditch Tyne. He is so looking forward to going four-wheeling and fishing with you. I know he finds you hot and all and that may creep you out a bit, but more important than that, I think he likes you like a big brother."

"No man, Tyne doesn't creep me out. I know he likes my body and I probably get him horny, but he's discreet about it, and for some reason it doesn't bother me like it does with Nick. But I don't really think it's a big brother thing, either. At least I don't think of it that way. You know how sometimes there are certain people that you just connect with?"

"Yeah," Noah said with a nod and otherwise keeping his mouth shut, not wanting to disrupt Val's flow.

"Tyne's like that for me. We just connect and I like hanging with him. I was already thinking about the date after Mr. Andrews said he was going to put his foot down. I like Tyne too – he's a good guy. He really helped me out with my algebra last night and to tell you the truth, I'd really like to be legit friends with him. So yeah, we're still on for Saturday."

"I could just kiss you, you big lug."

"Noah, puuuleese, not here!" Val said, as he rolled his eyes in mock exaggeration and cocked his head to the side. "Save it for Nick. So Noah, if your teenage hormones are moaning so much for some sex action, and you and Tyne are on the same team, why haven't you two hooked up and done stuff together?"

"Same reason you can't think about doing it with Nick. We know it would fuck up the friendship and even sex isn't worth doing that. Besides, to be honest, he's not my type and I'm definitely not his."

**##**

Just as Val expected, in fifth period Contemporary Lifestyles class, Ms. Harris confirmed the bad news that the boy/boy, girl/girl date experiment thing was off. She was upset, but tried not to let the class see it. She told them to use this as a learning experience for the bigotry and simple-mindedness that permeates the community. She went on to say that one day none of this would matter and that, in fact, in the future there would be no need for a class like this.

"Ms. Harris? I know the date part of this assignment has been booted, but can we still go out with our 'dates' if we want to on our own? I think it still has some merit and I want to see what happens," Regina said, looking over at Blanca shyly.

"If you do, and just so you know this is totally off the record, I think it's a great idea, I can't officially condone it. So if you do go, I don't want to hear about it and it's something you did entirely on your own. I'm not going to lose my job over something this silly. So, class, I'd like you to spend the rest of the period talking to your 'dates' and see if you can come to some consensus about how this cancellation just reaffirms the communities notion of bigotry. You don't have to write a paper or anything. Just discuss it among yourselves. I think you have already learned the idea behind this assignment and I'm giving all of you a full A for it." There were cheers all around. Val stood up and started a standing ovation. Ms. Harris laughed, settled them down and asked them to talk quietly with their partners.

There was a bit of awkward silence between Val and Tyne until Val asked, "So how's your mouth?"

"What?" Tyne asked, confused.

"Your mouth? Noah said you went to the dentist."

"Oh, it's fine. It was just a checkup and cleaning. So I guess that's it," Tyne said, fighting hard to hide his disappointment. "Even though the date is off, is it still okay if I come and hang with you guys at the dance tonight?"

"You F'n better show up or I'll come find you and drag you there. And I'm still planning on going fishing tomorrow with my new friend. You better not be backing out on me or I won't have anything to eat. You're in charge of the food, remember?" Tyne lit up like an eight year old who was just told he was going to Disneyland after all.

"You really want to? You don't have to, you know." Tyne was secretly jumping for joy.

"I know I don't have to. I want to. I appreciate the help you gave me last night, and seriously, I think we'd have fun. It would be cool to show you new stuff. You're really book smart, but I'm pretty smart about outdoors nature stuff. Don't take this the wrong way, but maybe we can help each other out in our own ways and be good for each other like real friends should be."

"Deal." Tyne held out his fist for Val to bump, but Val was caught off guard and stuck his hand out for a shake. "We're gonna have to work on this," he said, and both boys started cracking up.

"I heard that Lizzy's parents pulled her out of school today. She wasn't in third period. I guess she's going to Our Lady of Perpetual Indecision. It sounds like they were really pissed," Tyne said. "And I heard about the big meeting this morning. So tell me what went on in your meeting with the principal. I want the details."

"Yeah, well, she deserves whatever she gets. She's a bitch to the core." Then Val filled Tyne in on the details and Tyne loved hearing how well Noah played it up.

Suddenly looking at the clock, Val raised his hand, "Ms. Harris, can I be excused? I have to go get ready for the game."

"Certainly Val. Kick some Tiger butt tonight." Ms. Harris was a huge basketball fan and never missed a Conquistadors game.

Val walked in and the locker room seemed back to normal. Most guys were hanging in the aisle talking trash about the Ridgeview Tigers they were playing. The pre-game buzz was back like normal and Val was glad for it. He jumped into the fray of Tiger bashing and felt no reservations from anyone about letting him in. Nick was in the locker bay that he shared with Val, dressing out slowly by himself. He looked sullen. Val thought about pulling him into the group but decided it was probably too soon and he should probably just let him be for now. Surprisingly, Lukas wasn't there yet.

Coach Carlson walked in wearing the blue shirt with his lucky blue and red tie that he wore for every game. "Val, come here for a minute, please." Val didn't like the tone of his voice. It was strained.

When Val walked into the office, he saw Lukas looking fiery. Val sat in the only empty chair and Coach sat behind his desk. His old wooden chair made its familiar cracking sound as he sat down. Coach set his hands on the desk and interlocked his fingers. "Lukas has a problem with some boys on the team. I let this whole gay issue play out without getting involved and I guess I should have intervened. I was hoping it would just sort itself out. I was disappointed when you lost it yesterday in practice. I didn't expect that of you. You're a natural leader and I figured you could handle the crap you were getting and rise above it."

"I tried, but it just got so stupid. I know I lost it. I'm sorry I got in the fight. It won't happen again," Val apologized.

"I know it won't. But Lukas here told me about what went down afterwards in the locker room. It seems like Nick is a distraction. He violated your and Dane's privacy and needs to be held responsible for that. Lukas wants him off the team, but I don't think that's his place to decide that. I've already talked to Dane and now I want your input. If you want him off for what he did by taking pictures of you, then he's gone. What do you say?"

Val didn't answer right away. He glanced toward Lukas, who sneered, then turned a questioning look back toward Coach.

"I want him here to hear what you have to say," Coach said, referring to Lukas.

"Well," Val started, "I won't deny that it pissed me off seeing those pictures on Nick's phone. I don't want him tossed over it, though. He's sorry he did it and we're good again."

Lukas scoffed, "You would say that, you're just a big faggot lover." Lukas jumped up and said, "Coach, I ain't playing with a bunch of fags and fag lovers. If you want a center, you have to choose. Either the fag goes or I do."

"You don't get to make the choice about Nick, Lukas. Dane and Val are the ones who have a legitimate right to give input on that. It is your choice whether you want to stay on the team or not. Make sure you really want to leave because I'm not going to let you back on if you leave now."

"We'll see what happens when you start losing without me. This is so fucked up."

"All right, I'm sorry that's your attitude. I hope you come to recognize the foolishness of it." When Lukas stormed out, Coach turned toward Val and asked. "So, think you can play center?"

"Me? I'm not that big for a center. What about pulling Dante up from JV?"

"Val, he's never even practiced with us. Besides, you're the better athlete. I'll trade athleticism for size any day. I need you to step up and take a leadership role here. If you go out there wavering in your ability to do this, the whole team will follow those signals and we've lost before the first bucket is made. If you go out there pumped up and excited, the team will feel it and rally behind you. So, again, do you think you can play center?"

Val smiled, stood, and looked Coach in the eye. "Hell yeah, I can! We're gonna kick some Tiger tail!"

"That's it. Now go get suited up while I figure out who takes your place at starting forward."

"Coach," Val urged, "go with Nick. It will be the best thing to bring back the team unity. Besides, Nick and I play in my backyard all the time and he knows how to feed me the ball. He anticipates my moves and is a good passer."

"Hmmm. I'll think about it. Now get."

By the time Val got in the locker room everyone else was dressed and wondering where the coach and Lukas were. Usually, they would already be out warming up. Val deflected their questions and rushed to his locker. Everyone was ready. Everyone except for Nick, that is. He was sitting there in his trunks and jersey, holding a sock in one hand and staring at his toes.

"Dude, hurry up and get your shoes on," Val said as he pulled his shirt off and tossed it in the locker. While Val quickly stripped down, Nick just sat there staring down.

"I think I'm gonna quit the team. Everyone hates me now and Coach isn't ever gonna play me. And I can't even look at Dane," Nick mumbled.

Val pulled his jockstrap over his junk, adjusted his balls into a comfortable position and quickly slid his shorts on, then sat next to Nick. "You're not F'n quitting. That's not who you are. That's just the chicken shit way out. Coach asked Dane and me if we wanted you tossed off the team just now. We both said no. Lukas walked off over you staying on the team. So I'm the new center and I need you to feed me the ball inside like we play around at my house. So F the self pity shit and get your damn shoes on."

"Really? Dane didn't even want me tossed?"

"Really."

"Awesome! You're playing center? You freaked?"

Val looked around and whispered, "Shitless, but don't tell anyone. I've got to act pumped about it so the team doesn't lose confidence."

"You'll do great. Don't sweat it. Let's go kick some ass." They both quickly laced up and joined the team as Coach walked in and announced that Lukas had walked. He paused and let the murmurs die off before announcing the lineup changes. When he called out Val as starting center, there was mild surprise.

"Yeah! Let's do this! We're gonna kick some Tiger tail!" Val threw a fist in the air and his excitement was immediately contagious. Dane was the first to chime in and then Tyrell and Evan. Soon, everyone was jumping up and down in a big huddle pumping fists and cheering. They were a team again.

"All right, All right, Coach called out. Here's the rest of the starters. Dane, point guard. Evan at shooting guard. Tyrell at left forward, and Matt will be right power forward in Val's spot." Val was disappointed that Coach hadn't taken his advice. He glanced at Nick who was still beaming. Then he realized Nick had no expectation of being a starter.

Out on the floor, they shot around a bit and then Coach had them run a couple of offensive plays, something he would never do in front of the opposing team under normal circumstances. Val had to struggle to stay in the center's position. He was so programmed to be the power forward.

As Val and Nick stretched on the sidelines before the lineups were announced, they glanced into the stands. Val saw his family and was happy to see that Tyne had hooked up and sat by them. He looked for Noah expecting him to be with Tyne. "Oh my God," Val said to Nick nudging him. "Look at Noah." Nick turned away and laughed with Val. Noah had a plastic gold Conquistador hat with a bright red plume on top of it, a plastic sword and a gold plastic breast plate that he probably bought at some toy store. He had no shirt on and had painted his body red from the waist up to the neck. He was sitting right next to the girls pep squad and was doing the cheers right along with them. Val was relieved Noah hadn't sit by Tyne. He could only imagine his father's questions if he had.

When they called out the players onto the floor and announced their starting positions before the game, there was a gasp and pause before the clapping started when Val's name was announced as the starting center. When he took his place at center court for the opening tip, Val looked at his opposing center and gulped. He was taller than Lukas, but he had no meat on him. He was like a walking stick figure. When the referee tossed the ball up, the Tiger center was a full foot above his hand when he swatted the ball over to one of his teammates.

"Oh shit," Val muttered as he rushed back into defense. The Tigers fed the ball around the perimeter and Val followed the center in and out across the key. On the third trip through, Val ran headlong into a screen by their forward and the tall, skinny center slipped by, caught a nice feed from their point guard and scored effortlessly. Val took the ball out of bounds and passed it in to Dane. He watched his skinny nemesis lumber down the court and read his name on the back of his black jersey with orange lettering. His name was Short. "God, it figures," Val grumbled.

On the offensive end, Dane held up two fingers to call the play. Val moved to the top right of the key and took the pass, then dished it off quickly to Tyrell in the corner who shot a nice three pointer. The crowd erupted. On the defensive end, their shooting guard attempted a three and Val boxed out the tall Short kid and pulled down the rebound. Val fed the ball out to Evan and sprinted down on offense. Dane called for play number three and Val struggled to remember where Lukas went for that. He saw Matthew line up on the baseline like he would normally do and then remembered he was supposed to be at the top of the key. By the time he got there, the play fell apart and the Tigers stole a pass from Matthew and executed a nice fast break to score easily.

"What were you doing?" Dane asked with an annoyed tone.

"I was confused at first. I've never played this position. Sorry." Dane shrugged and moved out to take the pass over the center court line from Evan, who brought the ball up. Dane called for the number one play and this time Val got in place and executed the baseline drive and was actually wide open for Matthew's pass which was way high and spun off Val's outstretched hand, careening out of bounds.

Val and Matthew both continued playing decent defense but struggled on offense. On play number three, Val set up at the top of the key, juked his defender so bad that Val expected to see an empty pair of Nike's on the floor and was wide open for a feed from Matthew. The problem was that Matthew got faked out as badly as the Tiger defender did and unfortunately passed the ball right to the Tiger's defender instead of to Val. The shocked defender found the handle and then sprinted for an easy layup.

Time and again, the same thing happened with Matthew missing pass after pass and at half time, the Tigers were winning 34 to 26. Not by a lot, but the Tigers had been controlling the game especially on the defensive side. If the momentum didn't shift, there was no hope. Only their outside shooting by Dane, Evan, and Tyrell had kept the Conquistadors in the game. In the locker room during half time, Nick skulked in the back of the group. He'd gotten zero playing time. Even though he knew he wasn't going to be a starter, he thought he'd at least get some game time. The bench players who had come in only produced four points between them. Coach prattled on about execution and anticipating the Tigers' plays. He drew up several of their plays on the white board and explained how to change up the defense to prevent them from scoring.

"But Coach, what are we going to do about offense? That's where we suck," Dane blurted out.

"Look, we're in transition with the lineup changes. That will come as we get time to practice together," he said.

On the way back out for the second half, Val pulled Coach back and said, "What about Nick?"

"I just don't think I should reward him with playing time after what he did," Coach responded.

"Okay, I get that, but why punish the team along with him. Make him run stairs at the next practice or hang him by his balls from the net or something else that will be way obvious to everyone. Just put him in this game and give us a shot. I need him to feed me at center." The Coach just shrugged.

"Matthew, take a seat. Nick you're in at forward to start the second half," Coach said. Nick jumped up and pulled off his warm-ups. Matthew plopped down in his chair and pulled a towel over his head. Nick stretched quickly and then ran onto the court pumped and motivated.

"Just like in my backyard, dude. Feed the beast," Val said. Nick winked and nodded.

Nick looked up to see Noah, who was sitting with the pep squad girls, jump up and start dancing around and yelling, "Nick, Nick, he's our man. If he can't do it, nobody can! Woo-hoo!" Nick spun away and ran out onto the court, redder in the face than the numbers on his jersey.

Because the Tigers won the opening tip, Val's Conquistadors brought the ball in to start the second half. Dane called play number three again and Val moved out of the key to take the pass which he immediately dished off to Nick. Val juked right and spun left again and sent the defender falling off balance in the wrong direction. Just as Val spun left, Nick delivered a perfect pass back in and Val sprung off his pivot foot and dropped the rock off the glass into the rim. The crowd went ballistic.

Running back to defense, Val heard the crowd go crazy again and he turned to see Nick stealing the inbound pass and dribbling outside. Nick sprinted past the only Tiger behind him and Nick lofted the ball toward the rim in perfect timing. Val leapt mid-stride into the air and slammed a two-handed dunk into the basket with authority. The gymnasium exploded with cheers and clapping. The student body was stomping their feet on the bleachers creating a deafening roar. On the next possession, Nick smothered the Tiger he was guarding and the player nervously turned the ball over on a bad pass.

At the opposite end, Dane called for play number two and Val ran to the top of the key for the pass. He immediately dished it to Tyrell and spun into position for a rebound. Tyrell's shot bounced high off the rim and because Val had frontal position, he went up for the tip. The tall Tiger center named Short went up over Val's back and fouled him hard, but Val's tip-in scored anyway. Val landed hard and smacked his head on the floor with an audible thud. He lay motionless for a few agonizing seconds that felt like hours to everyone, as the entire crowd collectively held its breath. Val's mom shrieked and clasped her hands over her mouth. Tyne gripped the railing in front of him and bit on his upper lip in deep concern. Violet clutched Tyne's leg and whimpered in fear for her brother.

Slowly, Val sat up. He repeated his name and address and was able to tell the trainer how many fingers he was holding up. The crowd cheered and clapped for him and Tyne released his grip on the railing while Mrs. Hardcastle started to breathe again. Tyne looked down at the grip Violet still had on his leg and then reached down and pulled her hands free and placed them back in her lap. She just smiled up at him.

Val shook it off and stepped up to the free throw line and sunk the shot for an old fashioned three point play. Working together like a machine, the Conquistadors went on an 8/2 run to pull within a two point deficit. The lead changed several times in a close game up to the last minute. During a time-out, Nick drug Val aside and said, "Dude, that stupid Short guy is just a beanpole. He hasn't got any game. Just put your body on him and take control of the center. Push your way in and let me feed you on step away jumpers."

When the ball came back into play, the Tigers went up five points on a beautiful three point shot. At the other end, Val backed into Short and drove him deep toward the baseline. Just as Nick freed up on the perimeter and took a pass, Val stepped toward Nick and took a perfect bounce pass from him and spun and shot for a quick two. Then, at the other end, the Tiger's point guard was fouled by Evan but luckily only hit one of his foul shots, putting them ahead by four.

Val inbounded it to Evan who sprinted down the floor and nailed a quick three pointer and then it was a one point game. Coach Carlson called time out with 30 seconds remaining. He set up two last plays in case the Tigers failed to score and another one if they scored two points. He didn't bother with a three point scenario since then they would just have to immediately foul and hope for missed free throws.

As it turned out, the Tigers worked the ball around the perimeter trying for an open shot inside by Short. Val stuck to him like glue, not allowing a pass inside. On the third pass, Val recognized the screen that had tricked him on the first possession and he stepped to the side where Short came through. He got set and covered his package with both hands and took the charge as Short came around the screen and plowed Val over. Val took another major hit to the head as he dropped backwards to the floor. The whistle blew and the ball turned over to the Conquistadors on the offensive charging foul. The building shook with the roars of the crowd. Val grabbed his head from the intense pain. Things went blurry for a second or two but he forced himself to get up. He didn't want to risk getting taken out, so he put his hands on his knees and pretended he was out of breath while his vision cleared. Noah was standing up in the bleachers with the pep squad girls and doing the arm motions right along with them screaming at the top of his lungs, "Go, Fight, Win!"

Play started again as Evan dribbled the ball on the final possession, and Val checked the clock. Only 18 seconds remained. Val easily pushed Short out of the key and Evan passed the ball over to Nick, who passed it right back to Evan, who threw up an off balance, bad decision shot that bounced off the rim. Since Val had cleared Short out of the key, he easily got the rebound and fearlessly dunked it to go up by one point. The roar was deafening. Everyone was on their feet yelling "D-fence, D-fence." Val looked up from the time-out huddle and saw Tyne sitting by his family. He smiled and gave a little wave. His entire family waved back as did Tyne.

The Tigers brought the ball in at mid-court after their final time-out with only five seconds left. The Conquistadors manned up and Nick ended up guarding the Tiger's outside shooter. The shooter sprinted through a screen and Nick had to slide around it just as the man he was supposed to be guarding took the inbound pass and set up to take the final shot for the win. Nick crouched and sprung seemingly higher than Blake Griffin on the Clippers ever has to swat the ball out. The ball flew into the stands, rejected with authority. Nick watched in awe of himself as the ball soared over the team bench toward the pep squad section headed directly toward Noah. Once again, the crowd went freaking wild. Nick landed on his feet just out of bounds and looked up just in time to see the ball barreling directly into Noah's head, who was oblivious to it. He had both hands in the air, waving his little sword and doing his flamboyant victory dance when the impact to his head sent his plastic, gold, Conquistador helmet flying off with tufts of red plumage scattered everywhere. Poor Noah dropped faster than Val dropped Lizzy behind the wood shop and the pep squad girls screamed and clustered around. Nick cringed over it all and was about to run up into the bleachers to check on him just as the team swept Nick up and started hugging him. They boosted Nick on their shoulders and carried him off the court.

Val's family and Tyne made their way down to the court and once he spotted them, Val broke from the team celebration and grabbed Violet, spinning her around. Val hugged his mom and traded back slaps with his dad. Then in the excitement of it all, he grabbed Tyne and spun him around like he had Violet. Tyne had no idea how to react and when he collected himself, he just stepped back and laughed. "Thanks for coming, dude," Val said to Tyne.

"I'm sorry I haven't been to more of your games. It was great. I've been totally missing out. You were fantastic, especially in the second half," Tyne said. Tyne stepped back again and observed as Val's dad heaped praise on his son, recounting play after play where Val had come through. It left Tyne happy for Val and a bit sad for himself. He suddenly felt the loss of his father more intensely than he had in some time. Tyne sighed and then began to take in the beauty of Val's body as he watched him interact with his father. He was suddenly struck by how extraordinarily sexy Val was as he stood there with his solid traps extending from his thick neck down to his broad round shoulders ballooning out of his jersey. The white straps of his basketball jersey crossing over his pronounced collar bone contrasted nicely with his slightly flushed skin. A sheen of drying sweat glistened off every muscle and crease. His perfectly formed biceps flexed and expanded as he motioned with his hands in conversation with his father. The most stunning and titillating sight, however was how the sweat soaked jersey clung to Val's well formed pecs, punctuated by his large protruding nipples at the base of each pec. Tyne squirmed a bit and then had to resort to slipping a hand in his pocket to rearrange Tyne junior, who was also enjoying the eye candy, into a more comfortable position. As he pulled his hand free of his pocket his attention was drawn to Violet who'd just snickered. She had been observing him and her look told him that she knew exactly what had been going on in his head. He felt his face redden and he turned away.

After several minutes of banter about the games and some of Val's more memorable plays, Tyne interrupted and excused himself to go find Noah for a ride home so they could get ready for the dance.

"Hey Tyne," Val said, stepping away from his parents. "I was thinking that I should come pick you up for the dance tonight and you could put all your stuff in my truck for the trip to the lake tomorrow. That way, you could just ride home with me after the dance and spend the night. We could get an earlier start that way. The fishing is best in the morning."

Tyne scarcely dared believe his ears. "Uh yeah. Okay. I'll ask my mom and text you if it's okay. I actually got all packed up for the trip already and I have everything laid out in the garage. I've got some great stuff for us to eat that I just need to throw into a cooler."

Meanwhile, Nick found his way to Noah and apologized for hitting him with the ball. "Don't be apologizing to me," Noah said, waving him off. "I am super thrilled to be able to take one for the team. You were magnificent out there. Oh my God, you're such a freaking stud."

"Okay, well I'm glad you're okay, umm I gotta go now."

"Oh yeah, you go. We'll chat later at the dance maybe."

"Umm, yeah, maybe. See ya later." Nick sprinted down the steps giving a few high fives along the way. In the locker room, a whole new celebration erupted as Nick walked in. The team was definitely back united and like it should be. The future of the season looked promising, as did the friendship of Val 'n Tyne.

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