by Cynus

Chapter 9

Travis and I sit in my room almost a week after I visited Donny. I haven't had the chance to visit Donny again, but he did send me a text after he the hospital discharged him. He's doing better, but he's nervous about returning to school next week. Hopefully I'll be able to help him, but only time will tell.

There's a definite spring in Travis' step as he bounds up the stairs, a pillow in one hand and a bag with a toothbrush and some medication in another. He showed up as my sister, Dad, and I were preparing dinner, and he'd left the items downstairs before coming to join us. Now that he was in my room, however, the sleepover seemed more a reality than it had a couple hours ago.

"Thanks for staying over, Travis," I say as he sets his stuff down on my bed.

He faces me with the broadest grin I've ever seen him wear. "It took some convincing, but once I told my grandpa that your Dad says Han shot first, I won him over."

I chuckle and reply, "I don't even want to know what that means."

Eager as ever, Travis says, "See, in episode IV, the first Star Wars movie—"

I put my hands up and shake my head furiously. "Ack! No, seriously, I'm good." Travis face falls a little, so I quickly move on to a different topic. "Did you like dinner?"

"Yeah, it was awesome," Travis says, patting his belly contentedly. "What did you do to that beef?"

"My mother learned how to cook some Korean food when she taught English there after college. It's called Bulgogi. It's sweet but awesome."

"And you did that?" Travis states more than asks. He stares at me with newfound respect then follows it up with a real question. "So you can cook?"

I nod emphatically. "Angie and I both know how, but I'm only actually good at the things I like to eat. Why cook something you hate?"

"I don't know. Cooking for company?"

"It was rhetorical," I reply, laughing.

Travis blushes and joins my laughter. "Oh. Sorry. So what else can you cook?"

"I mostly know how to cook different kinds of meat and potato dishes, but I can knock out a pretty good vegetarian chili or stew, too, if I'm in the mood. The slow cooker is my best friend."

Travis blushes again, and I almost want to pinch his cheeks for being so cute when he asks, "What does Angie cook?"

"She's way ahead of me, and can cook anything with a good recipe to follow, but she specializes in breakfast food. Her blueberry blintzes are delicious."

"I love, blueberries," Travis mumbles, his eyes growing distant. "I wonder . . ." He trails off, looking into space, then shakes himself awake and stares at me. His cheeks turn a furious shade of red, and he sits down on the edge of my bed, crossing his legs in his lap. He reaches down and adjusts his crotch, and I barely contain my laughter. Somebody let their fantasies get ahead of reality.

"You do have a crush on my sister, don't you?" I ask, staring at his crotch for a moment before looking up to him and giving him a knowing grin.

Travis won't meet my eyes, but he does answer the question. "Yeah. Does that bother you?"

"No. It's all good," I reply, laughing. "I don't know if you have a chance with her, but it doesn't bother me that you're interested."

"Cool. Um . . ." Travis coughs several times, then finally looks back at me. "I don't know what else to say. Where am I sleeping tonight?" His eyes plead with me to let him change the subject, and I decide to let him off the hook.

"Your choice, really. We can pull out the couch in the movie room in the basement if you want your privacy. Or you can sleep in here with me."

"Aren't you supposed to stay up all night during sleepovers?" Travis asks, finally letting a smile return to his face.

"Not if you have school the next day." I laugh at my own naivety and then amend my previous statement. "Well, you're not supposed to, but people do anyway."

"In that case, I'd rather stay with you."

"Cool. Then you can have the bed and I'll take the floor."

"That's not necessary."

"You're the guest. I'm not going to make you sleep on the floor," I say, crossing my arms over my chest. This isn't a battle I'm going to let him win.

But in a rare moment of defiance, Travis matches my stance and meets my glare dead on. "It's your bed, I'm not going to make you give it up."

I shrug my shoulders and counter, "Well, unless you want to sleep with your gay best friend—"

Travis mimics my shrug and cuts me off. "I don't mind. It's not like you're going to try anything." His glare disappears as his entire face lights up. "Wait, did you just call me your best friend?"

"Yeah. I did," I reply, dropping my arms and staring at him with wonder. "You really don't mind sharing?"

"Time to explain something, Clint . . ." Travis says, sighing as he stands up and starts pacing. I switch positions with him and sit down on the bed in the exact spot he vacated.

"Oh, this will probably be good," I say, smiling encouragingly.

"My grandparents, the ones who taught me not to swear or make dirty jokes?" He looks at me to see if I follow, and I acknowledge him with a nod. "They're both reformed hippies. And by 'reformed' I mean, they changed their ways enough to live in civil society. They're the most loving people in the world. I grew up with stories of my grandparents' exploits during the sixties, and trust me, my mind was exposed to LGBT issues long before I knew it was something a lot of straight kids have a problem with." He smiles at me when he turns back toward me. "I completely trust you, and I have no reason not to."

"Well then . . ." I trail off with a cough, covering up the emotion which threatens to take over my voice. With a deep breath, I regain control over voice, wresting it from my emotions. When I start again, I wear my usual grin and ask, "Can I trust you with something?"

"Yeah, of course!" Travis says, glad to have the focus off his own words.

"I really hate wearing pants. Can I please take them off?"

Travis stares at me for a moment, eyes wide, then burst out laughing. It's the hardest laugh I've heard from him yet, and it makes me smile. "Doesn't bother me," Travis says after a moment. "Besides, I'm going to see a lot more of you tomorrow in gym, right?"

"That's the idea," I say, grinning. Then I realize how that sounds and I add, "Well, not showing you , but . . ."

Travis raises his hand to stall me, and I let him break in. "Don't worry, Clint. I understood what you meant." With an appreciative nod, I undo the clasp on my pants and start sliding out of them, then toss them aside with a sigh of contentment. I lean back on my elbows, stretching out and giving my legs room to breathe when Travis coughs and brings my attention back to him. "Um . . . I'm not sure I should say this, since I just offered to share the bed with you."

I smirk and nod in understanding. "Already having second thoughts, huh?"

"No . . ." Travis protests. "It's that . . ." He takes a deep breath and blushes as he continues in a rush, "honestly, if you'd told me you wanted to do more than sleep with me, I don't think I'd say no."

I sit up straight and shake my head to clear it. Did I hear that correctly? Did Travis just say he'd have sex with me? "Huh? But you're not gay! You've made it clear a few times now."

"No, I'm not. But that doesn't mean I'm not willing to experiment. My Grandpa's not gay, either, but he's slept with a few guys in his life, and told me it helped him understand himself a bit better."

"Wow . . ." I'm truly speechless. This is the second time I've ever been propositioned by anyone, and now it's coming from my best friend. I take a look at him, studying the way he's standing there, courageously offering his willing self to me. Is he disappointed I haven't tried anything so far? Does he think I don't want to, because I'm not attracted to him?

He's wrong. I do think Travis is attractive, in his own unique way. His messy hair and glasses give him a nerdy appeal, but it's far deeper than that. I like the way his eyes watch everything around him; he always knows exactly what's happening. His loyalty to people he cares about would make anyone jealous of his friendship. He's great in many ways.

Travis seems to take my lack of words as a sign of my disinterest, and he quickly keeps going, trying to sell the idea of him to me. "Plus, you're my best friend, and if there's ever been a guy I'd be willing to experiment with, it'd be you."

But that's the problem, isn't it? Travis really isn't gay. He's just willing to pretend to be, because he wants the experience. I can see his reasoning, but can I really mess around with him for just that reason? My body, and my quickly growing erection say yes. But what does my heart say?

"Travis . . ." I say his name slowly, testing it on my tongue and lips. It's enough for me to gain my answer. "Thanks, but . . ."

"You're not that into me?" Travis asks, his smile fading.

"It's not that," I reply, shaking my head. I start to stand and realize my erection is still prominent. Travis notices, and his smile starts returning. I almost sit back down and try to hide it, but you know what? Fuck it. No secrets between Travis and me. Once I'm standing, I walk up to Travis and give him a hug. While I hold him there I give him a quick kiss on the cheek. When I pull away, Travis is blushing furiously, but I need to get the rest of my thoughts off my chest. "Travis, I think you're amazing in a lot of ways, but I'd rather have my first time with someone who knew he wanted to be with me. You're talking about being curious, and maybe if you decided you actually wanted to explore that a bit more, that you're a more than a little curious, I'd change my mind. But right now, I really like our friendship the way it is."

Travis reaches up and touches his cheek where I kissed him. He nods, though his eyes have a bit of sadness in them. "Yeah, I get it," he says quietly, meeting my eyes. "Maybe I overthought this?"

"I think we'd have fun together, Travis, but you don't react the same way to me kissing you as you do to the idea of my sister making blueberry blintzes." I laugh as I sit back down and then shrug. "Maybe your attraction will shift someday, but right now, I think we both know where your attractions lie, and it's not with me."

I don't know how Travis' face can turn that sexy shade of red, but it is definitely cute. He also hastens to sit down in my desk chair, so he must be hard again. If only his erection was for me, I'd be all over him right now. Travis catches me staring at his crotch, and it's my turn to blush. After everything I just said to him, I let him catch me? What the hell is wrong with me?

But thankfully Travis chooses not to press the issue any further, and finally changes the subject. "We've talked over the plan for tomorrow several times now. Do we have everything?"

"I think so," I say, pointing at a shopping bag to his left. It's from a costume shop in town, which is only open because of how quickly we're approaching Halloween. "Both the paint and the brushes are in that bag."

"Awesome," Travis says, looking back at me. "Well, then, let's have some fun. What do people do on sleepovers?"

"Do you like video games?" I ask, gesturing to the TV in the corner of my room.

"With these glasses?" Travis asks, wiggling his eyebrows. "Of course! What do you have?"

Travis and I play for several hours, switching from an FPS, Sworn Duty: Covert Ops , to a racing game, Drift and Drive 2 , around the halfway point. I'm better at the racing game than the FPS, but even after the switch, Travis still proves the superior gamer. He has a natural knack for drifting around the curves, and he took first place in nearly every match. I'm about to suggest switching to another game, hoping to find something I at least have a sporting chance at when Dad knocks on the door.

Without waiting for an answer, he opens the door. "Time for bed, boys. Clint . . ." I can see the regret on his face. This is why he should have waited. Silly parents, not learning to respect teenage privacy.

"Dad?" I answer innocently.

"Why are you guys not wearing pants?"

I look at Travis, who's sitting in his boxers same as me. He's blushing and trying to cover his body as much as he can with the controller while trying to avoid my Dad's gaze. Dad isn't even looking at him he's just staring at me, waiting for an answer.

The real truth is that Travis decided he wanted to even the playing field, and took off his pants after a bit of sitting on the floor, saying the fabric was getting uncomfortable. After that I took off my shirt, because it was hot, then he did the same. It was completely innocent, I swear, but . . . Dad doesn't get to know that.

"I'm trying to corrupt Travis," I say with sickening sweetness. "What's wrong with that?"

Dad looks at Travis at last, but keeps his gaze high and focused on Travis' red face. "Travis. Whatever he says, don't do it. It begins with walking around in your underwear, and then suddenly they hate anything cool like Star Wars."

"I hated Star Wars before I ever wore underwear," I say, standing. I reach for the waist of my boxers and add, "I can take off my boxers now and prove it if you'd like . . ."

"Yeah, Whatever," Dad says, raising his hand to stop me. "Goodnight, boys. You have a big day tomorrow, as I recall." He closes the door quickly behind him. I guess he doesn't want his proof after all.

"But it'll be a good one!" I call after him.

"I hope so," Travis whispers, finally letting the controller drop out of his lap.

"You don't have anything to worry about, Travis," I reply. "Sheila hasn't even bothered you all week. See? Our plan is already working."

"I guess, but . . ." He grimaces. "I don't want to see you get hurt."

"I won't. Come on; we'll feel better after we sleep on it."

He nods as I turn off the system, then he helps me put the controllers away. I turn off the TV and then point at the light switch, and he moves over to flip it. Before he turns off the overhead light, I switch on the reading lamp beside my bed.

I climb into bed, and Travis stares at me from across the room. The way the lamplight hits him then, illuminating his skinny body, it does something to me down below. He's put on a little bit of weight in the last week, since he's been able to eat school lunch with me, and he's starting to fill out. For a moment I consider amending my earlier decision not to experiment with him.

He finally walks toward the bed and climbs in on the other side, sliding under the covers and staring up at the ceiling. I make sure he's settled, then I turn off the light. We both lay there for several minutes, with my heart pounding in my chest. After a moment, he rolls onto his side, back facing me.

My pulse is races in time with the blood pounding in my dick, my erection throbs, aching for release. I haven't jacked off properly in weeks, since my dominant hand has been in a cast, and now that I have a nearly naked boy next to me, in my bed, it's driving me mad. I want more than anything to be able to roll over and take him, like he offered before.

Fuck it. I need this, and I'm going for it. I roll over, scooting up to his back. The tip of my engorged penis tents the front of my boxers and rests up against the back of his thigh, wetting the thin layer of fabric between us with precum. Travis stiffens as my left arm comes up over his side and rests on his hip. It's awkward with my cast, but my fingers don't know the difference as they trace down Travis' flesh toward the waistband of his boxers, waiting for permission to move even lower.

"Hey, Clint?" Travis asks.

"Yeah?" I say sultrily.

"I don't know how to tell you this, but . . ." he coughs lightly and says, "you're um, poking me."

Shit. That's not what I expected to hear at all. I guess the offer's been withdrawn. I roll back over on my back and stare at the ceiling, fear settling in as I stammer, "S-sorry, I didn't even realize I'd rolled over."

"It's okay," Travis says immediately. We're both silent for nearly a full minute, my mind racing to all the possibilities of what he might say next. When he does speak, there's a hint of guilt in his voice, which relaxes me somewhat. "Thanks for letting me sleep over, Clint."

"Anytime," I say. The silence which settles between us becomes thick enough to drive me mad, especially since my erection hasn't gone down at all. With a grunt of frustration, I get out of bed and walk out of the room. Teenage hormones can go fuck themselves. My right hand will have to do for tonight.

"Are you almost finished?"

Travis responds with an annoyed grunt, then applies more paint to my back with the thick brush in his hand. "This would be easier if you hadn't taken forever to shower. Your skin is still wet in places. It's making the paint run."

I roll my eyes and reply, "If you thought I could go a day without showering—"

"Without showering twice?" Travis snorts. "You're already going to shower in gym. I don't see why you'd need to shower this morning."

You also don't know how hard I came last night after I left the room, Travis. I sweated a lot, too, and if I hadn't showered this morning, you could probably smell the spunk on me from miles away. Of course, if you'd not rescinded your offer . . .

I wanted to say all that, but I didn't. No need to press the issue when I'm the one who rejected Travis first. Instead I say, "That's a whole two periods away! What do I do before then?"

"Uh . . ."

Before he can think of an actual answer to that, I say, "See? No good answer to that one. How does it look?"

Travis pulls back and inspects his handiwork. "Well, the rainbow is terrible, but at least the writing is clear."

I stand up and walk toward my mirror, turning around to put my back to it so I can see the paint across it. Travis did a pretty good job, considering my wet skin. The rainbow only has four colors, but it's all the paint I could afford, but the writing underneath it is the important part anyway.

" I'm gay. Deal with it ," I read aloud. "Perfect. And easily readable from across the room, I bet. Go over there and look at it." I turn around again and point to the far corner of the room.

Travis scoots over to the indicated space while I watch him in the mirror. He stares at my back and nods firmly. "Yeah, I can read it."

"Sweet. Okay, time to put my shirt on," I say, walking back to my bed where the T-shirt I selected for the day lays in a wrinkled mess.

As soon as my hand touches it, Travis reaches out and snatches it from me. "Wait, the paint needs to dry first. Let's snag your sister's hair dryer."

"Good idea," I say, starting toward the door. Travis beats me to it though and steps outside and into the hallway, wearing an eager smile.

He only gets a few feet down the hallway before he runs into the sister, and I hear them talking to each other. "Hey, Angie."

"Travis. What's going on?"

"Can we borrow your hair dryer?"

"Yeah, just give me a second and I'll bring it to you."

Travis steps back into the room and says, "She'll—"

I raise my hand to stop him and reply, "I heard." Travis nods and walks behind me again to inspect his work again. He takes his hand and wipes at the paint running down my lower back just as Angie walks into the room carrying her hair dryer. "Clint, what do you need . . ." She pauses and stares at me, looking me up and down and then glancing at Travis who hastily pulls his hand away. "Clint, why are you just wearing a towel?" She asks, then gestures between us. "Are the two of you—"

"No!" I say, rolling my eyes. "I told you, Travis isn't gay."

"I'm not," Travis insists.

"But you are," Angie says, gesturing at me as she hands the hair dryer to Travis. "What's this about?"

Travis plugs the appliance into the wall and I move toward him. "With any luck, you'll hear about it by the end of the day." I say, pointing to my back as I move to join him. I grab my desk chair as I go and set it down in front of Travis, then straddle it backwards so Travis can get easy access to my back.

Angie's shaking her head when I turn back to face her, and I know she read the words when my back was turned. "Is this another stunt like the locker thing?" She asks.

I shrug. "It might be."

Angie grins and replies, "Should I have 911 standing by?"

"Angie, this'll work. Trust me."

"Whatever. It's your funeral. You really haven't grasped this whole popularity thing, have you?" She glances up at Travis briefly then back to me.

My entire body stiffens as I consider jumping to my feet and chewing her out for that remark. Why can't she let my friendship with Travis go? Instead, I attempt to take the high road and say with a flat tone, "Thanks, Angie. See you at school."

She almost seems disappointed that I didn't challenge her, and she locks gazes with me for a few seconds, a question in her eyes. She nods to herself, apparently finding an answer, and then turns to walk from the room without another word.

Travis turns on the hair dryer and aims it at my back. As the hot air hits me, in a voice just loud enough to be heard over the dryer, Travis asks, "What's that about? Last time I was here, you two seemed to get along well."

I shake my head. I don't want to talk about this right now. "Nothing to worry about Travis. Keep drying. We need to get to school."

Travis doesn't say anything for a moment and just keeps going over the paint with the dryer. After a minute of silence, however, he says, "Clint, we need to talk about last night."

I wince. I don't like that hesitant tone at all. "No, we don't. Travis, I should have never tried to do that. When it came down to it, I made the same choice as Donny did with me. I'm sorry."

"No. No you didn't. I mean, you came on a bit strong, but you stopped when I . . ." Travis can't finish the sentence, and I glance at him over my shoulder. His face is pale and his eyes are filled with guilt.

"What's wrong, Trav?"

"Clint, I wanted it, too, but . . . I was scared. I don't think I'm ready to have a relationship with a guy. You're right that I'm more attracted to your sister than you, but you do mean more to me."

"I think I'm okay with that," I say, smiling appreciatively. "Maybe it's better we're friends rather than boyfriends."

"For now, anyway," Travis says, blushing. "Who knows what the future will bring?"

I smile back, then face forward again and say, "Who knows indeed. We won't know until we get there. Keep drying. We don't want to be late."

It's a cool October morning, with a light dew covering everything around us. You can smell it in the air, it's fresh and inviting, and mixes with the scent of fall. Leaves of red, yellow, and orange fall all around us as we walk to the school. It's a great day for change, as if the season is supporting my intentions.

But then the school looms before us, two stories and made of dark brick, imposing darkness in the middle of all that color. My heart pounds faster the closer we get to the building, and I stop along the sidewalk leading up to it. "Here goes nothing," I say to Travis who stops next to me. "I have to admit, I thought I'd feel good about this, but now I'm pretty nervous."

"I told you," Travis says, chuckling dryly. "No one wants to shower when you're the only one doing it."

"I'm actually more nervous about coming out. With how everyone is talking about Donny . . ." I shake my head and sigh.

"You're worried about what will happen to you when that attention transfers? You know I told you this was a bad idea, right?"

"Yet you still helped."

"Because it's important to you."

"I appreciate the help, really. Would you mind holding my backpack?" I ask, sliding out of it and handing it toward Travis. He looks at me funny and starts reaching for it, but withdraws his hand as I say, "This paint is kind of itchy and I need to scratch at it."

"No, you can't! That'll ruin it!"

"Come on, Trav, it's itchy as fuck!" I say, gesturing with my backpack again. "Please, take my—"

Someone hits me hard from the side, and I drop my backpack as I hit the leaf-covered ground beside the walkway, then slide in the dew covered grass. Dazed and confused, I roll over on my back, shaking my head to clear it. I vaguely notice someone standing over me, and as I regain my bearings I realize it's Brent, and he doesn't look happy.

"Yeah, and you better stay down," Brent warns with a sharp upward nod.

"Brent? What the hell?" I ask, staying on the ground while he towers over me.

"You visiting Donny in the hospital?" Brent asks, leaning toward me menacingly. "You better stay away from him, kid, or I'm going to beat you so bad . . ."

I stand then, despite Brent's warning. He won't get the better of me twice. I meet his glare with equal fervor and say, "Dude, Donny's my friend, why the hell do you care?"

Brent leans closer so he's inches away from my face and screams at me, "Stay away from him! Got it?" And then he turns and storms off without waiting for me to respond. I think about yelling after him, but decide it's better to let him be until I know what provoked his random attack.

"What was that about?" Travis asks while I brush the dew-soaked leaves from my clothes.

Before I can answer, a familiar voice addresses us from the side. "If it isn't faggot one and faggot two. Well, it's my lucky day. I get to beat you both." Travis and I turn to see Sheila standing there, cracking her knuckles as she walks toward us.

"What the fuck is your problem, Sheila?" I ask, standing my ground even as Travis shrinks back from her.

"I'm done with you, cast boy," Sheila growls. "This is the last time you talk back to me."

"Think again, bitch," I reply, standing tall as she dashes toward me. I don't even try to defend myself as she shoves me hard enough to knock me down. In a repeat of what happened with Brent, I hit the wet grass and slide along my back.

"And stay down," Sheila warns, standing over me.

"Or what?" I ask, rising to my knees as I meet her eyes defiantly.

Sheila shakes her head as I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Angie is moving through the crowd who has stopped to watch the scene unfold, and she's making a direct line for Sheila's back.

"Prepare to eat shi—" Sheila begins, but never gets to finish as Angie connects with a flying kick in the center of Sheila's back. I stick my leg out to the side and hook Sheila's foot as she stumbles past me, slamming hard into ground and sliding forward several feet.

Angie lands from her kick and follows Sheila's movement, walking up to her and planting a foot firmly on her back, holding her down while keeping her other leg as far away from Sheila's hands as possible.

"You think you can pick on my brother and get away with it?" Angie growls.

"Get off m—" Sheila begins, and in a movement too quick for my eyes to follow, Angie manages to switch from a standing position to a kneeling one, pinning Sheila's arms at her sides as she reaches out and grabs the back of Sheila's head, grinding her face into the dirty, wet leaves beneath it.

"Listen, you fat bitchwich, you're going to keep your face in the mud like the pig you are until you fucking apologize to my brother and his friend." Angie lets go of Sheila's head but remains kneeling on top of her.

Sheila isn't beaten yet, and she raises her head up again, spitting leaves out. "I'll fucking ki—" Angie sighs and takes hold of Sheila's head again, shoving it back into the ground.

"You'll do no such thing," Angie says calmly. "You're going to apologize to my brother and his friend, and that's the only way I'm letting you up."

I hear murmurs rippling through the crowd around us and see someone carefully picking their way through, attempting to get to us. I think she's an English teacher, though not one I've met yet. "Angie, there's a teacher coming."

"So fucking what, Clint? All the more reason for me to keep her here."

The teacher arrives a few seconds later, stopping a few feet away from Angie and Sheila. Two other teachers make their way through the crowd right after her, Mr. Cutler and an older man I don't recognize. "What's going on?" the female teacher says. "Let her up this instant!"

"Sure, ma'am, as long as you make sure she's not going to harass my brother again," Angie says calmly, not moving an inch.

"I didn't do nothing!" Sheila protests. Angie's hand twitches, and I know she wants to bury Sheila's face in the ground again, but her discipline keeps her from following through.

"She's lying," Travis says, and I breathe a sigh of relief. He's finally standing up for something, and he picked a great time to do it. "Sheila pushed my friend down, then threatened to do it again when Angie showed up and stopped her."

"It's true," someone from the crowd calls. I look his way and I think I recognize him from somewhere, but can't quite place him. I nod appreciatively in his direction while the teachers turn their attention to him. "We all saw it." Others in the crowd nod their assent, and several murmurs of agreement spread through the crowd as well.

"Is that true?" The teacher asks, turning to me.

"Every word, ma'am," I say, nodding in agreement. She looks at the leaves sticking to my clothes and I know I have her full attention. "I hate selling out another student, but Sheila's become a constant problem. This is just her most recent offense."

The female teacher nods and looks between Travis and me. "I may have to call you two down to the office later for a full statement." She then turns back to Angie and Sheila and says, "But you two ladies will have to come with me right now."

"But I didn't do nothing! It's those faggots!" Sheila protests. "They fucking did this."

"Certainly, Mrs. Livingston," Angie says, sliding off Sheila's back at last and standing, turning her back on Sheila as she walks to stand by the female teacher.

"I'm not going to the office. You can't make me," Sheila growls, standing and brushing the leaves off her body.

Mrs. Livingston and the two men behind her all give Sheila stern looks. "If you don't come with me, you're going to be in even more trouble young lady," Mrs. Livingston says in a firm tone. "Your language isn't helping your case, either."

"Whatever," Sheila snorts. "You can't prove nothing."

"The cameras can," Mr. Cutler says, pointing to the security camera on the side of the building.

Sheila knows she's been defeated now, and she loses some of her defiance as she walks forward to allow the teachers to escort her into the building. As she passes Travis, she leans in and growls at him, "I'm going to get you, faggot."

The teachers surround her and point toward the doors. Sheila turns her nose up at them and walks forward proudly ahead of them, with Angie walking stoically beside them. I consider calling out something to her like 'good luck', but realize it might be interpreted differently by the teachers decide against it.

Instead I turn to Travis and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Don't listen to her, Travis."

"I won't," Travis says, and instead of the fear I expected to see from him, he's smiling wide. "If she ever comes after me again, I'll just look for Angie flying through the air to save me."

"Let's get to class, Trav," I say, picking my backpack up and slinging it over my shoulders again. "This day can only get better from here, right?"

"Still going to do it?" Travis asks, staring at the showers in the gym with skepticism.

"Hell yeah. Why wouldn't I?" I ask, sliding out of my gym shorts. Unlike normal, I wore my same T-shirt for gym class as the one I wore to school. I didn't want to play my hand too soon, and dressing for gym could have brought attention I wasn't ready for. Now that I'd just played an intense game of basketball, however, I was sweaty and ready to get clean.

Travis shakes his head and says, "After the morning we had . . ."

"After that, I need a shower to wash the thought of Sheila off me," I say, shuddering. I reach into my backpack and withdraw the other items I brought with me to school, a towel and a small travel bag with shampoo and soap.

"All right, fair enough. If you're really sure," Travis says, shrugging helplessly.

"Yep. I'm going for it. Wish me luck."

"Good luck, Clint."

I grin at him one last time and then slide out of my boxers. Travis looks down and then looks away, blushing, but it doesn't delay me at all. I wrap the towel around my waist and tuck it into itself, then take my shirt off and discard it to the side. Now naked but for the towel, I pick up the travel bag and head toward the showerheads.

No one notices my movement at first, and I'm grateful for that. As soon as I reach the showers, I glance back at the room and see that everyone is focused in another direction, but there's a lot of them. All those people, who are about to change their opinion of me. It's a bit maddening, but at the same time . . .

It's all the motivation I need.

I rip the towel from my waist and hang it up on the hooks near the showerhead I'm standing under. This sudden movement alone earns me a small bit of attention, as several surprised gasps rise up from different corners of the room. Before any of them say anything, I put my travel bag up on the shelf beneath the showerhead and turn on the water, feeling the cold liquid splash all over me.

"Hey look, someone is showering!" Travis shouts, playing the role I assigned to him. That'll do it. I grin wide, even though I can feel their eyes on me as I put my back toward them, showing off the body paint which should be there. This moment should change everything.

"What? Who would . . ." Another student says loudly. "Hah! What a crazy fucker!"

"It's the new kid!" Another voice adds. And then the cacophony begins. The chattering of students grows louder, some cheering me on, some jeering me, and others simply expressing wonder at my action. This is going perfectly. Maybe I have a future as an exhibitionist, because their attention only makes me feel more comfortable under that water.

A loud whistle quiets down the crowd as Coach Peterson walks into the locker room. "Hey, quiet down in here. You all need to . . ." and then he notices me standing under the showerhead and does a double take. He switches his attention back to the rest of the students and says, "Hey, quit staring. Just because someone is adult enough to shower, doesn't give you the right to watch them. It's an invasion of privacy, so get dressed and go to your next class."

He leaves as soon as the class quiets down, but their murmurs continue as I finish shampooing my hair and soaping up my body. When I'm all clean and feeling fresh, I step out of the water and wrap myself in the towel as if nothing was out of the ordinary, despite the eyes which are on me. With a grin on my face I walk back to Travis and remove the towel from my waist, drying off my face, torso and arms, then sliding it across my back and butt as I stare at him, completely unashamed of my nakedness.

"How'd it go?" I ask before sitting down next to him, noting his stare of disbelief, and the color in his cheeks as he looks at my naked body. "I'm surprised, no one said anything about the gay thing."

"Um . . ." Travis says nervously, "that's probably because the writing was gone."

My eyes widen and I look at my discarded shirt. I flip it inside out and see the paint residue, mixed with a few leaves from my roll on the ground this morning. It must have all rubbed off when I slid into the grass those two times, and then put my backpack on over my dew-soaked shirt. All that effort, and I still failed.


"On the bright side, they definitely know who you are, now," Travis says, laughing as he looks at the other people in our section of the locker room and lowers his voice. "They know a lot about you, actually."

I sigh dramatically and reach for the fresh change of clothes I have in my backpack. "I know Coach Peterson chewed them out for staring," I say, standing to step into my fresh pair of boxers.

"Yeah, there were a few who kept glancing at you even after that," Travis replies, nodding. "Maybe there's more gay kids in this school than we thought."

"They might not be . . ." I say, pulling the boxers up and snapping the waistband against my flat stomach, then reaching for my new T-shirt. "Most gay kids would be scared to look. Any avoiding me?"

"There were a few of those. Most of the guys actually seemed impressed."

"Well, at least there's some good news. Guess I have to work on another way to come out, though."

"We'll think of something," Travis says, smiling encouragingly. "It was kind of fun to see the reaction. I think if I stick around you, I'll always have something to entertain me at least."

"Is that all I'm good for?" I ask, sighing.

Travis' grin widens enough to break his face. "No, not all, but it's definitely a perk of knowing you."

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This story was published before the 2017/2018 Writing Challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Locker" was issued. There are two places to register your opinion. The first is at the foot of chapter 1 because that is where the locker 'action' took place. The better place is at the end of the final chapter after reading the entire tale.

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