by Cynus

Stuck at 13

"You know the drill, Abram. Into the locker with you," Cassandra said, crossing her arms over her chest with a serious expression. Her eyes left no room for argument, though the last thing Abram wanted was to climb into his locker. Of all their friendship traditions, he hated this one the most. Confined spaces and he had never gotten along.

"Come on, this is the worst birthday tradition ever. I seriously gotta spend thirteen minutes in there? Can't we just go enjoy lunch?" Abram protested, looking at his open locker with a steadily growing nervousness.

Cassandra glared at him. "I did it last month when I turned thirteen, and Patricia . . . er . . . Paul and Everett both did it, too. You know the rule. One minute for every year. We've been doing it since the sixth grade."

"That was last year. It's hardly a tradition if we've only done it once," Abram said, pointedly ignoring Cassandra's stern gaze. She was the keeper of the traditions, the one who maintained the unwritten code they'd all agreed on back in their sandbox days. Well, everyone but Everett. They'd moved past the sandbox long before Everett moved into Casper Springs and joined them on the playground. Strangely, he kept the traditions alive better than anyone other than Cassandra.

"Yes, but we're making it a tradition ," Cassandra said pointedly. "Come on, if we all did it, you have to do it, too."

"The drug awareness people said I shouldn't listen to people who said that," Abram replied.

Cassandra rolled her eyes. "They also said you shouldn't be around people who smoke marijuana, but your parents are okay?"

"CASS! I'm going to kill you!" the high-pitched voice of Paul interrupted their conversation, but neither Abram nor Cassandra showed any fear at the appearance of the boy storming down the hall toward them. The rest of the students didn't may much mind, either, despite the glitter which covered Paul's upper body, a few specks even landed across his ample breasts, accentuating them in ways Paul desperately wished they wouldn't.

Although Cassandra didn't feel so bad about the glitter itself, she did bite her lip with uncertainty on seeing how distraught Paul was at the attention drawn to his female anatomy. Paul wasn't allowed to bind his breasts, for his parents had yet to see his gender identification as anything other than a mental illness for them to diagnose and treat.

"Paul . . . I see you got my . . . gift?" Cassandra said, wincing as she saw the genuine pain in Paul's eyes.

"This prank war has gone on long enough, Athos," Paul said through gritted teeth, pulling up short and putting a finger in Cassandra's face. Even in his anger, he still used her code name now that he was close enough to make her feel how personally outraged he was at the prank. Paul was too short to look Cassandra directly in the eye, but he managed to get Cassandra to shrink down enough that it didn't matter. "It's time we stopped this."

Abram liked the prank war. It was one of the fun traditions. Sure, sometimes it meant opening a homemade glitter bomb when you thought you were opening a Pringles can, but at least it was festive. He'd long approved of Cassandra's style and would defend her choices any day, though he preferred using more colorful techniques.

"Come on, Paul, the prank war is tradi . . ." he received a stern glare from Cassandra as soon as he opened his mouth and stopped short of self-incrimination. It didn't matter, of course. It was now two on one.

"Aren't you supposed to be doing time, Aramis?" Paul said, rounding on Abram with blazing eyes. "If you think I've forgotten what you did to me last month, guess again. I still double check the mirror every morning to make sure my teeth aren't blue, and I'm still not sure how you turned my bathroom water red."

"It's a gift," Abram replied with a shrug and a grin he hoped would charm his way back into Paul's good graces. Sneaking into Paul's bathroom before heading home for the night and slipping a non-toxic dye capsule inside the faucet head was one of his crowning achievements in the prank wars. He'd gone a step further and added blue food coloring inside Paul's toothpaste tube, and Paul had shown up to school the next day with blue teeth and scared his house was haunted. "If you ever want bloody water, I'm your man."

"No thanks, I already have enough blood as is," Paul said, grimacing as he glanced back at Cassandra. "How the hell are girls supposed to put up with this period shit? It has to be the most inconvenient part about being born one. I am ready to be done with my vagina now . . ."

"Dude!" Abram said, blushing at the mention of the v-word. "Can we not talk about that in public?"

"What? My transition is bothering you?" Paul asked with a glare.

Abram shook his head firmly. "No, just . . . vaginas are gross."

"I couldn't agree more," Paul said.

Cassandra snorted. "I happen to enjoy mine."

"Athos!" Abram said, covering his face with his hands. He peeked through his fingers at Paul and said, "Porthos, why'd you have to bring it up? This is so embarrassing!"

"I wouldn't have had to bring it up if Athos hadn't put a damn glitter-bomb in my lunch," Paul said. "Literally everyone is staring at my breasts now."

"No one is staring at your breasts," Cassandra replied. "Have you forgotten that we're practically invisible in this school? Everyone ignores the four Musketqueers."

"Speaking of four, shouldn't Everett be here?" Abram asked. "If you're all serious about me doing this stupid tradition, the least he could do is be here. Our D'artagnan needs to stop being late."

Paul snorted. "We should just start calling him Dart for short, since he's always running to make it places on time. No matter how fast he runs, he still never quite makes it though, does he?"

"Speak of the devil," Cassandra said, nodding past Paul to where Everett approached by way of the cafeteria. He looked as sharp as ever, wearing his form-fitting black jeans under a black vest and white-button-up combo. Abram watched him come and didn't feel the least bit ashamed. They were all friends here, and they all knew he had a crush on Everett, Everett included.

Abram had been the first Musketqueer—the name the four friends called themselves now—he'd known he liked boys since he was nine, and he had the most open-minded parents who had taught him early that being gay wasn't a problem. He had a gay uncle and a transgender cousin, and both were accepted with equal love at all extended family gatherings.

He knew he had it good, though sometimes he wished he had it a little bit better and Everett would commit to being more than friends. Everett's darker skin and black hair intrigued Abram in ways he couldn't fully comprehend. He didn't think of his friend as exotic—no, there were several other kids of Asian descent in the school as well, and Abram didn't think they were exotic either. They'd grown up in the states just like him.

Of his friends, only Cassandra hadn't been born in the US, though she'd come to Casper Springs when she was two and only her closest friends knew she was originally Canadian. Paul wasn't out of place at all, as plenty of black kids walked the halls of their school, and the diverse population of the school made racial persecution rare.

On occasion, people bothered Abram about his half-Mexican heritage, but he knew he had current politics to blame for that. People with a last name like Sanchez seemed to have targets painted on their backs wherever they looked, no matter if they appeared mostly white or not.

But his friends protected him, partly because of the code they'd agreed on, but mostly because they saw themselves in each other. Skin color and background didn't matter to the Musketqueers, certainly not when they were already considered outcasts by the rest of the school. It wasn't sexuality which kept them from being included by their peers, either, but rather the thing which had separated the classes since the beginning of time. They were the nerds.

The four Musketqueers were smart, they liked school and learning, hated sports, and followed every obscure trend they could find. They shared a fondness for classic literature and attending museums. Only Cassandra played videogames regularly, spending most of her free time playing the toughest game out there when she didn't have her nose buried in a book. Paul collected stamps of all things, something Abram had heard of only from his grandmother. Abram himself spent most of his time playing imaginary games in his back yard, and sometimes his friends even joined him when they weren't feeling too foolish. And Everett . . .

Abram sighed as Everett approached, studying his face with barely contained awe. Everett liked drag queens and Broadway musicals, had the best fashion sense of anyone Abram had ever seen, and was an amateur YouTube star reviewing every single gay topic under the sun and rolling in the views. To Abram's freshly thirteen-year-old self, Everett was practically a god.

"Okay, I know what you're going to say . . ." Everett said, raising his hands dramatically, "I'm late. But why isn't Abram in the locker already? By my calculations, he should've already come out by now."

Cassandra harrumphed and said, "He won't go in. Says it's a stupid tradition."

Everett fully knew the power he had over Abram, as did the others. Paul and Cassandra watched with amusement as Everett stepped up to Abram, reaching up to Abram's cheek and whispering in a sultry voice. "Abram . . . Do it. For me?"

Abram shuddered and pulled away, feeling his whole body tremble from the tactile contact. "Fuck . . ." he groaned, turning away so they wouldn't see his steadily growing boner.

"Stupid boyfriend powers," Paul grumbled.

"We are not boyfriends," Abram said. Not matter how much he wished otherwise, he didn't want Everett to think he thought of them as boyfriends. Abram's parents had long-instilled in him a devotion to honesty and wishing for a different reality never made it happen. "Just because we're both gay—"

"Hey, I never committed to that label," Everett interrupted.

Abram sighed and resumed chastising Paul. "Okay fine, just because I'm gay and Everett likes some boys, doesn't mean we're—"

Everett interrupted Abram again. "I mean, there are some girls out there who—"

"D'artagnan," Paul snapped. "Shut up, or we'll run out of time. He needs to get in the locker now, or there won't be any time left in lunch by the time he gets out. We've only got fifteen minutes left, that's only two to spare." He turned back to Abram and said. "Now, keep up your end of the bargain. We all agreed to do this, and isn't the Musketqueer code important to you?"

"All for fun and fun for all?" Abram said. "You're really going to pull out that tired old phrase? This has never been 'fun' for me."

"Well, we all did it for your enjoyment," Cassandra said pointedly. "Turnabout is fair play, Aramis."

"Fuck it, fine," Abram said, opening his locker then turning back to face his three friends. "But this is the last time. We're even after I do this. I'm the youngest, so that means once I'm done we're all on equal footing, right? I'm calling veto once we're square."

Cassandra, Paul, and Everett shared a look before turning back to Abram. "We'll talk after you keep up your end of the bargain," Everett said, but then smiled and added, "You are soooo cute when you're put out."

Abram's erection sprang fully to life, and he turned away from them again, slipping out of his jacket. Then he turned back to them again and flipped them off before climbing backwards into his locker. He let the door close most of the way, but he refused to be in total darkness and left it open a crack.

Taking several calming breaths, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, trying to forget he was trapped in a little box. As his body hit the metal of the locker, something moved near his ear, and another near his right arm. In the dim light left to him, they looked like little shadowy spiders.

Abram was done in an instant. "What the hell? Spiders! Holy fuck! God dammit!"

He tore out of the locker so quickly he ran into Cassandra and knocked her over, then went sprawling over her to land on the floor. When he climbed back to his feet, Paul was laughing next to a grinning Everett, and Abram wanted to punch them both.

"Relax, dude, they're not real. See?" Paul said, reaching into the locker and pulling one of the spiders from the wall. Now that Abram could see it in the light, it was obviously mechanical and not the least bit frightening. "They're these cool little robots I found which move in response to nearby vibrations."

"Fuck you, Paul," Abram growled. "You know I hate spiders."

"And you know I hate blue teeth," Paul replied with a twitch. "I told you I'd get you back."

Abram shook his head and replied angrily, "This is seriously the stupidest birthday celebration ever."

Paul rolled his eyes and said, "You didn't even finish your time."

"What the fuck did you say?" Abram said, stepping forward and pushing Paul with both hands with enough strength to send him falling backwards. Abram stepped after him, intending to shout all his grievances down at his friend, but a hand on his shoulder held him back.

"Whoa, Abram, calm down . . ." Cassandra said, but Abram reacted reflexively and threw her hand off him, pushing her back against the lockers in the same movement.

"Stay off me, Cass!" Abram said, glaring at her shocked face as he turned back to Paul. He caught a shift of movement out of the corner of his eye and thought Paul was coming up to attack him back and pushed out with his hand defensively as he turned.

"Abram!" Everett shouted as Abram's palm collided with his face.

"Oh fuck, Everett . . . I'm so sorry!" Abram said, covering his mouth with both of his hands as he finally took a moment to get his emotions under control. He looked at all his friends and saw the pain in their eyes and instantly regretted his actions. Everett shook his head and stepped away from him, gingerly touching his nose and inspecting it for blood. Paul remained on the floor, a look of absolute disgust on his face. Cassandra avoided his gaze entirely.

"Break it up! Everyone needs to calm down!" a voice said from the crowd who'd stopped to watch them at the first hint of a scuffle. Mrs. Forrest, one of the seventh grade English teachers, stepped around the students until she stopped to help Paul to his feet.

"Sorry, Mrs. Forrest," Abram said.

Mrs. Forrest's eyes narrowed as she said, "You know fighting is not allowed."

"Yes, ma'am. Things just got a little out of hand," Cassandra offered.

"I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. We're going down to the Ms. Jensen's office right now," Mrs. Forrest replied.

A chorus of voices answered, "Yes, Mrs. Forrest."

None of the four friends spoke as they followed Mrs. Forrest down the hall, but murmurs followed them for the first minute until they were out of range of anyone who'd witnessed the short scuffle. Abram hated being the center of attention almost as much as he hated tight spaces and spiders, but even Everett who liked the spotlight didn't look very comfortable now.

Neither did his other two friends, and Abram wanted to crawl into a hole and die. A nice, big, open hole with lots of space. Somewhere he could breathe and forget this ever happened. By the time they made it to Ms. Jensen's office, he was feeling more contrite than ever.

As soon as Mrs. Forrest set them down in the row of chairs in the main office and left to speak to Ms. Jensen, Abram broke the silence. "I'm sorry I got all of you into this . . . it's my fault."

"Sort of. I shouldn't have put those spiders in there," Paul admitted.

"It's okay," Abram replied with as much sincerity as he could muster. "I actually think they're pretty cool now that I've had a chance to calm down. Where the hell did you find those?"

"Cool Nifty Robo Gadgets dot com," Paul said. "The site looks really fishy, though, but I couldn't resist, and I had Uncle Jerry's credit card because he asked me to go buy him some candy . . ."

"He was stoned again?" Abram asked.

"Yeah . . ." Paul sighed.

"Well, this is definitely both of your faults, and not mine at all. I don't even know why I'm here. You pushed me and—" Cassandra said testily until Paul's snort interrupted her.

"And you coerced him into that locker," Paul said. "We're all complicit, Athos."

"I guess you're right," Cassandra said with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Abram."

"I for one am in the clear," Everett said. Abram turned to see his smirk and caught him rubbing his cheek at the same time.

"Everett!" Paul said scandalized.

"By that I mean, I may have convinced you to go in the locker, but I'm pretty sure punching me in the face balances things out. I'm good to call us even, if you are," Everett said, flashing Abram a disarming smile.

Abram returned it without hesitation. "Definitely."

Mrs. Forrest and Ms. Jensen stepped out from the principal's office. The former left the main office with a wave and the latter greeted them with a tight smile. "Good afternoon, kids. If you'll follow me into my office, please?"

Four solemn heads nodded in agreement and they rose from their seats to follow Ms. Jensen back. As soon as the door was closed, Ms. Jensen gestured for the students to sit and then took her own seat on the other side of her desk. "I understand you four were caught fighting in the halls by Mrs. Forrest?"

"Yes, Ms. Jensen," Cassandra said, "but it isn't what it looks like."

"It looks like four of my best students let one of their pranks get out of hand. Again," Ms. Jensen said with a slightly amused expression. "Because I can't think of any other reason why you four of all people would be fighting."

"That's exactly what happened, Ms. Jensen," Everett said. "We're sorry."

Ms. Jensen nodded and sighed. "Well, unfortunately, the rules are very clear on this. I'm going to have to suspend all four of you for one day. There is a zero-tolerance policy on this matter, after all. We're going to call your parents, too. But . . . I'll explain it was a misunderstanding and hope they won't go too hard on you."

She adjusted a paper on her desk and reached toward the cup which held her pens, a cup which was currently empty of everything but a yellow highlighter. Frowning, Ms. Jensen opened several drawers on her desk in search of elusive writing implements.

"Are you looking for a pen, Ms. Jensen?" Cassandra asked, reaching to her breast pocket to offer a black capped pen to Ms. Jensen.

Abram, Paul, and Everett spoke up in unison as they saw Ms. Jensen reach for the pen. "No!"

"Relax, guys, it's not full of confetti," Cassandra said. "I didn't bring one of those today."

Ms. Jensen took the pen with a raised eyebrow and nodded her thanks, then pulled the cap from the pen. A light pop filled the air and glitter and confetti showered over Ms. Jensen's head, chest, and arms.

"Shit!" Cassandra said, covering her mouth. "I guess that one was full of confetti . . ."

Abram's parents were lenient, and only grounded him for one of the three days he had off school. Cassandra had it bad, since she was personally responsible for getting the two extra days tacked onto their sentence, and she'd received two weeks of nothing but school and home. Paul would be gone for a week, leaving just Everett and Abram to hang out, as Everett managed to talk his way out of being grounded for any of it. Since his other friends were being punished, however, he didn't have much to do until Abram was free.

"So, three days of suspension thanks to Athos . . ." Everett said, chuckling as he sat down on the edge of Abram's bed, swinging his backpack into his lap, "but at least this will be an interesting story to tell our grandkids someday."

"Our grandkids?" Abram asked. "Yours and mine separately, or together?"

"Do you ever think about anything other than you and me being together?" Everett asked, grinning.

Abram shook his head. "Nope. We're thirteen. According to my parents, it's common to think about that."

"I admit, I've always admired your honesty," Everett replied.

"Thank you."

"I'm really sorry we forced you into that locker," Everett said, for once dropping his smile as his eyes grew serious. "In hindsight, that was messed up. I mean, if other kids did that to one of us, we'd consider that bullying, wouldn't we? And the rest of us would prank that bully until we were convinced they'd never do it to another kid again."

"Does that mean you're okay with ending the tradition?" Abram asked hopefully.

"Definitely," Everett said. "And, I brought you something. I had to get Kenneth from my biology class to get it out of my locker for me. I meant to give it to you at school but since we haven't been allowed back . . ." He opened his backpack and pulled out a wrapped present, handing it to Abram.

Abram excitedly ripped open the packaging and opened the plain box inside, then stared at Everett in confusion. "A bath mat and towels?" he asked, lifting one of the white cloths from the box.

Everett grinned and said, "Watch."

He took one of the towels from the box and walked into Abram's bathroom, waving for Abram to follow him. Skeptical, Abram stepped through the door as Everett held the towel under the faucet and turned it on. The cloth immediately turned blood red where the water hit it.

"No fucking way! That is so cool!" Abram said, stepping up to inspect the cloth. "And the bathmat does that, too?"

Everett nodded and said, "I know you love color." He grinned but also twitched nervously as he added, "I like color, too."

"This is seriously one of the coolest gifts I've ever received," Abram said, reaching out to offer a hug to his friend. Everett let him in and they embraced as Abram said quietly, "Thanks, D'artagnan."

"You're welcome, Aramis," Everett said, then his voice caught in his throat for a moment as he said quietly. "I've got one more thing for you."

Abram pulled back to look at him in confusion, but before he got the chance, Everett pressed their lips together in a quick but electric kiss. Abram's whole body seemed to vibrate from the brief contact, and his knees grew weak.

"Wow . . ." he whispered, meeting Everett's questioning eyes. "That was . . . unexpected and amazing."

"I think you're the most colorful person I know," Everett said with surprising confidence, "and I'd like to see more of it. Please don't think this means I'm gay—I don't know what I am, but I'm hoping we can find out together."

"You mean it, Everett?" Abram asked hopefully.

Everett's eyes danced and took Abram along for the ride. "Can I kiss you again to prove it?"

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This story is part of the 2017/2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Locker". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 3 to 24 February 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

2017 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Locker

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