by Cynus

Chapter 2


The cool water enveloped me, pulling me into its welcoming embrace. I let it pull me down, taking a deep breath as I sunk deeper and deeper until I was completely submerged. My feet collided with the bottom of the pool, and though one knee buckled and couldn't support my weight, the other was as strong as ever.

I pushed with everything I had off the bottom of the pool with my good leg, and I rocketed back toward the surface. Using mainly my arms, I swam upward until I broke through and took another blissful breath. Treading water with one arm and my good leg, I slicked my hair out of my face with the other arm and then glanced at the clock on the wall.

Fifteen minutes until I had to leave for school. This swim had been entirely too short, and I wasn't nearly ready to get out and leave the comfort of the water behind. The large, indoor pool attached to the back of my house was my sanctuary. It strangely served as the only true connection I had with my dad, though he never acknowledged it. We both loved it and spent more time in it than we should, by the accounts of all who knew us, but he avoided using it when I did, and, to be perfectly honest, I did the same when he was in it.

My friends often expressed their envy at my year-round access to a pool, and I didn't blame them. I don't believe I would have survived without being able to escape to it when I needed the solace of privacy. My father wouldn't have built a house without a pool, anyway, and he'd had the money to do it. When I went to dinner at Clint's house the night before, I'd spoken of my mother's job and how it brought us to Cloverfield in the first place, but it was my dad who'd made it possible. He'd financed the whole thing.

All my life I'd heard of my father's accomplishments. I used to worship him, when I was a kid, even though from my earliest recollection he never wanted anything to do with me. He'd wanted a son who could live up to his legacy, and I would never be able to excel at the things he'd excelled at.

My father had been an Olympic swimmer. He never medaled, but he'd made a lot of money in endorsements. He'd worked hard, on top of that, to succeed in other areas at the same time he was training. He attended Princeton, majored in Astrophysics, and then joined NASA. Although an injury kept him from ever making it to space, he'd been an astronaut for a number of years and had nearly made it up to the International Space Station.

He stayed on with NASA for several years until finally retiring, needing to distance himself from the dream of going to space which would never be realized. When I was younger and we lived out in this small Colorado town, I'd often wondered where my daddy was all the time. Our home served as more of a vacation home for him than anything, as he spent most of his time at work, but once he retired it seemed he had too much time on his hands. I wanted to spend that time with him, but for some reason my sisters, all three of them, always got his time instead.

"Zane? Are you still in the water? You're going to be late for school!" My mother called out from the door which led back into the house. I hadn't realized I was daydreaming and glanced at the clock again. Five minutes left until I had to leave. That was barely enough time to get dry, and my hair at least would be wet as I walked to school.

"Yes, Mom," I called back. "I'm sorry. I lost track of time. I'll be out in just a second, and I'll make it, don't worry."

Even though I was on the far side of the pool and facing away from her, I knew she smiled at that. She always smiled when I told her not to worry. "Okay. If Greg gets here before you're ready, I'll send him in so he can help you."

If it were anyone else, I'd think she was telling me I needed help because of my leg, but with my mother, I knew it was a playful jibe in a different direction. She knew Greg's 'help' would be to shout at me to hurry. He hated being late. So did I, but I never made as big of a deal about it as he did.

I had a good relationship with my mother, at least. We'd never butted heads on any issue from what I could recall. She saw my father's neglect of me and had risen to the occasion of being my champion. I wished she'd stand up for me with him more often, though. Of course, what did I know about what happened behind their closed doors? Perhaps they talked about me often.

After swimming to the edge of the pool I placed my arms on the edge and easily pushed up and out of the pool. Even though my small frame obscured it, I had a lot of upper-body strength from the years I'd spent swimming. My muscle was denser than it was thick, however, and so I could easily disguise my strength. I'd still likely be screwed in a fight, as my balance would forever be compromised with my defective leg. I hoped I would never be in a fight, but then I thought of how we'd stood beside Clint to face Donny's bullies. Maybe with these new changes in my life, I might just find myself in such a situation someday.

I reached for my towel and began drying off my legs so I could attach my leg brace. It was better to avoid trapping any water between my leg and the brace if possible, as it often irritated my skin if I left any moisture behind. I continued up my leg then dried my naked groin and crotch. Swimming naked wasn't just a passion of mine, it was something I preferred for the ease of reattaching my brace as well without having to worry about a swimming suit. I could do the same thing with a speedo, but I had an excuse to skinny-dip every day of my life, and I wouldn't do it any other way. I only wore a suit when I had company over, and even then I sometimes didn't, depending on who it was.

Once I was finished drying the rest of my body, I climbed into a nearby pool chair and set about attaching my leg brace. My hands moved automatically to set all the clasps and tighten it appropriately. I had over a decade of muscle memory in putting on different leg braces, and I could do it without thinking about it.

Naked except for my hardware, I shuffled slowly to where my cane hung on the wall a few feet away and unhooked it. Walking with more confidence now, I moved to the small shower room where I stored my things as I swam. My family had installed a few storage lockers in the room as well, though they were less a matter of security and more about providing a dry place for guest supplies. Whenever I took a morning swim before school, I kept my school clothing there so I could change quickly without having to return to my room.

First things first, I needed to shower and wash the chlorine off me. I sat down on the lacquered wooden bench near the shower head and undid my brace as quickly as I'd done before. I left it on the bench and then stood with the aid of my cane, then grasped the metal support rail which circled the wall of the room. The cane joined the leg brace, and I used the rail to support me as I moved toward the nearby showerhead.

I turned the water on hot, sighing pleasantly as it warmed my skin and refreshed me. Balancing on my good leg, I let go of the railing to run my fingers through my hair. There was almost no comparable sensation to having my hair slicked back by warm water, and I stayed like that for nearly a minute before finally reaching for the shampoo and soap. I lathered my body carefully, supporting myself whenever I bent over to make sure I didn't topple over. I'd been advised to shower sitting, but I'd stubbornly learned to do so standing, and I wasn't about to give in to my birth defect, certainly not after I'd spent so many years learning to do things the usual way.

Shampooing my hair came last, and after massaging the soap into my scalp, I stood under the water and rinsed everywhere at once. I've never been a religious person, but rinsing after a swim felt almost like a baptism to me. It separated me from another world: the private sanctum of my alone time in the pool. That world was washed away, and was replaced by the sheen of a clean slate, giving me a fresh start on a new day. I'd slip back into my private world the next morning, and then I'd be baptized anew as soon as I was done.

I lost myself in the water, loving every moment of it on my skin. All sense of time fled from me, but I sensed movement behind me after a moment and turned the water off to see who had come to interrupt my private moment.

A fresh towel greeted me as Greg stood there grinning at me. "Hey, you ready to go?" He asked. Despite his grin, I saw his impatience in his eyes. He was eager to get to school, and I should've been, too.

"Almost," I replied as I took the towel from him. I didn't bother to cover up my nakedness, I just started drying myself. Although I understood that most kids my age were nervous about exposing their bodies to their friends, I hadn't grown up that way. Not only were we a family of swimmers who often saw each other in similar states of undress to my current one, but I'd also grown up side by side with Gregory Anderson, and we'd swum together more times than I could count. Greg had seen me naked so many times it would take years for any of my future relationships to catch up.

It had been a good friendship for both of us through those years. He'd had body issues growing up, a byproduct of the cruelty of children towards the chubby kid, but I'd never made fun of him for it, and as a result he'd trusted me with everything. I never asked him not to wear a suit when we swam in my pool, but he rarely did.

"You're not even dressed," Greg observed when I was finished drying my hair. He looked me up and down then glanced at my leg brace and the locker I normally used for my clothes. I used the support rail to lead me back to that same locker and opened it, then withdrew the fresh set of boxers I planned to wear.

I sat down and slid into my boxers, then began attaching my leg brace as I looked up at Greg. "It won't take me long," I said, then returned my attention to dressing. I slipped into my black slacks next as Greg nodded and began walking out of the shower room as if showing his urgency. I ignored him and stuck my arm through the sleeve of the red button-up shirt I'd selected for today. I'd considered a tie, because of what we'd be doing this morning, but then decided I didn't want to overdo it.

When Greg turned around to question me again, I was buttoning up the shirt and reaching for my black dress socks, belt, and the well-shined shoes I wore with my suit. "Is there anything else you need?" He asked.

I answered his question as I tightened my belt and began putting on my socks. Socks were one of the most difficult articles of clothing to put on with my leg brace, and usually I did it before I put my brace on, but Greg had distracted my usual flow. "Yeah, I just need to get my backpack. I put it out before I started swimming so it would be easy to grab as soon as I was done. It's at the kitchen table, sitting on one of the chairs, you should be able to find it if—" I stepped into my shoes and finally looked up to see Greg standing with my backpack and suppressing a chuckle.

"You mean this backpack?" He asked.

"You knew where it was?"

"Yeah. Sorry, Zane," Greg replied, shrugging. "You're predictable."

I grabbed my cane and stood, then walked past him and said teasingly, "Asshole."

"Yeah, you'd like mine, wouldn't you?" Greg snorted and then smiled to show he was only joking.

I gave him a hard look and then took my backpack from him. "Let's go," I said once it was settled on my back. Flashing him a grin I added, "We can talk about your asshole as we walk."

"Heh. I'm pretty certain Celeste wouldn't care for that talk."

I rolled my eyes and gave him a knowing expression. "She'd join in and you know it."

I started out of the shower room and headed toward the door which led into the house. It was almost a straight shot to the front door from the pool, but I had a detour planned. I opened the door and let Greg into the house ahead of me.

"You're probably right about Celeste," he said as he walked past me. We started down the hall and he opened the front door for me. "Okay, let's get out of here."

"I have to say goodbye to my mom," I said, hanging back for a moment and nodding toward the dining room and the kitchen beyond. "Give me a second and I'll meet you outside."

I walked into the kitchen and watched my mother for a moment. She was standing at the sink, washing the breakfast dishes. My siblings and I often took for granted how much she did for us, and I bit my lip as a strange guilty feeling settled in my stomach. I walked toward her, intending to surprise her with a hug, but she turned around at the sound of my cane and caught me in the act.

Undeterred, I continued forward anyway and wrapped my arms around her, holding her for a moment before letting go and blushing. My mother raised a questioning eyebrow, but then dried her hands off on the towel hanging from the drawer next to her. She gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze then reached for something on the table.

She held up a manila folder I recognized immediately. It contained all the signatures I had from students and faculty who would support a Gay Straight Alliance at our high school. "Hey, don't forget this," my mother said. "You set it on the table this morning next to your backpack, so I figured it was important. I opened it to make sure it was yours . . ." She grinned and added, "Seems like you have some solid support."

I nodded as I took it from her. "Yeah. It's going to be great."

Although her smile remained just as strong, I noted the concern in her eyes as she asked, "Are you sure you can take on another project?"

"Two projects, actually."


I thought of Clint and couldn't keep my usual smirk from returning to my face. "Yep, on top of starting a GSA, I'm undertaking the task of tutoring a failing student."

My mother's smile changed slightly, as if she had just learned a naughty secret about someone. She knew I had a crush on Clint, and her tone demonstrated that much as anything else as she cooed, "Anyone I've met?"

"Someone you will meet, if I have my way," I replied. It was useless to hide anything like this from her. Unlike my dad, my mother paid attention to me. "His name is Clint."

"Is this the boy you went out with last night?"

"Well, it officially wasn't a date. I had to meet his dad in order for Clint to have permission to date me."

She chuckled and replied, "Sounds serious."

"He's anything but serious, but I do like him." My cheeks colored, but my tone remained steady. I could still be embarrassed about liking someone, but my mother was harmless in these things.

I heard the front door open and glanced that way as my mother said, "Okay. I want to meet him, when you feel comfortable bringing him over."

Forgetting about the front door I turned back to her and asked, "How about tonight?"

"I'll be here." She nodded, and then her smiled faltered at last. "Your father will be, too."

I shook my head and raised my hand in an attempt to stop her from continuing along that train of thought. "I don't care much about introducing him to dad."

She bit her lip and glanced involuntarily in the direction of my father's study. "I know, but I figured you'd want to be warned."

"Thanks, Mom."

"Hello? Zane?" Greg called from the open doorway. He showed me the time displayed on his cellphone and pointed at it emphatically. "We need to go, dude."

"Be right there, Greg," I called back.

As I started to turn, my mother caught me and pulled me into a hug, then kissed my forehead and let me go. When I pulled away she said, "Good luck today."

"Thanks," I replied. "See you after school. Hopefully Clint will, too."

Greg and I walked in silence for a while. This was abnormal, but not incredibly so. I figured he was simply mad at me for taking so long to get ready and left him alone. He'd get over it eventually, I knew, and it usually worked better for me if I left him to his thoughts.

Imagine my surprise when the first words out of his mouth were about something else entirely. "So, you're bringing Clint home already, huh?"

I didn't try to hide my surprise at all as I turned toward him. "Yeah. Is that weird?"

"No . . ." Greg said quietly. He kept his gaze forward as he continued thoughtfully, "he's your first boyfriend, though. I'd expect you to be a bit more . . . nervous."

"Nervous about what?" I replied, then my smirk was back as I added, "And I think it's way too early to be calling him my boyfriend."

Greg shrugged at that as if it didn't matter, then finally met my eyes. "Family? Taking him to your house, to places he hasn't been which are more private. It was weird doing that with Rebecca."

"It doesn't really seem like an issue to me," I replied. "It's not like Clint is going to be afraid of them."

Greg didn't immediately respond. We continued walking toward school, and for the first time I began wondering if there really was anything to worry about. My mother had accepted my sexuality without any issue, and my dad had ignored it, as he did everything else concerning me. My sisters were all incredibly supportive, though I doubted they'd be around for long if I did invite Clint over for dinner. They had so many different activities they involved themselves in, I expected I'd be lucky to see them at all.

But there was that nagging thought which my mother had also voiced, and it turned out Greg thought along similar wavelengths. "What about your dad?" He asked.

"What about him?" I replied without hesitation. It was an automatic response whenever someone brought up my father. Truth be told, I also didn't want to give any ground to Greg's worries, either, and I thought it better for my sanity if I denied any possibility of issues arising. "He wouldn't care either way. He barely acknowledges I exist. I'd be surprised if he even notes Clint's presence."

"And what do you think Clint will say about that?"

I shrugged as if it didn't matter, though the thought did it's best to raise my anxiety. "He'll ask me about it, probably."

"And what will you tell him?"

"The truth, I guess," I replied. This line of questioning was beginning to annoy me, but I knew if I refused to play Greg's game, he'd just keep going at it until I did. "Why hide the details? My dad's an asshole, and he'll never have any bearing on my life."

Greg snorted. "Hate to break it to you, but he already does. What are you studying in college again?"

My head jerked in his direction as I snarled at him. "Shut up, Greg."

"Okay, Zane," he said, stopping and raising his hands in surrender. "Just trying to be the good friend you want me to be."

"By pointing out my daddy issues?" I snapped back.

"Zane . . ." Greg said hesitantly, "you've got to stop living for him."

"Shut up, Greg," I growled, then turned and began moving as fast as my cane and leg brace would allow. Despite my attempt at haste, Greg easily caught up to me, but thankfully he didn't continue speaking about my father.

"Okay, I'll stop," he said after a moment. "About that, at least." I snapped my head back toward him and was ready to bite his head off when he continued with a smile. "So, tell me about Clint."

I sighed. Greg meant well. He always meant well, even if I sometimes wanted to strangle him. Unfortunately, given my physicality against his, I doubted that would ever be a possibility, so it was better to forgive him. Once I resigned myself to that course of action I asked, "What do you want to know?"

"I only met him briefly in front of the school, and the couple of times he and Travis have eaten lunch with us since then. He seems like a funny guy, but people are different when you get them at home instead of school."

I smiled at the thought of Clint crashing down the stairs and landing in a heap in front of me. "True, and he was. A little. Not by much, though." I then remembered him at the dinner table and the conversation with his dad, when Clint had grown upset about his grades. "I was able to see his sullen side, for a little while."

Greg grinned at that. "I bet he pouts."

"Hah! Yeah, he does. Kinda hot, too . . ." I lost myself for a moment in the memory of Clint's pouting face. Then thinking about his face reminded me of being in his bedroom, which led to thinking about how we almost kissed, which led to how he kissed me in front of his house . . . I shook myself out of the daydream and continued with my original thought. "Anyway, he was upset because his Dad implied he'd be grounded if he didn't get his grades up."

"Understandable. The only thing motivating me to keep my grades up is what my parents will do if I don't."

"I offered to tutor him."

Greg stopped in his tracks and I turned to look at him questioningly. "Wow," he said, giving me an appreciative look. He then smiled slyly and said, "Now do you really intend to tutor him, or is that just a way to get him alone with his dad's permission?"

"Who do you think I am?" I asked, feigning indignation.

"A professor trapped in a horny teenager's body," Greg replied without hesitation.

I grinned back at him and said, "See? I can do both things at once."

Greg snickered. "You crafty bastard."

My mock indignation returned as I replied, "Hey, don't insult my parentage like that."

"Pfft. Just insulting your dad. It's not like he doesn't deserve it."

"True," I acknowledged with a nod. "I was joking, anyway."

"I know."

We finally resumed walking, but the recent bend in the conversation distracted my thoughts. Maybe my dad wouldn't just ignore this one. It's not like I'd ever brought a romantic interest home. The closest I'd ever come was Celeste, and I was never romantically interested in her, despite her interest in me at the time. My dad had said nothing then, but should I expect this to be different? Would he care if he saw how I acted around someone I actually wanted to be with?

"Do you really think it's a bad idea for me to bring Clint home?" I asked after several minutes of silence.

It took Greg a few seconds to consider his response, his brow furrowed in thought. "No. I think it's a bad idea for you to introduce him to your dad. You should absolutely bring him home. You should probably do naughty things to him there, too."

"But . . ."

Her shrugged. "Your dad might turn Clint off. Be careful."

" His dad is awesome," I said with a touch of bitterness.


"Yeah, actually."

Greg shook his head. "Don't be. Everything happens for a reason."

"You getting spiritual on me again, Greg?" I asked, rolling my eyes.


"You know I don't believe in that. Why do you keep trying?"

"Maybe because I simply want you to consider something bigger than yourself?" Greg replied. "Doesn't have to be my god, but you should really take stock of how the world is larger than you and your family problems."

My eyes rolled a second time. "Gee, thanks."

"Zane . . ." Greg said softly. "You know I just care about you, right?"

I snorted. "Now you're getting soft."

"Hey, look at me for just a second," Greg said, gently touching my arm to stop me from walking. I turned to face him and he had a nervous expression. That wasn't something I was used to seeing on Greg's face, especially when he was talking to me, and it caught me off guard for a moment. Before I had time to question him, Greg continued. "My pastor had an interesting sermon yesterday, and yeah, I know you don't want to hear about it, but you'll do me a favor and listen anyway, won't you? I mean, we are best friends."

"Okay, tell me."

"He said it's our responsibility to share each other's burdens. Not just our fellow church members, but all of humanity. He also said that this had nothing to do with judging others or telling them they're sinners. Those aren't our responsibilities at all. Our duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves."

I gave Greg a blank and impatient stare. "And this has what to do with me?"

"You're my best friend, and I will always care about you, Zane," Greg said, his voice shaky at first, but then he gained resolve as he went on. "I'll always stand up for you and the great things you do. But part of my responsibility in loving you, yeah, I said it, is to let you know when I think you're making a mistake or on the wrong path. It might be hard, awkward, or uncomfortable for me to say that, but I need to or I'm not doing my job. I say this out of love, brother, not out of judgment. I think you're trapped too much in your own head, and you should really look around a bit more and see what the world could be for you if you followed your heart instead of your brain sometime."

"Which means what exactly in this case?" I asked, eager for him to make his point so we could get out of this heavy conversation.

"You can be jealous of Clint, but you don't know his whole story. You're not taking in the big picture. What's his mother like?"

I shrugged. "I have no idea. She died sometime before they moved here."

"And you don't think that has something to do with how their family works the way it does?" Greg asked pointedly.

I shifted uncomfortably and looked away from Greg. "Yeah, I guess."

"Would you be willing to sacrifice your mother in order to make your father more like Clint's dad?" Greg asked, and my head jerked back toward him.

"No," I replied carefully, "but how do you know it happened that way?"

"I don't, but neither do you," Greg said. "There's a larger picture than what you're seeing, and you can't base a judgment off such a small thing. It's like being gay. Your sexuality doesn't define you, right?" I shook my head and he continued. "The way a person's parents are don't define that person, either. Doesn't matter if it's your parents or his. They're just one part of the story. There's so much more to consider."

I waved my hand dismissively and turned to begin walking slowly away. "Whatever," I muttered.

Greg fell back into step beside me. "All right, be that way. It doesn't change anything, though. I still like you."

I couldn't help but smirk as I glanced over at him. "I thought you said it was love?"

"Yeah," Greg chuckled, then put his hand gently on my shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "That too."

When we arrived at the school, Celeste was already waiting for us. Over the ten years I'd known her she'd hardly changed at all, except for growing taller. She still wore her golden-blonde hair in a thick single braid, and her kind blue eyes shone with the kindness she showed everyone.

"Hey guys, what took you so long?" She asked, her tone neither impatient nor admonishing. Her smile showed it for the usual greeting she gave whenever she beat us somewhere, and I loved her for that. She'd been my other best friend for many years, and I hoped that would never change. We'd survived so much together, I doubted it ever would.

I walked up to her and stopped, nodding to Greg even as he closed the distance between them and reached out for her. "Your boyfriend was busy professing his love to me," I said.

Celeste rolled her eyes. "He does that all the time. What else is new?"

"Celeste!" Greg protested, stopping short of embracing her.

"Yes, Greg?" Celeste asked, batting her eyes innocently.

"You weren't supposed to tell him," Greg mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. It was all an act, and we all knew it. Greg didn't care what I knew about him; he never had and he never would, as far as I could tell.

Celeste laughed at his antics and drew him to her. "Come here you big goof." She kissed him on the lips and he responded with passion, putting his hands on her waist and pulling her even closer.

I stuck my tongue out and said, "You two are gross."

Celeste snorted and said, "And you're a gimp."

"True." I nodded, conceding the point, then winked at her and added, "but I can still swim laps around you."

She withdrew her arms from Greg and planted her hands firmly on her hips. "That's because I can't swim, you idiot."

I sighed and kept my gaze locked on hers. "Only because you don't want to learn."

"Yeah, sure." She rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. "It has nothing to do with a fear of water at all. I'm sure it's just my unwillingness to learn which is holding me back. What other wisdom do you have for me?" Her glare spoke volumes, and I probably deserved it, considering how many times we'd been through this before. I maintained a belief that she'd be able to get past her fear of water if she learned to swim, but the conversation never went anywhere near her giving it a try.

Still, she was obviously angrier than usual, and I needed to back down before the violence in her eyes manifested in more ways than just a glare. Leaning into my cane with one hand I raised the other in surrender. "Hey, I'm not trying to be a jerk."

Her glare faded slowly, but then she nodded and sighed. "I know. I'm just a little on edge. We're really doing this today, aren't we?"

"You know you don't have to, right?" I asked, smiling supportively. "You don't have to do it just for me."

She shook her head defiantly. "No. This is important to me. I'm not doing it just for you. What about the gay kids in this school who aren't as strong as you? We have to show them it's okay."

"You're not worried about what your parents are going to say anymore?" Greg asked. I'd been about to ask the same question, but apparently not only was Greg on the same page as me, he'd already read the next few paragraphs.

Celeste waved her hand, dismissing the notion. "Nah, they can keep being bigots if they want. I'm not gay, or bi, but one of my best friends is, and that's way more than enough for me to realize that we're all the same."

I closed the remaining distance between us and wrapped her in a one-armed hug. My emotions were still in check, but there was a bit of moisture in my eye as she returned the embrace. "Celeste," I whispered, "have I ever told you how amazing you are?"

"Yes, but you can say it again. Might help me get the confidence I need to go through with this today."

I pulled away from her and looked her in the eye. "We won't be alone. Remember that."

"Right," she replied, chuckling nervously. "But you're leading this, which means I'll be front and center."

Greg had quietly observed our conversation up to this point, and hadn't interrupted, probably because his morality told him that would be the wrong thing to do. He rarely took a step out of line from his moral standpoint, a respectable quality, even if I didn't always agree with the morality backing it.

Not that Celeste was expressing concern, however, he felt the need to interject and asked, "Stage fright?" Celeste nodded and her boyfriend grinned and continued. "You and me both."

"I've got this, don't worry," I said, glancing between them both. "You just have to stand with me."

"Well, I hope you're ready then," Greg said as he checked the time on his phone, "because we've run out of time to procrastinate if we want to do it before school."

I nodded and took a step toward the doors of the school. "Let's get this over with."

"Where's everyone else?" Celeste asked.

"They'll be here," I replied confidently, "but we might as well tell the administration we'd like to see them. It'll probably be a wait, and I'd rather we didn't have to wait too long."

Sure enough, as soon as I took another step toward the school I heard a familiar voice shouting my name. "Zane!" Clint called as he ran up the cement walkway toward me, his backpack bouncing up and down. Travis and Angie were right behind him, Angie jogging easily and Travis huffing and puffing. "Greg!" Clint said as he pulled up short next to us, then looked at Celeste and said, "And Celeste, right? Sorry if I've forgotten your name."

"Yeah, you got it right," she replied. "Good to see you, Clint."

"You too," he said with a smile as the others caught up. He turned toward me and his eyes grew a bit uncertain. His lips twitched and he leaned toward me slightly, and I smiled at him, nodding slightly. Somehow I knew he was asking if the kiss we'd shared the day before had been okay, and his eyes lit up at my answer.

He was about to say something when Angie said, "We're ready."

I wanted to pull Clint aside and kiss him then and there, but this time Greg didn't notice my need for a moment of connection with someone else, and he continued with the mission. "Now there's six of us. I'm feeling better. How about you, Celeste?"

"You know it," Celeste replied.

They started toward the school and I decided I'd make a quick move on Clint while their backs were turned, but then I heard another voice behind me and knew I had to address it.

"Hey guys," a feminine voice said. I turned around and saw an old friend standing there, whom I hadn't been sure would come at all. She'd become more of a loner over the past few months, ever since her father walked out on the family and her mother started going off the deep end. I knew she was depressed, but I hadn't known what to do for her; at least, not yet.

Rebecca Landon and I went back less time than Greg and I did, but I loved her just as much. She'd been the only one of my friends to accept my sexuality immediately after I told her, but that wasn't surprising considering she considered herself bisexual. She had a girlfriend in another nearby town, and her beautiful black hair and deep brown eyes made a lot of guys jealous of Rebecca's mystery woman. Despite our friendship, I had only met Megan, Rebecca's girlfriend, once, and she'd seemed nice, if a bit of a radical person. Some of that radicalness had rubbed off on Rebecca since I'd last seen her, as she now sported a lip ring and a streak of bright blue through her hair.

"Rebecca?" Greg asked. I glanced in his direction and he'd taken a step backward, glancing at Celeste who seemed equally taken aback by Rebecca's sudden appearance.

"Yep. Surprised to see me?" Rebecca asked, chuckling dryly.

"A little, yeah," Greg admitted, but then he smiled and said, "It's good to see you, though."

Celeste smiled, too, and that's when I finally allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief. She and Rebecca hadn't always seen eye to eye, especially once Celeste started dating Greg. Nearly two years earlier, Greg had dated Rebecca for a short time period, and it hadn't ended incredibly well. Rebecca stayed friends with me, but her friendship with Greg had taken a long time to recover.

"Zane invited me," she said, shrugging. "He figured I might be interested in what you're doing. Wish my girlfriend could be here, though."

"I thought she was moving to Cloverfield?" I said. When Rebecca and I had spoken a few weeks earlier, that's what she'd said, anyway.

She shrugged again. "Her mom's job offer fell through, so no luck. Are we doing this, Zane?"

I glanced at Clint one more time, and though my lips ached to touch his, I knew we were running out of time. I sighed and turned toward the doors. "Yep. Let's go inside. We have a GSA to form."

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