The Great and Special Test

by Geron Kees

"You're helping me at the school Fair for Life," Jeff announced, coming into the shed one autumn Saturday morning. "I volunteered us to Ms. Pichel. We're gonna be doing the ball toss."

Matt paused in his cleaning detail. The shed - once an old storage building, but now converted to their hangout in the woods near the border between their two properties, was in a constant state of mess. Two guys hanging about the place, eating snacks, kicking back, wrestling and romping, reading comics and magazines, watching movies, the occasional bit of sex in the old cot under the big window in the side of the structure - it took a toll on the place.

"You said you'd be here a half hour ago," Matt said, tossing a small pile of magazines at the other boy. "What's a ball toss?"

Jeff caught the pile, juggled them briefly in a little dance, then set them on the big crate they used as a table. "Ooh, temper. I woulda been here earlier, but Lisa was giving me hell and I had to let her wind down before it was safe to leave."

Jeff grinned. Lisa was his sister, almost three years older than his thirteen. "She got mad because Snert got loose and went in her room. You'd think he was Godzilla, by the way she acted." Snert was Jeff's Iguana. The critter was always getting out the big fish tank it lived in, mostly because Jeff would forget and leave the wire top off of it.

Matt laughed. "Did she scream?"

"Nah. She's got too much balls for that." Jeff's eyes twinkled. "Or whatever courage shit girls have instead of balls. But she did get a little mad, and I had to listen to it." He shrugged. "Public relations. I don't want her and my mom to get together on it, because I don't want to have to get rid of Snert. He needs me."

Matt could understand that. Jeff had a thing for stuff that was ugly or broken, wanting to protect them and help them. Snert wasn't broken, but he definitely fit the category of ugly.

"Uh huh," Matt said. "You didn't answer my question: what's a ball toss?"

Jeff sighed. "The ball toss is where people throw a baseball at a big board with a little hole in it. The hole is only half-again the size of the ball. If they get it in, it trips a sensor and this big arm turns and dumps some shit on a guy sitting underneath it."

Matt paused in his cleaning. "Dumps what kind of shit on who?" A suspicion was already forming in his mind.

Jeff grinned. "Well, it takes two guys to run it. One is the barker. He stands out front and needles people into spending a buck for three throws. It's a tough job, because you gotta push people a little and maybe get 'em mad enough to throw." He grinned brightly. "And then there's the easy job, the guy that sits under the arm, which is you."

Matt had thought so. "Nuh uh, no way. You're not dumping any shit on me. Find someone else."

Jeff came over, stood closer to Matt. "Please. I need your help, Matt. It's for charity."

Matt closed one eye and gave Jeff a look. "You had to know this yesterday at school. Why didn't you tell me then?"

Jeff looked at the dusty wooden floor. "Well - I was kind of scared you'd act just like you're acting now, and I couldn't deal with that on a Friday." He reached out, began fingering the bottom hem of Matt's tee-shirt. "Maybe I shoulda got Lisa to ask you. She's braver than me."

Matt had to smile. "You already told Ms. Pichel we'd do this?"

Jeff frowned. "No. I said I would. I said I'd get someone to help me. I was just hoping you wouldn't make me do that." He pouted. "I thought you'd want to be with me."

Matt felt his heart soften. He leaned forward, kissed Jeff gently. "You're a punk, but I love you."

Jeff grinned. "Who's a punk? I gotta bigger dick than you."

Matt laughed. "A whole half-inch. And it's a maybe half-inch. So what?"

"You wouldn't say that, if it was your half inch." But Jeff grinned, put his arms around Matt, and kissed him.

Matt sighed and took a big breath, filling his nose with the sweet-musky scent of Jeff's skin. He loved that smell - loved it like he loved the boy that wore it. So he let himself be kissed, and kissed Jeff back.

"What kinda shit would they be dumping on me?" Matt finally asked.

Jeff grinned, and his eyes sparkled. "I dunno. Last year they used molasses. Ms. Pichel said she would have to see what she could get donated."

Matt winced. Somehow he knew this was going to be nasty.

Jeff saw it. "It's not that hard, Matt, really. The people throwing the ball stand thirty feet back from the board, and the hole they have to hit is tiny, I mean, it's only half-again as big as the ball. You know how hard it is to get that sucker in the hole? You'll probably sit there all day and not even get anything on you."

Matt considered that. "Yeah, but thirty feet isn't that far. Little League pitcher-to-home-plate is forty-six feet. Someone will do it. Lob it just right, and in it'll go." He gave Jeff a look. "And your boyfriend, who you said you love, will get molasses all over himself."

Jeff's bottom lip pushed out. "I do love you, Matt. More'n anything. I wouldn't ask you to do this if it hurt or anything." He brightened. "Anyway, they can't lob the ball in. It's a pitching booth. They gotta throw it overhand."

Oh. That wasn't so bad, then. Matt knew himself from playing on the baseball team at school that having a good pitch that was also accurate was one of the harder skills for a guy to develop.

Jeff laughed, slid the bottom of Matt's shirt up and tickled his bellybutton. "Even if you get shit poured on you, it's just goo. You wear old clothes. It'll wash off."

Yeah, that was true. Matt supposed the embarrassment factor was what bothered him the most. Getting gunked in front of kids from school meant getting kidded about it for some time to come.

Jeff licked his lips, and there was something of the devil in his eyes. "Consider it a test, Matt. A...a great and special test."

Matt laughed. Here we go. "Okay. What's great and special about it?"

Jeff's grin compressed, but refused to go away. "Well, the great part is obvious. You sit out there in front of everybody and maybe get gunked. But it's for charity, so it's cool."

"Uh huh," Matt said. "And what's the special part?"

Jeff's eye sparkled. "Well...that's a secret. It depends on how the day at the fair goes. But I promise you you'll know at the end of that day."

Matt felt a smile slowly spread across his face. "Will it be something I like?"

"I think so."

Matt nodded. "Like maybe involving my dick and your mouth?"

Jeff nodded. "Sure. If you spend all day there and no one gunks you, I'll suck your nuts out through your hose."

Matt laughed. "And what if I do get gunked?"

"Then you'll have to wait and see," Jeff said. "But I promise it'll be the special test I mentioned."

Matt was intrigued, despite himself. Jeff never offered something he didn't pay off on, and his payoffs were usually of the warm and loving type that Matt craved. It wasn't really that hard to make a decision - he loved Jeff, and was going to help him, anyway. He just didn't want the other boy to always think it would be easy.

"Okay. I'm in."

Jeff grinned, leaned closer, letting his hands run up Matt's chest under his shirt. "I knew you would."

Matt sighed. "Maybe I'm the one that's the punk."

Jeff leaned against him, pushing him towards the cot. Matt backed up slowly, grinning. "Where are we going?"

The back of his calves hit the edge of the cot and he stopped. Jeff grinned, gave Matt's chest a little push, causing him to sit down on the bed. Jeff reached down, pulled Matt's tee-shirt off over his head, dropped it on the floor. He followed it with his own.

Then Jeff was leaning forward, crawling on top of Matt, pushing him down flat onto his back. "We're just going here," Jeff said softly, dropping his head and kissing Matt gently. Matt grinned into the kiss, took Jeff's tongue in, showed it a few things with his own. Matt was the champion kisser of the two, and Jeff was the one that got breathless first.

The other boy raised his head, smiling, his pretty blue eyes sparkling in the morning sunshine coming in through the big window. "Fuckin' beast. You kiss like angels beatin' their wings on my tongue, little heartbreakin' bastard."

Matt laughed. "Just takes practice."

Jeff nodded, "I need more of that." He dropped his head back, and they went at it again, until Jeff turned his head to one side and laid his cheek against Matt's. "I can't keep up, Matt."

They were quiet a moment, just enjoying the touch of each other's bodies. Matt was conscious of the way his skin hummed with excitement everywhere it touched Jeff's, and the crazy way his nervous system shouted I love you's over to Jeff's. Touching Jeff was about the most special thing Matt had ever done, and every time he did it he wondered how he had lived up to that point without it.

"Be too cold for the shed before too long," Matt said. "School just started, and fall is just getting rolling. Once winter gets here, we're going to have to hang out at your house or mine, and it's a going to be a lot harder to do stuff like we're doing now."

Jeff raised his head and looked at Matt. "Oh, I dunno about that. What if we brought a sleeping bag here and put it on the cot? That would keep us toasty enough to get naked and fool around."

Matt nodded. "Maybe. On the warmer winter days, maybe. But a sleeping bag is kinda restrictive. Just wouldn't be the same, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah. I do. Then it's going to have to be your house we hang at, mostly, because I got a nosy sister and you don't."

Matt laughed. "My mom is there all day."

It was Jeff's turn to laugh. "Yeah, but the way she geeks on her computer when she's working, she doesn't even know what day it is. She wouldn't even pay attention to us."

"Okay," Matt said, shaking his head in a contradicting fashion. "My mom has better radar than the air force. You keep thinking she won't notice us, right up to when she's banging on my bedroom door while we're naked in my bed."

Jeff sighed. "Man. Winter sucks."

Matt laughed. "Well, it's not here yet. It's still nice today, and it will be nice for another month or so. Maybe even two. So let's not waste the time, okay?"

"Sure," Jeff decided, his grin restored. "Whatcha got in mind?"

Matt shrugged, feigning disinterest. "I suppose I could always suck your dick."

Jeff managed to look equally serious. "Yeah. It's not much, but it's something. I guess I could always suck yours, too."

They both laughed, and the rest of their summer clothing came off in record time. Two pairs of shorts hit the floor, and soon they were flipped end-for-end on the cot, and each was doing their best to make the other happy.

Matt loved to suck Jeff's dick. The other boy had a warm and spicy spunk that was magic on Matt's tongue, and the just wonderful payoff to having Jeff inside his mouth in the first place. Matt worked hard, a labor of love, to bring Jeff to the point of orgasm.

When it came, the moment was golden. Jeff sighed, his hips worked forward, and then his dick was pulsing on Matt's tongue, delivering his juice to Matt's taste buds, which were overjoyed at the visit. The sudden injection was enough to push Matt over the edge himself, and he felt the funny feeling, the creep of imminence, that left his balls and worked quickly up the shaft of his dick, and exploded outward as spunk on Jeff's tongue.

The other boy continued working, sucking and rubbing, and Matt gasped and his hips rocked until he was done. They both relaxed, a kind of deflating, sighing, softening of their bodies, which had been hyped to the point of no return, and which feeling now faded to memory as muscles everywhere went on hiatus.

"Fuck, that was good," Jeff said, and then squeezed the last drops of Matt's spunk from the shaft of his dick and drank them down. "Mmm. Dessert."

Matt laughed, gently squeezed out the last drops of Jeff's juice, wiped them away with the tip of his tongue. "Man, I love the way you taste, dude. A pizza in every blow."

"I try." Jeff sat up, turned around, lay back down with his face close to Matt's. "Thanks for helping me at the fair. It wouldn't be the same without you."

Matt put his hand to Jeff's cheek, rubbed it gently with his fingertips. "Someone has to keep you in check. Otherwise, you'll take over the Earth and institute rules where all guys have to go naked and all girls have to wear blindfolds."

Jeff grinned. "Hmm. You give me pause for thought."

Matt sighed. "Won't work. Girls cheat."

Eventually they got up, put their shorts back on, and finished cleaning up the shed.

The weekend went fast, as weekends do when school is in, and Matt stumbled through the next week of classes with a certain dread, his eyes focused on the coming Saturday and The Fair for Life. The fair itself was being built by volunteers on the big back field behind the school , each attraction being erected in the grass out of plywood and whatever minimal technology was required to make them light up, beep, or move.

Jeff was one of the volunteers, and after sitting by himself in the shed Monday afternoon after school, Matt was, too. They would stay behind after school, work until four-thirty, and then Ms. Pichel would drive them home. By Friday afternoon, everything was just about ready for the next day's opening of the fair.

The ball toss was not a particularly complicated affair. It consisted of a countertop - a barrier - behind which stood the barker, inciting passersby to stop and take a chance at three throws for a buck. On the other side, thirty feet back, was a large sheet of plywood, painted like a bullseye, and standing at a slight angle, with the top of the sheet laid a bit back on props.

At the center was a hole, exactly half again the diameter of a baseball's approximately three inches. Behind the hole, at a depth of six inches, was a sheet of tough, pressure-sensitive switch pad, designed to be walked upon and open doors at commercial establishments.

Beside the plywood facing stood a latticed wooden tower, six feet tall. At the top, a rod fixed in two separated bearings protruded out about six feet, on the end of which was fastened a container, broad at the base and narrowing at the top, made of clear plastic, which would hold the gunk. A good gallon of the stuff, at least. More, probably.

The rod's inner end had a gear attached, which was connected by a circle of bicycle chain to a small electric motor with another gear assembly and a brake attached to the drive shaft. Everything ran off of a car battery, which sat on a wooden shelf at the base of the tower. A buzzer was attached to the circuit; if the motor received a signal to activate, the buzzer also sounded.

The process was simple. A thrown ball, if it entered the hole, would impact the pad, actuate the motor, which would rotate the shaft one hundred eighty degrees until the fixed brake stopped it, turning the container of gunk on the end downward. And at that point, the gunk would pour out on the poor, unsuspecting slob sitting in the chair beneath.

Which was Matt.

Great. The more he looked at the damn thing, the more he worried. It was a well-done machine, crafted by a volunteer father who worked in a garage. It was as well-crafted, in fact, as any electric chair, guillotine, or hangman's drop could be. Matt was sure he was going to see it in action, too.

"No, no, no," Jeff kept assuring him. "You know how hard it is to get the ball in that hole? Here...try it yourself."

They had nine baseballs, signed out of the Physical Education Department by Ms. Pichel. They sat in a small wire trashcan behind the countertop. Jeff grabbed a couple, handed one to Matt. "See if you can get it in, smart guy."

Matt was not quite an amateur at this. He was on the school baseball team, and had filled in for the Lightning's star pitcher, Chip Marcoski, when that boy had sprained his wrist early in the previous season; and Matt had an appreciation for the difficulties of putting that little ball exactly where he wanted it to go. He eyed the hole, which was actually a bit higher up than where a good pitch would be aimed - a point in his favor, actually, because it was also higher than where most people would naturally throw.

He stepped back, his head doing the math behind his eyes, wound up, and fired one off. It impacted the plywood sheet a good six inches to the left of the hole. It also took off a tiny bit of the paint from the bullseye, which caused Jeff to laugh a little nervously.

"Um, maybe we should keep that at one attempt, okay? I think Ms. Pichel might get upset if we ding the thing up before the fair even starts."

But one shot was enough, actually. It made Matt realize that no one was going to get him easily, not with that hole the size it was, and not at the speed of an overhand throw.

A thought occurred to him. "Hey - what's the incentive for people to do this? I mean, what do they win if they get the throw in the hole?"

Jeff smiled. "Oh, Ms. Pichel got some stuffed animals donated by the new toy store, and a few other things from stores at the mall. I haven't seen them all yet - she just told me about them."

Matt shrugged. "Oh. Damn. I hope the stuffed animals don't mean a bunch of guys camped out here trying to win one for their girl."

"Could happen. Stop worrying. If you get gunked, you get gunked." Jeff smiled. "There's always the special test if that happens, anyway."

Matt eyed him. "You still won't tell me what that is?"

"And spoil the fun? Hell, no."

Friday night, Matt slept poorly. Jeff had suggested that they sleep out together in the shed, and Matt had jumped on that, feeling a need to be held by someone all night long. He just couldn't get the idea out of his head that he was going to get himself embarrassed in front of a lot of people the following day.

Jeff had done his best to relax Matt. They listened to music and talked, and then had sex in the moonlight spilling in through the big window in the side of the shed. That part was fun, as always; but it was being held afterwards that was the most relaxing.

"You're wound up tight as shit," Jeff told him, as they lay together in each other's arms. "It's like holding onto a big snake."

Matt resisted the urge to say something smart, because he knew that deep down he was blaming Jeff for feeling the way he was feeling, and it really wasn't Jeff's fault at all. Matt had agreed to help out, and now he had to stick by the decision.

"I'm sorry," he said, making an effort to relax. "Can't stop thinking about tomorrow."

Jeff gave him a reassuring squeeze. "I'll be with you. If you get gunked, take a handful and throw it at me."

Matt smiled. "Nah. I'm a big boy. I'll make you pay off some other way."

Jeff nodded, was silent a moment. "Uh - did you get a chance to talk to Ms. Pichel today?"

"No." Something in the way Jeff asked made him nervous. "Why?"

"Um - she told me what she got for the gunk."

Uh oh. "Yeah? What is it?"

Jeff looked at him. "Chocolate syrup. Five gallons of it."

Matt almost grinned. Jeff was looking at him like he expected the worst.

"Heck, that's not so bad."

Jeff did a double take. "It'll be pretty messy if someone gets you."

Matt nodded. "Yeah, but it won't be sticky. At least, not at first. I was thinking molasses or honey, or maybe something even nasty, like gravy or dressing. I already knew Ms. Pichel went to the manager at the grocery store for the donation, so I also knew it was going to probably be a food of some kind. But chocolate I didn't think of, and that's not so bad."

Jeff looked relieved. "Cool. Man, that makes me feel a lot better, Matt. I was really worried about how you'd feel about it. After all, I got you into this."

Matt sighed, and kissed Jeff, putting a little love in it. "No you didn't. I'm with you - that's what matters."

The rest of the evening was slow, and the night long and comfortable, even if Matt did wake up a lot and had to readjust himself in Jeff's embrace. Jeff would moan a little, smile, and not quite wake up. Matt would smile, and eventually get back to sleep.

Saturday arrived.

They woke up just after sunrise, but lay there together for awhile, just being close.

"How are you doing?" Jeff asked, after awhile.

Matt had to grin. "I feel pretty good, actually. All that worrying, and here we are and I feel okay. I'm just gonna get some old clothes on, and go and have fun. Fuck it if I get gunked."

Jeff looked happy to hear that. "There you go. I always said you were too sensitive."

Matt gave him a fake glare. "What's that mean?"

Jeff saw through the game, and just nodded. "Okay, I'll shut up now. Ready to get up?"

Matt had brought his old clothing to the shed with him the night before. It consisted of a pair of jeans that had holes in the knees, and had just seen better days. The tee-shirt was blue, faded but not excessively worn. He hadn't really had anything worse for wear than this - it would have to do.

"I have something for you," Jeff said, coming over after they were dressed. "Turn around."

Matt turned, and Jeff placed something around his neck, fastened it in the back. Matt reached up and fingered it - it was some kind of necklace.

"What's this for?"

Jeff came back around front, smiled. "It's a charm, for luck. Looks good on you."

Matt smiled, stepped forward. "That's worth a kiss."

When they were done, Jeff grinned. "Sure was."

Matt's dad had agreed to drop them off at the school at nine a.m. The fair started at ten and lasted until four-thirty, and they wanted to be there early to get set up.

When they walked onto the back field, they saw Ms. Pichel in discussion with a couple of other teachers. She almost didn't look like herself, she was dressed so informally. They were used to seeing her in teacher get-up, and it was a little surprising to see her dressed as a regular person.

She waved, and they waved back, and they went on over to the ball toss.

Matt looked at the old chair that had been placed beneath the gunk bottle. It looked like it had been swiped from the kitchen of someone who hadn't redecorated in the last thirty years. Someone cheap, too. The vinyl cover was cracked and peeling in small places, allowing the pitted foam cushioning to show through.

Perfect. It seemed somehow in keeping with its present mission.

He sat in it experimentally, looked up at the big plastic jug perched over his head.

Here we go, he thought.

Jeff got out the wire trashcan full of baseballs and sat it up on the countertop. Some of the balls were grass-stained, and one or two of them had broken seams. He put them on the bottom, figuring he could recover the good ones and let people use them.

Just before nine Ms. Pichel arrived, with a shopping cart full of gallon jugs of chocolate syrup, some teddy bears and stuffed dogs, and a couple of boxes containing sets of steak knives, sets of dishtowels, and several small mantle clocks. None of the stuff screamed cheap, but Matt was sure that it hadn't in any way broken the stores that had donated them.

It took a little doing, but they managed to get undone the two compression clamps that held the mount for the ball toss container onto the pivot rod, get it down, fill it with syrup, and get it back onto the rod and tighten the handles on the clamps to keep it there.

The next time Matt sat in the chair and looked up, it was to see destiny suspended above him.

People had already begun to arrive, but Mr. Simms, the building manager, had volunteered to stand at the head of the walk from the parking lot and hold people behind a rope until things opened.

Which happened soon enough.

Ten o'clock came, the rope went back, and crowds began to file in, laughing and smiling in the warm early-autumn sun. Parents and kids rubbernecked, straining to see what was there, and the more obvious stuff like the pony ride and the radio-controlled race cars became centers of immediate interest.

Jeff started his spiel, gently calling to and needling people as they went by.

At first, no one seemed that interested. Despite not wanting to be gunked, Matt began to feel a little wasted just sitting there, and mentally began urging people to stop as they went by.

Finally, an older man with a crown of gray hair and a skeptical look on his face stopped to look things over. "What's this?"

"Ball toss, sir," Jeff said brightly. "Three balls for a buck. Get one - just one - in the hole over there, and win a prize. Not for the unskilled, sir. Perhaps you'd like to try something easier."

The man looked at him, smiled. "Right." He reached into his pocket, drew out a wad of bills, peeled a one off the outside, and slapped it into Jeff's by then outstretched hand. Jeff handed him three of the good baseballs, and stepped back to watch.

"Just remember, sir, you must throw overhand. It's a pitching booth, not a ball game for little girls."

The man frowned, but nodded.

By now, several people had stopped to watch, standing behind the gray-haired guy and looking from him to the little hole at the center of the bullseye. Some were grinning, others were shaking their heads. All of them seemed interested.

The gray-haired man laughed. "I get the ball in, your buddy there gets that bottle of stuff on his head?"

"Yes sir, it's all part of the action. You get to gunk the guy plus you win a prize."

Gray-hair nodded. "This'll be fun."

He examined the hole with a critical eye, drew his hand back, and threw.

The ball struck the plywood face not an inch from the side of the hole.

Even from where Matt sat he could see the look of alarm that appeared on Jeff's face. First damn throw of the day, and the guy almost got it in the hole. Matt looked up, expecting to see the rod turn and the chocolate syrup come raining down upon him in the next few seconds.

"More right," Gray-hair mumbled to himself, taking another ball into his hand.

He wound up and threw, but this time the ball hit almost a foot away from the opposite side of the hole.

"Shoot." Gray-hair looked disgusted. Behind him, someone laughed - a little thing, but enough for a flush to appear on Gray-hair's cheeks.

He grimaced, focused his eyes on the hole, wound up, and let fly the last ball.

It impacted the plywood a foot away from the hole on the other side.

"Can't be done," Gray-hair said, his jaw tightening.

"Would you care to try again, sir?" Jeff asked politely. Matt could see the barely concealed relief his friend was feeling.

"Nah, I'm done." Gray-hair threw a dark look at Matt, like it was somehow his fault he'd missed, and sauntered off.

"Anyone else?" Jeff said immediately, smiling. "You there. You look like you have a good arm. Care to try your luck?"

And so the day went. The booth had runs of interest, where someone would throw and others would watch, followed by Jeff managing to coax someone from the ranks of the observers into being the next to try.

Then there were some dry spells, where they sat for twenty minutes at a time without a customer, the stuffed animals on the countertop somehow looking bored in the afternoon sun.

Around two o'clock Jeff stepped back and grinned at Matt. "We just hit a hundred bucks on that last one. Ms. Pichel said she'd be happy if we made fifty."

Matt grinned back. "I can't believe all those people tried and no one got a ball in."

Jeff laughed. "Told you it was hard."

The afternoon wandered onward. Matt was happy he'd remembered to use sunblock, as otherwise he'd have a good burn by now. There was no shade anywhere, and though the day wasn't hot, the sun was still potent.

It began to look like no one was going to beat the ball toss. Four o'clock came around, and interest in the booth had pretty much dried up. The word was out: too hard. Jeff came back to talk to Matt, and they were laughing at Matt's earlier worries, when a voice interrupted them.

"Hi fellas. Can I get some help here?"

Matt and Jeff looked over; Matt felt his heart stop.

A boy their own age stood on the other side of the counter, his eyes focused on the hole in the plywood. He was dark-haired, handsome in a youthful fashion, and had a kind of competent air about him that was being sucked down with great glee by the girl standing next to him. She favored Matt and Jeff with a tolerant grin, enjoying the looks of surprise on their faces.

But it was the boy that had Matt's eye. Chip Marcoski, star pitcher of the Lightnings.

He looked over at them again. "Well?"

Jeff cleared his throat. "Hi, Chip. What are you doing here?"

"I wanna order a hamburger. What do you think I'm doing here?"

Jeff nodded. "Um, three balls for a buck."

Chip produced a note, laid it on the counter. He looked at the girl - Tami Tegler, his girlfriend. "What do you want?"

"A teddy bear. The brown one."

"Hear that, guys?"

Jeff nodded, and smiled, his confidence making a return. "Yep. You gotta get one in first, though."

Chip grinned. "Yeah." He waved at Matt. "Hi, buddy. I see that big bottle of glop hanging over your head. Get ready, 'cause you're about to be wearing it."

Several people had stopped to watch, most of them kids that went to their school. They saw who was about to throw, and wanted to see what was going to happen.

Jeff laid three good balls on the counter in front of Chip. "Good luck."

Chip nodded, picking up a ball. "Luck has nothing to do with it. This is gonna take some skill here."

He looked over at the the hole again, and Matt could see the other boy's eyes doing the geometry. A sinking feeling came over Matt - if anyone was going to get a ball in today, this was the guy.

Chip stepped back, did a quick wind up, and blasted the ball out of his hand.

It struck the plywood about three inches directly beneath the hole.

Matt winced, and Jeff looked relieved.

Chip nodded to himself, picked up another ball. "Okay."

The second shot hit almost in the same place as the first, but slightly off to one side.

Chip frowned, and Tami pouted. "You missed."

Chip smiled. "Oh, we're not done with this yet."

He took the third ball, fingered the seam absently as his eyes remeasured and recalculated.

He stepped back - and Matt held his breath.

The ball fired out of Chips's hand, hit the bottom edge of the hole with a resounding thwap!, and bounced into the grass.

Matt started breathing again.

Jeff grinned at Chip. "Pretty close, but close won't do it."

Tami gave Chip a sorrowful look. "We didn't win."

Chip took a hand and raised it, propped his chin in the crook between thumb and forefinger. "Sweet. Pretty clever, guys."

Jeff looked at him. "What do you mean?"

Chip pointed at the bullseye. "That hole. It's about a foot higher than I would normally pitch to anybody that was under seven feet tall. It's just enough outside the box to throw me off."

"Can't win 'em all,"Jeff said brightly. "You came closer than anyone else today."

Chip reached into his pocket and produced another dollar. "Any rule that says I can't go again?"

Jeff swallowed. ""

Chip grinned and tapped his fingers on the countertop. Jeff sighed, pulled three more balls from the wire trashcan, laid them out in front of Chip.

Matt took a deep breath. This was it. This was the one. He felt it.

Chip took his time with the first ball, working his shoulder in a slow circle, his eyes measuring and his internal computer calculating distance and force.

He stepped back, and Matt tensed. The crowd behind Chip was quiet, watching. The pitcher took a deep, slow breath, let it out, wound up, and took his shot.

The ball hit the edge of the hole and caromed like a slightly missed billiards shot off the side pocket, hit the other side of the hole, and bounced backwards into the grass. Jeff stared, his mouth open, at the close call. Matt sighed, air blowing through his lips in a vibrating buzz of relief.

Chip just nodded. "Almost there."

He picked up the next ball. Tami rubbed his arm a second in support, and Chip grinned at her. "The brown one, right?"

Tami nodded, smiling.

Matt closed his eyes, unable to watch. On some level he was annoyed that this had to happen; on another he was pleased, admiring of Chip's ability. There was something in Matt that appreciated cuteness and talent when it was all in one package.

At the last second he had to open his eyes again.

Chip was on the wind, his body going back, his leg coming up; and then his body surged forward and the ball erupted from his hand in an absolute blur of motion.

There was a fierce thwap! - and then the buzzer sounded.

Matt heard a whirring sound and cringed, leaning slightly forward; and then it was coming down on him, a gooey, runny stream that landed on top of his head, ran down the front of his shoulders, and down his back. Most went down the back, in fact; leaning forward at the last second had saved his face from immediate coverage.

There was a further moment of silence; and then Matt heard clapping and cheering. He opened his eyes as the last drops continued to rain down on top of his head.

Tami was hugging Chip, who was grinning like he'd just pitched and won the World Series. Jeff was looking at Matt - looking quite unhappily at Matt, in fact. Matt just tried to grin at him, to let him know everything was okay. Jeff meant well, and Matt loved him. Fuck, what's a little goo between best friends?

And now it was over. Matt looked around, saw people pointing at him, some smiling, some laughing. But it wasn't personal - it was just funny. It could have been anyone sitting there, and the reaction would have been the same.

Jeff came over and looked at him, then up at the inverted goo container. He shook his head, looked back at Matt. "You okay?"

"Yeah." He took a finger, dipped it in the puddle in his lap, tasted it. "Hershey's. I'd know that taste anywhere."

Jeff laughed, turned and went back to the counter. "We have a winner!" he said loudly, picking up the brown teddy bear and passing it to Tami. She accepted it, hugged it to her breast, and smiled at Chip, who just could barely contain himself.

The outdoor PA came up at that moment, and a voice announced: "The fair will be closing in five minutes. We would like to thank all of you for coming, and for your generous donations to charity."

The crowd around the booth began to disperse. A couple of guys patted Chip on the shoulder as they went by, and two girls stopped to talk to Tami and examine the bear.

Chip came around the counter and walked over to where Matt was sitting.

"Hi, Matt. Um...sorry about that."

Matt just nodded, and managed to grin. "It's okay. If someone had to do it, I'm glad it was you. I kinda felt it coming the moment I saw you standing there."

Chip laughed. "You're a good sport, dude. Don't know if I'd be able to smile if I was there in your place."

Jeff came over, clapped a hand on Chip's shoulder. "You're a bad mother, Chip. That last one peeled the moisture out of the air as it went by."

Chip nodded, trying not to look too pleased with himself. "I got a little lucky, I guess."

Matt shook his head. "That wasn't luck. You had it right earlier."

Chip nodded. "Okay. I gotta take Tami home. My dad is around here someplace. I'm sorry he missed that."

He waved, moved off.

"You're a mess," Jeff said, grinning. But underneath, he looked contrite. "You're not gonna be mad at me, are ya?"

Matt grinned. "Nah. There'll be payback, but it'll be the fun kind. I'll just gunk you back with some of my own goo, if you know what I mean."

Jeff grinned. "Can't wait."

"Oh, look at you, Matt!"

Ms. Pichel came bustling towards them, a grin trying to supplant the supportive look on her face. She looked funny dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt - about as far from teaching mode as one could get. Matt liked her - she was one of his favorite teachers - and felt that the informal look she wore now only made her less like a teacher and more like a regular person. A friendly person.

"Oh - I heard the buzzer," she said.

Matt looked down at himself. "Kind of messy, huh?"

Ms. Pichel nodded, grimacing. "A little." She looked at Jeff. "Why don't you take him inside and help him get cleaned up?"

Jeff looked surprised. "Is the school open?"

"Yes. That door there by the cafeteria is. Just go on in and use the boy's bathroom in the hall. I had Mr. Simms leave the bathrooms unlocked in case any of the kids working today needed them." She stepped back and looked at Matt. "And this is definitely a case of need."

Matt stood and turned around, showing Ms. Pichel his back, where the balance of the chocolate had landed. The woman took a startled breath, shaking her head. "And it was only a gallon, too. Can you imagine if the container on the ball toss had held the entire five gallons they gave to me me? Or if several people had gotten a good throw instead of just one?"

Matt could, and it made him shiver. One gallon of thick, dark chocolate ooze was quite enough, thank you. Darn Chip Marcoski. There was always one in the crowd - one guy that could bust the bank. But he smiled - couldn't help it. Chip was good.

Not to mention cute.

"Go ahead, guys. It's going to take us a couple of hours to straighten up out here, so you have plenty of time. I'll tell Mr. Simms you're inside getting cleaned up."

She saw someone moving something that was staying, and charged off, her hand raised in alarm.

"Come on," Jeff said, giving Matt a light push in one of the rare areas of his back not covered in chocolate.

The crowds were starting to thin, but there was still plenty of people around. As they neared the school building they heard a shout, and turned to find a girl running towards them.

"Shit, shit!" Matt said, stepping behind Jeff. "It's Candace Munson, and she has her damn camera!"

The girl pulled up next to them, grinning. "I see you back there, Matt Kettering. You can't hide from me. How about a picture for the school paper?"

Matt peered over Jeff's shoulder. "Aw, come on, Candace. I'm a mess. I don't want my picture in the newspaper."

"I already have a title for it," Candace said, ignoring him. "Matt Kettering takes a hit for charity. What d'ya think?"

Jeff smiled over his shoulder at Matt. "Hey, that's not so bad."

Actually, it wasn't. Had kind of a macho sound to it. Unlike Matt Kettering gets gunked in front of thousands, which sounded like what happened to a geek when someone poured ketchup down his pants in the packed lunch room.

Matt took a step out from behind Jeff. "Just one, Candy?"

The girl nodded, grinning. "I can do that. Honestly, Matt, I think it was nice for you to do all that for charity. Come on out. I'll be kind."

Matt stepped out. "Where do you want me?"

Candy looked around, considering. "Just move over by the front of the building. That'll be fine."

Matt went and stood in front of the brick facade of the school, and Jeff went and stood beside him.

Candace smiled. "You gotta move, Jeff, or you'll be in the picture."

Jeff looked disappointed, but took a few steps away.

Matt laughed at his friend's look, and glanced over at Candace.

"Perfect," she said, snapping the picture. "Thanks, Matt. Don't expect the front page, but you'll at least make page two. But I don't have final say, so who knows?"

"Yeah," Matt said, letting the smile fade. "Just don't do me dirty and make up some other, stupid title, okay? I won't forgive you if you do, I'm telling you right now."

Candace approached him, gave him a sweet pout, and touched his cheek briefly with a fingertip. "I wouldn't think of it, Matt. Now go get cleaned up."

She whirled, hefted the little digital camera, and started off in search of other prey.

Jeff stared after her. "She likes you, you know."

Matt was aware of that. "She grows a dick she can come talk to me about it."

They went to the school building and went in, and down the hall to the first bathroom. The door was unlocked, as promised, and no one was inside. Jeff looked the place over, and smiled. "Ah, what have we here?"

The first stall was inside the door, just far enough inside that the door had room to open against the wall. Jeff took the big stainless-steel trash can that was parked on the other side of the room and started pushing it towards the door. "Gimme a hand with this, Matt."

Matt went to help. "What are we doing?"

"Making sure no one comes in."

They got the trashcan to the door, and Matt helped turn it on its side. Thus positioned, it slid neatly into the space between the wall of the first stall and the door. Jeff pulled on the handle of the door; it barely moved, not even allowing a crack someone could see through.

"Perfect." Jeff turned to Matt. "Raise your arms."

Matt did so, and Jeff carefully removed Matt's shirt, tossed it into a sink. He stepped back, grinning.

The chocolate had permeated Matt's shirt, and a thin coating covered his torso on parts of his shoulders, chest and most of his back. His hair was full of the stuff, and dabs of it showed on his face and neck. And of course, his crotch was covered in the stuff, from it settling into his lap as he sat.

"Nice," Jeff said, grinning even wider. "Good thing I love chocolate."

Matt frowned. "What are you talking about? Aren't I getting cleaned up?"

"Oh, I'm going to do that, definitely." Jeff came back close, grinned at him. "I'm just not sure where to start."

He leaned forward, stuck his tongue out, gently swiped away a line of chocolate from Matt's chin. "Mmm."

Matt laughed. "What are you doing, you nut?"

Jeff's grin expanded. "It's time for the special test I told you about. The one you'd get if you got gunked."

"Yeah? And what sort of test is this special test?"

Jeff leaned in, licked a spot on Matt's chest. "I didn't tell you?" His grin became enormous, and his blue eyes sparkled.. "It's a taste test."


This story is part of the 2016 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Chocolate Spread". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 7 April 2016 to 28 April 2016 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 competition home page.

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

Chocolate Spread
Please rate The Great and Special Test with the impressions it left you with

Either while reading this story, or afterwards, I found it to be/had/made me (Tick all that apply)

An emotional read
Written with rhythm and pace
Thought provoking
Well laid out (paragraphs etc)
Technically well written
Written with good use of grammar and syntax (this does not mean pedantic use)
Easy to read
It invited me in
I could not put it down
Cheering (made me happy)
I identified with at least one of the characters
It felt like it was about me. I know it wasn't, but it felt like it
The plot was tough to read. (a tough [good] experience, not hard to read)
Not just prose, but almost a 'tone poem'
There could be spelling/grammar/punctuation improvements
Interpreted the picture well

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