About the Author:
Talking about yourself is a cruel form of torture. Tall or short? Short. Big or small? Small. Blonde, green… Have I said enough? Or, did you want something like this?
Raised on the mean streets and back lots of Hollywood by a Yoda-look-alike grandfather, C. Kennedy doesn’t conform, doesn’t fit in, and is epic awkward and lives to perfect a deep-seated oppositional defiance disorder. In a constant state of fascination with the trivial, Kennedy contemplates such weighty questions as If time and space are curved, then where do all the straight people come from? When not writing, Kennedy can be found taming waves on western shores, pondering the nutritional value of sunsets, appreciating the much maligned dandelion, unhooking guide ropes from stanchions, and marveling at all things ordinary.
The lunch bell rings and Caleb bolts from his seat. Once in the hall, he pulls his cellular from his pocket and rereads the text message from his dad. Man, I’m in so much shit, Caleb thinks morosely. He races to his locker and prays that Nico will be there waiting for him. He rounds the corner and searches through the bustling, milling students. Nico isn’t there. Crap. He needs to find him, and quick. He jogs to his locker, spins the combination lock, and curses under his breath when it won’t open. He stresses and has to do it three times before he gets the damn locker open. Be easy, Caleb. It isn’t the end of the world. Whom was he kidding? It’s a freakin’ disaster.
The students who pass give him looks. By now, they know. Shit, where in hell was Nico?
“Hey,” Liam says casually as he finds Caleb at his locker.
Caleb returns a soft “Hey.”
“What’s going on, man?” Liam whispers.
Caleb doesn’t know what to say as he slams the locker door and turns to him. “What’d you hear?”
“They’re saying you kissed Nico.”
Caleb meets Liam’s questioning gaze. Short of Nico, Liam was his BFF. There was no sense in lying to him. The word was already out. He nods once.
“Yeah? It’s true? You’re gay?”
Caleb takes a deep breath and releases a shuddering sigh. “Yeah.”
Caleb runs a nervous hand through his unruly blond hair. “Yeah.”
Liam claps him on the back. “No shit. You could have told me, man.”
Caleb sighs again, a tremble on the air. “Sorry, man. I’ve never known how to tell anyone.”
Liam gives him a warm smile. “Yeah, you gotta feel totally awkward, bro. You gonna make practice today?”
This surprises Caleb. “You’re okay with it?”
“Fine, bro. To each his own, you know? And Nico’s a great guy.”
Caleb breathes a giant sigh of relief. “Thanks, man.”
“No problem. You gonna make practice today?”
“Doubt it. The school called my dad. He’s picking me up after school.”
“That going to be a hassle? We got State Finals on Saturday and you’re our Captain. We depend on you, bro.”
Caleb smiled a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It was going to be a serious hassle. “I’ll be okay for Saturday. Can you lead practice for me today?”
“No problem. Text me tonight when the sentencing is over. See you at our table?”
“Yeah, I gotta find Nico.”
“Yeah, okay. See you there.”
Liam waves him off as he walks away.
That definitely went better than expected. Liam had always been cool, though, and a good friend. The rest of the world? They usually sucked.
Caleb worries about Nico. Nico isn’t good with confrontation. Nico is afraid most of the time. Nico is only safe when he is with Caleb. He has to find Nico. Now.
He jogs down the hall, making his way through the throng of students. A girl giggles and puts a hand over her mouth then points at him. The girl next to her bursts out laughing. They know. This is a freakin’ disaster.
Caleb rounds another corner and doesn’t see Nico at his locker. Shit. Nico has Phys. Ed. right before lunch. He exits the building and makes his way to the gym. He checks down each row of lockers and doesn’t see Nico. Damn it, where in hell is he? “Nico, you in here?” he calls as he heads toward the bathroom and shoves through the door.
There, squatted with his face buried in his arms, is Nico in tears.
“Ah, shit,” Caleb says under his breath as he pulls Nico into his arms.
A strangled sob escapes Nico as he wraps his arms tightly around Caleb’s waist. “The school called my dad. He’s coming to get me after school.”
“I know. They called mine, too.”
“My dad’s going to kill me, Caleb.”
Caleb winces at Nico’s words as he pets the curls he loves so much. Nico’s dad is dangerous. Nico’s dad is someone to be terrified of. “My dad will talk to him.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“The worst the school can do is suspend us.”
“No, I mean, what about us?”
Caleb lifts Nico’s chin with gentle fingertips. “What do you mean, what about us? We’re fine. Nothing’s going to happen to you and me.”
“You’re not going to break up with me?”
Pain sears Caleb’s heart. How could Nico even think such a thing? “Nicolò, baby, don’t even go there. I love you. Always have, always will. In a few months we’ll be off to college and all of this will be behind us.” He places a chaste kiss on Nico’s lips.
“’Kay.” Nico releases a long, shuddering sigh and squeezes Caleb’s waist before he pulls away. He rubs the tears from his eyes with the heels of his hands then goes to a sink and rinses his face with cool water. “I’d die if I lost you, Caleb.”
Caleb cards his fingers through Nico’s curls. “Nothing like that is ever going to happen. Everything will be okay.”
Nico turns the water off and reaches for a paper towel. “What’s your dad going to say?”
“He’ll think it’s bad news, but he’s easier than Mom is. Let’s get to lunch. You need something to eat.”
“’Kay. People are already talking.”
“I know. Mr. Higgins obviously couldn’t keep his big mouth shut. Liam asked me about it and I told him the truth. He’s okay with it.”
Nico looks up at Caleb as Caleb leads him by the elbow from the gym. “He is?”
“Yeah, he’s fine with it.”
* * *
Caleb reads his dad’s text message one last time before the bell rings ending his last period class. THE SCHOOL CALLED. BE ON THE FRONT STEPS AT 3. He doesn’t know what the school told his dad and he doesn’t want to be the one to tell him. God, how could he be so stupid as to kiss Nico at school?
It just happens. They’re always so careful at school, but he’d been kissing Nico for almost six years and isn’t thinking. It just seems natural to kiss him when they part to go their separate ways to class. Of all people, Mr. Higgins, the peevish algebra teacher, had to be the one to see them. All they do is peck lips. It isn’t even a full-on snog. Mr. Higgins acts as if they were caught in flagrante delicto. He scolded them heartily then rushed off to the Headmaster’s office. Man, they’d done so much more than kiss. If Mr. Higgins only knew. Caleb isn’t sure whom he’s angrier with. Himself or Mr. Higgins. Shit, what a freakin’ disaster.
This is the first time in his seventeen-and-a-half-year existence that he’s ever been in trouble. He suddenly has a horrible thought. A suspension would get him kicked off the swim team. He’d worked hard to become Captain of the team, swimming every afternoon after school for three hours. Three hours every day that he could have spent with Nico. Three more hours each day that Nico could have been safe. Fear and anxiety claw at his heart and his mind reels with rising fear.
The bell rings and he flies from his seat.