Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 28

Posted: N/A

This whole dance thing was a huge mistake.

Two hours. Two FREAKING hours, ever since I'd gotten home (on Thursday, the second to last day of school and the day of the end of the year dance) I'd been trying to get this stupid suit thing to work and it was just horrible! This thing can't even be real. It has to be some kind of joke by my mom or something. The only thing I could figure out pretty fast were the pants, and even those I started putting on the wrong way. And don't even get me started on the shirt with the one invisible button hole that I kept missing.

Oh God and the tie. The TIE!

I glared at the stupid thing in the mirror as I tugged at the knot. Dammit! Stupid thing won't come undone! It was stuck on my neck and I couldn't get it off and it didn't look anything like any of the ties James Bond ever wore and it was getting really, really hard to breathe and, oh shit, I'm gonna die!

"MOM!" I yelled. "HELP!

She ran up the stairs, feet pounding on the floor, and I was glad she was sort of an athlete because she'd just get here that much faster and save me. My door flew open and my mom rushed in, her eyes wide and panicked. Then she saw me, and stopped.

And burst out laughing

"It's not funny!" I said. My face was starting to burn up from the lack of oxygen. Or embarrassment. Either way I was about to die. "I can't breathe!"

She covered her mouth and shook her head. "Oh honey," she said after getting herself under control. "What did you do here?"

"I didn't do anything! I tied it! And it's broken or something because it's too tight and I can't get it off!" I tugged at the bunched up knot again, just to show her. Maybe she needed a visual demonstration before she'd save me.

"Well, I can see what the problem is. You didn't tie it right," she said.

"I know I didn't tie it right! And now it's killing me in revenge!" She started laughing again. "It's not funny!"

She got herself back under control. "Andrew, it looks like you tried to tie it like a shoelace," she said, shaking her head.

"I did!" I yelled. "Isn't that what you're supposed to do?"

Squeals of laughter bounced off the walls. Squeals! I'm dying and my mom's squealing.

"I. Don't. Know. How. To. Tie. A. Tie!" I said, crossing my arms and looking away. The fox chasing the bunny should work for everything, I refused to be embarrassed because no one ever told me how to tie a tie. That worked about as well as you'd think. "I'm sure it'll be real funny when I'm dead," I muttered darkly.

"Oh hon," she said. "You're yelling too much to be suffocating. Just come here and I'll try to fix it."

I glanced suspiciously at her for a few seconds, then uncrossed my arms and walked over to her. She studied the mess I made of the tie, shaking her head to herself the whole time.

"Wow, you really got this thing tight, didn't you?" she said, tugging at the knot.

"Ow. Ow! Stop yanking me!"

"It was such a nice tie too." She completely ignored me and kept up the yanking.

"You-ow! You should have just gotten a clip on if-ow! If you needed to get a stupid tie too," I grumbled.

"How did you get your hair caught in this?" she murmured absently. "And there's no way you're going to a dance with Cheryl wearing a clip on tie. That's disrespectful. Besides, the tie ties the whole outfit together," she added with a chuckle.

I rolled my eyes and bit back a curse as my mom started trying to get the knot undone. "I'm not going WITH Cheryl," I grumbled.

Which was true. Now that we were out and open, well, I guess I still wasn't going 'with' Owen, since we both decided that a school dance probably wasn't the safest place to be 'out', but in my head, I was still going mostly with him. And if I felt a bit guilty for sorta shoving us back in the closet right after we came out, I tried not to think about it. Cheryl was just tagging along so she could get her stupid ass wooed.

My mom didn't say anything to that, just made that 'hmmm' noise she makes when she knows I said something, but she's not paying attention enough to actually say something back. Usually I hated that noise but right now I was more than happy having her concentrate on getting this death noose off my neck instead of talking to me.

"There!" she said twenty minutes later. She held up the tie, which she actually managed to get off without cutting it off with scissors. I was impressed. And in pain. "And you didn't even ruin it! Isn't that great?"

"Wonderful," I muttered as I rubbed my tender throat.

"Ok, turn around and I'll put this on right," she said.

"Oh no!" I said, quickly backing away. "You're not putting that thing back on me! I barely escaped the first time!"

"Andrew Allen Baxter!" she said sternly, crossing her arms. "I paid a hundred dollars for this tie and you are wearing it. Now get over here."

"You paid MONEY for that deathtrap!?" I yelled. Then the number actually registered. "A hundred freaking DOLLARS? Like, United States dollars?"

She ignored me. "Andrew, if you don't get over here right now and let me put this on, you're not going to the dance."

Oh and isn't that just the biggest lie ever. The only person more excited about me going to this stupid thing than my mom was...nobody, actually. She was freakishly excited about it. Enough to apparently spend one hundred dollars on a Tie of Death, let alone what the rest of this suit that I was suddenly terrified of wearing, and thus ruining, cost.

But, I still couldn't risk it. If I didn't go, Cheryl wouldn't go and this whole thing would fall apart. I couldn't afford not to go. And somehow my mom seemed to know that.

"Evil devil woman," I muttered under my breath as I walked back over to her. She ignored that too.

It was totally unfair, in the end. There was maybe five seconds of her fingers doing some magic dance around my neck and then she leaned back and smiled. "There," she said with a satisfied smile. "Much better."

I hated her, just a little bit, right then.

I tentatively felt around my neck, expecting the thing to start cackling at any second as it got back to squeezing the life out of me. To my surprise, everything felt great. It was even loose enough that I barely even felt it. How the hell did my mom learn how to tie ties on guys?

Actually, I don't wanna know.

"You look so handsome," she gushed, wiping away what I would bet money was a tear that wasn't even there. "Come here and look."

She grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me towards the mirror. I started to protest, but it died in my throat when I caught sight of myself.

The pants, a blue so dark it was practically black, hugged my waist in a way that should have made me look like a skinny nothing, but somehow looked elegant. Probably because of the tightness of the rest of the outfit, which fit like it was tailored for me. The vest, the same color as the pants, fit snugly over a tight but comfortable indigo shirt. If you looked close enough and the light hit it right, there was some kind of barely visible pattern on it that looked a bit like a fleur-de-lis. The tie was a dark purple that offset all the blue and actually did tie the outfit together. My mom reached around and tucked it into my vest, making it look even better.

Holy crap. I looked almost hot.

"So handsome," my mom said again, squeezing my shoulders. "My stylish little prince."

In the spirit of "it's been less than a week since I made that promise and I don't wanna break it yet" I let that go without saying anything. I was getting to the breaking point a lot faster than I thought I would though.

"Wow. This is great," I admitted. I turned, admiring it from different angles and feeling more than a little gay. I was fascinated. I'd never worn anything that fit so perfectly in my life. It was just tight enough to hug my body tastefully but still loose enough to be comfortable. "How the hell did you get something that fits so well?"

"I had it made," she said with a smile.

I opened my mouth, then slowly frowned. "Don't you need to measure me for that?" I asked slowly. Visions of my mom hunched over me while I slept, a tape measure held between her lips as she moved me around trying not to wake me up flashed through my head.

"I already had your measurements," she said.

"Um, from when?" I asked.

"Remember two years ago when we thought your grandma was dying?"

Oh. Now I remembered. "You mean when you rushed us all out to get suits because you were so excited that she was finally gonna die?"

My mom has the weirdest relationship with her mom.

"Yes," she said. Then frowned. "And don't say it like that. You make me sound like a horrible person. But yes, we got you measured back then but she recovered before we could get any suits made. You haven't grown much since then so I just gave the tailor those measurements and adjusted a bit for your shoulders and butt."

I blushed horribly. I'm not sure what's worse, that my butt apparently got bigger than when I was thirteen or that my mom noticed.

"Um, thanks," I said. "It really looks awesome."

She beamed at me. "I knew it would."

After that she practically shoved me into the jacket, which matched the pants too, then pulled me out of it almost before I could even appreciate how nice that looked also. "Don't want to get it all wrinkled," she said.

So, wearing it wrinkles it? Then why wear it at all? Clothes make no sense. But for the first time in my life I actually like the way I look, so I'm not gonna question it.

Since I wasn't choking to death anymore and I didn't have any more bits of suit to try and figure out, I pushed my mom out of my room. I looked at myself in the mirror again and decided not to tie my hair back. It looked better that way with the suit. More fitting. Kind of like I was the sad, lonely third son of a cruel duke going to another boring noble ball where, he didn't know it, but he was about to meet the dashing Victorian rake who would end up being the love of his life.

I really need to stop-no, not giving up gay Victorian historical romance books. Not when I actually have an excuse to play out these fantasies. Especially since Owen would be freaking drool worthy as a rake-

The doorbell rang, pulling me out of the beginnings of a really hot fantasy. But not fast enough to keep me from getting hard. Sigh. I tried to rearrange things before my mom called me down to greet Cheryl, but touching it just made it worse so I had to smack it a few times. Then I had to frantically wipe away the tears because, ow.

"Andrew!" my mom called. "Your..friends are here!"

"I know!" I yelled. Stupid boner getting me all flustered. "I'll be right down!

I quickly rearranged myself and smoothed out my pants and vest before grabbing the jacket and rushing downstairs. At least I'd have time to stop blushing in Aunt Karen's car before we picked up Owen. Then I got to the bottom of the stairs, saw who was there, and stopped dead. Cheryl was there. With Owen. My jaw almost dropped.

Holy crap. Owen

Oh and Cheryl was there in some dress thing too. But, Owen!

I didn't even care that he was here and I should probably be embarrassed about something. Maybe my dad standing off to the side with the too bright 'everything's fine I'm not at all uncomfortable' smile on his face. But Owen just looked so...he was wearing a suit! And his was way better than mine, just because he was in it. He was all in white. White pants, white vest, white shirt, white jacket, and it went perfect with his ash blond hair and light tan, like the 'Owen' parts of him were glowing. He didn't have a tie -but if he did I doubt he'd have almost killed himself with it- and the top button of his shirt was undone and I had to stop myself from actually drooling right there on the floor. And he seemed to like my suit just as much if the wide eyes and the way his breathing picked up were any hint.

I walked slowly over to the door, probably wrinkling my jacket with the way I was holding it, but I didn't care. I stopped right in front of him.

"H-hi," I said, suddenly shy for some reason.

"Hey," he said, just as soft.

We stared at each other for a few seconds, then started talking at the same time.

"You look-"

"You're so-"

We stopped, then giggled slightly.

"You look perfect," Owen said. Then with a smile he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. I couldn't stop smiling.

"Oh God it's already starting," Cheryl muttered under her breath. Wow, someone's being especially bitchy tonight. I turned my head to glare at her, but that was just enough movement to see the other two people in the room and remember that they were, uh, there.

My mom had her hands clasped in front of her chest, smiling at us the same way she smiles at the puppies in the pet store when they're doing something adorable. My whole face got red, but part of me was just ridiculously happy that my mom seemed ridiculously happy for me. Or at least thought we were adorable puppies, which was probably close enough.

My dad on the other hand, looked like he had no idea what to do. He looked totally awkward standing there, looking back and forth between me and Owen. I believed him when he said he was ok with us, I really did. But being ok with something that you hear about and then seeing it are two different things. I knew he might need some time to get used to the idea of me with a boyfriend, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope there wouldn't be any weirdness. I'd also be lying if I didn't say there was a part of me that still half expected him to take it all back and throw me out now. It wasn't a thought I was really proud of. I sighed internally and crushed that thought until it was good and dead. I wasn't gonna be Pessimistic Andy about my dad anymore. Hopefully he'll just get used to it sooner rather than later and remember that they liked each other the last time Owen was here.

And then his face softened. Just a bit, but it did wonders for clearing the room of awkwardness.

"Well," he said walking forward a few steps. He smiled. "It's nice to see you again, Owen."

Owen licked his lips nervously, but otherwise he seemed calm. Ish. "I-it's nice to see you again too, sir."

My dad groaned, but it was a teasing groan. "Don't call me that, it makes me sound like some aging dictator. Please, call me Drew, or if that makes you feel uncomfortable, I guess I'll deal with Mr Baxter for a while until you get used to me."

Owen blinked. "Um, ok, Mr Baxter?"

"Better," my dad said with a smile. "But maybe since you're dating my son you should just call me dad?"

Owen froze in place.

I had the total opposite reaction, I relaxed completely. If my dad was bringing out the lame jokes, he was more comfortable about this that I ever could have hoped for. I wanted to give him the biggest hug ever. Instead, I rolled my eyes because I knew that was the reaction he was going for.

"Dad!" I said. "Don't tease him. That's mean."

My dad chuckled. "You're right, sorry. Sorry Owen."

"It's ok," Owen said, relaxing slightly. Then after a few seconds he smirked slightly. "Dad."

My dad burst out laughing. "I knew there was a reason I liked you, kid."

Owen grinned.

"Seriously though," my dad said. "You boys look really nice tonight. look good together too."

"You do," my mom added with a smile of her own. "Especially standing next to each other in those suits."

And now I was fighting not to cry. Jesus Christ, I really do have the best dad ever.

"Thanks," I said softly.

My dad smiled and I saw his eyes start to water slightly before he pulled me in for a quick hug.

"So much fun being ignored," Cheryl mumbled.

Thankfully that broke the mood before it could get too sappy.

"You look great too Cheryl," my dad said, letting me go.

"You're lovely dear," my mom added. "That's a very beautiful dress."

And I hated to admit it, but they were right. She did look lovely in her black dress. The problem is, lovely and Cheryl don't really mix well. The scowl probably wasn't helping either.

I was also pointedly not noticing how well her dress went with my suit.

"I look like a hooker," she complained.

"You look like the world's least slutty hooker," I added. Seriously, MY clothes were tighter than her dress.

"You do NOT look like a hooker," my mom said shaking her head. "Slutty or otherwise. You look elegant and beautiful."

Cheryl groaned.

"Mom, you're just making it worse," I said.

"Yeah Aunt Sarah, you're making it worse," Cheryl said.

My mom shook her head again and rolled her eyes. "You're the only girl I ever met that doesn't like to be called beautiful. Even Andrew doesn't mind when I compli-"

"Hey!" I cut in. "We should probably get going. It's kinda rude making Aunt Karen sit in the car waiting for us, isn't it?"

Definitely don't want the conversation going into all the ways I act more like a girl than Cheryl. Judging by her smirk, she knows exactly what I'm doing too. Bitch.

My mom frowned, then opened her mouth to say something when my dad cut her off. "He's right Sarah, let's let the kids go and enjoy their night," he said, giving me a wink.

God, I hope he didn't notice too. For my sanity, I'm just gonna pretend that wink was because he thinks I wanna get Owen alone for sex. Much better.

"Alright, alright," my mom said. "You guys have fun. And be safe! If anyone sneaks alcohol in you better not drink any."

I groaned. "We won't, mom. But thanks for assuming we're all alcoholics."

"Yeah Aunt Sarah, my body's a temple. I wouldn't poison it with alcohol," Cheryl said.

I don't think any of us knew if she was serious or not.

With a few more goodbye's and another warning to 'be safe', we left. The second we were outside Owen slipped his hand into mine.

"Sorry about kissing you in front of your dad like that," he said.

"I don't care," I said. I paused. "I...I don't care." Wow. That was actually totally true. I didn't care. And I was still riding high on how well that went that I didn't even think about it, I just leaned in and kissed Owen. "You don't ever need to apologize for kissing me ever again. And...I'm sorry you ever had to."

Owen smiled the most content smile I'd ever seen on his face. "It was worth it," he said. And then he kissed me again.

We walked to the car hand in hand and didn't let go until we got to school.

"Oh. My. God. I can't believe I came here. This sucks. Can we leave?" Cheryl whined. Somehow I could hear it over the loud, pounding music in the gym.

I sighed as I took off my jacket and draped it over the back of a chair near the table we'd claimed. "No, we can't leave."

"But we've been here for like two HOURS! Isn't that enough?" She tugged uncomfortably at her dress for the third time in the last minute.

My head started to hurt. "We've been here for like two minutes," I said. "The song that was playing when we got here isn't even over yet."

"Two MINUTES?!" Cheryl cried. "Andy, they have a DISCO BALL!"

I rolled my eyes. Like that was a crime against humanity. Well... Still, I ignored it. "Yeah, two minutes, so stop complaining. You're acting like a three year old. A three year old girl. With Barbie dolls and My Little Ponies and a My First Make Up kit and-"

I jumped back as she took a swing at me.

"Shut up fairyboy!" she snapped.

"Now you sound like Cheryl again." I paused. "Hopefully not a fully grown Cheryl though because you're still ridiculously tiny-"

She hit me on the shoulder before I could jump away this time.

"Ow!" I yelped. I rubbed my shoulder. "Don't ruin my shirt!"

Cheryl smirked. "You are so gay."

Even though I'd been trying not to since we got here -all of four minutes ago now, ha!- I glanced around to see if anyone heard. We'd picked a table sorta tucked away near the back, but not so far out of the way that there weren't a few people near us giving us looks, but it seemed to be more for the hitting than anything else. Not that I cared. I had to keep telling myself that. I didn't care if people knew because everyone was gonna find out eventually if they bothered to pay attention. It was hard to break the habit though.

I ignored Cheryl for a few more seconds and looked for Owen in the crowd. He'd left to go get some punch almost as soon as we'd gotten here. I tried to stop him, but he wasn't having any of it. I sighed again. Well, he'd figure it out soon enough I guess. I'd been to enough things for my moms volleyball team to know that nothing good ever came from drinking anything a school spent money on that wasn't water or in a vending machine.

"The song changed," Cheryl said. I jumped. When the hell did she get right behind me? "Can we go now?"

"No," I snapped. "Stop asking. We're staying here for the whole thing so just shut up and try to enjoy it."

Well, we'd be staying for at least another hour anyway. After that she'd either wanna stay and dance with her new boyfriend or she'd be chasing me out of the building to murder me.

"Fine," she said, crossing her arms. "Just don't be all lovey with Owen. I don't wanna have to watch you two be all in love and crap all night."

"We're not. I don't think either of us feel comfort-" I paused. Wait, was THAT what this PMS mood was all about? "Are you...jealous?"

"No!" she yelled, pretty much proving me right. "I'm not jealous!"

"Uh huh," I said skeptically. She took a step towards me and I hastily backed. "Ok, ok! But...if you're not jealous then what is it? You never cared about us being 'all lovey' before."

She narrowed her eyes and looked like she was gonna hit me again, but the look faded before I even had time to brace for the punch. She sighed softly. "You can't laugh at me."

"I won't, I promise," I said. I was surprised that she seemed to be opening up, especially here, and I wasn't gonna ruin that.

She looked at me for a few seconds, trying to see if I was serious or not. THAT surprised me too. She'd never had to check to see if I was lying to her before. Whatever's wrong must really be bothering her.

"It's just, that guy, you know the one dedicating songs to me every night?" she said. I nodded when she paused. "Well, if he was serious...I mean, THIS is the perfect opportunity to 'sweep me off my feet' or whatever and he never even asked me to the dance."

She shrugged and kicked absently at the floor with the heel of her shoe. "I guess I'm just a little pissed that he was full of shit after all."

"I've seen you pissed, this doesn't seem pissed-"

"Fine! Sad, whatever, ok?" she said. "And it's your fault anyway, making me even think that he could be for real."

She didn't even try to sound like she meant it though, so I let the accusation go. Now the problem was, how do I get her out of this mood without telling her everything?

"You know," I said slowly, "you don't know that he's not for real."


"Maybe he's here! And maybe he'll still ask you. Maybe he's like me, you know? Maybe he's shy and just needs to work up to it, or he was gonna ask you to dance when you got here and he hasn't seen you yet."

Cheryl bit her lip. Wow, I had no idea she'd thought this much about it. I knew she was kind of a romantic, no matter how much she tried to hide any 'girly' parts of her, but I thought I'd have to work a lot harder to get her even close to this. Maybe all her fake boyfriends just made her want the real thing even more.

"Do you really think so?" she asked.

"Definitely," I nodded. "How about this? When Owen gets back we'll get out of this dark corner and walk around a bit, maybe you could even try to have fun-or not!" I hastily added at her sharp look. "But we should probably get you more visible. And if he doesn't ask after an hour or so, we can leave, ok?"

She seemed to perk up a bit, and I didn't think it was about the leaving part. "Ok," she said. Then she smiled slightly. "Thanks."

"No problem," I said.

"And, um, sorry for calling you fairyboy," she said.

"It's ok," I said. "I'm not even mad."

"And for wrinkling your shirt."

I scowled. "Now THAT I'm annoyed about."

She laughed quietly and smoothed out my shoulder where she'd hit me. "There."

I studied my shoulder. It didn't look any smoother than before, but I felt better about it anyway. "Thanks."

"You really do look good in that suit though," she said. "Seriously."

I smiled. "Thank you," I said warmly.

"Hey," Owen said, breaking the moment. He dodged around one of the small groups of people dotting the area we were in, impressively not spilling a drop of the way-too-full plastic cup he had. "Sorry. That took way longer than I thought."

I smiled at him. God, he looked even sexier under the moving lights in here. Whoever set all these lights up did a really good job of making Owen look amazing. "It's ok," I said. "Cheryl was just ruining my suit and calling me names."

"Hey!" she said. "I fixed the stupid suit! And I wouldn't call you fairyboy if you weren't acting like such a fairy."

"Hey," Owen protested. "He's MY fairy." He discreetly slipped his hand into mine and gave it a squeeze before letting go.

Oh! Oh! Heart melting!

Even if he did sorta call me a fairy.

Cheryl rolled her eyes, but she didn't look jealous this time. I took that as a victory.

"So, Owen said. "What do we do now?"

"Well," I started, but before I could get anywhere, Owen took a big gulp of punch.

"Ack!" His eyes bulged and he started coughing. "Oh God! What the hell is this? This shit is horrible!"

I burst out laughing. "I told you!" I rubbed his back anyway. I could comfort and gloat at the same time.

"You didn't tell me it tasted like death!" he said. He tossed the rest of the punch into one of the thirty thousand trashcans they'd put all over the gym.

"Actually I think that's exactly what I said."

"Sounds like something Andy would say," Cheryl put in.

I frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Cheryl sing-songed.

I glared at her. Then decided to be the bigger person -not so hard when she's so small! Zing! ...oh God I'm lame- and ignore it. I turned back to Owen. "Are you ok?"

"Yuck," he said. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just thought 'punch' would be, you know, like Hawaiian Punch or something."

I snickered. "You thought this school would spring for Hawaiian Punch? Wow you've really never been to a school thing have you?"

"No. And next time we go to one I'm bringing a water bottle," he said.

"They don't let you bring your own drink," Cheryl said helpfully. "Because we're all gonna smuggle alcohol in. You know, because we're teenagers."

We all had a silent moment of frustrated anger for the age bigotry inherent in the American public school system. Fight the power!

"So, what DO we do now?" Owen asked a few seconds later. He glanced questioningly at me. I chewed my lip thoughtfully. Huh. When we were planning this we never really talked about how to pass time until Juan's Big Moment.

I shrugged. "Let's just walk around a bit. Maybe we can run into someone we know."

Code for: See if Juan's really gonna go through with this.

Owen nodded, then gave me a stealthy wink. "Sounds good!"

He was enjoying this way too much.

School dances are terrifying. It's like a group of people got together and said "hey, let's put everything Andy hates into one event! It'll be hilarious if he ever shows up." And there was a time when I'd have been paranoid enough to believe that. But the crowds, the dancing, the forced social interaction, the way it's impossible not to be noticed if you move at all, it all makes a pretty good argument for paranoia. It was actually kinda bearable when Owen was with me, but Cheryl just dragged him off to dance with her I was right on the edge of the dance area, all alone.

Which was still way better than when she dragged ME off to dance with her. The less said about that, the better. I'm sure you can picture the mental scars.

Watching Owen dance though...pure swoonage. Not that he was really good at it, because he wasn't. He wasn't jerking around awkwardly like I was, but, yeah, graceful dancing isn't really his thing. But he was moving his hips and he looked so good in that suit and, ugh, I really, really wished it was me dancing with him.

I tore my eyes away after a few minutes to look around for Juan again. I hadn't seen him all night and I was starting to get a bit worried. It wasn't like we'd made any plans to meet up before he did his thing, but I figured I'd at least get to see that he showed up. It'd be horrible if he decided to chicken out at the last second.

Someone tapped me on my shoulder and I barely held back the scream. I spun around, my heart only slowing down a little bit when I saw it was Kenny. "What!?" I yelped.

Kenny's lips quirked in an almost smile. "Did I scare you?"

"No!" I said. "Yes! Maybe. Don't sneak up on people!"

Kenny laughed. "Sorry." I kinda hated that he could actually sound sorry right in the middle of laughing about it. I thought about scowling at him, but my heart was recovering fast and I was suddenly more curious about why he was here. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans and a white, half tucked in button up shirt, so it didn't look like he'd been planning on coming.

"It's fine, I guess," I said. "What are you doing here anyway? Are you...with someone?"

"No," Kenny said, chuckling. "Juan said he was coming and he was all weird about it, so I pretty much had to show up."

I blinked. Juan told Kenny he was coming? Huh. Kinda went against all the "dude, don't tell anyone. ESPECIALLY Kenny!" stuff that I got from him every day this week. Oh shit, maybe that's why I can't find him? He spazzed out, told Kenny, and then ran away?

"Uh, is he still here?" I asked as casually as I could.

"I dunno," Kenny said. "He ditched me right after we got here and I haven't been able to find him. I'm usually good at finding him in crowds too." He shrugged. "My mom's supposed to pick us both up though, so I doubt he left."

I let out a relieved breath. "Good."

Kenny raised an eyebrow and gave me a suspicious look. "There's something going on here, isn't there?"

"No!" I said. I didn't know if the 'don't tell Kenny thing' was still a thing since Juan apparently told Kenny. But he didn't tell him everything, so I guessed it was. "Nothing at all. I'm just, curious. About...things..."

God I'm the worst liar ever.

"Uh huh," Kenny said skeptically. Thankfully he didn't press me. "Whatever. So, where's Owen anyway? Are you guys, um, here together?"

"Yeah, I mean no, I mean..." I sighed. "We came together but we're not together, together. I mean we didn't break up! But we're not like, dates for the dance."

"Why not? I thought you guys were out?" he asked.

"Would you take a guy date to a dance surrounded by people who go to THIS school?" I asked.

"Good point," he said. Then, for a second, a wistful look passed over his face before he muttered. "Not that anyone would go with me anyway..."

I didn't think I was supposed to hear it, but there was a lull in the music and conversation around us right when he said it. I frowned. Was Kenny lonely? He never seemed to be. But he never liked to talk about stuff like that anyway. Less so since he told us he was probably bisexual. This is the part where a friend would ask about it, right? Try and comfort him or something? It worked with Chris, sort of, so I figured I'd try it with Kenny. I opened my mouth to say something, but he cut me off.

"Is that Owen over there? Dancing with a...girl?" He asked, and the moment was lost.

"Uh, yeah," I said, looking back out over the dance area to see Owen say something and Cheryl laugh.

Kenny's eyes narrowed. "He brought some girl as his date and just left you here?"

I started. "What? No! That's my friend, Cheryl. She's kind of both of our dates..." I trailed off slowly. " a way that's way less weird than it sounds."

"Oh," Kenny said. Did he look embarrassed? "Right. That makes a lot more sense, actually."

"Did you...really think Owen would do that?" I asked. I hoped not, otherwise he really didn't know his friend at all.

"No," he said. Then he sighed. "I dunno what's wrong with me. I guess all this dance stuff is making me weird."

"Why?" I asked hesitantly. I didn't know how long you had to know someone to pry like this and I half expected him to bite my head off, but since he was apparently ready to get mad at Owen for treating me badly, I hoped he wouldn't.

He was quiet for a few moments, long enough to make me think he wasn't gonna answer, but then he sighed. "It's depressing, I guess. Seeing all these people here with someone. You'd think it'd be easier, being bi, since you're not cutting out half the population as a possible date but..." He shrugged awkwardly. "I'm kind of being emo about it I guess."

So he WAS lonely. I felt bad for him. And I didn't miss that this was the first time he'd actually admitted to being bi either. He was nice, and not bad looking either, he deserved to have someone. More than most of the people here did at least.

"You'll find someone eventually," I said, then winced at how cliched that was. "I mean, I know that's what everyone says, but, look at me. If I can find Owen, there's literally hope for anyone. Um! Not that you're worse than me or anything! Or, you know, there's anything wrong with you. Because there isn't. You're sweet and kinda cute-not that I'm saying I think your hot or anything! Because I'm not, like, attracted TO you even' know...sort of...attractive..." I closed my eyes, blushed horribly and sighed. "Please, just kill me. I'll help you hide the body."

Kenny laughed. "Thanks," he said. He touched my shoulder lightly and I opened my eyes. He gave me a small smile. "Seriously, thank you. That actually made me feel better."

"Yay me," I mumbled. Kenny laughed again.

"Really," he said. "You're a good friend."

I blushed for totally different reasons this time. Even Cheryl doesn't say that to me all that much. "Th-thanks," I said.

Kenny nudged me with his shoulder. I somehow avoided sprawling on the floor face first, and nudged him back. I think that's how that 'guy friend' thing is supposed to go. Kenny grinned, so I figured I'd gotten it right.

"So...did you know Owen was that bad at dancing?" Kenny asked a minute later.

"He's not THAT bad," I defended. "You should have seen me."

"I think I did, actually," he said.

"What?" I asked. Someone was WATCHING that disaster?

Kenny shrugged. "I remember seeing someone in a suit a lot like yours kinda flailing and shaking like he was having a seizure and thinking that it kinda sucked that someone that dressed that nice couldn't dance for shit."

I groaned. Up until then I was living in a nice little fantasy world where no one but Cheryl saw me dance.

"I'm never dancing again," I moaned. "I'll still help you hide the body if you wanna kill me."

"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything," Kenny said. The bastard was trying not to smirk though. "Sorry."

"Let's just stop talking about it," I said quickly.

After smothering another grin, which I completely ignored so we could just stop talking about this, Kenny nodded. "Ok."

We went back to watching Owen in sort of an awkward silence. Thankfully it didn't last long. Whoever was doing the music decided to play the Chicken Dance for some reason and that started a small rebellion from the people dancing. The few teachers that actually showed up to chaperone had to push through the crowd to take away anything that could be thrown at the DJ, but they were way too late. It was hilarious. And kind of sad since the poor kid was probably just playing an approved playlist that some teacher gave him.

"Can you BELIEVE they actually tried to play that?" A voice suddenly said from right beside me. I snapped my head around to see Brandon freaking Carol standing next to me, looking out at the mini chaos on the dance floor. He was wearing a pair of skinny jeans and one of his tighter orange t shirts. It surprised me, because I figured if Brandon was gonna show up to a school dance he'd use it as an excuse to dress up, but I guess he was trying to make some kind of 'statement' or something. Unless the statement was supposed to be 'orange shirts look terrible under certain lighting', I couldn't figure it out though. "SO tacky. Anyway, I'm Brandon what's-" He turned towards me, the flirty smile on his face turning into a scowl when our eyes met.

"Oh," he said. "It's you."

It was weird. I should have been pissed at him on sight for everything he said and did the last time I saw him. But instead I couldn't feel anything but a mild contempt. Maybe even a tiny bit of gratitude because without him, I never would have realized that I needed to come out.

So instead of punching him in the face, I just raised my eyebrow. "Who the hell did you think it was?"

"No one! Nothing! It doesn't matter!" he said quickly. Oh, yeah, real believable. "Shut up, it's none of your business. I was talking to somebody else."

"He thought you were hot from behind," Kevin said, walking up to us. He was actually dressed pretty nice; a dark blue button down shirt and a pair of slightly darker dressy pants. His hair even looked wavier than usual.

"Shut up Kevin," Brandon hissed.

"He was trying to hit on you," Kevin added helpfully.

"Don't tell him that!" Brandon snapped.

"You were trying to hit on me?" I asked. "Ew."

"I didn't know it was you!" Brandon said. "That's a nice suit and until I saw your face you were sorta hot, ok? Just drop it. And what the hell are you even doing here anyway?"

"Dancing," I said dryly.

"Oh please," he scoffed. "You probably dance like a beached fish."

I scowled at him. "What are YOU doing here?"

"Why shouldn't I be here?" Brandon snapped, putting his hands on his hips. "Just because this is some den of heteroerotic normality doesn't mean I'm not allowed to be here. There's no rule that says I can't."

I took a step back. Who the hell actually talks like that? "Oookay. You know what? I don't care. Just do whatever you're doing away from me."

I turned to gather up Kenny and move away, but someone grabbed my shoulder. "Andy, wait," Kevin said.

I stopped. "What?" I asked warily.

"Just wait a second. Brandon has something to say to you." He turned to Brandon. "Don't you?"

They stared at each other for a few moments, Brandon scowling slightly and Kevin just totally still and patient. Finally Brandon let out a disgusted huff. "Fine. Whatever." He crossed his arms defensively and looked at me. Well, somewhere around my chin anyway. I couldn't say I was sad about the lack of eye contact. "Congratulations on, you know-" he waved one hand dismissively "-coming out, or whatever."

"Brandon," Kevin said sternly. "That's not it. You promised me you'd apologize the next time you saw him."

"I never said that," Brandon said, way too quickly and purposely looking away from Kevin. Just so everyone could be sure he was lying, I guess.

"Yes you-"

"And there's nothing to apologize about anyway."

"Yes there is-"

"AND he should be happy just getting congratulations from me since he never would have done it if it wasn't for me anyway. If anything, he should be thanking me," Brandon said.

Kevin just stared, slack jawed at Brandon for a few seconds. I wondered how someone with balls that big could fit into pants that tight. Kenny...was probably just lost.

Then we all started talking at once.

"Brandon, what the fuck? You TOLD ME you'd apologize-" Kevin said.

"You want me to THANK you? You asshole-" I said.

"-when you saw Andy, you PROMISED me-"

"-you tried to steal my boyfriend then told me I didn't deserve him-"

"-but here you are lying and being a total shit-"

"-you fucking dickbag-"

"-so apologize or I'm never talking to you again."

"-get the hell away from me before I choke you to death to this crappy Kesha song!"

Brandon gasped. "Did you hear that? He threatened me!" He turned to Kevin. "You heard that right? And you want ME to apologize to HIM? For trying to steal a boyfriend he doesn't even deserve?! He should be arrested."

"You're lucky that's all he's doing," Kevin said. "If it was me I would have started choking you the second you started hitting on my boyfriend. Stop being so dramati-"

He broke off, obviously realizing how impossible that would be and not wanting to waste his breath.

Brandon scoffed. He looked like he was about to say something, but then Kenny spoke up.

"You tried to steal Owen away from Andy?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at Brandon.

"None of your fucking business breeder!" Brandon snapped. "Go stare at a pair of tits or something!"

Kenny leaned back slightly in surprise. "Breeder?" he asked after a few seconds.

"It's what he calls straight people." Kevin sighed and gave Kenny an apologetic smile. Kenny swallowed heavily. "I'm sorry."

"I'm bisexual!" Kenny blurted out, then flushed slightly and looked away.

Kevin's eyebrows shot up, and for just a second I'd have sworn I saw a happy smile start to tug at his lips, before Brandon snorted.

"Oh please. Everyone knows bisexuality is bullshit. You're just too scared to admit that you're gay. That's even worse than being a breeder because you should be one of us, but instead, you're always gonna be with them," he said.

We all just stared at him again. I couldn't believe that someone could actually say that and be serious about it, but apparently someone can.

Kevin let out a disgusted sigh and rubbed his face. "You know what Brandon?" he asked. His voice was quiet and even, but also resigned. "Just go. If you're not gonna apologize to Andy and you're gonna say bigoted crap like that then I don't want to be around you."

"Bigoted?!" Brandon screeched. "I'm gay I can't be bigote-"

"Yes you can!" Kevin said. "And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you and I'm sick of all your crap. I know you get a lot of shit from your dad and it's wrong and I really feel bad for you, but that doesn't give you an excuse to go around treating everyone who isn't exactly like you like a piece of shit. So I'm...I'm just done."

Brandon gasped again and held a hand up to his chest. "Are..are you friend dumping me?"

Kevin cocked his head slightly, like maybe he was testing out the thought. Then a small smile pulled at his lips. "Yeah. I think I am."

For a minute, I felt bad for Brandon. He looked devastated, and I didn't think it was all him trying to be dramatic either. As much of an asshole as he was to everyone else, it seemed like he actually cared about his friends and losing one couldn't have been easy. But then whatever normal humanity he was showing got swallowed up as his Brandonness took over again.

"YOU'RE friend dumping ME?" he said with an incredulous sneer. "Because of HIM?" He pointed at me. "Just because you have some stupid crush? I never thought I'd say this but you know that pussy eater saying 'bros before hoes'? You really should have payed more attention to that."

"This isn't about me liking Andy. I don't even like him anymore." Kevin paused, then shot me a look. "Uh, no offense."

"None taken," I said quickly. It was definitely a relief. Someone having a thing for me was just weird. And Owen will be happy.

And I couldn't believe Brandon just said bros before hoes.

"Then, what, you can't possibly like the fake homo," Brandon said.

"This isn't about anyone but you," Kevin said. But I did notice a slight reddening of his cheeks.


Brandon let out a disgusted huff. "You know what? I don't even care. You were a terrible friend anyway. It's a good thing none of us have to deal with you anymore. Have fun trying to find someplace to sit during lunch, by the way."

Kevin hunched in on himself, like he'd just been punched in the gut. As bad as it is to lose one friend, it must be a million times worse to lose all of them. Especially for Kevin. And I didn't doubt that he lost all of them either. I knew Kevin's other friends enough to know they wouldn't go against Brandon. Maybe if they were seniors, but they were all juniors and below and no one wanted to risk having no one, and no protection, for at least an entire year. Not when you're gay and definitely not at this school.

Kevin swallowed heavily. "Fine," he said, standing up straight again. "I didn't expect anything else."

Brandon opened his mouth to say something, but surprisingly Kenny was the one to cut him off.

"Anyone would be lucky to have him as a friend," Kenny said, glaring at Brandon. "I don't even need to know him to know that. Better than someone like you deserves." He looked at Kevin. "You can sit with us, if you want. You'll have to put up with an idiot and sometimes we don't even talk that much but, it's better than nothing, right?" He gave Kevin a small smile.

"Y-yeah," Kevin said after a second. "I mean, that sounds great." He smiled at Kenny.

Because I was the only one still looking at him, I was the only one that saw Brandon press his lips together like he was trying to hold back...something. With anyone else I'd say he looked like he was trying not to cry, that maybe he had a few hidden reasons why he didn't like seeing Kevin smiling all flirty like with some other boy -because him and Kenny WERE flirt smiling, definitely- but I couldn't tell with Brandon. Either way, I didn't feel bad for him this time.

And as much as I was enjoying seeing calm, unruffled Kenny's cheeks slowly start to redden, I needed to inject a little reality into the situation.

"Actually," I said. "He has lunch at the same time I do, so he can sit with me and Cheryl."

For a second, they both looked disappointed. I had to fight to hold back the smirk.

"But maybe-"

"Maybe you could hang out with us on the weekend, sometime?" Kenny cut me off. "If you want...?"

And just like that the smile was back. "Uh, yeah. Sure. I' that. A lot," Kevin said.

"I'm gonna be sick," Brandon said, rolling his eyes. Whatever I saw on his face before was gone, replaced with the normal Brandon-like disdain for anything that wasn't Brandon.

Thankfully, the one sure Brandon repellent was starting to walk over to us.

"Isn't that your ex girlfriend coming over here?" I asked, pointing behind him.

He spun around and saw Cheryl and Owen making their way back to where we were.

"Shit," he hissed, quickly turning around again and cringing.

"Bye," I said cheerfully.

He glared at me, but only for a second, before quickly scurrying away into the crowd. When he figured he was far enough away he looked back, once, at Kevin just in time to see him laugh at something Kenny said. His shoulders slumped and he started blinking rapidly before turning around and shoving his way through the crowd.

I was the only one who bothered to notice.

"So, I'm Kevin, by the way," Kevin said after they stopped laughing.

"Kenny," Kenny said.

They awkwardly shook hands, not quite looking each other in the eyes. It was adorable.

Then Owen's hand slid into mine and I didn't really care all that much about watching other people anymore.

"Hey." I smiled at him. "Have fun dancing?"

"I'm never teasing you about your dancing again. That's WAY harder than it looks," he said.

Cheryl snorted. "Dancing's easy, you just don't have any grace. Or balance. Or coordination."

"We also haven't been training as ninjas since the womb," I said.

"Neither has anyone else," she said, gesturing to everyone dancing. "And they seem to be doing fine."

Owen and I scowled at her.

"I thought she hated dancing anyway?" Owen asked.

"No, she actually likes dancING. It's dancES she hates," I said. "It's one of the only girly things she admits to liking."

"Lots of guys like dancing. It's kinda sexist to call it 'girly'," Cheryl pointed out.

"You dance like a guy," I said, sticking my tongue out at her.

"Thanks!" She laughed. "Why are they standing right by us, by the way?" she asked, pointing at Kevin and Kenny.

"That's kind of rude," I muttered.

"You gonna answer my question?" she asked, ignoring me.

So I rolled my eyes and started to explain, then had to introduce Kenny when I realized she had no idea who he was, THEN I had to try and convince her to let Kevin sit with us at lunch. She still had something against him for his attitude when he got me out of the locker, even though I told her that I was wrong about that. She takes a while to get over a first impression of someone. Owen wasn't much help on the 'convince Cheryl not to hate Kevin' front, until I was able to stealthily point out the pretty obvious way he kept looking at Kenny and got to the point in the story where he said he didn't like me anymore. After that, Owen was all for it.

And soon after that, Cheryl was convinced.

And soon after THAT, she was dragging Kevin out to go dance with her. I chose to think of it as an 'initiation' and not her punishing him for something he didn't actually do.

"Um, what do I do?" he asked me as he was being pulled away.

"Endure," I said solemnly.

He didn't exactly look reassured as the pulsing crowd swallowed him up.

"I'm gonna go get something to drink, you guys want anything?" Kenny asked.

"No!" we both answered at the same time.

Kenny gave us a weird look, then shrugged and walked away.

I wondered if the punch table being so close to where Kevin and Cheryl were dancing had anything to do with his sudden thirst?

"So, Kenny's got a thing for Kevin?" Owen asked with an amused smile.

I giggled. "Yep. And Kevin does too. Oh! You should see when they try to look each other in the eye. It's so cute."

Owen chuckled. "I'm glad we don't have that problem," he said, looking me in the eyes.

I swallowed. "Yeah. Me too."

My eyes strayed towards his lips and I sighed. This would be a perfect kiss moment, but definitely not the perfect place.

Owen gave me an understanding smile. "Maybe someday," he said.

I smiled slightly. "Yeah, maybe." I was starting to get less surprised at how much I wanted it.

"So," Owen asked a minute later. "Have you talked to Juan?"

Oh. Right. The whole reason we were even here.

"No, but Kenny said he's definitely here. Or he was."

"Yeah, I saw him over by the stage when me and Cheryl were dancing."

I was relieved. Part of me was worried that Juan had chickened out. Actually, part of me still was.

"Did you talk to him?" I asked.

"I was kinda busy," he said dryly.

"Oh. Right." I flushed slightly.

"You're too cute," Owen said.

"Shut up. Thanks." I mumbled.

So smooth.

"Like I said. Cute." Owen smiled.

"Do you really think he'll go through with it?" I asked, changing the subject. Not that I don't like Owen compliments or anything, I'd just rather not be blushing like a schoolgirl in the middle of a crowded school dance.

"Oh yeah," Owen said with a grin. "Seriously, never underestimate how much Juan likes making a total idiot out of himself. The real question is, do you think it'll work."

I nodded. "If Juan does it, then yeah, it has a good chance. Um, are you sure you got everything set up properly?" I was starting to feel pressured to make sure this worked. If it didn't, I'd blame myself, and Juan would hate me, and then Cheryl would hate me. And then Kenny would have to hate me too because he's known Juan longer than me and-

"Yep," Owen said. "I got Will from the A/V club to set everything up. He's the one DJing tonight. He's also got the time slot right before me at the station, have you ever heard his show?"

"The p-polka guy?" I glanced at the 'stage' area. He just looked like a normal kid. I always thought Polka Boy would be, like, weird looking or something. With maybe an accordion fused to his chest from some industrial polka accident. "Uh, yeah. O-once or twice."

"Hey," Owen said, frowning. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah. No. Ye-" I shook my head. "If this doesn't work, it's all my fault. And everyone's gonna hate me. It's kind of, um, you know. Killing me?"

"Andy," Owen said softly. Or as soft as he could with Skrillex wubbing away at full volume. "You just said yourself that it's gonna work. And even if it doesn't, no one's gonna hate you. Trust me ok?"

Trust Owen? Ok. Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. I took a few deep breaths. Then I realized that they were actually very shallow, rapid breaths and forced myself to calm down so I could take one, real deep breath.

"Ok. Ok! Ok," I said. "Um, ok. Calming down."

Owen smiled. "Good."

How could I do anything but smile back?

Then I felt a different kind of pressure on a different place in my body, and frowned.

"Hey, uh, when's this supposed to happen, anyway?" I asked.

Owen cocked his head at the sudden subject change, but took out his phone and looked at it. "About twenty minutes, why?"

I let out a breath. Not a deep one, just a normal one."Awesome, because I need to pee. Really bad. And I don't wanna miss it."

Owen laughed. "Well, you should probably hurry up then."

I nodded and gave Owen's hand a last squeeze. "Back soon." I rushed off into the crowd.

Ever try to push through a crowd of people who really don't care enough to get out of your way? It's not fun. Trust me. I finally pushed through and got out into the hall. I checked my suit to make sure no one had messed it up or spilled anything on it. It was totally pristine. A minor miracle. I grinned to myself and fast walked to the nearest bathroom.

I got there without seeing a single teacher patrolling the halls making sure kids weren't sneaking around. Pretty typical for this school. I wonder how many kids are out there in less than locked up classrooms getting pregnant right now? I shuddered. Definitely not something I wanted to be thinking about. Especially when I'm trying to set up a hetero romance between two people I really don't wanna picture impregnating each oth-

I'd just opened the door when something slammed into the middle of my back, shoving me into the bathroom. I stumbled in, barely keeping myself from going sprawling on the floor. Then I slipped on something wet and just caught myself on the stall wall before falling down. My heart was pounding and I spun around, wide eyed.

Simon sauntered unsteadily into the bathroom behind me. He was dressed for the dance, a typical black suit with a white shirt. But if he had a jacket it was nowhere to be seen now and the top few buttons of his shirt were open and the whole thing looked a bit rumpled. He smirked at me and I felt my stomach sink.

The door closed behind him with an ominous click.

"What the fuck do you want?" I said unsteadily.

He stalked towards me. Well, as close to a stalk as someone can get when they look like they're trying really hard not to trip over themselves. "Hey Mandy, don't be so, so rude. We talked 'bout that, remember?"

I moved back until I was stuck between the stall and a urinal. My arm touched the side of the urinal and I jerked it away. Oh God, this isn't fair. For the first time in my life I actually like the way I look in something -something my mom bought for me, the thing I was wearing when BOTH my parents said Owen and I looked good together- and this idiot is gonna beat the crap out of me and ruin it. And I can't even say anything, beg him to punch me in the face and I'd take it as long as he left the suit alone, because then he'd just destroy it on purpose. I clenched my jaw. I hated being this helpless.

Simon didn't stop when I expected him to. He crowded me, getting right up less than a foot away, looming over me and trying to be intimidating. It was working. He laughed, and I got a lungful of the most disgusting beer breath ever.

I coughed. "You're -ack- you're fucking drunk!?"

As if to prove it, he swayed a bit before shaking himself out of it. "I just had a few, don't be a prude, Bambi."

Ok, yeah, he's definitely drunk. He totally broke the rules for turning my name into a girls name-and why the hell am I noticing that!?

"Heh," Simon went on. "Prude. I bet you're not a prude, right?"

I froze. There was something in the way he said that...

He leaned in, so his face was inches from mine. I gagged on his breath, but he didn't notice. Or didn't care. "You're so...pretty. Like a girl," he said softly.

What. The. Fuck.

And then he leaned back, and I suddenly realized with absolute horror where I'd seen that look on his face before. He had that same strange, nauseating look at the bus stop the day after I first called into Owen's show, when he said I could-

"I haven't been with a girl in a long time," he went on. "You've got a, such a nice mouth."

He reached towards my face and I jerked back. I slipped and my back slammed into the corner where the concrete wall met the stall, my left shoulder banging against the urinal. I slid halfway down the wall before I caught myself. Simon grinned. "Yeah, that's perfect."

I realized that I was almost at crotch level with him. Shit. He reached down and started fumbling with his zipper.

Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me.

I couldn't even panic properly. This was just such a ridiculously unreal situation that I couldn't even fully believe it was actually happening. I had to have fallen and hit my head on something and this is what my messed up subconscious is showing me while some EMT guy is giving me mouth to mouth. And then, right as he finally got his zipper down and I was starting to think that this was pretty dam real after all, I heard the most beautiful sound ever.

A toilet flushed.

Simon froze as a stall door at the other end of the bathroom opened and footsteps started making their way towards us. I let out a breath I didn't even know I was holding, relief flooding through me. Not even people who go to THIS school could see something like this happening and not try and stop it. I was safe.

So of course that was when the footsteps ended up being attached to Jarred.

He stopped and stared at us. His suit was almost identical to Simon's, except he still had his jacket and why the hell am I still noticing what people are wearing? His face was pale and expressionless and I had no idea what that meant. Not even Jarred would just walk away from this....right?

"Just keep walking kid-" Simon said, the words dying in his throat when he saw who was standing there. He shifted nervously. "Oh. Uh, hey bro."

Jarred didn't say anything.

Simon took that as encouragement, he stopped his fidgeting and smirked. "This little fags gonna blow me. You want in on th-"

I flinched as Jarred shot forward. For a split second, I thought he was coming after me to beat the crap out of me for 'seducing' his friend or some stupid crap like that. Instead, he grabbed Simon my the front of his shirt with both hands, spun him around, pushed him back to the far wall next to the sinks and slammed him against the wall.

"Ow! What-"

"Shut. Up." Jarred's voice was low and cold in a way I'd never heard before, not even when he found out I was hanging out with Chris. His back was to me, so I couldn't see his face, but whatever was on it was enough to make Simon sober up pretty fast.

"B-bro, it's, it's not what it looked like, ok? He came onto me and-"

Jarred slammed him against the wall again. "I was five feet away. I heard everything you said, you idiot."

The blood drained from Simon's face. "I..."

"Do you have any idea how fucking stupid you are?" Jarred snarled. "What would happen to you if the guys found out? If coach found out that you were at school drunk and trying to rape a GUY in the bathroom like some fucking faggot?"

"I didn't-I wasn't gonna-I-I was drunk! I didn't mean-" Simon swallowed heavily as tears started to leak out of his eyes. "You''re not gonna tell them, right?"

Jarred didn't answer for almost half a minute. Every second that went by made Simon look more and more like he was about to throw up.

"I want to," Jarred said finally. "But I'm not going to. And don't you fucking dare think that means you're off the hook though."

Simon, who was starting to look relieved, stiffened up. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"Here's how it's going to be. You're not gonna talk to him, or go near him, ever again. Actually, you're not gonna talk to ANYONE until you graduate. Not him, not any of our friends, not anyone walking by you in the halls or in the mall. Nobody but me. If someone talks to you, then you look at me and wait until I give you permission to talk back. If I even think I see you looking at someone like you're gonna try something like this again, I'll tell everybody," Jarred said. "You got it?"

"What? That's-"

Jarred let go of him with one hand and pressed his forearm against Simon's throat. "I'm gonna ask one more time. If you don't answer, then I'm gonna kick your ass and go right to coach and tell him what you did. Now, do you got that?"

"Ack! Y-yeah," Simon choked out.

Jarred held him there for a few more seconds, then eased up on his throat. He kept the arm there though. "Good. Now I'm gonna come to your house tomorrow when you're sober and tell you all this again, just to make sure it sticks in your stupid fucking head. Got it?"

"Yeah," Simon answered quickly. "I-I got it."

Jarred let him go. Without Jarred holding him up, Simon almost collapsed. "Now get the fuck out of here. Go home and stay there until I tell you you're allowed to leave."

"O-ok," Simon said, subdued. He glanced over at me.

"Don't even LOOK at him!" Jarred snapped. "Go!"

Simon looked away and practically ran out of the bathroom, leaving me alone with Jarred.

Once again, the door closed with an ominous click.

I still half expected him to start beating up on me. Actually, more than half. It was like that day in gym all over again except this time I didn't have any frustration or anger to push me into not being worried. But he didn't even look at me. He just hunched over the nearest sink, gripping the sides so tightly it had to hurt. I could see his face in the mirror. If his eyes weren't closed so tightly he'd be staring right at the faucets, so I felt safe looking. He didn't move a single muscle. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to describe in one word how he looked, I think I'd probably have to say...vulnerable.

I didn't know how to deal with this Jarred. A Jarred who ignored me when I was staring at him, who looks like he's trying his hardest not to scream, who saved me from-yeah, not even thinking about that right now. A Jarred who actually made me feel safe. It was disturbing to, like, the tenth power.

Neither one of us moved for about five minutes, until I realized I was still wedged between the stall and a urinal, which is even less comfortable than it sounds. I shifted and scrambled and managed to squeeze out without rubbing myself against the wall too much. I checked my suit and felt way more relieved that anyone ever should be about clothes that it was pretty much perfectly fine. A little bit of wetness on one sleeve, but it didn't smell like anything but water so I figured I was good.

Jarred didn't even seem to notice that I'd moved. I glanced towards the door. I could probably just leave without him noticing me, but that seemed kinda wrong somehow. I felt like I should say something. Still, what do you even say to someone who saved you from getting drunkenly molested?

"Thanks," I said softly. It sounded a lot louder than it should have in the still silence.

That got a reaction out of him. He opened his eyes and looked into the mirror, at me. I took a step back. He looked furious, whether at me or Simon or something else, I couldn't tell. But it scared me a bit.

"This doesn't make us friends," he said. "I still don't like you, and I never will."

I jerked back like I'd been slapped. It wasn't like I expected to suddenly be best friends with him but, I expected SOMETHING. Something other than Jarred being mean and looking like he wanted to throw me out a window, like the sight of me was enough to piss him off. After something like this, things should be different. But apparently I'm an idiot for thinking that. I crossed my arms defensively across my chest and glared at him. "Fine," I snapped. "I won't waste anymore of your time. Sorry for messing up your night, your highness."

I stalked towards the door.

"Wait!" he said, right as I was reaching out for the handle.

I stopped. I don't know why. A huge part of me wanted to keep going, to slam the door open and let him have the last ominous click all to himself. But there was something in his voice that stopped me. I slowly turned around.

He still had his deathgrip on the sink, but he was looking at me now. His jaw was clenched tight and he looked like he was fighting with himself about something. I waited, ready to bolt if he decided to lunge towards me or anything.

"Don't-don't let people force you," he said finally. He deflated when he said it, like it had taken a lot to get that out. "Even if they're bigger than you. Don't let people do what they want to you without a fight. Don't me like-...don't be like that. Don't be weak."

Desperate. That's how he sounded. It scared me, but it was a different kind of scared than before. I wasn't scared OF Jarred this time. I didn't even know why I was suddenly scared, but I was.

"Ok," I said quietly. I didn't know what else to say to that.

I don't know if he even heard me. After he stopped talking he went back to staring at himself in the mirror. I waited, to see if he was gonna say anything else, but he didn't. I took a few steps backward, then turned and left. I'd gotten maybe three feet down the hallway before I heard a crash that sounded like glass shattering from the bathroom.

I cringed, and walked faster.

I tried not to think about Jarred or Simon as I walked back into the dance. I just wanted to see Owen and get back to where things made sense. And if a school dance being where things 'make sense' doesn't show you how weird things had gotten, nothing will.

I saw Owen before he saw me. He was alone, watching the dance area with an amused smirk on his lips. I followed his gaze and saw that Cheryl had dragged Kenny out with her and was trying to get him to do the electric slide to 'Good Feeling'. I shook my head. No wonder I'm her only friend. At least she's finally having fun.

Then Owen looked over where I was and his smirk turned into a smile. It was like bathing in light. The thin layer of ick and weird I'd felt like I'd been covered in since the bathroom evaporated in that smile, and I vowed that I was gonna forget about it and enjoy the rest of the night. I'd have to tell Owen eventually, I knew that. Just like I knew he'd wanna kick the crap out of Simon when I did and I'd have to beg him not to because Simon outweighs him by like thirty pounds and we'd fight about it and it'll end up being this whole big thing just like the last time. And just like the last time we'd come out of it ok, I knew that. I'd probably even love Owen a bit more for being so protective of me. But it'd take a few days to get there and it would screw up so much if it started tonight.

So I'll keep quiet for now, and at normal. .

"I guess I didn't miss anything?" I asked when I got back to Owen, nodding towards Cheryl.

He laughed. "You missed Kevin dancing better than either of us."

"Really? Wow. Uh, that's cool," I said. Way to go on the 'acting normal' front there Andy.

A small frown tugged at Owen's lips. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing!" I said quickly. I groaned. "Ok, that's a lie. But can we not talk about it right now?"

"Did something happen?" he asked.

"Um, maybe?" I tried out a cheeky grin, but Owen just raised an eyebrow. I sighed. "Ok, yeah, but it can wait. I'm fine, I swear, and I don't want anything to ruin tonight. For us OR for Juan and Cheryl."

I could tell he wasn't totally convinced, so I went for the dirty tricks and added a "Please, for me?"

Now it was Owen's turn to sigh. "You're sure you're ok?"

I nodded. "Totally fine." Unharmed counts as fine so it's not really a lie.

"Ok," he said reluctantly. "But you're telling me when we get home."

"Promise," I said. I wasn't looking forward to that, but I'd take what I could get. "So, when's this gonna start?"

Owen looked at me for a few more seconds. Probably trying to see if I was telling the truth. I should have been annoyed that he didn't believe me, but instead I just got all gooey at his protectiveness again. Eventually he seemed to decide I was ok enough and he checked his phone again.

"Any minute now," he said.

"Any minute now what?" Cheryl asked.

I jumped. "Jesus! Do you HAVE to sneak up on me?"

Cheryl raised an eyebrow. "So walking toward you is sneaking now?"

"Duh, you're a ninja, remember?" I said.

Cheryl smiled. "You got a point."

"Well, don't do it." I scowled. I looked around, but Cheryl was apparently alone. "Where's Kenny anyway?"

"He ran off," Cheryl said, pouting. Yeah, actual, full on pouting. On CHERYL'S lips. I wished I could have gotten a picture of it. "No one wants to dance with me for more than ten minutes, it's ridiculous. If I'm stuck here all night then I should at least get some dancing out of it."

"Maybe you shouldn't keep dancing with gay guys?" I suggested.

"Yeah, well, no one else wants to dance with me." She said it lightly, but for just a second I could see the hurt in her eyes. I almost told her about Juan right there, but I just barely held myself back. This needed to go the way we planned it, and if it worked Cheryl would be getting the boy of her dreams.

And if it didn't happen soon, I was scared that all Juan would be getting would be a punch to the face.

"And since there aren't any straight guys that wanna dance with me," she said, looking at me with a dangerous gleam in her eye. "I think I'll just take you back ou-"

And that was when it finally happened. The song that was playing ended and instead of a new song, Owen's voice came out of the speakers.

"This next song is dedicated to Cheryl, from Juan de Rivera. He hopes he was worth the wait."

Cheryl's mouth was still frozen mid-word as she looked over at Owen. He grinned and pointed behind her towards the 'stage' where the 'DJ' was. To my surprise, she turned around without a single question. The timing was perfect too, because right as she turned around one of the lights that had been pointed at the disco ball was swiveled down to point right next to the 'stage', lighting up Juan.

Who looked kind of amazing.

The suit was definitely elegant and tasteful, which was a relief because I was half expecting the tight jeans and the shiny red shirt. He was across the room from us so I couldn't tell if it was black or just dark enough not to matter, but everything from top to bottom was the same color except for the single red rose on the collar of his jacket. His hair was slicked back and shiny with some kind of product and someone had talked him into leaving the top few buttons of his shirt open. I didn't even try to hold back the smirk.

I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, distracting me from checking out my suddenly sorta hot straight friend. Owen had moved behind Cheryl and was standing on his toes frantically pointing at her. I cocked my head and followed where he was looking, and saw Polka Boy up on stage looking out over the crowd. He saw Owen, nodded, then turned around and fiddled with a control panel. Another light from near the ceiling turned on, this time lighting up Cheryl. Owen jumped out of the way the second she was lit up, and I stepped back a second later and then a second after that, everyone who was around Cheryl stepped outside of the light. I don't even think she noticed.

There were murmurs. I caught little bits of whispered conversation, wondering what was going on, who the kid by the stage was, was that really THAT Cheryl standing there in a dress, stuff like that. Surprisingly, I didn't hear anything mean. People just seemed mostly confused.

And then Juan started to sing.

Ever see someone do something that was like, the most embarrassing thing ever in front of a huge group of people? You get that horrible, humiliated feeling like you're the one doing it and you know the second they crash and burn you're gonna feel it just like they would. I hate that feeling, and I tensed up, waiting for the first person to laugh or yell or something to start the crashing and the burning.

But it never happened. Part of it was probably because people couldn't believe that something like this was actually happening. But I think most of it was because of Juan. Because, Juan? He can fucking sing.

Like, wow.

As he sang he slowly walked across the room, the light following him the whole way, towards Cheryl. And the crowd, filled with the same kids that shoved me into lockers and made fun of everyone with a lisp or stutter and broke glasses and threw books in the toilets and generally tried to make anyone who wasn't exactly like them completely miserable, parted for him like he was freaking Moses.

It was grand. It was stupidly romantic. And it was a gesture. And it was going better than I thought it would in a million years. I was especially happy about the song, since I picked it out. And honestly I just picked it for the "when everything's made to be broken; I just want you to know who I am" -see what I did there?- part, but the whole song seemed to fit the moment better than I could have hoped for.

As Juan got closer to her, he looked right into her eyes and never even glanced away. I saw Cheryl's breath catch in her throat as she looked back. I was right on the edge of their moment, and I felt a bit monochrome. Like I was part of the world that was fading away around them the way it did so many times with me and Owen. A perfect moment in time. And I'd played a part in giving it to them.

"Oh my God, is that kid really singing to Cheryl the man-girl?"


I looked over to my left and, yeah, there she was surrounded by a few of her cheerleader groupies giggling to themselves. Except only a few of them were giggling. Most of them seemed to just look wistful, like maybe they wished someone would sing for them instead of just throwing a ball and expecting a blowjob for it. At least Cheryl hadn't heard her yet. And I wasn't gonna let Amanda ruin this for her.

"How can anyone think she's hot enough-" I walked over to Amanda and tapped her on the shoulder.

She turned around, her face screwing up in disdain when she saw me. "Did you just touch me? Ew. Why-"

"Cheryl's right over there," I said, pointing. "She hasn't heard you yet, but, if she does, do you really think there's any chance she's not gonna break your arm off across her knee and beat you to death with it?"

Silence. Amanda glanced over at Cheryl, like she was scared that Cheryl was suddenly gonna notice her. Then, a tiny little exhale of relief followed by a less than convincing huff of disgust. "W-whatever," she said, flipping her hair. "I'm thirsty anyway." She turned back to the girls with her. "Let's go get some punch."

Then she walked away. Quickly. In the opposite direction of the punch bowl.

Two girls followed her. The rest looked at me, then at Cheryl, then at Juan, and finally at each other. Then almost as one they all looked back at Juan again, identical looks of longing on their face. I doubted a single one of them wasted another second thinking about Amanda.

I grinned to myself, and practically strutted back to my spot by Owen.

He raised his eyebrow at me. I shrugged. He grinned and took my hand. I smiled at him, more than a bit smugly.

That's like a year of therapy I don't need now.

Juan ended up right in front of Cheryl as he sang the last few lines of the song, almost like it was rehearsed. It wasn't, which made it even more impressive. He finished still looking into her eyes, the last notes echoing around the room after the music faded. No new song started up right away, so there was total silence. I think me and maybe Owen were the only ones that could see the nervousness on Juan's face as he waited for Cheryl's reaction.

Then someone in the crowd -I'd like to think it was Kenny, supporting his friend- started to clap. A few more people started, then me and Owen and pretty soon more than half the room was clapping for Juan. He looked surprised, then flushed a bit and grinned, scratching the back of his head as he looked around a bit timidly.

The clapping died down as the next song started to play. It was a slow song, and it didn't take long for most of the people who'd been watching to find their own partners again and start dancing when it became clear that Juan wasn't gonna sing or do anything interesting.

Juan looked back at Cheryl. He smiled nervously at her. Anyone still watching would probably wonder how someone who could just sing in front of the entire school at a dance could look so scared about smiling at a girl, but I knew. Sometimes what one person thinks can mean more to you than anyone else. Sometimes it could mean everything.

I squeezed Owen's hand.

"Hi," Juan said finally. "Um, I'm Juan." He laughed shakily.

For a second that probably seemed like a lifetime to Juan, Cheryl didn't react at all. Then, slowly, she smiled. It was a small, slow smile, but the second I saw it I knew Juan had won.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Cheryl."

Juan bit his lip, then smiled. "I know."

"I'll bet you do," she said.

Juan laughed. "You're a lot more beautiful up close though."

Instead of smacking him for it, her eyes widened and she blushed. Blushed. MY Cheryl, the girl who could make the biggest tomboy ever look like a fairy princess, blushed. I almost died of shock. "Th-thanks," she said.

Juan grinned and held out his hand to her, palm up. His grin faded to a solemn look. "Will you dance with me?"

Cheryl had never really been beautiful. In fact, until tonight I thought she'd punch any guy who called her beautiful to her face in the throat. Not that she wasn't good looking, but she was always more 'striking' than 'pretty'. But the way she lit up when Juan asked her to dance made her outshine anyone who had ever called themselves beautiful.

"I'd love to," she said softly.

It was a perfect Victorian romantic moment.

"Awesome!" Juan said, grinning from ear to ear. And now it's a slightly less perfect modern moment.

"Oh!" Juan said. "I almost forgot."

He took the rose out of the button hole in his lapel and held it out to Cheryl. "This is for you."

She smiled, then raised an eyebrow. "I don't think I have any holes in my dress for it," she said, a tiny bit of the usual Cheryl coming out.

Then it was totally buried when she gasped in surprise as Juan reached over and stuck the flower in her hair behind her ear. There was no way it was gonna stay there for more than a minute or two, but it was ridiculously romantic. "That w-works," she said quietly.

"Yeah, it does," Juan said, equally as soft.

They looked into each others eyes and had a moment.

Then Juan held out his arm -seriously who the hell trained him how to be so damn romantic?- and when Cheryl took it, he led her out on the dance floor. They kind of awkwardly arranged themselves so they were facing each other and fumbled slightly with where to put their arms and hands. They figured it out quickly though and soon they were dancing slowly, looking into each others eyes. Cheryl's expression was softer than I'd ever seen it, more radiant. Juan was looking at her like he couldn't believe he was actually holding her. It was perfect.

"We did a good thing," Owen said as we watched them dance.

I smiled. "Yeah. Yeah we did."

"So," Owen said. "Do you think she's still gonna kick our asses when she finds out how much we helped set this up."

"Definitely," I said. "But at least now she'll probably feel bad about it afterwords."

He laughed softly.

We watched them for a bit. The flower lasted even less time than I thought it would, but when it fell out and got stuck between them they laughed and kinda awkwardly bumbled around trying to get it to stay before Cheryl finally just shoved it under one of the straps of her dress and rested her head on Juan's shoulder. He looked surprised for a second, then smiled and held her tighter. It was adorable, and I totally understood what those girls felt when they watched Juan sing. Everyone wants moments like this, with a person who thinks they're worth giving them to.

I was just lucky enough to already have my own.

I stepped back, tugging on Owen's hand.

"What?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Come on, I said. I pulled him back behind our table, and then a little further. The room wasn't that big, and it was a school dance so there purposely weren't that many dark corners, but it was private enough and no one could see us unless they were looking for us.

"What are you doing?" Owen asked, laughing as I dragged him along.

I stopped. We were facing each other and I took a step closer to him. "This is our first dance," I said. I slid my arms around his neck and stepped even closer. "I don't want it to be over without dancing with you."

Owens face softened. "Andy."

I smiled at him. "Dance with me?"

He smiled back. "You never have to ask."

He slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me close. I sighed happily, resting my head on his shoulder as we started to sway with the music.

I wasn't scared. Or nervous. I didn't look around to see if anyone saw us. I didn't feel anything except happiness and comfort and love. I let myself go and enjoyed my own perfect moment. Because I deserved it. For the first time in my life I didn't just except happiness, I didn't just marvel at how lucky I was. I grabbed it. Because it was mine and I'd earned it and nothing was ever gonna take it away from me. No matter what anybody did or said, that would never change. And I wasn't going to let anybody make me feel like I shouldn't enjoy being in love for even a second, not anymore. Benjamin Franklin has a quote about people who give up liberty for security not deserving either, but that could apply to showing your love to. If I hid my love for Owen, even a little bit, then I really don't deserve it. It was a stupid realization. One that I should have come to months ago. But no one ever accused me of being smart about these things.

The only thing keeping me back here instead of pulling Owen out of the dance floor to show everyone just how much I loved him was not wanting to ruin Juan and Cheryl's night. Someone would say something, someone would start something, and Cheryl would have to get involved. I didn't want that. I wanted us both to have our perfect nights. There would be other dances, other hallways to hold hands in, other restaurants to cuddle in, other movie theaters to make out in, other warm summer days to kiss each other under the sun. For now, this was perfect.

"Someday we'll dance right next to them," Owen said in my ear, like he was reading my mind. Except if he was he wouldn't have sounded so nervous, like he was expecting me to freak out about it. Not that I blamed him. Dancing in public at school isn't something we ever talked about, and it's a lot different than hugging in a hallway.

"Homecoming's only like five months away. Think you can wait that long?" I asked.

Owen stumbled slightly and we stopped dancing. I lifted my head off his shoulder and looked into his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but I spoke first. "I'm done hiding my love for you," I said. "I know I said that before, but this time I mean it one hundred percent. I don't care where we are or how 'safe' it is. All I care about is showing you that I love you every second we're together."

And then I proved it to him.

It was the first time I'd ever started a kiss in public. And this wasn't some two second peck that anyone not looking right at us would miss. It was a long, lingering kiss. A kiss that showed Owen that I was serious. A kiss that made it impossible for me to take it back tomorrow, because I knew myself. A kiss that was a promise, to both of us.

A kiss that finally ended with both of us slightly flushed and breathing a little heavily.

"I love you so much," Owen said.

I smiled. "I love you too."

"You know," he said a second later. "That slow song isn't playing anymore. We missed most of our dance."

He was right. Now there was some thumping pop song with way too much bass and about four different lines being sung over and over again.

"So?" I asked.

We smiled at each other. I rested my head back on his shoulder.

And we danced.

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