Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
"It's cold out," Susan complained as they parked.
"You can borrow my jacket," Joe offered instantly, a bit confused. It was chilly, maybe, but not all that cold. And if she was worried, why hadn't she brought her jacket?
"Joe," Susan said patiently, "if I wanted a jacket, I would have brought one."
"Okay," Joe drawled the word as he unbuckled. "I see." Or rather, he hoped his tone made clear, he didn't see. What he also didn't see, he noted happily, was Susan making a single move towards the car door. He never forced the issue, but he liked opening the doors for them. It wasn't just a matter of being polite, though that was an issue, he really did enjoy doing things for his dates. Stepping out of the car, he was able to leisurely walk around it to the other door.
"Thank you," Susan said as she laid a hand on his arm. Other girls just pretended to use the arm, but she actually almost pulled him into the car. Smiling even broader, Joe pulled back, able to actually help her out of the car. "A gentlemen might consider offering me some body warmth," Susan suggested. Joe pulled her close, draping his arm over her shoulders as he used his other arm to close the door behind her. "See," she said smugly, "isn't this nice."
Given the way it pressed certain parts of her anatomy up against him, it was definitely nice. More than nice. And the arm that wrapped around his back to land oh-so-casually on his hip wasn't bad either. Certain body parts were rapidly making their approval known, which would quickly lead to all sorts of complaints about their relative containment, but that was a situation he was probably stuck with anyway. With any luck, he'd find a moment or two to make adjustments before too long.
"So, I hear your brothers got in trouble today," she said as they walked through the parking lot.
"Yeah, the idiots baited a teacher," Joe agreed.
"I wouldn't be too harsh on them," Susan suggested. "I mean, it's not like, oh, they baited Mrs. Engels, now is it."
Joe winced. "That's not fair," he protested. "I don't go out of my way to cause trouble. She starts it."
"And we all love the way you cut her down to size," Susan agreed. "Still, that's not too different from what the twins did, now is it?"
"They started out by provoking a fight with Joel Grayson," Joe said firmly. "Poor kid has had it hard enough without them piling more on him."
"Joel Grayson, rather than taking an opportunity to improve his life, is using recent events as an excuse to accelerate it's previous course," Susan said, voice full of sweet reason. Joe could be a little dense sometimes, but he hadn't lived for five years in a household containing four women without learning a few things.
"Is something wrong?" Joe asked.
Susan took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be quite so oblique," she apologized. "I wanted to ask you to convey my appreciation to your brothers."
"Appreciation?" Joe asked.
"Anything that makes Joel's life miserable is fine by me," Susan said softly. "And an absolute delight to my sister," she added.
"She attends the same school?" Joe asked.
"Yes," Susan said bitterly. "And she made the infinite mistake of attending a dance with Joel a few weeks back."
"Mistake?" Joe's eyes narrowed. The words themselves weren't exactly innocent, but the tone was triggering every last protective instinct his animal hind-brain could lay it's hands on.
"Let it go," Susan squeezed his hip. "I appreciate your caring, but what's past is past. Just thank the twins for me. And for my sister, Alice."
Joe sighed. "If that's how you want it," he shrugged. "So, looking forward to the movie?"
Susan made a small, pleased sound. "Oh yes," she said. "It's supposed to be quite good. I hear there's already talk about Oscar nominations."
"Really?" Joe asked. "It hasn't been out a week. Isn't that awfully hasty?"
Susan's laugh was sweet honey to Joe's ears. "Oh, my, yes. Quiet hasty. But sometimes, you just know. You don't need to wait or worry, you just… know."
"I see," Joe temporized. Another thing that he'd learned from living with women is that simple statement could often be more complicated than you thought. And this 'simple' statement had complex written all over it.
"I hear that you're planning to try out for Varsity next year," Susan continued.
"Perhaps," Joe agreed, for once understanding exactly where a woman was actually going. His intentions to try out for quarterback were obvious to all and sundry, it was his odds of actually earning the coveted spot that were in question. "Nothing's been decided yet. Gus could still beat me."
"Perhaps," Susan laughed, "except his father just took a new job out in San Francisco."
"He what?" Joe tripped over his own feet, and would have fallen down except Susan hauled him back into balance. Even in complete shock, he noticed how readily she did so. And then smiled over the fact that this woman was stronger than she looked.
"You really should listen to the grape vine a little better," Susan smiled. "It really is important."
"It's usually just a glut of whose-dating-who and what some idiot was caught sniffing this week," Joe defended himself. "It's not exactly interesting. Or relevant."
Susan sighed. "Perhaps not, but occasionally some important tidbits come down it. Including the one that prompted tonight," she told him.
"Prompted?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "The grapevine made you ask me out?"
"In a word, yes," she agreed.
"Why?" Joe demanded.
"Because of tradition," she told him. "Our school has made many changes, but in the end it still runs by, and believes in, tradition. Senior ditch day, toga day, homecoming."
"And that has what to do with the price of tea in China?" Joe asked.
"Last year, who was the homecoming King?" Susan asked. "And the year before that, and the year before that."
"Uh," Joe hesitated, then hid his confusion by opening the door for her.
"Don't stretch yourself looking for the names, think titles. I'm sure you know the titles," Susan told him softly as she entered the mall.
"Oh," Joe blinked. "Quarterbacks. They were all quarterbacks for the varsity team."
"And their dates?" Susan asked.
"Um, not sure," Joe shrugged as they entered the food court. The theater was off to their left, but they hesitated in front of a pizza place.
"Head cheerleaders, each and every one of them," Susan told him.
Joe's eyes narrowed. "Let me guess, that isn't by chance."
"No," Susan shook her head. "We go to a great deal of effort, each year, to make that happen. Because of tradition."
"You want to date me to become head cheerleader," Joe accused her, half-way expecting a slap to the face. Never in a million, million years would have have anticipated the result he did get.
Susan started laughing so hard he had to help hold her up. She was helpless in the grip of the giggling fit to end all giggling fits. "Oh so precious!" she managed to say eventually, with every eye in the food court on her thanks to the nearly hysterical level of laughter she'd managed. "Oh my, no," she laughed. "Not at all!"
"Then what do you want?" Joe asked.
"To know who the head cheerleader next year will be," she told him. "Bethany said you were something of a cold fish, but she's always been a slut. All the other girls you've dated insist you've been a perfect gentleman, and she would have interpreted that exactly the way she has."
"And how exactly has she interpreted that?" Joe asked.
"Well, she's decided that Mark Hill should be head cheerleader next year," Susan smiled.
"Mark Hill?" Joe asked. He'd heard the name, knew the guy, but what on earth was Susan talking about? He'd heard something the other day about Mark, but it wasn't anything about a sex change, Joe would have remembered that. A sex change would be unusual, and this was just one more case of 'so-and-so-is-sleeping-with'. Oh. Oh shit.
"Let me guess, you didn't hear it on the grapevine," Susan sighed as Joe finished putting two and two together. This time he came out with four instead of five. "He came out last month."
"I am not- you cannot be- that's just wrong!" he stammered out, blushing. "I'm not gay!" he shouted.
"Despite President Ashwood's attitudes, there's nothing wrong with it," Susan said, only her eyes giving away her amusement.
"Dude, there's nothing wrong with being gay," a guy came up and told him. "Hell, if you wanna ditch the broad I'd love a date tonight," the teen winked.
"Scram, Eric," Susan snapped. Laughing, the boy moved off. "Since I'm sure you haven't listened to the grapevine, he goes through boyfriends like you've been going through girlfriends."
"You too?" Joe protested. "Damn it, I've just been trying to find someone I like!"
Susan sighed. "And he just wants another notch in his bedpost," she shrugged. "Not a perfect comparison, I'll admit."
"That's not fair-" Joe cut himself off. "Fine, fine. You've already admitted to that."
"See, I'm not asking that much," she smiled. "We're early. Why don't I grab us some root beer floats while you grab the tickets. We can sit. And talk."
The line was short, but he would say grateful prayers this evening for every moment of time it granted him to think. To calm down a little and try to figure out what he should do, how to get events back under his own control.
Not that Susan was likely to let him control anything, if events to date were anything to judge by.
"Mmm, delicious," she told him as he turned away from the ticket window, holding a float out to him. She didn't lay a finger on him, but she still managed to drag him to a nearby table by sheer force of personality.
"So," she smiled, "you're rather defiantly 'not gay'. We still need to answer the question of who your date next year is."
"Why do I need to pick someone now?" Joe complained.
"You don't need to pick them right now, but you do need to make the decision soon," she told him. "Feel lucky. It used to be you didn't get a choice. You took whoever the prettiest girl was, even if you couldn't stand her."
"And she had to put up with me, even if she couldn't stand it," Joe snorted.
"Oh no," Susan smiled. "She had a choice. She didn't have to be the prettiest girl on the cheer leading squad, and by definition in the school. A little makeup can be used to enhance, or left off to make you seem plainer. Or even used to the detriment of your natural beauty. Honestly, I like the system we've developed in the last few years much better. The competition isn't nearly as cut-throat, because it's all decided by a man in advance."
"You're not making me feel much better," Joe warned her.
"I'm not trying to make you feel 'better'," she chided him. "I'm telling you what's going on. Again, an improvement over the old ways, were every girl you tried to date would act like a bitch until you got with the program — without ever actually explaining what was going on." She raised a single, sardonic eyebrow. "I'm sure you can understand how unpleasant that could be."
"Do I have some kind of deadline?" Joe asked. "A date I have to make the choice by?"
Susan smiled. "Sorry, doesn't work that way. At least not yet. Besides, if you don't make the choice, we need all the time we can get to arrange matters properly."
"What do you mean, 'arrange' matters?" Joe asked.
Susan looked down at her drink. "Words in ears. Whisper campaigns. I don't like to think about it. One of those things that needs improving… Needs fixing."
Joe shrugged. "I've dealt with that kind of thing before."
Susan shook her head. "No, you haven't. You've had a few isolated bigots target you over your parents." She looked down at her drink, hiding her face behind a veil of long, black hair. "You haven't had a concentrated, controlled, planned whisper campaign targeted at you. You haven't had half the school planning how to bring you down. You haven't had your own teammates coerced into acting against you." The naked shame in her voice was almost painful to hear. Almost as painful as the threats. "I'm trying to avoid that," she added, looking up at him. "The other girls… They intend to make you get with the program. Somehow. They can't avoid having you as quarterback, not anymore. So they have to convince you to pick someone, fast."
"And you're offering yourself," Joe snorted.
"No!" she snapped. "Hell, I don't even like you that much. You're trouble, boy. You like causing trouble, like being trouble. I want nothing to do with that. I'm just acting out a role. Only way to play the game."
"And what if I don't want to play a game?" Joe asked.
"You aren't being given a choice," she sighed. "No choice at all."
"I'll make a choice," Joe growled. "I could always quit the team."
"And leave the school without a quarterback," Susan shook her head. "Again, they'll stop you, or make your life a living hell trying to."
"I could change schools," Joe suggested.
Susan snorted. "Your parents aren't exactly likely to move just because you want to change schools."
"The only reason the Moms haven't already moved us to another house is because of me," Joe sighed. "I want to keep my own room, and finish school here. If I change my mind…"
Susan shrugged. "That'll get you off the hook, so long as you don't show up around here again. If you did…" She shrugged, clearly not happy with the implied threat. "I can keep the worst of it from starting for a week or two while you think things through," she sighed. "Just, please, try and think as fast as you can?"
Joe reached out across the table and took her hand. She jerked it away from him. "Thank you," he told her, ignoring the angry body language. She relaxed, and finally reached out and took his hand herself.
"Not much to thank me for," she said miserably. "I'm just as bad as the rest. Manipulating you. Forcing you into things against your will."
"None of the other girls, including Bethany, have bothered to explain what's going on," Joe told her. "I'm going to guess that this is why I can only seem to get the 'pretty' girls to give me the time of day? When I tried to ask Kayla Adams out for a date, she just about slapped me. Didn't really explain why, either."
Susan smiled softly. "Yeah, probably," she agreed. "Kayla runs in the wrong circles and knows it."
"And if I insist on a girl from those 'wrong circles'?" Joe asked.
Susan winced. "Picking a boy would buck tradition, but buck it in a way they like. These days, it's very 'in' to be accepting of alternative lifestyles. Picking a geek, or a bandy? No way. Living hell times two."
"Then maybe that's what I'll do," Joe rumbled. He wasn't sure if it was his natural shit-stirrer instincts at work, or his natural intransigence. Or both.
"Then at least I've warned you," Susan licked the last of the ice cream off her spoon. "I won't be a part of it, but I won't be able to stop it, either.
"I'll worry about that," Joe laughed. "I'll deal, I always have."
Susan checked her phone. "Movie will be starting soon," she commented, drinking the last of the soda down.
Joe looked down at his own float in surprise, realizing he'd already finished it. He'd barely even tasted it.
"I'm sorry if you feel like I invited you out under false pretenses," Susan said as she offered her arm. "And while I said a gentleman might offer his warmth, the truth is I enjoy the closeness. Even if it never goes further than the one date."
Joe reached out and pulled her close, placing her hand on his hip even as he pulled her under his arm. "I kinda like it too," he admitted.
"Only for tonight," she warned him. "I don't like the way you try to cause trouble every chance you get. I just thought you needed a warning."
"You know, you didn't really lure me out under false pretenses," Joe offered up as he handed their tickets over to an usher.
"Oh?" she asked.
"When you asked me out, your exact words were, let's see," Joe tossed his mind back. "Ah, yes. 'Let's go out Friday. Have some fun, talk a little. I know you're looking for something to do since Kayla turned you down.' I was rather suspicious about that, given that Kayla had turned me down less than an hour earlier. Even the grapevine doesn't work that fast."
Susan laughed. "Oh, Joe, you give the grapevine too little credit. Far, far too little credit."
All too soon they were in the theater, and Joe had to let go so they could sit down. He didn't notice the small stab of discomfort that went through him at the idea, but he did notice the way Susan's smile lingered throughout the movie. And the way she patted his arm from time to time.
Joe hated driving through residential neighborhoods. It was bad enough that the speed limit was so low, but the very real tendency of little kids to run out in front of a car without warning kept him driving along at a creep. And having the radio blasting out the most annoying, shrill, and outright painful of music didn't help, either.
Then again, that might just be the fact that the girls just had to sing along. At least it kept them from fighting with each other. Which was always helpful.
Finally, he pulled up into the driveway. Hitting the garage door opener, he sighed, waiting for the door to inch its way up. He shifted into drive and started to inch forward, just in time for his mother to step out of the house and wave at him to stop. Putting the car in park, he turned down the radio and rolled down the window.
"Turn it back up!" Abi squealed.
"We're listening to it!" Ami agreed.
"Mom wants to talk to me," Joe told them.
"They behaved for you?" Mother asked him.
"Well enough," Joe winced as the girls shrieked at each other. "Mostly."
Mother laughed, knowing full well that as much as Joe like to pretend otherwise, the girls had him wrapped around their fingers. "Well, instead of our original plans, we're thinking about taking them out to the zoo for the afternoon."
"The zoo?" Abi shouted happily, a second before her sister could join her.
Joe winced and made as if to plug his ears, causing his mother to laugh. "Just wait here a moment, Laura is on her way out." Joe shifted the car into park and stepped out. "Maybe you should get behind the wheel," he suggested. "Enjoy your time with the girls." The decibel level, if anything, was rising, causing Mom to take a step back. Joe very carefully hid any trace of a smile. "I'll go see what's taking Mrs. B so long," Joe added, trotting past his mother before she could come up with an excuse to join him.
"Hey Mrs. B," Joe waved as he entered the house. Mrs. B waved back as she rummaged through her purse.
"Hey Joe," she greeted him. "We'll be back this evening. The twins are cooking."
"Alright," Joe nodded. "Why the sudden change of plans?" he asked.
"Just found out the zoo was running a promotion, afternoon access for a dollar each," Mrs. B shrugged. "Seemed appropriate."
Joe nodded. "In that case, the sooner you're gone, the sooner the twins can begin complaining about how horribly embarrassing that was."
Mrs. B laughed. "I just wanted to make sure… I could have sworn I had it in here… Ah ha!" she pulled a glass case out triumphantly. "Now I just need my hat," she turned and started rummaging through the coat closet. "Where did I leave it…"
Joe shook his head and walked past her, up to his room. He'd figured out months ago who was nicking his magazines, but after 'The Talk' there wasn't a doubt in his mind that his condom stock was going to start being raided as well. The magazines he didn't mind too much, he could always nick them back. The condoms… Well, it was time to start setting some ground rules.
Smiling, he noticed the sounds of combat coming from his room. Figures. "I thought I told you two you were grounded," he growled, opening his door.
"That was last night?" one of them offered.
"Yeah, you didn't say it applied today," the other agreed.
"I didn't, did I?" Joe asked. "Well, maybe I should fix that." Walking over, he snatched the controllers out of their hands and set them back on the shelf, taking the time to pause the game first. "Now, the 'rents aren't quite gone yet, but I don't think they'll be coming up stairs. And unfortunately for my sanity, they've decided that you need a male role model and that I'm it. Worse yet, that means that if you have any questions you feel more comfortable bringing up with a guy, I'm stuck hearing them."
"But, we don't need to jump straight to business," Joe decided. "I think we could all use some stress release."
"Stress release?" the twins asked.
"Yes," Joe agreed, smiling. Turning around, he let them see the grin just long enough for alarm to flash across their features, then he pounced. Hauling them off the bed, he threw both of them to the ground in a pile, then waited just long enough for them to recover before tossing himself on top.
"Nooooo!" they howled, laughing, as he quickly overpowered them.
"Now, let's see," Joe mused, holding both of them on the floor, "what shall I do with my prisoners?"
Giggles broke out, exactly as Joe hoped. "I suppose I could eat them up," he me mused. Instead of giggling, the two boys froze under him. "What?"
"Eeew," they chorused, noses wrinkling. "That's yucky!"
"What's yucky?" Joe asked, confused. "Oh you babies!" he laughed. "Up, not out. I have no intention of eating you out. You have the wrong parts for that anyway."
"Oh," the twins said. "Um…"
"I guess eating of any sort is out of the question," Joe mused. "I suppose I could tie you up into knots, that might be fun."
One of the twins gave a halfhearted giggle, but Joe sighed realizing the mood was broken. "Dang it," Joe sighed. "Oh fine," he leaned back and let the twins go. "I guess we need to get to business after all. Any questions that need answering?"
The twins looked at each other, then grinned and jumped at Joe. "Hey, I thought we were done!" he protested, laughing as they knocked him over. He could take them readily enough with the advantage of surprise, but this time they held every advantage, and he quickly found himself flat on the floor, 'helpless' before whatever they decided to do to him.
Which, predictably, involved the minor detail of him being ticklish.
Eventually the twins bored of tickling him, and Joe managed to break free, laughing. "I'll get you two for that," he threatened, receiving completely unfazed grins in return. "So, seriously. Questions? Anything?"
The twins looked at each other, shifting uncomfortably on their feet. "Well," one of them temporized.
"Tom was wondering-" Tim began.
"You started it!" Tom protested.
"Yeah, well you wanted to ask!" Tim shot back.
"Boys!" Joe snapped. "Behave!"
The twins shuffled their feet a little, then Tim looked up. "Well, the Moms were talking about a lot of things."
"Gross things," Tom added.
"And we're wondering if people really do that kind of thing," Tim finished. "I mean, sucking on… Um…"
"Blow-jobs," Tom said flatly. "I mean, gross! I pee there!"
Joe laughed. Clearly the Moms hadn't cut any corners. Again. "Oh yes," Joe told them. "People do that kind of thing. You'll understand a bit as you get older."
"If getting older means liking pee, I wanna stay young," Tom wrinkled his face, causing Joe to laugh again.
"Any other questions?" Joe asked. "And to save you time, if the Moms talked about it, they probably meant it. And there's plenty they probably didn't talk about."
"Like what?" Tim asked curiously.
Tom coughed. "I don't think we want to know," he suggested.
"Yeah, but now I'm curious," Tim told him. "Don't tell me you aren't."
"Well…" Tom dragged the word out. "Oh fine, I am."
"To give you an example they probably didn't discuss," Joe hesitated, trying to remember the terms. "Ah, yes, the first one is called 'water-sports'."
"Water-sports?" Tim asked. "What, like playing football in the pool?"
Joe laughed again. "No, like giving someone a golden shower."
The twins cocked their heads, confused, but after a moment Tim began to groan. "Eeeeeew," he complained. "I had to ask!"
"If that's the first one," Tom asked hesitantly, "do I dare ask what the second one is?"
"I chose my words carefully," Joe wrinkled his own nose. "I just covered 'number one', do you really want me to tell you about raunch, which is number two?"
This time the twins didn't take long to figure it out. "Eeeew" the chorused.
"The first one is relatively safe, by the way," Joe added. "Urine, as long as you're healthy, is sterile. The second is not."
"How do you know this stuff?" Tim complained.
Joe raised an eyebrow. "Friends," he said succinctly. "The internet helps too."
"What, you did some of this?" Tom asked quickly.
Joe winced. He hadn't exactly planned to open that door. "You two are going to promise to keep that secret to yourselves. Cross your heart and hope to die. Because if I catch you, well…" Joe let the threat hang there as the twins nodded quickly. "Back when I was your age, younger really, a friend and I used to play various games. Including getting in the shower together and hosing each other down. It never went anywhere, but he was always fascinated by the stuff. His dad caught him once, with somebody else, thank God for small favors."
"Eeew," the boys chorused. "Why'd you do it?"
Joe shrugged. "It amused him, and it was kinda fun. Naughty fun. Kinda like the fun you twerps get out of baiting a certain teacher, only without the threat of getting in trouble afterward."
The twins glanced at each other, cogwheels clearly turning in their heads.
"Now, lets move on," Joe suggested. "And keep it away from my past," he added threateningly.
"Um, those square things under your bed…" Tom asked. "Are they condoms? The Moms talked about those a lot."
Joe used one hand to lift his bed, and the other to fish out his condom supply. Ripping off two, he tossed them at the twins. "Those are freebies," he told them. "And yes, they're condoms. I know exactly how many are in my stash, and if you so much as touch the rest, I am going to kill you two. That said, if you need more, talk to me. We can figure things out. They cost money, but you guys have allowances."
The twins shared a long look, then smiled at him. "Thanks Joe!" they chorused.
"Your welcome," Joe smiled. "But there is a cost associated with that offer."
"A cost?" Tom asked.
"Yes, one I suspect the Moms have already laid on you," Joe nodded. "If you have sex — oral, vaginal, hell even anal — I expect you to use one of those," he pointed at the condoms he'd already distributed. "If I catch you having sex without them, you'll wish I'd thrown you to the Moms."
Both boys gulped. "Yessir!" they managed to eek out.
"Good," Joe nodded. "Now, if I were you, I'd be tempted to try those out," he pointed to the packages he'd just handed out. "I'd be curious about how they actually felt, and how they went on, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Given that condoms have a very limited shelf life, I'd suggest you don't try sticking those in your wallet."
"The Moms told us that was a bad idea," Tim told him. "It can wear out the rubber."
Joe nodded. "Yes, yes it can. Glad you know that. However, I didn't mean literally sticking them in your wallet, I was referring to the idea of holding onto them for a rainy day. I wouldn't do that if I were you. They age."
"Oh," the twins said, looking down.
"So, what, we should go find a girl?" Tim asked, scrunching his face.
Joe laughed. "No, just try them on. See how they fit. Maybe enjoy a few of the skin magazines you've stolen from me while using them, just to see what it's like."
"Oh!" the boys exclaimed, looking at the small squares with renewed interest.
"Now, unless you guys have any other questions," Joe hopped onto his bed, roll of condoms still in hand, "why don't you scram?"
The twins took one look at each other, then did their best to trample the other in their haste to get back to their room. Chuckling, Joe ripped another condom off and looked at it. It had been a while since he'd experimented himself. Maybe it was time to practice a little more, make sure that when the big day came, he wouldn't fumble the ball.