Parker's house was one of many similar looking single story houses with a narrow driveway to one side of the main house. At the end of the driveway, parked on the grass beside the house, was a car of unknown make with its hood popped but not propped up. One of the headlights, looking like an insect's eye, was darkened-noticeably more than the other which was merely milky. It almost appeared as if the car had one black eye and one covered by a cataract.
Parker popped his board up into his hand and I continued to be impressed by the smooth efficiency of the act. Once inside he offered me a drink, which I accepted, and we retreated to his bedroom. The little I saw of his home on the way to his room looked lived in and a bit cluttered but clean. His room was messy with items strewn over every flat surface and clothes scattered as if by a savage wind.
If he noticed the mess, he ignored it. He sat on his bed and waved me to a chair situated in front of a small desk. I spun it around and sat facing him. Popping the top of the can he'd given me, I took a drink, set the can down, and regarded him. He was tapping the top of the can, but not opening it. I wondered what he was thinking about. His fingers stopped their seemingly nervous dance and pulled the tab and then he drank before resting the can between his knees. It was an interesting contrast to his initial abrupt manner.
"So, Shane Blankenship, I kind of looked you up over the weekend."
I frowned slightly. "What do you mean? How? Why?"
He picked up the can and shifted on his bed, leaning back on his pillows and regarded me. Instead of replying right away, he toed off his sneakers and sipped again.
"Well, think about it. I'm there getting my butt kicked and someone sticks up for me. Someone I'm not exactly friends with because I don't have any. Not only that, but someone who seems to be as much of an outsider as I am. Wouldn't that make you wonder a little?"
I sipped the drink and tilted my head from side to side. "Go on."
"So I looked for you on Facebook, Instagram, Google-all that stuff. You know what I found?"
"Not much?" I ventured.
"On you, yeah. Not much. Good grades, though: Google picked up the school website. A few honor roll mentions. Then there was an obituary for Sheldon Helgenstead? Survived by his grandson, Shane Blankenship." He paused and I looked at him with interest. I'd never been the focus of anyone's research before, at least that I knew of, and it was a novel experience. Not least of which because it was Parker doing the research.
"Sorry about your gramp, by the way," he said, his voice taking on a softer tone. I nodded in acceptance of this and he continued, "But it also listed Madeline Blankenship, his daughter and she has a Facebook."
I looked up in understanding. From there he could have found my address, seen my house on Google Earth, who knows what else? I returned my gaze to him and he was looking back at me steadily.
"And?" I prompted him.
He gave a small shrug. "Nice house, nothing fancy. Mom works at the factory. Not much mention of your dad, except for one picture and he's all in camo. Honestly, none of that told me much about you."
"So you decided for the direct approach?"
"Yeah, more or less."
He snorted. "Is this a test? Want me to give you a report on what I found out about you?"
I tilted my head with interest. "Why not?"
He looked at me as if I were a little weird, which I probably am, and nodded. "Well, I wanted to know why you'd helped me. I'm guessing that you're gay and, um, maybe you like me a little."
Wow. It was almost clinical except for the slight stutter at the end and the hint of a blush on his cheeks. My heart was racing at having been so easily found out; in fact the whole thing was a little surreal. There were some things that drew my attention, though. For instance, I enjoyed listening to his voice and I liked the experience of being invited to someone's home. Of course, this might be the only time that would happen, especially if I confirmed Parker's conclusions for him.
Oh, well. Wasn't being honest the right thing to do?
"Yeah, I like you." I paused. "A little."
He chuckled and sipped his drink. "So were you expecting something to happen for helping me?"
I shook my head. "No! Absolutely...no.I didn't really think about it that far ahead, honestly. I had forgotten a book in my locker and I'd gone back to get it. Instead I'd heard you getting hit, though I didn't know it was you. When I did see it was you, I remember thinking...Parker? Who could possibly be that mad at Parker?"
His brows drew down in puzzlement. "Like I can't piss someone off or something? What's that even mean?"
I shrugged and smiled at him, my heart slowing a few beats since he didn't seem to be reacting with anything other than curiosity.
"I've thought of you as, more or less, the least offensive guy ever. I never see you giving anyone shit or piling on. You don't seem to make waves or get into trouble. It just...it seemed totally out of character for someone to have gotten that mad at you." I shrugged again and sipped my drink. He was silent for the moment and I glanced at his alarm clock and stood quickly, seeing the time.
"Uh, I have to go. I have a couple chores I have to get done before my dad gets home."
He stood and slipped his shoes on. "I'll go with you."
"I can't let you in," I reminded him as I followed him down the hall.
"It's cool," he replied.
We didn't speak on the way to my house. I was nearly jogging and Parker rolled along the pavement, weaving gracefully side-to-side as he did. When I got home I turned to say goodbye but he just waved and started skating in front of my house, hopping up on the curb and doing some tricks that I have no idea about. None. If they were considered difficult or easy...I'm just not into skateboarding. I'd probably break an ankle if I'd tried.
Instead of watching him any further, I darted inside and set about my chores, but making sure to get the meat into the microwave before anything else. I had barely opened the dishwasher to put away the breakfast dishes when the front door opened and my father entered with Parker in tow.
I looked at them in curiosity, my chore forgotten.
My father dropped his keys on the table and leaned his hip against the counter while crossing his arms and looking at me with a look I'd never seen.
"Your friend tells me you stuck up for him in a fight."
I glanced at Parker, whose stance had shifted to place most of his weight on one foot. Looking back at my father I said, "Yeah. Friday."
"Why didn't you tell me you'd been in a fight?"
I glanced away from him. "I don't know."
"Shane...son," he said, his voice taking on a tone I'd never heard. "I'm so proud of you for standing up. I didn't know you had it in you."
I looked back at him with my eyes wide and he placed a hand on my shoulder. "Go hang out with your friend. I'll finish this." He looked back over his shoulder and said, "Parker? Staying for dinner?"
"Sure. Thanks. Just have to call my folks, first." I saw him pull a cell from his pocket and I looked back at my father's eyes, and the ghost of a smile on his face.
"Shane, I didn't even know you had a friend. I'm glad to find out you do, though. You're not like me," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper and his eyes taking on a far away look. "I think you need people more than I do. So, go. Have fun. I like him."
I tentatively stepped around my father and walked over to Parker, who ended his call. "I'm all good to stay. Thanks Mr. Blankenship."
"No problem," he said. I waved at Parker to follow me and retreated in confusion to my room. Parker stopped in my doorway and looked around. As had happened in his room, I offered my guest the chair at my desk while I sat on my bed. His eyes roving, Parker sat on the chair and twisted it a little from side to side.
"So...what was that?"
He tilted his head. "I always have to get permission from my parents for things. Don't you?"
I lifted an eyebrow and he chuckled. "I had no idea you had a sense of humor," I told him dryly.
"Well, you didn't know I had a brother, either. Seems like you suck at gathering intel, Shane."
An embarrassed smile forced its way to my face. "Well, I wasn't really...I mean-don't make too much about it, there, Parker. You weren't the only-" Realizing I was about to blurt out the fact Parker was just one of a handful on my list of favorites, and committing my own personal cardinal sin of talking too much, I shut my mouth with a snap.
"Shane," he said with a grin and shaking his head. "I got a bunch of girls I like for one thing or another. Don't be so embarrassed."
Damn. He'd figured me out; it was like he could see right through me. I looked away from him. "It is, though. Embarrassing."
"Why? Because I'm straight?"
I shifted uncomfortably. "Maybe a little. But it kind of sucks to let people know, you know...it just feels weird."
"Well, you better get the fuck over it," he said with a snicker. I looked up at him with surprise and my embarrassment momentarily forgotten.
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Are you serious with this?" he asked, some of his good humor fleeing. "What did I say about what people think of me? Do you listen or do you only care about what I look like?"
I frowned. "Before today I didn't know much of anything about you besides your looks."
"Well, you found out more today, didn't you?"
I narrowed my eyes at him and cast my mind back over our conversations that afternoon. I growled, "You said people judged you because of your brother. They think you're a burnout loser. But fuck them because you don't care what they think."
Parker smiled widely, his teeth showing in neat white rows. Then he laughed loudly as he stood up and spread his arms out wide. "Last week, everyone thought that about me. This week? Someone thinks I'm cute and actually listens to me. Sounds like an upgrade."
I looked at him uncertainly. "Well, I'm glad you don't mind."
"Why should I?" he said, his smile fading and his tone taking on a demanding edge. "Why should any guy? You have the same rights as anyone else. If some guy isn't human enough to accept that, well...?" He stood silently, his hand beckoning me to finish his sentence for him.
A smile spread on my face and I said, "Fuck them."
"Damn right." He dropped back into my chair and spun around once before planting his feet and stopping the chair. "So who else was on the list? Tell me about the company I kept on your little list."
That was unexpected, but sort of pleasantly so. "Uh, how about we trade?"
"Name for name? Okay. I guess I have to go since I'm already on your list," he said reasonably, though I think he was just enjoying making me squirm. "Heather Martin did that project last year on recycling and she had to present it in class. I couldn't stop staring, man; those dimples are just killer."
Thinking of the girl he was mentioning, picturing her pretty cinnamon colored hair, I nodded. "Yeah, she does have a nice smile."
I bit my lip. "Why are we doing this again?"
"Duh. It's what friends do."
I looked at him in a bit of disbelief.
He frowned and leaned forward a bit. "Am I wrong here? I thought we liked each other?"
I blinked a few times and cleared my throat. "You know, I guess it just didn't...I didn't think you'd like me. I just assumed you'd, I don't know...."
"Well, I do," he said as he leaned back. "And we both know how you feel about me, so who else was on your list?"
"You're kind of evil, you know," I said with a sigh and leaned back.
"Nah. I mean, I guess I can be, but not usually. Now stop stalling."
I let out a little laugh and nodded. "Curtis Wainwright."
He leaned forward. "Curtis? Farm boy Curtis? He and I are so different, how did you ever put us on the same list? He's kind of stacked for his age."
"Well, you wear so many layers, how am I supposed to know what you look like?" I replied. "Besides, I don't have a specific type."
"Well," he said slowly, "what is it you like about Curtis?"
"I like his voice," I said with a little heat in my face. "And he did fill out nicely over the summer."
"Hmm." Parker fell silent for a moment before his eyes lit with mischief. "Do you like my voice?"
"No. Please shut up," I deadpanned, though my face still felt warm.
He laughed and said, "Neriah Simonian. Have you heard her laugh? Gives me goose bumps."
My nose wrinkled. "Had a run in with her brother last week. She's probably as religious as he is."
"I could find Jesus, if he's in her pants," Parker snickered and I laughed.
"Um, Clint Fjeldsted," I said, volunteering my next name.
"You go from me to built Curtis down to Mighty Mouse? You're all over the map, Blankenship," he said and burst out laughing.
I narrowed my eyes, "I still don't know where you fall on that whole body type thing, Parker."
He rolled his eyes as he stood up. "If you want to see, just ask for Christ's sake," he said and pulled his shirt off and held his hands out. "You like?"
I held my breath for a second as I looked at his tight form, flat muscle that left him looking slender but strong. It probably wasn't quick enough to fool him, but I sniffed. "Average, I guess," I said with a yawn.
He pointed. "Fuck you, you know you want me." He flexed like a body builder before chuckling and he pulled his shirt back on. "So what do you like about Clint?"
I shrugged. "He's got a nice face. Kind of funny in a goofy way."
Parker was nodding along. "Kid's a klutz, but he's entertaining. I don't think he's going to get the school showering, though. I heard a couple guys in his class did, kind of like a dare or something. I don't know if they kept it up." He paused and then twisted his mouth to the side in thought. "He came out, too. I guess he's kind of brave."
"Yeah," I said absently.
"Angela Fjeldsted. I'm sorry, total pig moment, but she has such nice tits," Parker said, swooning back in the chair. I laughed at him and he grinned in return. "She's sort of scary, too."
Warming to the conversation, I followed his lead and just spit out the next name. "Zane Thompson. Really smart and, remember what you said about dimples? Zane's got 'em, too."
Parker sat forward. "Doesn't he seem like some kind of rich guy out of a comic book with that cane? Like he limps all day and whips a sword cane out at night to fight crime or something?"
"Zane? Like Batman?" I stood on my bed and pretended to be standing with a sword in one hand and my other behind me for balance like a fencer. With a laugh Parker joined me and we began waving imaginary swords around, pretending to dodge and tumble away from each other. It wasn't easy considering the springiness of the mattress, but by the time Parker knocked me over and pretended to spear me through my chest we were laughing so hard as to be breathless.
"Lyndsey Kratsis. I was in cooking class with her and she makes killer food."
"The way to your heart is through your stomach?"
"Don't get any ideas."
My turn. "Ty Menendez. Listening to him speak Spanish is so cool."
"I like him," Parker nodded. "He taught me some swear words."
I narrowed my eyes. "I'm guessing the proper response is fuck you, Parker."
He burst out laughing. "Cassie Richards."
"What?" I asked, chuckling. "What do you like about her?"
"Nothing," he said. " I'm out of names."
We fell into silly giggles and lay flat on our backs on my bed. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt this good.
"Okay, who else? Was that it?" Parker asked, his giggles trailing off.
"Um," I thought through my mental list and ticked off the boys I liked. "Oh! Travis Beaufort. He's quiet," I said, shooting a playful glare at Parker. "And smart. There's something about him being short that I like, too. It suits him. It makes him seem sort of Elfin. Plus he does this thing where he bites his lip."
"Travis is cool," Parker said. "He's dating Angie, though, the lucky bastard." He sighed heavily and patted me on the chest with the back of his hand. "Well, Zane and Clint are dating each other and Travis is dating Angie so...do we focus on Ty or Curtis?"
"Focus?" I asked and sat up. Parker continued to lie stretched out and comfortable on my bed, but he turned his gaze to me. It was an evil gaze. Well, he'd probably call it mischievous.
"Yeah. I figured out how I'm going to make us even. I'm going to get you a date with a guy on your list."
"Um, no. No!" I said as the reality hit me that he was serious. "You can't."
"I'm not out."
"People will judge me."
"Like they don't now? Fuck them. You have any other lame excuses?"
"They're probably straight," I said, starting to panic.
"Well, that's not a certainty. Isn't it worth finding out?"
I looked away from him and folded my hands one over the other in my lap. "No. Not everyone is like you."
The bed stirred as he sat up and put his arm around my shoulder. "Okay, I can be your gold standard for now."
I looked at him and wanted to ask him to just be my friend-something I hadn't known I was missing. But before I could form the words my dad announced dinner and, with a squeeze of my shoulder, Parker was sliding off the bed and we headed out to eat with my father.
Dinner wasn't our normal affair. My dad asked questions of Parker and he was pretty forthcoming, excepting anything about my interest in him. I wasn't sure if he did that because he'd finally reached some internal limit for him or if he did it for me but I was happy either way. He stayed for a bit after dinner and then said he had to go home and get his homework done. I walked him out to our small porch and there, in the days dying light, he kissed me.
I was too stunned to engage in the kiss, but he had a satisfied smirk on his face as he pulled away from me.
He shrugged. "Seemed like the thing to do. That answer work for you?" He bumped my fist and waved as he skated off into the evening.