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The Best Year - 23. Chapter 23

“Homecoming weekend, bitches,” Toby said as he sat his lunch tray down and pulled out his chair. Homecoming was finally something worth looking forward to, being seniors. Not being on the football team or part of any school sport, I didn’t think much about it. Toby and Derek were excited, the football team finally had a winning season, well, winning for us anyway. More wins than losses for the first time since the turn of the century.

 

“Only thing that sucks is the dance Saturday night,” Derek said grimacing as he studied his tray. Today was lasagna day, far worse than any other day of the week when it came to the food. Luke was the only one really eating, but that was to keep from having another talk about homecoming this week. I was glad that tonight they would play the one cupcake team on the schedule to ensure a victory for the seniors and we could all stop talking about it.

 

“You know we don’t really have to do a dance,” Olivia said as she skewered a cherry tomato and dipped it in a glob of ranch dressing from her salad. All of the girls had been eating salads for their lunches since the end of September to make sure they looked good in their dresses for the first dance of the year. “Right Luke?”

 

“What?” Luke mumbled over his half-chewed bite of lasagna. The guys snickered as he chewed and swallowed.

 

“The dance,” she said, “we don’t have to go to a dance.”

 

It was obvious they had talked about this behind our backs before and Luke just wasn’t getting her clues. As the flush came to his cheeks now that everyone was looking at him and wondering what the hell was going on, I looked down at my tray of food to hide my smile from the rest of the table.

 

“What do you mean no dance?” Lily asked sounding wary as she picked the cherry tomatoes out of her salad and put them in the lid. Olivia would end up stealing them after Lily found all of them hiding in her salad.

 

“My uncle owns a paint wars arena,” Luke muttered after Olivia elbowed him in the side. “He said he could work out a deal if the school wanted to do that.”

 

“You’re telling us now?” Toby asked turning in his seat to look at him. “Dude, Church, you suck.”

 

“We can’t not have a dance,” Heather countered crossing her arms. “I already bought and had my dress altered and everything.”

 

“I didn’t know that I would be ungrounded before homecoming,” Luke responded and I looked up to see him shifting in his seat.

 

“Is this because you don’t have a date?” Heather asked and I saw Olivia nearly choke on a second cherry tomato. Luke reached over and patted her on the back, rougher than I thought he needed to as he shot her a look. To their credit, Toby and Derek didn’t snicker or anything, but Lily shot Derek a look just in case. Heather, Ally, and now since Connor is a regular at our lunch table, still didn’t know about Luke and I.

 

After the first swim meet a lot hadn’t changed. I still had practice, as did everyone else, and Luke was still on house arrest. This time, after coming home well past midnight, Henry agreed with Cindy, but convinced her to finally set a day for Luke’s freedom.

 

Practices were harder now that meets were well underway. We had to drop the relay since Aiden and Matt were still benched. Tony had thought up some amusing ways to punish them over the weeks as well. Like staying after practice to scrub and clean the locker rooms. Aiden lost his captain or anchor spot to Draeden as well, but after the first disastrous meet and being on Tony’s bad side, both Townson brothers were back to toeing the line. Their parents were good on their word about sponsoring Drae and I during our next meet and it was fun watching Tony yell at both of them when one of us raced and they didn’t cheer. After a week of working full time with Tony, I felt better about my race pacing and vision while in the pool so I did a lot better. I still didn’t beat Pete, who was at our next meet in the event finals, but I came in a strong second, both of us beating that school’s time record although his name would be the only name on the books. Mom got to come watch though, it was nice having her there despite the guys being a little shy and different when she was around.

 

Now that all of our sports were well underway, we all spent a lot less time together. It felt different this time though, the time apart. In the back of my mind I knew that this wasn’t fleeting anymore, there was a sense of permanence to it now. Ally wasn’t going to the same college as Lily or Heather. Toby and Derek were both doing the two years at community college thing down the road. If I got a scholarship to swim I would be going there and none of the schools the girls were going to next year had a swimming program. I couldn’t help meeting each of these milestones of Senior year with a bit of bitterness, like homecoming. I didn’t really want to spend it dancing, it didn’t feel like something any of us would do together. The girls were only excited about the shopping part and that was over weeks ago. Toby and Derek were excited because they got all the attention being seniors. They would be paraded around before the game with their parents this Friday night. One of them could be named homecoming king, although Bailey Ashton probably had that wrapped up, even after I cheated and slid some extra votes into the pile for both Derek and Toby.

 

“No, I don’t have a date,” Luke commented grabbing for his bottle of water, he still seemed to be chewing on the remnants of his last bite without a lot of progress.

 

“Jackson doesn’t either,” Heather countered offering me a supportive smile. “I bet both of you could find dates really quick if you want.”

 

“Yeah, Jack,” Derek added trying to hide the smirk. “Real quick, I bet there’s one right in front of you.”

 

“I’m serious,” she said rolling her eyes. “There are some girls on the squad that don’t have dates.”

 

“Which ones?” Luke asked and I shot him a look and he shrugged his shoulders.

 

“They’re juniors, but they’re allowed into the dance if a senior is their date,” Heather explained offering him a small smile. Like Ally, she still didn’t seem to know what to think of Luke still sitting with us at the table. Olivia and her didn’t really talk either and I caught Olivia rolling her eyes more than once when Heather talked. It took me awhile to catch on that Heather also shot daggers at Olivia, but I thought that was more or less because Olivia and Luke took up table space that Ally and Bailey Ashton could occupy.

 

“Why do we have to do the dance at all?” I asked gently sliding my tray away so I could cross my arms on the table. I didn’t want Luke, or me, for that matter suffering at a dance with girls we didn’t even like. Even if it would have made their nights.

 

“Didn’t you hear me?” Heather asked her mouth dropping open in disbelief for having to explain herself again. “I already bought the dress.”

 

“So?” I asked and this time Lily shot me a withering look and I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to change their minds. Derek also snickered, so it was obvious he had been on the receiving end of that look before and knew what it meant. If anything, Luke and I could just do our own thing Saturday night, but we both knew it would look bad if we ditched on homecoming. It was also something that Luke wanted to do, to be out with friends that weren’t approved by Cindy.

 

“We just don’t have…” Heather started, but a blaring shriek stopped all conversation in the cafeteria. I jumped when Connor dropped his milk and it splattered all over the both of us. Shooting him a dirty look as a second shriek echoed in the now quiet room I turned before Connor could start apologizing to see Welker doing battle with a megaphone. He looked frantic and when Coach Tate took the megaphone from him, he stepped aside quickly leaning forward and talked, waving his hands wildly in Coach Tate’s ear. I had never seen Welker this upset, not even after that whole naked race Derek, Toby, and I had at the beginning of the year.

 

“A couple of idiot freshmen broke a main water pipe in the gym, it is full of water,” Coach announced and I glanced at Heather to see her mouth fly open. “You will all have to evacuate, busses will be here to take you home. It goes without saying that all future activities scheduled in the gym are cancelled until the mess is cleaned.”

 

“I’ll kill them all,” Heather roared, “I’ve been eating salads to fit into a dress that made my boobs look awesome, for nothing.” The few people in hearing distanced laughed at her as they all rose, the sound of them all scooting back their chairs tickled my eardrums and I shuddered as I stood and got into the long line forming at the trash bins to empty my tray. Being a Friday and having teachers escorting us from the cafeteria straight to the nearest exit no one had time to go to our lockers or sneak off to go see the damage for ourselves. Looking around I saw Heather trying to tiptoe to see over taller people, her neck strained towards the gym entrance. When I looked all I could see was the janitors and Welker huddled around, moving people along that got too close on their way outside.

 

“Well at least we have a nice alternative,” Olivia said as we gathered in a small group. “Go tell someone important and get it done.”

 

“Not right now,” Luke said shaking his head as we all squinted against the bright noonday sun. Across the campus a few of the busses were already getting fuel. It would take awhile for all the drivers to come in to take students that didn’t drive home.

 

“Alright, teachers call roll,” Coach Tate’s voice shouted, still amplified by the megaphone. “After roll is taken and you’re accounted for, people who drive can leave, and the guest entrances to the gym are locked so don’t even try it.”

 

After my name was checked off by Mrs. Morgan, I broke from the crowd with Connor following right behind me since we were both in the same class. Instead of walking down the sidewalk and around the corner to the backside of the school building where the seniors parked. I made my way up to where Rick stood prepared to bark more orders at us if he needed to.

 

“Sorry for the milk, man,” Connor said as he caught up to walk beside me after we no longer had to shoulder through everyone else.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” I said even though I already started feeling sticky as I walked and I knew if I looked down there would be a splattered mess on my shirt and khaki shorts. No one else seemed to notice with all the excitement going on. Most people had their phones out trying to get hold of their parents.

 

When we reached the stairs Rick stood on top overseeing everything, I bounded up them still aware that Connor was still following me. I knew Rick was the best chance at getting to Welker in time to salvage any homecoming celebrations. It had to be a quick turn around to keep people from scheduling their own parties. I also knew I had to beat Heather and Lily, I doubted there would be anywhere else readily available to host a homecoming, but I knew not to underestimate either of them.

 

“Rick,” I started then coughed when I saw him drop his arm holding the megaphone to glare at me. “Coach.”

 

“What is it, Forrest?” He asked glancing towards Connor momentarily. “You guys need to bail out of here before the fire trucks get here, we don’t want too much traffic.”

 

“There’s a fire?” Connor asked and I saw Rick sigh shaking his head.

 

“They are always alerted when the sprinkler system’s water pressure changes,” Rick explained as Welker reappeared at his side.

 

“What are you up to, Forrest?” Welker asked ignoring Rick and Connor completely. “I have no time for this.”

 

“I just wanted to say,” I said trying not to smirk. “That Luke Clarke’s Uncle owns that paint wars thing…”

 

“I know all about that,” Welker interrupted turning to Rick.

 

“What I mean is,” I said raising my voice as the sirens from the fire trucks approached from town. “Is that we already talked about moving homecoming there, he’s already prepared to…”

 

“I’ll think on it,” Welker said dismissing me with a wave and a glare. “Go home, homecoming is the least of my worries.”

 

Sighing, I shrugged at Connor and bounded back down the stairs and followed the other upperclassmen that had their driver’s licenses around the building to the student parking lot. I already expected to see Luke waiting for me, but I smiled when my car came into view and he was leaned up against it glancing around at everyone else tearing out of the parking lot, some slinging loose gravel. There was a lot of excited car honking and a few car alarms were blaring and for a moment I worried that some dumbass would crash into my car.

 

When I got there I hit the unlock button and Luke returned my smile as I walked around the to the driver’s side as he opened and slid into the passenger side. Once inside I closed the door and fastened my seatbelt.

 

“Ready?” I asked turning to look at him.

 

“Yeah,” he answered grinning. “Mom and Dad aren’t home.”

 

“What?” I asked as I started my car.

 

“They’re not home,” he repeated rolling his eyes as he placed his hand on the console between us. He didn’t turn his palm up, but I knew that once we were down the road he would and I would be sliding my hand off the wheel to hold it.

 

“Where are they?” I asked as I slid behind the next car in line to leave campus.

 

“Fridays they take my grandparents out to do errands, it takes them all day,” he explained and I glanced over to see a flush rising on his cheeks as his brown eyes studied me. “Are your parents home?”

 

“No,” I answered, “they won’t be home, why?”

 

“Just wondering,” he said shrugging his shoulders the corner of his mouth twitched as he tried not to smile.

 

As we left town and our houses came into view, he glanced at his house as we passed. I heard him sigh as we went by and look over at me. I didn’t see Cindy’s car in the driveway and that would be the car they would have took to do their errands. When we reached my house I smiled not seeing any vehicle in the drive. I thought maybe Dad would have worked the night before and would still be at home, probably just waking up and eating to prepare for another night. Being one of the only doctors in our hospital though, his schedule has always been unpredictable.

 

When I pulled into the drive we both left our bags in the car. Closing the doors behind us I looked across the car to see Luke studying the house. I felt my heart hammering in my chest and my palms were sweaty so I kept having to wipe them on my shorts. When he caught me looking at him he smirked and we both started walking at the same time to meet at the front of the car. He let me lead him up the sidewalk to the front steps. I unlocked the door and kicked off my shoes at the door. Pulling my phone out, I sent a quick text to Mom telling her about the school. She likely already knew and it surprised me that she hadn’t texted yet to see where I was.

 

Not having anything to do tonight other than go to a football game hours away, I closed the door behind us and watched Luke slide his own sneakers off and unlike me, neatly arrange them heel first up against the wall beside the door out of the way from anyone tripping.

 

“What do you want to do?” I asked glancing at the television, its black and quiet screen held more of my attention than I thought it should have.

 

“I don’t know,” he answered and I saw him shrug from the corner of my vision.

 

“Movie?” I suggested looking down to see that the milk was mostly dry now, “do you want popcorn?”

 

“No, I don’t want popcorn,” he answered smiling. “Are you even allowed to have it?”

 

“No,” I answered reaching up I drummed my fingers against the back of the couch. “I cheat some though.”

 

“It doesn’t show,” he said and I felt my face flush as I watched his expression change from a small smirk to a wide-eyed frown and it killed me that I didn’t know what was going through his mind. “Movie it is, then.”

 

“Okay,” I said, “do you want drinks?”

 

“I’ll get them,” he announced and before I could argue he disappeared around the corner and into the kitchen.

 

Walking around the couch I skimmed down the list of DVDs we had down here. I knew I had better movies upstairs, but didn’t want to leave Luke down here to go look. I could hear him muttering to himself as he shuffled around the kitchen searching for things. Trying to calm myself, I also couldn’t help smiling whenever I heard another cupboard door shut followed my more hushed whispers.

 

Picking a movie at random that wasn’t too Mom approved or mushy, I slid it into the player and pressed the power button on the remote to get everything set up and ready to play whenever Luke returned.

 

The movie was just loading up to the start menu when he returned carrying two glasses of ice water. I slid two coasters from the end table where Mom liked to stack them out of her way while working in the living room. Carefully placing them onto the coasters he sat down more than a few inches away from me on the couch. Pressing play, I sat back and we ignored the glasses of water, both of us staring at the television as the opening credits began to play.

 

“What is this?” Luke asked and I turned to see him still looking at the television.

 

“Not sure, one of Mom’s movies,” I said shrugging. “So it probably has George Clooney in it.”

 

We both laughed when his name popped up on screen. Hearing him laugh calmed me a bit more and when I saw him scoot closer to me, I looked down to see his hand waiting for mine like in the car. Taking hold of it, instead of letting it rest in the couch between us, I pulled his over to my leg. Hearing him suck in a breath through his teeth, I glanced up to see him looking down at our hands now rested closer to my crotch than any other guy ever got besides a doctor.

 

The movie though, couldn’t hold my attention. It was quickly turning into a boring romantic comedy, and all the awkward flirting and shit was starting to get to me. Normal people didn’t act like that. All I felt was the tension in Luke’s grip, his wrist seemed to be at war with itself on whether or not it should relax against my leg or slide completely off it. I almost let go, just to see what he’d do, but didn’t want to lose the contact we had. I didn’t want to waste the small window of freedom before parents and friends started bothering the us again. I hated that I was just chicken enough that hand holding was as far as I was willing to push him. It all seemed too different in my living room in the stillness of the middle of the day than in the blanketed night where shadows hid us.

 

“Jackson,” Luke said and I only had time to notice there wasn’t a question in his voice when his lips crashed haphazardly into mine. He caught mostly the corner of my mouth as I was turning to face him and the kiss ended well before either of us had the chance to move our heads to get a better angle. “Sorry.”

 

“What, no,” I breathed dropping his hand, reaching for his chin as I shifted on the couch sliding one leg up off the ground as I turned. Facing him better I leaned forward and kissed him knowing that if I let that first kiss be it, then we would be back to staring at the fucking awful movie again for the next couple of minutes until one of us got up the nerve to try again. It wasn’t like this with girls. Ally and I spent more time kissing and cuddling than anything, even talking. I remembered being annoyed with Lily, she wanted to tell me all about her day, thoughts, feelings, before the kissing would start, and Heather was hot and cold, so difficult to keep track. All of them were easier though, I wanted to think it was because we had all started out as friends first and then crossed an invisible line into dating. Now I can’t help thinking that what made dating them so easy was the thought that maybe I just wasn’t scared of making a mess of things. That I would be okay if I did, that they would either forgive me or I would lose interest and move on.

 

With Luke though, I was always a little bit worried that when I mess things up, he would be the one to put the brakes on and leave. That he might not look back and I would be left wondering what I could have done different. It wasn’t something I was used to, holding back at anything was different for me. These careful kisses and awkward smiles threatened to drive me insane, but I liked the rush of them too.

 

Feeling him lean back, I was about to break the kiss until I felt his hand reach up and grab the bottom of my shirt. I jumped when his bare knuckles grazed my stomach as we awkwardly shifted around on the couch to get more comfortable, me hovering over him, supported by one free hand. He kept tugging on my shirt and when I felt him pulling it up I smiled against his lips and got onto my knees. He watched as I quickly tugged it off over my head and tossed it somewhere behind me. My face began to flush when I noticed his eyes slowly move over my body, then he sat up and pulled his own shirt over his head.

 

Neither of us seemed brave enough to lose any more clothes just yet. After a short staring contest that only ended when Luke looked to be about to say something, did I move back down this time our bare chests and stomachs sliding against one another. I felt him shudder beneath me and between kisses, a smile forming on his mouth.

 

“What?” I groaned breaking the kiss to look at him.

 

“Your stomach and chest is prickly,” he answered biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing.

 

“Sorry,” I hissed shaking my head. I would have to shave again before going back to practice next week.

 

“Don’t,” he started, but then stopped talking as he grabbed my shoulder with his left hand and pulled me back down on top of him.

 

That is when we both heard a loud hammering on the front door. Luke reacted instantly and as he went to raise up, his forehead slammed into mine. Cursing I rolled off the couch and hit the floor between the couch and the coffee table, our neglected glasses of water clattering, but not falling over.

 

“Who the fuck is that?” I groaned as a second round of loud banging rattled the door.

 

“Get your damn clothes on and open the door!” Derek bellowed barely muffled on the other side.

 

“I’m starting to hate your friends,” Luke whispered as he frantically started looking for his shirt. Looking down I saw that I was partially on top of it so I stood and scooped it up handing it back to him. I neglected my own shirt as I walked around the back of the couch to the front door. Before opening though, I glanced over at Luke. He already had his shirt back on and nodded his head towards the door, his face flushed and his usual neat hair a bit messed up in the back where his head was against the couch.

 

Opening the door Derek followed by Lily, stepped past me with a smirk on his face and Lily looking apologetic. When they both saw that I was shirtless and that Luke was actually there and on my couch I saw Derek’s smirk vanish and his ears start turning red.

 

“Damn dude, I didn’t really think that that was,” he stuttered, but only managed to wiggle his finger, pointing rapidly at Luke and I.

 

“Yeah, well,” I said biting my bottom lip. This was different too. If it had been a girl, I bet Derek would have laughed and either slapped me on the shoulder or offered his fist for me to pound mine against. Both of which, would have gotten me into trouble with the girl that happened to be sitting on the couch.

 

“I told you we should have called,” Lily countered elbowing him in the side. “We’re all coming over, so you might want to find your shirt.”

 

“All of you?” I asked shaking my head. “What the hell for?”

 

“To discuss what to do about that water mess,” Derek answered his ears still a deep shade of red.

 

“I already told your Dad and Welker about Luke’s plan,” I said as they started walking further into the house. Hearing his name Luke finally moved and stood, moments later the television went silent.

 

“George Clooney, seriously?” Derek joked smiling. “We got here just in time, one of you could have ended up pregnant.”

 

“Fuck you,” I groaned rolling my eyes as I shut the door behind them.

 

“Want anything to drink?” Luke asked and I wanted to just tell both of them to come back later. I didn’t want Luke freaking out, but he didn’t seem too upset with being caught. It could have been worse though, it could have been Ally.

 

“I’ll help you,” Lily said offering him a smile. “Jackson, your mother hasn’t decorated at all since we dated.”

 

“I know,” I said turning to Derek as Lily and Luke met awkwardly at the back of the couch before they made their way into the kitchen.

 

“I had forgotten you two dated,” Derek said cocking an eyebrow. “You didn’t use Clooney on her too, did you?”

 

“No,” I said sighing. “Just shut up about that and tell me who else is coming.”

 

“Toby, Heather, Ally, Bailey, and Connor,” he answered shrugging. “You could’ve at least had a late lunch ready.”

 

“Go get some of the good shit that I can’t eat out of the freezer and microwave it,” I said smiling. “Why is Connor coming?”

 

“He’s, fuck man, I don’t know, he’s been sitting with us all year,” Derek answered, “he probably thinks he’s your new bestie.”

 

“I still don’t know why you’re here,” I added as he started walking towards the kitchen. I followed behind him and when we got there, I saw that no glasses or anything had been filled with drinks. Instead Lily and Luke were talking off in the corner by the microwave. It would have been nice seeing Luke getting along with one of my best friends, but I had the suspicion that they were talking about me. They both shut up and started looking for glasses when we had joined them in the kitchen.

 

“I don’t think paint wars is gonna fly with the parents,” Derek said as he opened the freezer door. None of us had flipped on the kitchen light, the windows supplying a lot of natural light. Feeling claustrophobic though I flipped the switch before I walked to the kitchen table.

 

“They ignore us and do what they want anyway,” I said as Derek pulled out a bag of pizza rolls.

 

“I better make the whole bag,” he said as Lily and Luke joined me at the kitchen table.

After Derek started the first batch of pizza rolls another loud knocking rattled the door. Instead of walking to the door though, I just yelled for Toby to come on in. Only Derek and Toby would try to break the front door down like that.

 

“Everyone decent?” Toby asked and when he walked around the corner into the kitchen he had his hand over his face peeking through his fingers.

 

“Why wouldn’t they be?” Heather asked and when he looked at her it was like she had just appeared out of thin air and he realized that she still didn’t know the secret still hanging around us. Being the secret, I just turned my head away from her in hopes of not giving anything away, but I found Luke’s eyes and he smiled holding a new glass of water between his hands on the table.

 

“Derek is lucky to have pants on when he’s outside of school,” I said turning back to them. “Come on in and get something to drink.”

 

“Pizza rolls are in the microwave,” Derek added still standing by them. The smell of cheap tomato sauce made my stomach growl despite my nerves being all over the place.

 

“Well you guys got your way,” Heather said, “with the dance, the only place big enough to hold us all is the park.”

 

“Not the park,” Lily groaned then glanced at Luke. “Sorry, I’m sure it is nice, but it doesn’t really have the setup for what we would need.”

 

“Yeah, it would be pretty cramped,” Luke added shrugging. “I really don’t want stains on the new carpet in the reception rooms either, Mom would make me clean them.”

 

“What do we do then?” Heather asked, “we can’t just sit at home Saturday, it’s homecoming.”

 

“We could have a party at my house,” Toby said as he walked over as the first round of pizza rolls dinged. Derek carefully got them out and handed them to Toby who quickly turned and walked them back to the table.

 

“It gets too cold at night for one of your bonfires,” Lily said leaning forward resting her head on her crossed arms.

 

“Until the liquor sets in anyway,” Toby said as he popped a pizza roll into his mouth. I smiled when he started dancing it around on his tongue, his mouth open.

 

“Let the damn things cool, man,” I said as Luke laughed and offered his untouched second glass of water to Toby.

 

“This is nice, hanging out,” Lily said as she took a pizza roll and lightly blew air over it to cool it. “We haven’t really been together for awhile.”

 

“Yeah,” Heather added, “which is why I really wanted to go to the dance, we’d have everyone there.”

 

“Maybe we should just go bowling or something,” I suggested, “just the small group?”

 

“Eww no,” Heather said, “I love you all, but this is our last homecoming.”

 

“Let’s not talk about this shit anyway,” Derek said as the second plate of pizza rolls finished. “The grown ups will decide what we get to do for homecoming anyway.”

 

“And it will suck ass,” Toby added popping a second pizza roll into his mouth as a gentle knocking sounded on the door.

 

“Come on in,” I yelled again as I grabbed a pizza roll knowing they would be going fast now that both Toby and Derek were at the table.

 

“Hey,” Ally greeted and I turned to see Bailey’s arm wrapped casually around her shoulders. He was looking around seeming completely out of place in here. “So I talked to Dad and he thinks a movie night would be best.”

 

“No!” Everyone at the table said and then we all looked around smirking at one another.

 

“I know, right?” She said sighing. “It’s just, the buses will have to be arranged and parents don’t know anything else that’s safe and easily chaperoned.”

 

“Bowling doesn’t sound half bad anymore,” Heather sighed, “this is going to suck and the movie will be PG-13 at best.”

 

“Not bowling, I just got my nails done,” Ally countered glancing down at her nails. Like Bailey she didn’t look comfortable being in my house either.

 

“Come sit down guys,” I said waving at the two empty chairs left at the table. “Do you want something to drink?”

 

“No thanks,” Ally answered as she smiled and led Bailey around the table to the two empty seats. They were the closest to Luke and when I watched Ally finally acknowledge him she gave him a tight smile, but it fell as soon as she looked back at the rest of the table. Sighing I leaned back in my chair trying not to let that bother me.

 

Just as everyone was settling in though, the front door swung open and slammed shut behind whomever barged inside. Expecting Cindy, I was actually amused and relieved to see Connor stop dead in the living room looking around. Never being inside my house, it took him awhile to glance into the kitchen. When he saw us he smiled trying to even out his breathing.

 

“I’ve done it,” he breathed holding up what looked like a piece of paper.

 

“Done what?” Ally asked as he entered the kitchen and slid the paper onto the table. It looked like a permission form, but I didn’t have time to read it as the girls snatched it off the table.

 

“We’ll be handing those out to seniors that aren’t eighteen at the game,” he said still smiling proudly. “They agreed to let us go to paint wars, everything is settled.”

 

“What do you mean settled?” Heather asked her eyebrow cocked as Lily slid the paper towards her to read.

 

“I got the transportation lined up, Mr. Welker and the P.T.A had a meeting to discuss the gym anyway, so I hung around and after they were finished discussing the insurance, I got them to agree to our trip,” Connor explained reaching between Derek and I for a pizza roll. Still smiling he popped it into his mouth.

 

“That’s great Connor,” I said offering my fist, he studied it for a moment, then punched his knuckles against mine.

 

“We just have to pay five dollars to cover the cost of the bus drivers,” he said through chewing. “We were already paying eight to get into the dance anyway.”

 

“No,” Heather said shaking her head. “No, no, no.”

 

“You don’t have to go,” I said offering her a smile. “Come on Heather, it will be fun.”

 

“It’s better than sitting at home,” Lily offered, “it will be different from what everyone else would be doing.”

 

“Fine,” Heather hissed crossing her arms. “But when prom comes around it better be huge.”

 

We all hung around, even opening a second bag of pizza rolls when the first bag disappeared not long after Connor got there. He had changed from his polo shirt to his football jersey to match Toby and Derek. He had two homecoming games this weekend playing both football as the kicker and soccer. Like every other sport the soccer team wasn’t that good, but it only became a school sponsored sport two years ago.

 

As the time ticked by the guys had to leave and meet on the field. The girls went with them knowing they had to cheer at the game and would need to be there early as well. That left Luke and I waiting around for the actual game to start. I expected with each passing hour that Cindy would come barging in to pull Luke out by his ear, but that never happened. There was also an unsteady feeling between the two of us. Like we didn’t know what to do with ourselves now that we were alone with one another again. I didn’t want to risk getting caught by parents so instead of trying to finish our movie we cleaned up after everyone and then went up to my room. I watched Luke play video games sitting on the floor in front of the television until he got bored.

 

“Dad and I used to go to every football game when I was little,” Luke said turning the Xbox off and gently putting my controller back.

 

“Henry still comes,” I said offering him a small smile from my bed. He stood smoothing out his shirt as he made his way around to sit down on the foot of the bed. The space bothered me a little bit, but I didn’t close the distance.

 

“I stopped coming when I realized y’all would never do any good,” he countered smiling. “We didn’t have any sports at my school, so it was fun until I got older.”

 

“I wouldn’t say the team sucked around Derek or Toby,” I said trying not to laugh. “They might bust your balls.”

 

“I’ll try not to,” he said, “I better get going though, so I can change.”

 

“Just wear some of my warmer clothes,” I countered standing. I walked over to my closet and opened the door. I quickly pushed the broken trophies and junk that rolled out back in with my foot. I honestly couldn’t remember what all was in there and probably never will. I would only really dig through my closet when it came time to pack stuff for college, then Mom would probably come through my room behind me and throw out everything that looked neglected and broken.

 

“I could walk over and be back in like thirty minutes,” he argued and I heard my bed squeak when he stood.

 

“I thought you might stay the night,” I said still rummaging for my fall and winter clothes. Finding a pair of sweatpants with the school’s emblem on it and a matching hoodie, I turned and tossed it at him.

 

“I can’t stay the night,” he whispered and I glanced over my shoulder to see him examining the outfit. He had a small smile playing on his lips until he looked up and saw that I was looking at him.

 

“It’s normal for guys to have sleepovers, you know, and I have a guest room,” I countered my face flushing knowing that our sleepover would be different than any I ever had with Toby and Derek. I didn’t know if they would want to come over after the game anyway. It was sort of a tradition for us to have a couple of guy nights through the year whenever we had a free weekend. We hadn’t had any this year, with my new and more demanding swim schedule and their football. The girls also took up free time and I couldn’t help missing them, even if we laughed stupidly at farts and watched nasty movies that didn’t make any sense. Before girls and sports Toby and Derek were my everyday. Being an only child they were the closest thing I ever had to brothers and being the same age only made it better.

 

“We’re not normal guys,” he said and I laughed as I found a pair of jeans and a second school hoodie. Smelling it, it smelled musty, but not too offending. Closing the closet door I saw that Luke hadn’t changed and was still holding the outfit I gave him.

 

“I’ll stick these in the dryer with a fabric sheet,” I said holding out my hand for his clothes. When he handed me his pair I walked out of the room and down the hall to the washer and dryer. Luckily it was empty, usually Mom forgot she had a load in. When I put them into the dryer and slung in a couple of dryer sheets, I wasn’t paying attention to what Luke was doing until I heard the front door close. I didn’t think it was him until I walked into the bedroom and didn’t see him there. I hadn’t heard anyone go down the stairs, not even the squeaky one in the middle. I had almost called out to Mom, but I knew it wasn’t time for her to come home.

 

Walking down the stairs I sighed feeling my heart hammering in my chest, glancing down at my cell phone. It was about thirty minutes until the gates opened and then an hour before the game would be starting. The late October sun was already setting as I walked to the window beside the front door. Looking out it I saw that my car was still the only car in the driveway, dusty and in need of a washing. There were a few leaves on the lawn from the trees that once sheltered Luke and I when we hid from Mom. In the winter after everything fell and froze, I could see through the small stretch of forest and just make out Luke’s house. The forest would no longer be a good place for us to talk and kiss, not in the winter. I hated thinking that all we had were small stolen moments witnessed by trees and fireflies. They all seemed so fleeting and trivial and I was just about to kick my own ass for pushing Luke to spend the night with me when I saw him stumble out of the forest at a run holding a bag, his cheeks flushed with exertion.

 

Opening the door I let it glide open and smiled when he bounded up the stairs and back into the house. Breathing heavily he smiled and I noticed he had packed his toothbrush, and a pair of shorts to sleep in.

 

“You could have just told me you were leaving to get those,” I said cocking an eyebrow.

 

“I didn’t think I’d do it if I told you,” he breathed, “Mom and Dad were unpacking the car when I got there, I just told them I’d be spending the night here.”

 

“Damn,” I said pretending to cup my ear to see if I could hear Cindy yelling.

 

“Dad told me to have fun,” he said leaning against the couch. “I feel like I’m going to hell for this.”

 

“You might,” I countered and he laughed and closed the door as the dryer buzzed upstairs.

 

Hours later, just as both of us were changed into warmer clothes and the sun was behind the hills in the distance, Mom and Dad came home. They both took in our semi-matching hoodies, Mom smiled and Dad adjusted his glasses over his tired eyes.

 

“Heading out to the game, guys?” She asked not seeming surprised to see Luke stepping out onto the porch just behind me.

 

“Yeah,” I answered as she bent forward and kissed me on the cheek.

 

“I got the texts about your school,” Mom said shaking her head. “That has to be a mess, at least any damage you did with that stunt you pulled earlier in the year won’t matter now.”

 

“Guess not,” I muttered shooting a sideways glare at Luke when he laughed.

 

“Is it okay that I spend the night, Grace?” Luke asked as I twirled my keychain over my finger. The way Mom was looking between the two of us made me nervous. If Charlie, Draeden, and Lily were any indication, maybe Luke and I were just too obvious. When her eyes ticked over to Dad I swallowed and caught my keys mid-twirl silencing their jingle.

 

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Mom said frowning slightly. “Cindy and I still aren’t talking and I don’t want to cause a rift between you and her, Luke.”

 

“Dad already gave me permission,” Luke countered smiling as Dad excused himself muttering something about coffee. When he closed the door behind him Mom sighed and turned her head in the direction of Luke’s house hidden just beyond the trees and shadows of twilight. Crickets had replaced fireflies and frogs, already too chilly to bring them out at night.

 

“If you’re sure,” Mom said turning back to us. “If this causes trouble, I wouldn’t know how to help. I hate being angry with your mother.”

 

“I know,” he said and surprised me by reaching over and giving her a soft pat on the shoulder. “She hates it too, she’s just stubborn, you know her better than I do.”

 

“I do,” Mom added smiling then shaking her head. “Well anyway, have fun at the game guys, go Mustangs!”

 

“Mom,” I groaned grimacing as I walked down the stairs. She laughed as she turned and opened the front door. I heard it close behind us when I got to the driver’s side of the car. I watched Luke, smiling as he opened his door. I liked catching these easy smiles when he didn’t realize anyone was watching him. When he caught me looking he frowned, the question taking the place of the smile. Shaking my head I slid into the driver’s side and started the car as he slid into the other seat and buckled his seatbelt. In the darkness and emptiness of the front yard he didn’t wait until we were backed out of the driveway before holding out his hand. Glancing towards the house I looked for any sign of Mom or Dad looking out the window before I took his hand and backed out of the driveway and into the road.

 

It was a short drive to the football field from the house and Luke’s easy smile was back and I could feel a bit of jitteriness in his hand, every so often he would give mine a squeeze. It would be the first time we would be hanging out together at a school function and homecoming always had a special and euphoric feeling around it bigger than the game itself.

 

As we parked, other people were filing out of their cars heading towards the entrance gates. We were still a little early, so parking was easy and I led the way around the other cars to join everyone else in line. The entrance gate was always manned by boosters that didn’t have kids on the team.

 

“How much is it?” Luke whispered gently knocking his shoulder into mine.

 

“Free,” I answered, “we’re seniors, we get a t-shirt too.”

 

“Nice,” Luke said tiptoeing slightly so he could see around the few people still standing ahead of us. “I don’t really remember much about watching games here, I mostly played while Dad watched.”

 

“Yeah me too,” I said smiling.

 

“Maybe we passed a football or something behind the bleachers and didn’t even realize we knew one another?” Luke said laughing as the people ahead of us paid and stepped around the booth to find seats in the bleachers.

 

“Jackson Forrest, Senior,” one booster said as the other one looked through a checklist. Finding my name, she marked it off and handed me a shirt.

 

“Do you need a form for the homecoming trip?” The woman handing me the t-shirt asked.

 

“No, I’m eighteen,” I answered taking my t-shirt. I always thought our school colors were ugly. Navy blue, charcoal grey, and white. It was supposed to resemble a blue roan mustang, our mascot.

 

“Five dollars,” the other woman said turning to Luke.

 

“Luke is a senior too,” I corrected pointing my thumb at Luke.

 

“Luke Clarke,” Luke added, his smile faltering as the first woman looked skeptical and the other one started looking through the packet.

 

“Oh, here you are dear,” the second woman said waving her hand before checking off his name. “Sorry about that, do you need a form?”

 

“No ma’am,” he said his smile returning as she handed him his t-shirt.

 

As we walked by Luke unfolded the shirt and looked at it. Like always it had the names of all the football players on the back and a funny design of our mascot and the year on the front. Draping it over his arm I watched him start scanning the crowd already assembled on the bleachers. The band was there in their section. The Cheerleaders hadn’t appeared yet and there was a line at the concession stands. Music still blared over the loud speakers, which meant that the commentary guys hadn’t sat down yet, otherwise it would be endless recounting of years well before any of us were in school when the football team was decent.

 

“Do you want anything?” I asked looking over at the concession stands to see if the line had started moving yet.

 

“No,” he answered eyeing the long line as well. None of the food was good enough to wait in line for. Lukewarm hot dogs, stale nacho chips, and chewy popcorn.

 

Finding the student section farthest from the parents and old people that always came to games, I climbed the metal bleachers and took a row just in front of a group of juniors. After sitting down people started crowding the seats around me. Usually I stood just behind the players so I could laugh at all the hushed cussing the coaches did just out of earshot of the referees and the crowd behind them. We were sitting at the fifty yard line, the middle of the field. Marty the Mustang’s dancing and push up platform was the only thing already on the sidelines. Looking towards the weight room though, I saw they already wheeled out the cannon. It didn’t actually fire, just smoked and boomed. It was honestly the coolest thing our school ever did, the real mechanisms inside were a loud speaker for the sound and a small fog machine for the smoke. Every touchdown, it would fire whenever someone pushed a remote button.

 

Luke still fluttered beside me, every so often he’d bump his knee against mine and I’d look to see him watching other people climb bleachers, once I looked over and he had turned all the way around to look up at the announcer booth.

 

“I bet the best place to watch is up there,” he said turning back to me. “Have you ever been up there?”

 

“No, they keep it locked,” I said smiling. “And it would be if we actually won games.”

 

“I wanted to play football when I was younger,” he said finally sitting still next to me. The air was getting chilly and I could feel the bite of it on my legs through my jeans. Every so often I could see my breath condense in front of me, but it was a still night and just past the lights the stars were shining. It was a clear night, we couldn’t ask for a better homecoming.

 

“Why didn’t you?” I asked already guessing the answer had to do with Cindy and the word, “no.”

 

“Mom said no,” he answered shrugging. “She took me to piano lessons instead and I started whining after the second trip so she stopped that too.”

 

“My mom was relieved when I didn’t show any interest in football,” I said licking my lips to warm them. I noticed him watching me and I felt my face flush as I turned to look out at the field again. Glancing around there was more movement on the field. The scoreboards had been lit up and the referees were out walking around talking to one another. The visiting school’s fans were on the smaller section of bleachers on the opposite side of the field, closer to the cannon sound.

 

Then a loud blaring sound echoed through the still air cutting through the music. Both Luke and I jumped and people started giggling when the gravely voice of the play by play guy quickly apologized. We looked up with everyone else to see that the lights were on inside the booth now and two men were there working the sound system. After the shriek the music cut off completely and Luke knocked against my knee when Ally and the cheerleaders, with a wide homecoming banner marched out onto the field. Ally and Heather held one side, while Lily and a freshman, I didn’t really know, held the other.

 

“Let’s hear it for your Mustangs folks!” Yelled one of the announcers and Luke jumped again when the cannon started firing in a quick cadence of booms. Laughing, he elbowed me as every member of the football team except the seniors stormed out of the locker room onto the field, colliding with the paper banner and ripping it in half. People were cheering as they ran full speed followed by the coaches, aside from Rick, to the home side of the field to their bleachers. Pumping helmets into the air they yelled as the cheerleaders took center field, pom poms at the ready, lined up around the big navy blue and white M. The announcers told everyone to settle down and we saw the seniors lining up, being escorted by their parents at the back of the field towards the visiting side.

 

One by one their names and numbers were read off and their parents, dressed in probably what they wore to church and Thanksgiving dinners, made their way closer to the bench. Most guys clapped their father on the back then scooped up their mothers in a big hug that probably hurt, but every Mom seemed to take it in stride, some taking a moment to smooth out their hair and rumpled dresses.

 

Toby was one of the rare guys that wasn’t escorted out onto the field with both parents. Even kids whose parents divorced would be escorted by two. Toby’s mom hadn’t been in town since the night she ran out on both him and his dad when he was eight years old. Toby, unlike the other guys with two parents, didn’t just clap his father on the back, but wrapped his Dad up into a hug before stepping to stand beside him. Like other players, a cheerleader did not hand him a rose to give to his mother. Instead he smirked standing proudly next to Mr. Marks, the resemblance always striking as he looked more like his mother than his tall, bony, wind swept, and tanned father.

 

When Connor’s name was called and he was escorted out by his parents, Toby broke from his father and sprinted to where the rest of the team began to huddle to do their pre-game war chanting. Being the person that usually started the chants, the huddle broke momentarily to allow him to enter the center of it and when Connor joined them Luke scooted forward on the bleachers craning his neck to watch the guys dance like they were trying to get away from a mound of fire ants. They were chanting a bunch of jumbled things that likely would have gotten them into trouble if they weren’t over yelling one another to where no one could really understand what they were saying. Then Marty the Mustang got on his platform and motioned for the crowd to get loud as the visiting team was announced onto the field. It was the one cupcake team that we usually scheduled for homecoming games. A small school probably one or two generations away from closing. They barely had enough players to field a squad on both defense and offense.

 

“They look like middle school kids,” Luke said eyeing the competition.

 

“Some of them probably are,” I answered smirking. “Rochester is a little church school too.”

 

“It’s them?” He asked paying closer attention as the other team huddled around, a lot more subdued. Rochester hadn’t won a game all year and hardly ever do, if we weren’t much better I would have felt more sorry for them. Even so, I expected this to be a boringly lopsided game, which made paint wars tomorrow sound even better.

 

After the coin toss and kick off, the game officially started. Connor kicked a ceremonial ball all the way to the end zone so there wasn’t a return as the Rochester receiver took a knee and stopped the play. Then the ball was switched out for a normal game ball and the first quarter started ticking down.

 

Like predicted, by halftime we had a big lead on Rochester and when the halftime buzzer sounded I sighed standing up to stretch my tired muscles. After the fourth touchdown I no longer felt like cheering. Luke still seemed full of energy and would elbow me every so often, probably to see if I was actually still awake.

 

“My ass hurts,” I grumbled turning to face him as people started clearing out to go use the restrooms or buy more food. “It might go flat sitting here.”

 

“Shut up,” Luke countered shaking his head. As the night went on the temperature dropped as well. It was too cold for bugs to swarm the lights overhead and steam rolled off some of the players after returning to the bench to rest between plays. The cheerleaders had bundled up on the sideline, but they were quickly removing their warm ups as the band marched onto the field to start the homecoming halftime show.

 

As the band squeaked its way through our fight song I looked over to see Henry and Cindy a few bleachers away. Cindy had her arms crossed on the other side of Henry, who seemed to be blocking her from leaving by sitting on the edge of their row. When she turned to look over at us I sat back down, feeling a chill raise goosebumps on my skin.

 

“Don’t look, but your parents are here,” I said and rolled my eyes when Luke immediately started searching the crowd for them.

 

“Mom hates football,” he hissed turning back to me. “What is she doing here?”

 

“Shooting glares at the back of my head, I think,” I answered smirking when he elbowed me in the side.

 

“We’re sitting too close,” he said scooting a few inches away from me. The sudden movement and loss of warmth from his leg pushed my shudder over the edge and my teeth chattered against the cold. It wouldn’t feel this cold if I was up moving around, talking to people like I usually did. I didn’t feel like doing that while here with Luke though, his excitement about homecoming, his first one, was enough to keep me entertained.

 

“We are not,” I said leaning back against the bleacher behind me so that I could casually look up towards his parents again.

 

“There should be more of your friends here,” he said looking around at the emptiness around us.

 

“They’re all out there,” I said waving towards the field. “Just calm down.”

 

“Your mom seems to have us figured out,” he breathed his breath rose into the air. I watched it disappear before I looked back down at him still fidgeting where he sat.

 

“She does not,” I countered, not really believing that. Something in Mom’s tone earlier bothered me and now that Luke brought her up, I couldn’t be sure that she hadn’t put things together. “Do you want to leave?”

 

“No,” he said shaking his head. “Mom will know we’re leaving because I spotted them.”

 

“Well then, ignore them,” I said shooting a glare behind Luke’s head towards Cindy. I wasn’t surprised to see her still watching us, but when her eyes met mine she looked away and rubbed her mittened hands together trying to warm them. Henry looked to be talking her ear off, but he might as well be talking to a brick wall. He was probably just happy that Cindy showed any kind of interest coming to the game at all, he probably hadn’t even noticed us sitting a few yards away.

 

“Maybe I should just kiss you right here and get it over with,” he whispered glancing around at anyone sitting close by to see if they were paying us any attention.

 

“Yeah I don’t feel like being manhandled by your mother,” I joked frowning when he didn’t smile or laugh at my attempt. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

“No,” he hissed shaking his head. “I’ll deal with it.”

 

“Let’s go get something to eat,” I said looking at him, I knew he wasn’t going to deal with it. I didn’t know what it was like, being scared of something that I was feeling inside, while trying to hide it from the people I loved. It seemed like too big of a burden for one person to carry and keep bottled up.

 

“The guys,” he started and I wanted to yell at someone, Cindy mostly, for wrecking this night for him.

 

“The guys will understand,” I interrupted trying to keep my voice calm. “Just come on.”

 

“Okay,” he said as I stood knowing that Luke couldn’t really be a rebel when it came to his parents. He was hardwired to be the most genuinely nice guy anyone was ever going to meet, ever. I didn’t want to change that about him, that is what drew me to him despite my stubbornness. No one else could have made picking up trash and restoring a rusted down park fun like him, except for maybe Henry.

 

“And don’t look up at them when we pass by,” I said as we filed out of our row and walked down the metal stairs. I refused to look over as I led Luke down the stairs and I silently prayed that he didn’t either, because if he did I doubted I would be able to salvage the rest of the night.

 

“Hey!” A girl yelled. “Wait up guys!”

 

Looking around I saw Lily breaking from the cheerleaders. Her cheeks were flushed and goosebumps were all over her arms as she came to a stop in front of us. We were a few yards away from the bleachers and the band was starting to march from the field, heading back to their section of the bleachers.

 

“What’s up?” I said as I watched Luke shove his hands into the front pocket of my hoodie, he looked like he was about to be sick.

 

“Where are you two headed?” She asked smiling as her tightly curled ponytail bounced without much provocation. I could see glitter on her cheeks now that she was standing closer.

 

“To get food,” I answered shrugging, “and to get away from parents.”

 

“Your parents are here?” She asked, but I shook my head.

 

“No, well I don’t think they are,” I answered shrugging. Maybe they did come, but they knew to stay well enough away from me while I was out here with friends being a stupid teenager. It was something Cindy needed to take lessons in and I felt my temper threatening to get the better of me.

 

“My parents,” Luke said still keeping a distance from me. I watched as Lily’s lips formed a silent, ‘oh,’ as her eyes widened.

 

“Well I was just coming to tell you that after we left your house we got to talking about having a get together,” she said offering Luke a smile. “Just us, not a big party or anything.”

 

“Really,” I said cocking an eyebrow.

 

“Soon too because the cheerleaders are busy in December and it is always cold and snowy anyway,” she said grimacing. “Since you know what to do best, I wanted to give you the heads up that we’re putting you in charge of it.”

 

“Why can’t you guys plan it?” I asked shoving my hands into my pocket.

 

“Do you really want us girls in charge?” Lily asked shaking her head. “I have to get back, but we’re thinking before Thanksgiving.”

 

“Okay,” I grunted and she smiled.

 

“See you guys later,” she said and gave us a short wave before bouncing back to the other girls waiting to take the field.

 

“That sounds like fun,” Luke offered as we turned and started walking again.

 

“It is easy enough to plan for,” I said as the gravel shifted under my feet with each step I took. We were walking quickly and when we got to the gates Luke finally seemed to calm down. “Just buy enough food and beer to wash it down with and we’re all set.”

 

“When do you think we’d have time?” Luke asked as I pulled out my keys and hit the unlock button. Seeing the lights flash as the doors unlocked I walked to the drivers’ side.

 

I slid the keys in, starting the engine thankful to be out of the cold air. Sniffling I buckled my seatbelt then adjusted the heat and carefully squeezed through other parked cars until I found a spot in the mess of cars large enough for me to get onto the road that led off campus. I glanced over to see Luke holding his hands in front of the vent, his fingers were pink and I wanted to hold his hand to warm them.

 

“I don’t know,” I said feeling life returning to my cheeks and fingertips.

 

“I would need a big heads up so I can come up with a good excuse for Mom,” he said as I made my way to McDonalds planning on ordering the largest milkshake and extra fries with my burger. If there was any good day to cheat on my diet, today would be it.

 

“What do you want?” I asked as I tried to imagine what a good excuse for Cindy would be. I doubted there would be a church camp or something she wouldn’t know about. Not many things seemed Cindy approved, especially if I was involved.

 

“I’ll pay for my own food,” he said fumbling for his wallet. It was then he seemed to realize that he didn’t have it with him. “Or not.”

 

“I wasn’t going to let you anyway,” I said probably smiling more than I should be.

 

“What are you grinning at?” He asked crossing his arms still shivering as the car slowly got warmer.

 

“I don’t know,” I answered taking one hand off the wheel, I placed it between us on the console, palm up and waiting. “Maybe I’ve felt like tonight was a date all night, in plain sight of everyone.”

 

“Until Cindzilla showed up,” Luke offered and I tried not to laugh, but failed as I turned into the drive through lane of McDonalds. Being the only person really stirring in town, there wasn’t a line and it actually took a moment for us to be noticed waiting by the speaker.

 

“Now what do you want?” I asked sliding my hand back into my lap knowing he wouldn’t hold it now that we were in a more public place.

 

“Just double what you get,” he said shrugging as I hit the window button and it quietly opened all the way down. “It’s all the same crap anyway.”

 

“Don’t say that so loud they might spit in it,” I countered when the lady finally realized we were there and asked is what we wanted.

 

After ordering two large chocolate shakes, two large fries, and two burgers that wasn’t a Big Mac since I hated those, I slid the bag into the back seat while Luke opened the straws and slid them into the milkshakes. We sipped on those quietly all the way back to my house and when we pulled in all the lights downstairs seemed to be on, which meant that either Mom or Dad was still down there.

 

“Damn,” I groaned, “I figured they would have went up to their room by now.”

 

“We’re a lot earlier than they probably expected,” he said smiling as he held his milkshake, the straw up to his lips. He had a small bit of it on his bottom lip and I couldn’t help staring at it.

 

“Well there goes my plan on kissing you at the front door,” I said as he licked his lip and I snapped out of it.

 

“I wouldn’t have let you anyway,” he countered trying not to laugh. “I don’t kiss on first dates.”

 

“This isn’t the first one,” I countered as I reached back and grabbed the bag of food. The grease from the fries was already soaking through the paper and it made my stomach growl. “The first one was that night in the pool when I taught you how not to drown.”

 

“No it wasn’t,” he argued as he unbuckled his seatbelt. “That is when I kissed you then nearly wet myself thinking you were about to punch me.”

 

“Good thing you didn’t wet yourself,” I said fighting to keep from laughing. “The pool has that chemical in there that makes pee turn purple or whatever.”

 

“You think that’s our first date?” He asked studying. “Really?”

 

“Not an official one, but yeah, it was a good night,” I answered my face getting warm despite the engine being off and the car becoming increasingly cold as we sat out here.

 

“I don’t think we’ve had a date yet,” he said shaking his head. “Just sneaky moments here and there.”

 

“Dates,” I argued as I opened my door. “They don’t have to be perfect or anything to count.”

 

“But we both have to be on the same page,” he said his brows furrowed as he slid out of his seat. “Because how would I have known what you were thinking?”

 

“Look, I’ve never had to sneak around for anybody,” I said lowering my voice now that we were outside of the car and walking towards the house. “The fact that I did it for you, makes them dates.”

 

“No, you’re wrong,” he countered shaking his head failing not to smile miserably. “You’re just trying to…”

 

“Boys,” Mom said shortly after the front door swung open. “Are you really going to stand out here smiling like idiots all night?”

 

“Mom!” I yelled nearly dropping my milkshake and bag of food.

 

“Sorry,” she said glancing over her shoulder. “It’s just cold out here, and what is that in your hand?”

 

“Food,” I answered cocking an eyebrow.

 

“Fast food,” she said, “you know you can’t have that.”

 

“I’m going to have it anyway,” I said attempting to step past her into the house hoping Luke would follow me. After the door flew open he looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

 

“I was expecting you a lot later,” she said, “like sometime in the morning really.”

 

“I know,” I said sighing. “We got cold and the game got boring.”

 

“Do you know?” Luke asked and for the second time in under a couple of minutes I nearly dropped the food I carried.

 

“Know what dear?” Mom asked finally making room for us to enter the house.

 

“Do you know,” Luke repeated and I watched his jaws clench as he closed his mouth.

 

“Jackson Forrest,” Mom hissed waving Luke inside the house. “Have you gotten him drunk?”

 

“No!” I hissed feeling my face flush again. “We were at the game.”

 

“Okay,” she said, but I heard her sniffing the air for any sign of booze. “Because if I thought either of you were driving intoxicated I would have to beat you.”

 

“We’re not drunk,” I repeated rolling my eyes.

 

“Then what am I supposed to know?” She asked her eyes narrowing and for a moment I thought she was putting on a show for the sake of Luke’s nerves. That she really did know what he was asking and was just trying to make him comfortable by playing ignorant.

 

“That you’re being nosy,” I answered sticking out my tongue. “Can we go eat this in my room where the good movies are?”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Mom said rolling her eyes. “Don’t be too loud your father has just went to bed, he’s been awake twenty four hours solid.”

 

“Alright,” I said leading Luke around the back of the couch to the stairs. I let him go up them ahead of me and when I watched him turn the corner and enter my room I looked back over at Mom. She was still standing by the door, this time her eyes weren’t alight and her mouth didn’t have an easy smile.

 

“I do know,” she said her voice barely a whisper. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too,” I said blinking away the subtle stinging of my eyes that preluded tears and walked up the stairs my heart hammering in my chest.











 

Copyright © 2017 Krista; All Rights Reserved.
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Oh wow, so his mom knows. I can't tell if she's ok with it or not but at least she told him she loves him. That's a good sign.

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Oh my God, this chapter was beyond awesome. So much happening here. I think I keep saying this, but I really love the way you bring little details into the picture that paints everything in more vivid strokes. So Jackson's mom knows. I wonder how Luke would have reacted if she had answered him, and not just to Jackson. Such an emotional moment. Well done. The contrast between all of the parents in this story is also an interesting thing, as is the way we see it expressed in each of Jackson's friends. This chapter set up a lot more tension - Luke's fear and Jackson's less fearful but still worried attitude in the light of all those factors, from Ally's terse smile to Cindzilla. Sigh. Can't wait for more.

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I didn’t know what it was like, being scared of something that I was feeling inside, while trying to hide it from the people I loved.
:huh: uhmm, what? Hasn't Jackson been worrying about his feelings for Luke? And he's been hiding it from his parents, his friends and everyone. How is he different from Luke? :unsure:
Anyway, great chapter and Jackson can always say he was shirtless because Connor spilled milk all over it. :lol: Derek's embarrassment was hilarious.

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Of course, mom knows, moms know everything. Except for mine. (Read my current status for more information on that subject.)

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Wow! Great chapter! The transformation of Jackson and Luke is amazing! They both have a ways to go, but the difference between now and the beginning of the series is great! I never would have thought Jackson would be the loveable, likeable guy he is now. I also never thought Luke would escape the clutches of Cindzilla! Great name btw! Lmao!! I'm a little confused about Jackson's mother's reaction. She said she knew and she loves him, but it was difficult to tell exactly how she felt about it.

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This is a fantastic chapter. Then again, it's a fantastic story. Jackson's change into someone actually thoughtful and caring about another has been so artfully done that it becomes hard to recall what he was like before. The whole homecoming game and dance dilemma had me smirking, as did the interrupted make-out session. And poor Cindy. When is she going to realize that hovering is not going to change Luke into the porcelain figurine she seems to want for a son? As it is, Jackson's mom is far more perceptive, and kind. And maybe, just, maybe, the new Jackson will be worthy of that.

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What strikes me again after reading this chapter is how much more ready Jackson seems to move forward with the relationship than Luke is. No doubt for Luke the feelings are there, and as we saw last chapter (and this chapter) it's becoming more obvious to those who are looking for it. Cindzilla's survelance very probably stems from how much she knows or at least suspects of her son. But Luke still seems a lot more hesitant to even kiss sometimes.

 

I feel for the kid, as I get it, and it would be hard to go against all the negativity he's heard all his life and just go for it with Jackson. This is particularly well done as far as Luke's characterization is concerned.

 

I'm also enjoying Jackson's growth. I thought it was rather telling that he took what he has with Luke a lot more serious than his past relationships with girls. Luke really matters to him.

 

This was a great chapter, and thanks for sharing Krista!

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On 02/17/2017 05:51 PM, Timothy M. said:

I didn’t know what it was like, being scared of something that I was feeling inside, while trying to hide it from the people I loved.

:huh: uhmm, what? Hasn't Jackson been worrying about his feelings for Luke? And he's been hiding it from his parents, his friends and everyone. How is he different from Luke? :unsure:

Anyway, great chapter and Jackson can always say he was shirtless because Connor spilled milk all over it. :lol: Derek's embarrassment was hilarious.

Heyy, thanks for reading!

 

You make a good point, but I think Jackson thinks his feelings are all new and that his upbringing was different. He is comparing his life under Grace/Craig and Luke having to deal with, Cindy/Henry.. the fear of them finding out has always be a lot worse for Luke throughout the story. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear in the writing there, but that's the intention of that. He was more or less saying that he could never understand what Luke feels, because they're not in the exact same boat. :)

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On 02/17/2017 03:40 PM, Okiegrad said:

Oh wow, so his mom knows. I can't tell if she's ok with it or not but at least she told him she loves him. That's a good sign.

Thanks for reading! :D

 

I think it is a good sign as well. But maybe not for them, Grace knows and has noticed... so maybe Cindy does too? And that likely wouldn't be the outcome if they were standing in Cindy's living room and having the same conversations. lol.

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On 02/17/2017 04:41 PM, Lux Apollo said:

Oh my God, this chapter was beyond awesome. So much happening here. I think I keep saying this, but I really love the way you bring little details into the picture that paints everything in more vivid strokes. So Jackson's mom knows. I wonder how Luke would have reacted if she had answered him, and not just to Jackson. Such an emotional moment. Well done. The contrast between all of the parents in this story is also an interesting thing, as is the way we see it expressed in each of Jackson's friends. This chapter set up a lot more tension - Luke's fear and Jackson's less fearful but still worried attitude in the light of all those factors, from Ally's terse smile to Cindzilla. Sigh. Can't wait for more.

Hey, thanks for reading. :P

 

The parents are taking more a role in this story, as well as the friends. I like that they are different and the friends, despite those differences, have found one another on certain levels. I hope to move on and write where people could understand them better, even if they aren't all that big/important to the story.

 

Luke, I think, is beginning to see that he may be living in a glass house. That people are catching on and he doesn't want them to. A very precarious place for him to be right now, I think.

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On 02/17/2017 07:39 PM, JayT said:

Of course, mom knows, moms know everything. Except for mine. (Read my current status for more information on that subject.)

Thanks for reading! :D

 

Yeah, Moms are pretty perceptive. That whole, "I have eyes in the back of my head thing.." might be true for most of them. :P Scary.

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On 02/17/2017 10:15 PM, jaysalmn said:

Wow! Great chapter! The transformation of Jackson and Luke is amazing! They both have a ways to go, but the difference between now and the beginning of the series is great! I never would have thought Jackson would be the loveable, likeable guy he is now. I also never thought Luke would escape the clutches of Cindzilla! Great name btw! Lmao!! I'm a little confused about Jackson's mother's reaction. She said she knew and she loves him, but it was difficult to tell exactly how she felt about it.

Thanks for reading!

 

I am so glad you think they have both transformed and grown as characters. You are right as well, they still have some things to learn and grow from left with the story.

 

Grace being difficult to read was intentional, but the, "I love you," is still good. Usually if there is a big issue with something like that, then I don't think she would have dodged it herself. She would have made them come clean and reacted. It is a bit of a cliffhanger. :)

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On 02/18/2017 01:08 AM, Parker Owens said:

This is a fantastic chapter. Then again, it's a fantastic story. Jackson's change into someone actually thoughtful and caring about another has been so artfully done that it becomes hard to recall what he was like before. The whole homecoming game and dance dilemma had me smirking, as did the interrupted make-out session. And poor Cindy. When is she going to realize that hovering is not going to change Luke into the porcelain figurine she seems to want for a son? As it is, Jackson's mom is far more perceptive, and kind. And maybe, just, maybe, the new Jackson will be worthy of that.

Thanks for reading! :D

 

It is a bit difficult to recall what he was like before. He still has some sass and moments, but not like before. He has decided that he needs to think outside of himself a bit. It took losing his scholarship, I think, for that to really hit home with him. That and maybe Luke talking to him against his will.

 

The differences between Cindy and Grace are very apparent in this chapter as well. I think he is worthy of that from his Mom, only because he has grown. I think Grace would be hovering just like Cindy if he hadn't changed... maybe his change sparked a change in herself. :) They are at least getting along better.

 

I really loved the Porcelain Figurine description as well, it fits perfectly. :)

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On 02/18/2017 08:43 AM, spikey582 said:

What strikes me again after reading this chapter is how much more ready Jackson seems to move forward with the relationship than Luke is. No doubt for Luke the feelings are there, and as we saw last chapter (and this chapter) it's becoming more obvious to those who are looking for it. Cindzilla's survelance very probably stems from how much she knows or at least suspects of her son. But Luke still seems a lot more hesitant to even kiss sometimes.

 

I feel for the kid, as I get it, and it would be hard to go against all the negativity he's heard all his life and just go for it with Jackson. This is particularly well done as far as Luke's characterization is concerned.

 

I'm also enjoying Jackson's growth. I thought it was rather telling that he took what he has with Luke a lot more serious than his past relationships with girls. Luke really matters to him.

 

This was a great chapter, and thanks for sharing Krista!

Thanks for reading! :D

 

I believe that you have hit on why they are both hesitant in their own way. Luke doesn't want to give in, based on his fears and past. He knows who he is, he just can't escape all that negativity swirling around him.

 

Jackson, he doesn't want to mess things up and knows that it is highly likely that he will and in a way that Luke won't forgive him for it. :D

 

Cindy and Grace are very different in this chapter as well. I don't think Cindy would have let Luke off the hook like Grace did at the end of the story. She would have thrown accusations at him, etc. Maybe that day is coming. :)

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This is a great story so far and enjoying it immensely. Love how mom whispered I know.Cindzilla is something else thank goodness for henry.

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On 02/22/2017 03:37 AM, Wesley8890 said:

This is a great story so far and enjoying it immensely. Love how mom whispered I know.Cindzilla is something else thank goodness for henry.

Hey, thanks for reading and enjoying the story so far! :D

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Ahh....because, of course mom knows.. She just acts like she's not paying attention, but I think too the boys have been a tad bit obvious if you are paying attention.. Luke was so on to her though. I wonder if he thinks that Grace knowing, is a short step to his own mother finding out.. Although I maintain that Cindy knows which is why she acts the crazy way she does..

 

Anyway, this was another wonderful chapter. I've said it before, but it bears repeating how real these growing feelings between Jackson and Luke are.. Luke is almost pulling back because maybe he's realising that it's really happening with Jackson and he'll the consequences could be well, Cindy. And Jackson while he's not unaffected, it's like he's determined to see it through. The relationship matters to him. Much like swimming, once he realises he cares he gives it his all. The back and forth tension and uncertainty makes me root for them so much.

 

Thank you for another great chapter Krista..

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So, a bit of a delay because the text on my iPhone stopped after the first couple paragraphs, so I had to wait until I had time to read it on my computer. I'm sorry to hear that Grace and Cindy are still not talking. Losing your best friend since childhood has to hurt. At least we know each of them is missing the other -- and is equally stubborn. I will also confess that I thought that perhaps both sets of parents would show up at the game and at least start the healing. At least we know that Grace knows, however, and she is not freaking out. I'm not sure how Jackson would handle his mom freaking since he is only a few chapters away from freaking out himself. I'm also glad to see more of their friends figuring it out and supporting them. Some major stuff is approaching the fan, I suspect, so they will need all the support they can get. Thanks, Krista!

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On 02/24/2017 04:24 AM, Defiance19 said:

Ahh....because, of course mom knows.. She just acts like she's not paying attention, but I think too the boys have been a tad bit obvious if you are paying attention.. Luke was so on to her though. I wonder if he thinks that Grace knowing, is a short step to his own mother finding out.. Although I maintain that Cindy knows which is why she acts the crazy way she does..

 

Anyway, this was another wonderful chapter. I've said it before, but it bears repeating how real these growing feelings between Jackson and Luke are.. Luke is almost pulling back because maybe he's realising that it's really happening with Jackson and he'll the consequences could be well, Cindy. And Jackson while he's not unaffected, it's like he's determined to see it through. The relationship matters to him. Much like swimming, once he realises he cares he gives it his all. The back and forth tension and uncertainty makes me root for them so much.

 

Thank you for another great chapter Krista..

Thanks for reading!

 

Yep, Grace noticed a few things and figured it out. :) I'm sure there is still some confusion in her mind, I wonder how long it will take before she pounces and starts her motherly interrogating.. lol. Cindy's craziness hasn't really been explained aside from being controlling and a bit pushy.

 

I like Jackson's determination in things, it has never wavered once after his mind is made up. Even if he was unruly, he did it with a straight forward frame of mind.. lol.

 

I think though, Luke is getting a little bit of that too. It may not be as effective as Jackson's determination though. Might backfire. :(

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On 02/26/2017 02:05 PM, hillj69 said:

So, a bit of a delay because the text on my iPhone stopped after the first couple paragraphs, so I had to wait until I had time to read it on my computer. I'm sorry to hear that Grace and Cindy are still not talking. Losing your best friend since childhood has to hurt. At least we know each of them is missing the other -- and is equally stubborn. I will also confess that I thought that perhaps both sets of parents would show up at the game and at least start the healing. At least we know that Grace knows, however, and she is not freaking out. I'm not sure how Jackson would handle his mom freaking since he is only a few chapters away from freaking out himself. I'm also glad to see more of their friends figuring it out and supporting them. Some major stuff is approaching the fan, I suspect, so they will need all the support they can get. Thanks, Krista!

Thanks for reading!

 

Interesting thought on the parents. Grace does miss Cindy and they were childhood friends. But, as a mother, I personally would have a difficult time with one of my childhood friends ranting about my children. It would definitely make me stubborn. Also, it doesn't look like Cindy has been too reasonable throughout the story, so I say it would take awhile for Cindy to approach Grace with an apology that I think needs to happen. Grace is changing as well, and maybe Cindy isn't so far and we will see if she ever does.

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The ending there was a bit strange. I had a feeling she knew. Why did she pretend she didn't know what Luke was talking about? Does she want to discuss this with Jackson when Luke's not around? The 'I love you' was a great affirmation, though. :)

 

Cindzilla -- that's a great name, and so appropriate! Why the hell would she and Henry be at a freezing football game when their kids weren't even playing/cheering? Just so she could keep an eye on Luke? Or Jackson? Did she really think they would suddenly strip and get it on right there on the freezing bleachers for all to see? :lmao:

 

I didn't realize Jackson had dated all the girls in their group. lol He's maturing, though, because he realizes he cares for Luke more than he did when he was with the girls. Even Ally. He'll be the one who'll want to come out way before Luke would.

 

Great chapter, Krista! :)

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On 3/7/2017 at 11:27 PM, Lisa said:

The ending there was a bit strange. I had a feeling she knew. Why did she pretend she didn't know what Luke was talking about? Does she want to discuss this with Jackson when Luke's not around? The 'I love you' was a great affirmation, though. :)

 

Cindzilla -- that's a great name, and so appropriate! Why the hell would she and Henry be at a freezing football game when their kids weren't even playing/cheering? Just so she could keep an eye on Luke? Or Jackson? Did she really think they would suddenly strip and get it on right there on the freezing bleachers for all to see? :lmao:

 

I didn't realize Jackson had dated all the girls in their group. lol He's maturing, though, because he realizes he cares for Luke more than he did when he was with the girls. Even Ally. He'll be the one who'll want to come out way before Luke would.

 

Great chapter, Krista! :)

 

I totally thought I already responded to this comment?! Wow, sorry I missed it and thank you for reading!

 

Yes, I don't think she wanted to admit to knowing, not in front of Luke just yet, because maybe she wasn't completely comfortable in speaking to her best friend's son about something like that. I guess, I could have played it off with Luke being more shaken up/nervous in his confrontation so she did it in a way to spare his feelings and hopefully let Luke settle down a bit and calm down.

 

Cindzilla fits her and yes, she went there knowing Luke was attending. lol. Sigh... Cindy. :)

 

Yep, he dated all three girls in the group. lol. I guess it is a way to represent how immature, maybe, his relationships were up until maybe Ally and most definitely Luke. You may see some explanation in that via conversations he has with some of the girls as well. I'm so glad you liked the chapter though! :D

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Your writing really captures your characters feelings, and I feel like I'm there with them. I think I like Jackson's mom even more after the closing lines of this chapter. Jackson was kind of in denial, but I've suspected Mom knew for a while. More good story! Thanks. Jeff

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