It is recommended that you read my story Underdogs before reading this story, as it takes place one day after the events in that story.
Grayson heard the sound of buzzing, and his first instinct was to reach up and smack his alarm clock, even though it wasn’t a school day. It did him no good and the buzzing continued and he finally opened one eye and noticed a flash coming from his phone announcing a new text message. The buzzing ceased but Grayson was now awake. He groaned and turned over, though he immediately ran into Seth who was still asleep next to him.
At least he had been until Grayson’s arm smacked against him from the side. Seth bolted upright and looked at Grayson who mumbled a quick apology, but then there was a new vibration, this one coming from the floor near the foot of Grayson’s bed. Seth sighed and climbed over Grayson and looked down at Logan who was sleeping on the floor but was slowly waking as he noticed his phone was going off next to him.
Seth and Logan had played ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to determine who would share the bed with Grayson the night before, and Seth had one two out of three without any difficulty. Logan had been a gracious loser and hadn’t batted an eye when he was offered a pillow and a blanket for the floor. From the look in his eye as he woke up to Seth stepping over him, he now regretted being so accommodating. Grayson hadn’t had many people sleepover through his life, but those who had chosen the floor over sharing the bed always had the same reaction. His floor was awful to sleep on.
Grayson reached for his phone as he considered what it would take to convince his mom to buy him a bigger bed. He couldn’t tell her what it was for, even if she was supportive of his sexuality, he was certain that she would be so keen on getting him a bigger bed so that he could fit three boys into it instead of just one. But he was a growing boy, and there were other things he could say to convince her that he needed a bigger bed. He smiled at the thought as he unlocked his phone.
But then his smile faltered and then disappeared completely as he saw the message from an unknown number. It was a single picture; a picture of Logan kissing him after the dance. The picture was from the outside of the school, and it was easy to see the glass of the doors to the school that distorted the image slightly, though not enough to prevent the identification of the two boys whose lips were locked together. Anyone seeing the picture that knew him or Logan would easily be able to tell who it was.
“Guys, we have a problem,” Grayson said when he finally found his voice. Seth was the first to notice, and he gasped as he looked over Grayson’s shoulder and saw the picture, though not as much as when he glanced down at Logan’s and saw the same picture there.
“You can say that again,” Logan said as he lifted his phone to show Grayson. Logan’s phone buzzed again and he opened the new message to see a picture of he and Seth kissing on the other side of the school. “What the fuck?” Logan asked. Grayson watched as Logan texted back, though he was still too stunned to pay attention to what Logan was texting.
“Do you really think they’re going to respond to that?” Seth asked. He stood and looked down at Logan as he searched for his shirt, finding it next to Logan’s he slid it on over his face and then turned back to both of them, though he addressed his next question at Logan. “Asking them who they are when they send you a picture like that is unlikely to help anything.”
“What I’d rather know is why,” Grayson said when Logan looked up at Seth angrily. “Who would even take pictures of us like this? And then why would they send them to us.”
“Blackmail, obviously,” Seth said with a shrug. “But they’re not going to tell us who they are unless they’re desperate.”
“Why do you not seem worried?” Logan asked with a shake of his head as he let the phone drop into his lap. “What if whoever this is decides to spread these around school? What the hell are we going to do then?”
“What do you mean?” Seth asked, crossing his arms over his chest as he turned back to Logan. “Are you saying you regret what we did? I’m not ashamed of who I am.”
Logan looked at Grayson with pleading eyes, and Grayson raised his hands in surrender, “Don’t look at me. As far as I’m concerned I’m already out. I kind of did that at the Valentine’s dance two days ago, you know, when I asked you for a kiss in the middle of everyone?”
“So what then, I’m the only one that’s worried about being out at school?” Logan asked, looking between his two friends. Seth shrugged and picked up his pants, sliding one leg into them and then the other as he avoided answering the question. Grayson looked down at his phone and avoided Logan’s gaze. “Wonderful…” Logan muttered and threw the blanket away from him as he reached for his own pants to slide into them.
“Logan, I don’t know why you’re that worried. I mean, someone was going to find out at some point,” Seth said calmly. “If they want to try to black mail us, I say we let them say what they want. I don’t intend to be bullied. With what’s been going on in recent years in this town, I’m pretty certain no one is going to care if they start thinking we’re gay.”
“There are two problems, Seth,” Logan said as he stood and slid into his pants. “One, I’m not gay.” Grayson shared a look of concern with Seth and then looked down in shame. Logan sighed and said, “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m attracted to both of you, mentally at least, and I certainly enjoy kissing both of you, but I’m not ready to call myself ‘gay’ yet. I hope you’ll understand that.”
Grayson felt the bed sink down next to him, and he looked at Seth in surprise who was watching his face and searching his eyes for something. There were so many emotions there that Grayson couldn’t identify, but he held the gaze anyway. “I’m okay if you are, Grayson,” Seth said as he reached out and took Grayson’s hand. Grayson squeezed back and nodded. Seth turned back to Logan and said, “I can live with that. I’m not ready to identify as gay either, especially since I know that I’m bi, not gay. You need more time, and I can support that, though I’m not afraid to say that I like both of you. Liking both of you doesn’t change the fact that I’m bi.”
“Okay, I get it,” Logan said as he raised his hands in surrender. “You’re right, that just because they call me ‘gay’ doesn’t mean I am. I’m sorry.”
“Good, you better be,” Seth said as he rose to his feet and placed his hand on Logan’s cheek, turning him around. He then planted a gentle kiss on Logan’s lips and said, “I don’t know jack shit about the world, Logan, but I do know that we can get through this, especially if we work together.”
“Wow,” Grayson said, and then couldn’t help but laugh a little as Logan and Seth both looked at him with almost identical questioning expressions. He laughed even harder then and shook his head helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he said between breaths, “I can’t help myself.” He wiped tears from his eyes as he looked back up at his friends and said, “I guess I’m just realizing how lucky I am to have the two of you for friends. What just happened there was pretty cool.”
Logan and Seth both blushed and looked away from Grayson, but that just brought their eyes back to each other’s, and they quickly looked down to the floor instead. After shifting their feet awkwardly for several seconds, Seth coughed and said, “You said there was a second reason?”
“Um… yeah,” Logan said as he started pacing. “What happens when they start calling us ‘gay’ and Kristin’s parents find out? What are they going to think?”
“Damn, you’re always worried about them, aren’t you?” Seth said as he threw his hands up in frustration. “You do have a point though. We did agree to take care of them and… I suppose we do have a responsibility to make sure that she’s protected.”
“So what do we do then?” Grayson asked, and Seth and Logan both turned back toward him. “I mean, do we try to find out what they want and then give it to them, or do we still try to fight this?”
Logan’s phone went off again, and he moved to pick it up as he looked between Seth and Grayson. “Let’s see what this says, shall we? And then maybe we can decide.” He opened the message and then frowned. “Well, that didn’t help at all. All it said was, ‘I know what you’re doing’.”
“Can I see it?” Grayson asked, and Logan handed over the phone immediately with a shrug. Grayson shook his head when he read the message and said, “No, look how it’s written. It says, ‘I kno wut ur doin’. We do know something, it’s not an adult that sent that message.”
“That’s a fair point,” Logan conceded. “If it’s a kid, that means we don’t have to worry about much until school starts, and we still have time to handle it before then. It’s Presidents’ Day, so no school until tomorrow. Why don’t Seth and I go home so that we can shower and get a fresh change of clothes, and then we can meet back up at Café Perk Me Up and decide what we’re going to do about it?”
“Maybe by then we’ll have more information,” Seth offered with a shrug. “Maybe they’ll text me, too. Who knows?”
Grayson smiled and nodded before saying, “I think that’s a solid plan. I have a doctor’s appointment anyway, so that’s going to eat up a few hours for me. Why don’t we get together around lunch time?”
Logan and Seth shared another look and then replied in unison. “Perfect.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They had stopped by Logan’s house first, though they had spent little time there. Logan’s parents were not home, as per usual, and so there had been nothing to stall Logan from getting a shower and changing quickly. Seth had waited in Logan’s room and had been lost in thought by the time Logan had finished his shower, though he did take the time to watch Logan dress. No matter the fact that they had decided that they were going to focus on their friendship rather than being in a relationship, Seth couldn’t deny the attractiveness of his best friend, and if Logan was going to give him a free show of his body, he wasn’t going to pass that up.
But as he watched Logan slide into a fresh pair of jeans he started thinking about what Logan had said back at Grayson’s house. He wasn’t being fair to Logan; the entire reason that he had stepped away from pursuing a sexual relationship with Logan was because Logan was unsure of his sexuality, and Seth didn’t want to make it more confusing for him. It wasn’t the reason that he had given Logan, but he couldn’t keep up with Logan’s confusion from inside the relationship.
Now he had to see if he was strong enough to support Logan as a friend as he faced his inner demons about his sexuality. Seth knew better than to think it was easy, even though once he had come to accept his own bisexuality it had come naturally. The few months while he was wrestling with It were agonizing, and he could only imagine how tough it was for Logan. Seth was attracted to both genders but Logan…
Logan had said that he was only attracted to girls and Seth, though that morning he had admitted to being attracted to Grayson as well. He said he wasn’t attracted to boys in general, but why was he now attracted to two of them? While it didn’t make sense to Seth directly, he knew it was his duty to support his friend as best as he could and so he was consumed with how to do so as they walked the short distance to Seth’s house.
Seth walked through the front door of his house with Logan right behind him, and was immediately assaulted by the smell of something good cooking in the kitchen. It was cinnamon and sweetness, and he found himself licking his lips before his mind even realized what it was. Cinnamon rolls. He rushed inside, expecting to see his mother in the kitchen, but instead it was his sister, Sora, who looked up from the cookbook laying on the counter.
“Seth!?” Sora said, looking at him with disapproval, “What would mom say is she caught you running in the house?”
“For cinnamon rolls, I’m willing to break a few rules,” Seth said with a grin as he slid against the counter and then used his palms to prop himself up on top of it, peering past Sora and trying to get a look inside the oven so that he could see how close they were to being done.
“You little devil,” Sora said with sparkling eyes that were almost identical to his own as she pushed him back off the counter. She moved around the counter quickly and started tickling him under his arms, and he squirmed and tried to get away, but she had him cornered, and it wasn’t until Logan entered the room and cleared his throat that she stopped and looked back at him.
“Oh, hey, Logan,” Sora said with a grin. “Do you want a cinnamon roll?”
“Don’t mind if I do!” Logan said as he grinned at Seth, who was shooting daggers at Sora with his eyes. “Are they done yet? I could use something like that after the morning I’ve had.”
“Almost,” Sora said with a nod at the oven, and as in on cue the timer buzzed and she moved across the room and retrieved a pair of oven mitts from the stovetop. She opened the door as Seth watched, taking in a big whiff of the fresh scent of his favorite desert. He glanced at Logan, and saw that he was doing much the same thing, but then Logan turned toward him and smiled bashfully.
“I know you want them fresh,” Sora said as she straightened and put the pan on the stovetop to cool, “But at least give them a moment.” The boys’ attention was drawn back to her, though a sudden thought hit Seth quickly as began to watch Logan out of the corner of his eye. Despite the four year difference between him and his sister, they looked very similar. They had the same black hair, the same green eyes; the same freckles. Yet Logan didn’t look at her the same way that he looked at him. If he was attracted to girls but was also attracted to Seth, then why wasn’t he attracted to Sora?
He wasn’t sure how deep he wanted to get into that question. The thought of Logan having a thing for his sister was a disturbing one for multiple reasons, and he was glad that Logan didn’t, though it obviously meant that Logan’s attraction was more complex than Seth had originally given him credit. If it was that intricate, then Seth could understand how being forced to come out by someone blackmailing them would only add to the confusion he was feeling.
The cinnamon roll was delicious, and Logan ranted and raved about how good of a cook Sora was, and the whole time Seth watched him, making sure of his earlier assumptions. Logan wasn’t flirting, he was just being Logan, and Sora could see that as well. She accepted his compliments graciously and then left it at that, and Logan finished his pastry without another thought on the matter. Seth finished his a few bites later, and after rinsing their dishes and loading them in the dishwasher they hurried upstairs to Seth’s room.
It was Seth’s turn to shower and get ready for the day, but his mind was stuck on thoughts of how to solve the question of Logan, and he took his time stripping down to his boxers. It wasn’t until he paused in front of his bedroom door where he hung his towel that he heard Logan’s laughter behind him and was distracted enough from his thoughts to pay any attention to what he had been doing.
“Are you trying to show off today, bestie?” Logan asked when Seth turned around. Logan looked him up and down, his eyes trailing across his skin and resting at several points, and though he was blushing and his eyes held a hint of lust Logan continued with confidence in his voice, “You’re taking an unusually long time to get into the shower. Are you sure you’re not more bothered by the pictures than you said you were?”
Seth smiled crookedly and shook his head, “No. As far as I’m concerned whoever took those pictures can shove them wherever they want. I mean, protecting Maggie and Kristin is a good cause, but if they weren’t in the picture I really wouldn’t care. Though…” he sighed and looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry about the way I reacted earlier today. I know that you’re not sure where you stand on your sexuality, and it isn’t fair to put you in that position either.”
Logan’s smile disappeared as he pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You know, it’s not so much that I’m worried about how others will perceive me. I mean, my uncle is gay and four of my best friends are all ‘not-straight’,” Logan made quotation marks in the air to emphasize his point, “and I obviously don’t have a problem with that, it’s just…”
“You’re not sure what you define yourself as and you don’t want others to define it for you,” Seth surmised with a wry smile. “Don’t worry, I get it. We’ll find out whoever is trying to do this to you, and then we’ll make sure they don’t make things difficult for you. But I do have one more question for you before I go shower.”
Logan’s eyes lit up at Seth’s change in attitude, and he gestured eagerly for Seth to continue. “Of course, whatever it is, go for it.”
“Did you enjoy the show?” Seth asked, wiggling his eyebrows and then doing the same with his butt before giggling like a young girl and pulling his towel down from the back of the door. He glanced back once to see that Logan’s eyes were lit up with amusement and he was blushing bright red, though the most telling answer to Seth was the tenting he saw in Logan’s jeans.
Seth closed the door behind him and stepped into the bathroom. Although he normally avoided it, he couldn’t help but stop in front of the mirror and take a long look at himself. He had never found his looks to be anything special, but there was no denying Logan’s reaction. Was it just the product of teenage hormones, or did Logan actually find him attractive? Had Seth given up on their relationship too quickly?
The questions stayed with him as he climbed into the shower, unsure of how he was supposed to proceed. If it was true, and Seth did have a chance to pursue a relationship with Logan again, there was one major problem; Grayson. He didn’t know that he could do that to his new best friend, no matter how much he wanted Logan.
That thought terrified him more than any attempt at blackmail ever could.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Grayson was finally off of the crutches. It was about time, but his doctor had said that since he had been so diligent he could get off of them early, and he couldn’t be happier about that aspect of his life. He only wished that he didn’t feel like he was walking into hellfire as his mom drove him to the coffee shop. As much as he felt that working together with Logan and Seth he could accomplish anything, there was that shred of doubt that his life was about to change for the worse because of what had happened that morning. He was gay, and now the whole school knew it.
His mother was humming along to a tune on the radio and didn’t appear to notice how quiet he was being. That was for the best, he supposed. He didn’t really want to talk about it, at least not until it became a problem. For now he had to remain content that she would trust him to live his own life the way that she always had. At least she had been willing to give him a ride to the coffee shop to meet his friends, and he knew that he could count on her support even if she didn’t know what was going on.
It was twelve-twenty when he arrived at Café Perk Me Up “Hey, be home for dinner, all right?” She called out to him when he stepped away from the car
He sighed and stepped into the coffee shop, where he was instantly greeted by a blast of warm air and the sweet smile of a young Asian woman, whose pregnant belly was extended over the counter. She wore an apron as she busied herself with a wet rag on the counter in front of her, but she looked up and met his eyes as the door closed behind him. “Welcome to Café Perk Me Up!” She said enthusiastically as she stopped her scrubbing. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you in here before. My name is Sonya.”
“Uh… hi,” Grayson said, momentarily taken back by Sonya’s enthusiasm. “Um, I’m meeting some friends here, but I’ve only been in once or twice before.”
“Would you like to wait for them before you order?” Sonya asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Actually, I’m not sure I’m thirsty,” Grayson stammered, smiling at her weakly. Now that he was inside and thinking about the nature of the meeting he was about to have with his friends, he was quickly realizing that it was an appetite killer.
“Oh, it’s one of those meetings…” Sonya said with a knowing wink. Grayson blinked as he realized that he was probably showing his discomfort and indecision on his face, and Sonya had read him easily. She leaned down into the counter, her eyes flashing as she said in a conspiring whisper, “Let me tell you a secret, my new friend.”
“Um, okay,” Grayson said uncertainly.
“I just made a fresh pot, and sitting down over coffee is one of the best ways to have a conversation,” Sonya replied with a wide grin. “It gives you time to think.”
Grayson couldn’t help himself and snickered at that. Sonya gave him a raised eyebrow and Grayson explained, “Sorry. That just sounds almost exactly like what my friend Seth would say if he were here.”
Sonya nodded sagely, “Your friend Seth is very wise. How about it then? You get a cup and I’ll even offer you a free refill.”
“Sold!” Grayson said, feeling better already. “I’ll just have it black to start, please. I’ll see if I want to add cream or sugar after I taste it.”
“Oh? Sounds like we have a connoisseur on our hands!” Sonya exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “I like your style kid. I take it back, you don’t need to buy it, and the first one is on me.”
Grayson giggled as Sonya filled up his cup and then set it in front of him before gesturing to the rack that held the cream and sugar. He took a sip and realized that even though his mood had told him that he wanted something strong, he didn’t like coffee black, no matter how many times he tried it. Not wanting to ruin the good impression he had made on Sonya, however, he waited until Sonya stepped into the back and then added some cream and sugar to his cup. Once he was satisfied with the flavor he took his cup and headed to secure a table when he heard the door to the coffee shop open.
He turned around, expecting to see Seth and Logan, but instead he ended up with a face full of snow as a snowball collided with him. The attack was so shocking that he lost his balance, and with his weak leg so unused to bearing his weight it collapsed underneath him, and he found himself falling backward. The hot coffee in his hand poured over his hand and side as he fell, but he soon forgot about it as the back of his head collided with the floor and his world faded to black.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Hey, Jordan, Tyler, what are you guys doing here?” Logan asked in surprise as he came around the corner and saw the two boys standing next to a sign post. Tyler was more leaning than standing, panting as if he had just been running. Jordan was wide-eyed and panicked when he turned toward the sound of Logan’s voice, and for a moment it looked as if he were going to start running as well.
“Uh… Hi, Logan, Seth…” Jordan stammered, looking between the two of them and then glancing nervously at Tyler. “What brings you this way?”
“I just asked you the same thing, Jordan,” Logan said as his smile fell. “Neither of you live anywhere near here.”
“We were, uh…” Jordan stammered.
“We just got some hot chocolate at CPMU,” Tyler broke in, and Jordan shot him a dangerous glare. “Um, there was a problem there though, the lady went into labor. If you’re planning on going there, I suggest you…”
“Oh shit, is everything all right?” Logan asked, looking at Seth whose emotionless eyes were watching Jordan carefully. When he looked back he caught an exchange of glances between Tyler and Jordan, and then his own eyes began to narrow in suspicion. “Well, we better go check it out. We were meeting someone there, and we need to get things sorted out with them.”
“Oh, uh, were you meeting Grayson?” Tyler asked, and Jordan gripped his shoulder, hard. Tyler kept speaking despite the grip, “He said he was headed home…” Jordan gripped harder and Tyler shook himself free, glaring at Jordan.
“Whatever,” Logan said, shaking his head as he felt a scowl settle into his features. He was more upset than he had ever been, now that he was sure that Tyler and Jordan were keeping something from him. In light of the texts he had received that morning, he was inclined to think that they had something to do with it, and if he found out that was true… He needed to get away to think about the exchange he had just had with them. He started walking past them and called out over his shoulder, “Come on Seth. Let’s see if we can catch Grayson on his way home.”
Seth lingered behind for a brief moment staring hard at Jordan and Tyler before following after Logan. He had only made it a few steps when Jordan caught his arm, and he turned back to glare at Jordan and demand he let him go when he saw the look in Jordan’s eyes. There was nothing malicious in that look, only concern.
“Seth, Tyler’s an idiot. You guys need to get to the coffee shop as quickly as you can. I’m sorry I can’t say more at the moment. Go on,” Jordan urged quietly and then let Seth go. He nodded in the direction Logan was heading and then made a shooing motion.
Picking up on the urgency in Jordan’s voice, Seth nodded quickly and caught up to Logan. “Let’s hurry,” He said, and without further explanation he took off at a jog in the direction of the coffee shop. Logan needed no further urging, and he was right beside Seth a second later. They rounded the next corner and found themselves in front of the coffee shop, finding nothing out of the ordinary from the outside.
“Well at least we know now that Tyler was lying for sure,” Logan said bitterly as they pulled up short on the opposite side of the street, making sure there were no cars in their way before they crossed.
“That’s true, but…” Seth shook his head as they started across the road. “I don’t think they had anything to do with the text messages this morning. Jordan’s the one that told me to get here as fast as I could.”
Logan turned to Seth with surprise and said, “Then who? I mean, Tyler was totally acting suspicious, and he obviously lied,” He gestured toward the window to where Sonya was standing beside one of the tables. “See, the pregnant woman is standing at the table right next to…” He trailed off as he realized that Grayson was sitting at the table with an icepack to the back of his head.
“Grayson!” Seth and Logan shouted together, and they were both running again, this time through the door of the café. Sonya looked up in protest as the boys came charging in, but they shouted his name again and joined her at the table, looking down at him with concern as they caught their breath.
Seth was the first to recover, and he reached out and grasped Grayson’s hand. “Gray, are you all right? What happened?”
“Some punk kid came inside and threw a snowball at him,” Sonya said as she rubbed Grayson’s shoulder. “Hit him right in the face and knocked him flat. He banged his head on the floor and I’ve been taking care of him since then.”
“What did the kid look like? Do you know who it was?” Logan asked, looking out the window and seeing if he saw anyone watching the place.
“I had an eyeful of snow and then I was on the ground,” Grayson said sheepishly. “I’m afraid I have no idea who did it.”
“I was in the back baking something,” Sonya said, shaking her head solemnly. “My husband should be back any minute and then we can try to work something out with the carwash across the street. Their security cameras cover the front of our store.”
“Your husband is the guy with the pony tail, right?” Seth asked, and for the first time Sonya gave him her full attention. She blinked at Seth and Logan as the faintest glimmer of recognition passed across her eyes.
“Yes, Kyle,” Sonya confirmed with a nod. “I’m Sonya, by the way. You’re the two boys that were here a month ago on that double date, right?”
“Yeah, that’s us,” Logan conceded. “Thanks for your help, Sonya. We’ll come up and order some coffee in a minute, all right?”
“What Logan is asking is if you’ll excuse us for a minute,” Seth said with a polite smile. “We need to talk to Grayson alone for a moment.”
Sonya smiled sweetly and patted Seth’s arm. “Of course. Let me know what you’re drinking and it’s on the house today, okay boys?” She laughed and added, “Kyle’s going to be upset when he finds out that I’m giving away free drinks, but not after he learns what happened.”
Seth thanked her while Logan turned his full attention to Grayson. They began discussing the details of what had happened, but Seth had something that was bothering him and he had to put it to rest, and he excused himself momentarily to get drinks for himself and Logan. He approached the counted and smiled warmly at Sonya.
“Could I get a tea latte for my friend?” Seth asked, pointing at Logan. Sonya smiled and nodded and offered him a selection of teas, and Seth quickly selected one that he knew Logan would enjoy and she set it steeping before turning back to him.
“And what can I get for you?” Sonya asked with a sweet smile.
“What do you have for the mood I’m in?” Seth asked, and when Sonya gave him an understanding smile he went on. “Let’s see, we’ve got complicated love life, friends getting attacked, and friends getting blackmailed. Should I just take it black so that I can have bitterness in all aspects of my life?”
“Wow, that’s a little deep for someone your age. How old are you, like fifteen?” Sonya asked as she poured him his cup. She handed it to him and he took a sip before smiling up at her.
“Coffee is perfect,” Seth said, “And it’s generous of you to say fifteen. Most people guess that I’m younger than I am, and I never hear anyone guess that I’m older. I’m fourteen, though I’ll be fifteen this year.”
“I judge a person’s age off of the look in their eyes as much as their physical appearance,” Sonya explained as she leaned against the counter. “You’ve got enough maturity in you that there’s no way I would have thought you were younger than fourteen.”
“You sound like my mother,” Seth said with a grin. “She reads people’s age through their eyes too. I hope this isn’t offensive, but maybe it’s an Asian thing?”
“Your mother is Asian?” Sonya asked, startled as she looked at Seth’s Caucasian features. “So you’re adopted?”
“Yeah. My parents were killed in a car accident ten years ago. My adopted parents already had legal guardianship in the case of an emergency, and they pushed to adopt us after that. They were close friends of our parents,” Seth explained with a shrug.
“Oh, well it looks like you’re doing quite well now,” Sonya said with a smile. “Aside from the love life, the blackmail, and the snowball incident,” she added with a chuckle. “Tea’s almost ready, and it looks like your friends are wondering where you are.”
“Yeah, I am too,” Seth said with a dry chuckle. “The thing is, I needed some time away from the two of them to figure something out.”
Seth shrugged but then found himself explaining, “I have something going on that could hurt one of them significantly, or it might not hurt them at all. I’m scared to act because I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or not. I’m trying to put it out of my mind with the attack on Gray and everything, but it just keeps popping up.”
Sonya nodded thoughtfully and then stepped away to prepare the rest of the tea for Logan. She then set the cup in front of Seth but then held it as Seth’s hand reached out for it. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned through life, it’s that honesty is really the best policy,” Sonya said with a soft smile. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be delayed for a little bit though,” she added with a quick laugh. “I’d say that you should focus on getting your friends through this, and then when the dust has settled, talk to them. They’re you’re friends, and they’ll understand if you just talk to them. If they don’t then they aren’t really your friends.”
Seth nodded as he looked back at the table where Grayson and Logan were watching him expectantly. He turned back to Sonya and grinned, “You’re right, and I’m sure everything will be fine. Thanks for the drinks, and are you sure I can’t pay you for them?”
“Believe it or not, we can afford it,” Sonya said with a roll of her eyes. “I’m not going to go into my financial situation right now, but trust me, a few free drinks won’t break the bank, but it will make us some new friends. This isn’t about business, this is about life.” She finally let go of the cup of tea and nodded toward the table. “Now go join your friends.”
“Thank you,” Seth said as he took the two cups and stepped away from the counter. “I owe you more than you know.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Logan reached into his pocket as he received another text, expecting to see the same number from before, but this one was new. He opened it and viewed the same two pictures that he had received that morning, but there was a message attached that read: Hey. We need to talk about this. Can I come over to your house?
“Hey guys, look at this,” Logan said as he placed the phone on the table to show Grayson and Seth. Both boys leaned forward and read the message before settling back down and sharing a look of concern.
“And you don’t know who that is, either?” Grayson asked when Logan retrieved his phone.
“No. It’s another unknown number,” Logan replied. He shook his head and then looked up at his friends’ eyes with concern as his mind filled with questions that he soon found leaving his mouth. “Do you think I should ask? How do you think I should respond? Should we go back there?”
Grayson opened his mouth but Seth beat him to it. “I don’t think you should ask unless we decide that we’re going to your house, but let’s look at this logically for a moment.”
“I agree,” Grayson added, giving Seth an annoyed look before turning back to Logan, “If they’re asking to come over then they already know more about you than the average person. This has to be a friend, and maybe we can get information out of them.”
“Yeah, but now we have to wonder if whoever sent the pictures the first time has already started spreading them around,” Logan said distraughtly, “Maybe they’ve already decided that blackmailing me isn’t worth the trouble and they’re just going to ruin my life.”
Seth snatched Logan’s phone away from him against Logan’s protest and switched over to the message from the first mystery number before sending a quick reply. “What are you texting?” Logan asked as Seth plugged angrily away at the keys.
“’What do you want?’ is what I asked. I figure it’s the most appropriate question to ask, and yet we haven’t done it yet,” Seth replied as he handed the phone back to Logan. “We can’t assume anything unless we know that they actually have a motive beyond ruining you.”
“I think they just hate gay people,” Grayson said as he rubbed the back of his head. “If we assume that whoever sent the message is the same one who hit me with that snowball then that might be why.”
The phone vibrated again in Logan’s hand, and after looking down at it he said, “We got an answer. It says, ‘you’re sick for what you’re doing. What the fuck is wrong with you?’. Sounds like Grayson might have hit the nail on the head with that one.”
The three boys looked over to Sonya who was standing a few feet away. None of them had noticed her approach, and they exchanged worried glances before turning their full attention to her. She wore a stern expression, but it softened when she saw the worry in their eyes. When she spoke her voice had an edge to it that Logan found disconcerting, though as soon as he heard her words his discomfort began to go away.
“Are you saying that the snowball was a hate crime?” She asked, addressing Grayson.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far… it was just a snowball,” Grayson said nervously.
“It’s never just a snowball,” Sonya said, shaking her head and looking at the three boys in turn. “If you think this happened because one of you is gay, then we need to find out who it is, and make sure the problem is addressed immediately. I was coming over here because my husband said he’ll be around in a couple of minutes, and then we were going to see about getting the surveillance footage. Now we’ll make sure to up our timetable.”
“You sound pretty serious,” Logan remarked in awe. “Um, thank you, but can I ask why you care so much?”
Sonya’s eyes grew moist but she kept whatever emotion had summoned her tears from her voice as she replied, “My brother was gay. He was bullied nearly every day while we were growing up, and my parents even added to it. Whatever you boys need, I’m here to support you, and my husband will as well. Look, there he is,” she said as the door to the kitchen opened up and Kyle Lamb walked quickly into the dining room. His eyes found Sonya’s instantly and he started over to them, his pony tail bouncing against his back.
“Hi, sweetie,” Kyle said as he wrapped his arms gently around Sonya and pulled her in for a quick peck on the lips. When they parted he looked down at the boys and asked, “Are you the ones that need help?”
“I guess so,” Logan said with a shrug.
“Yes,” Seth and Grayson said in concert.
“I see,” Kyle said with a tight smile. “Well, while I was walking in I got on the phone with Tyrell across the street. He said that he remembered watching three kids running away, but hadn’t known why and had just assumed they were playing around. He’ll check it out and let us know. Everything is digital in his system so he’ll email me if he finds out that he has anything.”
“Thanks,” Grayson said with an appreciative nod. “Really I just want this whole thing to be over.”
Logan looked up at Grayson and smiled weakly, though Grayson didn’t seem to notice. His expression was withdrawn and he seemed to be thinking deeply about something. Seth seemed no more talkative than Grayson, and even when Sonya and Kyle excused themselves to give the boys their privacy no words were exchanged between them.
When he realized that no conversation would be started without him, Logan gave up and stared out the window, acknowledging the fact that he didn’t feel like talking either. But then his eyes settled on the boy watching them from the outside, someone he knew very well; Jace. As soon as Logan made eye contact, Jace bolted, but not before Logan had seen the look of anger on his face.
“Shit,” Logan muttered, and Seth followed Logan’s gaze out the window to see Jace running. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“You don’t think…” Seth asked when he turned back to Logan who was shaking his head in disbelief.
“They were supposed to be my best friends, and now they’re blackmailing me?” Logan said with tears in his eyes. “What the fuck is going on?” He pounded the table and looked down at his phone with rage, though it seemed to give him a sense of clarity as he suddenly realized where he had seen the number before. It was Jace’s younger brother’s phone number; He had had limited contact with the twelve-year-old, but Jace texted him from the number on occasion if he had lost his phone.
“Hey, boys,” Kyle said from the front counter. Seth and Grayson looked up but Logan kept his head down, not wanting to face any more bad news. “Tyrell just called me back. He’s sending over an email now from his security camera. If you want to see it…”
“Logan?” Seth asked, but Logan shook his head, and listened as Seth and Grayson shifted out of the booth and headed to the front counter. There was the sound of clicking and typing on a computer, and then silence as the boys watched what played out on the screen. Logan looked up only briefly and just in time to hear Seth and Grayson gasp. He could barely make out the image of several people running on the screen, two running almost side by side and third running after them as if they were trying to catch the other two. He looked back down, not interested in facing the truth yet.
“I can’t believe it,” Seth whispered, though over the silence of all the others in the room it was easy for Logan to hear. He continued to stare at the table, however, ignoring everything else that was going on. He already knew the answer of who was in the video; it was easy to put it all together, now.
Seth walked over to the table and sat down, and Grayson followed immediately after him. “Logan,” Seth said softly, and he reached out and touched Logan’s hand, but Logan withdrew and put his hands beneath the table. He didn’t want to be comforted; he just wanted to be as far away from the situation as possible. “Logan,” Seth said a bit more forcefully, and Logan nodded his acknowledgment. “It was Drew who threw the snowball, but Jace was with him. Tyler ran after them both and tried to catch them. I don’t think Tyler or Jordan was involved, but it looks like we have to talk to Drew and Jace.”
“What good would talking do?” Logan asked bitterly, finally looking up as his mouth contorted in rage. “They betrayed me; completely. I don’t want to talk to those fuckers ever again!”
“Hey, calm down, Logan…” Grayson began, but then Logan’s phone was ringing, and he looked down at it in surprise to see the call was from the same number that had asked to meet him at the house. He was about to press the button to decline the call when Grayson snatched the phone out of his hand and answered it for him.
“Hello?” Grayson said. From the expression Grayson had on his face, Logan could tell that the voice that greeted him on the other side was one that was familiar to Grayson. If it were Drew or Jace calling from a different number that would make sense but…
“Coach Whitmore,” Grayson said, looking at Logan in surprise, though that paled in comparison to Logan’s own surprise at the identity of the caller. “Yes, Logan is right here. Give me just a…” Logan reached for the phone and pulled it away from Grayson’s ear and put it up to his own, listening as he caught the sound of his uncle Gary muttering on the other end.
“Gary, what’s going on?” Logan demanded testily, “Who gave you those pictures?”
“Logan,” Gary said calmly, though Logan could tell that it was forced. “We need to talk about this in person. Can I come pick you up? Where are you?”
“Café Perk Me Up, and you better plan on picking up all three of us. I’ll talk to you when you get here,” Logan said, and then he hung up.
“Your uncle is involved?” Seth stated more than asked, his eyes wide with disbelief. Logan nodded and looked out the window again. This whole thing was messed up, and Logan was sure it was only going to get worse.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Logan, don’t you think this is something we should discuss with just the two of us?” Gary Whitmore asked as he glanced across at Logan who was sitting in the passenger seat. They were almost at Logan’s house and Logan had made it clear he wanted to talk there rather than at the coffee shop. “It’s not too late to drop Seth and Grayson off at their houses.”
“Why would I want to do that? They know everything already,” Logan said, glancing to the backseat where Seth and Grayson were sitting in uncomfortable silence.
Gary’s eyes widened a bit at that comment and then narrowed thoughtfully, “They’ve already seen the pictures?”
Logan rolled his eyes and looked out the passenger side window, and Seth cleared his throat and answered, breaking the silence. “Um, yes sir, we have. If you’re referring to the ones of Logan kissing either one of us… We’re a little confused here, so… if you could shed some light on what’s going on we would really appreciate it.”
Gary nodded slowly and said, “Now that I know that, maybe it’s better if the two of you did stay. I think there may have been a terrible misunderstanding about what’s happened. Logan, would you mind texting Drew and J…”
“Why the fuck would I do that?” Logan snapped. “They attacked Grayson at the Café!”
The curb was suddenly a lot closer as Gary almost lost control of the vehicle in his surprise, but he gained control and straightened the car out as he collected his thoughts. “Is that true, Grayson?” he asked after a moment, and then glanced up to see his reaction in the rearview mirror. When it came in the form of a single nod, Gary cursed and mumbled, “I told them that I would handle this…”
“What?” Logan asked, turning back to Gary with wide eyes, “you’ve been working with them?”
“Logan, it’s not what you think,” Gary said, but when Logan shook his head violently and turned away again Gary sighed and said, “Would you please text your teammates and ask them to meet us at your house?”
“He won’t, but I will,” Seth offered to surprised gasps from his two friends. “I trust you to make sense of all this, but I’m holding you to that. If you don’t clear this up then I’m going to get you for involving yourself in student affairs unnecessarily, and I don’t care that you’re Logan’s uncle.”
“Trust me, this will all work out,” Gary said with a forced smile, “Thank you for texting them. Tell them that I asked that they come, okay?”
The rest of the trip was made in silence after Seth reported that his texts had been received and that Drew, Jace, Tyler, and Jordan would all be at Logan’s house as quickly as they could. Gary didn’t bother trying to ask any further questions, knowing that Logan at least wouldn’t answer them. And so he drove, thinking of how he was going to address the issue once they arrived at Logan’s house.
When they pulled into the driveway, Logan’s mother was home, but Gary knew how to handle that part of the situation. Logan was out of the car before Gary had even turned the vehicle off, and Seth and Grayson were not far behind. Gary sighed and followed the boys inside, though he was surprised when he heard someone calling to him from behind. He looked back to see Drew and Jace walking toward him, with Tyler and Jordan lagging behind. The only way that they could have possibly made it already was if they were already here beforehand, waiting for Logan to get home.
“You got here quickly,” Gary observed, keeping his tone neutral.
“Yeah, we were in the neighborhood,” Drew said while avoiding Gary’s eyes. Among the other boys only Jordan seemed interested in looking at Gary, and he seemed incredibly upset.
“Yes, I’m sure you were,” Gary said, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. “I’m sure you were just in the neighborhood with Grayson earlier today too,” he said with a smirk. “Listen, Drew, I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing, but it’s going to stop. Now.”
“But coach…” Drew protested.
“But nothing,” Gary said quickly. “We’re going to go inside and get to the bottom of this, and that’s all there is to it, and you,” he pointed at Drew but his eyes included everyone else in the group as well, “are going to stop interfering until we have the full story.”
“Yes, coach,” Drew said as he hung his head in resignation.
“All right then. Let’s go inside. Logan, Seth, and Grayson are all waiting for us. It’s time this matter was settled and settled for good.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Logan was pacing the den when his Uncle Gary came down the stairs immediately followed by Jordan and Tyler, and then Jace and lastly Drew. His smoldering eyes locked on Drew, although Drew was avoiding his gaze completely. Jordan waved but Logan was too upset to wave back. Seth and Grayson both seemed subdued and were sitting on the couch next to each other, although with a small amount of space between them.
As much as he didn’t want to have this conversation, Logan knew that he’d rather face it from a position where he had some support rather than standing as the center of attention, and he quickly moved over to where his two friends were sitting and asked Seth to slide over so that he could sit between them. This action did not go unnoticed by his teammates or by his uncle, who was nodding in apparent understanding.
Logan’s teammates all assumed seats in the odd chairs that were set around the room. Tyler and Jordan took the two-seater across from Logan, Seth, and Grayson, and Jace settled into the beanbag chair while Drew assumed a place on the recliner. Gary stood between them all so that he could address the group as a whole, though no one looked at him when he spoke, and instead gazes filled with mixed emotions were exchanged between the boys.
“I told Logan’s mother that we had an emergency team meeting due to an incident that happened in our last game,” Gary said neutrally. “As much as I hated lying to her, I knew she’d give us privacy to handle this situation, which I think is best for everyone involved.”
Seth reached out and took Logan’s hand, Logan looked down at it in surprise, and then looked up at the rest of the room and realized that everyone there already knew about their relationship. Instead of pulling away as had been his instinct, he gripped tighter, and then he subtly reached for Grayson’s hand that was laying between them as well, and though Grayson’s eyes widened in surprise at Logan’s hand slipping into his, he accepted the gesture and squeezed back reassuringly.
The interaction between them was largely hidden by their legs and the dip in the couch, though Logan looked up and met Jordan’s eyes, and he found it strange when Jordan started nodding as if a lightbulb had just gone off and he suddenly understood what was going on. Logan wished then that Jordan had telepathy so that he could communicate his understanding without speaking, as Logan was still completely lost as to the situation, though he was beginning to feel better now that he had the warmth of his friends’ hands in his.
“Everyone in this room has seen the pictures that Tyler took at the Valentine’s Day dance,” Gary announced, and all of Logan’s teammates looked over at Seth in surprise. “I want this meeting to be a chance for Logan to explain what happened that night, and for Drew and Jace to explain their reaction as well. Drew, I think that in the interest of everything, you need to go first. Logan can’t defend his actions if he doesn’t know what he’s defending against.”
Drew glared at Gary, but then he sighed and rolled his eyes before turning to Logan. “I can’t believe what you did. I think it’s despicable,” Drew began as Logan’s eyes widened in surprise at his bluntness.
“Despicable? I didn’t know kissing another guy was despicable, Drew. Honestly, I knew you were a lot of things, but a homophobe was never one I would have expected,” Logan interrupted with a snarl. “I thought nothing was supposed to break our friendship.”
“What?” Jace interjected, sharing a look with Drew. “You think this is about you being gay, Logan? Fuck that, none of us care if you like guys! This is about what you did to Maggie and Kristin, and then Seth.”
“Wait, what?” Seth asked, looking at everyone in the room, clearly unsure that he had heard correctly. “Then what the hell was all that about? Why were you being so secretive and talking about how sick Logan was?”
Logan was looking forward to the answer to that question as well, but Drew and Jace were both looking at Seth as if he had lost his mind, and then Tyler was the one that spoke, surprising everyone by offering something he rarely gave, clarity. “You and Seth were cheating on Maggie and Kristin with each other, and then Logan cheated on you, Seth, with Grayson here. You don’t seem upset at all, though, and coach said you saw the pictures. What gives?”
Logan’s eyes widened as he turned to Seth and then Grayson, and then he couldn’t help but laugh as it suddenly began to click and the pieces came together. Nearly everyone in the room looked at him like he was crazy, especially Drew and Jace. Tyler seemed even more confused than he had been at the beginning, and he opened his mouth as he looked at Jordan and said, “All right, I’m going to throw in the towel on this one. Explain it to me, please?”
“Wow, Tyler actually asked me for help,” Jordan said with wide eyes, he then looked at Logan and nodded sagely. “First of all, Logan, I’m sorry for how much this got blown out of proportion. I’m assuming from your laugh that no one is cheating on anyone?” Logan nodded, though he was on the verge of hysterics as all the emotions of the day attempted to free themselves through his laughter and he didn’t trust himself to answer. Jordan smiled slightly and then went on, “So, Maggie and Kristin knew about you and Seth, and Seth knew about Grayson since the beginning?”
“Um, yeah,” Seth answered, giving Logan’s hand a consoling squeeze. “Actually, I was the one who set up the kiss between Logan and Grayson. I knew about it before Logan did, though I suppose Grayson here was left in the dark as to mine and Logan’s relat… er, the nature of our friendship until we told him yesterday.”
“But I’m completely cool with it,” Grayson added quickly. “We spent the day together yesterday, and then they both slept over at my house. I mean, if you think Logan’s a cheater, it’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
“Logan…” Drew said suddenly, “I owe you an apology… Fuck, dude, and you too, Grayson. I thought that you were trying to break up Logan and Seth, and so I threw that snowball at you because I was so pissed at what you were doing to my friends… I feel like a total asshole.”
“Me too,” Jace said, looking back at Drew and then turning to Logan. “We both fucked up. And seriously, why would we care if you were gay? You do realize that if you had just trusted us then we could have avoided all of this. We thought that you were sneaking around and… we just felt the need to intervene, especially once Seth was the one you were cheating on. I mean, he’s our friend now. As for Gray, I… feel like an asshole too.”
“So what, are we all good then?” Tyler asked, looking around the room at the faces of his friends. Logan looked at Seth and Grayson and shrugged, and then at Drew and Jace who also shrugged.
“Um, I think so…” Logan said. “As long as you guys understand that I wasn’t cheating on anyone, and… you really don’t care if I like guys?”
“Dude, Tyler and Jordan have been bromancing for years,” Jace said with a roll of his eyes, though his remark earned a sharp look from both Tyler and Jordan. “And it’s no secret that coach is gay. Why the fuck would we care if you were?”
“Logan’s not,” Seth offered, “He’s…”
Logan shut him up with a kiss and the whole room gasped at the sudden movement, though no one was as surprised as Seth, who was still staring at Logan as if he were a completely new person. Grayson’s grip loosened in Logan’s, and in order to prevent Grayson from feeling left out, Logan immediately turned to Grayson and kissed him with an equal degree of passion as he had Seth. Logan then turned back to his friends who were all staring at him wide-eyed except for Gary who seemed only amused by what had just taken place.
“It’s true, I’m not gay, but I like both of them a lot, and they like each other,” Logan said with a shrug. “We’re kind of all together now.”
“And how do Maggie and Kristin figure into all of this?” Jordan asked with a questioning eyebrow.
“Well, I can’t tell you all the details without talking to them first,” Logan replied with a grin. “But I can say without a doubt that they’re okay with Seth and I being together. I mean, I don’t know how you missed it, but they’re in the background of the picture where I was kissing Seth.”
Tyler flipped his phone out and checked through his pictures while Logan’s other teammates leaned in, “Holy shit! He’s right!” He exclaimed. “How the hell did we all miss that?”
The room shared a laugh that seemed to break all the remaining tension, and then when they had quieted again Coach Gary addressed the room. “As far as I’m concerned, things are settled now. Anyone have anything else to say?”
Grayson raised his hand and Gary pointed to him. He kept his hand in the air as he said, “Um, next time someone has a problem with me, could you just talk to me instead of throwing a snowball at my face?”
Drew and Jace shared a look of embarrassment before Drew said with a nod, “You bet.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The moment of truth was upon him. He had left early because he was still walking slowly on his weak leg, but he had also lagged behind for other reasons. Even though he knew he would have Logan and Seth’s support, there were still many reason’s to worry about what the day would be like. He was sure that over the course of the long weekend that information would be exchanged and everyone at school would know exactly what had happened at the dance.
He was anticipating on meeting with Logan and Seth at his locker, but as he came up on the school he was pushed from the side hard enough that he fell into the snow along the side of the shoveled pathway. As he was picking himself up from the snow he was pushed down roughly again, and his face was ground against the ice as someone put pressure on the back of his head.
And then suddenly the pressure was gone, and he heard shouting as his attacker was dragged away from him. He got up and was met with a sight that he hadn’t expected. David Mullins was being dragged away by Drew and Jace, and Tyler was already giving him a tongue lashing as Jordan ground his fist into his palm threateningly.
“Don’t you ever think about messing with our friend Gray again,” Tyler said as he nodded at Jordan, “Or Jordan is going to make sure you end up in a body cast, got it?”
The boys let David go as Logan and Seth ran to the seen, having witnessed it from inside. David ran off, fearful for his life, and Grayson watched him go, grinning even though his face was wet and cold. He looked at his former teammates from the basketball team and each one turned toward him once David was out of sight.
“Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it,” Grayson said with a blush. The others nodded as they tried to conceal their own embarrassment, all except for Jordan who wore his crimson cheeks proudly.
Drew took his responsibility as team captain and spoke for the group, though their nods of assent at his words was all that Grayson needed in order to know that they were all in agreement. “You’re one of us, Grayson. We protect our own, though sometimes we suck at showing that we care. If you have any trouble today, you let us know.”
Logan turned to Seth and said with a grin, “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a team of underdog supporters. Maybe we should start a club?”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Seth replied, nodding at Logan’s wisdom. He then addressed Grayson and waved him forward. “Come on, let’s get you to your locker, and we’ll make sure the whole school knows that you’re with us.”
Grayson smiled and fell in step beside Seth, and was pleasantly surprised when Seth took ahold of his hand and squeezed it gently, holding it as they stepped through the doors. But nothing prepared him for when Logan stepped up to Grayson’s other side and took his other hand, and Seth seemed equally surprised by the action.
“Hiding who I was put me through hell over the last twenty-four hours,” Logan said in explanation. “I’m not going to do it anymore, and I’m proud to be who I am. Anyone who doesn’t understand that can kiss my ass.”
Grayson and Seth looked at each other and grinned, and then Logan found himself pulled between them as they each planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’m glad you’ve finally arrived, Logan,” Seth said as Logan’s cheeks flushed. “Nothing can stop us when we’re together. Nothing. Between best friends and blackmail, we’ll take them all on together.”
“You guys are cute,” Tyler said from behind them, and the three lovers turned toward their friends who were watching them with amusement. Jordan punched him on the shoulder and Tyler shrugged and grinned.
Grayson rolled his eyes and turned back around, feeling the hands of his friends again resting securely in his own. “Let’s do this,” he said with determination, and they walked forward as one.
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