With quite a bit of relief, Luke served out the match. Olly Wyeman had been right, he'd been pissing himself over this one, made even more intimidating by having most of his close friends—plus Elliott and Estela—gathering at the sidelines and shouting encouragement. He'd been so jittery with it all, it was no surprise his first serve had gone straight into the net!
Fortunately, it appeared that his opponent, a skinny Alpharetta kid, was bricking it even more than him, and Luke was able to find his footing soon enough and get into the match. He wasn't anywhere near the top of his game, but Luke took it 6-4, and did his part by to add to the Academy's running total that kept them at the top of the table.
Afterwards, Ryan was his usual pragmatic self as Luke bemoaned how crap he had played—despite the fact that he’d still won.
"Don't sweat it,” Ryan said, thumping him on the back in delight, as behind them, another pair of players began to warm up as the tournament progressed to new blood. “You got there in the end didn't you? It's tough to find your stride in one set."
"And at least you won," noted Todd, scrunching up his nose with a grimace of resignation.
Luke knew Todd was right, of course: be thankful for small mercies! It may not have been his best game, but at least he didn't make a complete ass of himself!
Soon, all that was left outdoors were the playoffs on the gridiron—and flag football gathered a lot of interest. Inside the sports hall, basketball preceded by the volleyball matches, would soon be played out. The real crowd-puller was basketball, but even if they didn't care for volleyball as much, kids joined the crowd jostling to get there while there were still seats to be had!
When it came to volleyball, naturally the Academy could only offer an all-boys squad; the girls’ volleyball would be a face-off between Creek and Alpharetta. Truth be told, most of the Academy Middle School herd were rather more interested in getting a good seat for that particular spectacle!
So it was that Luke found himself squeezed between Ryan and Estela, waiting for the first of the guys’ volleyball play-offs. The seats they'd bagged weren’t too bad—high up and near the center. The relatively new sports hall had been designed for times like this, pushing itself forward to be a credible venue for major local sporting events. The ‘new’ had been a clever build onto the side of the ‘old’, with the former forming a substantial new arena, and the latter being gutted to create all the new changing rooms, gym, classrooms and storage. In the arena, extensive bleachers lined both sides, and all it was missing was a JumboTron video screen!
Seating had been snapped up, and many were disappointed—unless you had brought your own that was, and looking down through the moving bodies, Luke spotted a wheelchair parked right by the team benches. Next to Olly, he wasn't surprised to see that Owen had snagged a 'carer's' stool. Lucky sod!
Luke turned his attention back to the court as things began to kick off. Probably Mitchell had pulled strings to be the lead act in the volleyball, because the Academy Junior squad was up first. The asshole swaggered onto court with his crew looking full of himself—everything about his demeanor already declaring that there would be no mercy that day. Luke shrugged—he didn't doubt for one minute that Creek were in for a mauling.
The Creek squad, kitted in their green and white, came onto court too, amid some unpleasantly derisive cat-calls from around the packed hall. In response, Estela stuck two fingers in her mouth and let go a remarkably unladylike whistle of encouragement. Luke clapped supportively, too, surprised to see the captain's armband on Elliott Carter's arm.
Behind them on the bleachers, Landon's low but sneering voice could be heard as he chuckled, "Let the fucking begin!" There were ripples of amusement around about him, and Luke hoped to God that Estela's English wasn't up to it.
On the court, Mitchell was still preening himself, grandstanding as he ordered his team into place. All of them oozed gobs of self-assurance and seemed to be looking forward to a bit of showboating. At the other end, the Creek team was gathered quietly around Elliott, attentive as he calmly gave last-minute instructions. They put their hands into the center and gave a worthy, yet what would inevitably be futile, shout of confidence, and moved into place.
Serving first, Elliott took the ball, hefting it in his hands to get the feel of it before walking back some distance from the line.
"Come on Elliott!” From the top of the bleachers across the other side, a lone Creek voice bellowed its gutsy support.
"Elliott?" From behind Luke, Landon snorted. “Looks more like fucking Billy Elliot to me!”
Another wider ripple of laughter flowed from around the nearby rows, and Luke had to resist the urge to turn around and smack Landon in the face. However, Estela didn’t seem put off. Probably she never understood what was said. and murmured. "I feel sorry for them.”
"Creek?" Luke knew what she meant. Maybe she did understand after all—and there was little doubt it was going to be ugly. She glanced at him, and there was a look of bemusement in her face that took him aback. Her lips twitched as she gently shook her head.
With everyone in position, and with Mitchell looking less like a hungry wolf and more like he just intended to humor the opposition as he waited for a flutter serve, the game kicked off. Well back behind the baseline, Elliott suddenly launched himself forward, throwing the ball forward and high into the air. Surging to the line, he leapt at it as it descended, and struck it perfectly, sending it fierce and fast over the net. Beautifully, you could almost taste the wide-eyed shock in Mitchell's face as he nearly tripped over himself to get in position to dig out the serve. In the end, the ball struck him in the chest and he ended up on his arse!
Luke's mouth dropped open. He didn’t expect that from Elliott!It was all he could do not to stand and cheer, and he could have happily kissed Elliott Carter—or even Billy Elliot, if he had to—for that moment in itself!And he wasn't alone in that surprise.
"Jesus!" Consternation was in the voice behind Luke as its tone changed rapidly at Mitchell’s near beheading. "When did they learn to serve like that?"
Then, if anyone thought the first one might have been a fluke, they were proven wrong as the next serve turned out to be just as explosive and accurate, sent to a completely different place on the court. This time, it looked like the Academy squad had learned their lesson and were poised, though the fumbled recovery still came across like middle-school antics. Luke could hardly believe what he was seeing, and was so tempted to turn around and give Landon a finger!
And it wasn't just the service game of the unexpectedly well-trained team out of Creek that was worth watching. They had the whole nine yards! Every time they gathered the ball, it became a play—carefully crafted and beautifully executed. For the first few minutes, they kept Mitchell and his increasingly desperate team totally on the back foot. Calmly relentless, they moved the ball around the court with ease, feinting constantly until the strike came. Luke knew he was meant to be devastated, but he silently cheered every point.
Fucking hell—no wonder Estela said she was sorry for them!
Ryan had the right words when he chuckled, "Shit! You've gotta love this guy!" Like Ryan, everyone could tell it was Elliott that was behind it all.
Creek were six points up before Mitchell and his team regrouped. Getting back into the match, he barked at his players. Apparently just coming out of shock, too, their coach was gesticulating like a madman from the sidelines. The Academy Juniors were still a good team, and not everyone on the Creek squad was as skilled as Elliott—the player who Mitchell’s crew tried to keep the ball away from as much as possible. Mitchell also had a fierce serve, though, unlike Elliott’s, the pressure seemed to be telling on him, and he put a few into the net. Even so, the Academy clawed points back as the scoreboard tally mounted for both teams.
But Elliott wasn’t done, either. Creek regrouped, too, adjusting their play to compensate and to exploit weaknesses that the game had brought out in the opposition. Anticipating them well, Creek piled on the pressure, and the Academy Juniors slipped back as they were hammered, widening the point gap further.
Discipline began to slip, too, and Mitchell and his team started fighting amongst themselves, blaming each other for poor serves and fumbled returns as the meltdown became catastrophic. It was hard to remember anything so excruciating or downright bloody humiliating. Behind Luke, the voices were silenced, and around the court, the faces stony.
The games were deliberately shortened because of limited time, but that was probably a mercy. After the trouncing was done, Mitchell stormed off the court in a rather different mood than he'd entered. To be fair, Alpharetta suffered no better at Creek’s hands, even invoking the skunk rule when it was too much. On the other hand, adding to Mitchell’s humiliation, the Academy senior and sophomore squads both won their own matches against Creek, quite comfortably!
All in all—totally sweet!
Once the volleyball net came down and the serious business of basketball started, Elliott hopped up onto the bleachers and squeezed in between Luke and Estela. Faces turned to stare, and many offered grudging, but well-deserved, praise. Sitting next to the guy, Luke felt like something of a celebrity.
They stayed long enough to see the Junior basketball squad, with Matt and Kieran playing, give both Creek and Alpharetta a short but serious whupping, and then Ryan made a suggestion.
“Unless you wanna see the whole thing," Ryan said, "why don’t we go for a shower now? If we wait till the end, it’s going to be crammed in there.”
Glancing around the bleachers at all those who would want to rush the showers at the whistle, it seemed a good idea, and Luke turned to Elliott to let him know their plan. “We all have to be in school uniform for the awards ceremony thing at the end. A few of us are going to go for a shower now, to beat the rush.”
Elliott looked down on himself. “I was going to stay like this,” he said. Estela, however, had other ideas. Even if her English wasn’t good, her nose seemed fine.
“Go shower!" she grunted. "You stink!”
Elliott seemed rather more hesitant. He sniffed himself and frowned. "No I don't—not much anyway."
"I didn't come all this way for you to smell like a Spanish farmer! Go shower!"
Luke stifled a grin, though many around them didn't. She sure had Elliott's number!
So the four of them—Estela included—picked their way along the bleachers to escape. Quite a number, including Todd and Mason, as well as Matt who'd just come up off court, took their cue and snuck out too. There were more than enough who pushed past them, eager for the seats.
Estela parted company from them once they’d got out of the hall and went to wander out into the afternoon sunshine, leaving them to make a beeline towards the locker rooms where the guys of all three schools were changing. Loitering near the doorway of the main locker room was a boy in a wheelchair.
"Hey Olly!" Luke's eyes flicked around, looking for Owen. "Is everything alright?"
Olly swung on the spot as they approached, and began to roll past them. "I'm good, but if you see Owen, tell him I've gone back to watch the game." With that he put on speed down the corridor.
Reaching the double doors, they pushed them open, to be greeted by a wall of sound and sweaty steam. It was HEAVING!
"Oh my God…” Todd's nose pinched. “Is this really a good idea? What about the other one?”
Assaulted by far too much testosterone fueled sweat, Luke was of a mind to agree. Maybe the smaller locker room was worth trying?
Ryan shook his head. “That’ll be even worse. Come on.” He led the way and they pressed on, threading through the jostling frenzy to find enough space to drop their backpacks on the benches. Towels and clothes were everywhere, and by the looks of it, lost property was going to be brimming by the time the fat lady sang!
"So, how's things, Elliott?" Todd asked, once they’d begun to change. "Not seen you for a long time."
Elliott returned a friendly smile. "Not bad. And you?"
Alongside Todd, Mason lit up with a grin. "The Carters used to live near us for a while. You were renting for a while, right?"
Elliott nodded. "Just for six months 'til we got our own place sorted. We're up at Greendales now.”
That got Luke's attention. Ooohhh swanky.
“Greendales?" Mason’s eyes widened. "I didn’t know that. Jacko lives up there."
Luke was also betting that most of them were thinking—‘if you can afford to live in Greendales, why the hell aren’t you at the Academy!’ He shook his head—it was so easy to put people in boxes.
Elliott remained the center of attention as they continued to strip, though they had to raise their voices to be heard as the volume of the noisy banter around them increased.
"You guys were pretty good this year!" Matt called, and shook his head in disbelief as he sat to untie his hi-tops. "Poor Codey is not going to live that one down anytime soon."
"It's good for him," snickered Ryan. He didn't bother hiding the satisfaction in his tone as he slipped off his top. "Maybe he'll learn a bit more humility in the future."
Luke didn’t blame Ryan. Codey Mitchell was a bastard who wasn’t getting any nicer with age. And going back a few months, Luke didn’t doubt for one minute that it had been Mitchell pulling the strings on the day they’d pulled Ryan into a hang. The trouncing that the asshole had just received on court was going to hurt quite nicely, thank you very much! Luke also planned to ensure it didn’t go away too fast, either!
Ryan seemed to be in a good mood as he stripped down to one of the new batch of livelier-styled boxer trunks he’d acquired of late. He said, "So, Elliott, where the hell did you learn to play like that?"
They were interrupted by a posse of boisterous Creek football defense who came bursting into the lockers still in their helmets. One shouted out across the room. "ELLIOTT!" It was more a victory salute, than a conversation.
“Friends of yours?” Ryan chuckled. It looked like the rout on the volleyball court had already filtered quite widely.
Elliott rolled his eyes and grinned, and then ducked just in time to avoid a shoe thrown across the locker area. It didn't seem to be aimed at anyone in particular, and was followed by a squeal of irritation from some poor kid clearly losing his stuff. Apparently it was getting too late in the day to worry about behaving!
Elliott stepped out of his Creek dark green shorts. Raising his voice across the excitable din, he said, "It's a long story, but I grew up in Argentina, in a place not far from the beach. We used to play beach volleyball all the time. I’ve always loved it.”
"Are you planning on playing at college?" Ryan continued, raising his voice to be heard.
Elliott shook his head. "I doubt it! Those guys are way too good!"
“So how come we didn’t see you last year?” asked Matt. “They could have used you!”
Elliott shrugged. “Oh… Well I haven’t been at Creek that long.”
Luke already knew most of why that was, and thought—let’s hope you're still there this time next year, for a re-run of the ASSF!
Elliott was standing quite close, and Luke was keeping a weather eye on the guy. He hadn’t even known he would be turning up that day, though he'd really enjoyed seeing him again. What he didn’t quite expect was to end up getting undressed in front of him, let alone to be heading to the showers together! The thought of it actually made Luke nervous. He’d spent rather too much time in the past hypnotized by the guy, and the locker rooms weren’t the place to be checking him out even further!
Then why don't you just stop being a dickhead, before somebody notices!
Luke had no choice, he told himself. They were here now whether he liked it or not, so he might as well just get on with it. And anyway, what had appeared when Elliot had stripped off his shorts hadn’t been a surprise. Luke already knew that the white boxer briefs with the grey band would be under there…there had been more than a few flashes of those during Elliott’s volleyball play!
Parked next to Todd on the bench, ‘brother bear’ Mason was shedding clothes, too. Down to his boxers, Luke could see that Mason was more and more growing into a mini version of Todd—and it sure looked like momma called the tune on the underclothing! Moments later, Mase was the first to strip, slipping out of long grey shorts. Wrapping a towel around himself, he headed off to the showers.
Elliott began fishing in his backpack, and Luke studied him out of the corner of his eye, appreciating the muscles on shoulder and upper arms that could deliver a serious ball over the net. Luke's eyes dropped lower, and he smirked to himself as they landed on a pair of cool white boxer-briefs. Looking away, he began to slip out of his own maroon school kit, and joined the conversation.
"Ry's right though, Elliott," Luke said, keeping his eyes safely fixed well above waist level and trying to sound conversational as he stepped out of his shorts. “You’re good enough for a college team. I bet you could go pro easy, if you wanted.”
Elliott's eyes flicked over him, though what was behind them was unreadable. Feeling a little uncomfortable, Luke was well aware of the energetic colors adorning his own backside that day, and decided a little belatedly that he should have just kept his mouth shut! However, he pressed on and said, “Someone said there might have been a scout out there this afternoon.”
“Mitchell said, you mean!” Matt barked from down the row. His tone gave a fair idea of whether he thought it was likely to be true as he peeled off his boxers, picked up a towel, threw it over his shoulder and headed off.
“I heard it from someone else, too,” said Ryan. Like most now, his black curls were pretty tightly trimmed and had been that way since early on in the term. He covered them with a towel draped over his shoulder, and added, “but that could still have been Mitchell.”
“Who’s Mitchell?” The question sat on Elliott’s lips as the guy's white boxers came off his backside.
Holy Shit! Elliott was now stark naked and, stuck facing him, Luke squirmed with an unbearable compulsion to drop his gaze and check him out. Catching Luke’s eye, perhaps Elliott was waiting for him to answer his question about Mitchell, though, to Luke, it felt like Elliott's was boring into him for a different reason. He kept a firm grip on himself, resisted the magnetic pull downwards, and kept talking. “Mitchell's the captain of the team you just shocked the hell outa—a bit of an asshole, to be honest."
All eyes were on Luke now, and it suddenly dawned on him that he was the only one still with any clothing on! Trying to stay cool, he pushed down his boxers and stepped out of them. “Still, my point is…” he continued, feeling he had to say something. Then he froze. His mind went blank at the same time that his dick came out for an airing.
Fuck…what was his point?
Fortunately, Jacko hurried in just then, breaking into the awkward moment. "Hi guys—they said I'd find you in here," he said. He squeezed himself in next to Ryan, and beamed as he quickly began to take off his clothes.
For a brief few moments, all eyes were turned Jacko's way, and Luke at last got to flick his gaze down. His eyes boggled! He’d got so used to seeing unhooded dicks in these locker rooms over the last years, the intact appearance of one was almost as much as a surprise as it must have been to his classmates when he first arrived at the Academy!
Elliott Carter was fairly normal looking in girth, but he appeared long, curving slightly rather like a swan's neck as he hung over his nuts. His length was accentuated by a thick nub of foreskin gathered just past the end of his glans. Six months ago, Luke knew that appearance could almost have been his own!
He hadn't been expecting that at all! With the whole thing with Sam’s problems, Luke had just assumed that Elliott's comment at the time, that 'being cut ran in the family', would include Elliott himself, though he had never specifically said either way. And why would he need to, anyway?
At the base of Elliott’s longish wanger, a thick curly matting of light brown pubic hair was growing up into a treasure trail towards his navel, and Luke made a determined effort not to stare any longer. Even so, apparently he was the only one who noticed the elephant in the room—or maybe he'd been the only one looking. Quickly, he flicked his gaze away as Todd stirred into action.
"Hey, Jacko,” Todd said. “Did you know Elliott lives up near you?"
"Really?" Jacko was in the process of peeling off his kit, and had a cheeky grin plastered across his face as he looked up from where he was changing, facing Ryan. "Whereabouts?"
"Up Oak Lane way," said Elliott.
"Oh...up that end!" Jacko nodded. "So, do you know the Garretts?”
“Sure, I watched Skip run the two hundred.”
“Me too. I thought he did good after such a bad start.”
Abruptly, Ryan swung away towards the showers. Todd and Elliott followed, pushing through those coming the other direction. Luke quickly grabbed his towel out of his backpack, and hurried after them, leaving Jacko to finish undressing.
He studied Elliott’s backside as he brought up the rear—and a nice rear it was! They padded through the throng and he reckoned that, barefoot, Elliott was not much more than an inch taller than him. His friend was slim enough to see the bones in his spine, but his ribs were covered in a firm layer of either fat or muscle. His bum was firm, with a dusting of pale hairs, and it twisted in synchrony with each step.
And yes, as bums went, what the guy had wasn't bad! And that unusually curved—and rather cutely cheeky—dick? If it was like that soft, Luke wondered what would it be like when Elliott got a boner? At the thought, he blinked, and shook his head as a rump rolled teasingly in front of him. His groin sent a threatening signal.
Oh shit... What the hell was he thinking? About to go into the school showers with a guy he was checking out? Way to go, asshole! He berated himself, pushing away the unwelcome thoughts.
Steam billowed as they edged around guys who were just leaving, and they elbowed through into the middle lane of the three sections, to take the space they'd left behind. Bodies were packed in—many of them from Creek or Alpharetta.
However, not far off, Nate Larsson was showering down alongside his brother, Gabe. Cole Delaney and Danny Gillespie—the kid they called The Elf—were nearby, too, as was Mason. They were bunched up around Owen Kear. As they made room for another influx of fresh meat, Nate noticed Luke and his friends, and the groups merged.
"Hey, Owen!” Luke made eye contact. “We saw Olly at the door. He said to tell you he was going back in to watch the game."
"That's the guy in the wheelchair, right?" said Danny. He was overshadowed by Owen's bulk, but didn't seem abashed. “Wasn’t he at Mase’s cookout?”
"That guy in a wheelchair?" Connor growled. "That fucking asshole ran right over me, earlier!"
Owen turned fast. "Hey—watch it! That asshole is my friend!"
"Be nice, Connor." Nate's tone carried a quiet warning.
"Awe, come on! He went straight for me, and it really hurt!"
Just then, as Luke burst out laughing, Jacko caught up with them, elbowing through to join the party.
"It's okay, Connor," Luke chuckled as they made room for Jacko, "you're not the only one! Who else has been run over here?" He smirked as he looked around as hands raised. Him, Ry, Elliott...even Nate.
Looking sheepish, Owen waved a hand too. "Yeah...sorry about that. He can be a bit of a tosser sometimes. He keeps telling me he plans to get a job at Footlocker this Christmas break!"
Even the rather surly Connor Delaney creased at that!
"Hi, Owen!" Jacko was sporting his familiar cheeky grin as he squeezed in next to Ryan.
Owen smiled. "Oh, hi... Jacko isn't it? You were at Todd's, weren't you?"
"So, you were saying...” Ignoring Jacko, Gabe interrupted and seemed to want go back to an earlier conversation with Owen. “You came here from England then? Like Simon and Luke?"
"England?" Owen rolled his eyes and leaned on his welsh accent. "Not likely. I’m from Wales, boyo!"
Grinning, Luke was pretty sure there would be very few who would know which part of the UK Wales even was, let alone figure out why it had its own language—or what happened if you really pissed off a Welshman!
He studied Owen with interest. Even since the day at the pool at Todd’s place three weeks earlier, he seemed to have bulked up. For someone of Luke’s gender preference, Owen still wasn’t his thing, but you couldn’t say the welsh teen wasn’t fit.
The others were interesting, too.
Right off the bat, as brothers, it was clear that Gabe and Nate were cut from the same cloth. In fact, their middle wickets could well have been cut by the same doctor, with Gabe a smaller version of his older brother—both done not that differently from Luke himself.
The heavily built Delaney was one of Nate's friends—a guy Luke hardly knew other than through outings to Turner Field. Delaney was built for defense, but if the exuberant Creek football team they had encountered earlier was anything to go by, no wonder Connor wasn't in the best of moods!
"Anyone know how we did in the wrestling?" asked Todd as bottles of body wash that they’d brought were passed around. Like many, Todd had availed himself of a trimmer and looked neat and pared back these days beneath the waist; it was a vast improvement on anything else up to then.
"I watched it," Ryan said. "We won on points. Chris won his match. Anyone know about the badminton?"
“I don’t think we won,” replied Gabe. “Danny was playing.” He stopped, and looked awkward. “Not that…”
Danny pulled a face, but took it well. “I was total crap!” He grinned, apparently uncrushed by his own shortcomings.
* * *
Extract from Luke's notes:
I liked Danny Gillespie—there wasn't really anyone that didn't as far as I could tell. He'd been over to our place once or twice with others when Si was younger. Danny came from a one-parent family, and it was just him, his Dad and a younger brother. From what Si told me, it seemed Danny's mom had been killed in a car accident soon after Ben, Danny's brother, had been born. Living with that, you had to wonder how it was that you hardly ever saw The Elf in a bad mood!
His dad had never re-married it seemed—at least I'd never seen anyone else drop Danny off in the parking lot other than him—so I guessed it was just the three of them. His dad was an author, and pretty well known, too, with lots of books to his name—though he published under a pseudonym. I guess it meant he could spend a lot of time at home with his two boys.
Danny was a bright button, and from what Si told me, the kid rarely got knocked from the top of the ladder in their year, though he wasn't the type to have a swollen head or strut around, like Mitchell. It did seem, however, that both him and the Larssons had all added to Wal-Mart's profits in the men's intimate grooming section!
There was one thing you could say about Academy guys—and that seemed to be common across the years. If you didn't count Delaney, who was a bit of a hair-bag, most of us kept a neat trim those days.
At first, I'd been wary of buzzing down my curls again, prior to the return to school that year, but the first few outings to the locker rooms changed that. And it wasn't just because Ryan favored the neatly trimmed look. It seemed many did. So I followed the crowd and picked up a budget rechargeable trimmer for $9.99 from Wal-Mart to make it easier to keep myself in check. It was a hell of a lot less complicated than dad's corded trimmer—the memories of kneeling over the sink with that unwieldy thing still brought a smirk to my face!
Most—though not all—began to conform, adopting the same, clean, trimmed appearance. A few even shaved down there too, leaving just a short crop above their dicks. I quite liked it, though I have to admit I'm a bit biased! I did wonder what Elliott thought of it, though, interestingly, Owen was another one who appeared to keep quite a neat trim.
* * *
“We saw the volleyball," said Gabe, turning his attention to Elliott now.
"Hell, you guys were awesome!” added Nate. Nate Larsson was one of those guys for whom sport was next to God. It was high praise.
“Thanks.” Elliott took the complement with a nod. “We put in a lot of practice.”
“I bet you did! Y’all certainly showed Mitchell a thing or too!” Despite his rueful grin, Nate seemed unperturbed to be congratulating the other side, and added, “Probably not a bad thing.”
Jacko jumped in. “And we won the tennis!” There was a fierce pride in his face. “Singles AND doubles!”
“We won our doubles match,” added Mason quickly. “But you guys are pretty good together.”
Luke had watched Team Quince play. Mason and Todd had had two pretty good doubles matches, but just then, Mase had a look of admiration—or was it a little bit of jealousy—in his dripping wet face for what had been an easy walkover for the Alexis-Jackson combo. Luke got the impression that Todd was slowly losing interest in the hard schedule of the tennis squad. Todd was probably right—his talents lay elsewhere, and you couldn’t do everything.
Rubbing soap from the waist downwards, Jacko looked up at Ryan and his eyes danced with the cheekiest of grins. There was an expression of bemusement on Ry’s face, as Jacko lapped it up.
Glancing at Ryan’s enthusiastic tennis partner, Luke covered a smirk. Being part of the tennis squad, it wasn't anywhere near the first time he'd showered in the company of Jacko Jackson. What was new, however, was that, under the spray and soap, Jacko had apparently taken a leaf out of Kieran’s book, and had plumped for the completely smooth look!
The kid must have known people would notice as he rubbed the body wash in and around his nuts, pushing his wanger around with a soapy hand, yet he held himself confidently under inspection, despite the total lack of any foliage. The smooth skin appeared flawless over what, to Luke, looked like an extremely low-cut, average-sized shaft.
Jacko had always been slightly built, but he was putting on a spurt and beginning to grow like a weed, and Luke had to admit that the shaved-smooth appearance really quite suited the kid's frame and his almond colored skin. Not everyone could pull it off—or had the guts—but Jacko, beaming out from under his toffee colored, curly wet mop, looked totally self-assured.
To Luke—and probably most at the Academy after what they’d gone through the previous term—appearing smooth hardly made the headlines anymore, though he wondered what the guys from other schools thought. He glanced at Elliott, but there was nothing to be read in his face.
Not that it mattered.
As they continued to pick apart the day, counting off victories and bemoaning defeats, Luke began to relax. More room around opened up around them after a sizeable exit of those finished with the showers. There was plenty to talk about, and nobody in their own group seemed in any hurry to be anywhere else.
"I saw most of the badminton, too" said Mason, keeping the discussion flowing and keen to add to the shared pool of knowledge. "Gabe’s right, you guys won again. Jenny was playing—she’s really good!"
“Jenny Kuo?” Arriving late, Kieran pushed into the group and butted right into the conversation, a lewd look on his face. “Bet you that Joe Wong wasn’t far away. Have you seen them?”
"You guys know Jenny?" said Elliott. "Hell—how come you all seem to know everyone at Creek?"
"Just the girls, my friend," smirked Kieran, "just the girls. Isn't that right Luke?" The lascivious tone returned, and he gasped, "Stacey, baby..."
"Don't even listen to this asshole," warned Luke. "We met Jenny at Todd's place recently. She was with Trish…I guess you know her? Trish is Kieran’s girlfriend…Kier, this is Elliott…" Luke tried to keep track of his own logic. Damn, this was getting complicated!
“Yo, homie…” Kieran grinned at Elliott. “That was one kickass game out there!”
"So are you English, too, Elliott?" Jacko's question seemed to come out of nowhere.
Elliott paused in the middle of applying soap to his armpits, and frowned. "Me? English? No...I mean I've lived there, but I was actually born in Argentina. Why do you ask?
Jacko shrugged and wiped water from his face. "No reason. It was just with... Well, I was just wondering, that's all."
Suddenly Todd burst into laughter. "Oh my God—Jacko! You’re just priceless!"
Elliott seemed bemused. "I don't get it," he said. From the faces around him, nobody else did either.
Todd pointed meaningfully. "Jacko here seems to think that because you're not cut, you have to be English!"
"I do NOT!" Jacko looked hot and indignant enough that you could tell that Todd was near the mark.
Elliott chuckled and seemed to take it in his stride. He looked down on himself, and said, "I've a regular anteater, I'm afraid!"
So, they call it that at Creek, too, smirked Luke to himself, free—along with the others— to take a more leisurely perusal of his friend’s tackle.
"Well, Simon isn't done!" Jacko recovered and, maybe not that wisely, decided to fight his corner. "And Luke isn't—well, wasn't—not until a few months ago!"
Ryan shook his head and grunted, "Oh hell, not this again!"
Luke struggled not to put his hands over his wanger as everyone turned to study where he was quite well manscaped. He didn’t mind giving someone else the once over, but not so happy that the boot was now on the other foot.
"You got cut? At your age?" Connor Delaney was new in on this one, and seemed incredulous. "What the hell for?"
Around about them, there were more than a few stares as one or two others picked up on the conversation. In the setting, it could hardly be avoided. Ryan buried his face in his hands and moaned, "Oh God—here we go again!"
While the attention switched to Ryan, Luke found himself being searched by a set of deep, inquisitive eyes—eyes that reminded him of the father, Benedict Carter. Those eyes dropped to study him, too, lingering for long moments before lifting again to make eye contact with a scrutiny that probed to a different level. Luke might even have said he felt quite naked under that questing gaze—other than he was. There was no let-up, and all he could do was wait, stay cool, and brazen it out.
He could see that Elliott was piecing it together, but there was no time to worry about what he'd discovered before Elliott murmured, "Dr. Tiberius?"
Luke blinked and gave a slight and rather uncomfortable shrug of admission for the reason he’d been at the clinic the day he’d seen Elliot there. Of course it shouldn’t have mattered as it unraveled, but it felt awkward just then.
"Let me guess,” said Elliott. He was loud enough now to get everyone's attention, and he seemed to be picking around in his head, “You had it done for medical reasons? Phimosis?"
"Hell, you're not just a jock, are you!" Ryan's eyes were wide in surprise. "Dude, how did you get that?"
Connor looked confused. "What the hell is Phimosis?"
"I think it's what our folks pay thousands of dollars a semester with the hope we should know!" smirked Todd. "Looks like it's another one for Creek!"
There still seemed more than enough people who had blank looks on their faces, and Luke was relieved that Elliott took up the challenge of explaining. He'd had more than enough!
"To be fair," offered Elliott. "You guys are a bit behind on this one. Phimosis only affects guys who aren't circumcised. Sometimes there can be a problem with a guy's foreskin, and it's best to get it sorted out. Right, Luke?"
Luke nodded, uncomfortable at being an anatomy lesson yet again. "Something like that," he muttered. Was this bloody thing never going to go away?
"Okay…show's over!" Ryan came to this rescue and tossed the bottle of body wash towards Todd. "Thanks for that...and I'm done."
In fact, in a short space of time, all of them were done and, wrapped in towels, they returned to find their clothes. Luke dressed as hurriedly as he could, keeping his head down and staying out of trouble. Having sprayed his arm pits and dressing once more in clean, fresh school clothes, it was a bit crap having to be back in school uniform again—the more so because the hordes from Creek and Alpharetta didn't. But that was the rules. Follow them or suffer!
Back out into the main corridor, they hit a confluence of traffic. The sports hall was emptying, and was causing a temporary log-jam. They were just inching closer to the door to escape into the sunshine, when Luke kicked himself. In the rush to get out of the locker rooms, he'd left his towel hanging on a hook.
"Shit! I forgot my towel!" If he didn’t get it now, it could just disappear. He turned back on himself and muttered loud enough for the others to hear, "I’ll just go and get it—I'll see you outside."
It took him some time to retrace his steps, but thankfully the towel was still where he'd left it, and the corridor a lot clearer on the way out again. Once outside in the fresh air however, he ran into Jacko and Mason who were near the door, and seemed to be waiting to confront him.
"Hey guys." From their expressions, he could tell they had something on their minds.
"So what's up with Simon?" Mason asked without preamble. It was the million-dollar question. Waiting nearby, Gabe picked up on it, too, and immediately came across to join them.
As they gathered around him, Luke remained cautious. "Nothing. Why do you ask?"
"Well, since we got back, he's been..." Mason stopped, and looked to Jacko for support.
Jacko shrugged, but Gabe wasn’t quite so restrained. “Sorry, but he’s been acting like a complete crap bastard!”
Jacko looked ill at ease at the language, but nodded anyway. "Gabe’s right. He's turned real weird. He won't talk to anyone. Not even Toby."
"He's like a different person since the summer," added Mason. “What’s going on?”
Luke didn't know how much to say. It wasn’t their fault, but from what they were saying, his brother was right on the edge of losing all his friends! He hated to see that happen almost as much as he hated breaking Simon's confidence. However, they deserved something. If Simon wasn’t going to help himself, he’d do it for him.
"Look, if I tell you something, you must never let on that you know." Luke lowered his voice and came to a decision. “And I mean it—please don’t spread it around.”
Checking there were no eavesdroppers, he continued. "The thing is, Si had to have the same operation as me...the thing we were talking about in the showers. For Phimosis—actually something a bit worse than that, but kind of the same thing. He had to be rushed into hospital, and he's not really got over it yet.” He nearly said that they'd seen Jacko's dad in the hospital, but that was a bit too much detail.
“An operation?” Even Gabe was taken aback as they latched onto the main point. "He never told us that! Was it bad?”
"Pretty bad, yeah. He’s had a bit of a rough time."
"And that's it?" Mason’s eyes flicked to the other two, gauging their take on it. "That’s all it is? Shit, we thought something really bad had happened—not that having an op isn’t bad, but—"
“He could have just told us, you know,” interrupted Jacko. His tone was a mixture of relief and frustration.
"I know, but just give him some space," Luke pleaded. "He'll come round. And please don't let on you know—it'll just make it worse."
They were good friends, and as Luke watched them wander off through the crowd, he knew they could be trusted. All it needed now was for Simon to pull round. At least he’d bought his brother some time.
Looking about, he quickly spotted Elliott not far away. Someone had given him a Creek flag, and it was draped over his shoulders. Leaning intimately against him, Estela had her arm drawn around his waist as they walked slowly across the field.
Luke started after them, and from behind, they looked like the perfect couple to the point where he wondered if Elliott hadn't been straight with him when he'd said they were just 'friends'.
Whatever. It wasn't any of his business who the guy fancied!
He was just about to pass a couple of girls in Creek colors, when one of that pair pointed ahead in the direction of Elliott and Estela. "Told you," Luke heard the girl say. Chewing gum, she smirked and nudged her friend in the ribs. "Look at that. No way he's gay!"
Her friend nodded. "They say she's like French or Russian or something."
Russian? For God's sake!
Walking ahead of them, Estela's arm dropped off Elliott's waist and she slipped her hand into his back pocket, resting it on a memorable backside.
"Lucky bitch!" added the first, a jealous pout on her lips. "Did you see him on the court? He’s so fucking hot! I wouldn’t mind riding that pony myself!" The girls had a fit of giggles and moved away.
Luke ground his teeth. It annoyed him. They annoyed him. What the hell did THEY know! Probably a damn sight more than him, he reflected as he hurried to catch up with his friends.
Ahead of him, the pair looked relaxed, acknowledging friends as they strolled easily through the crowds. Wearing the Creek flag, Elliott seemed to be their symbol of victory. On the outside, they did look like the perfect couple—no wonder those stupid girls sounded jealous! So why would anyone be even suggesting that Elliott Carter was gay, Luke pondered as he covered the distance. Surely that couldn’t be true—he just didn't look the type for one thing.
And yet...and yet...
There was more. Something beneath the surface. A 'sense'. Something unconscious and immeasurable that had been working its way into Luke since that day he’d encountered Elliott at the opticians.
Whatever it was, it felt like a subtle flavor or seasoning, indistinct and elusive. Most would even fail to put a name to it, like it was just a few pinches of some piquant herb added during cooking. But if one were attuned to the sophisticated flavors, that savor of sexuality became an exquisite teasing of the senses. Enticing, fascinating...tormenting....
And for Luke, for a whole pile of reasons, the possibility of it scared the shit out of him!
He slotted in alongside the pair, with Estela in the middle, keeping his thoughts to himself and wondering where Ryan was.
“So, Luke," said Estela, reaching her arm around him, too. "This is what we will do...”
He turned his head as she got his attention, rolling his name on her tongue, and had little time to consider her arm around his waist when she added, “You must come for dinner." She had a calm, determined look of someone who already had it all planned out. Not pushy, but she seemed the type who was used to getting her own way.
"Dinner?" Both he and Elliott exclaimed it together, stopping and rounding on her. Elliott seemed as taken aback as Luke.
Estela remained crystal clear, as she put her arms around the two of them again and moved them onwards. "Yes, dinner," she said. "It's decided. I shall cook!"
Fortunately—at least it seemed so at the time—they were distracted as they turned to where many people were beginning to point, to see smoke rising from the school buildings; thickening plumes of dark grey, the bitter tang of which was already reaching across to them. From its position, Luke knew immediately that it was over the Art block.
The Art block was on fire!
His mind raced. Art...
That meant Toby...
And Toby meant Simon...
Within moments, he’d shrugged off Estela’s embrace, and his legs were racing even faster than his head!