Smoke (The Mighty Queertet: Story 1)

Charlie and Adam have always been close, but just how close? Is Fulton the only one that notices? And now that Banks is back on JV, are things going to be the same?

Category: , , , , ,


Characters: , , , , , ,

Pairing: , ,



Awards: , , , , ,

Published: 24 Mar 2002 | Finished: 31 Mar 2002 | Chapters: 20 | Words: 24,937

Feedback: Has anyone ever said ‘no’? Well, we’re certainly not.

Dedication: Digital Tempest, aznJEDI13, Victory Thru Tears, Aqua Lion, and loads of other fic writers who’ve really inspired us.

Disclaimer: Disney et all owns ‘em and we’ll have ‘em back before they even notice they’re gone! Taz belongs to Star, and Maya belongs to Victory Thru Tears.

Distribution: Our site, Queertet dot net. Anyone else, ask, we’ll probably say yes!


  • Slash. When this was published, in 2002, there was a lot of slash hate, so it had a very vigorous disclaimer. No such warnings appear to be necessary now.
  • Forget what you’ve read about Taz and Maya in our other fics, they’re unrelated to this series.
  • This is set during the break between the 2nd and 3rd period of the Varsity vs JV match in D3. With a little embellishment—it’s called creative license! There will be flashbacks later on.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 1: No Smoke Without Fire by Star”]

Fulton’s POV
My musings were started by an offhand comment from Averman a few years ago. I can’t even remember what he said exactly. There was a photo in the newspaper of Adam handing the flag to Charlie after we won the Junior Goodwill Games, and Averman made a comment along the lines of ‘Aww! You make such a cute couple!’

There were rumors for awhile after that. As Averman was fond of saying, “There’s no smoke without fire”. Naturally, he didn’t really think something was going on, but it was gossip and it passed the time.

Until the next rumor hit, and everyone forgot that they ever thought Adam and Charlie might have been together.

Everyone but me, that is.

I’m still trying to work out if they are or not. Sometimes I look at the two of them and think they are and sometimes I look at them and just can’t see it.

I mean, there are so many examples that come to mind, but when you pick them to pieces, really they’re just examples of a strong friendship.

Maybe a little too strong to be just friendship at times.

Take how strongly Charlie reacted when Adam made Varsity. Some people thought he was jealous. Some people thought he was disappointed about losing his friend to another team.

I think both parties were right. And then some. I think Charlie was scared of losing him full-stop.

Then again, that could just be friendship.

Another time I saw them fight, just before we got Banksie back. Charlie stormed off in the huff that was customary for that period in his life, and then Adam punched a wall. There were tears in Adam’s eyes before he decided to take on the wall.

Again, they could just be friends.

How about the unofficial Varsity vs JV match? He was in a horrible mood before the game even started. And the way he took on Banks was entirely personal. Charlie knew that Adam had made a legal check.

Then Coach Orion broke it up, as Varsity were skating out I noticed Adam look back, he was looking straight at Charlie. He looked heartbroken.

And yet again, it could have just been disappointment over the way things turned out. I mean, when you and your best friend decide to punch each other out over a game you know things are bad.

But if that person was more than a friend…

I look over at them, Charlie is carefully checking Adam’s wrist. After the Junior Goodwill Games it’s been a bit weak, every so often he’ll bump it and it will act up. Adam being Adam, he can’t admit that. And Charlie being Charlie, is constantly on the lookout for it.

Maybe Charlie’s just being a good friend. Who knows?

Then again, it’s taking a long time for him to check Adam’s wrist.

Occasionally they glance at each other, with small smiles.

This is one of those moments when I just know they’re together.

Any minute now someone’s going to say something and get my attention, and when I look back at them they’ll have moved apart and I’ll think I imagined it.

It occurs to me that I have these thoughts a lot.

Probably more than the rest of the team put together.

And I’m not stupid enough to convince myself it’s idle curiosity.

I think the reason I’m so interested is because… well, if it’s ok for them, it’s…

“Dean Portman is awarded…”

I look up and see my best friend striding in as if he owns the place.

His eyes seek me out first.

I can’t hide my smile. Despite there being several people in the way, I’m the first one to greet him with a hug and a chest butt.

I wonder if Portman ever wonders about the same things as me?

When I look back at Charlie and Adam, they’re still sitting together, looking at each other with those half smiles.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 2: Rekindling the Flame by Victory Thru Tears”]

Charlie’s POV
I didn’t even hear him come up behind me. I whirl around as he taps me on the shoulder, a small smile playing on his face.

“Great game,” he tells me.

“You were great too,” I answer softly. Since when had things become this weird between us? It must have been since Eden Hall, since Orion, since Varsity. I bite my lip nervously. We can’t let go of the old times like that.

“I was just wondering…” he trails off.

“Yeah?” I ask hopefully.

“Who was the girl?”

Damn, he had seen that. Of course, I can’t have expected him not to, I had kissed her in front of the entire school.

“I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. “I really don’t know.”

I can’t tell him that it was all just an act; a prank much worse than those we had pulled on the Varsity team. He’s easily jealous, and he knows that I know it. I can’t stand it when Banks is mad at me, and he’d definitely be mad if he knew that I had just been trying to make him jealous.

“Oh,” he says, his face blank.

I can tell by his neutral expression that he isn’t happy. He’s really good at hiding his emotions, but from being so close to him for the past four years I can easily see through his façade.

“We need to talk,” I finally say.

He nods, agreeing with me.

“When?” I ask.

“After dinner?”


“We could just come here.”

“Yeah, I need some practice,” I say.

“No, you don’t,” he answers, smiling again. “You’re just fine the way you are.”

“Thanks, Banksie,” I tell him, starting to leave for my dorm. I have a lot of thinking to do before our conversation.

He sits across the table from me, a few seats down. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him looking at me periodically.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting, but I still have no idea what I am going to talk to him about later in the evening. We were always more action than thought. I think I see Fulton watching me, and I quickly look away from Adam. The last thing that I need is any more rumors.

It had been hard when they started after the Goodwill Games. I was young, and so was he. We didn’t know the slightest thing about anything sexual, and had barely started puberty. We had just let the Ducks talk, and they soon got over it. But it’s times like in the locker room that I know we are being hideously obvious. I had seen Fulton watching us, and now I am almost sure that he knows. He’s being a great friend, though, by not saying anything.

I wonder how the other Ducks will react if they find out about us. Not that I’m actually sure of what “us” is right now, of course. I don’t know if Banks means to make amends to our relationship and continue things as they used to be, or if he means to break it off. From our brief conversation after the game I can pretty much infer that it is the former, but with Banks you never tell. Getting back to the Ducks, I think about them individually. I assume that all of them are straight, because they’ve never done anything to lead me to believe otherwise. I suppose some of them would be narrow-minded about Banks and I, if they ever found out. I’m especially not sure about how the Bash Brothers would react. I know that it’s incredibly stereotypical of me to imagine them as the macho type; interested in only girls, sports, and loud music. I think that in my confusion I’m doing too much thinking, and reading into things that don’t need reading into.

I look down to my plate, and to my surprise see that I have cleaned it off already. I look up to meet Banks’ eyes, but I see that he is already gone. I excuse myself from the table, and head towards my dorm. I share the room with Guy, but he is still at dinner. I quickly get together my hockey gear, some of it still smelly from the game. I shove it into my ITech bag, and head out of the dormitory. The walk down to the rink is short, and I find that I’m getting very nervous. I enter the locker room to change, and see Banks’ bag already inside of one of the lockers. He’s probably already out on the ice, waiting for me. I dress quickly, and nervously exit the locker room.

He’s on the ice already, wearing his old green Ducks jersey. Interesting—I’m wearing mine as well. I realize that he’s talking to a shorter girl with dark hair. She looks up and sees me, and Banks turns as well. I can’t tell what he’s feeling as he looks at me. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but the girl picks up her coat to leave. Banks waves to her, and then turns back to me. I skate onto the rink. He silently pulls his mask down over his face, and I take a spot in front of the goal. He skates towards me, passing the puck back and forth with his stick. He takes the shot, and I block it. I skate to the centerline, and he becomes the defenseman. We continue in this fashion until the score becomes 5-4, in favor of Banks. I find that my mind is not on hockey, and I’m not sure that it has been at all this whole time. Banks is skating towards the goal, and I am gliding backwards, waiting for him to take a shot. Am I really waiting for him to do something with the puck, or am I waiting for him to acknowledge me? Coach Orion’s voice echoes in the back of my mind.

Make him make the first move, Conway…

I remember the first time he had told me that, and my reply.

I’m not a defenseman, I’m a scorer.

I make up my mind, and stop skating. He quickly stops, trying not to knock me over. We end up chest to chest, the puck forgotten. I take off my mask, brushing the wet hair out of my face. He does the same, his cool blue-green eyes staring into mine. He is so beautiful. I lean towards him, and gently touch my lips to his. In that moment, I didn’t care who could see us, and what they would think. It is just Adam and me, together again.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 3: Living In A Powder Keg and Giving Off Sparks by Victory Thru Tears”]

Author’s Note: This chapter is pretty much all flashbacks, but it’s supposed to provide insight to the relationship of our lovable couple.

Adam’s POV
Mendoza is asleep in the bed across the room from mine, snoring lightly. I try to sleep, knowing that I’ll be dead in classes tomorrow if I don’t. I think about the game, which had gone very well. I am so happy that we beat Varsity. It was wonderful after the game when the Ducks accepted me into their group hug. I had looked around, searching for the one that I wanted to hug the most. When I saw Charlie kiss that girl, I was so confused and hurt. I stopped him afterwards to try to make things right. I feel horrible that I hurt him, but justified because of the way he had doubted me. I know that he had never stopped caring about me; he had made that apparent in the locker room.

My wrist is throbbing as the second period ends. Can’t Cole and Riley just give it a rest? I haven’t scored yet, and at this rate it doesn’t look like I’m much of a threat. I sit down on the bench in front of my locker and pull out my tape. I wrap it around my wrist carefully. Now it was just numb. I see Charlie looking down at me, and I quickly try to hide my arm. He shakes his head, and takes a seat next to me.

“Are you okay?” he asks, tenderly taking it in his hand.

“Yeah, I’m just fine,” I say, trying to snatch it back without making the pain come back.

“Banks, please don’t do this,” he begs quietly. “Even if you make it through the game, this will be bothering you for the rest of the season.”

I sigh, and hold my arm out for him to check. He moves his fingers delicately around my right wrist, harder in some spots than others. He watches me the whole time, and winces every time I flinch from the pain. It’s almost as if we’re the same person. I smile at him as this thought enters my mind. I barely even notice the door slam as a tall and muscular person enters.

“Dean Portman is awarded…”

Charlie and I both look up, surprised. Our team swarms around Portman, but he and I stay where we are. He looks at me again, and I know that things are going to be even better than they were before.

Thinking about being with him in the middle of the rink brings a chill to my spine. I try not to be too loud—Luis is easily disturbed. I close my eyes, and try to let sleep take me away. All I can see is Charlie, looking at me with that same expression on his face. He always makes me feel exposed, yet in a way strangely happy. I must be on a reminiscing kick, because my mind travels back to our first kiss.

“Can’t sleep?” The voice startles me out of my daze. I don’t have to turn around to know that it’s Charlie.

“Something like that,” I answer, trying to keep my tone even. Is he going to come out here and give me some crap about not being able to play, too? I had gotten enough from Bombay earlier, and the last thing I need is he, of all people, to give it to me now.

“I know you’re upset,” he tells me, sitting down.

“No, Charlie. You don’t know. You have no idea.” The bitterness is hard to hide. “You get to play. You’re still Captain. You’re the one that all of the scouts are going to see.”

“Why are you getting mad at me?” he asks, anger apparent in his voice as well. “I’m not the one that busted your wrist.”

I nod, trying not to let the first tear roll down my cheek. It doesn’t work, and Charlie sees it in the moonlight.

“Banks,” he says, putting his arm around me.

“I just want to be something,” I sob, throwing myself into his embrace. I can’t believe that I let myself go, but now that it has started, it is hard to contain.

“Banks, you are something! You’re something so special, that you don’t even deserve to think that you aren’t anything.”

I hear the emotion in Charlie’s voice, and I can tell that he is close to crying as well. I look up at him, tears still running down my face. We’re barely inches apart, and he’s looking into my face with something I’ve never seen before. I feel bare, like I am on display for the whole world to see. He can’t possibly feel the same way that I do…?

Ever since the beginning of that summer, I have known that I am different from them all. I’m still searching for an explanation, but have not come up with one yet. Maybe it’s because of my over-bearing father, maybe it’s because of my abusive brother, maybe it’s because I’ve always gone to my mother for support… whatever it is, I’m gay. I had made the decision early on that I’m never going to tell anybody unless I’m sure of the consequences.

Looking at Charlie on the steps of our dormitory in the moonlight, I want to tell him so badly. Against my better judgment, I decide to go through with it.

“Charlie, I’m…”

“I know.” He cuts me off before I can get to the good part.

“You know?” I ask, confused.

“I know.”

“And… you don’t mind?” I ask.

He shakes his head, and leans forward. I’m the taller, older, and more developed one, but I let him take the lead. Our kiss is brief, but earth shattering. When it’s over, we reluctantly pull away from each other.

“Someone might see,” I say gruffly. “And I don’t want them to think… you know.”

He does know. I see the hurt flash in his eyes, but he quickly hides it. “Yeah. We don’t want them to talk, or whatever.”

“I’ll see you later,” I say, getting up. I’m sharing a room with Jesse, and Charlie’s with Guy. I had seen Connie and Guy together earlier, also out past curfew. Charlie is obviously not missing him, while Jesse might notice that I’m gone.

“Yeah,” Charlie says softly, staying where he is. “I’ll see you.”

I walk into the dorm, scared of what was going to happen the next day.

I’ve always been the coward. I am the one who made him hide it, even when we knew they would accept us. I had really been a coward when I was on Varsity. I had even gone as far to break up with him, a mistake I had sorely beaten myself for.

“You wanted to talk to me?” he asks coldly. I try to shrug off the sadness I get from his tone, and concentrate on why I had told him to come in the first place.

“We have to end it,” I say.

The look on his face breaks my heart all over again. I know that he isn’t expecting this. It’s so much easier to be mad at one another, and make up later on. But I know that it won’t work this time. I had been thinking about this for weeks, and finally reached a decision.

“W-why?” his voice trembles. I want to reach out and hold him, but I remember that we are in the hallway of my dormitory, and Varsity creeps are crawling around all over the place.

“People will find out. Especially since we’re on different teams now. They can’t know—they’d kill me,” I say firmly.

“But we can make it work, we’ve made it work before!”

I can see him unfolding, and it is making me feel almost numb.

“Please, Banksie.”

I shake my head. He angrily swipes his arm across his face. God, now he’s crying. I can’t take much more of this.

“Why are you trying to deny who you are?” he asks me furiously.

“Who are you to tell me who I am?” I shoot back. “You told me just this morning that I was a ‘Preppy’ and to go cry to my rich parents. And then, worst of all—you doubted me. You think that I’d want to be a part of what Varsity has been doing to you? You obviously have no understanding of who I am!”

“I know who you are! You’re Adam Banks, star hockey player, and you’re gay!”

I whip my head around, making sure that there is nobody close by. I grab him by the shoulders forcefully.

“Will you stop talking so loud?” I whisper harshly.

“Don’t deny yourself.”

“Just stop. I can’t be like that. I can’t be gay. It wouldn’t work.”

“What the hell do you mean, you can’t be gay? Fine. Let’s look at it like this. You’re just straight, Banks. You’re a straight man who sleeps with men.”

I shove him away from me.

“Go. I can’t even stand to be near you anymore. Just go,” I say, tears stinging my eyes.


He storms off, leaving me with my emotions. I let out a strangled cry of rage, and punch the wall next to me. I feel blood on my knuckles, but am too filled with passion to care. I turn and go back into my dorm room.

That memory doesn’t bring back good feelings. I try to forget it, and think about today instead. I soon feel the sleep starting to overtake me, and I drift into unconsciousness, filled with thoughts of Charlie Conway.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 4: Smoke Signals by Star”]

Portman’s POV
Our dorm room is silent. We’ve had our stereo confiscated.

I think they’re regretting letting us room together. Fulton was sharing with Mike, a scientific genius. They had nothing in common, and Fulton woke him up constantly with getting up for early practices and coming in late from games.

Well, that’s Eden Hall’s reason for letting us room together.

The real reason is politics. We’re now a winning team, they want to keep us happy. And I’m not complaining.

Except about the lack of stereo. Fulton really should have told me the walls were paper thin before letting me play Rob Zombie.

“So, what have I missed so far this term?” I ask to break the silence.

He snorts. I’ve been back ten days and it’s only just occurred to me to ask what I’ve missed. I’m a ‘live for the moment’ kinda guy, and right now this moment is boring me.

“Very little,” he says, then reconsiders. “Well, a few things. Banks made Varsity—”

“I bet Charlie was thrilled about that,” I interrupt, and he gives me this look. A kind of baffled, yet all-knowing look.

“Yeah, big fight.”

“I can imagine Charlie’s reaction. First he loses Coach Bombay and then his bo—best friend.” Damn it! Careful. I’m probably the only person on the team who’s noticed, and I don’t want to be the one to set of rumors. There were plenty after the Junior Goodwill Games. I don’t think they were actually together then, but after spending the past ten days observing them, I’m pretty sure they are now.

I don’t want to start rumors. I think if they are together, good for them. It will come out eventually, but not from me. Could you imagine the reaction? Big Dean Portman makes an offhand comment and all of a sudden I’m a gay basher. That’s how it would go. Guys like me aren’t supposed to have brains or sensitivity. We’re supposed to knock people about on the ice and sweet-talk a girl into doing our homework.

There’s no way that any comment from me would be understood as supportive.

“Yeah. You should have seen them fight during our unofficial grudge match. It was totally personal,” He agrees.

“But they’ve made up now.”

“Yeah,” he nods. “Closer than ever.”

I give him a look, and wonder if Fulton has noticed it too. I’m thinking maybe he has, bearing in mind he’s got an ‘oh hell, did I say that out loud?’ look on his face. It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask him to define his comment, but I decide not to.

He shifts uncomfortably and I realize I’m staring at him. “So, who was the chick waiting for Charlie?” I ask, trying to break the discomfort. “And why did he run off at the speed of light?”

Now, see, I tried to change the subject, and still here I am. I’m not obsessed. But it would be fair to say it was more than idle curiosity.

“Linda?” He asks. “Some girl he got talking to, I think he was trying to make someone jealou—” He stops and shrugs. “Just some girl.”

Jealous? Who would he make jealous? I haven’t seen Charlie with anyone but Banks. I don’t think anyone else has either. Which means, a) I’m overlooking something; or b) I’m not the only person on the team with eyes.

I’ve got to get myself a life. Here I am, Sherlock Holmes-ing about a team-mate’s possible homosexuality. Maybe I should redirect my inner detective towards myself. And my lack of girlfriend. And my lack of interest.

Or not. “Who was he trying to make jealous?” I obviously don’t want to ponder my own life for the time being, so I’ll revert to Charlie and Adam’s.

Fulton shrugs and gets up. “I’m probably way off. Why don’t we go see the Dean, see if we can get the stereo back if we promise him a win in our next game?”

I sigh. He doesn’t want to talk about it. “Nah, I’m comfortable,” I reply and sprawl back on my bed.

Strangely, he sits back down on his bed. “Well, who do you think he was trying to make jealous?”

Ok, the ball is back in my court. “I’ve only ever seen him spend much time with one person,” I say casually.

“Well, it was probably that person,” he tells me. “Or at least, that’s what I think.”

I sigh again. If I wanted subtext, I’d watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, despite my irritation with the situation, I’m not exactly falling over myself to ask him out loud, am I?

[nextpage title=”Chapter 5: Spark of my Heart by Star”]

Taz’s POV
I link hands with Maya as we walk, counting my lucky stars that I’m a girl and people don’t look twice at girls holding hands.

Some people do look twice at us, but it’s not because we’re holding hands. It’s the hair. Mine’s bright purple and hers is brown with orange streaks. We kinda stand out in a crowd of preppy swots and perky cheerleaders.

I like the way we look. I like the way she looks.

It’s a good thing we don’t have too many classes together, I get distracted so easily.

“You wanna get a movie out tonight?” I ask. I don’t know why we get movies out. We don’t agree. I want a nice stalk-and-slash type horror, but if we rent that Maya spends the whole ninety minutes with her hands over her eyes. If we get out one of her favorites—I’ve seen Back to the Future over a hundred times since we started dating—I’m apt to pull the special effects to pieces.

Either way, we start to fight. Then we start hurling pillows. Then, inevitably, the pillow hits something breakable, and even worse, expensive. Then we have to glue it back together, or hide it, or replace it or something.

And we never get to see the end of the movie.

She grins. “Sure. Isn’t it my turn to pick?”

“I’m pretty sure you picked last time.” I smile innocently.

“No. Last time you made me watch Halloween H20. Remember, we broke that vase that your Nan sent you.”

“We hated that vase. And anyway isn’t it a wonderful thing she’s in Ireland and will never know?” I say, trying to lead her away from the subject.

“Well, it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t poked me in the ribs at a really scary bit,” She responds.

“It’s not like we ever had flowers to put in it. I was using it to hold my paintbrushes,” I point out, yes, she’s taking the bait.

“You’re still evil.”

“It was too hard to resist,” I tell her, giving her my patented ‘who me? I’m innocent’ face. It could melt hearts of stone.

“Star Wars,” she says, not swayed at all.

I sigh loudly. The things I do for love.

The tables outside are crowded as we look around for somewhere to eat our lunch.

I frown at her. “Did the school admit three hundred new students over night?”

“Everyone’s trying to make the most of the sun before it gets cold.”

“Why bother? Ninety per cent of the student body own sun beds.”

Maya points, ignoring my last comment. “Don’t you know those two guys over there?”

I follow her gaze and smile. “The Bash Brothers. Portman and Fulton. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll let us sit with them.”

“I can never remember which is which,” She confides as we weave through the crowds.

“Fulton’s the one with the bandana,” I tell her.

“They both have bandanas, Taz.”

I look, she’s right. “Oh right. Fulton’s the one with longer hair.”


“Hi guys!” I say cheerfully. “Can we sit?”

I don’t exactly get the reception I was hoping for… or any kind of reception at all. Ok, so I don’t know Portman all that well, but Fulton and I keep each other sane during math.

“Don’t fall over yourselves to welcome us,” I say.

Fulton meets my eyes. “Sorry. Have a seat Taz and… uh…?” He looks at Maya with confusion.

“Maya,” She supplies taking a seat. “I’m Taz’s roommate.”

“Actually, she’s my keeper,” I correct, trying to get a smile out of them. “She talked the men in white coats to let me out as long as she keeps an eye on me.”

Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Maya and I exchange a look. It wasn’t my best material, but I would have expected a cursory polite smile.

“You guys ok?” I ask. This is my last ditch attempt at being polite, then I’m going to just talk to Maya. Which is pretty much the only thing I like to do at lunch anyway.

“Fine,” they respond simultaneously in the same dull tone.

“Ok.” They’ve obviously got something on their minds. And it’s not something they want to share. Fair enough.

I turn my attention back to Maya—actually to be fair, my attention very rarely wanders far from her—and we resume our fight about which movie to rent.

If she mentions a Meg Ryan film I will declare war.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 6: Inner Fire by Star”]

Fulton’s POV
“Hey Taz.” I grab her arm as she shoots past me. If her hair wasn’t purple I never would have seen her in the crush of people trying to get out of the school gate.

She grins and leads me out of the crush of people to a space where we can talk and not be trampled.

“I just wanted to say sorry about how I was at lunch,” I tell her. It’s been bugging me all afternoon. Well, to be honest, I’ve been trying to work out why Portman and I were so monosyllabic. I thought if I apologized to Taz it might help.

She frowns, trying to work out what I’m talking about, then her face clears. “Oh, that’s ok. If you had talked, you would’ve probably been dragged into our movie argument.”

“Yeah, well…” I’m not really sure what to say to that. “Sorry anyway, me and Portman…” I shrug not sure how to explain our mood when I don’t know the cause of either.

“Had a lover’s tiff?” she asks with a grin.

“What!” I ask a little louder than I meant to. I can feel a hot blush coloring my face.

She giggles. “Jeez, Fult. Lighten up. It was a joke. I wasn’t insulting your manly straightness!” She then spots someone over my shoulder. “Maya!” she screams loudly. “Later.” She says over her shoulder to me as she bounds off, yelling at the top of her lungs about Meg Ryan before I can even formulate a response.

The silence is driving me mad. It would be better if we had our stereo back, but that’s still a big fat no. Portman’s engrossed in his homework, and I’m just sitting here staring at the wall. I could work on that geometry paper, but I can’t face it.

Taz’s words are bugging me. Does everyone think I’m a total homophobe?

I think Portman’s got a lot on his mind too because he keeps sighing.

I have to ask just to break the silence. “Dude, what’s wrong?”

Portman sighs and looks at me. “Why would something be wrong?”

“You’re really quiet. You have been all day. Have I somehow managed to piss you off?” I ask.

He shuts his biology book and turns to face me. “Got bored of talking in circles,” he tells me. “Thought I’d wait until we can have a proper conversation.”

I raise my eyebrows. He’s braver than me to bring up this topic again. Then again, I don’t think that was ever in question.

We had yet another thinly veiled chat about Charlie and Adam this morning.

I don’t know why I’m having so many problems just saying that I think Charlie and Adam are together. I could pretend I’m all noble and don’t want to start rumors, but that’s not really it. Maybe if I say they’re… gay, that’s the word, if I say they’re gay, and Portman is actually talking about something else entirely, I’m scared that he’ll tell me that I pay far too much attention to these things. Then he’ll ask me why.

Except I know Portman, and to be honest, I don’t think he’ll care.

“So we’re talking about Charlie and Adam again?” I ask. Did I just say that out loud?

He gives me a big smile. Yes. I definitely said that out loud.

And he doesn’t care.

“How long have you known?” he asks.

I shrug. “I don’t know. But I’ve had my speculations since we started here. You?”

“After those rumors after the Junior Goodwill Games. But it did occur to me that they might be playing up to them. Why did it take so long to say that out loud?” he wonders.

I look at him. “How come I get all the difficult questions? You weren’t exactly shouting it from the rooftops either.”

“It’s probably a good thing too,” he jokes. “I don’t think Adam or Charlie would appreciate it. Especially if we’re way off with this.”

“Dean…” Ok, that was scary. I can’t remember the last time I used his first name. The look on his face proves that he can’t either. “Do you think we’re the only ones who have noticed?”

“Probably. I mean, most of the Ducks are wrapped up in their own little worlds most of the time,” he says.

I nod. We do get preoccupied with our problems, and despite our motto of ‘Ducks fly together’ we tend to only really care about what’s happening in our own lives.

“Which brings up the question,” he says, looking me in the eye. “Why have we noticed?”

I’m so not ready to have this conversation. I consider walking out. I don’t. I just sigh deeply and reply. “Why do you think?”

He gets up from his chair and for a moment I think he’s going to walk out. Instead he goes to his bedside table and brings out a photo and passes it to me.

In the photo he’s sitting next to a guy with black hair, and there’s a girl with blonde hair sitting on his lap.

I shrug, unsure of what he’s showing me.

“The blonde’s Lauren. I was dating her for a few weeks before I came back here. The guy is Mike, her brother.”

Again, I’m not getting it.

“Lauren broke up with me because I spent most of my time with Mike,” he smiles at me. “I know why I noticed Charlie and Adam, the question is, do you?”

I gawp at him like an idiot. I’m speechless. Totally and utterly.

I really don’t know what to say. It’s made worse by the fact he’s laid his cards on the table and I’m still too scared to do the same.

Instead I croak at him idiotically. I clear my throat. “So Mike’s your…”

I don’t want the answer to be yes. I don’t want him to smile and tell me how wonderful Mike is. I don’t want him to be happy with him. I don’t want him to be in love with him.

He smiles and shakes his head. “We went out once but…” he shrugs. “No spark. We got on great, but no spark. I just liked being around him.”

I smile, relief is probably painted all over my face.

“Have you ever had that spark with anyone?” I hear myself asking.

He gives me a look. “Maybe. What about you?”


[nextpage title=”Chapter 7: Flamey Musings by Victory Thru Tears”]

Maya’s POV
I stare across the campus longingly. It’s easy to see Taz from where I am, her purple hair almost reflecting the sunlight. Her art class is across the pond, trying to get in the last of the excellent early fall light. My Biology class is outside as well, attempting to catch some insects to study before they die.

Taz looks up, and grins when she sees me. She waves briefly, and then turns back to her work. I’ll have to ask her to show it to me later.

My lab partner grabs my arm and points to a nearby branch.

“Let’s get that one,” he says, slowly sneaking up on the poor insect.

“Adam, no!” I say loudly, startling both he and the butterfly, which flies away.


“You can’t kill a butterfly, they’re beautiful!” I tell him, scandalized.

Taz has the sweetest obsession with butterflies. She can stare at them for hours without getting the least bit bored.

“Well, ok,” Adam says hesitantly. “Hey, cool, look at this beetle!”

I guess intelligence isn’t really Adam’s strong point. He’s probably only interested in hockey and girls, like most high school athletes. I’ve been talking with Adam since the beginning of the year. He had seemed lonely, I was bored, and Taz had been in bed with the flu. After that day, we were friends. I’m someone he can confide in, especially better than those Varsity goons.

That’s what he constantly talked about then—how much he hated being on Varsity. He talked about it so much that it led me to believe he had lost more than just a friend when he left the Ducks. The only conclusion I could reach had to do with the goalie, that Gaffney chick. The only other girl on the team seems to be an item with Guy Germaine, a boy I know from English class.

It’s hard to go to Eden Hall and not get caught up in the hockey craze. The entire school had been eagerly awaiting the JV vs. Varsity game. Well, the official one. The news of the unofficial game was quickly spread around school soon after it happened. I found that Adam was even more angry and miserable after it. I figured there had been a run in with Goalie Girl.

But I’d been at the real JV-Varsity match two weeks ago. I’d seen Jenny (or whatever Gaffney’s name was) with Scooter, the Varsity goalie. Adam was unfazed. However, when #96 (I’m so horrible with names… all I know is that he’s a very good player) kissed Linda, Adam looked insanely jealous. Of course, I was sitting kind of far away, and his expression Maya have been something different.

I’d like to think that I could tell a person’s sexuality without them telling me. Adam has all of the characteristics of a confused gay teen: unstable family, only a few close friends, he’s a pushover, and well, he plays hockey. Come on, you know what I’m talking about… all of those ‘macho’ sports are full of homosexuals! Seriously speaking, I do think that Adam is having some feelings that are strange to him. I had seen him leaving his dorm room after the game a few weeks ago, dressed in his hockey gear. I stopped and asked myself, ‘Why is he dressed in hockey gear when he just won a game two hours ago, and his entire team is still eating dinner?’ Of course I accompanied him to the ice rink. I talked with him for a few minutes until #96 came out of the locker room. I thought it was my time to leave, so I did. As I was leaving I couldn’t help but watch them. Even though all they were doing was playing hockey, they looked like a couple.

I know I probably shouldn’t be hemming and hawing over my friend’s personal relationships, but I can’t say that it isn’t intriguing. Eden Hall lives for hockey, and it was a big deal to bring in the Ducks on scholarships. Now the two star players—gay? It’d be a school scandal. So far, the only other non-straight people I know on campus are Will and Chris, both of whom are seniors. They don’t even date each other. The resident lesbians are Taz and I, but we aren’t public about it. We’ve been going out for about a year now. One wonderful, spectacular, stunning, fantastic, incredible year. I wonder how long Adam and his boyfriend have been together, although that’s awful presumptuous of me.

I watch Adam bend to pick up the small black beetle and drop it into our jar, already filled with a few miscellaneous insects. He has a look on his face that reminds me of my little brother playing with bugs in a sandbox. I smile to myself. Boys are so easy to read.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 8: Igniting the Fuse I by Victory Thru Tears”]

Adam’s POV
“Banksie… Banksie, come on…” I brush away whatever is tickling my face, keeping my eyes closed.

“Banksie, you look adorable when you sleep, but it’s almost time for the show.”

I’m awake enough to recognize the voice. I open my eyes and see Charlie’s face right in mine. He’s lying over my bed sheets, almost on top of me, and blowing on my face softly. I can’t help but smile.

“What time is it?” I ask groggily, turning my head to look at the alarm clock. His face is in the way.

“It’s already nine.”

“You let me sleep for three hours?” I prop myself up on my elbows, now nose to nose with him.

“You told me to wake you up right before the fireworks, you didn’t specify a time…” Charlie’s not moving from his spot on my bed.

I make a groaning noise and attempt to push him off. He obliges, giving me a charming smile. I take off my blankets and try to stand up, and then quickly get back into my bed. I’ve forgotten that I am half-naked. I’m definitely coming down with some sort of illness, or else my dorm room had been 100 degrees when I started my nap. Whichever it is, I had stripped down to my boxer shorts before sleeping, and now I am sorely paying the price.

Charlie’s standing in the middle of my room with his arms crossed, a grin on his face.

“What’s wrong, sweet-ums?” he asks innocently.

I stare at him. He’s seen me get dressed before, even seen me shower after games, but never so… one on one.

“Fine, I’ll turn around if that’s what you want.” He reluctantly turns his back to me, and I get out of bed once again. I can hear him snickering as I realize that there is no way for me to get to any clothes without passing him.

“Alright, alright,” I mutter, pushing past him.

“You know, Banksie, I never realized just how nice your legs really are,” he comments as I cautiously a pair of pants out of my dresser.

“Oh yes, and blue plaid—a conservative but sexy choice!” I stand up, grabbing a shirt out of the closet.

“And that butt… Mmm!” I jump as he pinches my rear end.

“Don’t do that!” I hiss. “Where’s Luis?”

“Already down by the pond with his girlfriend,” Charlie says, sliding his arm around my waist. His hand is freezing against my skin, which is still warm from my bed. “And yes, the door is locked.”

I relax, now that I know we’re safe. He tenderly kisses the tip of my nose, and I playfully shove him away.

“Aw, come on… we’re finally alone!” he says light-heartedly. I shake my head, still smiling. I quickly pull on my pants and shirt.

“We’re going to miss the fireworks, that’s what we are,” I tell him, taking his hand and pulling him out of my room. Charlie makes the dejected noise that he so often makes, and follows me.

Today is the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Eden Hall Academy. To give us a treat, classes had been shortened and our practice had been canceled earlier in the day. We’re now headed down to the pond, where there is to be a fireworks display. I’d spent the day with the Ducks, rollerblading around town and visiting our old haunts. After dinner I’d felt a bit under the weather, and decided to take a nap. Charlie had promised to wake me up before the festivities began.

I let go of him as soon as we leave the dormitory building, but he still lets his hand brush against mine occasionally. My face falls as Linda runs up to us. She jumps into Charlie’s arms and moves her head to kiss him. He meets my eyes, and quickly turns so that her lips touch his cheek.

It enrages me that he’s still with her. I’ve talked to him about it, but he insists that he can’t dump her right after kissing her… he’s too nice of a guy to lead her on like that. He assures me that they’re only officially together, and that he hasn’t kissed her or anything since the game. I’m not sure if I believe it. He also broke down and confessed that he was only with her to make me jealous. Well, it worked! I am still jealous. Can’t he let go of the scheme already?

“Hey Adam,” Linda turns to me, a grin on her face. She looks like a rat, if you ask me.

I grunt an answer. She doesn’t seem to notice my unhappiness.

“Let’s go find a place to sit, Charlie.” She takes his hand—the hand that I had just been holding—and starts to lead him away.

“Oh, um… Linda, I’m really sorry, but the Dean said that the Ducks all have to sit together.” Leave it to Charlie to still end up looking like a nice guy.

Her brow furrows in confusion, and she looks at me. I nod fervently, and she sighs.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you later then.” She hugs him quickly, and then runs off to find her activist friends. I almost expect to see a slimy tail attached to her behind.

“Good save or what?” Charlie asks me, smiling. I give a half-hearted grin, and we walk off to find a slightly secluded spot.

The sky is basked in red and blue light. Charlie’s hand is caressing the back of mine, and there’s nobody within at least twenty feet of us. Charlie occasionally kisses my cheek, and every time he does I check around to make sure that nobody is watching. The area around the lake is dark, but one can never be too sure. Charlie leans towards me, his breath hot on my cheek.

“Adam,” he whispers into my ear.

He never uses my first name. It’s eerie for me to hear it, and I turn to look at him.

“I was just thinking… do you think it’s time for us to tell the Ducks?”

I’ve been dreading this conversation. I’d made lame excuses in the past, but something tells me that this time it’s different.

“Adam, it’s been almost three years.”

“I know,” I whisper, not meeting his eyes.

“They’ll understand.”

I shrug my shoulders.

“Adam, please. I love you. What’s so bad about them knowing that?”

I look up at him. This isn’t the first time he’s said those three meaningful words, but I feel myself giving in.

“Okay.” I say softly. “We’ll tell them.”

“I love you,” He says again. The words come out so confidently. Every time I say it, my voice wavers and my mouth gets dry. On a rare impulse, I lean forward and kiss him. I hear a loud explosion, and open my eyes to see Charlie’s face bathed in colorful light.

Then I see Fulton.

He’s fairly far away from us, but there’s a small smile on his face. A smile that shows me that he’s seen everything. He’s standing right next to Portman, who is still fixated on the display in the sky. Somebody knows now, and it’s the Bash Brothers of all people. There’s no way we’re telling the Ducks. I jump out of Charlie’s embrace and start to run away from him. I can hear him yelling behind me, but I continue running.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 9: Igniting the Fuse II by Star”]

Notes: I just thought I’d say in public, Victory Thru Tears is the best co-writer I’ve ever worked with. I’m really happy she asked me.

Fulton’s POV
There’s an atmosphere in our dorm room again. It’s not exactly awkward, but it feels kinda thick in here.

It’s made a little easier by the fact we’ve finally got our stereo back. We’ve taped the volume button into position so we don’t get it confiscated again.

I catch Portman looking at me, and he quickly looks away. I’ve been doing the same thing when he catches me looking at him.

“Are you going to this fireworks thing tonight?” I ask at length. It’s been one hundred years since Eden Hall was first founded and, being the type of school Eden Hall is, we’re having a huge fireworks display to commemorate it.

He snorts. “I thought attendance was mandatory.”

I nod. “I know. I just meant…” I sigh. What exactly am I trying to say? “Are we going with the Ducks?” That’s what I meant! I don’t care how awkward the atmosphere is, I don’t want to share him tonight.

He smiles at me. “Are you asking me on a date?”

Thanks to this type of conversation I’ve nearly walked out so many times over the past few weeks. This time I’m on my feet and to the door before I can even think about it.

“Fulton, wait!” He leaps up, but I’m already striding down the corridor. I’ve got no idea where I’m going, but away is a good start.

“The answer’s ‘yes’!” he yells, his voice bouncing off the polished wood floor.

Several students stare at him. I stop and turn, and head back to our room, a smile threatening to split my face.

I can’t imagine that every student has turned up for this display, there are bound to be some that decided to stay in the dorms and hope they don’t get caught, but looking around, I’d say almost everyone is here.

Portman and I end up smushed in a crowd which I think is fine. Given our height, we can see perfectly, and also, if any of the Ducks see us they won’t be tempted to come join us. Being in this crowd gives a sort of anonymity.

I look around but don’t see anyone we know. Then again, the display is by the lake, the darkest part of the school grounds, thanks to conservation laws, very few lights are allowed in this area, even during special events.

It looks like Portman and I timed it wrong. We’ve arrived just in time to listen to the speeches from the Dean, from members of the Alumni and various other important (read: rich who give charitable donations) people.

I spot Taz and her roommate, they’ve managed to get seats on one of the few benches. Well, Taz is sitting on Maya’s lap. They grin and wave at me.

Finally everyone shuts up and the fireworks start. Portman stares upwards, despite his blasé attitude, I know he likes fireworks and he’s glad he came. He’s got a huge smile on his face.

I watch him as the fireworks explode overhead, watching his face change color reflecting the light. I notice, not for the first time, just how beautiful he is. He has for once abandoned his bandana, and his hair is falling in his face. Occasionally he pushes it out of his eyes.

He turns to me, noticing my stare and I quickly look away. Maybe this is a date of sorts, but I don’t know if I’m ready for this.

My eyes scan the darkness, looking at the crowd, all fixated on the sky.

All but two. I see a couple over to the side, a fair distance from us. They’re entirely fixated on each other, caught in a passionate kiss. I should look away, I wouldn’t want someone staring at me like this.

Another firework lights up the sky and I’m able to see them clearer. A series of rockets explode and the area is bathed in light.

They break apart. When they do, I realize that not only are they two guys, but one of them is Charlie, the other is Adam.

Adam meets my eyes, a look of terror on his face. I give him a half smile and quickly look away. I shouldn’t have seen that.

I think about telling Portman, but it’s too public here.

Instead I remind myself that this is a date. Of sorts. Portman smiles at me, this time I return it and don’t look away. If Adam and Charlie can try their luck, so can I.

His gaze returns to the sky once more. He shifts his weight and his hand brushes my thigh. It occurs to me that if I tried to hold his hand no-one would notice because of the crush of people around us. Everyone’s staring at the sky.

My heart starts hammering away at the thought. It’s so loud I can barely hear the fireworks. I’ve never held hands with anyone before.

Well except for Taz, but I don’t think that counts.

She dragged me into town once to get a revision guide for history, which we were both failing horribly. She kept losing me in the crowd, so she just grabbed my hand and tugged me along behind her.

No, it doesn’t count.

My fingers brush his as I try to work up the courage to take his hand. My heart yammers away even louder.

Now or never, my fingers touch his again, and somehow I manage to link hands with him. He turns to me and gives me a smile I’ve never seen before. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I smile back.

When I look back to Charlie and Adam I see that Adam is gone, only Charlie is there, alone and dejected.

We unlink hands before walking back to our dorms. It’s one thing to hold hands when nobody can see, but another walking around school together.

As we walk out he elbows me in the ribs. “You know that chick? She’s staring at you.”

I look closer. It’s Linda, she’s got an odd look on her face. I smile and wave at her. She frowns back.

I quickly forget about it as we continue walking.

Occasionally his hand brushes mine as we walk and we smile at each other.

I wait until we get into our room before I tell him about Adam and Charlie.

He seems surprised that they were being so open. To be honest, I was too. Then again, maybe they just don’t care what people think.

I take a seat on my bed, meaning to tell him that Adam vanished at the speed of light after seeing me, but he sits next to me and my heart starts pounding again. I wonder if we’re going to hold hands again.

“Have you ever kissed anyone?” I ask, then add, “A guy, I mean?”

He shakes his head and I’m relieved. I thought he might have kissed Mike, spark or not. “You?”

“This is all new to me,” I tell him honestly.

He takes my hand. “Me too.”

I notice his hand is shaking slightly, and I’m glad. His other hand moves to my face and I lean closer. I feel his breath on my lips for a moment before his lips meet mine.

I’m glad I’m sitting down because I would have fallen down if I wasn’t. This kiss is softer and more hesitant than I had expected.

When we break apart we’re both a little breathless. If my heart doesn’t stop pounding like that I think I’m going to have a heart attack.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 10: Live Wires by Star”]

Portman’s POV
“Averman? You seen Banksie?”

Averman looks stunned that I’m looking for Adam. I guess that’s fair, I don’t think we’ve had a conversation since the “Her name is Julie, not ‘babe’” incident last year.

“No, he might be in the quad. If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”

“Thanks, dude.” I clap him on the shoulder and he falls to the ground, muttering about how Goliath hit him. I’d usually find it amusing, but right now I’m too preoccupied.

I continue my search. Fulton finally managed to recount the end of the tale of Charlie and Adam kissing this morning. He told me that when he looked back Adam was gone and Charlie looked heartbroken.

He meant to tell me last night, but we got side-tracked. I can’t fight the smile as I remember last night. Fulton surprised the life out of me, he’d seemed so nervous at first. That moment when he took my hand… I won’t ever forget that.

I was just working up the courage to try it myself.

One of the reasons I didn’t come to Eden Hall straight away was because I was worried how things would turn out. After the Junior Goodwill Games I’d pretty much deduced that I wasn’t straight, but then the rumors about Charlie and Adam started and I began to worry that they would one day be about me.

Something just didn’t feel right when I went to the presentation of our scholarships. Then I heard that Coach Bombay wasn’t going to be coaching us and it gave me a perfect excuse to stay in Chicago.

Then Bombay came to see me—it feels longer than only a few weeks ago. He told me that things had fallen apart but were getting back to normal. He also told me that Fulton was missing me. That guy is far more perceptive than we give him credit for.

So I came to Eden Hall, reclaimed my title of Bash Brother, and I’ve not regretted it. One day I’m going to have to thank Bombay, coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made. Well, the second. I would have to say that kissing Fulton is at the top of the list.

The only bad thing is the awkwardness after last night. I guess you could count the night as a date. Of course, you don’t generally date the person you’re living with, not at our age, anyway.

Neither of us quite knew when to put a stop to what we were doing. If we were living in separate rooms it would have been easier. One of us would have had to say “I should get back to my dorm now,” at some point.

I think Fulton looks to me for the answers, assuming I’m more experienced. I’m not, all the experience I have is talking to another guy who was gay. The only reason I had the courage to kiss Fulton was because he held my hand.

All the same, I’m glad all of these firsts are happening with Fulton.

In the end, we fell asleep in his bed. Nothing really happened, and I’m glad, it’s too soon for anything else.

Naturally we made sure the door was locked, the Ducks are apt to walk into each other’s rooms without knocking. Fulton told me that Averman walked into Guy’s room and found him and Connie up to no good and the ragging went on for weeks.

Could you imagine the reaction if it was two guys?

One thing that does impress me is how long Adam and Charlie have kept their feelings hidden. Fulton thinks they’ve only been together since the beginning of this term, I think possibly since the camp out after the Junior Goodwill Games.

Fulton and I have only been together for about twelve hours and we’re finding it difficult to hide. We’ve had to put some distance between us as we walk around because every time my hand brushes his we turn and smile at each other. I just can’t help it.

I finally spot Adam and am dragged away from my happy thoughts. It’s time for damage control. Fulton is on the lookout for him too. We’re not going to tell him about us yet, again, far too soon, but we are going to let him know that we’re supportive, and we won’t tell anyone.

I suddenly wonder if I’m the best person to talk to Adam. Sure I can talk to Fulton, but Fulton expects me to talk to him like a human being. The rest of the team seem to think I’m a big goon without brains.

Which is probably why Adam looks so terrified of me as I walk up to him.

“Banksie!” I smile at him. “Can I have a word?”

He looks around, then reluctantly nods. “Not here.”

I get it, too public. “Ok.”

We find a quiet corner and he looks at me. “What?

That’s probably the most aggressive thing he’s ever said to me. He looks awful. He’s got a deer-in-headlights look in his eyes, and his complexion is verging on transparent.

“I just wanted to talk to you… about last night,” I tell him. This is not going to go well. It should be Fulton talking to him. Fulton knows how to talk to people. He’s also known Banks a long time.

“What about it?” He asks cagily.

“You and Charlie,” I say in a low voice. “I just wanted to let—”

“Me and Charlie?” He snorts. “I wasn’t with Charlie last night.”

“Fulton saw the two of you,” I say. “And it’s—”

“Disgusting, I know! But it wasn’t me!” he says frantically. “It was Guy!”

He needs to calm down. Maybe I should have talked to Charlie instead. Charlie’s far easier to talk to. Adam’s like a bundle of live wires. “Guy’s with Connie,” I say. “Adam, really it’s—”

“It wasn’t me!” he tells me again, I can see tears forming in his eyes. “I’m not like that.”

I’m really no good at this. “Adam, I know it was you.”

“How?” He asks angrily. “You were staring at the sky the entire time!”

The deer in headlights look intensifies, he gives me one last look before taking off. I make a grab for his arm, but he shakes it off and runs like the devil was after him.

Wonderful. Not only did I scare him verbally, but when I grabbed him, he probably thought I was going to beat him to a bloody pulp.

I punch the wall in anger. I’ve just made a bad situation one hundred times worse.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 11: Starting an Inferno by Victory Thru Tears”]

Adam’s POV
I run away from Portman at the speed of light. If anything, I’ve been getting a lot of exercise in the past few days, running away from people like that. If only it could make up for my lack of sleep.

I can’t believe I let myself slip like that. You were staring at the sky the entire time? I’ve totally blown my cover. The least I can do is escape before he beats me to a pulp. Portman had a weird tone in his voice, one that makes me think of a serial killer in a movie I’d once seen. I know I’m right—it would have been a crazy idea to tell the Ducks.

I slow my run to a walk. Going past the science area of the school I hear a couple arguing. My attention is sparked upon hearing their words.

“So where were you really, Charlie?” Rat girl has her arms crossed and is scowling at her… my… our boyfriend.

“Banks got sick, and he had to go back to his dorm. I couldn’t just leave him alone!” Charlie answers. He looks sincere. It makes me wonder if he ever he ever blatantly lies to me like that. I also notice that I’ve been demoted from ‘Adam’ back to ‘Banks’. He doesn’t even call me an affectionate Banksie. I start to feel guilt for leaving like I did the night before. I haven’t talked to him since, even though he came to my dorm. I had made Luis tell him I was asleep.

My concentration returns to their conversation.

“So why weren’t the rest of the Ducks together when I saw him?” Linda’s anger has eased, but she still looks suspicious.

“I don’t know… maybe they figured that they didn’t have to stick together if Banks and I weren’t there… Linda, I don’t know, but please don’t be mad… I’m telling you the truth!” Charlie has that worried and innocent look on his face that I know all too well.

“Oh I’m sorry, Charlie…” the Rat was breaking down. “I just thought, well… that there might have been another girl or something.”

Oh give me a break. No one’s falling for your tricks, Rodent Woman. I’m definitely intrigued by now. I stand with my arms crossed out in the open. Charlie could at any moment turn and see me, and I hope that he will. This is it—he’s finally going to tell Linda about ‘us’. I see Charlie’s tender gaze, and I realize that I’m wrong… he’s as much of a coward as I am.

“Don’t worry Linda,” Charlie says softly. “You’re the only girl for me.”

I knew it! My once-innocent concern turns to full-fledged rage as their faces meet in a kiss. I can swear that my heart physically breaks. They pull apart, and Charlie looks in my direction. His expression reminds me of mine yesterday, when I saw Fulton at the fireworks. I make sure that he has gotten a good look at me before I take off again.

Only officially going out, huh? Haven’t even touched her since that one kiss? Thank you for the heartbreak, Captain Duck.

I don’t even feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I see almost all of the Ducks as I storm through the campus. Kenny and Russ are discussing a TV show, Connie’s braiding Julie’s hair as Guy acts out a scene from Julius Caesar for them, Dwayne rides past on a horse, and Averman is trying to teach Goldberg how to skate. If I weren’t been in such an unspeakably horrible mood, I would wonder why Averman of all people is doing this. As I pass them, I notice that none of them even glance twice at me. Ducks Fly Together. Right. I realize I have no one to turn to. All of my friends are wrapped up their own agenda, and my boyfriend is off making out with his girlfriend. Why have I let things get so weird?

I spot Maya and head in her direction. She’s sitting on a bench in the middle of the courtyard, a pen and pad of paper in her lap. Her face clouds when she sees me and she stands up in greeting.

“Adam? Is something wrong?” she asks, concern evident by her expression.

“Maya… I… I don’t know.” My voice is barely over a squeak.

Words cannot express my confusion. I don’t want to be gay. I don’t want Charlie to be with Linda. I don’t want Portman to beat me up. I don’t… I just don’t want to be me.

I see Portman and Fulton approaching on my right. Charlie’s coming from the left. I’m scared to death of what each will do or say. I realize that this is my chance to prove that I am normal. The Bash Brothers will know that I’m not gay, and Charlie will feel the aching pain of payback.

I grab Maya by the shoulders and kiss her.

She pushes my body away from hers. The looks of shock are identical on Charlie, Portman, Fulton, and her face. Maya’s brow furrows, and she yells.

“Taz, no!”

She gives me a look to kill. “You complete idiot.”

She then takes a leaf out of my book, and starts running.

I feel numerous pairs of eyes on me, and find myself in an even deeper hole than before.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 12: Purple Blaze by Star”]

Taz’s POV
How could she? How could she do that to me?

I had been talking to Fulton, he was looking for Adam Banks. The name rang a bell I thought he was a friend of Maya’s. Turns out, he’s a lot more than that.

I looked across the quad and saw Adam-the-girlfriend-stealing-scumbag-Banks in deep lip lock with my girlfriend.

And now I’m sitting in our room—yeah, Adam, our room—crying my eyes out. I feel like trashing something, but there’s nothing left to break. Anything that would make a satisfying smashing noise has already been broken during our pillow fights.

I can’t believe she’d do this to me. We’ve been together for a year. We’ve never had any problems… or at least, I didn’t think so.


I didn’t hear her come in. I bury my face in my knees, not wanting to look at her. I’ve loved her for so long, I can’t believe she’d throw away what we had. Not for him.

I’m not just being dumped, I’m being dumped for another gender.

And it hurts more than I could imagine.

“Taz,” her voice is soft, and her hands softer as she takes me in her arms.

I push her away, but she doesn’t give up.

“He kissed me, honey. Not the other way around.”

“Leave me alone,” I croak out. My nose is all stuffy and my head hurts from crying.

“Taz, it wasn’t my fault. I was as shocked as you. That’s the first and last time Adam’s kissed me. I promise you.”

“You’re not seeing him?” I ask hopefully, meeting her eyes. I have to be the biggest pushover in the world. But I trust Maya, she’s never lied to me before. Of course, she’s never kissed a guy before either.

She snorts. “No. Never. You know I don’t like guys. You’re the only one for me.”

“So why did he kiss you?” I ask.

She shrugs and brushes my hair out of my eyes. “I don’t know. I think he was trying to make someone jealous or something. He looked really upset, barely said two words to me, then grabbed me and kissed me. It was nothing, I swear on my life.”

“So, you’re not leaving me?”

“Did I leave you when you painted that big purple butterfly on the wall and landed us detention for a month—complete with repainting duties? Did I leave you when you carved my name into your desk and I got the blame? This is nothing in comparison. I’m not going anywhere, Taz. You’re stuck with me,” she tells me with a smile.

I wrap my arms around her. “I thought you’d decided that you wanted a guy.”

She laughs softly. “Why would I want a guy? They’re far too much hassle. I love you, Taz.”

“I love you too, Maya,” I say, greatly relieved.

She kisses me on the forehead. “Besides, if I left you, who’d take you to the butterfly garden on a regular basis. Not everyone can sit and stare at butterflies for hours. I’m special,” she teases. “It’s a sign we should be together.”

Her comment suddenly makes me ask, “Is that boring for you?”

She grins, and drops a kiss on the tip of my nose. “No. You get to watch the butterflies, and I get to see the expression on your face.”

I smile again. She makes a great girlfriend. “So you’re still taking me to the dance?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Just checking you’re not trading me in for another model,” I say, my usual humor beginning to return.

“Taz, you’re perfect. What could possibly be better than that?”

Ok, I’m totally won over. I’m also thinking I’m going to get to chose the movie we rent tonight to make up.

“So, I’m forgiven?” she asks me.

I nod and smile, “Sure thing.”

I have forgiven Maya.

She hasn’t asked if I’ve forgiven Adam Banks.

That would have to be a big fat no.

“Hansen! McDonald!”

We turn cautiously. Hell, it’s Mrs. Benson. She’s… well, I’m not sure exactly who she is or what she does. Her main hobby is catching people who should be in class and handing out detentions.

We reluctantly take our slips.

I sigh. And here was me thinking I’d get to rent the movie of my choice tonight and then settle down for post-fight snuggles with my girl.

Life is unfair. This wouldn’t happen to us if we were jocks.

They’re never on detention. They get special treatment.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 13: Smoldering Ashes by Victory Thru Tears”]

Charlie’s POV
I stare at the left side of Adam’s face. Banks, Conway…we always end up near each other in an alphabetized seating chart. My English teacher is at the front of the class, flailing her arms around, talking about the power of language.

I think that the power of one’s action is just as strong as words. Adam has definitely shown me that.

I was purely trying to get Linda un-mad at me… you know, soften her up for the blow of the truth of my sexuality. I didn’t mean for Adam to see it. My heart almost stopped when I saw him standing there. Then he had taken off, just like last night.

I don’t understand that either. I thought that we had shared a moment together last night. But maybe he just isn’t ready. I tried to get a hold of him all night long after fireworks, but with no success.

I guess I’m used to chasing Adam. I’ve been doing it for about three years now—ever since our first ‘encounter’ during the Goodwill Games. He wouldn’t talk to me for days after that… he later told me that he didn’t want to be too obvious to the other Ducks. How would it have been obvious to give me a simple hello? Nobody even suspected anything until the camp-out after the games, and even then they were just fooling around. That’s when we actually started dating. My head slumps on my hand as I remember.

“You coming, Charlie?” Coach waits for me for a second.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it Coach… I can put out the fire if you want.”

“Sure. G’Night.”


I sit on my bench and stare into the flames. Adam is still sitting across from me. I don’t think anyone realizes that he’s there. As soon as the voices quiet down, I get up and sit next to him. He’s been the only thing on my mind (yes, even over hockey) for the past week. I wonder if I’ve been first priority to him, too.

“I never got a chance to thank you.”

I look up at the sound of his voice. “For what? Oh. Never mind.” Duh. What else could it be for except the Iceland game?

“I really wanted to play.”

“I know,” I tell him, watching his expression.

I’ve had a crush on him for a while. I’m not sure how, but I had also known that he was ‘like that’. I didn’t like him only for lack of choice, as one would think. There are a few other Ducks that I’m not sure are straight. I like him because he’s smart, talented, good-looking, kind… in short, he’s perfect.

“Adam, I know we’re not really that good of friends, but…”

I’m not sure how to finish and from his face I think that I’ve still said too much. It’s never occurred to me that I am probably his best friend. He gets on well with Jesse, but other than that, I’m the only Duck he really talks to. He’s not my best friend. I guess I’ve always just put him into another category. A category no less important, but still different.

“Charlie, you don’t have to pretend for me.” He looks almost in pain.

“Believe me, I’m not pretending,” I say in what I hope is an earnest tone. I want to kiss him again, but am aware of the consequences of what would happen if a Duck happened to see. We’re barely able to make ourselves face this—there’s no way the Ducks can know. I decide to take his hand. I can hear his breath catch, but he squeezes it tighter. I smile to myself.

My moment of nostalgia makes me sad. It also makes me realize something very mind-bending. Although I seem to always take the initiative in our relationship, Adam probably loves me more than I love him. He just doesn’t know how to express it. The realization makes me want to make up with him even more. Time to put away my pride and get started on proving to my boyfriend that I adore him.

I tear off the corner of a sheet of paper in my notebook, and scribble on it in small writing.

Fine. We’re even now. What the hell was that, anyway? You know I love you, and Linda means nothing. So what was with the girl? We really need to talk. There’s no way I’m losing you again.

Okay, so it turns out a little meaner than I had intended. Hopefully it will just let him know how urgent it was.

I reach over and set the small paper on his desk. He gives me a terrified look.

“What?” I mouth, still leaning over towards him. His eyes motion to a space in front of me, and I slowly look up. Mrs. Harris is standing in front of us with her arms crossed.

“Conway, that’s it. I’ve had enough of you. Why don’t I just take this little note and let the class know what is so important that you can’t wait to tell Mr. Banks until after class?”

Oh, no… I give Adam a look letting him know that there is no way that she can get a hold of this note. Not only would she find out about us… but so would Connie, Dwayne, Goldberg, and Linda, all of whom were in the room with us. He looks petrified, and grabs the note before she can.

“Mr. Banks, what are you doing? Give… give me that!” She snatches at it, but Banks pulls it away.

“Mr. Banks…” Her tone is getting much angrier as she tries to get the note from him.

Adam stops, and shoves the small piece of paper into his mouth. He quickly chews, and then swallows.

My mouth drops. He did not just do that.

The class erupts into laughter. Mrs. Harris is not amused.

“That’s it! Detention for both of you. I’ll be seeing you right after school.”

“But they have hockey practice!” Dwayne speaks up for us.

“Then I’ll speak to Coach Orion. I’m sure he’ll be fascinated to hear that two of his star players are in detention for disrupting class.” She marches back to her desk and starts to write out our slips.

I hear Adam sigh from next to me, and I slump down onto my desk.

Mrs. Harris shoots me a glare as she slaps the slip onto my desk. Oh well, at least we didn’t quack at her.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 14: Sparks Were Flying by Star and Victory Thru Tears”]

Maya’s POV
I walk with Taz towards Room 217. Taz is thrilled about this detention for two reasons. The first is that her detention slip is purple. She’s been trying to get one of those for months. The second is that we’re in Room 217, which not only has a great view, but is also the number of the haunted room in The Shining, a big plus for Taz. She’s a huge Stephen King fan.

I myself am less than thrilled to be here. I was hoping to forgo the homework tonight and snuggle up with Taz for a post-fight video fest. I was thinking a nice slushy romance would be appropriate.

I was also hoping to get to talk to Adam and find out what the devil was going on in his head when he kissed me. I’m actually more annoyed than Taz was about that. I thought we were friends. That kiss came out of nowhere. If I wasn’t so annoyed I’d be quite concerned.

Maybe I’ll hunt him down tomorrow. I can’t imagine Taz will be all that understanding about it, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Or now.

Since Adam Banks is sitting in Room 217.

Taz stares at Adam, then looks at me. “Oh, god, you didn’t sign us up for one of those problem mediating classes, did you?”

Usually I would laugh, but this is bad. Any minute now Taz is going to remember that a purple detention slip and the number 217 don’t change the fact that Adam kissed me.

I give it to the count of three.



“I am not sitting in a classroom for an hour with this scumbag!”


Ok, I credited Taz with more patience than she really has.

“He’s not a scumbag… well, not much.” I notice a fourth person in the room. Another hockey player. #96, Charles or something? One of Adam’s friends.

Adam snorts and gives him a nasty look. “Thanks. From the likes of you that’s a real compliment.”

Have I accidentally wandered into hell?

“Forgive me for standing up for you, Banksie.”

Shouldn’t there be a teacher here?

“Believe me, it’s the last time… and I’m never eating paper for you again either!”

“Leave me alone, you kissed a girl too!” #96 yells back at him… I really must pay attention to names.

“Oh, just stay out of it.” Taz snaps at the nameless hockey player. “This has got nothing to do with you.”

He snorts incredulously. “Nothing to do with me?”

“That’s right. Adam kissed my… uh, roommate.”

“So really it’s got nothing to do with you?” He responds angrily.

This is not good. I could try and calm her down, but it would be futile. At least there’s nothing breakable around.


I look at Taz in horror, wondering what she’s found to smash. I’m relieved to note she just dropped her bag on the floor. I wonder what made the crunching noise but I guess I’ll find out later.

“This has everything to do with me!” She tells him, marching over to him. For a five foot nothing leprechaun, she’s terrifying.

And all this anger at a guy she’s never met before. Maybe I should try to get her out of here before she remembers Adam’s here too.

I wonder how long it will be before she starts cursing in Irish. Now there’s a truly horrifying experience.

“Taz?” Good start. What to follow it with though.

Charlie’s POV
“You know, I really don’t think you should be joining this conversation. This is between Adam and I.” Whoops. Not quite right… I shouldn’t be hinting at our relationship to complete strangers.

“Hey, he kissed me!” Maya yells back. Adam glances behind him. The door is closed, thank god.

I had been sitting in this room, already started on copying the words “I will not pass notes in class” onto my paper. I was glad that she didn’t have us at the blackboard. I could only imagine what she was having Adam write—“I will not eat paper”?

I looked up to see Maya and a girl with bright purple hair enter the room. I’ve seen the other girl with Fulton, but don’t know her name. And I really don’t feel like seeing Maya at this point.

“You’re the one that kissed him!” I yell at the dark-haired girl.

“That’s not true!” Purple Girl retorts. She has a strong accent, but I can’t place exactly what it is.

“Why are you even talking?” I ask her exasperatedly.

“Oh, just stay out of it,” she says impatiently. “This has got nothing to do with you.” Ah, yes… she’s Irish. Definitely Irish.

“And it’s got to do with you?” I ask with the same tone.

“Well, yeah… Adam kissed my, uh… roommate.”

Maya exchanges a glance with her friend.

“Yeah, well… that’s not true. That hussy kissed my roommate.” Uh oh. I can tell that this comment isn’t going to bring sunshine.

“Hussy?” Purple Girl’s eyes are wide. “She’s no hussy!”

“Adam’s not your roommate!” Maya says at the same time.

Along with them, Adam turns to Maya, surprised. “You kissed Guy?”

“You what!?” Maya’s purple friend doesn’t know where to turn. She glares at Maya, then at me, and then at Adam.

“What are you looking at me for?” Adam asks her indignantly. “I had nothing to do with that!”

“I did not kiss Guy Germaine!” Maya’s voice is much louder than it looks like it would be.

“How do I know that? You even know his last name!” Her friend seems to be too hot-headed to realize the obscurity of her comment.

“Taz!” Maya says, lowering her voice. “You know Adam’s last name, have you kissed him? For god’s sake!”

I let the girls go at it, and turn back to Adam. He’s sitting at his desk, looking back at me.

“This all comes back to us. Why the hell did you kiss her?” I ask.

“Why did you kiss Linda?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Why doesn’t it matter?”

“Why—” I’m cut off by the Irish Taz again.

Taz’s POV
Must revert back to English. Nobody understands a word I’m saying. I take a deep breath and stop talking in Irish.

“So you didn’t kiss Guy what’s-his-name?” I ask Maya. Well done self, good use of the English language.

“No!” I can’t work out if she’s highly amused… or vastly irritated.

I decide to turn my temper back on someone who deserves it. “You kissed Maya!” I snap at Adam.

He rolls his eyes. “Ok! I did! I kissed her! I’m sorry!”

“Why?” I ask. “You’re not her type. She doesn’t think of you like that.”

“How do you know?” he snaps at me.

“Because I’M her type!”

Ooops. I glance at Maya. One look tells me that not only did I say that out loud, but I said it so loud that all of Minnesota knows what Maya’s type is.

I decide to look on the bright side. I give Charlie a smug look. “I told you that this was my business.”

Adam gives me a look. “You’re a lesbian?”

I turn on him. The look in his eyes tells me he’s real sorry he drew attention to himself.

“Yes, I am a raging lesbian. I only date girls. The girl in question is Maya. And you kissed my girlfriend, so forgive me if I don’t want to make small talk with you. I generally think of you as scum of the earth.” I pause for breath, reminding myself not to talk in Irish as it will be lost on this idiot. “You’re a pathetic little weasel who hits on my girlfriend. We’ve been together for a year and if you think you can just waltz in and…”


I turn to the source of the noise. Maya is standing on a desk. The same look on her face as before, but I’d bet my grandmother that she’s not even slightly amused.


I think I’ll be quiet now.

Adam’s POV
Maya steps down cautiously from her place on the desk. It looks as if she’s going to be the voice of reason.

“It’s definitely time to stop hurling insults at each other and actually figure this out. First of all… Adam, why in the world did you kiss me?”

I feel a blush creeping to my cheeks. “I don’t know. Spur of the moment.”

I hear Taz mutter something in Irish, and I hope she doesn’t start yelling again. That wasn’t fun.

“Taz…” Maya warns.

“Sorry,” she smiles. “I’m being a lunatic, sorry…”

“It’s okay,” Maya grins back at her. “You’re my lunatic.”

“Hey, how come you never say stuff like that to me?” Charlie speaks up for the first time in a while. I turn to look at him, shock written all over me.

The girls are silent and staring at us.

“Of course…” Maya says slowly. “It’s perfect! You and Boyfriend have a falling out, and want to make Boyfriend jealous by kissing a girl! Why didn’t I see it before?”

“Why are you calling me Boyfriend?” Charlie asks her, a mean look still on his face.

“Because I don’t know your name,” she answers.


“I’m Maya.”

“I know.”

“Anyway,” Taz cuts in. She looks straight at me, not half as mean as before. “Is that it? Is that why all of this has happened?”

I give Charlie a glance, wondering if I should confirm their thoughts of us. He shrugs, an answer that means ‘yes’ coming from him. I nod.

“So you’re a couple?” Taz asks.

“Yes,” Charlie says. “See why it was my business too?”

She shrugs her shoulders. She doesn’t look mad anymore, now almost satisfied. Charlie sighs, and then gets up. He walks towards me, and hugs me. I’m shocked by this display of affection, but I put my arms around him.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his head on my shoulder. “I’m going to break up with Linda right now. I swear it.”

“Awww…” Taz makes a mocking noise, and I see Maya hit her softly. I break from Charlie, now standing awkwardly in front of them.

“Don’t worry; we won’t tell anyone about you,” I’m not sure of how else to bring this up.

They shrug indifferently.

“It doesn’t really matter, we’re pretty obvious about it anyway. But we won’t say anything about you either.” I can tell that Maya is still a little bit mad for whatever reason. She keeps looking at the floor, or at Taz.

“You know,” Taz says thoughtfully. “I’m quite disappointed that I didn’t see this coming. My gaydar must need recharging.”

I can’t help but laugh. Soon the four of us are laughing so hard that we’re clutching our sides in pain. As our fit dies down, I realize that I’m supposed to have copied “I will not distract the class” down onto a sheet of paper 100 times. I’ve only done it 7. It’s hard to believe that we’ve spent half an hour fighting. I sit back in my desk and get to work. The others follow my example and also get to work.

Thirty minutes later, Dean Buckley pokes his head into the room. “You kids are free to go on now.”

I can tell by his expression that he’s not happy to see Charlie and me in detention, but there’s not much he can do about it now.

We gather our things together, a happy foursome. I see Taz glance at me.

“You know, I still think you owe us a favor. If it weren’t for your lips, Maya and I wouldn’t be on detention. We’d be watching a scary movie and snuggling…”

“Yeah right, it was my pick this time… and it would not be a scary movie,” Maya cuts in.

“What are you getting at, Taz?” I can see there’s something behind her comment.

“Well, the school has a rule about girls taking other girls to dances, and boys taking other boys. Now… Maya and I want to be together. You and Charlie obviously want to be together. Do you see my thinking?”

“I do,” Charlie sighs, looking at me. “But what about Linda?”

“Who’s Linda?” Maya and Taz ask at the same time.

“My girlfriend.” His answer comes out very soft.

“Your girlfriend?” Taz can’t seem to believe this. “That’s horrible!”

“Yeah, yeah… don’t get me started on you again.” I can see that Taz and Charlie still haven’t resolved their differences.

“Anyway, Adam. You can take me, and Charlie can take Taz,” Maya says, grinning at her girlfriend.

“Yeah, I guess.” Taz sees the firm look on Maya’s face and agrees. Her face gets that scary look on it again as she turns to me. “But you touch my girl again and I kill you!”

“If she,” Charlie points to Maya, “touches my boy, then I’ll kill you.”

Well, that’s a nice happy little ending.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 15: Hesitant Glow by Victory Thru Tears”]

Charlie’s POV
Adam and I walk from the detention room. Maya and Taz have headed towards their dormitory, and we haven’t said a word since leaving them.

“That was eye opening.” I have to break the silence somehow.

Adam nods. He’s reverting back into his shy and silent mode.

“Adam… come on, we have a lot to talk about.” I’m not going to let him do this. “Let me start with—why did you leave last night?”

Adam looks at me with a terrified look on his face. It seems as if he’s remembered something.

“Fulton… Fulton saw us!”

“What?” I’ve heard what he said, but I want to make sure that I understand. This could mean disaster.

“He saw us kissing at the fireworks.”

Before I can say anything, Adam continues. “And Portman was there too… he came to me this morning, and he told me that he was going to beat the crap out of me. So I ran, and then I saw you and Linda. And then I ran again, and I found Maya. And I kissed her. And then she ran. And then I ran.”

I’m not going to concentrate on all that he has just told me. Instead, I ask him something I’d been wondering all day.

“Adam, did you sleep at all last night?”

He shrugs timidly. “A couple hours.”

I sigh. “That’s what I thought.”

I think about what he has said about the Bash Brothers. I don’t know Portman as well as some of the other Ducks, but I doubt that he was really going to beat Adam up. And Fulton… Fulton is one of the Ducks that is very different. In fact, I’ve always had thoughts about him being gay as well. Nothing but speculation, but still. The best idea is probably to find one of the Bash Brothers (I’m thinking Fulton) and to talk to them. Of course, I’m going to be the one to do it. Adam is going to go back to his room and take a nap. I’m insisting.

I tell him this, and he doesn’t object. We start to head towards his dorm.

“About this dance thing…” I start.

“Look, I just want to return a favor to Maya. I can see that we really put her in a spot… did you see the temper on her girlfriend?” Adam smiles.

“Yeah, and I’m thanking god that you never get like that.” I laugh. “But am I really supposed to take her?”

“Yes,” Adam says insistently. “You have to.”

I sigh. I guess I could do this for him. “All right.”

We’ve reached his room. He opens the door and we find Luis and his girlfriend sitting on the bed, deep in each other’s embrace. Adam rolls his eyes at me.

“You know, maybe we should become each other’s roommates… after all, you go through the same thing with Guy and Connie…” Even through his tired look I can see the mischievous spark in his eyes.

“Go to bed,” I laugh. I squeeze his hand briefly, and leave him to rest.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 16: Charred Embers by Star”]

Fulton’s POV
I pick up the bottle of antiseptic and slosh some of it onto a cloth. Portman cringes before it even makes contact with his skin.

He’s the biggest guy in school and he’s terrified of a bottle of antiseptic.

“So, what did the wall do to offend you?” I ask.

“It insulted my mother,” he jokes, then snatches his hand away as I dab it with a cloth.

I give him a look and reclaim his hand. I think the only reason he’s letting me clean his scrapes is all the touching. “You know, these aren’t going to heal up before the dance,” I tease back. “No girl is going to want to hold hands with a mess like you.”

Urgh, the dance. Tomorrow night. Attendance is mandatory. Eden Hall is being awarded some kind of trophy for the most outstanding athletic achievement in the state. Basically, it’s another excuse for the Alumni to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

They want us to take dates, but we’ve put our foot down. Ok, we’ll go, we’ll wear our penguin suits, but we’re not going with dates. Too much hassle.

“I don’t care, I don’t want a girl to hold my hand. I was hoping you’d see the mess my hands are in and want to take care of me.” He winks at me.

“You don’t have to punch a wall to get my attention.” I grin. “So, what happened?”

“I’m not a people person, alright?” he tells me. “I don’t know how to talk to them. Especially Banks.”

I put the cloth and the antiseptic down and stroke his hand. “It’s ok. You tried, and if the look on his face when he realized I knew was anything to go by you probably didn’t say anything wrong. He’s just really nervous.”

“I tried,” he says earnestly. “I thought I was using my supportive voice and everything. I can’t believe I scared him into kissing a girl.”

The look on his face makes me want to laugh, so open and childlike—if you can imagine that. But I don’t laugh. Instead I kiss his hand. “And what a girl to pick.”

“What do you mean?” He draws circles on the back of my hand with his fingertips absently.

“You remember my friend, Taz?”

“The girl with the purple hair?”

I nod. “Yeah, that’s the one. I was just asking her if she’d seen Adam when she caught sight of the two of them. Her reaction was terrifying. When she ran out of curses she started speaking Irish.”

“Are you telling me that Adam picked the only lesbian in school to go into lip lock with?” A smile spreads slowly across his face.

“Well, one of the only lesbian couple in school,” I respond. “Feel better?”

He smiles at me and nods. “I still scared the life out of him,” he says regretfully.

People wouldn’t believe it if they saw him now. There’s a lot more to Dean Portman than meets the eye.

“I’m going to find Charlie and talk to him,” I tell him. “You can stay here and talk to my plant, work on you people skills.”

He gives me a sardonic grin. “I’m sure talking to a Venus Fly Trap will inspire me no end.”

It’s an unspoken rule of boarding schools to never be in your room when someone is looking for you.

And if you are there, always have your room filled to the capacity, making conversation impossible.

So I’m deeply shocked to find Charlie alone in his room.

He doesn’t look surprised to see me. I guess Adam’s talked to him.

I hold up my arms in a peaceful gesture. “Believe it or not, I’m not here to beat you up, despite rumors to the contrary. Can I come in?”

“Sure. I was just about to look for you myself.” He leads me into his room. I’m pleased to note that it’s much smaller than mine and Portman’s room.

“Is Guy due back soon?” I ask.

“He’s out with Connie, dinner and a movie.”

I take a seat on one of the beds. “I thought I’d let you know that you and Adam have no reason to be scared of me or Portman,” I tell him. “We’re not going to tell anyone, and we’re not going to beat you up.”

Charlie gives me a smile and nods slowly. “I thought that might be the case. Adam… he worries what people might say, it makes him overreact. He was quite scared of Portman.”

I twist my fingers nervously. “Can you not mention that to Portman? He feels bad enough about it as it is.”

Charlie gives me a look, visibly surprised by my statement.

I feel my blood start to boil, even Charlie doesn’t think there’s anything more to Portman than his enforcer skills. “He’s not a brainless goon, you know.”

Charlie holds his hands up in a surrender type gesture. “I know.”

I sigh in irritation. I wish people would just stop making assumptions about us. Ok, so we’re both enforcers, it hardly makes us the missing link, does it?

I get up to leave. Portman says he’s not a people person, well, to be honest, I don’t feel like one at the moment.

“Fulton?” Charlie follows me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “If I offended you—”

I shake my head. “No.” I shrug. “It’s just… there’s more to him than you’ll ever know.”

Charlie nods thoughtfully. When I move to leave again he doesn’t stop me.

I stop myself. “Charlie, how were you able to hide it for so long?” I ask. This is a question that’s bugged me for awhile.

He gives me a grin. “Nobody ever asked if I was gay.”

“No, you and Adam, how did you hide that? I mean, how do you manage to hide something that special? Doesn’t it make you want to shout it from the roof tops?”

He smiles, but his eyes look sad. “Yes it does.”

The silence is heavy after he says that. I think it’s my cue to leave. “Just tell Adam that if anyone gives him—or you—problems, come and get me or Portman. We’ll stand up for you.”

I make for the door again. And again, I don’t manage to leave.

“Fulton, are you—”

I freeze. The question I was dreading. I cut him off. “Charlie, please don’t ask me.” My tone is far more harsh than I intended. I try again. “I can’t lie to you, but I don’t want to tell you yet.”

He nods again and lets me leave this time.

So he knows about me. Maybe he has all along. I just don’t think I’m ready to say it out loud yet.

It’s a really scary sentence. Even inside my own head.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 17: Glimmering Coals by Victory Thru Tears”]

Adam’s POV
I spread the gel through my hair evenly, making sure that my part is laser-beam straight. I hear a knock on my door, and straighten my tie one last time. Luis is already gone to pick up his girlfriend, so I know that it can be nobody but Charlie.

He’s supposed to meet me after picking up the flowers, and then we were to go meet Taz and Maya. I’m dressed in a nice black suit, as required for the dance. When Eden Hall has an event, they go all out.

I walk to the door and open it.

I wish I were a girl.

Charlie’s standing in front of me, a big grin on his face. He’s holding two white boxes under his arm, showing me that he’s picked up the corsages for our dates. He looks magnificent. Why can’t he take me to the dance?

I then remember Maya and Taz, and our bargain. I figure that it’s ok—Charlie and I will end up together anyway.

“Hi sweetie,” he says. I manage a smile, still shocked by his appearance.

“Hi Cake-eater.” He can’t resist using that nickname. I guess I look like a regular Eden Hall prep right now.

“Oh, I’m hurt…” I say with a hand over my heart. I turn my attention to the boxes in his hands, before ushering him into my dorm. “Which one’s for Maya?”

He shrugs unconcernedly. “Don’t know, don’t care.”

“Hey, you can’t have that attitude. Then they’ll get mad, and, well… Taz will start yelling again.”

Charlie shudders. “Yeah, you’re right.” He hands me a box, and we start to head towards the girls’ dormitory. “I talked to Fulton.”

I glance at him, unsure of what he’s going to say next.

“He was really great about it. Neither he nor Portman is going to kill us.”

I want to believe him, but I really can’t. “Charlie, they’re mean and vicious. Portman’s always… hurting things… and, hey, remember that time when Fulton pushed me into a big pile of garbage?” My voice sounds high-pitched and shaky.

“Adam, you were ten years old. Also, you were a Hawk. And, you were picking on us,” he sounds exasperated.

“I was not. McGill and Larson were.” We’ve had this argument before.

“Anyway, the point is that there’s nothing for you to be worried about.”

I don’t say anything.

He stops walking and holds my shoulders. “Adam, come on. Trust me.”

I sigh. He always has to use that stupid line of reasoning. Yeah, I do trust him. So yeah, I will believe him.

We reach the girls’ room, and Charlie makes me knock. Maya opens the door. She’s wearing a long black dress, and her hair looks even more orange than usual. She snorts with laughter upon seeing us.

“Nice suits,” she snickers. I see Taz in the background. She’s wearing a bright purple dress, almost the same shade as her hair. Every time I see her she reminds me a little bit more of a grape. She catches one glimpse of Charlie, and comes bounding out of the room. She jumps into Charlie’s arms.

“Take me! Make a ‘normal’ woman out of me!”

Maya gives her another look telling her to quiet down. Charlie steps away from Taz, a scowl on his face.

“We don’t have to look like dates just yet,” he mutters. Taz shrugs, and grabs two white boxes identical to ours. She passes one to Maya, who takes the boutonniere. She pins it on to my shirt, careful not to prick me. I know what to do with my corsage, having watched my older brother do this many times in his own teenage hood.

“Ow! Watch it!” I look over at Charlie and Taz.

“Sorry, sorry…” From the look of her grin, it doesn’t seem as if she’s sorry at all. She jabs the pin into his chest again.

“Will you stop it?” he yells.

“I said I was sorry…” She keeps on poking him. She’s not even trying to look as if she’s pinning on his boutonniere.

“Here, just let me do it.” Maya takes the pin and flower from her, and efficiently fixes it to Charlie’s shirt.

“Thank you,” Charlie grumbles, rubbing his chest.

“Stop complaining,” Taz says, taking Maya’s arm.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he shoots back, holding my hand.

We start to walk away from the dormitory.

“You know, this isn’t quite right. As much as I’d love to be Taz’s date, I’m not.” Maya reluctantly moves from her girlfriend’s arm and over to mine.

“I’m not touching him,” Taz says loudly. We’re nearing the hall where the dance is to be.

“Hey, I’m not looking forward to touching you either.” Charlie hasn’t let go of my hand. I sigh, and shake him off. I can see most of the Ducks standing around outside of the building, waiting for the others to show up.

“Grow up, Conway,” I say, smiling.

“This is going to suck,” he announces, gingerly setting his arm around the small girl, who mumbles something in Irish.

I don’t think it will suck, but it will definitely be interesting.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 18: Touching The Flame by Victory Thru Tears and Star”]

Maya’s POV
I enter the dance hall in the middle of a swarm of people, attached to Adam. His friends keep giving us an all-knowing look. I realize that they probably think we’re dating… he kisses me in the courtyard, in front of all of them, and now we’re at the dance together? I sigh. That will be fun to deal with.

Out of the corner of my eye I can see Charlie and Taz pinching each other. Suddenly I regret letting them go with each other, as funny as it is to see them tortured. I should have given her the ‘nice’ one, and I should be the one to deal with Charlie. Oh well, we’re going to be switching soon anyway.

“You know there’s an awards thing, right?” Adam whispers into my ear.

I nod. I’m aware.

“Well, you’re going to have to come onto the stage with me… you don’t mind, do you?”

I smile, and shake my head. “It’s the least I can do for you.”

“Don’t say that, it makes me forget that I did something wrong,” Adam smiles. I catch three or four of the Ducks looking at us and grinning. Taz has murder in her eyes again.

We’re barely sitting at the tables surrounding the dance floor when the Dean steps up to a microphone.

He clears his throat. “Thank you for joining us.” He’s looking straight in our direction. Adam and I glance at each other uneasily… we didn’t realize that we were late.

“We’re very pleased to have you all here tonight. As you Maya know, we’ve recently gone through a small change at Eden Hall—we have added the Mighty Ducks.” The Dean launches into a speech about athletic achievement and leadership excellence and I find my attention wandering. The place is decorated nicely, very un-Eden Hall. Students are packed together, even in the vast hall. Most of the Ducks have dates, but there are a few loners, like Taz’s friends, the Bash Brothers. I study them for a moment. She’s never mentioned if they were a couple or not, but they look like it. They’re not paying attention to the Dean either, and keep grinning at each other.

“And now, the players.” The Dean’s voice booms even louder. It was as if he knew I wasn’t listening. The Ducks all get to their feet. I quickly follow Adam as he starts to lead me to the podium.

“We have here… Luis Mendoza, and his date Traci Michaels. Luis here is our resident speed skater! Next, ah, yes. Guy Germaine, and well… his date, Connie Moreau! Both Guy and Connie are on the team, and both are very good players. Here’s Julie Gaffney and Scott Rosman. Both are excellent goalies! There you go.” The Dean is handing the players an award as he says their names.

“Now we have Dwayne Robertson and his date Erika Clifford. Dwayne is first-rate at handling the puck. Here’s Greg Goldberg, and his date Christine Polk. Goldberg is the new leading man on our defensive line. Next is Ken Wu, our Olympian. He’s with Jennifer Hauch. Here’s Russ Tyler with Alison James. This kid has got a great slapshot. Here we have Lester Averman with Linda Simon. Averman is… well, he’s on the team.”

“Linda? And Averman?” Adam says into my ear. I shrug, the name has no impact on me. Linda however, seems to be quite interested in our little group. Or Charlie and Taz, at least. She keeps looking at them and glaring. Suddenly I remember. Linda, the jilted girlfriend, Linda! I stifle my laughter… I can only imagine what she’s thinking, seeing Charlie with Taz of all people.

“Fulton Reed, one of our enforcers…” The Dean has a disapproving look in his eye. “And Dean Portman, our other enforcer. Both without dates.” He watches them leave the stage area, giving them a critical look.

“Adam Banks, and his date Maya Hansen. Adam is our star player, and I’m sure will help us to win many a game.” Adam pulls me onto the stage, a charming smile on his face. We stumble off of the stage together. That was more embarrassing than I had thought it would be, and we were only on the stage for a second.

“Charlie Conway, our JV captain, and his date… Taryn McDonald…” The Dean definitely doesn’t approve of Charlie’s choice for a date. Dean Buckley and Taz don’t really get along. As they get onto the stage, I see Taz hold her foot out. Charlie trips, but catches himself before falling flat on his face. The Ducks erupt into laughter; including Adam and me. I’m amused by the look on Charlie’s face, and the grin that Taz is wearing. Charlie accepts his award, and pulls Taz off of the stage before she can do any more harm.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen… those are our Ducks! Thank you to the Board of Alumni for presenting them with these awards. Now, I could stand up here and talk for hours…”

The entire dance hall echoes with a groan. The Dean smiles.

“But I won’t. Enjoy yourselves!” He steps off the podium, and music starts playing.

Taz’s POV
Where did Maya go? I look around, she’s only just dyed her hair, how the devil could I lose her?

“Relax.” Charlie says in my ear. “I’m sure she’s not looking for a replacement for you, although she was checking out that girl in the silver dress…”

I elbow him in the ribs.

Thank the stars that Charlie is gay. It means that there will never be a Charlie junior walking the planet. He’s being extremely obnoxious. Maybe I shouldn’t have jabbed him with the pin so many times…

Ooh, look, blood on his shirt.

I can deal with his teasing as long as I keep my eyes on that drop of blood.

I can deal with anything as long as I keep my eyes on that drop of blood.

“We’d better go and dance,” he says, in much the same tone as someone would say “We’d better cut our arms off”.

Eye on the blood, Taz. “Do we have to?”

He sighs. He doesn’t want to dance any more than I do. “Well, we came here together. If we do it now, it’s over and done with.”

I weigh up the pros and cons. “When you put it that way…”

He holds out his hand and I slap mine down, hard enough to sting us both.

He links his fingers through mine and squeezes hard enough for my knuckles to pop.

I bet we make a cute couple.

A few minutes of dancing and I’m about to re-enact Carrie. If he steps on my feet once more…

“Ow!” I snap at him, making sure I stomp on his feet in return.

I catch a glimpse of Fulton and mouth the words “save me.”

Fulton’s POV
I suppose at some point I should ask a girl to dance, just… you know, for show. Except I can’t be bothered.

Portman and I are just sitting and talking. Occasionally his hand will brush mine as we talk. I really don’t know how Charlie and Adam have managed to hide their relationship for so long.

I’ve never seen him wear a suit before. He looks amazing.

I catch sight of Taz dancing with… Charlie? He steps on her foot and gives her a charming smile. She gives him and equally charming smile and stomps down hard on his toes.

She meets my eyes and mouths “save me.”

I touch Portman’s shoulder and he smiles at me. My hand lingers longer than it should. I suddenly remember we’re in public and remove my hand.

I nod to the dance floor. “I’m going to go rescue Charlie.”

He gives me a look, slightly baffled.

“I’m going to dance with Taz,” I clarify. “I’m sure he’ll thank me for it.”

As I say that Charlie steps on her toes again. Portman snorts and over the music, I hear Taz lapse into Irish.

“Go, now before she starts yelling!” he tells me.

I walk across the floor and tap Charlie on the shoulder. “Can I cut in?”

They both give me a look of unbridled gratitude. Charlie can’t get away fast enough.

“You really shouldn’t bully him so much.” I tell her.

“Me?” she gives me a look of indignation. “He’s twice my size!”

I give her a look and she smiles slightly. “Ok, I’ll try to behave.” She concedes.

Taz is a surprisingly good dancer when she’s not trying to mutilate someone’s toes.

“Hey!” she says suddenly. “You’re roommate has stolen my date.”

I look over to where she’s indicating, and see Maya dancing with Portman.

Suddenly I feel the urge to correct her. Portman is not just my roommate. Maybe it’s because she’s gay too. And not a Duck, that certainly makes things easier. And mostly because she’s Taz, she’s not going to care. Sure, she’s terrifying when she’s annoyed, but this won’t annoy her.

I lean down and whisper in her ear. “Actually, I believe your date has stolen my date.”

She raises her eyebrows and sighs loudly. “You know what this means?”

I shake my head.

She leans closer and whispers back to me. “It means my gaydar is officially broken. Be careful with yours, they don’t seem to come with a warranty.”

Portman’s POV
Maya and I thread our way through the crowd towards Taz and Fulton. I’m doing the obligatory dance with a girl.

“Better get closer,” Maya advises. “Taz is in one of her moods.”

I frown at her, and she hastily adds, “She likes Fulton though. I’m sure she wouldn’t hurt him.”

Actually, she’s probably right. Taz seems perfectly relaxed with him. I watch as she whispers something to him and he cracks up. I guess it’s just Charlie that winds her up.

“I’m guessing I’d be expelled if I danced with her,” Maya sighs.

“I know how you feel.” I nod at Fulton, and she doesn’t look even remotely surprised.

We move close enough to talk to them. Before we can say anything Averman comes up to us with his date… isn’t that Charlie’s rebound skank? Lydia or something.

“Lost your date?” Lydia-or-something asks Taz icily.

“No, she—uh, he’s…” Taz looks around frantically. “Probably in the little boys room.”

Lydia-or-something opens her mouth, but Averman beats her to it. “Eden Hall’s big on tradition, right?”

Uh-oh. Averman’s had an idea. This can’t be good.

“We were thinking of starting a new one.” He adds.

“Dude, just get to the point,” I say impatiently.

“Charlie’s going in the duck pond,” Lydia-or-something interrupts.

“Linda, you took my line.” Averman looks wounded. Oh well, at least I know her name. “So what do you think? Kinda fitting, Captain Duck in the pond.”

“I’m in!” Taz says immediately, Maya frowns at her disapprovingly, then grins.

I meet Fulton’s eyes. Why not? We’ve behaved ourselves for far too long. This could be fun.

“Count us in,” he answers.

“So where is Charlie?” Averman asks Taz. “He’s your date.”

Taz grins big, and I begin to worry about what she’s going to say. “It’s more of a date of convenience.” She says. Shut up, Taz. Please, don’t say what I think you’re going to say. I watch as Fulton squeezes her arm warningly.

“He begged and begged me to be his date.” She says with a grin. “I got bored of saying no. It’s nice to be wanted.” She’s cheerfully oblivious of the death glares that Linda is sending her way.

“Guys?” Connie walks over. “Come on.”

We all uncouple and follow her. I hear Averman ask if she found him, but don’t hear her response, mainly because Taz is walking in front of me, chattering away madly. Averman’s idea has made her day.

Connie pauses at the door leading outside and presses her finger to her lips. She frowns at Taz to impress the point. “Shhh! We’re gonna sneak up on him.”

We obediently shut up and follow her.

Fulton suddenly takes my hand and squeezes it. I’m surprised that he’s willing to do that in public.

He tugs my hand trying to get my attention. I look at him and he mouths, “Where’s Adam?”

I look around and realize that he’s not with us. Oh god! He’s probably with Charlie.

I’m just about to shout something really loudly to call attention to us. Hopefully if they’re around they’ll hear and uncouple.

Just as I open my mouth we round a corner and find Adam and Charlie leaning against the wall kissing passionately.

Two thoughts hit me.

One: This is not good.

Two: Fulton’s still holding my hand.

Adam’s POV
“What the—”

“Oh my god.”

“Is that them?”



“Is that Banks?”


I whip my head around. We’re both rendered speechless as we see the Ducks standing in front of us, different reactions on all of their faces.

“What… what are you doing here?” I finally stutter. I’m surprised that I’m first to speak—usually Charlie is the self-assured one.

“We were going to throw Charlie in the duck pond…” Fulton has a dismayed look on his face. Something tells me that Charlie had been right about him—I just know that he had been trying to stop them from finding us.

“Yeah.” The rest of the Ducks mumble in agreement. We’re all unsure of what to say. I can see that this is the time that I will divide my true friends and enemies.

“What does this mean?” Julie finally asks.

“What could it possibly mean?” Connie tells her. “They’re gay!” I wince at the tone of her voice. She sounds so… condescending.

“How long has this been going on?” Russ doesn’t look as mad as Connie does. He looks more concerned.

I glance at Charlie. He’s still leaning against the wall, his eyes on the ground. Shock is running through my body. Isn’t he the one that wants to come out? So why is he not speaking?

“Two years.” I can’t speak louder than a whisper. All eyes are on me, I can feel them burning into me. Why isn’t Charlie saying anything?

“Two whole years?!” Averman bursts out. “That means I was right during the Goodwill Games?”

I nod numbly.

“Is this why you broke up with me, Charlie?” Linda has the same look on her face that Connie does.

“Yeah, that and you’re a real pain in the ass,” I can’t help but say it. Oh well, now that I’m speaking up, I Maya as well go all out.

She glares at me. “So why did he start dating me in the first place?”

“To make Banksie jealous.” Goldberg’s smarter than I credited him for. “Doesn’t anyone remember the morning of the JV-Varsity game? Well, the fake one.”

The Ducks nod in agreement. I can see the division—half approve, half don’t.

“What about your girlfriend?” Ken asks cautiously, motioning to Maya. I hadn’t even seen her and Taz; they were blocked by the rest of the Ducks.

“That’s my girlfriend, thank you very much.” Taz puts a protective arm around Maya’s shoulders.

“I can’t believe that I never realized this… you’re my roommate!” Guy bursts out. I can’t tell if he’s appalled or just puzzled. Luis nods in agreement.

“You know, maybe we should just drop it,” Portman says nervously. It’s the first time he’s spoken, and I turn to look at him, surprised. I realize that he’s holding on to Fulton’s hand for dear life. He’s… you know… too? Wow. I really have misjudged him.

The Ducks are staring.

“How many gay people are there?” Connie asks.

“I said, drop it…” Portman looks nothing like the mean enforcer that I’m familiar with.

“No, it’s… it’s disgusting!” Connie looks like she’s literally going to be sick. She turns to me, her pretty face now hideously distorted. “You hear that? You’re disgusting!”

Taz steps away from the crowd. “No, you’re disgusting.”

Connie snorts. “Me? I’m normal.”

“No, your sexuality is average, just like your intelligence, if this is a deal-breaker for you.” Taz is standing defiantly next to Charlie. He’s staring open-mouthed at her. I want to laugh, but it is not the time at all.

“Yeah.” Maya is quiet as she joins us. Fulton and Portman silently follow her, still holding each other.

We’re now divided, homosexual against heterosexual. Six to ten. The war is nowhere near over.

Charlie’s POV
I’ve stayed silent through the whole ordeal. My mouth feels numb. I can’t speak. I’m so proud of Adam while being ashamed of myself. Why can’t I back him up? Why am I making him do this by himself? He really does love me.

“No, you’re disgusting.” Taz steps away from Connie.

“Me? I’m normal.” Oh Connie… I thought you were my friend.

“No, your sexuality is average, just like your intelligence, if this is a deal-breaker for you.” Taz stands next to me, with a comforting hand on my arm. I can’t believe it. She’s seemed so malicious… but she must really be a good person.

Maya, Portman, and Fulton come to stand next to us as well. Adam is staring at me, begging me to say something. I take a deep breath, and finally open my mouth.

“Guy, Goldberg, Averman, and Connie. I have known you since I was eight years old. I stuck by you. I was your friend, and your leader. Luis, Dwayne, Julie, Ken… I welcomed you into the Ducks when nobody else would. Russ, I made you a Duck. I understand that I have no place to start acting like a bigshot, or act as if you owe me something… but you do. You owe me the same friendships that I have given you. And if you can’t accept me for who I am, then I think that this is not only the end of our friendship, but also the end of the Ducks. I don’t care if I lose my scholarship—I will not play hockey with people I cannot trust.”

Everyone is staring at me. What kind of speech was that, Conway? I try to take a deep breath, on the verge of crying. Adam’s arm is protectively around my waist.

Slowly, Guy steps away from his girlfriend’s side. He comes to stand next to Adam.

“I’ll stick by you, Spazway.”

Connie’s eyes are wide with rage. “Guy Germaine, you—”

“No, Connie. We’re not one person.” He can’t look at her.

Ken, Russ, Julie, and Dwayne mumble to each other, and in a small line join our crowd.

We stand against Luis, Connie, Goldberg, Linda, and Averman. Three of the original Ducks. I’m filled with such emotion, I feel like I’m going to burst.

“I’m sorry Charlie,” Averman says quietly. I can tell that he is sincere.

“Is this really the end of the Ducks?” Goldberg looks almost scared.

“I don’t know.” I don’t want to end it. I had just been using it as part of a speech, and I wasn’t sure if I meant it. “If you can’t handle us, then it just might have to be.”

Everyone around me exchanges a glance. Even Maya and Taz look worried… and they aren’t Ducks.

“I’m going to go.” Connie starts to walk away. Guy pats me on the back, and follows her. He’s someone I really admire—going against his girlfriend like that? As much as I kid myself, I could never do it. The rest of the Ducks start to leave, too. In the end only the six gays are left.

“Thank you.” I have to tell Taz how much her comments meant to me.

“I’m sorry this had to happen to you.” The small Irish girl gets up on her toes and kisses me on the cheek. “I think Maya and I are going to head back. The night seems to have lost its charm.”

“G’night.” Maya hugs Adam, and takes Taz’s hand. They walk off together in the direction of their room.

Portman and Fulton turn to us.

“I’m sorry,” Adam says to Portman. “I shouldn’t have judged you.”

“Hey, I’ve never given you anything else to go by besides that fight we had last year.” He grins, although he still looks tense.

“Well, I’m glad we’re getting the chance to start again.” Adam smiles back.

“Do you really think this is it?” Fulton asks.

“Like I told Goldberg… I don’t know.”

“It’s your decision, Charlie,” He says softly. “But just know that we’re backing you all the way.”

Portman nods, and the couple slowly walk away from us.

Adam turns to me. The tears have been rolling down my cheeks for a few minutes now, and he gently wipes them away with his finger.

“I thought I was supposed to be the wimpy one,” he says softly, taking me into his arms. I start to sob, and we slowly slump so that we are sitting in a heap on the ground. He soothingly strokes my head as we rock back and forth.

“Charlie… hey, Charlie.” He tilts my head up so that I’m looking at him.

“Just look at it like this. Maybe Guy will switch rooms with me now.”

I smile through my whimpering.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

[nextpage title=”Chapter 19: In The Wake of the Blaze by Star”]

Fulton’s POV
We don’t speak until as we walk to our room. Once inside we change out of our suits in silence. Usually this is awkward, living together and dating and somehow managing to take things as slowly as possible, but right now we’re too preoccupied to care.

“That was…” I tail off. I can’t think of a single word to describe what just happened.

“Yeah,” He agrees as he climbs into bed.

I give him a hopeful look. “Can I…?” I gesture at his bed. “Just to sleep.”

He smiles at me.

Single beds are not designed for two. Let alone two people the size of me and Portman. But it’s not uncomfortable. His arms are around me, making me feel safe. My cheek is against his chest, listening to his heart beat. He strokes my hair absently.

And it makes me wonder, how can something that feels this good be wrong?

“Poor Adam,” I say.

“Poor everyone, I think.”

“Yeah, but Adam shares a room with Luis who wasn’t exactly supportive,” I point out, drawing patterns on his arm with my fingertips.

“Adam’s a lot stronger than we thought. He must have been terrified, but he still told the truth.”

“Yeah.” That shocked me. Portman told me that Adam said it was Guy with Charlie at the fireworks. I couldn’t quite believe it was the same guy who calmly admitted he’d been with Charlie for two years. I look up at Portman. “Were you scared?”

He gives me an embarrassed smile. “Yeah.”

“Sorry… maybe I should have let go of your hand.”

“Did you miss the death grip I had your hand in? It would have taken a crowbar to remove it.” He smiles and resumes stroking my hair. “It was a good a time as any to come out. Were you scared?”

I shrug. “I don’t think I was then. I didn’t really have time to be. I’m just starting to get worried about what will happen tomorrow.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing that they know. We don’t have to worry about one of them catching on.”

“Do you think rumors will start?”

“Who knows? Maybe they will, or maybe the team will be so ashamed of us they won’t want to talk about it.”

“Are you scared about that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe not for me personally, but I am for you. And Charlie and Adam. We can take care of ourselves, but if Varsity found out it could get rough for the others.”

“Great.” I mumble sleepily. “Another thing to look forward to. The team could turn against us and we get kicked out, or they could put up with us and we get beaten up.”

He ruffles my hair. “You worry too much.”

“No, I worry just the right amount.”

“Go to sleep,” He tells me firmly.

I decide to comply. What else is there to do?

Portman’s POV
Fulton falls asleep easily, despite the situation. I can hear his rhythmic breathing and feel his breath on my chest. I’m not even tired. If it wasn’t for Fulton I’d find myself a book to read or something—yes, I can read, those of you who thought otherwise.

I wish I could read a book, maybe my mind would stray from tonight’s events. Then again, who am I kidding? Tonight was huge for us.

I think tomorrow will be the real test. Everyone knows. We all know who supports us and who doesn’t.

I think this will be harder on Fulton and Charlie more than anyone else. Charlie was the heart of the team, and Fulton was the gentle giant who supported everyone. Adam and I… well, I’m just a big goon with no brains, and Adam is the outcast who keeps getting taken away from us.

It will be weird tomorrow. I know that much. People will look at us differently. Start wondering if an off-hand comment means we’re secretly harboring feelings for them. Freeze us out, just to make sure that we never think that any of the rest of the team is like that.

It’s going to hurt whether anyone talks or not.

But for now, I’ve got my boyfriend in my arms, and that’s ok with me.

I’ll deal with tomorrow when it arrives.

Notes: I’ve just read a review and realized that we’ve kept the interest of a non-slash fan. I’m stunned (in a good way). Thanks to everyone who kept reading and reviewing. Believe me, it meant a lot to both myself and Victory. We’ve loved writing this, so much so that we’re going to co-write again.

[nextpage title=”Chapter 20: Starve the Fire by Victory Thru Tears”]

Adam’s POV
Charlie skates up to the centerline. Coach blows the whistle for the face-off. He gets the puck, but I quickly steal it after he passes to Russ. I skate towards Goldberg, who is the goalie for the other scrimmage team. I’m about to take my shot when Fulton checks me into the boards. He passes the puck to Luis, who skates at breakneck speed to my team’s goal. Julie saves it, and sends it back out to Guy. Guy brings it down my way, and fakes once. He passes to me. I fake once… twice… three times… it’s in! I’ve finally perfected Charlie’s triple deke.

“Banks in, Robertson you’re on.” Coach calls from the bench. I skate in and take a swig of my water. Averman is sitting a good two feet away from me on the bench, and keeps glancing at me with an odd look on his face.

It’s been like this for two days. Two days of awkward silence in the locker room, two days of vicious checking at practice. Two days that our lunch table has been divided, and two days that the uneasy wondering of the fate of the Ducks has been hanging over our heads.

I don’t know what I want. I guess I just want the Ducks to be like we were after the Junior Goodwill Games. It shouldn’t matter who is dating whom—private lives should be kept private. I mean, no one objects to Luis and his cheerleader, or Connie and Guy, or Julie and Scooter… and nobody (except me) objected to Charlie and Linda during the brief period that they were together. Fulton and Portman and Charlie and I should be no different.

What amazes me is the way that nobody seems to know. The Ducks actually kept quiet. I know that if one person had told someone else, it would be all over the school, and Varsity would be on our tails. When I was part of that team, I’d watched them torture this gay guy, Will. Will was a senior. How bad would they be to a bunch of freshmen? I don’t want to know.

Charlie’s more hurt by the Ducks’ intolerance than I am. With good reason, too. I’m used to being the outcast and a scapegoat. I was the Hawk, and the Varsity player. I think that for a lot of them, I still am. But Charlie… no. He’s the real Minnesota miracle man, as he had told me Bombay called him. He still wears the “C” on his jersey, but it’s lost all meaning for him. He says it stands for Charlie.

I’d heard Connie make a more derogatory remark about its meaning today, but I’m never going to repeat it to anyone.

Charlie scores and his team cheers. All but Averman. On the bench next to me, he stays silent. I lower my head. Some of the stuff that you learn about people that you care about really sucks.

Coach Orion calls us onto the ice. We gather around him in a circle.

“Okay, Ducks. I don’t know what’s going on today, but I don’t like it. You’ve had a hell of a practice today, but there’s no communication. Usually, you’re all talk and no play. We’re going to work on that tomorrow.”

He puts his hand into the center of our circle.

I look up at Charlie. We had managed to avoid this yesterday, but it looks like we won’t be that lucky today.

The thirteen of us put our hands in. Mine brushes Goldberg’s, and he quickly snatches it away. He gives me a mortified glance. I return it with an icy glare and set my hand on top of Fulton’s.

“Quack, quack, quack…” The Coach starts the chant.

I reluctantly go along with him. We’re much quieter than usual.

“Quack, quack, quack, quack…”

Charlie looks as if he’s going to cry.

“Gooooo Ducks!” Coach Orion is the only one to yell the last bit.

Our team breaks apart, skating towards the locker rooms. Portman pats Charlie on the back. I can hear our Captain sniffling as he passes me.

I know Charlie won’t give up. I won’t let him.

Because Ducks never say die.

Author’s note: Yes, this is the end of our epic fic. But don’t worry, dedicated fans! (Ha) Star and I have had so much fun working together, we’re going to write a sequel! Also, we can’t leave the end like this… that would be evil. Anyway, look for the sequel, it should be hitting your computer soon.

Another note: The sequel is called “Snow” and is uploaded by Victory Thru Tears. Go look for it!