Chapter One

Derek Thompson pulled his Honda Civic into the parking lot reserved for seniors at Brampton High School. Yeah, that’s right, he thought. I’m a senior. Just that thought was enough to make this the first day of a very good year. He hopped out and ambled toward the main entrance where the jocks always hung out until the final bell, and where the guys on his wrestling team were screwing around, patting Josh Dibbling on the back like he was some kind of hero. Probably screwed another cheerleader or something.

“Hey, Thompson! C’mon over man, you gotta hear ’bout J’s summer fun.”

Derek pasted on a fake smile. Like he wanted to hear about Dibbling screwing another girl. He was just about to join the group when he was stopped in his tracks by a loud shriek from behind him.

“Derek, you rotten bastard! Where the hell have you been for the past week? I swear, I ought to kick you straight in the nuts right here and now.” Derek’s mouth pulled up at both sides into a wide, sincere grin as he turned to face his best friend Rebecca Stoltz. Rebecca was short with brown hair styled in a bob and a body with lots of curves. As part of the drama club, she tended to bring her flare for drawing attention with her wherever she went.

Best friends since birth, they’d seen each other at their best and worst. In fact, it was his distinct lack of attraction to his clearly appealing best friend that let him know once and for all he was gay.

Glancing over his shoulder at his teammates, he shrugged, pasting what he hoped was an apologetic expression on his face. Then strode to where Beck stood, hands on her hips. I owe you Beck. In more ways than one. “Hon, um, did you forget that you were in California for the past week? I called you every other day but you didn’t call me back. Shouldn’t I be threatening to kick you in the nuts right now?”

Rebecca dismissed Derek’s explanation with a wave of her hand and began talking about the classes they would be sharing, the teachers they were fated to suffer, and worst of all, the fact that her arch nemesis, Malinda Bines, had called her the previous night telling her about the audition piece she’d been rehearsing for the winter musical. “I know that bitch doesn’t think she’s gonna to ruin my senior year by stealing the best roles.” Allowing Beck to grab him by his arm, he was half dragged into the school where kids were greeting each other excitedly.

When they arrived at their lockers, Derek shoved his stuff in, only grabbing what he’d needed for first period English. If they didn’t get to class early, they ran the risk of sitting in the front. For the past three years, they’d always secured seats together in the back of the class. For Derek, it was a way to keep out of the eye-line of the teacher and more importantly, for watching the rest of the students in the class. After the first bell rang, students started to filter into the room. By the time the second bell rang, most of the seats were taken, except for a few in the back row. The seats on either side of them were empty, which suited Derek just fine.

Once seated, Beck took a moment to look at Derek. He was wearing a new pair of blue Levi 501’s, a form-fitting white T-shirt, and squeaky clean new white Adidas sneakers. Beck shook her head. “Stand up for me.” Derek simply stared at her. “Stand up and turn around.”

“Uh, why?” Derek hated drawing attention to himself and did everything he could to fade into the background. He had lots of friends and was popular, but he preferred standing well out of the spotlight.

“Just do it.” Beck’s voice was dripping with annoyance.

With a glare pasted on his face, Derek obeyed, stood, turned once, and then sat down as quickly as he could. The few kids that had turned to watch him had already returned to the conversations they were having. “Okay. Satisfied? Now you want to tell me what that was all about?”

Beck shook her head and sighed. “You have such a great body. I don’t know why you have to hide it by making yourself so generic.” She ruffled his neatly cropped brown hair. “Like this. It’s perfectly boring. Standard cookie cutter hair. And your clothes. You’re wearing the same first-day-of-school outfit that all American boys are probably wearing today.” She glanced around the room, tapping her fingers on the desk as she did so. “In this room alone, five boys are dressed exactly the same. Just different colored tops.”

She surveyed Derek once again, her eyes roving from head to feet and back again. “At least the jeans and shirt fit your body well. Your ass is still a huge attraction and you show it off beautifully in those jeans.”

Derek felt his cheeks warm and was sure that he was beginning to blush. “All right, enough!”

Beck shook her head, and then moved on to a new subject. She leaned in close to Derek so only he could hear her. “So, dish, did you find any hot man meat to play with this summer? I have to know.”

“Beck, you know I didn’t. I spent practically every day with you this summer and you travelling with your parents for the past week hardly gave me enough time to—”

“Oh. My. God.” Beck’s mouth dropped open and she grabbed Derek’s wrist, digging her nails into the soft under-skin. “I can not believe that she is in this class. It’s bad enough that I have to deal with Malinda during drama, but to have to suffer that primping little tart’s face in class is too much for me to…”

Derek sighed with relief. He knew it would only be a matter of time before Beck became the center of her own universe once again. He nodded and made the appropriate sounds of listening, but his attention had suddenly been diverted to a student who he had never seen before standing in the doorway to the classroom.

Derek’s pulse quickened as he tried to stare at the newcomer without seeming to do so. He had unkempt blond hair which made him look sexy and defiant. His legs were covered by bulky cargo pants, but his upper body caused Derek to gasp. He was wearing a worn, long-sleeved, white cotton shirt with a faded picture of the Tasmanian Devil on the front. It fit him tightly around his chest and Derek immediately noticed the outline of firm pecs and just a hint of nipple pushing at the fabric. The rest of the shirt fell along his body, creating folds which suggested a long, trim frame, but leaving to the imagination whether his abdomen was smooth or cut. Derek wished that he had X-ray vision to get a glimpse of the hidden legs and butt, but he could tell by the way the fabric stretched in the back that his ass rivaled his own.

Derek took in a deep breath and remembered to nod and make a sound of affirmation at whatever Rebecca was saying, then continued his surveillance. He noticed that the boy’s shoulders were square and that he stood with confidence. Slender muscles rose from the neck of his shirt leading to a sharp jaw line. His lips were pink and his bottom lip was plump and extremely kissable. And his eyes. Even from across the room, Derek couldn’t miss the radiance. They were ocean blue. Not the kind of ocean blue like most of the eastern or western coast, but more of a bluish-green like found along Caribbean beaches.

He wandered over to the teacher, Mr. Carlton, like a lost puppy, and handed him his slip of paper. The teacher nodded and then introduced him to the class.

“Good morning class. First of all, I would like to welcome you to Senior English. We will, I am sure, be having many wonderful discussions about topics of great interest to you. Please know that I am trusting you can handle the many themes which are of particular interest and pertinence to your age group, with maturity. I would also like to introduce you to a new student here at Brampton.” Mr. Carlton looked at the slip again and then continued, “Scott Thayer is joining the senior class having moved here from Monroe, Iowa. I am sure you will all make him feel welcome and at home. Is there anyone who would be willing to help Scott through his first day? I am sure he’ll need directions to classes and someone to have lunch with today.”

Scott looked toward his feet at this request and Derek was sure he could see his cheeks flush slightly. What the heck was wrong with Mr. Carlton anyways? Didn’t he realize that being a new senior was bad enough without singling him out on his first day?

From where he was sitting, Derek could tell that most of the girls in the class were staring bug-eyed at Scott and, most likely, longing to be his appointed buddy but terrified of the rumor mill should they actually volunteer. Most of the boys seemed oblivious or uninterested in the new arrival, likely more interested in what was being served for lunch. It didn’t hurt that the only empty seats were in the back row either.

Derek raised his hand, “Uh, Mr. Carlton, there are some empty seats back here.”

“Great, Derek.” Turning to Scott, Mr. Carlton continued, “You can take a seat with Derek and welcome to Brampton.” Scott looked up and glanced at Derek. As he worked his way to the back of the room, he maintained eye contact and Derek swore that those sea-blue pools were saying thanks for getting me out of this embarrassing situation. Through his peripheral vision, he could see Rebecca staring at him with a huge grin on her face. Quietly, so that only he could hear, she said, “Careful baby, you might fall in love.” He reached into his pocket and took out his cell. Deftly selecting Beck’s name from his call list he texted four simple words in response. Shut the fuck up.

Scott took his seat next to Derek. “Thanks man. I swear, being the new kid sucks”.

Derek felt a thrill of heat run through his body as Scott addressed him. “No problem. I wouldn’t want to be standing up there any longer than I had to.” He then motioned to Beck. “This is my friend Rebecca,” Derek said, leaning back in his chair and allowing Beck to extend her hand across his chest to shake Scott’s hand. As she did, she gave Derek a meaningful glance which said you’ve got the hots for this one. Derek returned the look with a penetrating stare which said if you don’t cut the shit, I’m gonna kill you.

Mr. Carlton took a stack of papers from his desk and handed them to each person sitting in the front row. “If you could please pass these back, we will begin by reviewing this year’s syllabus and the required books you’ll be reading.”

* * * * *

At the end of class, Derek looked at Scott’s welcome sheet which gave him basic information about Brampton and had his assigned locker number written in the space provided on the front. It turned out that his locker was near Derek and Beck’s. Nice.

“You must be pretty bummed out. Changing schools in your senior year sucks.” Derek tried to make his comment sound casual, but his heart was racing as he walked next to Scott. He faced forward, but was beginning to give himself a headache with the strain he was placing on his eyes through the sideways glances he was giving Scott every five seconds.

Scott’s shoulders sagged slightly, but his voice remained cheerful. “Yeah, it does. But I’m used to it. My family’s moved around a lot.” Derek gave Scott a questioning look and Scott continued. “My dad works in Human Resources for Target and has moved up the corporate ladder. He was manager of the Des Moines area stores and just got promoted to oversee the northeastern regional stores. It was a pretty big promotion and difficult for him to pass up. I understand and all, but it’s not the first time that my dad has had to move in order to accept a promotion with his job.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. I’ve lived here in Cambridge my whole life. I can’t imagine what it would be like to up and move to someplace else. Plus, I have a lifetime of friends here and my wrestling team which I love. I just couldn’t imagine it.” Derek realized that he was prattling on with someone he hardly knew and wondered how he’d fallen so easily out of his low-profile comfort zone.

“You wrestle?” Scott’s tone carried so much inflection Derek stopped in the middle of the hallway to face him.

“I absolutely love it. It’s one of the only sports I know where you are part of a team but it’s still an individual sport. Whatever you do helps your team succeed, but when you are on the mat you have to depend entirely on yourself.” A simple yup would have worked.

“You wrestle! That’s awesome.” Scott didn’t seem the least bit bored with Derek’s deep explanation of his love of wrestling. Instead, he bounced on his feet, making him even more handsome in his playfulness. “I wrestle too. I was on the varsity team back in Monroe and was even elected captain for senior year. I actually wrote a paper for a local contest last year about how a wrestling match is like facing major life challenges. It’s about your attitude. If you believe you can win and commit yourself to giving your all, then win or lose, you come out of it having grown in some way. How is the team here?”

Most people, at least those who didn’t wrestle, usually thought of the sport as a gay where guys rolled around on the mat together. Derek couldn’t deny the flutter in his stomach. Scott seemed to get how wrestling was more than winning and showing how tough you are physically. He got that it was a sport that required mental toughness as well.

Derek nodded his head in the direction of the math classes and continued to guide Scott to the next class. “Our team’s been getting better and better over the past few years. When I was in ninth grade we sucked and barely won anything. But a core group of us have been on varsity for the past three years and now we’re in the top three in our division. We actually have a good chance of winning. I usually run throughout the fall to get into shape for the winter season.”

He hadn’t noticed he’d moved closer to Scott until their arms brushed together. He quickly took a step to the side, feeling slightly dizzy as he registered the fresh scent of fabric softener coming off of Scott’s shirt.

As they turned the final corner to Scott’s calculus class, Derek felt his chest grow a little heavier. He wasn’t exactly sure what caused it until they reached the classroom door. Then it hit him. He wanted to keep talking to Scott. What’s going on here? I never just meet someone and start babbling to them.

A strange combination of needing to get away so that he could clear his head, but wanting to make sure he’d see Scott again later, forced Derek to make quick plans. Hopefully he’d come off casual. “Hey, all seniors have fourth period lunch. If you want, I could meet you at the cafeteria and introduce you to Brampton’s infamous beef stew. It’s got to be on the list of top ten most toxic food items for high school lunches in the country.”

Scott laughed. His smile was wide and Derek noticed how one side of his mouth curled up a little bit more than the other, revealing strong white teeth and a dimple which immediately drew his attention. “Sure, I may as well eat the toxic stuff right away. Maybe I’ll build up a resistance to it before it can kill me.”

“Cool.” Tension seeped out of Derek’s shoulders and his breathing suddenly came more easily. He needed to get a grip, and fast. “So, your next class is just down the hall. Last door on the right.”

“Thanks.” He turned from Derek and took a few steps away, giving Derek a beautiful view of his physique. When Scott stopped, Derek yanked his eyes to Scott’s head. No way was he getting caught staring at the new guy’s ass…or anyone else’s for that matter. “So I’ll see you at lunch?” The question came out so innocent it nearly melted Derek’s heart.

Steeling himself, he nodded, placing what he knew was a winning smile on his face. “Yup. Lunch. Fourth period.”

Derek tried to seem nonchalant as he turned away from Scott and ambled toward his pre-calculus class. Whatever magic spell this handsome new wrestler who seemed too good to be true had cast, Derek knew he’d have to watch himself very carefully. He’d spent too long keeping his secret and didn’t need to blow his senior year on the first day. Thankfully, he and Beck had most of their classes together. The second he entered his class, he spotted her at the back of the room, a seat empty for him.

Thank God.

Derek rushed to Beck’s side. “Beck, I need to run something by you, and I need to get it out before you start one of your stories.”

Beck flashed an indignant look of pure offense. Then her mouth curved up at the sides. “Sure babe. No need to get prissy. I know I love to be the center of attention, but every once in a while I am capable of listening to someone else.” She paused, as if she were waiting for Derek to confirm the statement. When Derek said nothing, she huffed and settled into her seat so she was facing him. “The way you were staring at that new kid today, I only need one guess to know what this will be about.”

Derek let out a chuckle. “You see, Beck, that’s what I love about you. You always know what I need.” Already, Derek felt more like himself. “Okay, so I just walked him to class and I couldn’t shut up. I mean, I was babbling on and on and barely let him get a word in edgewise.”

“Hang on, I want to hear which part of him you are obsessing about right now. Is it those amazing eyes, his crazy sexy hair, his—”

“Beck, I said I needed to talk without your interruptions.”

“Right, sorry. Do go on.” She flashed him a sheepish grin.

Derek sighed and rolled his eyes. “Okay, so it was none of those things. We actually talked about wrestling.” Beck shook her head. Derek chose to ignore her reaction and forged ahead. “So anyway, he wrestled in Iowa and was apparently pretty good. His team elected him captain for his senior year. But what got me was the way he was talking about wrestling.”

“What do you mean the way he talked about wrestling? You guys all talk about it the same way.”

“Beck! No interruptions.” Derek gave her a half-serious look which hopefully conveyed he wasn’t annoyed but wanted to finish. Beck’s face took on a brief look of offense, and then softened as she meaningfully closed her mouth, using her fingers to lock her lips and throw away the key. Derek placed his hand on her arm. “I mean, he gets that wrestling is more than learning new moves and showing everyone how tough you are. He gets that it’s also about drawing from within yourself and facing an adversary with courage, head-on.”

“So, what exactly are you asking me, Derek?”

“Well, let’s look at the facts. I just met him, yet immediately felt comfortable telling him things about myself. He shares my passion for wrestling and in the same way I do.”

An expression Derek rarely witnessed crossed Beck’s face. At least not directed at him. She looked worried. She lowered her voice and leaned closer so only Derek could hear. “Hey, slow down a minute. What I think is that you need to be careful. You’re out to me, but you’ve been careful to ensure that no one else even suspects that you’re gay. You haven’t even kissed another boy.”

“That’s not true. I kissed—”

Beck cut him off. “Billy Fullan doesn’t count. That was in kindergarten and you only kissed him on the cheek because he gave you that retarded transformer you’d been dying to get in a McDonald’s happy meal box.”

“Hey!” Derek retorted, giggling a bit and realizing she was right. “That transformer rounded out my collection and I would have done anything to have it.”

Rebecca rolled her eyes and stared at him. “May I continue?” Derek remained silent and shot what he hoped was a demure look through his eyelashes. “Thank you. All I am saying is that you should be careful. You don’t know anything about this guy and as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been private and guarded. You’re one of the most reserved friends I’ve ever had. I know we live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, liberal center of the universe, but we’re also in high school and I would hate to see you ruin your senior year by moving too quickly and letting something out that you may regret later. I’m not saying that I don’t want you to be happy, because you know I do, but I don’t want to see you get hurt either. And you hang out with jocks. They aren’t notorious for being gay-friendly.”

Derek knew she was right. “Okay, so I’m semi-closeted…” Beck’s lips thinned into tiny lines. “I mean, I’m only out to you. Is that better?” Beck’s lips relaxed into a self-satisfied smile. “So, what do I do with this feeling like I can’t wait until lunch to see Scott? How do I prevent myself from being totally obvious or from making an ass out of myself? If this is what it feels like to like someone, how the hell can anyone handle it?”

Beck took in Derek’s behavior with unusual silence. Her expressions shifted several times, one emotions replacing the next, until one finally stuck. Determination. Derek could read it clear as day in the way she sat a bit taller and lifted her chin as if she were the Queen of England. “You said you are having lunch together right? Well, I’m joining you.”

Derek’s eyes lit up. “You’ve just moved into detective mode haven’t you?”

She placed a hand over her chest, quickly donning her innocent and slightly offended posture. “Who me? I have no idea what you are talking about. Today is beef stew day and I certainly don’t want to miss the chance to watch a newbie try that toxic waste.”

Derek shoved Beck’s shoulder then kissed her cheek. “Thanks Beck. You’re the best.”

“I know. They don’t make them better than me.”

Just then the second bell rang signaling the beginning of class and Ms. Ritter, their pre-calculus teacher, started calling off names from her attendance record, but Derek was too lost in thought to even hear his name called. After an embarrassing quip from the teacher, singling him out, he spent the rest of the period focused on one thing…Scott Thayer.