My locker is right next to Luke’s, so I have to listen to him bitch the whole way there. His body hums with pent up energy. His fingers curl into fists so tight that his knuckles turn white.
“I swear to god, one day, I’m going to punch that smug motherfucker right in his pretty-boy face. He can’t threaten to bench me. Doesn’t he know who I am?”
I snort while I pull open my locker. He and I both know that he won’t do anything. Like it or not, Brighton is the quarterback and football is a QB sport. Luke likes to take the easy route in almost every way he can find, but the one thing he truly cares about and works hard at is football and his future in the NFL. He won’t do anything to jeopardize that, no matter how pissed off he gets.
And that makes me nervous.
“One of us is going to have to do something if he doesn’t lay off Callie soon. You know that, right?”
“Yeah.” He slams his locker closed. “I was just hoping he could manage to not be an absolute ass wipe until after the season…”
Like I said, he’s not going to do anything.
“Hey, what’s good my man?” Brody Case holds up his hand and I slap mine against it. Luke grips Robert Giles by the hand and beats his chest against his.
“You have chemistry 4th period, right?” I ask. Brody’s face goes sour.
“Don’t remind me. I’ve been studying for a week and I still feel like I’m going to bomb. Dr. Sutter is a sadist.”
“Oh, great. This all makes me feel real good, guys,” Luke says.
Rob laughs. “Because you’ve spent all week studying Camille?”
“They said study chemistry, and I did. Maybe they should be more specific.” He winks and I roll my eyes.
“I’ve got to get a higher score than Tanner McKinney. Do you think we could talk about the test over lunch?”
“You know, if you really wanted to get a leg up,” Brody starts, leaning in like he wants to keep what he’s going to say next strictly between the four of us. “Why don’t you and Luke just Lindsay Lohan this bitch?”
Luke crinkles his brow. “Is that like a drug thing…?”
“No, switch places! Luke has Sutter 1st period. Go take the test as him, and when you take it this afternoon, you’ll already know everything that’s on it. You two are identical, how would he know?”
“That would be so fucking epic,” Rob says.
Luke turns to me, his eyes widening. “Oh my god, Ted. Please? If you guys are this worried, there’s no hope for me. This test is like a third of our grade. You could help me for the rest of the semester.”
I chew on the inside of my cheek, mulling it over. This is wrong, I know that. I can almost feel the disappointed look I’d get from my mother covering my body like slime for just considering it.
I mean what are the odds we’ll get caught? Even my parents mix us up all the time, and my dad is so in our business that I’m surprised he can’t identify us by scent. I doubt Dr. Sutter has taken the time to study the extremely subtle differences between my brother and I to be able to figure us out. Besides, aren’t my parents always saying that family is more important than anything? I really do have the chance to help Luke make it through the season…
“Alright, let’s do it,” I tell him. He grins, then waves to our friends as I drag him to the bathroom. We pick two stalls next to each other, strip, and pass our clothes and backpacks beneath the barriers between us.
“Ugh, you need to work on your fit, Ted. This is not a vibe.” He gives me a slanted look. “You know our parents are billionaires, right?”
“Shut up. Meet me back here during passing period after class, okay?”
He holds out his hand and we close the deal with the secret handshake we made up when we were seven. The first bell rings, and we hurry out the bathroom in the opposite direction than either of us should be heading.
When I get to the chemistry lab, I’m confronted with a problem I never considered. Dr. Sutter has a seating chart, and I have no idea where Luke sat down the first day without knowing he would be stuck there for the entire semester.
What am I supposed to do? Ask?
“Luke!” a girl shrieks from somewhere off to my right. I turn just in time to be enveloped by a cloud of blonde hair. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning,” she moans in my ear. “Did you think last night was as hot as I did?”
I freeze. “Uh…”
Her hand cups my face and forces my head around so that she can kiss me. It comes like an assault. Her tongue slides into my mouth and I almost gag.
“Luke!” she snaps, pulling away and looking more offended than I’ve ever seen anyone look before.
“Camille, relax,” I hiss, pulling her aside so people stop looking at us. “I’m Teddy.”
“What?! Oh my god!” She leaps away from me and drags her sleeve across her lips to wipe me off her mouth. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
“When was I supposed to do that?”
She glares at me, and I hold up my hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Will you calm down? I’m going to take his test for him, I need Dr. Sutter to think I’m him.”
“You are?” Her eyes glitter with intrigue. “Oh my god, he’s so bad. I swear to god, he’s the hottest guy in this entire school.”
“Yeah, great. I’ll practice my best man’s speech. Will you help me?”
“Where does he sit?”
“Oh. Back row, middle table, left side.”
“Great. Thanks, Camille.”
“Mhm.” She smirks and then moves to a table near the front, coincidentally the seat I occupy in my class. I head to the back.
While the last few minutes before the final bell tick down, I try my best to keep my head down and not draw any attention. Luke’s more popular than I am, so most people wave or try to catch my attention in some way. It goes against all my instincts to smile back, but it’s what he would do. My thoughts about whether or not my flawless performance deserves an Oscar or not all drain away when the door opens, and Liam Bancroft enters the room.
I swear to god, it’s like he walks in slow motion.
His hair, a soft, dusty brown, is long on top, and swept artfully across his brow. He runs his hands through it as he nods to Camille at the front of the class. The green letterman’s jacket draped over his long, lean body really brings out the flecks of gold in his deep brown eyes.
He holds himself with the kind of confidence that suggests he knows how good looking he is, which I assume is the same confidence that lets him be totally out and proud to the whole school. To even be brave enough to audition for the football team, let alone play varsity and hang out with the rest of the jocks. He goes on dates with other guys. He took a dude to homecoming this year. He’s just getting over having his heart shattered by a boy who had loved him.
I don’t know what’s more powerful. My yearning for him, or my envy for the life he gets to have.
Because I don’t get to be out.
I don’t know if I ever will.
Liam’s grandfather isn’t running for president. Liam’s mother hasn’t built a career on graphic erotica that has made her a household name. Liam’s father isn’t Christian Grey.
My dad is a good dad, don’t get me wrong. He pays attention to us – sometimes a little too much, but all three of us are seen and know it. He invests himself in the things we care about, and even though he can be downright terrifying when he’s mad, I have no doubt that the man would take a bullet for me if it ever came to it.
But he’s a guy’s guy. He likes fast cars and dark liquor. He likes playing sports with my brother and fishing with my grandpas. He’s the biggest, baddest man in any room he enters, and I don’t know if a man like that can accept a gay son. The risk isn’t worth finding out. Every day, I’m terrified I’ll slip up and he’ll discover my secret, and never look me in the eye again.
Liam’s bright smile, which has starred in countless of my fantasies, turns in my direction and starts toward me. I feel my heart thud in my chest when I realize he’s headed for the chair directly next to me.
Of course he is. He’s on the football team and I’m supposed to be Luke.
“’Sup, Grey? You ready to get your ass reamed, or what?”
“This test… Everyone is freaking the fuck out.”
“Yeah.” I try to smile, but I worry it looks more like a grimace. Thankfully, he seems to chalk that up to nerves over the test because he ignores it.
“Brighton tell you there’s a scout coming to the game on Friday?”
“Oh, yeah. He…” My voice trails off as the door flies open and Gretchen Hernandez comes into the room like she’s being chased by wolves. She goes directly to Amanda Martin and starts whispering in her ear.
“What do you think’s going on there?” Liam asks.
“I don’t know.”
“No!” Amanda gasps. When Gretchen nods her head, they both turn to look back at me, and I feel my whole body deflate.
I bury my nose in my chemistry book, or Luke’s chemistry book which both looks and feels like it hasn’t been opened all year. Thankfully Dr. Sutter calls the attention of the class before either of them can confront me.
The test I take from the stack going around the room is heavy. Dr. Sutter gives us the entire period to complete it, and by page 3, I start to worry about finishing. The room around me is filled with a constant chorus of tortured groans and desperate sighs. I’m actually relieved. There isn’t a single question I don’t know the answer to, and getting the chance to go through this now, will help me pace myself better this afternoon.
No way I don’t completely ace this.
Eat it, Tanner McKinney.
When the bell rings, a few people in the room are on the edge of tears. Liam drops his head and bangs it on the table. I take a deep breath of relief. That is, until Amanda stops in front of my desk.
“Oh, how the pious have fallen.” I look up and see her holding her hands in front of her, as if she were praying.
“What are you talking about, Amanda?” Liam demands. Gretchen’s superior smile turns evil.
“Oh, didn’t you hear? Calliope Grey got caught blowing a guy right before the first bell. Turns out Little-Miss-Perfect is nothing more than Little-Miss-Slut.”
“You better watch your mouth, Gretchen,” I snap at her. She just smirks before walking away.
“What the fuck?” Liam asks. I shake my head in disbelief.
“It can’t be true. I know my sister.”
And I know that she knows our dad would actually murder her if she did what they said she did.
Luke and I manage to reclaim our own identities without any problems, except the asshole didn’t take notes in the English class he went to for me. But the rumor Amanda told me in chemistry spreads through the student body so swiftly and efficiently, I start to wonder how it got started. And what kernel of truth was its impetus.
At lunch, everyone is so obsessed with talking shit about my sister, that eyes start following me everywhere I go. I make my way to the table I share with Luke, Brody, and Rob, feeling like I’m swimming through a fishbowl. I don’t know how Calliope deals with this all the time.
“Dude, what’s going on with your sister?” Rob asks.
“Nothing, shut your fucking mouth,” Luke barks back. Clearly, like me, he understands that the rumor can’t be true, but it sounds like he’s had to defend her more today than I have.
A hush falls over the cafeteria, and I turn to see Calliope standing at the entrance. For the first time since I came to this school, she isn’t flanked on either side by her minions. She stands there like an island, with everyone staring at her.
I watch her take a deep breath, straighten her back, and march straight for the table no one else still dared to occupy with her head held high. I’m proud of her, but I can spot the tremble she’s trying to hide in her lip as she sits down.
Thankfully, people don’t stare too long. But we all know that chatter that starts up again as eyes move back to their peers is all about her.
“Poor Callie…” Luke whispers.
“Oh, I don’t think we’ve even seen how bad it’s going to get yet.” I tap his shoulder and point to the door again. The crowd parts and Brighton King starts barreling towards our sister. His eyes burn with jealous fire, and Calliope recedes a little as he approaches.
“Tell me it’s a lie!” he shouts at her, and everyone hears it because everyone is listening.
Calliope’s whole face goes pink. “I don’t owe you anything, Brighton.”
Her voice shakes, and the room fills with ominous oohs as everyone collectively acknowledges that she didn’t deny anything. Brighton reaches down and slaps Calliope’s open Diet Coke off the table. It gets all over her before slamming against the wall and rolling across the floor, spewing caramel colored foam everywhere.
It isn’t lost on me in this moment that, if the rumors are true, the guy she did this with doesn’t stand up to defend her. That only adds to my anger and, as I look over at Luke, I see him shaking with rage too.
“Answer me!” Brighton screams at my sister, but Luke still doesn’t get up.
“Fuck off, Brighton. I’m not your girlfriend!”
“No, you’re a fucking whore.”
Well. That’s it I guess.
“Hey!” I shout, leaping to my feet. “Don’t fucking talk to my sister like that.”
“Oh, yeah?” He turns to me, the fight he wants obvious in his eyes. “You got a problem, Grey?”
“Yeah, and you can apologize to her or I’m going to come over there and make it your problem.”
“No reason to apologize for calling a spade a spade.” He looks down at my sister with disgust. “Or, in this case, a slut a slut.”
I curl my hand into a fist and start towards him.
But here’s the thing… I’m more of a Dragon Age kind of a guy than a fighter. He dodges my first swing, and catches me right in the gut. All the air leaves my body, and I fall to the ground.
“Teddy!” Calliope calls, falling to her knees at my side. I push her away and scramble to my feet. “I don’t need your help, Cal.”
Brighton laughs and punches me in the nose.
My vision goes black and I stumble backwards, bending over to cup my face. My palms fill with my hot blood, and when my sight comes back, I see that the only reason I haven’t gotten a second blow is because Luke is restraining my attacker.
“Knock it off, Brighton!” he says.
“Get off me!”
He shoves my brother and starts towards me. I watch Luke stumble back, and it breaks the part inside of me that cares whether or not this guy is about to kick my ass. I charge at him, somehow managing to knock him to the hard linoleum. We roll around, punching each other every chance we get, and it’s honestly not great. But I’m beyond caring about pain. I just keep punching.
Luke manages to pull Brighton off of me, but when I scramble up to him again, my brother shucks him off and catches me by the shoulders.
“Teddy, not here…” His plea is cut off when he turns to look back at Brighton again and gets a hard right hook to the jaw that sends him to the ground.
“No, Luke!” Camille screams from the front of the crowd just off to the left, and she dives on the floor to get to my brother. My vision goes red.
“Argh!” The sound rips out of me as I lunge at Brighton. When I get him to the ground this time, I straddle his waist and let my fists fly, pummeling every inch of him I can reach as hard as I can, as fast as I can. But the set of hands that pull me off him this time aren’t Luke’s. Instead, I stare up into the furious eyes of Dr. Wolfe, the Vice Principal.
“My office, now!”
It’s not like I’ve never been in the Vice Principal’s office before. The chair I’m sitting in is so familiar that the seat practically forms to my butt. Luke and I like to pull our fair share of pranks, but it’s all in harmless fun. I’ve never been here for anything like this. The severity that hangs in the air and the throb in my bones make the experience a whole new level of terrifying. No one even talks to us. Dr. Wolfe pointed at the chairs we’re sitting in now and went into his office. Nothing has happened since then, and that was over half an hour ago.
My test is in twenty minutes.
I stare at the seconds ticking past on the clock above my head, holding a towel against my nose. It wasn’t broken when the nurse looked me over, so she didn’t have a reason to keep me. Brighton, on the other hand, has a concussion, so he doesn’t have to sit in the torturous silence waiting for his fate to be handed down.
“Will you please do something?” Luke hisses at Calliope.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. Bat your eyelashes or whatever stupid thing you do that gets you whatever you want all the time. If I don’t get to practice after school, I can’t play on Friday.”
“Okay, okay. Wait here.” Calliope gets up and goes into the room next to ours where the secretary is sitting. Luke and I both creep to the door to listen.
“Excuse me,” she begins. “Hi. This is all just a huge misunderstanding. You see, there’s an entire cafeteria of witnesses who can attest to the fact that Brighton King was in strong violation of the Bishop Blanchett anti-bullying policy, and I don’t think my father, the inventor of perpetual motion, would be too pleased to hear that you’ve taken his children out of class, robbing us of our educational opportunities, for the crime of standing up to a bully.”
“Well, your parents have already been called. We can ask him when he gets here.”
“Oh.” The trepidation in her response is reflected in the stillness that suddenly overcomes Luke and me. Bishop Blanchett is normally the kind of school to handle things without the involvement of the parents, and while most kids think that means the school gets to punish us more harshly… most kids don’t have our dad. There’s an ethics committee, a student conduct council… they only call the parents in if you’re really in trouble.
Calliope walks back into the room two shades paler than she was before. She sinks into her chair, and buries her face in her hands.
“We need to get our story straight before they get here,” Luke says.
“You think?” I snort.
Luke turns to Calliope, and waits. “So what is it?”
She doesn’t turn to look at him so he pushes her to get her attention and her head snaps up like a cobra ready to strike. “What?!”
“Don’t yell at me, we’re in this mess because of you.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“So you weren’t banging three dudes under the bleachers this morning?”
“What? No! Oh my god, the people at this school are such assholes!” She throws her face into her hands again, so I tell Luke to back off my with eyes and try the good-cop approach.
“So, what’s got Brighton so pissed off, Calliope?”
She glances up, her eyes focusing on the bloody rag I still clutch to my face, and her shoulders droop. “Well…”
“It’ll go in the covenant,” Luke promises, holding out his pinky. It’s an agreement between the three of us that started years ago. Anything that goes into the covenant has to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And nothing that goes in can ever come out.
I hook my pinky around Luke’s, and after another second of hesitation, Calliope follows suit.
“Okay… do you guys know Pete Bigler?”
“The emo dude?” Luke asks, his nose wrinkling in distaste. Her eyes narrow and her jaw clenches the same way Dad’s does when he’s irritated. The judgement clears from Luke’s eyes. “Yeah, okay. We know who he is.”
“Well, we’ve been kinda… seeing each other in secret for a few weeks.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the reason why it’s been in secret is probably barreling his way here like an angry bull as we speak. The only thing I know about Pete Bigler is that he gets to school every day on a motorcycle.
“You were blowing Pete Bigler?” I ask.
“No! I was… well, sort of… you know… giving him a hand job.”
“Ew!” Luke says. “Calliope, no. Do you know how much better than him you can do?”
“What, you mean like Brighton King?”
“Well, no. But Pete Bigler. He’s…”
“You don’t even know him, Lucas!” Calliope cuts him off. Her whole persona turns cold and I can see the fight brewing in her eyes just as strongly as I saw it in Brighton’s. This time, I douse the flames instead of fanning them.
“So what are we going to tell our parents?”
“Excuse me?” an achingly familiar voice says in the room next to us. “My name is Anastasia Grey. I’m here for Calliope, Theodore, and Lucas.”
“Yes, thank you for coming, Mrs. Grey. Right this way.” A few seconds later, Ms. Ashford walks into the room with our mom on her heels. We all breathe a collective sigh of relief when we see Dad isn’t behind her, but that hope dies the moment the secretary leaves the room again.
“He’s right behind me,” Mom warns us. “Now what did you do?”
My gut sinks.
I’m already sore and achy from Brighton’s blows. How the fuck am I going to face my dad?