The gaggle of rowdy teenage boys sat clustered around a large table in the school cafeteria, most of them members of the White Plains High senior basketball team. As always, William Allenby had managed to slip in next to his best friend, the team captain. The sound of laughter and good natured ribbing filled the cavernous room, echoing off the walls - just a bunch of testosterone fuelled young men, letting loose after hours of being locked up in a dark, dingy classroom.
'I got 'em' Will said, wagging a pair of tickets before his best friend's nose.
'Oh yeah? Let's see.'
Will and Liam were a year shy of graduation but both Cody and Will's girlfriend Josie were a year ahead of them, preparing to leave high school behind them for good. That meant Will and Liam would be guests at this year's graduation dance, scheduled for the third weekend of June at a luxury downtown hotel.
'Cool' Liam said, returning to his lunch. 'I better remind Cody to pick up a pair for us.'
'So you're definitely going?'
Liam shrugged. His relationship with Cody Miller was no secret amongst their peers at the progressive high school. Of course, as a gay couple, they remained in the minority, one of a mere handful of same-sex couples attending the suburban school. They'd briefly considered not attending graduation at all but that would be caving in to the minority of narrow minded members of the student body. Sadly, there were still the odd students who made inappropriate comments around them, whistling when they walked down the hall together or making tasteless jokes whenever they were within ear shot. But for the most part, the student body at White Plains High was cool with the two young men dating.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Liam was the school's star athlete bringing fame and recognition to White Plains High or that Cody was Mr. Personality, the kind of easygoing guy everyone loved to be around. In contrast, another couple of boys who'd begun dating over the past year hadn't been quite so lucky. One of them was on the effeminate end of the spectrum and they were teased mercilessly by some of the more straight-laced students. There was still much work to be done by the school's Gay Straight Alliance Cody Miller had founded a few years back.
As a same-sex couple, being in social situations with their peers was always awkward. Dances were about… well, dancing and holding hands and getting close to each other and for Liam especially, public displays of affection were uncomfortable and thus, remained an ongoing challenge. In fact, there were very few situations in which the two of them could truly be themselves - in the company of their families and amongst a very restricted group of trusted friends. Cody had managed to convince his boyfriend that they needed to take a stand by attending the year end party and Liam had been teetering on the edge, close to taking a leap of faith.
'I'm considering it' he replied as he took a mouthful of his sandwich.
'That's great! Josie's been talking non-stop about it for weeks' Will remarked. '…when she's talking to me, that is.'
'What do you mean? Is she still pissed off?'
Will shrugged. 'She won't tell me why she's mad but she's been giving me the cold shoulder ever since I skipped out on her last weekend.'
Liam frowned. 'That's stupid… it wasn't your fault the coach called a last minute practice.'
'You know Josie…' Will said, leaving the rest unsaid.
Josie Robertson was what would best be described as a 'high maintenance' girlfriend. She was pretty, blond, petite, blue eyed, the kind of girl most guys would kill to have on their arm. She hung out with the cool girls, her bright smile and pretty face contributing largely to her popularity. On the surface she was sweet and kind but she could be petty and shallow and she could spit venom like nobody's business as Liam had witnessed on more than one occasion.
Will, on the other hand, was the most laid back guy Liam had ever met. They'd rarely argued over their ten year friendship and when they did, Will was always quick to forgive and forget. Liam hated seeing Will taken advantage of but he'd learned the hard way it was always best to remain quiet about your best friend's choice of romantic partners. Just as Will had never commented on Liam's choice of a mate, Liam had done the same, keeping his doubts about Josie and Will's compatibility to himself.
'She'll come around. She's going to love parading around with you in front of everybody.'
'I guess we'll find out.'
Liam put down his fork. 'Look, I meant to tell you. I know I promised full illumination… two more recruiters are coming to meet with me and my folks this week, one from Syracuse and another from Columbia.'
'Columbia?' Will repeated. 'That means you'd be able to live at home.'
Liam nodded. 'Yeah. Pros and cons, right?'
'Sure. But you could save money.'
'That's true but Columbia doesn't have a sports scholarship program… Syracuse does' Liam replied, looking thoughtful. 'And I guess I always imagined I'd be going away to college… like Hope did.'
He shook his head as if it hurt to think about it. 'Anyway, there's still time to figure things out.'
'Right' came Will's response. He was just glad Liam wasn't holding out on him. He clasped his hand on his best friend's shoulder and squeezed. 'You know Caffrey… any one of those schools would be lucky to have you.'
The drug Logan had slipped her hit harder than anything she'd ever taken before. By the time they arrived at his place, Ginny could feel herself drifting in and out of reality. He helped her out of the car and practically carried her inside where, to her surprise, his roomie Mateo was waiting for them.
There was food out for them and Logan insisted they eat before settling into the living room for a little private party. Ginny ate without much appetite, Logan hand feeding her the last few bites of her meal.
'Come on baby girl, you need energy for what I've got in mind for us' he hinted as they finished up.
Mateo tidied up and to Ginny's surprise, joined the two of them on the couch. She didn't know him all that well, except for the parties she'd attended at their place but he seemed sweet, his dark eyes curious but definitely quieter than her boisterous boyfriend.
She was having trouble keeping her mind focussed, her skin felt hot and clammy, her legs unsteady. As they'd done the last two times they'd spent the day together, Logan got them settled on the couch with some raunchy porn playing on the tube. This time they were watching threesomes, two men and an apparently overeager young woman happy to please both of them.
She wasn't sure how exactly, but in no time, both men had stripped her of her clothes before removing their own and sitting back in their boxers. They shared a joint, Ginny feeling as if her body was no longer her own. She took a deep breath, watching with amusement as the smoke billowed out of her mouth and she giggled, surprising herself with the sound of her girlish voice.
'Why don't you give Mateo a nice big juicy kiss to thank him for making lunch for us' Logan suggested to her surprise.
The other man smiled at her, eyes half lidded. He opened his arms to her and she leaned in to kiss him, finding him eager and more forceful than she'd expected. Before she knew it, he had tugged her onto his lap, his breath raspy as he kissed her deep and hard. She glanced over at Logan, checking for his reaction.
'Go on baby, give Mateo some love' he coaxed, as he sat back, rubbing himself lazily through his shorts with a contented smile on his face. Images flashed on the TV screen as he encouraged her to play along, mimicking some of the more risqué scenes playing out before their eyes.
Ginny was feeling disconnected from reality, her body numb as she let herself be coaxed along, her conscious mind checking out from time to time as if she was no longer in control of her own body. Time became fluid as she worked to pleasure both men, no longer questioning what was happening - as if she were a spectator herself.
She wasn't sure how long it went on for but at some point, she must have blacked out, no longer aware of what was happening around her. She woke with a start as Logan kissed her forehead.
'Hey, sleepy head' he murmured lustily. 'Time to get ready to take you home.'
He was back in his clothes and Mateo was nowhere to be seen. She looked down, noticing her clothes had been slipped back on. By whom she wasn't sure.
'You did so good today' Logan whispered in her ear. 'How about we make a stop on the way back to your place. I've got a special treat for you.'
She smiled lazily, coming to her senses. Had she dreamt it all? Or had Mateo just been there? She felt sore and she groaned as she sat up, her muscles tight, her belly aching.
Logan curled up to her, his head cradled on her chest. 'You were amazing' he repeated, mewling. 'Love you baby.'
She relaxed at the sound of his reassuring words and she smiled, her eyes drifting shut.
Neal slipped by the two men who were preparing to manoeuvre a rather large canvas through the main door of the Raphael Gallery. He stepped inside, finding Peter and Cameron standing across the room and he walked over to join them.
'Hey!' Peter called out, happy to see his best friend. 'You're just in time for the big delivery.'
'I see that' Neal replied with a crooked grin. He rubbed his jaw… damn freezing. 'Is this the Davenport series?'
'It is indeed' Cameron said with pride. 'Both the Turner and the Cleo galleries tried to lure him over to their place but he insisted he wanted the Raphael.'
'Good job Cam!' Neal said with an enthusiastic pat on his future son-in-law's shoulder. 'What did you promise him for choosing us?'
Cameron continued grinning widely, like the cat who swallowed the canary. 'Besides our commitment to doing our best to promote his work, nothing. He said our reputation preceded us. Of course, it didn't hurt that Hope did most of the talking when we met with him. Men are just putty in her hands.'
The large canvas was carefully carried in and leaned up against the far wall. As always, discovering a new artist got his heart thumping and it took everything he had for Neal not to rush over and rip off the craft paper enveloping the mystery package.
'Can't wait to see it' he murmured.
'That's 'Sunrise', his largest piece but there are eleven other smaller ones' Cam explained as the men returned outside to continue with the delivery. 'Our regulars will flip when they see this collection.'
Peter gave Neal a discreet wink and returned to his desk which was covered with piles of papers. Neal followed.
'How are we doing with that new seniors' class?' he asked, hands buried deep in his pants' pockets.
'It's a hit. Believe it or not it's already full' Peter replied looking rather pleased with himself. 'We might have to add a second one if this keeps up.'
Neal glanced around the gallery, his eyes gravitating towards the back room where classes were held. 'Is Hope around? I was hoping to bump into her.'
'I gave her the afternoon off' came Cameron's voice from the other side of the room.
Neal wagged his eyebrows. 'Lucky for her she's on friendly terms with the boss.'
Cameron chuckled and began transporting some of the smaller packages to the back room for unpacking.
'She's coming back later. It's going to be a long night framing all these and getting them set up' he declared as he swept by the two older men.
'I have to admit I don't miss that' Neal said, turning to Peter. 'All those late nights, setting up a new exhibit before opening the doors in the morning.'
Peter looked up from his paperwork. 'They're young' he declared, as if that explained everything.
One of the two delivery men approached Peter, handing him a clipboard. 'There it is, Mr. Burke. Twelve pieces' he announced.
Peter did a quick count and signed the delivery slip handing it back to the man. 'Thanks George' he said, smiling at him. 'So tell me, how's that new baby of yours?'
'You wouldn't believe it, he's already learning to crawl.'
Peter nodded as if impressed at this news. 'Enjoy it while you can George' he said. 'They grow up so fast.'
Neal watched the exchange with interest. There was a time when he'd been on a first name basis with all the trades people the gallery dealt with as well as all their regular customers. Sadly, as his day to day involvement diminished, those days were fading away.
'Well, take care Mr. Burke' the man replied with a tip of his ball cap before heading back out.
George and his delivery partner had just slipped out the front when the door opened once again, this time revealing Hope and Sara, carrying packages like they'd just been out Christmas shopping on steroids.
'Oh, it's here!' Hope cried out as she dropped her bags at the door and ran towards the large canvass, ripping off the paper to get a peek at the corner of the large frame.
Neal smiled, amused. Her enthusiasm was so like his own. She was in her element here at the gallery, so appreciative of the great works of art they were privileged to come across and the wonderful artists they got to rub shoulders with. She turned to glance at her uncle, suddenly noticing her dad standing there. As if her head was on a swivel, her attention shifted from the large canvass to Neal and she ran over, throwing her arms around his neck.
'Daddy!' she shouted as Sara watched in amusement from the door. 'I didn't know you were going to be here.'
'Neither did I. I decided to surprise you. Besides, I was dying to see this new exhibit.'
Cam's voice was heard as he returned from the back room. 'Well, well, well. Look who's here' he declared playfully. 'I thought I gave you the afternoon off.'
'Mom and I have been shopping and we just stopped in for tea next door' she explained as she turned her attention from her father to her fiancé. She laced her arms around his waist, letting her head rest against his chest as he placed a kiss on her forehead.
'I couldn't wait to see the new exhibit' she added with a sigh.
Sara, meanwhile, had moved to stand between her husband and Peter as Neal reached over to give her a peck on the cheek. 'Don't tell me she managed to lure you away from your desk. Even I have trouble doing that' he murmured in her ear.
She examined his face, noticing it drooping on one side. She ran her hand gently down his cheek. 'How'd it go at the dentist?'
He shrugged. 'It's done' was the best he could say.
Hope and Cam were already at work, unwrapping the newly delivered canvasses while Peter's attention had returned to the pile of paperwork on his desk. Sara and Neal stared at each other, suddenly feeling out of place. Seemed the Raphael didn't need either one of them to function like a fine oiled machine.
'Oh, I almost forgot' Peter said, glancing up at them. 'El wants me to invite you guys over for dinner Saturday night.'
Neal got a twinkle in his eye and wagged his eyebrows. 'No can do' he replied, bringing his arm to rest around his wife's waist and tugging her closer. 'We've got plans Saturday.'
Sara frowned. 'We do?'
'We do' he replied with a wink.
Once safely home, Ginny drifted in and out of sleep as she shed the remnants of the drugs Logan had slipped her. As she'd gotten into the habit of doing, Diana called at ten after four using the landline to make sure Ginny had come straight home from school. Whatever magic Logan had pulled to get her excused from classes seemed to have done the trick - her mom didn't seem the wiser.
Ginny lay out her homework on her desk, a subterfuge for the moment her moms eventually made it home to check on her. She curled up on the bed, blurred memories of her day becoming clearer as the cobwebs faded. Her body felt more relaxed since the full body massage Logan had treated her to on the way home. He'd even sprung for a pedicure which she'd craftily hidden inside the tube socks she'd pulled on.
Having her boyfriend encouraging her to make out with another guy had been totally unexpected. It'd felt strange at first but it was obvious it was a turn-on for Logan. He was so good to her, catering to her every whim, surely she could indulge his kinks in exchange for his continued devotion. He was proving himself to be a very generous boyfriend, thoughtful and caring. Her mind wandered to their most recent conversation, the one they'd had in the car when he'd dropped her off. He'd come into some extra cash he'd explained and he wanted to take her on a holiday for a few days. He hadn't specified where exactly but the thought of going away with him had her heart pounding wildly in her chest.
He'd promised her a trip she'd never forget, away from the pressures and expectations of her overbearing moms.
'Hey sweetie' came a voice from the door to her room.
'Hi Mom' she said, sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes. 'I was doing homework and I guess I fell asleep.'
Diana stepped in and sat on the edge of her daughter's bed, running her hand through her hair. 'You okay? You're looking a little pale.'
'Just a bit of a headache' Ginny replied, avoiding her mom's scrutiny.
'Well, Mama and I are really impressed with how well you've taken your punishment' Diana said with a smile. 'You haven't complained once and you've come straight home from school every day this week. Keep this up and we'll see about giving you back your phone.'
Ginny smiled innocently.
'I know this has been hard on you honey…' she added, kissing her daughter's forehead, 'But we love you and we want what's best for you.'
She got to her feet. 'Now get up, dinner's almost ready.'
Logan sat by the phone, pen in hand.
'We'll be on the eleven o'clock flight which should get us there around 2:15.'
'Should I meet you at the airport?' the woman on the other end asked.
'No, I'll take her over by cab. Try to ease her into it. But I need you there when we arrive so we can make a quick transition. I'm booking a four o'clock flight back.'
'No problem. I've got a room ready for her. Just make sure she doesn't have a phone and I'll take care of the rest. Do you anticipate any problems getting her to leave a note?'
'Naw, she's pretty excited about going away and her parents have grounded her so she's sufficiently pissed off at them.'
'Just follow the script' the woman warned. 'And I'll take care of things at this end.'
Logan nodded. 'I know the drill.'