"I've got all the research done," says David Michael Thomas, as he takes a binder from the cluttered desk in his bedroom, "but I need someone to help me put it together, give it some flair."
His best friend, Nicky Pike, nods. He's always been better at English than Dave, and is happy to help him with his essay in exchange for batting tips so he can try out for the Stoneybrook High baseball team. "Sure" says Nick, agreeably. "Want a piece of gum?" he asks, digging in his pocket for the pack of Juicy Fruit he always carries.
Dave takes the piece of gum, and starts telling him something about Hamlet, but Nick isn't listening at all. He flops over on the bed and punches one of the pillows.
Dave puts down the binder, and with concern asks, "Are you okay?" as he sits cross-legged at the other end of the bed. Nick has an absolutely miserable look on his face, and Dave knows that until he can make Nick talk, no work will get done on the essay. He's used to dealing with Nick's moods, which have only gotten more intense since he started high school. Dave supposed that the triplets had snubbed him again, or that Margo had told on Nick for smoking with him and Lindsey DeWitt behind the baseball diamond last week. Those were the pitfalls of being a part of a large family, and as a middle child, Nick takes them harder than most. But this time it isn't about his family.
"Lindsey DeWitt won't go to the Snowflake Dance with me" Nick moans, running his hand angrily through his ruffled reddish hair.
"But she told you yes last week" Dave says, trying to cheer Nick up so they can get working on the essay. "Maybe she's playing hard to get."
Nick looks at Dave witheringly. "You mean she's playing 'let's be a bitch.' Apparently Betsy Sobak dared her to ask me so that Adam would get jealous, and ask Lindsey to the dance." Nick's shoulders slump. He's tired of being considered second-rate to his brothers. Having a girl use him as a pawn to get a date with Adam, of all people, is just one tooth in the saw that is cutting through his self-esteem. "Why do girls have to be so stupid?"
"Eh, girls, who needs them?" says Dave carelessly, and then he blushes. He's been looking at Nick, and his hair that is shining with red highlights under the overhead light, and the coppery eyelashes framing his slate blue eyes that seem like an overcast sky when he is sad. Nick is a lot prettier than some of the girls Dave knows. With this revelation coming to him, Dave can't look at Nick's face, so he stares at Nick's hands, their square fingernails, tiny freckles, and chestnut-coloured hairs that poke out from creamy white skin. He's not ashamed, because he thinks he's always known this. Dave remembers a dream he once had, of playing catch with Nick in the Pikes' back yard, and how their skin warmed under the sunshine. He remembers waking up tangled in his blankets, and with the thick juice of sexual release on his stomach. At the time he just passed it off as a random wet dream, and threw his pajamas in the hamper. Now he thinks he knows what that dream really meant, and it makes sense to him that he would be in love with his best friend.
Dave frowns a little. He knows that he's not gay. After all, he recently got to second base with Nancy Dawes, and he liked it a lot, and pressured her for more. He hasn't ever thought of another boy this way either. Maybe its just Nick. Dave is at peace with that thought, but gets jittery from sitting so intoxicatingly close to him.
"Have you ever thought that maybe you just don't like girls?" Dave blurts out, and immediately regrets it. His stomach sinks when Nick says:
"Who do you think I am, Byron or something? I'm not gay. I might look like him, and he might be my brother, but we're not the same."
They aren't the same, and Dave knows it. On the night of the Snowflake Dance, he smiles when he sees Nick dancing with Becca Ramsey. It's a crooked, sad, smile though, and he needs to leave the gym to get some fresh air. Dave shivers outside in the clear winter night, and is about to light a cigarette when he notices Byron Pike standing by himself and staring at his shoes. With his strong pitcher's arms, Dave pushes Byron against a wall, and kisses him hard, running his hand through the thick reddish hair. Byron kisses back, and Dave pretends that he can taste Juicy Fruit.