Dinner was already over by the time Charlotte drops Dave off at home, so he rummages through the fridge for some leftovers. With a plate of meat loaf and potatoes in his hand, Dave heads toward his room. He has some homework to finish before school starts again in a few days, and he needs something to keep his mind off of what had happened at the theatre. As he walks down the hallway, he notices that Kristy's bedroom door is open. Her bag is on the bed, and she's packing to go back to university.
"Hey" Kristy says, noticing him lingering in the doorway. "What's up?" She takes a baseball from the shelf, and tosses it into the duffle bag.
"How did you know you were gay?" Dave blurts out without thinking.
Kristy looks up at him. "Are you…?"
Dave cuts her off. "No. No. I was just thinking of Byron Pike." He hopes that she doesn't see through his excuse.
Kristy glances at him a little skeptically. Dave almost feels ashamed, because Kristy has this way of looking at him that makes him feel like she knows exactly what he's thinking. Kristy is usually pretty intuitive. She picks up the baseball again, and lightly tosses it toward the ceiling. "First of all, I'm not gay. I'm bisexual."
Dave is embarrassed. In a fairly conservative town like Stoneybrook, that word doesn't come up too often. In fact, he's only heard it in whispers and seen it written on the cover of a magazine under Adam Pike's bed. He's a bit confused, because Kristy doesn't fit the stereotype of a promiscuous co-ed who would slither into anyone's bed after a few too many cheap jello shooters.
Kristy sees right through him again. "I know what you're thinking," she says. "That's why stereotypes are bad. You know what? I like who I like. Remember when I used to say that boys were gross? Some guys are. But some guys are great people. So are some women. If I get along with someone and I like them, who cares? Be friends with who you want, date who you want. Life's too short to spend time with people that you don't like."
Dave takes this advice to heart. He decides to call Nick and see if he wants to meet for hot chocolate in the cafeteria before classes start tomorrow morning.
- - - - - - - -
Dave and Nick meet outside the cafeteria at around seven thirty. The SHS cafeteria recently started selling breakfast between seven and eight, and quite a few students are in the line up with them. They stand silently, in the companionable quiet of two boys who have grown up together.
Dave is busy stuffing his mouth with a bagel and cream cheese when Nick says out of nowhere, "I think Becca and I might…you know."
His mouth dries up, and his tongue can't push the bagel down to his throat. Dave feels like someone bet him that he couldn't eat twelve saltines in thirty seconds. He takes a gulp of hot chocolate. "Oh, really?" He doesn't want to think about Nick and Becca doing it.
"The only problem is, where?" Nick muses. "I was thinking in my room on a day when the triplets are at some sports practice, but Claire has no sense of personal space. She like, doesn't see anything wrong with walking into a room without knocking. Margo pushes a chair against the bathroom door when she's in the shower, so that Claire doesn't just walk in and use the can. She screamed so loud when Claire did it the first time, that you could hear it at the McGills'."
Despite himself, Dave laughs. He tries to keep a mental picture of Margo shrieking at Claire, maybe even dramatically hurling a shampoo bottle at her little sister, while Nick ponders his dilemma.
"And Becca's Aunt Cecelia is always at their house. Someone should find her a date, but the only cranky old man I can think of is Caitlin Lowell's grandpa and he's a bigot."
"Have you seen Caitlin Lowell lately?" James Hobart asks as he sits down beside them. Dave is relieved; Maybe Nick will stop talking about his schemes to bed Becca. "She's a right attractive girl. And so is Mackie. I'd tap them both."
"What about Karen?" Dave asks. He doesn't want James to go near his stepsister again, but he wants to know if James has any plans to try and get to her after her grounding.
"You can tell Karen that if I can find a way to sneak onto the Academy grounds I'll be seeing her again next Wednesday. That girl really knows how to make a guy feel like eating a vegemite sandwich, if you know what I mean." James winks lewdly.
"Awww, fuck off" Dave groans. "Karen's total jailbait, and you know it."
The boys continue their conversation as they walk down the hallway. James is arguing that just because a girl wears a training bra, doesn't mean that she doesn't know how to act like a woman. Charlotte and Becca join them, and James finally shuts up. The five of them walk down the hallway, and pause near Byron's locker. Byron and Vanessa are talking, as he writes something on his locker door. It's obvious from the looks on their faces that someone had vandalized Byron's locker again. When he closes it, Dave can see that someone spraypainted "Homo" in pink letters across the door. He feels ashamed that he is part of a student body that condones things like that. As he gets closer, he can see that Byron used a black felt marker to add: "phobia is wrong!" underneath the offensive neon pink word.
They all stand in the hushed understanding that whoever did this wouldn't be caught or punished. Dave gulps. That could be me if I ever said anything about liking Nick, he thinks worriedly. He wonders how Byron and Kristy can be so strong, when he would weakly crawl into a corner and deny his feelings.
Sean Addison saunters down the hallway like he owns the place. "If it isn't the Pike brigade. You think your parents would have used a condom after realizing that they made a fag."
"Shut the fuck up," says Charlotte. Dave looks at her, surprised that she would say that. Despite being a successful debater, there are still remnants of the shy Charlotte left, and he can see her hands shake a little and her cheeks redden as she tells Sean off.
"And Char-lesbian Dyke-hanssen, too!" Sean crows. "Now tell me, did you get tall and strong from eating spinach? Or was it all that chowing on box that did it?"
"I knew you tutored seventh graders, but I didn't know that you picked up their sense of humour too," Nick snaps back. He swings his fist and pounds Sean in the face. Becca screams as Sean gets over his initial shock and jumps on top of Nick. Dave stands back in horror, unable to step forward and help his friend. It's almost like he's detached from the action, like he's watching an after school special about diversity.
"Stop it!" Vanessa screams, and she and Becca try to pull Sean off of Nick. "You're hurting him!"
Byron is glued to his spot, and looks like he's about to cry. "You're next, fag!" Sean howls as he punches Nick in the eye.
From across the hallway, Jerry Haney enters the fray. "Y'all better stop that!" he shouts as he hits Sean across the head with a textbook. "Mess with Nessa's crew, and you mess with me, know what I'm sayin'?"
"Please" Byron says softly to Jerry. "Don't do this."
"Jeff and I don't get along, but you're my baby girl's bro" Jerry says. "I got your back, and I can make bygones be bygones and get Jeff's back too, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Charlotte tugs on Dave's sleeve. "Let's go."
Dave is snapped back into reality. "Shouldn't we stay, and do something?"
"I think sticking around will only make it worse," Charlotte says, her face going pale.
Dave finds himself agreeing with her. The longer they stick around, the more people will get pulled into the fight and hurt. He follows her out to the parking lot, and they sit in her dad's car for a while. The bell rings, and they're the only people in the parking lot, aside from a few stragglers who stand in the cold to have a cigarette during study hall.
"Are you, you know…" Dave asks a bit abstractly, fiddling with a pen because he wishes he could have a smoke, too.
"What Sean oh so subtly implied?" Char says a little bitterly. "No. But they all think I am because I don't really date. The last date I went on was with Jeff Schafer before he discovered Byron. That was a year and a half ago, and because I haven't gone out with anyone since I must be a big old dyke! Maybe I just don't want to date guys that I don't like just to be 'popular', because it's a waste of time. It's so stupid, I thought that maybe once I got over my shyness, they'd stop making fun of me like they did in elementary school. But they never stop. They never stopped with Byron, either." Charlotte's chin wobbles, and a tear falls crookedly down her cheek. Dave brushes it away with the back of his hand. Her ruddy cheeks are soft, and he finds himself stroking her face again just to feel it.
"I'm not crying too much, am I?" Charlotte asks.
"No" Dave says softly. He leans toward Charlotte, and he can feel her breath make his eyelashes quiver. He does something that he thought he would never do, and gently presses his lips against hers. He's overcome with guilt for liking Charlotte and Nick, but the feeling washes away when Charlotte touches his hand and kisses him back. They kiss as the snow falls on the empty schoolyard, and Byron stumbles away from school, suspended but triumphant because he bloodied the nose of his tormenter.