It figures

(You're on crack if you think I own this.)

Most nights, Dexter Dearborn has dreams. Sometimes he has bad dreams (but really, they're good dreams though he refuses to admit that because they're) about boys. Boys in plaid and boys with sweaters and boys in black jeans and boys with smirks or sad eyes and he kissestouchesholds these boys or they kisstouchhold him. Dexter Dearborn has dreams about love but it's a bad sort of love. It's the kind of love that would make his mother cry and never stop, his father curse and get angry, and his sister never look at him again.

Dexter Dearborn has bad dreams that are really good dreams and he loves them so he hates himself.

Tuesday morning comes and he wakes up earlier than usual because one of the cousins is a moron and trips over him on the way to the bathroom. His entire family (on his father's side, that is, the Dearborns) has been living in his house for the past few days because his grandfather is dead. Dex opens his eyes and notices the suit hanging from a hook he installed on his door. The funeral is today.

People are always "lost" in time to be buried on Tuesdays. Just to fuck up the system, Dex decides to die in time for his funeral to fall on a Friday. It's a cocky day; it needs to be brought down a few notches – to the level of Wednesday. He likes Wednesdays. If he had been born a girl (which would have left things severely less complicated) he would have liked to be named Wednesday, like the girl from the Addams family.

On the weirdness scale, his family beats the Addams – no contest.

He finds his sister sitting at the kitchen table, already in her black dress, painting her nails a bright yellow. Yellow was their grandfather's favorite color. Her short hair is loose and it hides her face whenever she leans forward. Idly, Dex scratches a mosquito bite on his left elbow and sighs. "Hello, Nessa."

She smiles briefly at him before going back to her nails. "Morning, Dexter." Generally, he hates being called Dexter, for it reminds him of just how dorky and nerdy he is; just as she detests the nickname Nessa, in place of Vanessa, for it reminds her of just how young and childish she is. In the beginning, the lengthened and abbreviated titles had started out as insults hissed in moments of angry sibling hatred. As time progressed and the names did not fade away, they became endearments. Because, no matter how many nifty gadgets he can make in the garage, Dex still has a collection of comic books and hand-drawn ray gun blue prints stashed under his bed; and because, no matter how many times she sneaks out of the house to visit the cute boys working the 2am shift at the 24-hour Starbucks, she is still only fourteen.

The Dearborn children have made it their personal burden to constantly remind each other that they are indeed human.

And that could, quite possibly, be the best thing they would ever do for one another.

Dex looks around the kitchen, taking in the smears of flour across the counter top and bag of gumdrops next to the sink. "Where's Ma?" Vanessa caps the nail polish and blows on her fingers before answering.

"She went to go get powdered sugar for the icing." He quirks an eyebrow, says nothing, and hopes that she will continue with her explanation. "It's for the gingerbread house." She comments easily, like making a common Christmas dessert the day of your father-in-law's funeral in August, is an everyday occurrence. "I think she was up at six, working on it."

Dex scrubs at his face, feeling gritty and exhausted and in need of some good bubble gum. "When did you get up?" He glances at the clock as she shrugs. It's eight o'clock and he wants to punch the cousin for being an idiot and forgetting that he was asleep on the floor. His father has only one sibling, a twin brother, who has two sons and a twenty-something-year-old daughter. The daughter, Samantha, flew in two days ago with her husband and baby. She took one step into the house, saw Vanessa curled up on the end of the couch with Dex resting his feet on her back while he tinkered with the remote (he had it in nine pieces) and she was on her cell, calling a motel. They haven't heard anything from her since then, but they've practically almost convinced themselves to think that, maybe, she's coming to the funeral. A unanimous yes/no opinion hasn't officially been announced yet.

As all the boys are around the same age (fourteen (who stepped on Dex in the morning), sixteen and seventeen (who might be too brain-dead to realize that someone important to the family died) it was decided that they could all sleep in the upstairs media room, with a giant squishy couch and big screen TV. (The cousins don't have names because this is the first time they've all met and they didn't bother to introduce themselves because Dex is only sixteen, therefore worthless in the seventeen-year-old's eyes and the fourteen-year-old one copies whatever his brother does.) Dex's aunt and uncle took over the downstairs guestroom and haven't let anyone in yet, not even his ma so she can change the sheets.

Scratching at his tummy, he gets up from the table and shuffles over to the fridge, intent on finding suitable breakfast. Vanessa remains sitting motionless, her eyes (blue, like their ma's) unfocussed as she stares at her freshly yellow fingernails against the black fabric covering her lap. There is food everywhere, as courtesy of countless sympathetic neighbors. He hasn't quite grasped the concept of giving desserts and casseroles to sad people. They're just going to eat it all, get fat and then get sadder. Not to mention, Dex doubts that anyone really cares about how his family is feeling. Everyone on their street complains about the noise he makes in the garage or his sister's loud music, as if their own children aren't burning rubber and knocking over trash cans at three in the morning.

He reemerges from the fridge with half a chocolate cake balanced on one had and an almost full carton of milk in the other. His sister looks up as he places the food on the table and turns around to grab glasses, plates, forks and a knife. Wordlessly, he cuts two rather generous pieces of the cake and pours them each a glass of milk. She accepts "breakfast" silently and begins to eat. Triumphant, Dex smiles to himself and takes a bite. Vanessa's been losing too much weight lately.

Between the both of them, they finish off the cake. Their mother bursts in through the door leading out to the garage, arms full of groceries, as he loads up the dishwasher. She sets the bags on the counter and sighs happily. "Good morning, my darlings." Dex obliges her with a kiss on the cheek as he begins to put the food away. Most of it is stuff they've been needing, like eggs and soda and some fruits and vegetables, stuff that their Pastry Brigade of a neighborhood has forgotten. When he finds the fifth jar of peanut butter, however, he is perplexed and the notion dawns on him that, maybe, his ma isn't keeping it together as well as everyone assumes she is.

"Ma?" He holds one up for her to see. "Is there any reason you got all this?" She giggles as she ties an apron around her waist and begins measuring out cups of powdered sugar.

"I thought you liked peanut butter, my sweet." Awkwardly, he tries to hold all five jars in his arms and walk to the pantry at the same time. He struggles to nudge the already cracked door open further with his toe. Vanessa, looking only slightly bemused and interested, stares at him for a second before she wipes her mouth on the back of her hand and leaves the kitchen. She doesn't shuffle, she doesn't run, she doesn't even really walk. She just leaves. Dex watches her go as he lines the jars up on a shelf that's less crowded than the others.

"I like peanut butter okay," he finally says when he shuts the pantry door and faces his ma. She has her back to him. "I'm just not sure I can eat that much is all." The sounds of someone running down the stairs echo through the house; it is followed by a slamming door. (The cousins have no respect for mornings.) His mother glances at him from over her shoulder. She smiles because she knows what he is thinking and looks almost like her old self.

"We'll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hand them out to the neighbors as thank-you gifts for all their condolences." Dex grins and leans over her shoulder to kiss her on the cheek again. She reaches back and smoothes over his tousled hair soothingly. "Go take a shower and get ready. We have to be at the church by eleven." He sighs and nods against her shoulder. He doesn't move for a moment and her smile becomes sad. "I know my love," she says quietly, "I know." He nods again before backing away and padding silently out of the kitchen, head bent, staring at his bare toes.

Twenty minutes later, Dex stands in front of the bathroom sink, staring at his reflection in the fogged-up mirror. He tightens his grip on the towel around his waist as he scratches his shoulder. He always showers in the dark so maybe it's just the lack of light, but he looks pale enough to be tinted blue. His usually shy smile bubble gum mouth twists into a scowl and he squeezes toothpaste onto his toothbrush. Never has spearmint tasted so acridly sour.

The suit is right where he left it, innocently hanging on his bedroom door. He changes quickly and leaves the tie hanging undone around his neck. Black has never been his color, Dex notes as he combs back his hair. It makes him look too pale and it leaves his brown eyes flat. It's a very good thing that his kind can't get married; he'd look terrible in a wedding tuxedo. Maybe though, he muses sardonically as he undoes the top button of his dress shirt, he'd be the one wearing the white gown. It figures that he's thinking about the wedding that he will never have the day of his grandfather's funeral. It really does.

In about three hours, he will watch his father's father be lowered into the ground to the background music of women sobbing and men pretending to be strong. Dex sits on the front porch with Vanessa. They're watching the cousins kick around a soccer ball and lunge at each other. She gets up to go inside and he catches a look at her hands. The yellow polish has been scraped off. He turns away as the door shuts and props an elbow up on his bent knee, leaning against that hand. One of the cousins screams a rather vulgar curse word and Dex closes his eyes. Something's bothering Nessa and it goes beyond the death of their grandfather, but he knows better than to ask. He's not a self-proclaimed genius for nothing.

If she needs his (or anyone else's) help she'll ask for it or if she wants to talk, she'll corner him in the garage, like she did when she was twelve and he was fourteen, and pour out all her angst. Hopefully. To distract himself from his sister's woe, the cousins' violence and the general malaise of his family as a whole, Dex mentally recites the reconstruction process of the car engine he's dismantling in the garage. With the proper resources, he hopes to successfully attach it to a golf cart. He finds a piece of bubble gum in the pockets of his slacks and unwraps the pink morsel disinterestedly.

The front door opens and he shifts a little, glancing over his shoulder as he chews. His sister stands inside the house with her head barely poking outside. Her voice is soft when she says, "Ma wants you to see the gingerbread cottage." At her solemn stare, Dex gets up and brushes invisible dirt off his impeccable trousers. He watches the cousins wrestle with each other, blows a bubble (it pops satisfyingly loud) and shakes his head before following his sister down the hall. (He's almost convinced that the cousins were born sans-emotion.) Their mother stands proudly at the kitchen table, wearing a clean black dress with pearls and a fresh coat of lipstick over a freshly applied smile.

"Isn't it beautiful?" She gestures to her creation and Dex tilts his head to try out different angles. The roof of the house is decorated with frosting shingles and a licorice stick chimney. There are peppermint windows on every wall and the iced-on door has a pretzel wreath. The yard (which is really just a piece of cardboard) is perpetuated by gumdrop "lawn stones" forming two straight lines to suggest a walkway amid frosting and coconut snowdrifts. She wrings her hands at her children's silence. "I want to leave it with your grandfather today, because every Christmas, you kids would visit him and make a gingerbread house. So, I wanted to give him this," she gestures again, weakly this time, "as a sort of thank you, for the memories."

Dex leans against the wall and turns away as his sister hugs their mother around the waist and whispers in her tiny voice, "yeah Ma, it's beautiful." He doesn't feel left out as he grants the women their moment. The sun is pouring in through the window over the sink; its rays glancing off dirty dishes the cousins left behind makes the caked-on food look somehow otherworldly. Green numbers on the oven clock show that it is quarter till eleven.

"Ma?" He doesn't have to look at her to know she's listening. "Where's Dad? We have to be at the church in fifteen minutes." The seconds that it takes her to answer are spent in awkward, shifting quiet. Vanessa's stockinged feet pad softly on the tile floor as she leaves the kitchen in search of suitable shoes. When his mother still does not speak, he glances over his shoulder. "Ma?"

"Oh," her smile is obviously forced and her eyes are red with unshed tears, "I think he's in his study. You go round up your cousins; they're in the front yard, judging by the noise." She continues talking even as she walks down the hall to her husband's office, "Sammy should be meeting us there, but someone should call her cell phone, just to remind her."

"Okay Ma," his voice echoes after her. She doesn't reply but he's pretty sure she heard him. He blows another off-pink bubble with now flavorless gum. It pops loudly and the resounding snap is intrusive and loud so Dex shakes his head and hates himself just a bit further.

They're twenty minutes late to the service.

Vanessa can't stop scratching at the inside of her wrist, but her brother can't tell it's an itch from a mosquito bite that she's trying to soothe or if it's a replacement of physical pain for the emotional. His dad is unshaven and looks like he hasn't slept in a week. His ma's hands keep shaking in her lap and she can't get them to stop until her husband reaches over and they lock fingers. They share a brief, sad smile and, for the first time that he can ever remember, Dex sees his parents are in love.

The cousins, between whom he is sitting, have grass in their hair and dirt smudged on their faces. Through out the whole ceremony, they reach over him to poke and prod at each other. Their older sister is no better; she continuously flips open her cell to check for messages. Her husband smells like cigarettes and neither of them cares that their baby is crying. His uncle's face is gray, like he's finally come to terms with the fact that his father is dead. His aunt is biting her lip so hard that it looks like she's trying to eat herself alive.

Dex knows it's wrong, but he's secretly glad that his grandfather doesn't have to see how his children and grandchildren and great-grandchild have fallen apart. He doesn't believe in heaven; he just believes in a place where people have wings and can fly all day and don't need to worry about those they left behind. Life is spent worrying and fretting and being scared so it's fitting that the after-life is the exact opposite. Dex's idea of death doesn't involve fear.

Samantha leaves before her grandfather is buried. She stalks out of the cemetery, screeching on her cell and dragging her husband, who carries the baby in one arm and leers at Vanessa as he follows his wife. Vanessa shifts closer to her brother and casually slips her hand into his as the casket is lowered into the ground. It takes a few minutes but soon her frail shoulders are shaking and Dex embraces her carefully, because he's afraid she'll break if he hugs her too tightly. For once, the cousins aren't laughing. Before they all leave, his ma lovingly places the gingerbread house on the freshly made grave. She kisses her fingers and trails them along the curve of the cement tombstone. She whispers something that no one else can hear and smiles with tears running down her cheeks and ruining her make-up. Dex can't recall a time when she looked more beautiful.

He gets a ride home with the cousins and Vanessa. She sits in the back with the one her age while her brother is in the front, with the seventeen-year-old one. The radio is tuned to a rap station, which Dex and Vanessa find very inappropriate and headache inducing. She leans her head against the window and scratches half-heartedly at her wrist. He loosens his tie and watches the afternoon sun dip behind trees. They stop at a red light and the cousins start talking about a basketball game they want to watch on TV. Vanessa tenses and sneaks her nails deeper into the pale flesh of her arm. Dex meets her gaze in the rear-view mirror and closes his eyes.

He opens them in time to see a boy, about his age – maybe older, waiting on the corner. His hair is a light shade of brown and it flops over his forehead, almost covering his eyes. The boy is about to cross the street when Dex unbuckles his seat belt and slips out of the car. It's possibly only the angle of the sun, but he seems to shimmer in the light. It's the light that Dex wants. He doesn't want gingerbread or chipped nail polish or tear-stained face powder or muddy soccer. He wants shining, dancing gold. Vanessa watches him go from the back seat without saying a word. The boy remains still as he approaches. "I'm Dex," he introduces himself as the light turns green and the cousins and Vanessa take off. He's afraid that the words are lost in the rumble of exhaust and cars whizzing past.

The boy smiles, charming and easy-going, while he stuffs his hands in his pockets. "Joe," he comments casually and leans against the crosswalk pole. He has an accent and it makes him sound cultured and intelligent and dashing and amazing and everything that Dex suddenly knows that he lacks. They stand there, watching each other in the grit and heat of the busy street until Joe kicks against the pole and stands up straight. "You wanna go do something?"

Without waiting for an answer, he pushes the button for the light to change. When the cars slow to a stop, he reaches over to grab the other's sleeve and Dex finds himself being tugged across the intersection. They hang in the median now, with cars racing by on either side. Joe doesn't let go of his sleeve as he watches for a break in traffic. Dex tries to conjure words to ask what he's doing or what's going on, but as soon as he finds them, he's lost them because Joe is holding his hand now and they're racing through car horns and angry curses and that pick-up truck was awfully close.

"Shazam," he whispers under his breath when they're safely on the other side, on the fringe of a small shopping center. Joe glances at him and grins with a wink.

"I know, what a rush," he leans his head back, basking in the glow of the sun, "kind of like fucking." Dex chokes a little because he doesn't expect that sort of comparison to used between two males, especially when all they know is each other's names. Not to mention that running through oncoming traffic seems like a tragic euphemism for sex.

He looks away, concentrating on a patch of weeds. "Wouldn't know," he comments in a thickly embarrassed voice. He'd like to pretend that he knows lots of sixteen-year-old virgins but, based on rumors alone, a good half of the kids in his age group lost their virginity the summer before high school began.

Joe makes a little "ah" noise as he nods and stuffs his hands back in his pockets. An awkward silence falls over the pair and Dex grimaces to himself. He stares down at his dress shoes, which are covered in a thin layer of dust from the side of the road and dirt from the cemetery. He's about convinced himself to apologize (though he doesn't know for what) when Joe slings a brotherly arm around his shoulders and declares, "you just haven't found the right girl yet, mate. Not just any old broad will do for my pal Dexter." He stiffens a little because only his sister can call him that but he decides that Joe isn't calling him Dexter to be mean so he smiles and leans into the one-armed hug.

"Yeah," he concedes with a smirk that he hopes is sly, "I do have pretty high standards." Joe snickers and Dex feels oddly proud because he is the one that got him to laugh.

"Then I guess I should feel pretty luck then, huh?" Joe smiles as he starts leading his new friend to the fast good joint.

"Probably... hey," Dex tries to stop but Joe keeps pulling him along, "where are we going?" He grins and it's easy-going but there's an underlying wickedness that entices the other. Despite any prodding, he remains wordless as he mimes pulling a zipper across his lips. Dex follows the motion with his eyes, tongue suddenly feeling dry, and he wonders how such a childhood action can look so sexy. Then he catches up with his thoughts and hates himself a little.

"You hungry?" Joe asks and Dex finds himself looking up at the glass entrance of a Wendy's. He scratches awkwardly at his elbow as Joe breezes in and holds the door open. "C'mon, my treat." Dex trails after him, feeling out of place in his rumpled funeral suit and tie. He can't remember what he orders because Joe has his hand on his wrist the whole time, rubbing at the sensitive skin with his callused thumb. It turns out he asked for a bacon cheeseburger and medium root beer. Joe has the same, only with a large order of fries that they share.

Dex acts shy and is cautious not to eat too many French fries because he kind of hates himself again for making Joe spend money. He finishes his burger and hunger still gnaws at his tummy as he sips at his pop. It must show on his face because Joe grins, and it's all wicked this time, and dips a salty potato strip in ketchup. He holds it up to Dex's mouth and commands, "eat, skinny boy."

It's only because he doesn't want to offend his new friend that he eats the proffered food. He almost catches Joe's fingers in the process and there's ketchup on his chin but that doesn't matter because Joe's lips fall slightly parted and there's a look on his face that Dex can't really place but they meet eyes and it's suddenly oh all understanding. Joe's fingers linger and they're almost stroking his cheek until Dex looks away and leans back, startled and humiliated. He grabs a napkin and scrubs angrily at his face, avoiding the disappointed tilt of Joe's gaze as he becomes absorbed in his burger. Behind the scratchy yellow paper, Dex kind of hates himself again.

They leave the restaurant a few minutes later and start walking along the side of the road. Joe has his arms folded behind his head, elbows poking up in the air, as he walks and watches his companion. Dex holds the suit jacket protectively to his chest and the sleeves of his dress shirt are rolled up inches above his fragile wrists. He can't take his eyes off his dirty shoes (they were so shiny this morning) because if he does, he'll look at Joe and then he's sure to trip. It's an awkward sort of silence in which our reluctant heroes have landed. Joe just wants to apologize because he thought that Dex was that way but it's obvious now that he isn't and Dex just wants to apologize because he is that way but he was really nervous because he's not used to boys touching him like that. Instead of saying any of this, Dex reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of bubble gum, takes a piece for himself and then offers one to Joe.

Joe declines and silence reigns once more. Dex starts blowing bubbles, a skill that he takes very seriously, and doesn't notice how Joe is watching him. Bubble after bubble pops and his mouth is soon coated with sticky pink sugar. He licks it off best he can and doesn't notice how Joe is struggling to swallow properly.

"Tell me about your family," Joe bursts out because he has to say anything but if he said what he really wanted, he's pretty sure that Dex would run and that's not what he wants. Dex blinks because it's a rather random question but at least they're talking.

He shrugs and offers a minimal description as they continue their aimless journey; "there's not a whole lot to tell. My parents work a lot and I've got a younger sister... she's fourteen and I guess she's kind of cool." He shrugs again because he doesn't know what else to say. In reality, he could talk about his father (who owns one of the oldest malt shops in town) or his mother (who works part-time as a florist) but those are minor, irrelevant details.

By the look on his face, Joe knows there's more but he doesn't press. Instead he nods slowly and asks, "what about you? I don't know that much about you."

Dex tilts his head and stops walking. "And I don't know that much about you, either," he comments as he gives Joe a questioning look. They stand still, watching each other, as cars race by and raise dust clouds not five feet away. Suddenly, Dex furrows his eyebrows, "hey, what gives anyway? Why're you suddenly all interested in me?" And he gets a scary thought that, maybe, this is all a joke and one of the kids from school got Joe to do this, pretend to befriend him, so he could find out his deepest secret and exploit it. Maybe Joe's really just faking and now he is just disappointed because it figures that his first new friend in years would really be a liar. Then, Dex bites his lip and stares at Joe because he is being too quiet.

"If you keep doing that," he says finally, "I'm going to have to kiss you."

"What?" Dex is a little angry but mainly embarrassed because his voice cracks like boys' voices do when they shriek. Joe laughs because it's the first emotion his new friend has shown besides shyness and he looks so alive and adorable with the pink dusted over his cheeks and Joe finds that he really likes it. "Why would–"

"I'm interested in you," Joe breaks in smoothly as he picks up walking again, "because you're interesting. You can't tell me that jumping out of a car and introducing yourself to someone you don't even know and then spending," he glances at his watch, "almost four hours with them is normal." With that observation, Dex realizes that, despite how heavily he denies it, he is the weirdest person in his family. He sighs and starts to hate himself a bit more. "Though," Joe continues obliviously, as if he hasn't completely upset the delicate balance of Dex's life, "it's only fair that I tell you about myself. Quid pro quo and all that."

"My parents met when my dad was on a business trip to London. My mum was working the late shift at their hotel's café. They were married a few months later and the rest, as it is often said, is history." He pats his flat belly and glances at Dex, who is trailing behind him but still within hearing range. "I'm hungry again. Is there any place 'round here we can get some decent dessert?"

Dex shuffles to a stop and stuffs his hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders with his jacket tucked under one arm. They've made a silent pact not to mention that Joe expressed a want to kiss him. "I know where there's a Starbucks, but we'll have to cross the intersection again." He points awkwardly to another cluster of stores a few miles south of their current position and Joe can make out the green letters.

"Well," he grabs the outstretched arm and they lock fingers. "Lead on." They wait anxiously on the corner for a red light. Traffic slows and Dex finds himself, once again, being yanked across the street. No one beeps, though someone leans out of their car window to call them fags in a loud voice. Dex hates himself as he blushes and covers his face while Joe flips the driver the bird. "Asshole!" He yells, still giving the one-finger salute, as the stupid punk laughs to himself and speeds away before the light turns green. They wait to see if there are any telltale blue and red lights or sirens. There aren't.

"Come on," Dex tugs on Joe's hand and their fingers are linked again and they start walking. No one calls them fags or makes any rude comments and, for that, Dex is glad and hates himself a little less. It takes them a little longer than he expected to finally make it to the coffee place. His mouth is dry and sticky from bubble gum and all he wants is a frappuccino. Then he realizes that he doesn't have any cash so he hates himself again for being stupid and because he knows Joe will want to pay for him.

They enter the Starbucks as the parking lot lights go on and the sun finally sets. Their hair sticks to their sweaty foreheads and their cheeks are red from sunburn. The girl behind the counter smiles her coffee smile and her nametag says "HI MY NAME IS: Polly" and Dex grins to himself it isn't everyday that you see a name like that. Joe insists that Dex go first so he says in a small voice that he'll have a "tall white chocolate frappe please," because his girly drink embarrasses him and then Joe interjects with a "make it a venti" and that's what HI MY NAME IS: Polly does. As she rings it up, Joe looks over the menu and finally requests a venti iced vanilla latte.

Dex drapes his jacket across the back of his chair and they sit quietly as their drinks are made. HI MY NAME IS: Polly keeps giving them (really, she's giving Joe the look) a sort of flirty smile over her cash register. HI MY NAME IS: Franky turns on the blender and rolls her eyes. Dex notices that his sister's "boyfriends" must not be working because the girls are the only ones he can see wearing Starbucks aprons. Joe has his hands on the table and Dex can't help but notice how clean his fingernails are. Music plays over the speakers and, if he strains his ears a little, he can recognize the song. He unknowingly hums along softly, which Joe notices.

"You like the Arctic Monkeys?" Finally a topic on which they have common ground is found.

Dex nods enthusiastically. "My sister got me their CD for my birthday last year. It took me a little while to get into them, but pretty soon, it was all I listened to."

"Yeah, they're pretty good," Joe trails off awkwardly as HI MY NAME IS: Franky announces their drinks are ready. He jumps up to retrieve them before Dex can. He thanks the girls with a charming smile and slight quirk of his left eyebrow as he walks backwards, cups in hand, to the table. He sets Dex's down in front of him and he jumps on it like a child. Obviously more energized, the younger teen offers his new friend a cheeky smirk as he chews on his green straw.

"You said you were born in London, right?" Joe nods, sipping casually at his iced latte. "Well, then what're you doing over here in the states?"

Swallowing, he leans forward on his elbows so his face is closer to Dex. "My grandparents still live over here." He shrugs and sits back again, "I usually stay with them over the summer. Just a vacation before going to university..." At the mention of grandparents, Dex's happy demeanor crashes and splinters and breaks and curls up in a corner, crying and how could he forget? He's out meeting new people and traipsing about the town and eating fast food and almost flirting and his grandfather was just buried today. The drink rests on the table with a heavy thunk as Dex drags his hands through his hair and hates himself. "Dex, you all right?"

"I have to get out of here." And Joe calls after him but he's already out the door, leaving his jacket behind, and he might be crying (which isn't very impressive but who's he trying to impress anyway) and he's hidden in the shadows behind the restaurant, collapsed with his back against the unforgiving wall. It's all coming back to him: Nessa sitting in the kitchen like she hasn't slept all night, probably because she hasn't; his ma cooking a gingerbread house in which her tears will start a family; his dad hiding out in his office because he doesn't want the family to see him fall apart and the hate grows. He hates himself, he hates his dreams, he hates Vanessa and his ma and his dad for feeling things that he wants to feel but can't but, most of all... Dex hates his grandfather for dying.

Joe's followed him, holding both their drinks and peering down at him in the darkness. "You forgot your drink," he offers pointlessly. Dex stares up at his new friend. He has no words, nothing to say, because what can he say besides the obvious? His family's been talking about it nonstop, the neighbors have been tactfully avoiding it and he's found himself a happy middle. Joe crouches down next to him, sitting on his haunches, and holds out Dex's frappe. He takes it with limp hands; it feels too cold in his fingers so he puts it down on the dirty ground. The curtain of night has fallen upon the stage but there's still one more scene to do. Dex swallows because it's his turn and he hopes he doesn't forget his lines. The first ones are always the hardest to say.

He swirls the straw around sluggishly in the whipped cream before turning his stare on Joe. "My grandfather died a few days ago. We had his funeral earlier this afternoon." And it's out in the open. He's finally said the words he's been dreading. Nothing happens, so he starts to laugh. The manic snickers turn into sobs that shake his frail shoulders and he's doubled over clutching at his stomach, almost knocking into his drink until Joe moves it safely out of reach, and crying and giggling like mad.

It stops when he exhausts himself and he realizes that he's in Joe's lap with his head tucked under his chin and Joe is hugging him so tight because he knows that Dex'll never break as long he's there. He doesn't know how he became cuddled in his arms but he's pretty okay with it so he leans his head against Joe's shoulder, looking up the other's gray-green eyes and biting his lip nervously.

Dex is about to say something when Joe's mouth is on his. As in, kissing him. First there's only fear and nerves and embarrassment but then Joe does something with his teeth and his tongue and it's suddenly oh all understanding. Dex shifts so Joe doesn't have to hurt his neck as much, since this is kissing and it shouldn't be painful. Joe does the thing with his tongue again and Dex's toes curl in his fancy shoes and then he does it back because he's a quick learner. And there are warm hands untucking shirts and knees are pushed apart with whimpers and then it's mingled breath and shy cocky smiles when they pull away.

"Hey you," Joe whispers and Dex blushes.

"Hello," he murmurs back as he curls up against Joe's chest. Joe strokes through his new friend's hair softly, enjoying the feel of it.

"I warned you that if you kept biting your lip, I'd have to kiss you," he hisses against his ear. Dex hums a little and chews on his lower lip, knowing fair well that Joe's threat still stands. He glances up, through his eyelashes, all innocence until Joe growls and then there's a wicked smile and they're kissing again. Mouth against mouth with chapped lips that taste of chocolate and vanilla and tears and it's all golden behind the Starbucks at half past eight in the evening.

Dex pulls away first, inhales exhales and smiles sadly. It figures that he would fall in love the same day that he attends his grandfather's funeral. He rests his head against Joe's neck, blowing softly against his sensitive skin as he breathes. "We buried my grandfather today," he sighs softly.

Joe slides his hand up Dex's shirt, rubbing at the soft warmth, "I know." There's quiet and Joe is afraid that Dex will start crying again so he brushes his lips against his forehead and whispers, "tell me about him."

"Well," Dex begins cautiously as he snuggles deeper into Joe's embrace, "he liked gingerbread houses..."

(end scene)

Well, what do you think?