French/Tom McKay, with a little Enid/Elizabeth.
Warnings: Slash. Also, Jeffrey and Tom are 16 years old. But hey, it's been so long since I did m/m, that may not matter…
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Francine Pascall, who ditched Jeffrey as a main character once Todd came back, and who made Tom "question his sexuality" but never gave him a boyfriend, only counseling. I'm just trying to fix that.
Dedicated to my angel beloved. I actually found a true love who could intelligently discuss Sweet Valley as well as Pokémon, what are the odds of that?
The hills around Secca Lake were beautiful. Jeffrey could feel his depression lifting, as if the rays of light that penetrated the dense foliage could somehow light his heart as well. Perhaps it was, after all, only endorphins from exercise; Tom McKay, his hiking partner, set a fast pace. At least the brisk tended to keep his mind off certain recent events.
Nevertheless, Jeffrey appreciated that Tom wasn't the chatty sort. He needed this quiet time, after the incredibly lousy week he had just had. Time alone with his thoughts, without the constant risk of running into Elizabeth, shining-eyed and glowing with happiness. At least she had the decency to pretend to look sad and repentant when she caught her onetime boyfriend's eye. She had always been scrupulously kind.
Jeffrey was glad he and Tom had agreed to hike around the lake together. He had seemed gratifyingly pleased to be asked, in fact. Ostensibly, it had been because Jeffrey had sprained his wrist, and was out of soccer for a while. Hiking was a way to maintain his fitness until he was ready to play again.
In reality, though he had suggested the hike in the dismal acknowledgement that after recent events, he needed all the friends he could get. At first, Jeffrey had fully intended to make all the friends at Sweet Valley High he could, and not commit himself to any particular social group. He hadn't counted on hooking up with Elizabeth only a couple of weeks after moving to Sweet Valley. After that, it had seemed only natural, dating one of the adored Wakefield twins, to move into her own social circle. After all, he worked on the school newspaper too, if not with the wholehearted dedication his girlfriend showed.
Now he and Liz were no longer the golden couple, even if their breakup hadn't been publicised yet, Jeffrey was depressingly aware that he would be the one left out in the cold. He desperately needed some friends he didn't share with Elizabeth.
It was amazing how automatically his train of thought always returned to Elizabeth. He still could not quite believe that, the threat of her moving to Switzerland gone, he had lost her anyway… so totally that his mind shied away from the thought.
He sighed, shouldered forwards through some branches overhanging the trail, and abruptly came upon the object of his thoughts.
There was a few dizzied moments before he realised she was quite a long way away, down the slope of the hill. It was only the random chance of gaps through the trees that had exposed her… and Enid. He stood still, frozen with shock and jealousy. It was one thing, he realised, to try and deal maturely with the fact that your beloved girlfriend had told him she couldn't go out without him anymore because she thought that she might be a lesbian or something, maybe, and quite another to actually see her in a passionate liplock with her best friend.
She never kissed me like that, Jeffrey realised dully. All their shared kisses had been nice, but controlled, the proper ending to enjoyable dates. Elizabeth had never kissed him hungrily open-mouthed, arms wrapped tightly around his back to crush him so close she seemed to be trying to dissolve the boundaries between bodies. Not as she was kissing Enid.
"What's up, Jeff? The climb too hard for you? I guess I could just swing you up and carry you off, if you're exhausted. We tennis stars are pretty strong," Tom added modestly, coming up from behind. He flexed a nicely-tanned bicep.
Jeffrey frowned. Sometimes Tom said the queerest things. But there was no time to worry about it now… Tom had a friendly arm slung around Jeffrey's shoulder, but at any moment he might glance to his left and see…
Rising through Jeffrey's shattered emotions was a wave of something close to anger. Didn't Elizabeth realise she wasn't secluded from hikers there? Didn't she even care if anyone saw her making out with another girl? Didn't her reputation mean anything to her anymore?
Maybe it didn't. Maybe she was so infatuated with Enid she didn't care about anything else.
Jeffrey felt a sudden angry urge to step out of the way, gesture wildly, and let Elizabeth take what was coming to her. All this time, his secret fear had been her famous ex-boyfriend Todd coming back – and in the end, the betrayal had hit much closer to home and libido. Not a fellow man, a fellow jock, someone who could win out in fair competition, but mousy little Enid Rollins. His friend, Enid Rollins, who had spent the last week helping him make a little scrapbook to show Elizabeth how much they loved her – ouch. Sweet little Enid, who he had been stupid enough to think had a crush on him. Well, all his kindly condescension towards her had come back to bite him on the bum, hadn't it?
Jeffrey snarled his face into as close to a mean expression as his sensitive features could manage, and prepared to ruin Enid and Elizabeth's reputations.
And couldn't do it.
The problem with being a nice, sensitive new age guy, is that you are kind of compelled to do the right, chivalrous thing. Especially when the honour of ladies is concerned.
He turned to Tom and said, brightly, "Say, you should play with me privately some time."
Tom's blue eyes grew very wide, and he spluttered something incomprehensible. "What exactly do you mean?" he managed, pulling his arm away from the other boy's shoulders. Jeffrey noticed absently that he was looking very flushed with the sun.
"Tennis, of course. I could do with a few pointers, you know? I always thought soccer was the only game worth playing but, well, it does tend to leave summer a little open, and it's a struggle to keep fit, and you always seem in such good shape…" Aware he was babbling, he let the sentence trail off.
"Um, thanks." Tom cleared his throat, started to say something, and cleared his throat again. "Anytime you want, French. Set it up with Liz and Jessica, okay?" Jeffrey had the feeling it wasn't what he originally intended to say.
"Liz and Jess…" Jeffrey felt his heart sink. Tom regularly partnered Jessica, who was a keen tennis player and his occasional dance partner. Of course he assumed Jeffrey wanted to play doubles with the twins. "Um, I'd prefer just to play with you alone, if that's okay. I'd like us to spend some more time getting to know each other." He was pleased with the excuse.
"Sure. I'd like that very much." Tom gazed levelly into Jeffrey's eyes, and the blond sharply realised how close they were standing together. Tom's eyes were only inches away from his own, and there was something about the intensity of his gaze that made him slightly uncomfortable.
There was a hushed silence while Jeffrey tried to think of something else to say. Tom seemed disinclined to add to the conversation, but then, he'd always been somewhat on the quiet side. To Jeffrey's vague horror, part of his mind seemed to be maliciously prompting him, If this was Elizabeth, this is right when you'd kiss her. Ridiculous. It was only because he was still reeling form the knowledge that his girlfriend preferred her own sex that he was confused enough to consider… consider… Was he imaging that Tom was leaning forward slightly? To his own dazed bewilderment, Jeffrey began to slowly incline his head…
For a moment, he thought the gasping moan that cut through the bush quiet was conjured out of his own imagination. But Tom had turned, laughing and breaking the spell.
Wow, saved by the bell, Jeffrey thought, still unable to believe what he had nearly done. He couldn't believe he had been a moment away form kissing a boy. Tom would have killed him. It was a good thing Enid had chosen that moment to… Oh, no…
"Well, that wasn't quite the couple I was expecting," Tom drawled, staring down at where Enid and Elizabeth had obviously decided to move onto the next phase. Jeffrey had one moment of dizzying erotic response before tears rose to block the sight out. "Hey, man… You okay?" There was sudden concern in his voice.
He was grateful for the warm heaviness of the arm around him again, a touch of firm reality bringing him back, grounding him. Tom led him away from the sight and half-pushed him down onto a bench set up for hikers' relief. "Here." He shoved a water flask into his hands, and Jeffrey sipped gratefully.
"You knew they were there, huh? No wonder you were acting so weird… And I thought you were… Oh, well, never mind." There was a reflective silence. Thankfully, no more audible sounds came from the girls. But then, the wind had changed…
Eventually Jeffrey straightened. "Thanks," he said, without looking at Tom.
"No prob. Hey, look at it this way – every man's fantasy, right?"
Jeffrey leapt to his feet. It took him all of his self-control not to smash Tom's insensitive face in. But then, part of being a nice guy was never swinging a punch… Some habits died hard, apparently.
"This is my life," he spat out. "Not some crappy talk show."
"Hey, French – Jeffrey. I'm sorry…" There was almost too much sympathy in Tom's face for Jeffrey to bear to look at him.
"That's the girl I love!" He was perilously close to tears, and not about to give in to one further humiliation. "And she's dumped me for one of my friends and is doing… something… over in the bushes. Precisely which friend doesn't really seem to matter much right now."
Tom was quiet for a moment. Then he said, quietly, "You'll get over it." He hesitated, his flush deepening. "Jean did."
Jeffrey blinked. "That's why you split up?" Tom nodded, shamefaced. "She caught you with another girl?"
"Um, no." Tom's sympathy was replaced by one of amused irritation at Jeffrey's cluelessness. "She didn't catch me with anyone, but of she had, it wouldn't have been with a girl…" Tom stared very hard at the ground.
Jeffrey thought this over. Until athletic, outdoorsy Tom had unexpectedly – and briefly – hooked up with the sophisticated cheerleader Jean West, the only girl he had dated at all regularly was Elizabeth's wilder twin Jessica. Jeffrey knew people had joked that Jessica had put him off girls for life, which from Jeffrey's experience of the girl, would have been fair enough. But he had never taken it at all literally…
"Wow. I didn't realise."
"Yeah, well, I don't talk about it much." Now he looked up, and his eyes wordlessly asked Jeffrey to realise this was a private confession.
"I appreciate you trusting me enough to tell me," Jeffrey said quietly. "Although I'm not sure it helps my particular case."
"You're really gutted over Elizabeth, aren't you?" his friend asked gently.
"Yeah." Jeffrey was silent for a moment. "Although I never expected to keep her, really. She was my first real girlfriend… And everywhere we went, people still talked about Liz and Todd, Liz and Todd. As if I was only a temporary stand in for the real thing," he finished bitterly.
"Well, you should be happy. It doesn't look like she's getting back together with Todd," Tom said cheerfully.
Jeffrey, to his own surprise, laughed. "There is that consolation." A thought struck him. "Tom, why were you so happy when I invited you on this hike?"
Tom looked still more embarrassed. "Well, you know, there were rumours about you and Aaron Dallas…"
"Aaron? But he's my closest friend!"
Tom seemed to feel the need to explain himself further. "You know that back when Aaron had his… problems… you stuck by him like glue, no matter what he said or did to you. And despite Elizabeth hating his guts and being… well, jealous. A lot of guys really thought you were going to break up with her over him."
Jeffrey digested this. "Everyone at school thinks I'm gay?" He thought about how he felt about Aaron. Admiration, frustration, betrayal, affection… Much the same confusion of emotions he felt when he thought about Elizabeth now, come to think of it.
"No." Tom shrugged. "There were some jokes, that's all. Then you and Liz made up, and everyone forgot it. But I kind of… hoped." He stood up suddenly. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Jeffrey grabbed his arm, not wanting to be alone. "I don't care, really." He have a twisted half-smile. "I guess I was sending out some pretty mixed signals."
"Yeah, you were." Tom grinned, relieved. "Do you know why?" he added suddenly.
Jeffrey prepared to laugh it off, then suddenly didn't want to. "Because I'm – lonely, I guess." It was hard to admit. "I try to be happy for her, I really do. But that's what Liz dumping me means most of all, I guess – that I'm alone now."
"So am I," Tom said softly. Suddenly, they were very close together again.
"Tom…" Jeffrey felt a weird mixture of sensations, but primary among them was terror. "I've never even thought about kissing a boy, you know." It wasn't quite true, he realised. That moment just before Enid had cried out…
"I thought about it plenty… but I've never actually done it," Tom admitted.
There was a long moment, while Jeffrey tried to figure out why he was not pulling away, and then Tom's mouth was on his. So tentatively, as if he was terrified the other boy would pull away… Jeffrey instinctively wound his arms around him in encouragement, and Tom's kiss became more firm.
Jeffrey waited for the kiss to feel wrong. It didn't happen. It was a little strange to be receiving a kiss, rather than being the first to make a move, but he liked that, he decided. And Tom's kiss was careful and almost chaste, nothing to be afraid of. He relaxed and began to return it.
And, he realised, he liked the feel of the other boy in his arms. So different to small slender Elizabeth, his back wide and muscled under Jeffrey's hands, but definitely… pleasant. Solid and reassuring.
Then their mouths parted, and reality rushed back. "I'm not sure I can do this," Jeffrey gasped.
"I'm sorry." Tom pulled away.
"No, I mean…" Jeffrey sought the right words. "I don't know why I just kissed you. I have to know if it's just because I'm confused over Elizabeth, or because I… like you." He bit his thumbnail. "I need some time to think this over."
Tom took a moment, then smiled. "Sure thing," he said easily. "We'll just go on with the hike as if nothing happened, okay? But – promise me you'll think it over," he added more gently. "And tell me what you decide." Jeffrey nodded. "Oh, and, Jeff?"
Tom shouldered his backpack again. He tossed the words back over his shoulder. "I know exactly why I kissed you."