A/N: The first two journal entries are copied almost verbatim from "California Diaries" book #5, as is the Mad Moose encounter and elements of the china cup incident. The title is from a T'Pau song. All other events are of my own creation.


WHAT
HAVE
YOU
DONE?

You couldn't have kept your mouth shut?

You had to tell JAY, of all people, about your housecleaning? You had to paint this picture of yourself flitting from room to room, picking up old underwear, putting on an apron like Suzy Homemaker to do a stack of dishes that was almost glued together with dried food?

You didn't ASSUME that he was going to tell everybody in school? That this would NOT help your reputation at all?

Duh.

Now what?

Now Jay is coming over after school to HELP you. And he's bringing Lisa, a broom, and a can of Lysol.

And… Bud.

Bud the Cro Mag.

Why?

You don't know why. Jay secretly hates you, you guess.

Jay insisted that Bud is OK. Which you accepted. You said FINE – but WHY ON EARTH MAKE HIM COME TO YOUR HOUSE TO CLEAN UP, OF ALL RIDICULOUS THINGS? – and Jay insisted that he was talking to Bud the other day, and JUST CASUALLY in conversation your name came up, and Bud said he FELT BAD about the way their pals treat you, so Jay said, okay, if you want to do something about it, let's help my buddy Duckster clean his trashed house, and Bud was psyched about it.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?

No, it doesn't.

WHY was he psyched? Does he want to do research? Take photos? Infiltrate the House of Ducky and report to the Cro Mags, so they can humiliate you EVEN MORE?

And what's worse, YOU COULDN'T SAY NO. You tried, but Jay just railroaded you. He insisted that he was trying to help.

And you know what happens when Jay "helps."

McCrae, your days are numbered.

The Great McCrae
Cleanup

You're home alone, after school. You're in a blind panic.

You consider calling a cleaning service. You consider calling Jay and saying you're sick. Locking the door and running away. Setting fire to the whole thing.

But instead you stand there in the house, frozen.

You figure cleaning the place up before they get here might make Bud angry, because then he'd be coming over for no reason, but leaving it filthy might make him hate you, because he'd have so much work to do.

You try to imagine you're a Cro Mag, living alone with your brother. How would YOUR house look?

Like a prehistoric cave. Finger paintings of bison on the walls.

So you decide to do nothing because maybe a messy house is a good thing, like a badge of honor, and just the thought of this makes you realize you are OVERTHINKING and MAKING THIS TOO IMPORTANT, and maybe Jay was right and Bud has nothing better to do than come over and help out a friend of a friend.

Still, you're constantly looking out the window for Ted. Maybe – just maybe – your brother would come home the ONE day you need him. But no. He's probably stuffing his face with pizza and having a great time in your moment of humiliation.

The doorbell rings, and your hand shakes as you reach for the knob. You open the door, trying to look as macho as possible.

"Yo," you say. "'Tsup?"

But Jay's not looking at you. He's staring at the room behind you and his first comment is "WHAT HAPPENED?"

Lisa's face is all twisted in shock and disgust, as if she just walked into a fertilizer sale at Sears.

Behind her is Bud McNally – and he looks amused. HE'S LAUGHING AT YOU.

"I've been working real hard with the decorator," you say – just a joke, you can't help it – AND YOU WANT TO KICK YOURSELF because that's just the kind of sarcastic comment Cro Mags hate.

"How about a few more dustballs near the sofa, for atmosphere?" Bud suggests.

And you're amazed. A Cro Mag with a sense of humor!

Jay rolls up his sleeves and asks if you have kitchen trash bags.

Soon we've started. We toss clothes into bags. We sweep. We throw out food. We fix broken hinges. Bud opens windows you hadn't even realized were closed. We work, work, work.

And that's when you make your discovery: YOU ARE A RAVING, STEREOTYPING, PARANOID, IMMATURE fool, just as bad as the Cro Mags.

Because Bud IS a good guy.

You actually have fun. By the end of the day, everyone's laughing at your jokes and asking you to do your imitations of Ms. Patterson and Mr. Dean.

And just before you go, Jay asks you if you want to go to his house Saturday. Just a "small hang with the guys," he calls it, and Lisa is rolling her eyes and teasing him for not inviting girls, so Jay has to make excuses and claim that he TRIED, but the other guys wouldn't let him – which makes you think this is really a Cro Mag gathering, but you don't want to ask right out, so you casually ask who'll be there, and Bud jumps in and mentions Sam and Travis and Marco – and you say you're not sure you can come, and Jay says, "I'll take care of Marco," so you think about it awhile.

Before today, you would have said you'd go to the party when hell freezes over.

But you realize that you were wrong about Bud.

Maybe you're wrong about some of the other guys.

Wouldn't it be nice to actually have them ON YOUR SIDE? To have so-called NORMAL guys as your friends?

You picture a new life. A house than can actually be a HOME, even without Mom & Dad. Guy friends your own age.

It COULD happen.

So you say yes.

Wardrobe
Malfunction

The Cro Mags are right. You ARE a sissy.

You're pretty sure, no, VERY sure that two hours before the party, you are the only one standing in front of his closet trying to figure out what to wear.

There are maybe twenty-five shirts piled on your bed right now. More in your closet. At least fifteen pairs of pants. About the same number of shoes.

You love shoes.

THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

You should be more like Ted, whose choice of attire is based solely on what happens to be lying on the closest patch of floor.

You should not have so many skinny T's.

One pair of sunglasses should be enough. (Provided they're a neutral color that goes with everything.)

Trying on those girl's jeans when you were at the mall with Sunny last weekend was a big mistake.

Buying them was a bigger one.

Wearing them to a Cro Mag party would be the biggest mistake of all.

You are off to raid Ted's closet.

Well.

Floor.

Partay
Heartay

Yes, you brought your journal to the party. You needed a little moral support, you guess. A place to vent if things got too much. Right now you're sitting in your car a little way down the street from Jay's house, wearing Ted's too-big baggy jeans and writing openly, but you'll stash the journal in your messenger bag before you go in.

The black messenger bag. Not the lime green one. Or the purple. Or the pink.

You are not stupid.

In Jay's Bathtub

Okay, so you're not so much in it as ON it. Perched on the edge of it, teetering a little ominously, scribbling in your journal as if your life depends on it and waiting for those five knocks on the door, if they come.

You need to back up.

So you get out of your car, walk up the driveway, and are about to ring the doorbell when you realize that if the entire LAWN is vibrating from the music inside the house, then the chances of Jay hearing a puny little "dinggg-donggg" are virtually nil.

You try the doorknob, and just as you do, someone on the other side yanks really hard, which causes you to come toppling into the hallway and almost land on top of King Cro Mag Marco Bardwell.

Not a good start.

Luckily Jay strolls in before Marco can say anything, and greets you as if he hasn't seen you in years.

"Ducky! Duckman! Duckarino! Duckaroni! Duckometer! Du-"

"Hello to you too, Jay."

You cut him off because there's really no telling how long he can go on with the nicknames once he gets started.

"Come in!" he tells you, making a sweeping gesture with his hands.

You're ALREADY in, technically, but you take the opportunity to wander into the living room, which is where you see… IT. A cup. A BONE CHINA CUP from the collection Mr. and Mrs. Adams used to brag about, just sitting on top of the piano next to you. You notice that this expensive bone china cup is full of a liquid that is definitely NOT coffee, definitely STRONGER than coffee, and you realize that Jay will be in the DOGHOUSE if the cup breaks, so you go to pick it up… but someone steps in front of you.

It's Marco Bardwell. Of course it's Marco Bardwell.

"Hey," he says menacingly. "I was drinking that."

You mumble something about bone china that he either doesn't catch or simply isn't impressed with, because he puts his great fist on the top of the piano, grasps the handle of the cup, and squeezes. The delicate china falls to pieces in his hands.

He takes a moment to savor your shock and then walks off laughing, leaving you staring dumbly at what's left of the cup. Numb, you pick it up and decide to put it back in the china closet at such an angle that the Adamses won't know it's been broken.

On the way you pass by guys you don't know very well, guys you don't WANT to know, and a couple of guys you've never seen before. You're not sure where Jay went off to but you hope he shows up soon because you'd really appreciate seeing a familiar face right about now.

Quickly you wash out the cup, dry it, and put it back in the china closet. From behind you, someone reaches in and grabs a delicate little glass thimble from Mrs. Adams' collection, and she ALWAYS used to talk about how valuable THAT is too, so you grab it back, and you realize you've just taken something from Mad Moose Machover.

You have never been face-to-face with Mad Moose. You have never wanted to be. And now that you are, you see your life pass before your eyes.

He accuses you of stealing his "shot glass." You explain, "That's Mrs Adams' thimble," and immediately you cringe because the words sound so dorky, and sure enough, Mad Moose thunders, "SO WHAT, SWEETHEART?" and repeats his clever joke to everyone around him, and now you're standing there, with everyone laughing at you, and it's EVEN WORSE THAN SCHOOL because there's no place to run to, and you realize that Jay is a total rotten betraying creep for inviting you here, and that you NEVER should have even THOUGHT of coming.

And then, out of nowhere, Jay appears. He tells Mad Moose, "If you're going to insult my friend, you're out of here" – and Bud's with him too, backing him up.

My heroes.

Anyway, Mad Moose mumbles something and walks away. You're happy to escape with your life.

Jay asks if you're okay and you say yeah, so he takes that as his cue to go off again. You expect Bud to follow him, but he doesn't. He sort of hovers around you.

"Uh, hey," you say awkwardly. The guy came over to your HOUSE, after all, and he did just probably save your LIFE, so you don't think it's wildly inappropriate.

Bud looks you in the eyes. He seems very serious. "I want to talk to you," he says.

Your heart drops.

"It's nothing bad," he continues, seeing your expression. "But we can't talk here."

"Oh. Um." You're about to suggest that you guys should talk in school at some point, although that's not really any better, when he tells you something really weird.

"Go up to the bathroom on the second floor. Lock yourself in. Wait like twenty minutes. When you hear someone knock on the door five times, open it."

You blink at him. "WHAT?" you want to yell. You wouldn't put it past him to give you a personal beatdown in there. All that stuff at your house could just have been acting. Really good acting.

"Just do it," he says in that same serious tone, and then walks away.

You feel like you want to run away, throw up, or both.

But you do neither. And here you are.

LATER
MUCH LATER
TOO LATE
IN SHOCK

Bud didn't beat you up. He didn't threaten you, or insult you, or tease you about your outfit.

Part of you kind of wishes he had.

Breathe, Ducky. Maybe writing will help. Take it from the beginning.

So. You end up waiting almost half an hour. Guys walk past the door a couple of times and you keep thinking someone is going to knock and want to use the bathroom, but nobody does. Jay's house has two bathrooms on the first floor so everyone just ends up using those because downstairs is the main party area.

You're just beginning to suspect that Bud has played a huge trick on you when you hear it. A knock. You freeze. Then comes another. And another. Then two more.

Knees knocking together like you're back to being a little kid watching your first horror movie, you stand up and move towards the door. Very hesitantly, you crack it open, not entirely trusting that Bud isn't standing there with a cream pie or a squirt gun or something, but he's not. It's just him.

"Hi," you say squeakily, making the same lame gesture as Jay did when you arrived. "Come in."

Bud, who has been looking very serious, sends a small smile your way in appreciation of your lame impersonation. He locks the door from the inside (THAT makes you nervous) and tells you, "Sit down."

You wonder if he means on the bathmat or the tiled floor or what. After a few seconds of indecision, you take up your post on the edge of the bath again. Bud sits on the (closed) toilet seat, facing you.

This is awkward.

"So, what's up?" you start, still trying to act like everything's normal with this situation even though it clearly isn't.

And then he says something that makes your heart stop dead.

"You're gay, aren't you?"

You're not too sure how to react, because although you've been asked that question before, it's always been from Cro Mags looking for a fight or girls in your study hall who have been watching too much "Will & Grace," whereas Bud is actually serious. He's not trying to get a rise out of you, and he doesn't want to trail you around like the latest fashion accessory. He actually wants to KNOW.

"I."

You realize then that you never really thought about what it means before. The F-word. Not the swear. Every time someone said you were "prancing" or "flitting," you just processed it as another mindless insult and went on with your day.

But there you are, sitting in a bathroom with a Cro Mag who has asked you this question straight out (no pun intended) and truly looks interested in the answer.

What's scary is that that isn't even the craziest part. It's the way Bud is LOOKING at you. Not maliciously, like his pals, or hopefully, like the girls – he's looking at you like he knows something you don't know.

And you don't like that.

"No," you snap, pushing yourself up off the side of the bath tub. "You think just because I don't wear your stupid flannel shirt uniform or talk about sports or hang out with a lot of guys then I'm gay?"

Bud shakes his head slowly. He's still sitting on the toilet seat so at that moment you're towering over him – a weird experience because he's at least six feet tall.

"Not doing that stuff doesn't make you gay, Ducky. I know guys who do all of those things and are gay."

"Like who?" you snort.

"Like me."

You narrow your eyes at him, now convinced that this is all a big stunt.

"Alright, very funny. Where are you hiding the camcorder?"

You expect him to throw his hands in the air and tell you you're too smart and a big fag and he's only sorry he didn't get to catch you in the act of admitting it, but that isn't what happens at all.

His eyes flash and he draws himself up to his full height, glaring down at you with his piercing blue eyes. And then he explodes.

"This is all a big joke to you, isn't it? Why the hell would I lock myself in a bathroom at a PARTY with another BOY and think I was in any position to level with anyone? There's no CAMCORDER. There's no set-up. It's just me."

Something inside you instinctually trusts that he's telling the truth, which terrifies you all over again.

"You're… you're GAY?" you whisper, fully aware that he just told you but looking him up and down and thinking that it is just IMPOSSIBLE. He plays FOOTBALL. He WRESTLES. Each of his biceps is wider than both of yours PUT TOGETHER.

"Are you?" he asks you.

You feel like you've just swallowed a large glob of glue that's now stuck in your throat, impeding all speech. You become aware of the seconds ticking by and the bead of sweat forming on your forehead, so you make a superhuman effort and manage to choke out, "I'm not gay."

"You are," Bud assures, and kisses you.

Your reflex reaction is to fight him off, so you flail your arms wildly for a few moments before you realize that Bud has his gigantic forearms clamped around you, one around your waist and the other draped over your shoulder, pulling you towards him. You can't move. You panic. You thrash around and kick and spit and try your damnedest to get away from him.

And then you kiss back.

You end up pushed against the cold tile of the bathroom wall, shaking and whimpering and kissing him and holding onto him. He presses himself against you so that your entire body is touching his, and pretty soon after that you feel something hard digging into your thigh. When you realize what it is, you want to throw up, but you end up pushing back, which sends these insane sparks all the way up your spine, and before you know it his hands are underneath your shirt, gripping your hips. He keeps rubbing against you and it's making you crazy.

A little while after that, he drops his hands down to the belt you're using to hold up Ted's stupid too-big jeans. He undoes the buckle and tugs, and they come right down. A part of you is mortified, but he doesn't seem to be embarrassed so you don't feel like you should be either. He crouches down and pulls your boxers off with his teeth.

After that he… well, you're not sure exactly what he does, because your eyes are closed for most of it, but it feels amazing, especially at the end when you gasp and cry out and he takes everything into his mouth and swallows, and after he's done, he holds you.

Me. He held ME.

He pulled me down to the bathroom floor and cradled me in his arms like a baby. Then he kissed me some more.

He was the one who left the bathroom first. He told me I should wait at least ten minutes to "collect myself" before I came out. He said not to come and find him because if anyone knew… he said if anyone knew, we could die.

I think he was right to tell me that. I don't think it was overdramatic. I think it could be true. If Mad Moose Machover ever finds out what we did in that bathroom, our skulls would end up like the handle of that bone china cup.

You're scared. Terrified. You don't know what this means, or what you ARE, or how you feel. You need to do so much soul-searching that it exhausts you just to think about it.

But hey, McCrae, look on the bright side. Bud slipped you his number.