The first thing Arthur sees when he steps out of the school building is the beat-up Econoline van. There's a dent in the fender and the paint job is chipped around the doors, and he can see Eames behind the wheel, staring out from behind his over-large aviator sunglasses. He suppresses his sudden grin and walks down the stone steps until he's standing at the rolled down window. Eames smirks at him, his hair catching the light of the sun reflecting through the windshield.
"Hey, kid. I've lost my puppy. Wanna help me find it?"
"Well, I don't know, Mister. What does he look like?" Arthur deadpans.
Eames smiles slyly. "Dark hair, about your height, skinny, with brown eyes and a mole on the inside of his left wrist."
Arthur bites back a laugh, "I think I might know where he is."
"Can you show me?"
"You'd have to let me in the car."
Eames leans over and opens the passenger's seat door, and Arthur slides in smoothly. His backpack has barely hit the floor before Eames' fingers are grabbing at the starchy collar of his school uniform, which has been slowly wilting all day in the early June heat and now collapses completely under the other boy's grasp. He kisses him, deep and uncoordinated, and Arthur plasters a hand to his side, running fingers up and down over the black t-shirt. It's far too hot to be doing this, far too hot to be pressed this close together in the confined, dark space of the car, especially with the air conditioner broken and Arthur's heavy school blazer making him sweat.
"We should get out of here." He mumbles against Eames' lips, and he can feel Eames' teeth when he grins. He presses their lips together quickly and then pulls back, letting Arthur go. He glances out his rearview mirror and starts the car, easing their way out of the school's parking lot. Arthur is fairly sure that someone has seen them, what with all the other students milling about, but he doesn't really care. He loosens his drab gray tie and shrugs off the jacket, tossing it into the backseat and rolling up his sleeves as Eames grins in the driver's seat.
"That's more like it."
Arthur punches his shoulder lightly. "Don't be skeevy."
"I can't help it, darling, you're just such a perfect piece of jailbait." He wiggles his eyebrows, barely visible above the sunglasses. "Arthur, light of my life, fire of my loins…"
"Oh please. I'll be eighteen in a week."
Eames lets out a gasp of mock terror. "A whole week of temptation for me to resist! You really are evil."
Arthur rolls his eyes and reaches over, turning on the radio. It comes to life under his fingers, already tuned to the right station. The song that's playing is fuzzy with bad reception but Arthur finds himself humming along just the same.
Eames makes a noise of disapproval in the back of his throat. "I don't like this one. It's too mainstream."
"Don't be a snob. We can't listen to The Cure all the time." Arthur dangles one of his arms out the window, feeling the wind rush through his fingers. "I think it's a good song."
"Well, I don't."
Arthur closes his eyes. "Outside there's a boxcar waiting, out by the family store…"
Eames groans. "Unfair tactics!"
"Everything sounds good when you sing it. You can even make me like 'Wind Beneath My Fucking Wings'. That's cheating."
Arthur leans in and kisses him on the cheek, because he doesn't want to cause an accident if Eames takes his eyes off the road. The song ends and the DJ takes its place.
"Get out your swimsuits, because it looks like this heat wave isn't going anywhere fast! We're expecting clear skies and high temperatures for this weekend, so get ready to head to the beach! Also, from all of us here at KWCP, I wanna applaud the class of '89! Congratulations on your last day of school, and have a great summer!"
"That's me," Arthur smiles. "I can't believe I'm done with high school."
Eames smirks. "I can."
Squinting against the bright afternoon sun, Arthur stares out the windshield as they drive. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"Very cryptic, Eames." He relaxes against the leather seat as an REM song he hasn't heard yet crackles through the radio. "Are you busy tonight?"
"No, the bar in Evanston canceled the gig. Cobb was furious." He laughs. "I think Mal was glad to have him free, though."
"I know how she feels."
"Who's skeezy now?" Eames rounds a corner and turns onto the road everyone in town knows: the little dirt-and-sand street lined with surf shops and seashells. Arthur raises an eyebrow.
"We're not going to the beach, are we? It'll be crowded…"
Eames shakes his head. "Nope. Guess again."
"Well, we're not going into town, obviously."
"We're not going to your place, because the college is on the other side of the bay."
"We're not going to Cobb's, because you don't have the amp you borrowed from him."
"We're not going to my house, because my parents hate you."
"Unfortunately, yes, your evil demon bitch of a mother does make it difficult to rendez-vous."
Arthur takes a second, thinking. "Shit, I don't know. You're making me feel stupid."
"You're never stupid, darling."
"Tell that to my guidance counselor."
"You're smart enough to get into NYU."
Beside him, Arthur is silent. Eames glances over and pokes him.
"Hey. Don't sulk. I told you, it's a great opportunity."
"I know." He looks miserable. "It's just… it's really far away."
"It's only the other side of the country. Look at me, I crossed the Atlantic ocean for college." He turns onto an even smaller road. This one is mostly sand. "Anyway, I thought you said that you wanted to get as far away from here as possible."
Arthur shifted in his seat. "I do. I'm just-" he looks like he's going to say something, but doesn't.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with the band this summer?"
Arthur shook his head. "I can't. Mom and Dad have me doing college prep from July through September."
Eames sighed. "I know, it's just we really need another roadie, and I want to have you along." He glanced at Arthur. "I want to be with you."
"I want to be with you too, Eames."
The silence is almost as cloying as the humidity.
Eames stops the van, pulling out the keys and shoving them into the pocket of his jeans. "We have to go the rest of the way on foot; the path narrows down here."
Arthur harrumphs, but gets out of the car. "I'm not really dressed for this, Eames."
"I can carry you, if you want."
He crosses his arms over his chest, glaring. "Not likely."
Eames laughs, grabbing one of the folded hands and yanking Arthur after him. Arthur lets out an "oomph" and lurches, almost tripping over his own feet but letting himself be dragged along. The trail is too narrow for them to walk side-by-side so they stay angled, Eames in front and Arthur behind, hand clasped.
By the time Eames stops moving, Arthur's neatly combed hair has gathered a wreath of stray leaves and the bottoms of his slacks are turning brown from the dust they've kicked up. Eames, by contrast, looks perfect, his t-shirt clinging to his broad frame like it was sprayed on with a can of paint, his gray eyes shining. They step out of the undergrowth and the ground beneath their feet transitions from dirt to fine yellow sand. Eames gestures out proudly, and Arthur stares. If his mouth is hanging open just a little bit, he'll deny it later.
He's staring out at a tiny alcove, a thin strip of sand and smooth rock sheltered by the forest surrounding it. The beach gives way to water, the cool, clear blue of the Pacific ocean lapping gently at the shore. It is completely isolated, deserted, devoid of people.
Eames smile grows even wider. "I know, right?"
"How did you-?" Arthur's a little at a loss for words, which doesn't happen often. "What is this place?"
"Remember that one time we went to the movies, and it was really dark, and Yusuf was borrowing the van so he could bring the drums back from his parent's house, and I had to walk home, and I told you the next morning that I got lost on the way back to the campus?"
Arthur nods, a smile quirking the edge of his lips at Eames' babbling.
"This is where I got lost."
"It's…" Arthur squeezes his hand. "Eames, it's amazing." He mock-frowns. "I've lived here for my whole life; you've been here for two years. How the Hell have I not found this place yet?"
Eames shrugged. "I'm more observant than you?"
"Shut up." He shoved him playfully. Eames laughed and pulled off his sunglasses, grinning mischeviously. Arthur paled.
"Oh no. I know that face. That's not a good face."
"Isn't it, darling?" Eames grip on Arthur's hand tightened as he pulled him towards the bay.
"No! Eames, no, come on, I can't get wet, it's my school uniform-"
"And after today, you'll never have to wear it again! Loosen up. Live a little." Eames smile widened, and Arthur realized that he was standing dangerously close to the water.
Arthur let out an undignified, certainly-not-girly shriek as they toppled back into the spray. He landed on his ass in the damp sand, sputtering salty water as Eames laughed uncontrollably. He let out a growl and tackled his boyfriend, dragging them further into the ocean. It was Eames' turn to gasp as he hit the cold water, and Arthur let out a gleeful crow before being pulled under. When he re-emerged, he had a fistful of sand that he threw into Eames' face.
Fifteen minutes later they lay on their backs, giggling breathlessly as the water licked at their bare feet, shoes and socks strewn over the dry sand. Eames' propped himself up on his elbow, sand sticking to his soaked t-shirt. He stared at Arthur, whose once orderly appearance was now thouroughly disheveled. Mission accomplished, thought Eames. He glanced down at his boyfriend and his face became suddenly serious.
"Arthur, there's something of great importance that I have to tell you."
Arthur sat up, looking worried as he shielded his eyes from the sun. "What is it?"
"I can see your nipples."
He looked down at himself and cursed as he realized that his dress shirt had become completely translucent. "Shit!"
Eames smirked. "Don't worry, it's nothing I haven't seen before."
Arthur swatted his arm lightly as he stood up. "Dirty old man." He turned his attention to his buttons, undoing them slowly, his progress hindered by slippery wet fingers. Eames' mouth suddenly became very, very dry as Arthur shrugged the wet shirt off his shoulders and let it fall to the ground with a soft, heavy thwack. He sat back down beside his boyfriend, crossing his legs Indian style. Eames gestured to his slacks.
"You should take those off, too. Make it easier to sit down."
"Curses, foiled again. Can I kiss you?"
Arthur smiled, leaning in. "Always."
Arthur waved goodbye to Eames as the Econoline drove away, his still wet blazer draped over one arm and his backpack hanging off the other. His shoes squelched as he walked up his driveway and his pants were itchy and damp against his skin, but he was grinning broadly as he entered the house.
"I'm home!" he called out, slipping his shoes off in the tray by the door.
"I'm in the kitchen, Arthur!"
He shuffled in and leaned on the doorframe, smiling. "Hey, Pilar."
The housekeeper glanced up from unloading the dishwasher. "Arthur! Congratulations on graduating!" She gave him a hug, then pulled away. "What happened? You look like a dog."
"Thanks." He pecked her on the cheek. "I stopped off at the beach with a friend on the way home."
"Ah, you kids." The middle aged woman tapped her nose knowingly. "You'd better change quickly. Your mother will be home any minute now."
As if on cue, the front door slammed. Pilar winced and Arthur glowered, furrowing his brow as the sound of rapidly approaching high-heels clacked along the tile.
"Pilar! Is lunch ready?"
"Yes, Mrs. Smithson."
"Well then, that's- WHAT are these puddles on the floor?"
Arthur sighs. "Hi, Mom."
"Arthur!" Mrs. Smithson rounded the corner and gaped at her son. "What on Earth are you doing?"
"I just got in."
"Why are you wet?"
"Uh…" he rubbed the back of his head nervously. "I was, uh, with a friend. At the beach. And, uh. I fell in."
"Well, change at ONCE, young man. You look ridiculous and you're getting the new carpet wet." She looked down her nose at him. "Try to be a little responsible, Arthur. I'm very disappointed in you."
"Sorry, Mom." He seemed to shrink in his waterlogged clothes, his shoulders hunching.
"Just make sure it doesn't happen again. Your father is going to be home soon and then we're going to the Henderson's party. I want you to look respectable by then. Alright?"
"Good. Now, go upstairs and get changed." She placed her Prada handbag on the kitchen counter and produced her compact, checking her reflection. She called after Arthur as started up the stairs. "Wear the blue shirt with the burgundy tie, you look less like a bum."
Arthur gritted his teeth and counted to ten. He reached his room with relief, dropping the backpack to the floor and stripping off his shirt and slacks and throwing them into the laundry basket. He sat on his bed heavily, watching himself clad only in his boxer shorts in the full-length mirror beside his closet. He ran his fingertips over the hickey low on his throat, thankful for starched collars and thick neckties. Stretching out his legs and laying back against the pillows, he closed his eyes and wished that he were still at the bay with Eames.
Arthur looked up from the mirror, hastily flipping his collar up and knotting his tie. "Hi, Dad."
The balding middle-aged man's mouth twitched in what might have been an attempt at a smile. "How was your last day of school?"
"It was fine." Arthur pulled on his navy suit jacket and turned to face his father. "How was work?"
"Same as usual." Mr. Smithson reached out and tugged the shoulder of Arthur's jacket, straightening it. "Are you ready for the party?"
He raised an eyebrow and Arthur corrected himself. "I mean, yes. Sorry."
"Good. We're leaving soon." He eyed his son appraisingly. "Your mother told me you were wet when you came in."
"I went to the beach."
"Oh." Mr. Smithson winked. "With a girl?"
Arthur flushed. "No."
"Sure you weren't." His father grinned. "I remember being your age. Girls were my whole world back then!"
Arthur fought back the urge to say that they still were, if the lipstick marks on his collar were anything to go by. "I don't have a girlfriend."
"Don't worry, Artie. You will."
He cringed inwardly at the hated nickname. "Oh."
"Hey, speaking of. There's going to be a girl at the party tonight."
"Yes, the Henderson's girl. I hear you and she study together sometimes." The suggestion in his voice was thinly veiled. Arthur frowned.
"Ariande? We're friends."
"Uh huh, friends. Whatever you kids are calling it these days." He winked. "I think it'd be good to maybe start being… better friends. Do you understand, Artie?"
"Good. Because, you know, her father's company was a big contributor to the campaign last year."
"Yeah, I know."
Arthur sagged. "Yes, I know."
Mr. Smithson patted his son's shoulder. "Great. I just wanted to make sure you understood what was going on."
"Thank you, Dad."
"Now come downstairs, we're leaving in ten minutes."
Mr. Smithson went downstairs, leaving Arthur with a hollow feeling in his stomach and the sudden, quickly repressed urge to cry.
"Why don't you just tell them?"
Arthur glared at Ariadne. "Oh, yeah, like that'd go well."
They were standing on the porch of Ariadne's house, staring out at the sea while inside the party raged, albeit a muted rage of feigned sophistication and WASPyness. Ariadne was drinking a glass of cranberry juice, while Arthur had managed to grab some white wine.
"I don't know." Ariadne tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "Maybe they'd be okay with it."
"Yes, I'm sure my father the Republican congressman and my mother the Malibu princess would be perfectly accepting of the fact that their only son is a flaming queer."
"Mmm, okay, point made."
"I mean, if THAT wasn't the nail in the coffin, then finding out I'm seeing Eames would really put an end to it." He winced. "God, they'd probably disown me. Then hey-!" he waved his hands. "Bye-bye college, bye-bye trust fund, bye-bye future!" He buried his head in his arms. "This sucks."
"My life has turned into a John Hughes movie."
"Well, I dunno, you're a lot prettier than Molly Ringwald."
He barked out a laugh. "You know, my Dad wants me to seduce you or something."
"You're kidding." Ariadne raised an eyebrow. "Serious?"
"Dead serious." Arthur smiled wryly. "He wants us to get married so your dad'll give him money when he runs for re-election."
"That skeezy mother-fucker!"
"Yeah, thank God it's not genetic, right?"
Ariadne took a hold of Arthur's chin in her hand. "Hey. I want you to tell me something, okay?"
"And you've gotta be honest with me, here, Arthur."
"I said okay, Ari! Spit it out already." He straightened up. Ariadne looked him dead in the eye.
"Do you love him?"
"Don't play stupid; you know who."
"I-" Arthur looked suddenly younger, his eyes wide, his suit out of place for once. "Oh my God, I think I do."
She tapped the side of his face, smiling gently. "Then you have to tell them."
He grabbed her hands. "I don't think I can do it." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm scared, Ari."
She rolled her eyes. "Look. Arthur Silas Smithson. I've known you since we were five. Can you honestly tell me that you'll be happier if you keep this a secret?"
He shook his head and she tugged her hands out from his.
"Then you are going to go in there, you are going to walk up to your parents, and you are going to tell them exactly what you are. Capice?"
Arthur nodded. "Okay. Okay." He looked in at the crowd of people and focused on his parents, who were chatting to Ariadne's father and stepmother. "Okay."
Ariadne grabbed his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Come on, then."
The rain had started around nine, and Eames had been watching a bad B-movie on TV with Yusuf in their dorm for a good hour when there was a knock on the door. He gulped down a handful of popcorn. "You get it."
Yusuf snored in response and Eames glanced up to see his roommate sprawled out on the couch above him, illuminated only by the blue glow of the television.
Eames rolled his eyes and stood up, nearly tripping over one of the many cardboard boxes strewn around the room. He cursed as the knocking came faster, more urgent now. "Coming, coming…" he called as he made his way down the hall. "Don't get your knickers in a twist."
He opened the door and did a double take.
Arthur stood on the steps in a suit, shivering in the rain that ran down his face in rivulets and dripped from his hair. He had a black eye and his dried blood was peeking out of his left nostril, but the minute the door opened his face broke out into the widest smile Eames had ever seen.
Eames gaped like a fish on dry land. "Arthur! What-?"
Arthur leaned on the doorframe. "I've been disowned, I'm not going to college, and I love you." He pressed his forehead against Eames'. "Can I come in?"
Eames snapped out of his stupor. "Of course you can, you daft thing. Get in, Jesus, get in…" he yanked Arthur inside and slammed the door behind him. "Christ, you're soaked."
"It's nothing you haven't seen before."
"Come on, let's get you in some dry clothes. Yusuf won't mind you being here, he's passed out anyway." He dug in one of the boxes and pulled out a clean t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. "Now tell me what happened. Slowly. With details, darling."
Arthur undressed and re-dressed quickly, tugging on Eames' too-large shirt. "I was at this party with my parents, and my Dad wanted me to seduce Ariande-"
"Ariande your fag hag?"
Arthur laughed. "Yes, that one. Anyway, we were chatting, and she said that if I loved you I should just tell my parents, so I did, and my Dad punched me and my Mom fainted and then they disowned me when she woke up."
"Jesus." Eames passed a hand over his face.
Arthur pointed at himself. "Jewish, here."
The older man let out a snort. "In that case, oy vey."
Arthur snuggled up against him. "Well, I've been kicked out of my house, my inheritance is gone, my parents are probably going to spend my college fund on renovating the indoor pool, and I have no money, no clothes, no future, and no family." He grinned. "So do you still need a roadie?"
Eames kissed him squarely on the mouth. "Definitely."