Title: The Passion According to Angela

Summary: Angela, Brian, and Rickie watch the movie "Andrei Rublev: The Passion According to Andrei" for extra credit. Surrealism ensues.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Not beta'ed either (if you wish to volunteer, PM me, I'd be most grateful).

Spoilers: Set in the summer post-final ep "In Dreams"

Notes: Title and story inspired by the memory of watching "Andrei Rublev" and not really loving it. That's almost four hours I'll never get back! Apologies to Tarkovsky fans, I've really messed with the chronology of the film here.

It happened at the end of the third week of summer school. It's not like I meant to do it. It's not like I planned it or anything, but it's what happened and I don't regret it.

Brian had talked Rickie and me into taking "Introduction to Economic Theory" with him because it satisfied our Western Civ requirement and you got college credit for it too. Our school didn't offer it as an AP class, he argued, so we might as well get it over with in summer, because it would be an easy 'A' and then we would have room in our schedules for some kind of fun class in fall. Of course Brian's idea of a fun class was probably like Advanced Calculus.

We shouldn't have listened to Brian. Well, I shouldn't have listened to Brian and Rickie shouldn't have listened to me. It's just, at the time, back in April when we had to sign up for it, everything was so strange.

My dad was around less and less, and my mother was pushing me to apply for a junior counselor position at Danielle's summer camp, which was so completely out of the question. I had finally, reluctantly, accepted that Jordan Catalano couldn't be anything except who he was, and it felt as though it would hurt forever. And then Rayanne's mom took a job in Denver and they were gone, along with any chance of ever repairing the damage between us.

I was sleep walking, numb, vacuum-sealed, and making plans for something months away seemed so useless. Harmless. Except that it turned out it wasn't harmless, it was really, really hard. Not only was the class nothing like an easy 'A', it wasn't even an easy 'C'. There were three textbooks; there were essays due every Monday, and tests every day that weren't multiple choice. And did I mention the six-hour-long classes?

By the end of the second week of "Introduction to Economic Theory" with Doctor Charles Call-Me-Chuck-It's-Summer Tyler, Rickie and I had promised each other horrible violent deaths if either of us was stupid enough to suggest listening to Brian ever again. Chuck was a nice enough guy; it was just that his lectures rarely matched anything in our textbooks or on his tests.

He was kind of hyper for a teacher and really eccentric and tangential. He would start to answer somebody's question about aggregate macroeconomic outcomes and end up going on for the next hour about sundials and fish sticks.

We considered killing Brian in some horrible violent way, but ultimately had to conclude that we needed him, at least until August. His ability to translate Chuck-ese into English was the only thing that stood between us and epic failure. Every day at three o'clock, the three of us headed to either my house or Brian's to go through our notes and try to decipher what Chuck had said that day.

I preferred going to Brian's. His parents mostly left us alone and it was always dark and cool in the basement rec room, with its ancient shag carpeting and low ceiling. It was where the broken down furniture went to die. I liked that they kept it. My mother threw things out as soon as they showed any signs of wear or imperfection and the new things that she bought rarely stayed long enough to become familiar things. There were more memories in the Krakow's basement than in my entire house.

We had discovered that the key to passing Chuck's class might be doing the extra credit assignments. The extra credit assignments had absolutely no connection to economic theory whatsoever, and were focused around one of Chuck's many apparent passions, Russian cinema. Once a week, we had the option of turning in a report on a Russian film that we chose to watch from a list he passed out on the first day. My father laughed when I told him about it and said it was Chuck's sneaky way of showing us how Marxism didn't work. Whatever that meant.

Whether the movie was an example of Marxism being doomed, I couldn't tell you. It started with a guy in a hot air balloon, and then there were some monks, and then some soldiers showed up, and after that they were in a monastery. And they were depressed. I think.

Rickie fell asleep on the couch after the first hour of the movie. I sprawled on the floor, back against the couch arm, cold in my sundress, but too lazy to get up and get a blanket. Brian sat cross-legged beside me.

After the first twenty minutes, he moved so that one leg jutted out, making a 'L' shape. Ten minutes later, he drew his knees up to his chin. After another ten minutes, he stretched his legs out again.

In the movie, some king ordered a bunch of artists to be blinded so that they couldn't reproduce the work they made for him. I briefly wished somebody would blind me so that I wouldn't have to see any more of this endless movie. Brian rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow. Rickie mumbled in his sleep behind me.

The clock on the shelf beside the TV was so old that the digital numbers were actual pieces of plastic that flipped as the minutes passed. It read 8:34. My parents knew not to expect me until midnight, because we were watching this movie, and it was really long and it was for school, and besides, it was summer and it wasn't like I was out, out - I was just next door. There was no escape.

The artist/monk guy in the movie gave up painting and took a vow of silence. Rickie was snoring steadily. Brian rotated his body on the floor until he lay prone on his stomach with his chin resting in his hands. The air conditioning unit outside droned. Somewhere in the neighborhood, a pair of dogs was barking about the weather or the new mailman or something. At 9:51, I seized the remote and hit pause.

Brian looked up at me quizzically.

"Bathroom break," I said. I could guess what he was thinking. Don't even think of taking off, Chase, I do not have time to write your extra credit essay for you this week. Yeah, yeah, I grumbled to myself, before realizing that I was irritated with him.

Brian hadn't even said anything. I was fighting with him in my head. Again. I tried hard not to fight with him for real anymore. I bit down on the inside of my cheek whenever it seemed like we were going down that path because, honestly, I could count my friends these days on one hand and he'd proved he was one of them. My mouth was often raw with teeth marks.

I made my way back down the basement stairs, scooping up the burgundy and forest green crocheted afghans draped over the armchair when I reached the bottom. I covered Rickie with the green one. He was out.

He would probably end up staying over here. I knew that he sometimes did, just as he still sometimes stayed over at my house. Rickie once joked that he was training to be an Olympic couch surfer. Brian and I were lucky in that respect; as annoying as our families could be at times, at least they wanted us.

I pulled the other afghan around my shoulders and settled back down on the floor. Brian hit the 'play' button on the remote and medieval Russia resumed its forlorn march across our retinas. He pulled a large corduroy throw pillow from behind the couch and flopped across it like a sled. His feet scissored back and forth in the air.

Brian never fidgeted this much. It was gratifying to me in a twisted way, since it was kind of his fault we were stuck here. And usually when we watched tedious foreign films he was so, like, pedantic about it, going on and on about how over-dependent our culture was on linear narrative or whatever.

In the movie, the artist/monk was still depressed. He was either copying scriptures or composing a really long suicide note, I couldn't tell which. On the couch, Rickie had kicked off his shoes and socks and had the entire afghan wrapped around his upper body like a cocoon, including his head.

Brian shifted on the pillow, doing, I don't know, yoga poses or something. I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Will you cut that out?" I snapped.

He blinked at me. "What?"

"Give me the pillow!"

He slid off of the pillow obediently and pushed it towards me. I grabbed it and stuffed it behind my back.

"Here," I said, patting the top of my thigh. "Lay down. Put your head here, watch the rest of the movie, and be still, okay? You're driving me crazy!"

He did what I asked without protest or comment. It may have been a first. It was, to be sure, my first mistake. I had somehow forgotten, distracted by Brian's squirming and lurching all over the floor, that we weren't exactly cuddly with each other. It wasn't like with Rickie and me. We'd never even hugged much, if ever.

The minute our bodies made contact, there was this tension, this awareness that we were, in fact, touching. I wondered where my hands should go, finally deciding to rest my right hand on the top of my right thigh and the left one on Brian's shoulder. It was still unbelievably awkward.

"Is this okay?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

I started it, and I still don't know why. I mean, I could say I was bored, or lonely, or that I finally just acted on long-repressed attraction and all of those statements might be true. Okay, there's no doubt about the first one. The point is, if you were trying to assign responsibility for what happened, it wouldn't be fair to blame it all on Brian.

He was warm against me, and he had this one curling strand of hair that fell across his face. I kept looking at it, thinking that it must be bothering him, that it must itch. I'd ordered him not to move, I reasoned, so it might be a good thing if I pushed it out of his way.

I must have touched his hair at some point when we were kids, but I don't remember it. It seems like I should have remembered how it felt. When I reached down to move that one strand, it was so soft it kind of took my breath away.

My fingers were drawn to that golden halo, spilling into my lap. I don't think I could have stopped myself if I had wanted to. I ran my hand through Brian's hair tentatively, pausing when he sighed. It wasn't that weird, right? It was a normal, affectionate, friendly gesture. It wouldn't have thought twice about it with Rickie.

On the TV screen, the artist/monk was captured by a bunch of naked people who tied him to a stake. Then some soldiers showed up and captured the naked people. It was still the most agonizingly boring movie ever.

I should have stopped messing with Brian's hair, but my hand seemed to move independently of my conscience. It felt nice, the way petting my Aunt Gretchen's fluffy Himalayan cat felt nice. I wound my finger around a small section of hair and then another, making ringlets, fascinated by how they sprang outwards when I let go.

Brian stared straight ahead at the TV, as if watching some old guys casting a bell was the most engrossing thing in the world. Maybe to him it was; he didn't seem restless anymore. I looked down at him watching the movie and he didn't notice me at all.

He had the palest, smoothest skin I had ever seen on a guy. It occurred to me that, in a way, he sort of resembled the angel on the front of the Christmas cards my mother had sent out the previous year, which was kind of funny since he didn't really do Christmas. Then, for some reason, I remembered the letter he wrote for Jordan, well... for me. It wasn't something that I liked to think about much. It made everything less comfortable, but suddenly, it was the only thing I could think about.

My fingers slipped from Brian's hair, over his forehead and the slight ridge of his eyebrows. His gaze flickered upwards for a moment and then returned to screen, like everything was normal, like we did this all the time. I let my fingers wander across the silk of his cheek, down his chin, and then over the top of his lip and the light stubble there.

He barely breathed at all, ignoring me. And then it made sense. If he reacted, we would have to acknowledge what we were doing. He was afraid I would stop. Something tightened in my chest, tightened until I thought my ribs would crack. I wanted to scream, to cry out, overwhelmed by emotion I couldn't name.

I traced the outline of his lips with the pads of my fingers, and then across them. They were so soft and his breath was so warm on my skin. I thought I should stop. I knew I should stop. His lips parted and then somehow my fingers slid into his mouth, over the edges of his teeth, against the wetness of his tongue.

I sat frozen in place, confused, melting. I had never seen an article in Sharon's Cosmopolitan magazines that talked about anything like this. Was this even something that girls were supposed to like?

Little currents of shock traveled through my fingers, up my arm and then all through me. He licked delicately between each of my fingers. I could feel his breath quicken against my knuckles. I swallowed loudly.

I had never really considered what people meant by the word, erotic. I mean, I knew the definition of the word of course, but now I got it.

Erotic was Brian Krakow, who I had only recently been able to tolerate hanging out with again, closing his lips over my fingers and sucking them gently, his eyes fixed on the screen in front of us where a cow was on fire. It might have been the most interesting part of the movie, if more than a little morbid. If I had been watching the movie.

Erotic was definitely weird and very, very wrong and I didn't want it to ever stop. There was this heat rising from my stomach and lower places. My eyelids began to drift shut.

"But I hate fish sticks!" Rickie said.

I jumped and Brian jumped and I pulled my hand away quickly. Guilty. Caught. Brian sat up and we watched with relief as Rickie turned over in his sleep.

And then we were laughing, laughing and trying to be really quiet about it, which made us laugh harder. Laughing at the gray Russian monks, at Chuck and his randomness, at ourselves and how scared we were of each other. I was shaking with laughter when I saw that the clock on the shelf read 11:49.

"I have to go," I said.

I scrambled to my feet, and bounded up the stairs, not looking back to see if Brian was following me. I knew he would. I reached the front door and stopped. It was too impossible, too sad somehow, to do intimate, erotic things with a person in their basement and not even be able to, like, hug them later.

I realized that I didn't know how, which was totally ridiculous. I hugged Rickie almost every day, usually more than once. It wasn't rocket science, or even Keynesian Theory; you just opened your arms. I opened my arms and then Brian stepped into them and his arms came around me.

" I missed you," I said into his chest.

It was a stupid, pointless thing to say. Neither of us had gone anywhere. We had seen each other almost every day for months. He seemed to understand what I meant though, even if I didn't. He took a shuddering breath and pressed his face against my hair.

"I love you," he whispered. "I mean, you know that. You do know that, right?"

"Yeah," I answered. "Yeah, I know. Me too." And I meant it.

Then he kissed me and I was kissing him back and it was more possessive and fierce and inappropriate than a first kiss should probably be. The kisses that followed the first one were even less appropriate. It was lucky the door was there to hold me up, because without it my knees would have given way under me.

"You should go home," he murmured finally into my ear.

"You want to me leave?"

He smiled at me and his eyes crinkled at the corners and again I thought how he looked like a Christmas card angel with the light from the foyer shinning behind him, except maybe a little more mischievous. "No. But I want you to be able to come back tomorrow."

He opened the door and I staggered giddy through it into the night. I knew he would stand in the doorway watching me until I got across the yard to the door of my own house and went inside. I still hated Russian movies. They were too long and too full of doomed Marxists and they set cows on fire. But I had burned the whole world down and it was better than I ever dreamed.