It was only first period of the first day of school, and Christopher Thomas already had a bad feeling about his senior year. Somehow, his parents had talked him into taking advanced biology, a subject he was good at and liked well enough, but didn't want to touch with a ten foot pole. Advanced biology meant a dissection almost every week, and even the word dissection made Chris' skin crawl. He could handle genetics and biochemistry and every other sub-topic in the class, but dissections reduced him to a queasy mess. The fact that he'd managed not to pass out during his biology final exam freshman year, which included a rat dissection, was impressive.
"Welcome back, everybody!" greeted the teacher, Mrs. Martin, who was clearly eager to begin, clad in her lab coat and rubber gloves. "I hope you're all excited for a thrilling year of advanced biology!" She paused, expecting the class to show their excitement somehow, but most of the students were half-asleep. "Anyway," she continued, not letting her disappointment show in her voice, "don't get too comfy in those seats, because we haven't assigned lab partners yet!"
Mrs. Martin picked up a glass jar filled with folded slips of paper from her desk. "I've put half of the class in this jar, and the other half will pick a name from it. You first, Michelle," she said, holding the jar out in front of the girl. Michelle dug around, pulled out a slip, and squealed when she read it. She and the girl sitting next to her hugged and stayed in their places.
The next boy to pick a name blushed furiously and glanced over at its owner, a redheaded girl in the back of the room who smiled and waved at him shyly. The next girl grimaced and tried to hide her disappointment as she was paired with the boy sleeping in the corner of the room. "This is gonna be a long year," Chris heard her mutter as she reluctantly carried her bag over to the boy's table.
Finally, Mrs. Martin approached Chris, who dug his hand around in the jar without much thought. "James Church," he read aloud, almost instantly feeling a few girls glaring daggers at him. He recognized that name, anyone would. James Church was the handsome linebacker for the varsity football team. From what Chris understood, he was plenty smart, but rather cocky. He figured that was some kind of requirement to be on the football team, though: be good-looking and arrogant and know how to throw the ball. Chris didn't really think he personally met any of those qualifications, which is why he was on the swim team instead.
James plopped down in the chair next to Chris and greeted him with a wide grin. "Howdy, partner," he said in an attempt to be funny, but Chris just stared at him dubiously with a raised eyebrow. James cleared his throat and tried again, holding out his hand. "I'm James, obviously. Guess we're gonna be spending first period together for a while?"
"Looks like it," Chris said, slowly shaking his hand. "I'm Chris Thomas. I'm just gonna warn you now, we can work together on every other assignment, but when the dead animals and the scalpels come out, you're on your own." He glanced to the front of the room and winced as he saw Mrs. Martin prepping dissection trays with earth worms.
"Not a strong stomach, huh?" James asked. "Don't worry; once you've seen the kind of injuries you see in football, animal guts are nothing."
"Alrighty, now that we're all settled in, what better way to start the year than with a dissection?" Mrs. Martin asked eagerly. Chris held his composure, but paled slightly. Earthworms were nothing compared to, say, a fetal pig, but he was still NOT looking forward to cutting it open.
Mrs. Martin handed out the trays; a long, limp earthworm lay pinned to the rubber on each. A scalpel, scissors, tweezers, and a few flags with various organs written on them were set next to the specimen. "I want you to remove the organs listed on the flags, and identify them. You can use this packet to guide you, but I'd like to see how much you remember from your last biology class," she said, passing back sheets of paper and pairs of gloves.
James snapped on his gloves as soon as he got them and picked up the scalpel, hovering over the worm intently. "The first incision should be around here, right?" he asked, tracing a line above the worm.
Chris flipped open the packet and looked at the instructions. "Exactly there, actually," he said, sounding impressed. James made the cut and continued to stare at the specimen, biting his bottom lip in thought. "You're pretty good at this, huh?" Chris asked.
James shrugged, making another cut and snipping something out. He stuck the flag labeled "Lower Aortic Arch" into the small piece of flesh. "Sports got me into athletic training, and a general interest in bodies," he said nonchalantly. After a moment he glanced over at Chris. "In a normal, scientific way, of course," he clarified, having realized his phrasing was somewhat awkward.
The rest of the period went well; Chris opted to leave James to his work (and not even risk a glance at what he was doing) and instead busied himself with studying his schedule. He knew he had free with Connor McKinley and Nabulungi Hatimbi, so he'd at least have someone to eat lunch with, but he was in the dark for the rest of his classes.
At the end of the class, after having cleaned up the remnants of their experiment (one boy gave up labeling parts and opted to instead turn his worm to mush, Mrs. Martin wasn't very happy with him), Chris and James headed out the door, muttered goodbyes to one another, and parted ways. Chris headed to college prep English, James to gym class, neither one aware of the interrogations they were about to endure.
"Chris!" Nabulungi squealed when the boy in question entered the classroom. She got up from her desk and nearly tripped over another one as she ran to hug Chris. "I'm so happy to see you! How was your summer?"
"Boring, as always," Chris said, happy to see his friend. "But what about you? How was camp?" After having attended the camp most of her childhood, Nabulungi was finally old enough to be a counselor-in-training at her summer camp.
"Amazing! The kids are so great and it was so much fun and…" She glanced all around them, making sure nobody was eavesdropping. "I met a boy there!"
Chris feigned horror. "Nabulungi, those kids are like, ten!" he said, but she only laughed and lightly hit his arm.
"A boy our age, stupid," she said, still laughing. They headed over to two desks next to each other. "He was one of the CIT's at the neighboring camp. I got to see him when we would have inter-camp activities, but I didn't get to talk to him much."
"Didja kiss?" Chris teased, causing Nabulungi to go bright red.
"No we did not!" she stuttered out, trying to hide her face from the other students. "We only got to talk a little bit. I didn't even get his phone number."
The teacher cleared his throat at the front of the room. "Welcome to college prep English, everyone. Obviously you're here because you weren't good enough for advanced English, but still need it to not crash and burn in college."
"Gee, thanks," Chris muttered to Nabulungi, who tried not to giggle.
"I'm Mr. Harris," the teacher continued, having either ignored or not heard Chris, "and I hope you all did the summer reading, because you're getting an assignment on it right now." A few students groaned as he began to pass back packets. "Judging by this course's poor track record in regards to how many people actually read the book, I'll let you work in pairs. It's due by the end of the period." The class visibly relaxed and began pushing their desks together.
Having both read the book, Nabulungi and Chris whizzed through the packet, left with plenty of time to catch up with one another. "How about you?" Nabulungi said, flipping her assignment closet and signing her name at the top. "You must have done something interesting while school was out."
"Unless you count babysitting Emma and her little friends while they had nightly sleepovers as interesting, no, nothing worth talking about," Chris said.
"Oh," Nabulungi said, sounding disappointed. "Well, how was biology? You puke yet?" she teased.
Chris stuck his tongue out at her. "No, I haven't puked yet," he said, rolling his eyes. "And we even did a dissection! How's that for manly?"
Nabulungi laughed softly. "Oh yes, so manly. What was it? An owl pellet? A worm?" Chris nodded. "How did you manage cutting a worm open?"
"I didn't. My lab partner James did most of the work."
Nabulungi nodded, vaguely interested, before her eyes shot wide open. "James who?" she asked slowly.
She had to cover her mouth to not squeal. "You get to spend first period with James Church every day for the whole year?" she asked, trying to keep her excited voice soft so she wouldn't draw attention to them.
"Yeah, so?" Chris asked, shrugging. "I don't get what's so great about him. From what I've heard he's kind of an asshole."
"But he's so hot!" Nabulungi said, blushing as she realized what a teenage girl she sounded like. "I mean, there are worse things to be stuck looking at for an hour every morning."
Chris laughed softly. "You've certainly moved on quickly from camp boy, haven't you?"
"His name is Arnold," Nabulungi squeaked out, "and while James Church is very attractive, Arnold is special."
"Whatever you say," Chris said, smiling and shaking his head.
"You should get his number," Nabulungi prompted after a beat of silence.
Chris raised an eyebrow at her. "I'm not gay," he replied.
"I didn't say you should call him!"
"You're impossible," he said through a laugh.
James wasn't five steps into the locker room when he was nearly tackled by a few members of the football team.
"If it isn't Jamie! How was your summer, man?" Kevin Price, running back, slapped James on the back in greeting. Noah Neely, Vince Michaels, and Eric Schrader were right behind him.
"Busy," James said, individually greeting his teammates. "Between work and summer training for football, I barely had time for myself."
"Or for the ladies," Vince teased, and the guys all laughed. "But come on, man, you at least had time to get a little, right?"
"Well," James trailed off for suspense. "Just a little," he said with a grin.
"You dog!" Eric said, high-fiving James.
The boys exchanged summer stories, taking their sweet time changing for gym, until Vince spoke up again. "Saw you talking to that Chris Thomas kid after first, man. What was up with that?"
James shrugged. "He's my lab partner in advanced biology."
Noah raised an eyebrow. "Didn't he like, pass out when that Davis kid puked in the lunch room?"
"Yeah, I thought he was the most squeamish kid in the school or something," Kevin said.
"He kind of is. We cut up some worms and I had to do all the work."
"God, that kid's such a queer," Vince said. Most of the other guys nodded in agreement.
"Really?" James asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, totally," Eric said. "Why do you think he's so pale? That kid's so far in the closet he's probably never even seen the sun."
"Shame he'll probably never come out," Kevin mused.
Vince raised an eyebrow. "Well… Why don't we give him a little help?"
"What're you getting at?" James asked.
"Think about it. All we gotta do it get him to fall for some irresistible guy, and then he'll be ready to tell the whole school… Perhaps at homecoming?"
"You mean, like, outing him?" Kevin asked apprehensively. "I dunno, is that really a good idea?"
"Don't think of it as outing him," Eric began, putting a hand on Kevin's shoulder. "Just think of it as unlocking the closet door for him… And pushing him out, in front of the whole school."
"It'd be easy," Vince cut in. "Get him to think he has a chance with some guy, string him along for a while, and get him to confess his feelings at the homecoming dance, conveniently near a microphone or a camera, or both."
"Yeah, but who's gonna be the guy?" James asked.
Eric glanced around their group for a moment. "Neely! Hows about you take one for the team, bro?"
Noah's eyes widened. "No way, man! My girlfriend would kill me if I was gay!"
Vince laughed. "Right, sorry. Didn't know Paige still had you wrapped around her little finger." Noah said nothing, opting to punch Vince in the arm instead.
"What about you?" Eric asked, looking at James. "You've got that whole 'I'm so irresistible I could get anyone to want me' thing going on."
Noah nodded. "Yeah, and you're his lab partner, so you can spend time with him without it looking weird!"
James shrugged. "Sure, I guess. It might be kind of fun."
"Alright!" Vince said, starting to head out the door to go to class. "Just get him to like you and make him think he has a chance, alright? This is gonna be legendary!"
"Are you really gonna do this?" Kevin asked James. "Is outing someone really something you'd do?"
"We're not outing him," Eric said, he and Noah following Vince out. "We're just helping him come to terms with himself, whether he wants to or not. It'll be fun!"
"What's the worst that could happen?" James assured Kevin before following the others to the gym. Kevin sighed and went with them.
Thus, the plan, creatively dubbed 'The Plan', was born.