Lexington High School, Scene 5. PE.
PE was probably the most worthless class in the history of all classes. Ryan was 110% sure of it. They stretched for exactly five minutes at the beginning of the period before lapsing into an unorganized game that resulted in 70% of the students wandering to the back of the gym to text, gossip, or harass each other.
But even so. Even so. Coach Ferguson gave him shit for his asthma.
“Stop being such a pussy, Freedman,” Doug snarled.
He was standing at the side of the gym near the net of balls, barking orders occasionally with his whistle poised to blow at any moment. It was kind of amusing how he thought orchestrating a dodge ball game (which Ryan thought was the worst and most dangerous game ever) was serious business.
“I’m not being a pussy, sir. I just have chronic respiratory problems and I don’t really want to risk being nailed in the chest or stomach with a dodge ball. Maybe you should figure out better games. How is this even exercise?”
Doug’s eyes moved slowly from where they’d been trained on Hsin to focus on Ryan. His nostrils flared. “Listen, you little git, how are you ever going to get a girlfriend if you’re this scared of being active?”
“I protest the use of the word active for dodge ball, sir.” Ryan adjusted his track pants. They were too big and kept sliding down his hips. “Besides, I’m gay.”
“So why the fuck are you so afraid of balls?”
Ryan scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t be a jerk. It’s not my fault I have the lung capacity of a goldfish.”
The shrill sound of the whistle exploded in Ryan’s ear and he winced, taking a step back.
“Vega! You’re on the bench!”
Across the gym, Hsin flipped Doug off. He was stretched tall and lean in a pair of black sweatpants and a nearly skintight gray henley. His black hair was wild, everywhere, like he’d been busy with someone behind the bleachers and their fingers had been running through it. Ryan immediately hated Boyd. Well, not really. But kinda.
“He didn’t even do anything yet,” Ryan protested faintly, not taking his eyes off Hsin. How could someone so terrible be so beautiful? He could probably throw Ryan out of a window and he’d still be willing to rip off his clothing and sacrifice himself at the altar of Vega. Maybe.
“Key word being, yet,” Doug snapped. He made some complicated hand gesture and then shouted, “Don’t even think on it, Kassian! I’ll have your goddamn arse if you get another concussion.”
He stared at the game for a full minute before finally turning back to Ryan. “Don’t be using the gay thing as an excuse, Freedman. Even–”
“I’m not! I’m using the goldf–”
“–Boyd is willing to play and everyone knows that he’s sweet as a goddamn strawberry shortcake.” Doug pointed at the blond teen.
Boyd was staring into the game with a pensive expression creasing his face. He had two different colored balls in his hands and frowned at each of them seriously before putting them down and carefully selecting another.
Ryan raised his eyebrows at Doug. “If that’s all it takes, I can do that too.”
“Okay, fuck, bad example.” Doug shook his head in disgust. “Just… just collect the balls or something. Or better yet, why don’t you interview Harriet and Kassian. Do a story on us trouncing Carson in the game and I’ll give you a bloody A.”
“Really?” Ryan perked up. “An A?”
“Yeah, yeah. Apparently your little webzine gets all kinds of attention around the country. I could use some scouts showing their bloody faces– VEGA! ONE MORE TIME AND I’M GETTING ARCHER IN HERE!”
“Go fuck a kangaroo, Ferguson.”
Ryan rubbed his chin. The high school webzine got loads of traffic because he routed specific keywords and search queries to it on various web browsers, but he wasn’t going to share that information with the Coach.
“You got a deal.”
“Good. Now bugger off.”
Ryan complied and buggered in the direction of Harriet Stevens. He bypassed Boyd, who was now rolling a dodge ball between his hands as if testing its firmness, and searched for the female linebacker. The game was being dominated primarily by Hsin and Kassian who were apparently doing their best to destroy the entire gym in their zeal to nail each other with dodge balls.
Kassian hurled one at Hsin’s face so hard that Ryan froze, stomach clenching up as he winced in advance. But Hsin rolled out of the way and grabbed another ball, chucking it at Kassian. It missed and instead sailed across the gym and crashed into one of the double doors. The door slammed open, rebounded against the wall, and the glass in the window at the center broke.
Shaking his head, Ryan wandered over to Owen. “Hey.”
“Hey buddy!” Owen said cheerfully. “Oh jussec.”
He suddenly sprinted over, snatching the ball out of Boyd’s hands right as he was looking ready to throw it. Boyd stood frozen with empty hands for one moment before he sighed heavily and sat down right where he’d been standing. He morosely pushed a spare ball away from him.
Without stopping, Owen twisted around and chucked the ball at Jeffrey, who was one of the few people actually trying to play the game by the rules. The ball slammed into him so hard that Jeffrey was thrown onto his ass.
“YEEEEERRR OUTTA THEEERE!” Owen yelled triumphantly, wind milling an arm and pointing to the side like an overly dramatic umpire.
“Goddamnit, Owen, I’m on your fucking team!” Jeffrey raged.
“YOU’RE DISQUALIFIED, O’CONNELL!” Doug screamed.
“Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!” Owen retorted with happy anger, shaking his fist. “It means ‘okay!'” he continued at the sight of Doug’s glare. Owen trotted back over to Ryan and said with a smirk, “It doesn’t really mean ‘okay.'”
“Yeah, I think everyone in the gym probably figured that.” Ryan pushed his glasses up his nose. “Listen, have you seen Harriet Stevens? I need to talk to her ASAP.”
Owen’s face scrunched up. “Harriet? Yeah, she was just…”
He peered around the gym, for a moment looking thoroughly perplexed, and then he brightened. He actually slapped one fist into the other open palm. Who even did that in real life?
“That’s right, she took Emma to the nurse’s office. She was hit by one of the errant balls. The first of many casualties in the war of Vega-v-Trovosky. The three v’s, as it were. Wait, that’s good! If you use that in your next article, I want credit or maybe just a bearclaw.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Owen. I guess I’ll go risk my life talking to Kassian. Try not to piss Jeffrey off too much. Computer club is going to be seriously lame if he quits and we’re the only two there.”
“Man, I won’t,” Owen said with exasperation. He peered over at Jeffrey, who was currently limping around slowly; seemingly still trying to play the game. “I’m just trying to help him lighten up. Dude’s about as fun as a constipated cat on Christmas.”
“And he thinks you’re strongly in need of Ritalin spray,” Ryan replied good-naturedly. “But seriously? Help him win, and he will love you. Not in a gay way. But in a Jeffrey way.”
Ryan patted Owen on the shoulder.
Owen sighed heavily. “Okayyyy, I’ll try. But it’ll have to be another time because Fergface disqualified me already, unrighteously so at that.”
Ryan arched an eyebrow, which promptly disappeared into his mane of black curls and cowlicks. “If you say so, dude.”
He turned and surveyed the rest of the gym. The majority of the students who were supposed to be playing dodge ball were cowering at the side of the gym. Even Jeffrey had paused as the two teams lapsed into Hsin and Luke Gerant (who most likely just didn’t want to be the last person to abandon Hsin), and Kassian and the jocks. It was 2 versus 7, and somehow Hsin was still winning.
Ryan knew he was supposed to be risking his life for an A to get the interview, but he was once again caught by the sight of Hsin. He’d stripped off his shirt and his shoulders, and good God, V-shaped torso, were glistening damply with sweat. It was like erotica. Like gay porn. Or a romance novel. It was disgusting.
Looking around guiltily, Ryan spotted Boyd in the far corner of the gym. He’d hunched over a notebook and was scribbling furiously as blond hair curtained his face. He didn’t even see how rape-able his boyfriend looked at the moment! What. A. Waste.
Ryan loped closer to the game. Kassian was stripping down too, seemingly out of some sense of beautiful man competitiveness, and was snarling at his teammates to fuck off.
“This is between me and Vega,” Kassian snapped.
“I dunno, man. He’s kind of whooping our asses with the eight of us,” Patrick said uneasily. He looked over at Hsin who gave him a terrible smirk.
“I said BACK OFF!”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Hey Kass.”
“Wha— oh, hey Ry.” Kassian managed a tense smile and he dropped a hand on one of Ryan’s narrow shoulders, squeezing. “You should probably stay out of the perimeter of the game. It’s getting pretty intense and I don’t want you getting the wind knocked out of you if Vega chucks the ball in your direction.”
Ryan looked over at Hsin. He was combing his fingers through his hair. Good God.
“Um. Maybe you should just leave him alone? I know you two are fighting over Boyd and stuff, but this just looks like bullying.”
Kassian’s mouth dropped open. He seemed at a loss for words and gestured in protest before finding them. A flash of irritation crossed his face. “How is this bullying? He started it. I can talk to Boyd if I want to. He doesn’t have the market on gorgeous twinks.” Kassian frowned. “Well maybe he does if YOU are over here defending him.”
Ryan paused. He was pretty sure Kassian Trovosky had just called him a gorgeous twink. He tried not to smile. Or turn red. And failed at both.
“I’m just saying that it’s all of you against two of them. Well, I mean, if you count poor Luke. And I’m writing this article for the ‘zine, and I’d hate to have to take a picture of the football team nailing one kid with dodge balls. I bet, like, potential scouts would think you’re a bad person. Which you’re not. But, you know.”
“Hmm.” Kassian squeezed the dodge ball and stared down at Ryan thoughtfully. The stare lasted for a long time. And then started to drop lower, focusing on Ryan’s clavicle, and his shoulders, and then lower to his crotch, and then back up to his lips. “You know, you’re pretty–”
“ALRIGHT VEGA, LET’S SHOW THESE LADS WHO NOT TO FUCK WITH!”
The Cockney accent totally cut through the fantastic fantasy that Ryan was having that ended in Kassian ravishing him in the locker-room. He jerked his gaze away from Kassian’s eyefuck to the other side of the gym. It was too late. Much too late.
Bex snatched the dodge ball from Hsin, spiked it like volleyball, and sent it soaring directly at them.
When the ball slammed into Ryan’s chest, he decided, even as his vision grayed out, that he was never participating in PE again.