Henry's parents want him to be a musician-- he'd rather be on the track team. Isaac's family is hard-core athletic-- he'd rather paint. Their families both want them to date nice girls, but they'd much rather date each other...


Chapter 1

I'd Rather Not


Isaac's tense, straining, but not in the way he should be, considering where we are and what we're doing. The moaning has stopped, his breathing is shallow. Something's wrong; he's listening.

I hope to God he's not Listening (as his father would say). If fate is smiling on me today then maybe I've just broken his back or something.


A pause, then Isaac mutters suddenly, "Oh God they're in the driveway!"

The bed explodes. Pillows and sheets are flung away to the far corners of the room as we leap into action. I misjudge the distance to the edge of the bed and simply roll off, landing painfully on my back. Stop, drop, roll. The wind's knocked out of me, but I valiantly begin to crawl towards Isaac's bathroom where I will, theoretically, have a few more precious moments of time than out in the open.

Now the sounds reach me. It's his father's van, no doubt about it. I'm suddenly blessed with a burst of inspiration. I get shakily to my feet, realize I have no cloths, and turn around. Isaac's a step ahead of me and throws them in my face from across the room where he's making the bed into something halfway presentable for delicate parents' eyes.

He's in the house, Isaac's dad. I can hear him laughing with one of Isaac's brothers.

I throw on my shirt and pants and leave the rest lying on the floor. Isaac, who, moments before, had been taking his rapturous turn as guinea pig in our experiments in love-making, is rushing from one end of his room to the other with an expression of pure terror on his face. There's a barely concealed limp to his step, like something might be tender there. I notice this with dark satisfaction, and grin.

The bed is made, suspicious devices stuffed into the closet, textbooks gotten out, little false hints placed discreetly in the room for any adult to see. We've rehearsed this. We know what to do and how to do it. And then suddenly we're ready. With time to spare, even. We sit on the floor of his room and wait, panting slightly.

Isaac pulls out a comb from somewhere. He waggles it under my nose.

"Brush," comes the command.

"No." I wave it away.

His eyes narrow. "Why not?"

"If I did then he'd really be suspicious." Isaac shrugs and brushes through his own hair a couple times. I love his hair, and watch greedily as he puts the dark silky mass into a ponytail. He heaves a shaky sigh and picks up a nearby book, flips it open. I follow suit, glancing at the door like anyone else might glance at, say, a bomb. I open it at random to a page halfway through an explanation of the Pythagorean Theorum. It's an interesting choice of textbook, considering we're supposed to be studying English Lit.

Isaac says so calmly that we might as well be discussing it over coffee, "So where you planning on doing the poster or the papier-mâché model?" just as the door opens.


I'm half ready to put the skills I've learned in Drama class to work and half ready to keel over with a heart attack.
I turn my head towards the door as if I'm surprised to find that there's someone in the house. My dad pokes his head in, grinning from ear to ear. I can read the signs easy enough: the team won, which would also explain why they're home early. I hadn't thought it would be over that fast that at all. On the other hand, if he's in a good mood it'll be easier to distract him.

"Hey, Dad," I say. Nonchalant. Pleasantly surprised. Calm. Cool. Not worried at all.

I can see the clogs working in his head as his eyes travel over Henry, to me, and back to Henry. The smile flickers. No-nononononono... "Did you win?" I ask quickly. His eyes snap back to me and the vitality returns to the smile.

"Are you kidding?" he says. "They didn't stand a chance. It was almost pathetic." That's Dad's idea of what modesty is— just add 'almost' to any sentence.

My heart jumps into my throat as he looks around the room, trying not to be openly suspicious. I mentally check the room as if I'm him. It isn't working. I'm too nervous to be accurate.

"Watcha guys doing?" he says in the same offhanded-ness I myself feigned seconds ago, albeit I actually managed to pull it off, whereas my father…

"Homework." I lift my book a little. Observe, we have textbooks this time. "It's a trade off. If I help Henry with his creative project, I get running lessons for P.E."

A little wrinkle appears between his eyebrows. He gets that when he's confused, or doing some real heavy-duty thinking.

Dad's simple, when you get down to it. You don't have to be psychic to read his mind:

I, his son, have always been the black sheep of his offspring because I lack the "Athletic Spirit", so any extra help I get in that direction is a (because Dad likes to talk and, I suspect, think in capital letters) Good Thing. Problem: if the help comes from a Mr Henry Labelle, then is it really a Good Thing?

Dad's teetering dangerously on the edge. It could go either way very suddenly. Henry knows it, too. I can feel him tense beside me.

Dad grunts. "Running lessons, huh?" he asks Henry.

Henry smiles. "Yep. We just got back from a run around the park when you guys rolled in."

All part of the Script, but it's still ingenious. It explains, all at once, why we're sweaty, panting, and a little red in the face, while proving to Dad that Henry is a Good Influence on my Athletic Spirit. Dad's eyes travel down, almost on their own, to the Nike sneakers I placed by the door when he was chatting in the kitchen.

The smile is back on his face and I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. The team is waiting in the van, so he'll feel rushed to get back. Probably. Hopefully. Just leave. Please leave. Go away, c'mon, you can do it…

"You ever think about trying out for soccer?" Dad asks Henry.

"Nah." Henry shrugs, plays the part perfectly. I want to kiss him. "I don't think I could kick and run at the same time. That'd be a little over my head."

My dad snorts with jovial good-humor. "Awright." He's backing out slowly. "I'll let you get back to work, then. I'm taking the team out for pizza and your mom'll be back around 8-ish."

"'Kay. See you."

He waves and is gone. Henry and I listen in silence as he jumps the stairs two at time. The van drives away.

We sigh in unison.

"Good call," says Henry airily. He puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes. It's a small comfort. "I wouldn't have heard him till he was at the door." He laughs nervously. "Shit, can you imagine?"

Yes, I can. All too easily. But I'd rather not.


"So," Isaac says after a silence. "Um, did you say poster or papier-mâché?"

I give him a look. Regardless of how close to sudden death we just were, the joke is not amusing.

"Well you have to do the project sometime," he says bitterly.

"But it's only six," I point out. "He said your mom got off at eight."

"But he didn't say when he'd get back."

"Oh." My shoulders slump, dejected. When it goes right I look absolutely crushed. Isaac can't stand it when I do this. I glance over at him. Oh, yeah. He's totally hooked.

"C'mon..." Now I flash the killer grin and he rolls his eyes.

"Christ," Isaac mutters in a low voice. "They could be back in five minutes for all you know."


"We could get caught."

"It'll be worth it."

"You know my dad." Our gazes lock. For a moment we're serious. "I don't think anything's quite worth that."

Music to my ears. I love a challenge. "Does that mean, 'Henry, prove to me right here and now that you're worth it'?" I tease.

"No, not really."

"Well, I nobly accept!" I say and strike a dramatic pose.

"I don't think you can prove it."

I get to my feet. "We have two hours."

"In which," says Isaac hopefully, "we can work on your project?"

What a sense of humor.

"I'd rather not," I say. "Here. Think of it as being good of your Athletic Spirit. I mean, as I understand it, you can burn up quite a few calories--"

Isaac shakes his head and gives a short laugh. "Shut up, Henry," he says and pulls out his ponytail.

I'm sure I'm grinning like an idiot.

Game on.