Chapter Seven

Jigsaw of Lovely Little Skid Marks



I would like to say, just for the record, that my hair has never been a problem before.

I like it out of my face, and wearing it long and pulled back gets the job done. But things are different now. I can't just ignore the team like I would have done before I knew Henry. Maybe I'm just being oversensitive to what people think of it.

But Henry's not directly responsible for why I'm in the waiting room of the hair salon my family uses. The majority of the track team can be thanked for that. I'm here when I should have been playing manager for team because there's a certain poetic justice about skipping practice for this that appeals to me. Managing the track team isn't very difficult— they're rather like potted plants: a little water, a little sunshine, my work is done. They're just have to suffer and fill their own water bottles for a change today.

Nevertheless, it's uncomfortable. Even though I asked the track coach if I could take the day off, I still feel as though I'm committing a misdemeanor. I've never been here by myself, without the rest of my family.

I clear my throat and look around, trying not to feel so awkward. There are two women in the opposite corner of the room getting manicures. Nikki, the young receptionist behind the counter, is checking her email on the computer. Everything smells soothingly of a lavishness the likes of which the men of my family are rarely afforded. And I love it.

I'm trying not to be nervous about what Henry will think (he likes my long hair), while telling myself that I don't care in a very loud inner-voice so I won't hear the doubts, the suspicion that this is letting Them win, that it's copping out.

No. This is just me—and I've had enough.

"Hey, Isaac."

I look up. Jerome, the only male stylist here, is standing by the passageway that leads into the back part of the building. He's looking around expectantly although I'm the only one sitting there.

"Hey," I say, surprised and pleased that he would ever do another person from this family again after the incident with Leon. Actually, the only reason he managed to get within a foot away from Leon to begin with was that my brother hadn't figured out Jerome was gay. But he smiles and waves at me to follow him like it never happened.

Still, for a second, I don't move. The red-head lady named Beth was the one who did my hair the last couple times. Maybe she just isn't in today. It isn't like I made an appointment or anything. It does make me uneasy, though— well, of course I'm not homophobic, but I'm positive Jerome knows from the smiles and looks and casual comments he drops when we come in. The last thing I need is him saying something when one of my brothers is right there. But Jerome has to have a bit more sense than that.


But it's this or Dad and his If a buzz-cut was good enough for me, it's good enough for you philosophy. Quite honestly, I'd rather shoot myself than be willingly subjected to that, since he's been getting after me for years to cut my hair like a "normal boy."

Ammunition, please.

The back of the salon isn't any busier than the front (that's why we get discounts when we bring the whole family). There's a lady hair stylist in the larger corner stall chatting with a forty-something woman getting her hair dyed, but besides that it's empty. A radio plays an oldies station somewhere out of sight. The overhead lights give everything a warm glow and make the room feel bright and inviting.

He leads me back to a stall, twirling the chair around for me. "How're you doing?" he says. "Where's the rest of the fam?"

"They couldn't come," I say, sitting down and watching him in the mirror. "This is just for me."

"What did you have in mind?" Jerome says, taking out one of those huge body aprons and tying it loosely around my neck. He draws out the band that keeps my hair tied back, and, giving it an ugly look, throws it over his shoulder into the trashcan like a jaded pro basketball player.

"Um," I say as he starts running his fingers through my hair, "I'm not really sure. I definitely want it short."

"Really? You're cutting it?"

"Yeah. But not that short, just not in my face and probably not long enough to pull up in a ponytail."

"Hmm." He pulls a strand of hair out away from my head, checking for god-knows-what. "Anything else?"

I cringe a little. He's styled like the men in the waiting room books for crying out loud, and my hair's greasy enough to hold its shape by itself. Why didn't I at least take the time to wash it this morning?

"Um. I don't know," I say. "What do guys usually ask for when they come in?"

Jerome steps back and looks me over. After a moment he nods and says, "Wait here. I'll be back."

I blink. Where does he think I'm going to run off to? "Okay."

He comes back and says, "When I show you these, just pick the first one that really strikes you, okay?"

It seems like a crude way to pick what will be my hair for the next howevermany months, but I nod and he puts before me three pictures of twenty-somethings all with amazing hair. I glance and point. "That one."

"Nice choice," he says and I'm led to the sinks. "Subtle, but with an edge. A little punk, but artsy."

"Kind of short, not that short, easy to handle, not in my eyes?" I say. I've sealed my fate, but that hair… the style, I liked it, but on me? That's for people with self-confidence. I'd be laughed out of the building if I tried wearing that to school.

He smiles, making me nervous in a nice way. "It's a pretty drastic change, I know. That's always a little nerve-wracking. But trust me, you were made for this style. You're going to love it."

Putting a finger on my shoulder, he pulls me back into the chair and pulls my hair back into the sink. He turns on the water, and after a wetting it down, begins to work the shampoo in. It feels great and I allow myself to loosen up. Fractionally.

Jerome gives a little snort of laughter. "Something on your mind, Isaac?"

Besides the social suicide I'm about to let you put me through? I open my eyes. "Oh… not really."

"You sure? You were smiling. How's the water? Too hot?"

I was smiling? "No, I'm okay." It is beginning to dawn on me, as my mind latches onto something other than what is about to happen to my hair, that I might have realized that I like guys sooner if I had had Jerome doing my hair instead of an old lady who wore too much makeup.

Not that I'm being a flirt or anything. It feels so good it could almost be arousing, but it's not. Thinking about it logically, the chance that he's even aware he's transferring sexual undercurrents to his customer while he washes their hair is highly unlikely (a thought that is at once both depressing and sobering). My second-guessing makes me more certain that Jerome knows, as though he can sense my gayness through my hair roots.

I'm being oversensitive. Again. I sigh and vow not to act like a blushing adolescent.

The water is turned off and a towel wrapped around my head. Jerome rubs it decisively all over to get most of the water out, and I blush when he gets a bit of the towel and wipes around in my ears like a giant Q-tip. But not adolescently, I think. That was most definitely not an adolescent blush.

Back in the stall, Jerome pulls off the towel and pumps the chair up till it's to a satisfactory height before starting in with the comb.

"You don't talk like all the other hair cutters I've had," I say, and think Why did I say that? "Usually I can't get them to shut up."

"You usually have Beth, right? Hah, isn't that the truth. You have really nice hair," he says in a slightly different voice. I decide not to dig any deeper into that comment. "Sit up nice and tall for me? Perfect." Jerome takes a breath and gets out the scissors. "So why the sudden decision to cut it?"

"No reason."

"I see." He commits the first snip; I fight the urge to flinch. "Does that mean it's confidential?"

My ears tingle. "No." But I don't say anything else.

Our eyes meet for a second in the mirror before I quickly look away.

He offers up an apologetic half-smile. "Sorry. It's kind of my job to be snoopy, you know? The whole talkity hair salon person thing."

"People were making fun of it," I say after a moment.

He frowns. "Weird. Most of the people I know around here are more mature than that. So who are these people that are making fun of your wonderful hair?"

"Track team."

"Track team, huh…?" Jerome, concentrating on making sure the strands are the right length and such, shakes his head. "So, what? They thought it was girly or something?"

"Something like that," I say. Yes, he definitely knows. Doesn't he? "They didn't put it quite like that, though."

He's still shaking his head, but now he's smiling. "Don't even take the time to listen to people like that, Isaac. People used to point out my hair all the time. That was right after I decided I wanted to be a hair stylist, so I would practice on myself sometimes…"


"Yeah, not the smartest thing, now that I think back on it. The name calling didn't get any better, to say the least. It got called every name, too, because the teachers really got on them about sexual harassment, but they could get away with regular harassment, no problem. Let me see… there was girly, sissy, Frankenstein… the whole shmo, actually."

"But your hair isn't any of those." And it's not. It's a deep chestnut color with the tips being a lighter shade of brown. All of it's cut short, but it has a kind of shaggy quality to it. The sort of hair romance novelists dream about.

I take to watching him in the mirror. I'm getting the feeling something's about to happen. "You don't seem like the kind of person that would stand for people making fun him."

Jerome grins. "Really? That's nice. I came out in high school and people weren't as mature or accepting as they are now."

"Oh," I say, and a heavy feeling settles over my chest. He certainly isn't giving me any hope for my own situation, but I admire how he can just say it. Emeril-style, as Henry would say: I came out in high school, I'm a hair stylist and I'm proud of it. Bam.

I clear my throat. "My brother was really surprised when he found out."

"What about you?"

It occurs to me that it wasn't a very tactful thing to bring up. I sigh. "I don't know. It wasn't like you had a sign on your forehead announcing it."

He smiles warmly. "Even though I work at a hair salon? It didn't cross your mind that I might be?"

"Well, no," I say, and it's true. That was before I thought regularly about things like sexual orientation. "Just because you work here…"

Jerome puts his scissors down. Putting one hand on his hip, he leans on my head with his free elbow and stares at me in the mirror, with one eyebrow raised and smirking as if to say, Let's be honest with each other, shall we?

"Okay, maybe just a little bit," I mutter, and he picks back up his scissors, grinning. "But I hate it when people stereotype and it's stereotyping to say you should be gay just because of your job."

"Yeah, but it just so happens that I am gay and I am a hair stylist, so the stereotype is sort of true," he says, checking lengths (I'm trying not to pay too close attention to the amount of hair I'm losing). "See? It's not so bad. Is it just because you don't want the track team to think you're gay? Because of all the things to assume by, hair length isn't one of the more important ones. Are you gay?"

Well, at least he was honest and up-front about intrusiveness being part of his job. Unfortunately, I am stupid and take too long to answer. I mean, he already knows, so it shouldn't be a problem, but of course I choke.

"We're not listening!" a female voice assures us loudly from a few stalls over. My face goes instantly red. I had forgotten there were other people in the room. Come to think of it, they hadn't been talking for some time now…

Jerome sighs and his head rolls back on his shoulders. "Thanks, Trish!" he calls out with a hint of sarcasm.

"No problem, kid!"

He rubs the back of his neck. "Trish is my aunt. And, boy, if you think I'm snoopy…"

There's a snort of laughter from one of the women. "I heard that!" Trish snaps.

"Good!" Jerome snaps back.

Another sigh and Jerome gets back to work. It takes a minute before he leans close and says in a softer voice: "Sorry about that. It really wasn't any of my business, was it? Do you mind?"

I sigh and try to loosen my grip on the chair's arm rests. "No," I say, voice tight. "Go ahead." If nothing else, it'll be good practice. He's the first person besides Henry to know… and who better to tell than someone I see maybe once every five months and whom majority of my family has sworn never to speak to again?

"So… are you? Gay?" he adds when I don't say anything. I don't think I'm going to say anything.

Are you gay? Yes.

Why is that so hard to say? Yes, I'm gay. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Maybe the silence will do the talking for me.

"In the closet?" Jerome asks, and I love the way he says it, like we're discussing my split ends. I can practically feel Trish and her customer leaning against their stall with their hands cupped behind their ears.

I swallow hard, but I feel myself loosening up. "Kind of."

Jerome stands back for a second and exhales slowly. "Bummer. I know the feeling," he says, and I wish I could express how happy it made me to hear him say that. I wish I had expressed to him how happy it made me. "Why kind of?"

"I can't tell my family." I scoff and shake my head. "They would kick me out the door so fast. Talk about stereotypical…"

"No, go on. Are you sure?" says Jerome. "Maybe you're being too hard on them. If you gave them a chance?"

I laugh. "How can you say that? You've met them."

Jerome rolls his eyes. "Friends, counselors?"

"My dad's involved with the school. It would get back to him, somehow."

"There was something," Jerome says thoughtfully, "about the way you said that just now that scared me. Like Mafia scary." Jerome puts down the scissors and begins to double-check lengths. Finally, satisfied with everything else, he puts everything just so, to make it look right. "So. What do you think?"

About…? Oh. New hair. Right.

I look at myself in the mirror and turn my head to one side, then the other, trying to get a mental feel for how my hair moves now that it's short. Who is this person in the mirror? It makes me look… I don't know. Older. More assured. Attractive, I guess. Must be the lighting.

"Do you like it?" says Jerome. His hands are on my shoulders with the thumbs resting on the back of the neck.

"It's great," I say and mean it. "My head feels so light."

He looks down. "Yeah, I guess so. Look at all this hair you lost. Well, everything set? Great." Jerome steps back, touches something on the chair with his foot and the chair goes down. "In that case, you are done, sir." He holds out his hand to help me out of the chair. I take it, and glance at him sharply when he holds on a split second too long, but it's completely lost on him. He's looking the other way.

Again, with the oversensitive-ness…

I head out to the waiting room (Trish and the other customer are giggling as I leave) and pay Nikki. She's counting out my change when Jerome appears. He leans over the counter at me, looking serious. I get poised to flee.

"Isaac," he says, "look, I know we don't really know each other, but with this whole thing you're going through right now…"

As he's talking I glance over at the nail people (not looking, but not talking), then at Nikki (not looking, but not counting out my change anymore), then back at Jerome. "Maybe we shouldn't… now isn't the right time?" I say.

His eyes narrow and he stares at the girl beside him with a flat expression. "Why not? Everyone's been eavesdropping on us so far, haven't they, Nicole?"

Nikki jumps and fumbles with the dollar bills. "No!" she says. "What? I didn't hear everything."

Jerome fixes his eyes on the ceiling for a moment. "Yeah, why don't we step outside?"

"Okay," I say. I take my change from Nikki and follow Jerome as he pulls a coat off the coat rack and steps out onto the veranda-walkway that connects the hair salon to the Laundromat on one side and the coffee shop on the other. Jerome pulls on his coat and leans with his back against the railing. He sighs.

"You're not going to tell your family," he says. "But you should. You know, as long as they're not the mob. You should tell someone."

"No," I say. "But it would only make it worse. I mean, you've met them. You know how they are. You saw how Leon was."

He crosses his arms over his chest and takes a deep breath. "Yeah."

I feel bad about my angry tone of voice, and go over and stand next to him by the railing. "I'll be going to a university out of state next year, but in the meantime, I'd kind of like to live with people that don't hate my guts."

"And they're probably paying, or helping pay," he sighs. Jerome's hand is on my shoulder, pulling us together. "Well, if you ever seriously got kicked out, I'll help you out," he says. "You can always call me."

I get a little worried. I try to tell myself that for all I know Jerome could be a serial killer in his off time, but I know that's nonsense. I'm a jerk for even thinking about turning down his kindness. "That's… kind of odd," I say. "You're just my hair stylist."

"Even so." He shrugs. "It's always good to have a backup plan. You know my number."

"I do?"

"Of course." He nods towards the hair salon.

"Oh," I say lamely. The number is painted on the window. "Yeah, I guess I do, huh?" After however long sitting in a chair having Jerome cut and tease my hair, it's almost easy to ignore the action when he tucks a strand back behind my ear. Except that it's also sort of not.

Everything goes into slow motion, and we stare at each other for a very quiet moment. His hand is poised above my cheek, almost touching but not quite, although I could imagine one of his meticulously manicured nails on my jaw line.

The moment breaks, for no apparent reason. I'm flustered. "Sorry—" I say apologetically, like I've just trod on his shoe or something. Like I was the one getting too close. For a second, it seems like he's about to smile, but it fades distractedly into a frown. He glares out of the corner of his eye at the salon building.

"My Patricia and Nicole senses are tingling," he informs me. I glance into the window in time to see a flurry of well-kept hair ducking down in the general area of the receptionist's counter.

"They are so gonna get it later," Jerome says.

I lean away. "Well, we—"

He holds hands up. "I know, I know, we just met and we don't really know each other, but… you know. You're a really cool person, Isaac. Would it be too forward to ask if you would, maybe, like to go out sometime? With me?"

I'd have to say I'm about as red in the face as I can get when I say, "Jerome, you know I'm still in high school, right?"

He stares. I had been kind of joking, but this is obviously news to him "You are?"

I nod, not sure whether to laugh or not. "Yes. Couldn't you tell? I mean, I've been coming in with my family for however long…"

"You could have just been living with them," he says guardedly. "But you're a senior, right? You've got to be, there's no way…"

"Yes, I'm a senior!" I say quickly. "I told you I was going to be going to a university."

He laughs. "I thought it was a transfer! Man, give me a heart attack, will you?" He runs his hand through his hair and sighs, smiling. "I just blew that, didn't I?" I shrug and he raises his eyebrows. "Does that mean there might still be a chance?"

"You mean there might be a chance ignoring the fact that I'm not legal?" I say mischievously and he rolls his eyes. "Besides, I…" I look away. "I kind of have a boyfriend."

It's like sinking into a hot tub, how good that feels to say out loud to someone. I have a boyfriend.

He stares at me from half-open eyes and a lazy smile like there's nothing I could possibly tell him that could surprise him anymore. "Kind of?"

"Well, no one else knows, really, but…"

"Ah. I think I see now. So not only are you probably only in high school, but you're taken?" He shakes his head. "I sure know how to pick 'em. But… well, I guess that makes sense. I can't see you going single for any great length of time," he says offhandedly, but my ears go hot. "You must think I'm some sort of pedophile, now."

I snort. "I'm not that young."

"Obviously, or I wouldn't have asked you out."

"And you can't be that old," I say. "How old are you, anyway?"

"Twenty-six." Almost a decade's difference. A smile appears on his face. "I just made a total ass of myself, but you know what? It's okay. I guess I never really did ask. Serves me right. Well…" He clears his throat: "How about going out as a friend instead of as a date?" He holds out his hand. "Whaddya say?"

"Yes." I smile and shake his hand. Besides Henry, I finally have what feels like a true ally. "I'd like that."



I open the door to the pool locker rooms and immediately start sweating. I strip off my jacket and hang it on a hook, but I might as well have replaced it with a parka for all the good it does. Damn, how do these freaks stand it being so warm in here?

I nod at the lifeguard, Jason or Jaron or something from one of my classes, and take a seat on the benches. There are some girls from the diving team warming up, but there's only one lane set up, for the two people doing laps on the opposite side of the pool. I can't tell if either of them is Ben or not. George could have, but between him and Isaac I ended up coming back by my lonesome, although I'm not sure why. Ben seems like an okay guy. You know. After you've gotten to know him.

I slouch till my back touches the wall, and recline on the benches. The humidity has me too drowsy and lazy to go over and ask. I mean, as much as they probably wish they were, they're not fishes, even if they're trying to prove that wrong by coming back to the pool in the off-season. But, either way, they'll have to get out of the water some time.

A voice snaps me out of a doze. "Back to negotiate?"

I open my eyes and sit forward on the bench. Ben, Speedo-clad and dripping wet, stands before me with his hands on his hips. He's smirking, or will have been smirking, right after I smash a No in his face like a big cream pie.

I take out a piece of paper, with the response I'm supposed to read. "No," I read. "I'm just here to tell you that The Powers That Be"— which should have been Isaac but ended up being George, who leapt at the change to engage in mild mutiny against his swim captain—"aren't going to comply and that you shouldn't be surprised when you get your yearbook back and aren't taking up space proportionate to your ego."

Ben blinks. "That's outrageous," he says. "Did George tell you to say that?"

I shrug, but I'm impressed that he could guess. "I'm just the messenger." That was also written on the paper, in answer to Ben's anticipated retort.

"Huh," says Ben blandly. "Can't blame you for that, I guess, if you're just the messenger."

"Thank you so much."

"But you tell those Powers That Be that…" His face screws up in thought, but words fail him. "I'm gonna talk with the yearbook teacher," he settles on at last.

"That sounds like a good plan," I say and push myself off the bleachers, almost slipping on Ben's puddle. He reaches out to grab me, keeping me from falling, but I recoil once I'm on my feet. But it's too late. There're wet marks all over my arm, and Ben hasn't even let go yet.

Ben doesn't appear to notice that he's dripping all over me. "Careful, there," he says. His fingers squeeze around my upper arm. "Wow, muscular."

"If you think that's good you should feel my legs." He gives me a wide-eyes look. "I'm in track," I explain.

Ben rolls his eyes. "Oh, please. You think track's the only sport you get nice thighs in? You should swim," he says. "Seasons don't overlap, and they're practically the same thing."

"Except for the whole drowning part," I say and the lifeguard gives me a look.

"Ah, who cares?" says Ben. "Besides, I'd love to be able to say I hardly recognize you with clothes on." And the lifeguard gives him a look.

I'm not as shocked as I would have been if I hadn't been forewarned by George. "Are you gay or is that a swimmer thing?" I say. It's always good to be the first one to ask. People tend to figure someone not wanting to be found out would be too afraid to ask. Unless they're insecure or think you're joking, in which case they'll throw it back at you either as a counter-attack or while sniggering.

"Bi," Ben says, completely unfazed. "And it's a swimmer thing. Too many people in the world wanting a piece of Ben to be picky about gender, you know?" He says 'Ben' like it's a brand name. And he winks.

"No," I say, irritated that my stubborn self had to find out the hard way why everybody doesn't want a piece of Ben™.

He laughs like it's the funniest thing and slaps me on the ass, pulling his towel off the lifeguard's perch at the same time. Now I have a wet hand-print on the back of my pants. Nice. I pull back as he goes to the locker room, pretending to tie my shoe. I stand up at last, look around. I can't tell if the lifeguard— Jaron, Jason, whatever— caught all of it, as he's staring out over the pool.

"Is he always like that?" I say, and without looking at me he nods. "Oh," I say and wave. "Thanks." Then I go towards the door that leads to the outside as fast as I can. No way am I going out via the locker rooms.

"Walk, please," the lifeguard drones.

I head straight to the Fabbro household and from there I limp into the dining room feeling dead on my feet but manage to whistle a merry tune just for George, who is sitting at the table doing homework. A tick starts up under his left eye and he follows my progress as I sit down and kick up my legs to rest them on the table. Now it's a small battle of wills to see who will crack first, and I'm winning.

"What the hell are you doing?" he says, shaking his head.

"Good to see you, too, Georgie" I say coolly, using the name I know he hates. "I came to see if Isaac was here."

"Can't you read?" he says quietly. "What did the whiteboard say?"

"School." I flick one of his papers into reach and examine it. "But Leon was still waiting for him to get back when I left. I don't understand that. Leon's on the track steam, can't he just run home? I did."

"Except it isn't your home." George leans over to get the paper away from me. I pull it just out of his reach before he lunges and give it back to him civilly only after he sits back down. The clock chimes the half-hour.

"Haven't seen you around here for a while," George remarks, tearing his paper out of my hands. "I was beginning to hope you'd forgotten the address."

"I haven't."

"Alas." His eyes narrow. "You can't just barge in here like it's your property," he says. "It's not your house, man." He snorts and tidies up his papers. "If you keep this up, we're going to have to get you a slot on the whiteboard."

"I'd like that."

"What are you really here for?" he asks after a moment.

"Isaac," I say.

"Surprise," says George unexcitedly, and he rolls his eyes to make sure I get the message. "But what exactly, moron?"

There's a no-nonsense quality about the conversations with George that I enjoy. I've always pictured George as being a younger, more devilish Isaac. He's undeniably the one that's most like Isaac, but they're still as different as day and night. On a different note, I'm almost positive he knows more than he lets on to, but if he does, he hasn't squealed yet. Till then, it's a war of words and affectionate bullying. I have to be at least civilized to the boy that would be my brother-in-law, at least in Canada.

"I needed notes from a class," I say.

"Why couldn't you do it at school and spare me your presence?"

"He said he had an appointment and wanted me to go talk to the swim team captain after school about something and I wanted to give him the results today."

"Kind of eager, aren't you?" But George looks perplexed. "Besides, I'm actually on the swim team. I even helped you write that stupid letter. He could've asked me."

"He knew you wouldn't do it."

"Just because I wouldn't have done it doesn't mean he couldn't have asked. It's a family thing," he adds, just throwing it out there as I'm shaking my head. "You have to be in the family to get it. Tough luck, Labelle. You're out of the loop on that one."

I raise an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't you do it for Isaac? Wouldn't that kind of be part of the family thing, too?"

"No, because Ben is an asshole."

The door to the kitchen swings open violently and Jonandjosh scamper out, singing, "George said the A-word! George said the A-word!" I settle back into my chair now that I know the noise is just the twins and not the house getting bombed. They skip in circles around the table until I dig out a few mints out of my pocket and throw them at them, like they're pigeons at the park. Jonandjosh snatch the sweets out of mid-air before hightailing it out of the room, giggling like desperate heroin addicts. All in all, it's actually quite disturbing.

After they're gone, George glares dark brown Italian murder at me until I shrug. "Oops," I offer cheerfully. "Hand must've slipped."

"I'm sure it did!" He juts his chin out. "So what was your impression of the brunette bastard who thinks he's Michael Phelps and Mia Hamm's secret love child?"

"Is Michael Phelps that swimmer guy?" I say.

"Yes. You're an idiot."

"And we're talking about Ben, right?"

"Idiot squared."

"Why Mia Hamm?"

George looks up, horrified. "You didn't hear about that? The whole… incident? With the—"

I shake my head. "Don't tell me. I don't want to know."

"Well, yeah, that's the one. The one and only if there's any justice in the world. What did you want to talk to him about, again?"

"Yearbook stuff for Ize."

"And the verdict this time?"

"That it doesn't matter as long as Isaac can somehow manage to get Ben's face on the cover."


"Might as well have."

"And what did you say?" says George, unmoved, but I can tell I've just won him over. For today. The next time we meet it will start over again.

"That I didn't think Isaac would go for that," I say, swinging my legs a little.

"And he said?"

I roll my eyes. "That he thought I should join the swim team because I'd look great in a Speedo, George. What do you think he said?"

"Honestly, I wouldn't put it past him to say that."

I sigh and flip my head back. "Well," I say, like I'm delivering my speech at the Oscars, "what can I say? I have a thing for dark-haired men and, between my charm and boyish good looks, who wouldn't want me?"

"Ugh." George's face contorts in an ugly way. "I think I'm gonna have to use a lifeline on that one."

"Of course you will, George. Of course you will." I have to keep up the joking manner for consistency. I'm safe as long as I can say later that I was joking. Plus, he's at that age (as if he isn't only a couple younger than I am) where it's clever to insert sexual connotations into everything. No worries.

There's a pause.

"So… dark-haired men, huh?"

"It's a complex."

He leans back in his chair and chuckles. "This family must be a wet dream come true for you. Eh, Henry?" he adds when I don't reply.

I stand up and sprawl myself across the table in his direction. "You know it," I purr.

"You're disgusting," he says and pushes his chair back away from the table. "Do Leon if you're that desperate."

"Leon?" I say, frowning.

"Yeah. You'd look hilarious with your front teeth missing."

We pause at the sound of the door opening and a few seconds later Isaac walks into the room. Except it's not Isaac. It's the way he carries himself, the way it's somehow different how he tilts his head, the way his eyes sparkle. It's Isaac oozing sex appeal. It's Isaac as I've always known him, but with his hair cut now the entire world can see it. For the first two seconds I'm hit with this wave of something that feels like pride, but it's too big, too engulfing to be labeled so neatly.

After those two seconds, about the time it takes me to take in this new image of him, I practically drill a hole in the dining room table from a colossal and almost instantaneous hard-on.

"Whoa," I say. I can't think of anything else. "Isaac…"



"So why couldn't you just wait for everyone else to go in to get their hair cut, too?" Leon asks, sour that he had to wait ten minutes after practice for me to drive back to the school and pick him up. In his mind, that kind of thing only happens to freshmen, but never to seniors. I have no sympathy. For heaven's sakes, he's on the track team. Couldn't he, I don't' know, run home?

I shrug. I feel emboldened with this new hair style. "I got impatient."

His lip curls. "Oh, whatever. You're never impatient. I just hope you didn't pay too much for that. You looking like an affected indie kid. I hate them."

"At least I didn't let Dad do it and wind up looking like I'd gone through chemo," I reply coolly and he makes a rude gesture at me from the passenger seat.

We pull up into the driveway. I erase our whiteboard status on the way in and head for the kitchen. I hear George before I get to the dining room and am met with double takes from both George and Henry when I turn the corner.

"Whoa," says Henry, sounding like he's gotten the air punched out of him. "Isaac."

"Jesus," says George and he starts laughing. "Sorry. It looks nice, really. You… um, cut your hair?"

"Cut all of them," I reply. "Henry, get off the table."

"Sorry," he mumbles, but very carefully sits in his chair, sort of stooping over himself. His eyes don't leave me. "I talked to Ben."

"Ben…?" I say, peeling off my coat. He's standing a few feet away from me and both of us are acting like there's no reason to act at all. It could almost be a normal conversation, but they never really are.

"Yeah, Ben," says Henry. "The swimmer guy."

"Oh." I take a seat at the table as Leon ambles right by us and into the kitchen. "What did he say?"

"That he wants an entire page for his portrait."

I roll my eyes and sigh. "He said the same thing to me, but I didn't think he'd have the guts to say that to you." I scratch the back of my head, finding that I like the feeling of hair slipping through my fingers. My ears are cold, though.

I notice the tension between George and Henry and frown. "What did you do to George?"

Henry's eyes go wide. "Nothing."

"Nothing," I say.

"Nothing he didn't ask for," Henry amends solemnly.

George sneers. "Let's just say he needs to be kept on a leash when he's in the house." They glare at each other. It's the same glare I get and give to my brothers all the time, so it barely registers that George looks like he's plotting murder. Leon comes out of the kitchen balancing a small mound of toast on a plate. Henry snatches a few slices off the tope before he sits down and they start talking about track.

"Hey," I say, more to George and Leon then Henry as they stop talking, "you know the guy that works at the salon?"

Leon gives me the eye. "What about him?"

"He asked me out on a date."

And all three of them turn and stare with their mouths open before saying in unison: "What?" The effect is even funnier for me because I know they aren't all gaping for the same reason.

"Yeah," I say and pick idly at the grain in the wood on the table. "He asked me out. Isn't that weird?"

Leon actually shudders. "I knew it," he says cryptically.

"And?" says Henry.

I am trying not to laugh at them.

"Like a date date?" says George.

"And?" says Henry again.

George has a very strange expression on his face. "What did you say?"

"No, of course," I say, allowing Henry to exhale. Since it isn't the kind of date they're thinking of, I don't feel guilty that it's technically a lie. I'll tell Henry the truth later.

Leon laughs. "Didn't he even bother to ask if you were gay?" he says as he slimes back in the direction of the kitchen.

"What do you think?" George mutters, mostly to himself given that no one is really listening. I wonder about it for a second before I turn to Henry, who is looking rather white in the face. His legs are crossed and he's kind of crouched over.

"Was that all you needed, Henry?" I ask.

He starts. "Oh, no. I was wondering, um… do you have your, uh, history notes?"

"Sure. They're up in my room." He looks momentarily flustered but leaps up and is out the door heading toward the stairs before I have even thought about standing. I look at George. "What's up with him?"

George shrugs. "How should I know? I'm not his keeper."



I stay half-turned away from him as we go up the stairs and I idly bring up something about the test in gym, how did he do, etcetera. He did fine, but it's good to know I don't have to worry about his dad hunting me down demanding an explanation for why all those lessons aren't paying off.

We get in his room and he shuts the door behind him without turning on the lights and is about to say, "Is everything okay?" but doesn't quite get the whole question out before he sees the tent in my jeans and realizes what my 007 stealth moves out of the kitchen were for.

There's a quiet pause.

He smiles. It's one of those hungry, devious, hooded-eyelid smirks. The kind he gets when he lets his defenses down and is thinking something sexy and exciting, the kind of grin I always imagine on him when he's not around and I have to make do with my hand.

Isaac takes a step forward. He points to himself. "For me?" he mouths silently. Another step, his hand wraps around the back of my neck and his other slides under my shirt and his lips get so tantalizingly close to mine but never quite touch. Damn if I don't almost come in my pants. I am yours, I want to say. I want to get on my knees and cry it out to him. Standing in front of me now he's like a wet dream come to life.

"I take it you approve," he says before I can verbally respond. "The haircut, I mean."

"Oh, yes."

"Did you really need notes?" His lips graze my neck.

Ow. I squeeze my eyes shut. Too much pressure below the beltline. Ow, ow, I think over and over, and my 'no' comes out as, "Now."

"Well, I'm sorry because I don't have them."

My legs bump into the end of his bed. "That's okay," I say. I grip Isaac's arms, turn, and let go of him, letting him fall on his back onto the mattress. He looks surprised for a moment and then the smile is back, daring me. Even though there's only so much we can risk with so many people in the house. Dammit.

I get on the bed with him and almost laugh for joy when his arm goes around me and he flips us over so he's on top. "I want you so bad," I say. He kisses me and I press up against him, groaning loud into his mouth. It suddenly seems like a real possibility that I might come in my pants and it doesn't sound like too bad of a plan at the moment, with the prospect of me walking home, alone with a severe case of blue-balls. I get my hands up and run them through his hair. It's black silk falling through my fingers.

"Right back at you, slugger," he says. His fingers touch my face. "Seeing each other in the halls isn't really enough, is it? I didn't think you'd like my hair this much."

"What, the haircut? I like it long and short, it's just… you looked so confident. Notice how people are always more attractive when they believe they're sexy? That's it. You knew you were, and it showed. You were glowing."

He snorts. "Pregnant women glow."

"Then you were radiant. No wonder that guy asked you out. You," I say between breaths and kissing the parts of him that come within reach, "smell succulent." I reach innocently around and slip my hands into his back pockets, and then before he can brace himself against it I quickly yank him down and grind up into him. God, I need more friction.

Untroubled, Isaac hums in my ear. "At this rate we might make it downstairs by next week."

That sounds like a great idea. I'd be willing to make sacrifices for that. It kind of bugs me that he's not edging up on 'frantic', like I am, even though his skin is beginning to dampen with sweat. "So be it," I say in a semi-growl.

"It only takes so long to get notes." I catch a glimpse of his face as he bites his lip, thinking and frowning slightly.

I sigh. This is probably the end of it. He's right. It does only take so long. Anyone could walk in, because, of course, note taking is not exactly a private affair and does not require people to knock before entering—

My head presses back against the pillow and I can only gasp when he reaches down my jeans and wraps his hand around the erection that's been waiting for him since he stepped through the door. A string of babbling incoherencies fly out of my mouth before he can halfway quiet me with a kiss, seemingly random arrangements of the words "God", "Yes", "Isaac", "Fuck", "Please" and a few others, each one more embarrassing and nonsensical than the last. Except for his name, which I can't get enough of in these situations, and I know he loves hearing it. There's no word more beautiful in the world than your name spoken by the one you love when you can hear the desire and longing in their voice.

With the last few brain cells not preoccupied with something else, I get my hands out of his back pockets and unzip his fly. This is going to be quick.

But hot. Oh so very hot.

"God, yes," he breaths heavily near my ear, his composure gone. Nice. I like that. "Henry—"

I say his name back to him, over and over. We kiss again, hard, and that pushes me over the edge. I tense and my hips rise off the bed as the orgasm hits. Isaac comes in the aftershock of mine, his face pressed into my neck, his words barely intelligible.

Breathing heavily, he collapses on top of me. We bask.

"I love you," I say, running my hand-that-isn't-elsewhere across his back.

He gives a small laugh. "Maybe I should get my hair cut more often."

The footsteps outside that I thought was one of the twins going to Leon's room to pilfer stop at Isaac's. It's almost a magic trick how we get our hands out of each others' pants and zipped back up in time. I faintly hear Isaac curse as we fling ourselves apart.

One of the twins steps in and says, in a small voice, "How come the light's off?" just before the light comes on. Isaac and I are on our feet standing just a few feet apart, in the middle of the room doing nothing like only guilty people do. My pulse beats violently, threatening to beat right out of my chest.

Jonorjosh looks at us, blissfully unaware. We stare at him and he looks quizzically at us. I wonder if he would have understood if one of us had been a girl.

"How come the light's off?" he says again.

"Getting history notes," Isaac says after taking a huge breath. Thank heavens it's only one of the twins instead of George or Leon, although we should probably still do him the honor of treating him like he's grown up enough to know that there's no correlation between the light being on or off and getting notes. "Why?" says Isaac. "Is something wrong?"

Slowly, the kid's eyes move over to me. "Your mom called. She wanted to know when you were coming home." Which is my mother's polite way of telling me it's time to stop hanging out over at the Fabbro's.

I blink. "Oh… kay. Thank you." He turns around and shuts the door behind him. The only reason we don't lock the door in the first place is that it would be more suspicious for the door to constantly be locked when I comes over.

We exhale as one.

"I say we tell them we're doing marijuana," I say as I reach for the tissue paper, offering it to him first like a gentleman.

"How would that help?" he says. We're still a little breathless and red in the face.

"Well, at least if they sent us off to rehab it would be no problem, right? Because we would have never actually done it, so it won't be hard to quit."

Isaac moves in for a hug when I pull my arms over my head to stretch. "Let's not go throwing them ideas before they get up the nerve to be suspicious," Isaac says. "Have you been giving Jonandjosh candy again, by the way?"

My eyes go harmlessly round as we go down the stairs. "No! My god, of course not! How could you think that? I would never do that. Not little old me."

"Because they were complaining that they weren't meeting their weekly sugar status quo because you weren't around as much," Isaac says, stopping a few steps above me, trying to be stern. "Do you need a ride?"

"No, I'll walk." Smiling and shaking my head, I move back up to his stair to kiss him on the cheek. I sigh. "Parting is such sweet sorrow, isn't it?" I say quietly in my ear before our hands slip apart. I jump the last few steps and go out the door.



I watch through the window as Henry goes down the driveway. My entire body is still warm and buzzing. Suddenly, a movement catches my attention out of the corner of my eye and I look around to see George step into the entryway where he's visible.

I freeze but he doesn't pay me any attention. He stands comes up next to me and watches out the window until I guess Henry is out of sight. I'm no longer looking outside.

George rocks back and forth on the balls of his feet, finally clearing his throat. "He lied," he says calmly. "He threw them a couple of candy bars before you and Leon got home."

He won't, besides just speaking, acknowledge me, but I'm watching him. It doesn't take a translator to hear the bloody twang of blackmail. It's apparent enough. If he heard the comment about the candy, he heard the rest of it. From his strategic hiding place right inside the office door, he probably saw the rest of it as well. There's always the chance, though, that he didn't hear anything…

"Great," I say after a long pause. "They'll be bouncing around for hours. I'll make sure he doesn't do it again. I've told him before that he shouldn't, because they keep getting cavities. It isn't really a big deal, though, if it's just once in awhile. You let them have those Mountain Dews yesterday and that's tons worse than a couple little candy bars."

As if a thought has struck him, George turns his face up towards me and smiles. "Blah, blah, blah. I think the lady doth protest too much," he says at last, before disappearing into the living room house.

I remain standing by the door, feeling suddenly cold.

A/N: Honestly. I'm so bad at this, someone needs to stop me…

Maybe it'll be one of these people, who reviewed chapter six: isagallagher, HentaiZaru, Switch, Back of Beyond, Renzie, i-see-faeries, another-happy-ending, Lidyah, Dean (who remains anon., but I got such a kick out of your pogo stick comment), Shadesome, BlyssfulStorm, BreathingFlames, magalina, Shadow 3013, SutekiKage, Logical and serene magadeath, sporkess, paledaisy78, 1njun, synanceia, weepingsilver, Jalindal, taeguk, Top.x.Of.x.My.x.Lungs, Edwit, DeathToConformity, Naomi Schemer, v1rg1n1a, kelseypaige, Jeoal, Jarf, Axelle, and VampireOfDeath113.

It's been like, however many years since chapter six? ;P But I'm still tickled to my roots, though, when out of all the Dial Tone reviews I'll get one for Henry and Isaac. So, you know... thanks, guys! Sorry I couldn't have ended it on a happier note.