I'm still trying to figure out my exact plans, but for right now, here is the first chapter of a 38 chapter work I've been working on for the better portion of last year (3 months for writing, the rest for editing.) It is finished, so expect regular updates, probably once a week or so. At the moment, I'm planning on posting the first 18 chapters to see if people like it, and then saving the rest for a self-published novel. However, everything is still a little up in the air, so I might end up posting the entire thing. Who knows. I didn't write this to earn money; I just love writing and this has been my little passion project to keep me sane during my intense medical program. So without further ado, enjoy!

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Malcolm had always found the concept of duality fascinating. He felt intrigued by the idea that human beings could have multiple lives and express themselves differently in relation to a setting, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. He liked thinking about inner demons and soft sides and everything in-between. Therefore, it was to his friend's dismay when he felt underwhelmed by the horror manga exploring those very themes.

"The monster design is cool," he said, frowning at the black-and-white illustrated pages of the book, "but it's very...well..."

"Well, what?" the short, brown-haired boy at his side responded. Curtis closed his locker door and straightened, eyebrows creasing as he stared intently at Malcolm's face. "How are you not impressed? Like seriously, that's a fucking creepy scene right there."

"Yeah, it is, but why...why does she have to be naked?"

Curtis scoffed at the question. "Dude, she's turning into a MONSTER. I don't think clothes were the first thing on her mind. Also, it states right before that the potion makes her really hot. She probably doesn't want to wear them."

Malcolm pointed at the first page of the transformation sequence, which displayed a sweaty girl, bare chest obviously supposed to be heaving as she arched her back. "Does the potion also make her want to do that?"

"Oh my God!" Curtis sighed exasperatedly. "Fine, Anita, you win. Yes, there is fanservice, but it doesn't make it bad! You don't have to get all Puritan on my ass." He pulled the manga out of Malcolm's hands and shoved it into his backpack. "But you gotta admit," he said, zipping the bag, "that's a pretty good find for a dollar. The art is amazing."

Nodding, Malcolm replied, "All right, yeah, the art is really good. Even if it is being used for fanservice." He stuck his tongue out at Curtis, who just rolled his eyes in response.

The two slung their backpacks over their shoulders and began heading towards the school's exit. Upon rounding a bend, Malcolm almost jumped at the feel of his bag being tugged. He glanced behind him to find Curtis jerking his head towards the bathroom.

"Hey, wait for me outside, will ya? I gotta take a leak." The boy quickly disappeared from sight and he shrugged internally, continuing his journey.

Outside, he stood off to the side, observing the other students of Wesley High laughing and gossiping as they made their way towards the bus stop or parking lot. Shifting his weight awkwardly, he craned his neck, watching for the shorter boy to exit.

Several minutes later, as the flow of students started to slow, Malcolm glowered at the doors leading into the school. Did the guy fall in? Scowling, he walked back inside and retraced his steps to the boys' bathroom.

As he drew closer to the door, he paused at the sounds of cruel laughter and shrieking. A cold shiver ran down his spine. His breath hitched in his throat. Licking his lips nervously, his survival instinct welled up, telling him to walk away and let whatever was happening inside play out. Instead, he swallowed his fear. Gritting his teeth, he pushed the door open; his friend needed him.

His first sight upon entering was Curtis' unzipped backpack by a urinal and a few paper towels strewn on the floor; the next was Curtis himself. He watched the boy—surrounded by a group of sneering guys shouting taunts—and felt his stomach twist. The scene reminded him of a trip to the zoo when he was younger. He remembered watching some of the older monkeys in the primate house gang up on a smaller one. Disturbed, Malcolm had asked his mother why they were doing this.

"They're just some boy monkeys roughhousing," she had responded. "It's just the kind of thing they do. Boys will be boys, you know." This answer hadn't been all that satisfactory to him then, and it certainly wasn't now. But at least back then it had only been monkeys. That wasn't the case here.

"Give it back!" Curtis screamed and lunged at the manga book being held just out of his reach.

The taller boy currently in possession of the desired object laughed and tossed it to another boy. "Come on, tiny! You gotta do better than that!" he jeered, and the rest of his group laughed along with him.

The aforementioned "tiny" spat back, "Hey, Joel, how about you eat my ass instead?"

"Oh wow, listen to the mouth on this one," he taunted. "You kiss your mommy with that?" His lips stretched into a mocking sneer.

"Eat. My. Entire. ASS!" Curtis reiterated. He clenched both his teeth and fists, glaring daggers at Joel. The boy just laughed mockingly in response while the three other members of his group watched eagerly in anticipation.

"Aw, I think we made him cranky," he snickered. Parker—the crony holding the manga—tossed it back to his leader. He caught it and opened up the book, examining the pictures. "Look guys, she's saying 'Sousuke-kun!'" he exclaimed.

He showed it to the group, who continued to laugh, while Curtis ground his teeth together in fury. Joel turned the page and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Ohoho...there's tits in this thing." Throwing his head back and howling with laughter, he wiped the corners of his eyes and gave Curtis a disbelieving look. "Do you jack off to this shit or something?"

"Give it back, you fucking dickweed!" Curtis howled, straining for the book with an outstretched arm. However, the sandy-haired boy quickly held it out of reach again, eyes sparkling with a gleeful malice.

In response, Curtis shrieked in rage. He slammed into the other boy's midsection with his shoulder, eliciting a loud 'oomph.' Joel doubled over at the impact, wincing. Nevertheless, he managed to continue holding the book out of reach while Curtis fruitlessly swiped the air.

Straightening, Joel pulled his lip back in a snarl. "All right, shrimp dick, you fucking asked for it." Curtis panicked at the tone and attempted to punch the taller boy, but Joel easily caught his fist. He tossed the manga book to another boy in the group before returning his attention to his victim. Then, with one sharp 'thwack,' he drew his fist back and socked Curtis in the mouth.

Fear and anger boiled inside of Malcolm as Curtis let out a gasp of pain. The boy's pale hands flew to cover the blood spurting from his busted lip. He staggered as Joel's eyes gleamed cruelly.

"Leave him alone!" Malcolm yelled. He forced himself to take a step closer, ignoring his screaming psyche and the sweat on his palms.

Joel glanced over and gave a sardonic smile. "Aw, look Curtis! It's your fat friend to your rescue!" The other boys chuckled and made oinking noises at Malcolm, who felt his lower lip quiver even as adrenaline pumped through his veins.

They weren't the only ones unimpressed. Curtis shot him an angry look. "Go away! You're just going to make things worse!"

At his captive's words, Joel made a pouty face. "Don't be so mean, Henderson! Your boyfriend is trying to be your hero." He gave an ugly smirk in Malcolm's direction while the boy trembled, feeling his insides twist further and the color drain from his face. Then, in that same tone of faux concern, Joel continued, "In fact, just for being so mean—" and looked at the crony holding the manga, making a tearing motion with his hand. The guy, Dan, nodded and grabbed one of the pages from the book, ripping it out.

Curtis again lunged at Joel. He shrieked like an animal, hands clawing at exposed skin. Joel just smirked in response. Using one peach-colored arm to grab Curtis' thin ones, he pinned them behind his back. He then used his other arm to hoist the boy upright by his collar.

Malcolm could only gape at the scene, mouth dry as cotton. He finally found his voice and sputtered, "I'm going to tell on you!"

As soon as the words left his mouth, he cringed internally; even sixth graders would have laughed at the tattle-tale statement. Suddenly, he found himself being manhandled like Curtis, as he had been so focused on Joel's actions that he hadn't noticed Parker behind him.

Once situated, Parker made a 'tsk tsk' noise at the subdued Malcolm. "Come on, fat boy. We're just having some fun." The other boys nodded and let out noises of affirmation while he struggled weakly without much hope for escape; he was better at video games than any kind of physical activity. Looking at his leader for directions, Parker asked, "What should I do with this kid?"

"Just hold on to him," Joel responded, Curtis violently thrashing in his grip.

Curtis paused his flailing and turned his attention to Malcolm, panting from exertion. "You stupid fuck...I told you not to get involved!"

The boys in the group let out a mocking "ooooh" at the insult and Joel twisted his face into an expression of feigned offense.

"Curtis, your boyfriend was just trying to help!" He motioned for Parker to bring Malcolm closer, and he found himself face to face with the furious Curtis as Joel turned the boy around. "Now kiss and make up. I hate seeing couples fight."

Panic coursed through every single one of his arteries and veins as Curtis' breath began to fog up his glasses. He was in such close proximity that he could make out the gold flecks in the other boy's hazel eyes, could see the small freckle on the left side of his chin. Blood continued to drip from Curtis' lip, trickling down his pale face and leaving convoluted patterns on the floor.

Letting out an aggravated shriek, Curtis thrashed some more, but Joel held fast onto his target. The taller boy gave a poisonous smile. "Come on, we'll let you go and give your stupid book back if you do it."

At that, Curtis squeezed his eyes shut and gave a shuddering breath. With one swift motion, he smashed his face into Malcolm's, connecting their lips. In return, Malcolm just shut his eyes and grimaced; calling the action a "kiss" felt wrong. All he could taste was blood and saliva and then Curtis pulled back, spitting on the floor and shooting Joel a glare hateful enough to cause nightmares: "Happy?"

Staring open-mouthed at the pair, the corners of Joel's lips slowly curved upward into a grin. "Holy shit! I can't believe you actually fucking did it!" The other members of the group shrieked with laughter, apparently equally amazed at Curtis' audacity. Malcolm could feel Parker's arms shake with amusement and his eyes began to brim with tears from the humiliation.

"All right guys, you had your fun. Now a deal's a deal. Let 'em go." Malcolm turned his head—vision somewhat clouded from moisture—and made out the form of Courtney Scalf, Joel's twin sister. With one hand on her hip, the corners of her mouth turned up in amusement as she quirked an eyebrow at the boys. Despite the look, there wasn't a hint of a question in her voice, and he found himself wondering what she was doing in the bathroom. No way was Courtney there to save them; even so, it was low even for one of the Scalfs to trespass just for the purpose of spectating.

"You're right," Joel said. Still snickering from the kiss, he released Curtis while Dan—wheezing from laughter and wiping his eyes—dropped the manga and torn page onto the floor. Curtis rushed over and picked them up, turning them over in his hands to inspect the damage.

Malcolm felt Parker let him go and almost stumbled. Regaining his balance, he watched Joel walk away with the rest of the group following. At the exit, the bully turned to face his victims, mouth stretched in a sneer. "Bye, lovebirds!" The group guffawed and then left the bathroom, the sounds of their voices fading as they moved further and further away. The ordeal was over.

Whirling to face Malcolm, Curtis brushed his brown hair out of his eyes. "What the fuck! Why didn't you leave!?" He angrily wiped his mouth with his hand, spitting on the floor again. His gaze then returned to Malcolm's teary-eyed one, his teeth bared in a snarl. "Hope you at least got some enjoyment out of that!"

Holding back a sob, Malcolm's lip trembled and he sniffled, wiping his nose on his sleeve. He whimpered, "It's not exactly how I imagined my first kiss to go..."

Instantly, Curtis' expression softened, his eyes losing their fire and instead filling with regret. "Oh shit...I...I shouldn't have said that..." Malcolm just sniffled again. Curtis scuffed his shoe on the floor, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, a nervous tic of his. "Look...it doesn't count if you didn't want it...okay? And...I'm...sorry," he mumbled.

"It's okay," Malcolm whispered. He didn't really feel okay. Anxiety clawed at his insides at the thought of what this incident might mean for the future. Joel normally didn't pick on him as much as Curtis, his favorite target. He hadn't been expecting Joel when he went to check on Curtis. He especially hadn't expected what had just occurred, the whole nature of the event...

Curtis awkwardly pointed to his mouth. "You...uh...you got some of my...blood..."

Malcolm glanced in the mirror to see what he was alluding to and spotted the red smear on his lip. Wiping the blood off his face, he then returned his attention to the short, brown-haired boy, who glared into space.

"I just...fuck...he gets under my skin, I hate that fucking guy!" He angrily kicked the trashcan, sending it skidding a couple feet in the other direction. Malcolm just watched the action with red-rimmed eyes, his normally brown complexion still pale from dealing with the bullies.

Having let off a bit of steam, Curtis sighed and adjusted the elastic tie on his ponytail, tufts sticking out of his cheek-length hair from the scuffle. He turned to face Malcolm, frowning. "At least it wasn't worse. Who knows what they would do if they ever found out you actually are gay."