Detective Brody II

1 – New Normal –

Another day, another gigantic load of homework.

"As soon as we're done here, and we can get right to movie night," Grant said happily, scribbling something onto his notepad. "Gonna be an epic Friday."

Brody didn't want to disagree with his friend, but 'epic' wasn't the word he'd use to describe what awaited them. 'Relaxing' was more like it. It wasn't that he'd have it any other way, but it really was an adjustment from his wilder Fridays with the rugby team.

Though there was a lot of work involved in trying to be as pumped up as everybody else seemed, he was still sad that he'd lost his place with the team. It was funny, when he was at a party he'd always be clocking the exits and imagining ways to get out. He'd never purposefully go back to that, but he'd gladly invite all his old friends here to work on geometry with them.

Well, if they still were were his friends.

Now he, Grant, Sal, Natalie and his little sister Riven sat at his living room coffee table, working on their homework together. Though Brody always found himself struggling with the work, he found being with them relaxing.

"What's up?" Grant asked when Brody didn't respond.

"I was just thinking about what Kash and Tate would think of this," Brody said honestly, gesturing to their smorgasbord of assignments laid out in perfect order.

"Those rugby jocks?" Sal said boisterously, dropping his pen. Much like Brody, he was always looking for an opportunity to ignore his work. "Their heads would probably explode."

"Sal," Natalie said diplomatically. Brody just sighed; though Sal was a pretty 'live and let live' guy, he never hid his disdain for the 'let live's.

"Do you miss parties and stuff?" Grant asked quietly.

Riven looked up from her own work too, then to Brody. Though he wasn't a mind-reader, he could tell that she was willing him not to screw up this friendship. Sometimes Brody thought Riven liked Grant even more than he did.

"It's not that," Brody clarified. "I just miss Tate. He was my best friend and now he's ghosting me everywhere."

"Are you still in a fight?" Riven asked curiously. Brody stiffened; he hadn't wanted to worry or his little sister, but he didn't want to give Grant the wrong impression either. Maybe mixing these two worlds wasn't the best idea.

"It's nothing, Riven, we'll figure it out," he said, giving her his best smile. "Let's just get back to work. There's nowhere I'd rather be than here."

"What about last Friday?" Grant pushed, ignoring Brody's best intentions.

Last Friday, Sal had taken Brody to the Fairfax County Gay Bros Associations meeting. It wasn't exactly fun, but it was interesting to be around so many other gay teenage boys. A bunch of cute guys had even hit on him, but Brody wasn't really ready to jump into anything post-Alan.

Afterwards, they'd driven to a music club in the business district for a concert. It was one of Sal's favourite bands, some prog-rock group from the artier part of town. The club was dingy and dark, the sort of place that the rugby guys would have appreciated if it weren't for the old-fashioned music and alternatively styled kids in attendance. If there was one thing Brody found fascinating, it was the whole world that awaited him outside the rugby team's antics.

If there was one thing the team wasn't known for, it was it's enjoyment of alternative things. They all wore the most stylish luxe-sport fashion brands, something that he and Tate had been particularly aware of all their time on the team.

They listened to popular EDM music, and they all only saw big action films, even though he and Tate could never remember anything about them afterwards. Sal's friends didn't seem that way, but they had the same energy and wildness. Again, Brody found himself an outsider, looking for an exit from the frenzied madness.

"Sal is... wild," Brody said.

"I was just trying to get attention after you upstaged me with all those boys," Sal said playfully. Brody couldn't help but chuckle, which made Sal's grin grow wilder. "I can't compete with that physique."

"It's not the piercings then?" Natalie said playfully. Sal stuck out his tongue at her and Riven laughed. Brody realized he was smiling again; an honest smile. There was an easiness to being with those he considered friends now, one he'd been missing since starting rugby at George Gentry.

Brody's phone buzzed, and he instinctively reached for it. Though he didn't have as many followers as he did before quitting the Rugby team, Sal, Natalie and the rest of the Happy Helpers had a five star social media game that kept him pretty busy. Grant, on the other hand, shunned social media entirely.

He checked it, then put it down hoping nobody else noticed.

"Who was that?" Sal asked curiously, raising his eyebrows in a curious arch.

"Nobody," Brody said unconvincingly.

"Come on," Natalie goaded. Grant remained silent, and Brody had a feeling he was a bit jealous. He had no choice now.

"It was Paris Renaldi," he said.

"Paris?" Grant asked.

Ever since Grant had gotten ill a few weeks ago, Brody had been avoiding Paris Renaldi and her best friend Rylan Allbright like the plague. They were determined girls with extremely strong opinions, and they were willing to go to lengths Brody wasn't comfortable with to make sure that things went their way.

Not only that, but Paris had insisted that she and Brody were meant to battle over the truth. It was more than a bit out there, but Brody didn't think she was entirely wrong. Figuring out that Logan Cooke had accidentally poisoned everybody with bacteria from organic green onions wasn't just something he found himself doing on a whim, it had been exhilarating to be the one who cracked the case.

Part of that was because of Rylan and Paris' dedication to hiding the truth because they were afraid Rylan's father would be implicated when they thought his restaurant's Grade A steak was the source of the .

But it wasn't possible for him to block them out of his life entirely. Their parents travelled in the same circles, and since his parents were almost never home for social engagements, Brody had to sub in as the representative of their part of the Delatour family.

However, the event Paris was inviting them to wasn't one where he could keep his distance from them.

"It's Rylan's birthday today," Brody explained. "I didn't RSVP, but they don't seem to have gotten the message."

"It's Rylan Allbright's birthday already?" Natalie inquired as if she didn't believe it.

Although Natalie disliked the rich popular students at their school even more than Sal did, she was always on top of all of the goings-on at George Gentry High School. Brody guessed that was because she was the president of the club that he and Sal were a part of, the Happy Helpers, but sometimes he got the feeling that there was more to it than that.

"Last year it was such a big deal that I thought the school would explode from excitement. The only bigger party was Michelle Wesley's," Natalie explained, naming the former most popular girl in school who had graduated earlier that year. Brody agreed with her assessment.

As a member of the rugby team, he'd attended both parties and though both were extravagant, Michelle Wesley's was really something else. It had been her parent's graduation gift, so it was almost on par with Rylan's in terms of spending even though Michelle's family was decidedly middle class.

Rylan's party was big enough to establish her as a freshman to watch out for, but Brody didn't think all the fuss was necessary. There was no way Rylan and Paris could ever be unpopular considering how hard they worked their social calendars.

"I didn't hear anything about Rylan's party this year," Sal said. "Wonder what's up with that."

"Who cares?" Grant said in a huff. "It's just some dumb party."

"He's right," Brody agreed, diving back into his work. "It's movie night."

Then Natalie's phone buzzed. She was as social media obsessed as Brody, so she picked it up at light speed. All activity at the table paused as she read over the message.

"Rylan Allbright," Natalie said a little too excitedly for a senior getting a message from a sophomore. "She invited me to her party, just now."

Though it was unlikely that Rylan had his house bugged, he wouldn't put her inviting Natalie to get him to the party out of her bag of tricks.

"I want to go," Natalie said.

"Nat," Sal groaned.

"Just to see what's going on," Natalie insisted. "You can come too!"

"Nope," Sal said. "You're not dragging me into this."

Brody admired Sal's attitude when it came to social matters. He scoffed every time Brody brought up decorum, and he never even shot a second glance at the more popular kids; he lived in his own way, no matter what.

But he had a feeling he wasn't going to get out of this one unless...

"We'll go," Brody said, looking around the table. "Grant, you can watch Riven."

"Brody," Sal whined. It was easy to forget that he was a whole two years older.

"Sal," Brody said tersely, emulating his grandfather's tone whenever the older man spoke with his own father.

"Fine," Sal said with a pout. "I guess somebody's got to stop Nat's journey to the dark side."

"I just want to have a looksie!" Natalie insisted, she wasn't very convincing.

"Be back in five," Brody said as he got up from the table. He walked the long, thin hallway of the first floor of the Delatour home all the way to his room. He hadn't yet drawn the curtains on his two glass walls, so they let in the last warm rays of the setting sun, as if to calm him for what was to come.

He closed the curtains and set about finding the perfect outfit. After a few minutes of deliberation, he settled on a topaz long sleeved shirt with jewel-toned paint splatters flourishing the lower half, and tight white chinos he could only get away with because of the last traces of summer that Fairfax didn't seem to be able to shake.

After giving his blonde hair a final tousle and making sure the ash-brown highlights he'd gotten for Sal's event hadn't worn too badly, he was ready to take on anything.

"Woah," Natalie said as soon as he walked into the room. "Who are you and what have you done with Brody?"

"This isn't even his A-game," Sal said, looking Brody over in a way that made his stomach flutter a bit. "You should have seen him last week. It was killer."

"How did you do that in four minutes?" Grant wondered, his eyes wide.

"That isn't even his record," Riven said unimpressed. "He can jush himself and me in ten minutes flat."

"What about the rest of us?" Natalie said, pointing to her brown shift dress. It was serviceable for a school day, but it fell flat for any event outside of that.

"It's fine," Brody lied. Though it was clearly inappropriate, it was better than any occasion beforehand where he'd seen Natalie actually try to look stylish. Sal, on the other hand, seemed to believe all he needed to take a look from casual to formal was more sharp-looking metal studs.

And whether they were dressed nicely or not, whether they were seniors or not; this was Brody's world. In all honesty, he wasn't sure they were going to stay afloat in it.