by Kikuna Matata (菊菜 瞬)
On Monday morning, Drew gets to school earlier than usual. It makes sense, probably, but it does pose one small but annoying inconvenience: he has to pull his car up outside the entrance to the parking lot and climb out to unhook the chain, then drag it off to the side.
Rebecca is just pulling up as he gets the chain wound up, and she rolls down her window to say, “Oh, thank you, Mr. Wachowski! You’re certainly early this morning.”
“Spirit Week, Principal Hopkins,” he says, smiling at her, “Everybody on deck, I hear.” She laughs, and he ducks to peer at Neil through the window into her back seat. Drew says, “Go Manatees!”
In reply, Neil swings his fist and shouts, “Go Manatees!” and practically hits himself in the face. Drew grins and gives them a wave, stepping to the side. The afternoon last April when Neil Hopkins finished with Drew’s Survey section was one of the best moments of Drew’s life.
Drew heads into the music room and starts setting up for his homeroom, which is tacked onto Beginning String Ensemble, all sixth and seventh grade. He cleans the chalkboard, scrubbing doubly hard on the nick over the second row of staff lines on the right, and sorts his scores into stacks by period. He reviews his notes from Friday: Jazz Band is starting to work on improvisation, and if Jill Morales can just focus, she’ll be ready for a solo by the winter recital; Advanced String Ensemble should be ready to start in on the Vivaldi, but they’re still rushing the Adagio of the Brandenburg, which he’ll bring up with the first chairs in sectionals. Jackson is still having a hard time commanding the other students’ attention; he’s light years ahead of Margaret in terms of performance ability, but Drew’s starting to worry he’ll have to swap their seats if he wants the cellists to ever learn to all play the same notes at the same time. Beginning Strings is a nightmare, of course; so is Beginning Band, just after lunch. At least he gets to tackle his two most painful classes after a break. His two Survey classes are back-to-back after Beginning Strings; it’s six weeks into the term and time for the second rotation, which means he has almost no idea what he’s going to get. He rubs at his face and finishes off the last of his coffee, then takes his travel mug and heads down to the office to pick up his mail and a refill.
He thumbs through his mail. Spirit Week. Faculty meeting next Wednesday at four; Jesse’s on deck for snacks. Spirit Week, more Spirit Week, students caught graffitiing the portables up by the upper field over the weekend—oh, Larissa—fresh grass by the back parking lot so please try to keep off the lawn—why do they even bother, honestly. Drew stuffs everything under his arm and heads back to his room. He pats at his pocket, checking for his multi-tool; a number of the music stands have screws that badly need to be tightened.
* * *
Drew gives them a full eight-count after the bell to settle into their seats and come to silence. In the beginning classes, the students are required to leave their instruments in their cases in their laps—or, in the case of the cellists and Melvin Indio, Drew’s lone bass player this year, in the stands along the wall—until he has finished with the announcements, but today he’s written, Assembly Day — No Instruments across the middle of the chalkboard in ten-inch-high letters. It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference; he catches as many of them as he can and says, “No instruments today—put it back,” or, “Read the chalkboard, please,” but a few still manage to escape. Josh Nelson is fiddling with the clasps on his viola case and squirming in his chair, so Drew smacks his baton against the podium and says, “Nelson!”
Josh looks up, eyes wide and alarmed.
“Front and center, Nelson!” Drew barks. He’s trying to channel the conductor of the youth symphony from when he was in high school, which is difficult, because his conductor had been a tall, massive, grizzled-haired and red-eyed alcoholic of about sixty-five who’d been able to set the timpani to humming with his baritone roar, and Drew is a slight, nerdy-looking thirty-four-year-old who still gets carded when he buys his fiancé cigarettes and has difficulty ordering assertively at Starbucks. “Fine military name, Nelson!” Drew shouts. He suspects it’s probably more ridiculous than intimidating, but it’s too late to back out now. “Do you know what this week is?”
“S-spirit Week!” Josh tells him, wide-eyed. When he says it, the gum falls out of his mouth.
“Pick that up and throw it away, then report back!” Drew points at the wastebasket. Josh scrambles to comply. Miriam Smith is staring up at Drew, clutching her backpack to her chest.
“Nelson!” Drew’s throat is starting to hurt.
“Yes, Mr. Wachowski?” Josh is scrambling back over to his seat.
Josh sits, alert and attentive. “Yes, Mr. Wachowski!”
Drew meets his eyes. “What do we do during Spirit Week?”
Too late, he realizes his mistake: Josh is in sixth grade. Josh’s face falls almost comically, and he says, “I don’t know, Mr. Wachowski!”
“Too right you don’t!” Drew roars, desperately playing for time. He finally lights on Anne Bradbury, who is hunched in the third row, ducking down behind her stand and trying, without much success, to be much less than six feet tall. “Bradbury!” She looks up, paper white behind her freckles. “You’re in seventh grade, aren’t you, Bradbury?”
She nods, staring at him.
“All right!” Drew clears his throat, and the cellists start to giggle. He glares at them, and they hush. “Bradbury, for the benefit of the sixth graders: what do we do during Spirit Week?”
“We, um, wear school colors?” she suggests hesitantly.
“Which are?” He grabs for his coffee cup. He can’t breathe.
“Blue and purple,” she says, smiling shyly at him. His mouth twitches, but he doesn’t let himself smile back.
“Too right they are!” he says. “Which is why I am wearing this very fine purple shirt—be quiet, Broch—under a blue sweater! And what else do we do, Bradbury?”
“Well, um, there’re competitions,” she says, clearly warming to her role as Educator of Tiny Ignorant Sixth-Graders, “like, there’s an obstacle course that we have to run in PE and we get points for our homeroom for how fast we go, and, um, contests at lunch, and there’s a canned food drive, for the food bank, for Thanksgiving, and we get points for how many cans we bring in. Things like that.”
“Absolutely correct!” Drew takes a breath. “But you’ve forgotten the most important thing, Bradbury! I know I had you in homeroom last year, too, so I know you remember: what do we do during Spirit Week?”
Anne sits up straighter. The entire room has gone quiet, staring raptly at him. He’s enjoying it. Maybe he should channel old Mr. Van Doren more often.
“Beat,” she says, and then stops. “Destroy Mr. Vargas?”
He drops his baton, leaning in. “That’s right,” he says, voice low and tense. “We destroy Mr. Vargas.”
The room is silent. Drew straightens and taps his baton against the edge of the podium.
“The Spirit Week assembly is at nine,” he says. He can hear a truck backing up down the street; he could get used to this. “But first, we need to take roll—and a few of you also need to put your instruments away. I’d like to call your attention to the chalkboard…”
He eyes them over the rim of his glasses, and the handful of students clutching their cases shift in their seats, scuffing their feet against the floor.
* * *
Drew doesn’t really mind assemblies, but the Spirit Week assembly is always a little tedious—mostly because he actually enjoys Spirit Week, and it seems a shame to delay it, for any reason. Jesse has his Photography and Yearbook class first, as always, and he’s herding his small, unwashed aspiring hipsters into something that could, perhaps, somewhere, be considered a line; Drew doesn’t even try. If he can prevent the Beginning String Ensemble from dueling with their school-issued bows, he’s happy, and for assemblies, they (mercifully) have to leave their instruments entirely behind. The string players mill, more or less in Drew’s assigned location, and when Jesse looks over at him, Drew raises an eyebrow and sticks out an arm to discourage a cellist from wandering over into Becky’s first period class (too big to be seventh graders, so: American history), but doesn’t say a word. Jesse smirks and then turns back to his cluster of camera-bearing mouth-breathers, undoubtedly to incite them into open rebellion.
Mike, who chairs physical education, coaches soccer at the high school, and also has somehow managed to become their IT guy after the last one had a breakdown and fled to Alaska, is helping Rebecca get their ancient PA to turn on, so that her voice can squeal over all of the speakers surrounding the quad in echoing underwater stereo.
“Good morning!” she shouts, unnecessarily. Drew winces. “Welcome to Spirit Week!”
“Go Manatees!” shouts one of the kids from the back of Tom’s tidy cluster of Algebra students, and a low, throbbing “Boooo” seeps up through the rest of the eighth graders. Drew remembers what it was like to be convinced he wasn’t allowed to like anything, but he can’t remember if it was as tiring at the time as it seems to him as an adult.
Rebecca, for her part, takes it and rolls with it, going into a long and repetitive speech about the importance of showing Manatee spirit and Spirit Week events and the party the winning homeroom will get as a prize (pizza at lunch on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which Drew does admire as a particularly Machiavellian bit of thinking on Rebecca’s part). Drew mostly tunes it out; he’s heard it for eight years already, the same every time. On the plus side, it’s a beautiful day. At the tail end of October, the misery of California’s late summer has mostly burnt away—this year, thankfully, less literally than most. Drew might not get much out of the assembly itself, but he can enjoy the sunshine and the blue clouds and being very slightly too hot in his borrowed purple shirt and his favorite blue sweater, and most of all, he can relish the stupid, pointless thrill he gets when Rebecca says, “—Last year’s winners, Mr. Wachowski’s Beginning String Ensemble!”
Drew raises his hand, giving a gracious Miss America wave, and a smattering of cheers fills the courtyard, from those in last year’s class who have dropped out or moved on to Advanced Strings, as well as the handful still diligently struggling along in this year’s beginning class.
“And of course, the runners-up,” Rebecca says, “Ms. Pleva’s Honors Physical Science” —her current class roars; bizarre, really, since all the actual students in question have since moved on to the high school— “and Mr. Vargas’s Yearbook class, who tied for second.”
A girl in a flowered dress and Doc Martens—Drew is having an uncomfortable flashback to ninth grade, in 1992—pulls her camera up and points it at the hedge, then depresses the shutter button.
At the podium, Rebecca clears her throat and says, “Well! Excellent! You all are playing for the honor and glory of your homerooms. So play fair, and play hard, and… good luck!”
Luisa is smiling at Drew, so Drew steps over to shake her hand, in the spirit of sportsmanship, et cetera.
“Good luck,” she murmurs. “He’s out for blood this year. He was in the lounge before the bell, drawing up battle plans.”
“I can take Jesse,” Drew says mildly. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you quietly sneaking up behind me last year.”
“Wachowski,” Jesse says, behind him, so Drew turns to shake his hand, too. “I could get into all our lockers this morning. I hope you’re not planning to go easy on me.”
“That doesn’t sound much like me,” Drew says. “In fact, my current plan is to utterly destroy you.”
“I look forward to seeing you try,” Jesse tells him, smirking, and curls his fingers against the inside of Drew’s wrist, just in time with a blinding surge among the banked fires of Drew’s long-suppressed rage.
“Watch your back, Vargas,” Drew says, which is clumsy and unworthy of this particular annual ritual, but the best he can manage under the circumstances. Jesse’s collar is askew, and his eyes are hollowed and dark, and Drew shuts that line of thought down as quickly as he can. He can’t afford sympathy; it’s Spirit Week.
“Better get back to your class,” Jesse says, “before the violists wander into traffic,” and then steps back over to his class, looking, as usual, devastatingly confident and casual.
“Did we really win last year?” Leah Eliot, second chair cello, asks as they head back to the music room.
Jesse’s not sleeping. Not surprising, really, up half the night with a new baby, but—Drew takes a breath.
“We did,” he manages to confirm. “But not easily. We did it through hard work and dedication, and—most importantly—by participating in every last event. Every event we could compete in, we did. Brian, get the door; everyone else, start pulling the chairs into groups. We’re going to break up into sections and come up with a battle plan, all right?
“What about me?” Melvin asks, mournful. “I don’t have a section.”
Drew grinds his teeth together in a parody of a smile. “Today, why don’t you join up with the cellos, Melvin?” he says. He doesn’t say, Just like always, but he’s tempted.
Melvin nods, and heads over reluctantly to join the cellos.
* * *
The really hard part of Spirit Week, as Drew has learned from long practice, is keeping the enthusiasm of thirty preteen children all focused on a single goal for an entire week—while also still attempting to conduct the bulk of his regular classes. Monday is fine; no first-period class gets much done on Monday of Spirit Week, and by the time Rebecca is marking up their points on the big bulletin board out at the front of the school after the last bell, Drew is pleased to see that his class is already just behind Tom’s Algebra class, with Sabine’s sixth-grade French class and Jesse’s Yearbook class not far behind them. The Algebra students are almost all eighth-graders, and Tom’s classes always tend to take an early lead and then fall behind. Sabine doesn’t really have that necessary killer instinct, but Drew supposes he ought to keep an eye on her, anyway. Jesse is, as usual, his only obvious competition.
When it comes to the Spirit Week competition, Drew and Jesse are incredibly well-matched. They both know the importance of bribery, for one thing, as well as that all-critical Wednesday push to keep the kids engaged through the end of the week, and their long-standing rivalry has become enough of a running joke in the teacher’s lounge that they both get away with behavior during Spirit Week that would be completely inexcusable from two grown men any other time of the year. Last year, Jesse arranged for Drew’s glasses to meet an untimely end at the hands of a fishing rod, a trio of innocent-looking sixth graders, and a skateboard (Jesse swore the skateboard was accidental), and Drew spent the rest of the week wearing the two-year-old pair that he kept in his car in case of emergencies; the year before, Drew spent two hours of the preceding Friday afternoon jamming all the padlocks on the equipment lockers in the photography room with hot glue.
This year, Drew knows consciously that Jesse has enough on his plate, with his parents and Naomi and the baby, but Drew’s angry, and Jesse resents that Drew is angry, and is certain that he’s in the right because he’s Jesse, and that just makes Drew furious, which is why he has been scrupulously careful not to do a single thing to Jesse in the guise of Spirit Week high spirits that he wouldn’t do any other week. He simply doesn’t trust himself. Last year he swapped Jesse’s tea for decaf and everyone in the teacher’s lounge had a good laugh over it when Jesse finally noticed, bleary-eyed, on his sixth cup, on Thursday, but this year Drew wants to take all of the cigarettes Jesse left behind and chain-smoke them in the stairwell outside Naomi’s apartment, waiting until Naomi would open the door with the baby to complain about the smell, whereupon Drew would shout, “Spirit Week!” and run. But of course, if he actually did it, not even he would believe it had anything to do with Spirit Week at all.
He makes it through Tuesday mostly by avoiding Jesse except in areas frequented by masses of students, but on Wednesday morning, Drew can’t get the coffee maker in the office to work when he goes up for his mail and his refill, and it’s early enough that Mike isn’t in yet, so there’s no one to hassle to fix it for him. Which leaves the coffee maker in the teacher’s lounge.
It’s a painful decision, but not a particularly difficult one.
It’s too much to expect that Jesse wouldn’t be in. Of course Jesse is in. It’s 7:14 in the morning; most of the teachers won’t even be on campus until near eight, but Drew doesn’t want to see Jesse so of course Jesse is in, sitting with his knees tucked up on the end of Becky Diaz’s hideous donated sofa, drinking an absolutely enormous cup of (not decaf) tea and checking his email.
Jesse looks up.
“Coffee maker in the office is broken,” Drew explains. Jesse blinks, and nods, and looks back down at his laptop screen.
Drew gets down a filter, measures out coffee, fills up the water tank and starts it brewing. He’s dripped water on the counter, but the paper towel roll is empty, so he just leans back against a drier part of the edge and watches Jesse.
“You know,” Jesse says, without looking up. “I am starting to get nervous about what you’re planning.”
“Anticipation really is cruel, isn’t it?” Drew says.
“Naomi wants you to come over for dinner on Friday,” Jesse says.
Drew smiles and says, “Oh, lovely, dinner.”
Jesse snaps his laptop shut and stands, setting it on the rickety round table, which smells, inexplicably, like fish. “Are you planning on acting like a grown-up at any point in the near future?” he asks. “Or are you just going to keep—”
“Oh, come on, Vargas,” Drew says, folding his arms over his chest. “We never act like grown-ups during Spirit Week.”
Jesse smiles. “Right, Spirit Week.”
Drew smiles back. “I’m leading, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“I was leading at lunchtime yesterday,” Jesse counters, and Drew laughs, and heads over to the supply cupboard on the other side of the room to get another roll of paper towels.
“Well, you always did have enough guts to take the occasional battle,” he says. Chalk, a half-carton of Cheetos, two pristine bottles of Windex, but no paper towels. He closes the cupboard, and adds, “But you don’t ever really seem to have the commitment to win the war, do you?”
When he turns, Jesse is right behind him, face set. “Is this war, then?” he asks.
“What did you think it was?” Drew asks. “A game?”
“Yeah,” Jesse says. “It’s always a game.”
Drew laughs, and Jesse grabs his shoulders and pushes Drew back, hard enough to snap his head back into the cupboard door. “If you want war,” Jesse tells him, voice low. “That can still be arranged.”
Drew curls his lip, and Jesse pushes him back again, hard. The cupboard door rattles.
“You want to have this out right here?” Jesse asks. “Right now? Because I’ve barely seen you in three weeks, and it’s only just starting to really become clear to me that an awful lot of that is because of you.”
“Oh, yeah,” Drew says, quietly. “Naomi and the baby, that’s definitely all about me.”
Jesse narrows his eyes. “That’s a low blow, Wachowski.”
Drew’s fundamental problem, really, is that there are parts of him that are rational and parts of him that are instinctive and sometimes, the parts of him that are instinctive steamroll the parts of him that are rational so thoroughly that he barely feels like he’s making decisions at all. Jesse’s hands are tightening on Drew’s shoulders, and Drew’s pulse is picking up. Jesse smells like Old Spice deodorant and his unwashed hair, and his long fingers are clenching Drew’s shoulders and the baby probably kept Jesse up all night and they’re in the teacher’s lounge, but Drew hasn’t gotten laid in three weeks.
Drew shifts his hips, and Jesse takes a breath.
“You were saying something,” Drew says, “about low blows.”
Jesse blinks at him, and Drew slides down, just a little, and pulls his hands up from his sides and puts them on Jesse’s belt. Jesse sucks in a breath.
“I could, you know,” Drew says, unfastening the buckle. “I could just drop down to my knees, right here, right now, and just swallow you down and have you yanking at my hair and coming down my throat before the first bus has finished its pick-ups.”
“Drew,” Jesse warns, just as Drew slips Jesse’s belt loose with a snick and pops the button on his slacks and yanks the zipper down, quick. Drew’s heart is pounding. He shoves Jesse’s pants and boxers down together. “Jesus Christ,” Jesse gasps, “you’re—you’re not serious—oh, f-fu—”
Drew’s mouth is watering. Jesse’s cock is very hard and very hot and silky-soft and wet at the tip, and Drew’s heart is going about two hundred beats per minute and he is thinking about Jesse bending him over Becky Diaz’s hideous donated sofa and fucking him until he screams. “I’m thinking about you bending me over Becky Diaz’s hideous donated sofa,” he whispers, watching Jesse’s mouth, “and fucking me until I scream.”
Jesse’s breath comes out hard, all in a rush.
Drew is allowed a very small, satisfying space in which to be tremendously pleased with himself before Jesse is pushing into Drew’s hand and whispering, “Get your pants down.”
Drew blinks at him, and Jesse presses Drew’s shoulders back. “Do it,” Jesse says. “Get your pants down and I’ll do you right here, right up against—not the cupboard; the door rattles. Get up against the wall.”
Drew’s wrist stills without him wanting it to, and Jesse fucks up into his hand, his mouth curving out wide and open, teeth dangerously bright. Jesse presses Drew’s spine flat against the cupboard door and presses his mouth to Drew’s ear and whispers, “You start these games, Wachowski, and you think I’ll forfeit, don’t you?”
Drew manages to swallow, throat dry, and says, “We’ll get caught.” It comes out breathless, and Drew almost hates himself for that, a little.
“You think so?” Jesse drops his face down, nuzzles at Drew’s throat. “Because I don’t think so. I think it’ll be over lightning fast, Wachowski. I think the idea’s already got you leaking a wet spot through your shorts.”
Drew shifts. He says, “You seriously think I’ll,” and then stops, because Jesse is rolling his hips slow and easy, fucking Drew’s fist in smooth, steady thrusts, and Drew—Drew can’t come up with a retort.
“I do think so,” Jesse says, and then, softer, “Tighter, please,” and Drew’s fist tightens without any input from his brain. “I think I’ll make you spit into my hand,” Jesse is murmuring, hot against Drew’s neck, “and I’ll smear it all over your hole and I think you’ll already be biting down on your hand to keep yourself quiet while I’m still just rubbing my cock against you, before I even get it inside, won’t you?”
“Oh my God,” Drew hears, and then closes his eyes, face burning hot.
“I think you’re going to take your pants down” —Jesse licks the skin under Drew’s left ear— “and turn around, and let me fuck you up into the wall where anyone—anyone, Becky, Sabine—Principal Hopkins, could walk in at any second, and then you’re going to go over to the music room and try to teach… what was it? That ‘horde of tone-deaf banshees’ you call your Beginning String Ensemble to follow your baton for forty-five minutes, with your ass full of my come.”
Drew swallows, and Jesse pushes his cock into Drew’s hand, over and over and over again. Jesse’s cock is burning hot and thick, longer than Jesse’s glorious fingers. Drew doesn’t want to stop touching him, so he undoes Jesse’s belt right-handed.
Jesse laughs, soft and close, barely audible, and kisses his cheek. “Miss me, Wachowski?”
Drew can’t talk. He can’t. He can’t talk and he can’t trust himself so he undoes the button on his khakis and Jesse drops one hand to hold Drew’s waistband so that Drew can tug down the zipper. Jesse rubs his thumb over Drew’s jaw and whispers, “Yeah,” when Drew pushes his boxers, dark and wet at the front, down to bunch up with his khakis at the tops of his thighs, and Drew has to let go of Jesse’s cock. He knows that. He has to, if he’s going to turn around.
“C’mon,” Jesse murmurs, and then kisses him, geologically deep, drowning. Jesse pulls back and whispers, “C’mon, turn around.”
Drew lets go of Jesse’s cock and turns around, stumbling over to the wall, just at the other side of the cupboard.
He presses his forehead against the wall, his glasses slipping askew. The wall is cool, so he twists to press it against his cheek. Jesse’s long fingers are sneaking down into the crack of Drew’s ass, and Drew hears him spit and—and oh, but does he remember?—and yes, Jesse is pressing up close against Drew’s back and putting his hand over Drew’s mouth. Jesse whispers, hot against his nape, “Spit,” so Drew spits, shivering. Jesse presses a kiss against his neck, just above his collar, and Drew’s whole body jerks, hard.
“Not yet,” Jesse tells him, rubbing his spit-slick fingers against Drew’s crack, all over him, burning-hot where they’re touching and shivering-cold where they’re not, and Drew makes a noise without thinking and Jesse is just rubbing the head of his cock against him; oh, God, Jesse’s a fucking lunatic, they’re having a quickie in the—the goddamned teacher’s lounge and he’s going to fucking tease—
Jesse pushes, and Drew gasps,”Oh—mh—” and Jesse’s hand slams flat over his mouth. Drew arches his back, shoving himself down.
“Too long?” Jesse whispers, and Drew nods, desperate, and Jesse slams into him, pressing Drew’s whole body tight against the wall. “I bet you’ve been going home every night and trying to finger yourself and then crying because you just can’t deep enough, haven’t you?” Jesse’s voice is snide, amused, but then he pulls back and slams back in again and Drew is just so fucking relieved that he can’t even remember that he’s supposed to be angry. Jesse fucks him in hard, steady thrusts, just dry enough to sting, and Drew’s jaw keeps bumping into the wall and his glasses are a disaster but Jesse is thick inside him, relentless, his breath hot against Drew’s spine. One time in college Drew spent two and a half hours in a cock ring while his boyfriend sucked on his balls and he doesn’t even think at the end of that he was half this hard. Every roll of Jesse’s hips makes his toes curl in his shoes—fuck, damn it, he’s dripping precome all over the place and he fucking loves these shoes—and his hand speeds up on his sweat-slick cock until his wrist aches with it and he—and he—
“Oh, God,” Jesse is gasping, hot and damp on his skin. Drew is blinking back solar flare afterimages and trying not to let his come drip through his fingers and onto his pants or his shoes and Jesse is gasping, “Oh, God—I can feel—oh, God—” and pushing in—fuck—and Drew groans out loud as Jesse pants out, “Jesus Christ, shut up,” while Drew’s whole body is shaking and seizing up as Jesse squeezes him around the waist, trembling against his back.
“Fuck.” Jesse laughs, tense and dangerous, just as there’s a bolt of high, feminine laughter in the hall. Jesse hisses, “Fuck, you have to—” and pulls out—ow—dropping down onto his heels and tugging Drew around; yanking up Drew’s pants, doing up his zipper and button and belt, tugging his shirt straight, while Drew tries to figure out what to do with a gob of come in his hand in the teacher’s lounge. Jesse stumbles back up to his feet and puts his own clothes to rights while Drew lets the wall hold him up, and then Tom’s voice mingles with Luisa’s as the key rattles in the lock. Jesse drops down casually on the end of Becky Diaz’s hideous green donated sofa, then looks at Drew, who is still staring at the come in his hand. Jesse twists and tosses him one of the cushions from the back of the sofa. Drew is… grateful. Damn it. He wipes his hand on the cushion and then tosses it back, and Jesse sets it back into place with the wet smear to the back, hidden, just as Tom gets the door open. Jesse crosses his legs at the knee.
“…But I keep telling her, with the budget cuts—oh, Drew, hello. We don’t normally see you this early,” he says, smiling.
“Coffee maker in the office is broken,” Drew says automatically. He looks over at the coffee maker, which has finished brewing, and his cup beside it.
“Oh, that piece of—well,” Luisa amends, a little clumsily, as Drew heads over to the counter. “It was a donation, after all.”
“Everything we have here was a donation,” Jesse says, voice light, and the three of them laugh.
Drew picks up the carafe. He fills his cup and recaps it. He takes a sip, and sighs.
“Good coffee,” he says, and slides his hand into his pocket. “Thanks.”
He heads out, feeling shaky and hollowed-out, half convinced that all of them can see what he can feel: the damp line of Jesse’s come already trickling down from his ass, just curving down onto the top of his thigh.
Jesus Christ. Spirit Week! He thinks he’s actually going insane.
* * *
Wednesday is pretty much a wash. He manages to make it through the day without falling over or dissolving into a shaking mess, but it’s a near thing. After the last bell, he stumbles out to his car and into the driver’s seat and puts his forehead on the steering wheel. His asshole aches; under other circumstances, that’d be amazing. He hasn’t checked the point tallies on the bulletin board out front all day; he doesn’t remember what he said to Beginning String Ensemble at all. He does remember Anne Bradbury hunching over in front of his desk, trying uselessly to be small, and mumbling something half-intelligible and urgent. They’re probably losing. Drew wonders a little bit why he usually cares.
He pulls himself together and drives home. The house isn’t, objectively, a large house; it’s a 1920s one-story with three small bedrooms and a walk-in closet that Drew uses as a practice room. The bedroom they use as an office is the biggest. They probably could’ve gotten a king-sized bed into that one, but instead they’d stuck with their old queen in the bedroom down the hall, the one with the crap illumination and a window-frame that had leaked until the stormy night where they drank nine shots of tequila between them and Drew beat on the edge of the window with a rubber mallet while Jesse sat naked and cross-legged in the middle of the bed and laughed until he cried. In the office, they’d set up the massive, heavy, two-sided desk that Drew had inherited from his dad—just about the only thing they own that didn’t come from Ikea, and way too nice for two teachers with a mortgage—and angled it so that both of them could just turn their heads to the side to look out the window into the backyard. The house really isn’t big, especially not by L.A. standards, but it’s way too big for one person, and with Jesse gone it feels too quiet, too. Drew marks the music theory assignments for his Survey classes and goes through his scores, but he can’t focus. Eventually, he gets up, heads into the kitchen, and makes two shots of espresso and a cup of tea. He puts the tea on Jesse’s side of the desk and lets the smell fill the room while he sips his espresso, and gives himself a half an hour in which to be grotesquely, comically lonely.
It’s five in the afternoon. Drew doesn’t know anything about babies. He doesn’t know what you do with a baby at five in the afternoon. He doesn’t know if it’s bath time or dinner time or bedtime, if the baby’s even on a schedule yet or if Naomi’s still whipping out her tits at all hours, which had been the subject of a lengthy, rambling voicemail at two in the morning eighteen days ago. It had been painfully funny the first five times Drew listened to it, but now it just makes his chest hurt. Jesse sounds tired on the voicemail, and now he sounds even more tired in person, and Drew wants to drive over to Naomi’s apartment and kidnap him. He wants to take Jesse back to their neighborhood and their house and their bed and scratch at the place on Jesse’s back that Jesse can’t ever get for himself and let Jesse get a full night’s sleep, but twenty-four days ago Naomi went into labor and Jesse, as expected, abandoned Drew in favor of ties of blood and history and family. Drew can’t compete, and he knows it, and he hates himself for wanting to, anyway.
He finishes off the espresso, and then he drinks the tea. It’s awful. He makes himself Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner, and washes it down with the bottle of red that Tom and Lisa had brought to their housewarming party.
* * *
“Mr. Wachowski,” Owen says, on Thursday morning, after the bell has rung for the start of first period.
Drew is hungover and queasy, and the coffee maker in the office is still broken, so he’s down by a cup. “Yes, Mr. Broch,” he says, as steadily as he can manage.
“We’re losing,” says Owen, flat. “Why didn’t you say that we’re losing?”
Drew sets his baton down and represses the urge to scream. The violinists are whispering to each other, but that’s incurable. “Not by much,” Drew says. “We can still—”
“We can still beat Yearbook, but we’re getting crushed by Ms. Rosenbaum’s French class,” Owen says. Owen is a little guy, lean and wiry, with skinny arms and legs sticking out of his oversized t-shirt and cargo shorts, and he’s got the potential to be a good cellist. He has natural talent enough, and a degree of dedication that Drew doesn’t often get from students who started with him and don’t take private lessons.
Owen tells him, “I don’t care about beating Mr. Vargas. I want pizza. Don’t you want to really win?”
Drew leans on his podium. “You play sports?” he asks.
“Yep.” Owen nods. “Hockey.”
“You any good?” Drew asks.
“Nope.” Owen shakes his head. “I fall down a lot.”
“Okay,” Drew says. He takes a breath. “Well, all right. How far behind are we?”
“Thirty-six points behind Yearbook,” Brian offers. “And seventy-seven behind French.”
Drew scrawls this up on the chalkboard. “All right. Owen’s perfectly right; we can’t allow ourselves to be beaten by the French.”
This gets him a very small ripple of laughter, which is worth something, he supposes. He rubs at his face. “All right,” he says. “Let’s work it out. Three points for a can of food, five for a volunteer hour, ten for a win at lunchtime—who likes math?”
They don’t actually get any rehearsing in, but they do come up with a plan, and honestly, Drew’s hangover doesn’t much relish the thought of thirty beginners sawing at their instruments for forty-five minutes, anyway.
The bulk of the plan falls to the students, but Drew can at least undermine the enemy’s morale, and honestly, he’s tired of eating his lunch in his classroom, anyway. He heads up to the fields at lunchtime to watch Melvin and Beatriz both pull down wins for his homeroom, then walks back over to the parking lot, as casually as he can. Jesse’s bike is near the middle of the rack, easy to spot; it’s an orange women’s bike that Jesse’s had since college and become desperately and unreasonably attached to; it’s hideous. Drew leans against the rack and scans for spies, then reaches into his pocket, fishes out his multitool, and flicks open the knife.
* * *
Drew has to deal with Margaret and Jackson in seventh period. It’s the worst thing he’s had to do in ages. When Drew finally works himself up to telling them he’s switching their seats, Jackson just looks relieved to finally not be expected to command. It makes it worse, somehow.
By the time Drew makes it out to the parking lot, unhappy and exhausted, Jesse’s sitting on the hood of Drew’s car, knees pulled to his face, the dust from Drew’s hood leaving pale splotches all over the seat of his charcoal grey pants. His shoulders are hunched, and when Drew unlocks the doors, Jesse barely raises his head.
“You look like—” Drew starts, and then realizes he doesn’t know if there’s a kid within hearing range, and corrects to, “bad.”
Jesse nods wearily. “I’d bawl you out for slashing my tires,” he says, “but honestly, right now, I’m just glad for the excuse to ask for a ride.”
“How do you know it was me?” Drew asks, sliding his satchel onto the back seat.
Jesse doesn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, he climbs off the hood of the car, a little unsteadily, and Drew helps him sling his panniers—which feel like they’re full of rocks and are probably actually full of sixth-grade essays on ancient Egypt instead—into the trunk. Jesse falls into the passenger seat and drops his head back, closing his eyes. Drew does up his seatbelt and turns on the car.
Jesse dozes off before they’ve even turned out of the parking lot, so Drew leaves the radio off and drives over to Naomi’s apartment in silence. There’s not much traffic. It takes eleven minutes, so Drew drives around the block a few times, because eleven minutes isn’t any kind of nap at all.
On the fourth time, Naomi’s come out onto the stoop with the baby, her long hair badly braided and frizzing around her face, and Drew can’t really justify waiting any more, so he pulls over to the side and turns off the ignition. Naomi watches, but doesn’t come down. Jesse is already stirring, but Drew reaches over and touches his shoulder.
“Hey,” he says, quiet. “We’re here.”
“Is there a baby?” Jesse mumbles.
“Yeah.” Drew sighs. “Your sister’s got him out on the stoop.”
“Oh, God, fuck Naomi and her godforsaken womb,” Jesse groans, and rubs at his face, hard enough to make his cheeks flush.
“She’s not my type,” Drew says, and Jesse laughs, painful and sharp, and undoes his seatbelt. Drew swallows and grabs his left wrist.
Jesse looks at him.
“Is it always going to be like this?” Drew asks, quiet.
Jesse stares at him.
“I mean.” Drew licks his lips. “I mean, I do get it: she’s family, you do shit for family. I get it, Jesse. But I hate sleeping by myself, I wake up all the time and I keep hallucinating the phone ringing, I want it to so bad, and I—”
“I’m not ditching Naomi by herself with a newborn just so you can get laid more conveniently.” Jesse’s voice is sharp.
Drew shakes his head. “I didn’t say anything about sex.”
“You jumped me in the teacher’s lounge,” Jesse reminds him, and Drew says, “It was a moment of weakness,” and Jesse laughs harshly and says, “Don’t lie, you’d want to do it here if you thought I could get it up.”
Drew exhales, and rubs his thumb over Jesse’s palm, up to his ring. Jesse stills.
“I would,” Drew says, very quietly. “I’ll take you in the car or the stairwell or that nice park over behind the Vons, if you want, and I’d… I’d fucking love it, you know I’d love it. I love. Anything you’ll give me.”
Jesse sighs and leans away, resting his head against his window. He doesn’t take his hand back, though.
“I know she got screwed over, and I know you don’t want to ditch her by herself, and I love that about you, Jesse,” Drew says, quiet. “But when I asked you if you wanted her to stay with us, I meant it, and it’s really fucking hard to tell myself you’re not just—just taking off, when you s-stop calling, and you—”
“I don’t get any fucking sleep,” Jesse says, low, and Drew takes a breath and says, “I know.”
There’s a long silence. Drew watches Naomi, up on the stoop, rocking her baby against her chest, her face turned away from whatever she can see of the two of them in the car.
“You have a sister and a nephew,” Drew says, finally.
Jesse exhales. “Yeah,” he says quietly.
Drew nods, Jesse’s ring solid and body-warm under his thumb.
Drew asks, “Do I?”
Jesse doesn’t say anything. After a minute, Drew lets go of his hand and gets out. He goes around to the back, puts one of Jesse’s panniers over each shoulder and heads up towards the stoop.
“Hey,” Drew says. Up close, Naomi looks utterly worn down: grey-faced and the hollow kind of too-thin that the Vargases all tend to in times of stress and overwork.
“Hey,” she says, smiling weakly.
“Can I bring you anything?” Drew asks. He’s always liked Naomi, is the thing. “Like… milk? Takeout? Vodka?”
She laughs. Behind Drew’s back, Jesse says, “Drew,” very softly.
“Seriously,” Drew says. “Um… just, call, I guess—can I take these upstairs?”
Her eyes flick to Jesse, then back again. “Yeah,” she says. “It’s open.”
Drew nods and heads up the stairs. He can hear her talking to Jesse, but he tries not to listen. Her apartment’s on the second floor. There’s baby stuff absolutely everywhere, and Jesse’s blue pajamas are in a ball next to the blanket on the sofa. Drew rubs at his face, just as Naomi is coming in behind him, still holding the baby tight against her chest.
“You want to hold him?” she asks. Jesse is right behind her.
“Better not,” Drew says, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I didn’t lock the car.”
* * *
Drew is on campus by six-thirty in the morning. He told Jesse he had to go in extra early and that Jesse should borrow Naomi’s car or get a ride with Tom. It’s a dick move, and he knows it, but for the first time in two and a half years he’s having to question whether or not he’s still supposed to be wearing his ring, and it’s not a feeling he can handle with equanimity. He unfastens the chain across the entrance to the faculty lot and parks under a tree. In his classroom, he goes through his scores and his notes and finishes his coffee too fast, but he doesn’t have the alarm code for the office, so if he wants more, he’ll be stuck with the teacher’s lounge, and as unlikely as Jesse being there this early may be, Drew doesn’t want to risk it. He polishes the violas, instead.
“So here’s the thing,” Jesse says from the doorway, and Drew jerks his head up from viola number six, startled. Jesse closes the door behind him, tugs at the handle to make sure it’s latched, and then pockets his keys.
“If you’ve come by to be a dick about the Spirit Week competition,” Drew says, “I think you should know that my kids are rallying for a last-minute push to the finish.”
Jesse crosses his arms over his chest. “Do you actually even care about Spirit Week?” he asks.
Drew looks back down at the viola and draws the polishing cloth down the front, easy and smooth. “I care about beating you,” he says.
Jesse nods, sharp, and is silent.
Drew finishes the front of the viola and turns it over to work on the back. He usually saves this stuff for Friday afternoon, but at least if he finishes it this morning, he’ll be able to get out of this hellhole that much sooner.
“When you said Naomi could come and stay with us,” Jesse says, “I thought you were being polite.”
Drew exhales. He sets the viola back in its case, and straightens up in his seat. “I don’t actually do a whole lot just to be polite,” he reminds Jesse, like they haven’t known each other for eight years.
“Which I know.” Jesse nods. “Like, consciously.” He sighs, and pulls the first violinist’s chair out and sits down, his legs sprawling all over the place. “But the thing is,” he says, “you hate kids.”
“I don’t hate them,” Drew corrects. “I dislike them. Which, I mean, honestly, I teach middle school; I don’t think anyone who teaches middle school likes them very much after a while.”
“I do,” Jesse says, very quietly, and Drew goes very still.
The room is quiet. It’s still early enough that there’s no amorphous cloud of youthful high spirits floating in through the crack under the door. He can’t even hear much traffic, not yet.
“You want kids?” Drew asks. It comes out perfectly even. He’s proud of that, he thinks.
“I don’t know.” Jesse sighs, and rubs at his face. “Look. I’m not… I don’t have any illusions about kids: they start out sort of… loud and squashy, which is awful, and then they turn into our students, who are awful, and then they turn into teenagers, who are really awful, but… I like Naomi’s kid, and I—I’ve always liked kids, I’ve always liked playing with my cousins and crap like that, and I—”
“You haven’t ever brought this up,” Drew says, low, and Jesse takes a breath and says, “I was pretty sure you’d take off if I did.”
“I wouldn’t take off,” Drew says, suddenly searingly, ferociously angry, “I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t do that to you, I wouldn’t—I asked you to marry me, Jesus Christ.”
“Yeah,” Jesse says quietly. “So. Maybe I was stupid.”
Drew puts his hands over his face.
After a second, he can hear Jesse standing up, coming over. All the chairs creak, is the thing, and the room’s got thin carpeting that speaks almost as loudly as a hardwood floor when Jesse crouches in front of him. Jesse is touching his wrists and murmuring, “I made a mistake,” and then, more softly, “I’m sorry.”
Drew takes a breath, and admits, “I was kind of a dick about it, so,” and Jesse drops forward onto his knees and leans up between Drew’s legs to kiss him. Jesse smells like coffee, which is cheating, since he hardly ever drinks it. He must’ve washed his hair last night; it’s dried a little funny, and it smells like Febreeze. Drew kisses Jesse’s cheek, and Jesse presses his face into Drew’s shoulder, and then leans back and pushes up to his feet. His left knee creaks, a little, and Drew skims his palm over Jesse’s thigh. Jesse runs his fingers through Drew’s hair.
“You want to talk about kids?” Drew asks, quiet.
“Um.” Jesse licks his lips and says, “Not right now, really, actually.”
Drew starts to laugh. “I’m not having sex with you on campus,” he manages. “Not again, Jesus. You ruined me for the whole day last time.”
Jesse tugs Drew up to his feet, kisses his jaw. “It’s early,” Jesse says, voice low, and damn it, damn him, and damn Drew most of all for being so goddamned easy; his toes are already curling up in his shoes. “We have time for—”
“Not on campus,” Drew says, as firmly as he can manage. That’s not a kink. That’s not allowed to be a kink. They can’t afford for it to be a kink. “You wouldn’t be saying this if we were in your classroom.”
“Mm, no.” Jesse presses his mouth to Drew’s mouth, light. “But I have the darkroom, so…” It sounds like a joke; good. Jokes are safe. No one gets arrested for public indecency as long as it’s just a joke.
“Right.” Drew wraps his arms around Jesse’s shoulders. “So you’d take me into the darkroom, show me your photo collection?”
“No, my photo collection is at home.” Jesse mouths at Drew’s throat before pulling back, and Drew snorts. “But I could push you up against the counter,” Jesse muses, “you know… get your pants down…” and all of a sudden, it’s not really a joke at all.
Drew swallows. His hips are rocking up, almost without him meaning for them to, and he and Jesse both breathe out. Jesse presses his forehead to Drew’s forehead, squeezing him around the waist.
“I’d get your pants down,” Jesse repeats, softer, and rocks against Drew’s hip. Drew swallows, and presses his face against the side of Jesse’s face.
“What time is it?” Drew whispers, because Jesse is facing the clock.
“Five to eight,” Jesse kisses his temple and whispers, “I’d get your pants down, just—just so I could really get a good hold on your ass—”
Drew bites down on Jesse’s lip, and Jesse catches his breath. “Good start,” Drew whispers, and splays his fingers wide on Jesse’s back.
“Yeah.” Jesse pulls back, rubs his mouth over Drew’s ear. He didn’t shave well, and the edges of his mouth are stubbly and rough. “I think I’d suck you, get you nice and hard with my mouth, just to remember what you taste like.” Jesse slides his hand up Drew’s back. “I miss the way you taste.”
Drew swallows, heavy, and tucks his fingertips just into Jesse’s waistband.
“I miss the way you taste all over,” Jesse whispers, and Drew shakes his head and says, “I’m not—we can’t,” and Jesse pulls him up tighter and whispers, “No, I know; just listen,” like Drew would actually be capable of doing something else. Drew nods, and bends to kiss Jesse’s shoulder through his shirt.
“I want to turn you around and spread you open,” Jesse is saying. His voice is rough, a little too loud for a whisper, and Drew drops his hand and rubs at himself through his trousers. “I want to—God, fuck the darkroom, fuck—I want to take you home,” Jesse gasps, as Drew turns his hand up, heart pounding, and Jesse presses himself against Drew’s fingers. “I want—I want to take you home and get your pants down and make you put your hands on the window while I fuck you open with my tongue—Jesus fucking Christ, I told Naomi I’d be back by four,” and Drew starts to laugh.
“You’re such a shit,” Drew tells him, but he’s already getting Jesse’s belt undone, and Jesse is pushing up against him, panting, eyes wild, cheeks flushed.
“How fast do you think we could do it?” Jesse is asking. His pupils are huge. He looks high. He hasn’t been getting enough sleep. Drew sticks his hand down Jesse’s pants and Jesse’s eyes flutter shut.
“Now?” Drew asks.
“No, now’s going to take about thirty seconds,” Jesse tells him, too fast, and probably not inaccurately. “I want to take you home after school, I want—”
“Bell’s at 3:25,” Drew reminds him. “Fifteen minutes home, ten minutes to fuck, ten minutes to your sister’s—we could do it, just barely, if you don’t mind spending the evening looking after her baby smelling like spunk.” He pushes Jesse’s pants down for more room, and Jesse groans.
“Because.” Jesse swallows, hard, as Drew pushes him back against the podium and braces his feet beside Jesse’s feet. “I forgot what I was saying,” Jesse admits, and Drew tightens his hand and says, “You were going to fuck me open with your tongue, while Mrs. Rodriguez from across the way watches us through her binoculars.”
“You’re a good fucking show,” Jesse gasps, hips snapping up, and Drew swallows and drops down to his knees. “Oh Jesus.” Jesse drops his hand into Drew’s hair and pets and pets, while Drew nuzzles breathlessly at Jesse’s dripping cock and his heavy, tight balls.
“You were going to fuck me open with your tongue,” Drew reminds him, “which, I mean, don’t stop there,” and then he puts his mouth over Jesse’s cock and sinks all the way down.
“Oh God.” Jesse is obviously trying to hold still, but he’s failing, his hips just barely jerking, fucking the head of his cock into Drew’s throat. Drew has to pull back for air, and Jesse groans, and grabs him by the ears, which puts Drew back in easily one of his top five favorite places on the planet. Drew can feel his eyes fluttering shut, his toes cramped tight in his shoes. “God,” Jesse is gasping, “I’m going to—I’m going to do it, Drew, you—I don’t think you believe me but I’m going to do it, I’m gonna take you home and shove my tongue and my fingers up you until you come once, just from that, just—jizz all over the window, just really—really give Mrs. Rodriguez what she’s looking for, you know?”
Drew is squirming, but one of the advantages of having Jesse’s cock crammed in his mouth is that it helps keep him mostly quiet. Good thing, too; he can hear the first few signs of student life stirring on campus: a car door slamming, Sabine’s shrill two-fingered whistle to call a renegade early drop-off student back to the library. Drew shivers and pulls back just enough to take a huge, rasping breath, and then swallows Jesse back down, fumbling the too-tight button and zipper on his own pants open, just to get some room.
“Then.” Jesse licks his lips, drops his voice. “I—I could fuck your mouth some more, if your throat doesn’t hurt too much—’m not hurting you, am I?” Drew manages to get his right hand up to give Jesse a tiny dissenting wave; his left hand is busy. “No, Jesus, fuck, I—God, look at you. God. I could watch you jerk yourself off all day, Jesus. Maybe I will, maybe tomorrow I’ll—I’ll—shit, no, tomorrow we’ll probably be hauling all of Naomi’s baby crap over to the house, and I have like nine years of papers to grade—why, why are you stopping, why are you laughing?”
“Nothing,” Drew says, gasping for air. His chest feels too tight, too full, almost bursting. He rubs his face on Jesse’s hip and says, “Nothing, keep going,” and then draws him back into his mouth.