Lies On The Lips
I’m not the only kid in here who flaked on their paper. But, unlike Will Gerrard or Talia Stevens at the table behind me, I worry I’ll be benched at tonight’s game. If I’m benched, Dad will lose his mind.
I rub at the tension that’s forming a knot at the base of my skull and try to figure out how I’ll explain this to Dad. Excuses aren’t acceptable. The Cooper's are accountable for their actions. It makes us respectable, trusted people in our community. Dad’s lectures are better suited for the boardroom. Yet he runs our house like Mom and I are his employees. We’re always up for review. One false move away from getting canned. Although, I’m not sure what exactly happens when Mom and I get to that point. Does he divorce her? Kick me out? Worse yet, does he take our credit cards away? Dad, like any authoritarian, rules our roost by controlling the cash flow. Injecting when we make him proud. Draining when we’ve insulted the Cooper name. We’re always under inspection. And when that doesn’t work, his backhand makes for a pretty convincing argument.
The line we walk is narrow and straight. I used to hate the pain, but now I’m growing addicted to it. Because my pain is Copeland. Just thinking about him has my eyes dragging across the room. Don’t do it. Don’t look at him. But I do. I always do. Because seeing what I see is worth what’s eventually shot back at me. One moment of bliss. To stare at his perfection before he catches me. He always catches me, each time more punishing than the last. And yet… He sits slouched in his chair with his long legs stretched out in front of him, his dark hair flopped down over his brows as he looks at his phone. Black hair. Black shirt. Black jeans. Black-painted nails. Black soul. His lips twitch slightly as he stares at his device. Heat creeps up my spine. The attraction I have for him is a punishing inferno that blazes inside of me. Always. Ever since we were preteens. I tried to keep it in check at first. Tried to hide what I felt for my best friend while he talked about girls he liked and often made out with. It was a certain kind of agony to sit and endure those smiles meant for other people. I did it, though. I did it for him. Until one night I did something for me. Stolen alcohol from my parents’ liquor cabinet. A sleepover between friends. Late night swim in the pool. And a kiss. One passion-driven, alcohol induced kiss by a sixteen-year-old boy in love with his best friend. A killer kiss. The kiss of death. The kiss that murdered our friendship and gave birth to a hate monster.
As though he’s right there with me on that night, his shoulders tense. I should look away. Pretend I’m more interested in how Coach is going to ream me after class. Anything besides staring into the furious fire only he can create. Instead, I wait. I ruined us. Ruined sixteen years of friendship. We were neighbors who grew up like brothers. Our bond was unbreakable…until I broke it. Normally, his pinning glare only lasts the briefest of moments. Enough time to shoot vile, unspoken words my way, words transmitted silently by a flicker in his eyes and a curled snarl of his upper lip, before shunning me like I don’t exist.
To everyone else, Copeland is another dark, deviant kid and I’m the happy jock. Two guys from different social pools. Poor Copeland Lacey is unloved and rebellious and depressed. Brett Cooper is revered and adored and is going places.
Spoiled. Copeland Lacey is spoiled. A spoiled liar who plays games with the people around him. Spins tales he wants them to see. Paints not-so-pretty pictures of himself and calls it art. He wasn’t always this way. Once, he was like me. We were two boys who were different than our rich parents. The two of us had values, a code we live by. A brotherhood. Blood didn’t matter because our bond ran through our veins. I cut us and we bled. Now he’s a fraud, and my soul is dead.
"Cooper," Coach barks. I jerk from my inner turmoil and frown as I grab my backpack. Tossing it over my shoulder, I make my way to the front to take my verbal lashings. Several kids shoot me sympathetic looks. "What’s going on with you?" he asked, his voice still hard but losing its edge.
"Nothing." I can’t meet his eyes. The word is truth and he can read it plain as day. But Coach misinterprets. Nothing is wrong. The void in my heart is wrong. The emptiness is wrong.
"I don’t know that I believe that," he grumbles. "Regardless, this F is a problem." I give him a clipped nod and clench my jaw, ready to take my punishment. I’ll be benched. One of the biggest games of the season and I won’t be playing. I’m angry with myself for blowing off the essay that was such a huge part of my grade, but anger isn’t going to get me out of this mess. Time is the only thing I have on my side. Eventually, with time, this will be a distant memory. Coach lets out a heavy sigh. "We need you at tonight’s game."
"I’m sorry," I mutter. He leans forward on his desk and threads his fingers together. The classroom has long since emptied, leaving me to my newest torture now that Copeland is no longer here doling his out. Coach’s lectures are about as painful as Dad’s. Almost. Difference is, Coach’s don’t end with a kick to the ribs.
"You’re going to redo this. I’ll make sure you get a pass for the rest of the day. Head to the library and turn this F into a C. I want it back on my desk after the final bell rings." I snap my eyes to meet his.
"What? You’re letting me rewrite it?"
"Chauncey has a strong chance this year. Without you, we’re practically giving the championship to them," His lips pursed together. "We can’t lose you over ‘nothing.’ Whatever is going on with you, fix it. If some girl has you twisted up, find a way to straighten yourself out. These games are critical not just for us, but for you. Your playing determines your future. Riding the bench over an F is not going to help you get into the college you want. Your dad may be rich as hell, but even money and a good family name won’t buy your way into playing college ball." I’m surprised he’s going to allow me to do this. I mean, his career is on the line too. If we lose this season, it looks bad for Coach. It sucks my ability to make a passing grade affects so many people. Coach’s job. Dad’s reputation. My future. "And, Cooper?" Coach says Slowly. "Don’t mention this retake. Banister and Hoffman both failed, but they’re not critical to this game. If we win against Chauncey, the rest of the season is ours. We need our quarterback. Get your head out of the clouds. I need you to bring me a C and then I need you to get out there and play your A game. Are we clear?"
"Yes, sir," I grumble, irritated that he’s giving me special treatment.
"Go on, now. Your time is ticking and we’re all counting on you." No pressure, Coach. No freaking pressure.
I’m tapping away on my essay when I hear familiar giggling nearby. I cringe because I know that evil laugh. Ashley Maine. Tall, blond, and vicious. She’s also Copeland’s longtime girlfriend. I’ve never seen her be nice to anyone. The only person she’s remotely endurable to is Cope. I wonder why he tolerates her.
She comes into view, just beyond a row of bookshelves, and I know why. The girl is drop-dead gorgeous. Like runway models, they are beautiful. Her body is lean and curved in all the right places. A true goddess among a sea of lowly mortals. Even I, a gay guy in love with her boyfriend, can’t ignore her beauty.
My gaze skims up her body from her black, heeled boots, along her black leggings, over her fitted black tunic, before settling on her dark red lipstick. Her bright green eyes, her crimson lips, and her wild mane of blond beach waves are the only color on her. She, like Cope, seems to prefer black over all other colors. They’re a devilish couple. A king and queen of deviance. When she catches me staring, one corner of her lips quirks up. At one time, back in middle school when she wore pink instead of black, she’d crushed on me. I was always finding letters written in her girly flourishes stuffed in my backpack. It was awkward because I had no attraction to her whatsoever. Ashley was pretty, still is for that matter, but not my type. My type steps around the corner, not noticing my presence at first. He hooks Ashley around the waist and pushes her back into the shelves. His grin for her makes my heart stutter in my chest and a flush of heat skim over my flesh. She playfully slaps his face but then grabs the front of his shirt, pulling him closer. Before their lips meet, his head slowly turns my way. The smile on his face slips away and his blue eyes flicker with hatred.
All I can do is stare.
It’s all I can ever do.
I’m confident in every aspect of my life, except when it involves Cope. With his eyes on mine, he kisses her pouty lips. Nips at her bottom lip. Teases me at what I’ll never have. I can’t look away. I watch him kiss her obnoxiously. All for show. Too much tongue and not enough emotion. He kisses her to punish me. Each second lashes at me painfully. And still I can’t peel my eyes from them.
Bored with his kiss, he pulls away from her and turns my way. With me sitting and him standing there looking like a demigod who climbed from the depths of Hell, all I can do is remain stiff. It’s as though he might actually speak to me. An ache burns in my gut. A longing so intense it hurts. He takes a step forward. Ashley clutches his wrist. Jealousy flares in her green orbs. She’s angry his attention is gone from her. That I’m the lucky recipient in these moments.
"What’s that?" he demands, his voice cold and cruel. I break his gaze to look down at my open history book and the essay on my laptop.
"Uh," I croak out, unable to find words.
"Uh…uh…uh…" Ashley mocks, "I think he got tackled one too many times, Cope." Cope bristles at her words.
"Get me a Pepsi." He pulls out some cash from his pocket and pushes them into her hand. Her body tenses at being told what to do. She opens her mouth like she might argue, but instead snatches the cash from him.
"Whatever," she grumbles and storms off. His eyes narrow as he steps closer. I catch a whiff of his familiar scent and it burns through me, leaving heartache in its wake.
"What’s that?" he asks again, his voice low and deadly.
I clench my jaw and shrug. "History essay."
"The one you failed?" he sneers. "Coach must really need you at tonight’s game." Shame punches me right in the gut. Copeland of all people knows what it feels like for people to make special circumstances because of your family name. He just pretends otherwise. At the end of the day, though, his dad runs this town with his fat wallet.
"Yep," I bite out, irritation chasing away my hurt. We fought like brothers growing up. A few times, we fought dirty and I have scars to this day. Cope’s nose has a dent I put in it. But for all our fighting, we were closer than any two boys could be. Until we weren’t.
He places a palm on my history book and leans in to read what I’m writing. His closeness knocks me off my axis. I crave to lean into him, to remember what it feels like to touch him. Instead, I stay completely still. As though he’s a snake ready to strike if I make one wrong move.
He makes an exaggerated show of sniffing the air making me worry I stink. "I smell another F," he says cruelly. "Looks like you’ll have to figure out other ways to convince Coach to let you play." The crude gesture he makes with his mouth and hand turns my gut.
"Screw you," I snarl, my anger finally rising to the surface, as I fist my hands. He smirks as he backs away.
"Nah, I’ve got a girlfriend. Nice try, though. If you tried half as hard on that paper as you do attempting to get into my pants, you’d probably ace it." I have no words for him as he strides away, laughing like the evil bastard he is.