There was no sweeter sound than burning rubber on asphalt. The race was close, but Charles Aughtly was determined to win. He had just a few more blocks until he reached the school, and he was seconds behind his opponent. As his mind replayed the events of the morning on a loop, Charles pressed down harder and harder on the gas pedal. His father’s voice was like poison in his veins, but at least it got him angry enough to pull ahead.
I got your report back from the school, I expected you to do better.
It was just one missed test, Dad, and I was sick. I’ll make it up.
Are you talking back to me, Charles?
With one last rev of his engine, Charles tore into the parking lot and screeched to a stop in one of the last spots in front of the school, his shining yellow Ferrari glinting in the early morning light. He was breathing heavily, and his hands were clammy, but he succeeded.
He actually managed to beat Jessy Motley in a street race.
A few seconds later, the sharp cut of Motts’ sleek black Mercedes Benz skidded to a halt a few spots away. Charles slipped out of his car as his best friend rolled down the window, already sporting a deep frown.
“You cheated,” Motts whined.
Charles threw his head back in a taunting laugh and swung his backpack over his shoulder, turning to the crisp, brick walls of Westwood Academy. The school looked more like a line of stale offices than a place of education–and it was full of pricks like one, too.
Charles was no exception.
Jessy grabbed his bag and rushed to catch up with Charles, running his fingers through his short brown hair. He was a big, burly guy, and as usual, he looked like he had put on whatever he could find on his floor that didn’t smell like a city dump. But his parents were loaded, so it didn’t matter.
“Don't be a sore loser, Motts.” A cheeky grin settled on Charles’ face for a brief moment as he pushed some of his blond hair out of his eyes, which sparkled with wild excitement. His father’s voice faded away, and he felt alive again.
“Whatever, man, I stand by what I said!” Motts winked at a group of girls as they walked through the quad and up to the single building that housed their private high school. They giggled in response, whispering to each other and pointing at the pair. Charles did his best to not react.
Charles’ palms began to sweat under the heat of their gaze, but he kept his nose held primly in the air. He wasn’t about to let the vultures see him nervous. Charles scanned the crowd, trying not to be obvious about the fact that he was looking for someone specific. His daily dose of serotonin–the face he could spot from miles away, no matter where he was or who he was with.
“Oh, my god, Charles! Is that a new Rolex?” A peppy girl sporting a tennis skirt and a pink sweater vest over a white shirt jumped in front of Charles, grabbing his right wrist to inspect the watch without asking. With her free hand, she twirled a strand of dark hair that had fallen from her ponytail. She looked up at Charles with wide, doe-like eyes—and Charles didn’t recognize her.
“Um. No?” It was the same watch he always wore, but Motts was wiggling his eyebrows at Charles like this meant something.
“Oh, weird, I thought you wore gold for some reason.” She dropped his wrist and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“Um, do I—”
“Anyway,” she cut him off, “I wanted to ask you if you could come to my party tonight? Totally low key, but my brother is gonna get booze for us, and–”
“Thanks, but no.” Charles pressed his lips into a thin, lifeless smile, and pushed past her before he could see too much of her shocked expression. As always, it was just another person who wanted something from him.
Once they were far enough away from her, Motts’ mouth dropped open. “Dude, what? I can’t believe you just turned that girl down! She was totally hot.”
Charles rolled his eyes and pushed open the shining metal doors that lead into the main hallway, which was already buzzing with students. It was an old building, so everyone’s voices echoed in the halls, building a cacophony of sound. Charles thought of it like a beehive overflowing with honey. It made his head spin. “You know I hate parties.”
“Uh, yeah, but I’d eat my right toe to get seven minutes in heaven with her.”
“Whatever! I can’t believe you’re still doing the single thing, it’s been two years and–” Motts cut off, his attention jumping to a group of girls huddled around a locker. The rest of the group was chatting away, but one was looking right at Motts. Her curly, black hair was pulled up into two buns, with a couple of strands framing her face. She bit her lip, dragged her eyes up and down Motts’ frame, and gave a meaningful glance at the janitor’s closet.
“Oh, hell yeah, gotta go. I think Jazmine wants to–” Motts wiggled his eyebrows.
“Too much information.” Charles shoved his friend in the direction of the girl, and Motts snickered in response as he rushed off like a puppy dog to do god knows what in a disgusting closet.
Charles rolled his eyes, and took a step backward, colliding directly into someone standing in front of the bulletin board. They let out an oof of surprise, and Charles whipped around just in time to catch them before they fell to the floor.
The fliers they were holding were not so lucky.
Papers flew up into the air around the two, swirling down to the floor in a giant cluster, but Charles stayed rooted in place, one arm firmly wrapped around the waist of the person he nearly walked right into.
Wide, enchanting green eyes stared up into his, a dusting of brown hair fluttering around them. Charles knew them instantly. He let go the second the other boy got his balance, heart already pounding against his ribs.
It had to be Lucas Sawyer.
Lucas was short–at least, shorter than Charles–with broad shoulders and a smile that could light up the entire corridor. The cottony, turquoise fabric of his button-up shirt, decorated in little sea shells, pressed against Charles’ fingers with a softness that rivaled his dreams. Lucas’ round, happy features brought a sweetness to his face like pure sugar cane. He looked at everyone like they were potential new friends.
He knew it was silly to take notice. Lucas was low on the social food chain. Most people ignored him because he was a scholarship kid who was only in his second semester at Westwood.
But still, Charles noticed. He always noticed.
He gulped, attempting to get some air into his lungs, as Lucas dropped to the floor to start gathering papers. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there! I was trying to put up a flier, but it was too high and–oh, you’re Charles Aughtly, aren’t you?”
Despite himself, Charles crouched down too. He grabbed the thumb tac that Lucas was probably using to try and hang the flier and dropped it into Lucas’ hand. “You–You know my name?” His throat was dry and scratchy, and it made his voice come out rougher than usual–but he forced himself to talk anyway. Of course, Lucas knew his name, he was Charles Freaking Aughtly. But it was the fact that the name was coming out of Lucas’ mouth that shook him to his core.
Lucas laughed, a bright and bubbling sound that filled Charles’ heart like butterflies. “Duh, you’re like famous around here. Don’t you know that?”
Charles shrugged, suddenly unable to find his voice. He busied himself with picking up the fliers, reaching for one right as Lucas went to do the same.
Their fingers brushed.
Their fingers brushed.
Charles cleared his throat, thrusting the papers he had managed to pick up in Lucas’ general direction. Lucas took the papers, and they both stood. In an attempt to hide his warming cheeks, Charles turned his head like he was looking around. “So, what’s all of this?”
Lucas brightened. “Oh, it’s for the club I’m starting! Here!” He held out one of the fliers–now covered in specks of dirt from the floor–and Charles took it without thinking.
It was a colorful thing, printed on pink construction paper and covered in rainbows. In big, bubbly letters, the flier read WELCOME TO THE GENDER AND SEXUALITY ALLIANCE! with the day, time, and location of the first meeting, as well as an email at the bottom written in beautiful, sloping handwriting.
The warmth in Charles’ cheeks disappeared in an instant, replaced by a sinking cold that took over his entire body. He felt like he had been drenched in a storm and then left out to slowly rot.
How did he know?
Was Charles too obvious?
Did Lucas catch him staring?
Did he somehow have a view into Charles’ heart–how it beat a little too hard every time Lucas came up to his locker, which was adjacent to Charles’?
Just because Charles had known he was gay since he was 15 didn’t mean he was ready for anyone else to know.
Charles pushed the paper back at Lucas like it was burning him alive. “No thanks. Not gay.”
“Oh, you don’t have to be to–”
“I’m not,” Charles insisted.
“Um. Okay.” Lucas did not take the flier back. “Well, um, you can keep that. I have plenty. Throw it away or give it to someone who needs it.” He side-stepped around Charles, leaving him standing shell-shocked in the hallway.
And he couldn’t help but watch Lucas go.
Charles did not throw the paper away. Not only did he not throw it away, but he also brought it all the way home. He took it out of his backpack. He put it on his desk. And he stared at it for about two hours, instead of doing homework. Everything that happened that morning danced in his mind in an endless loop, and he couldn’t take how it ate at him.
“Charles, what the fu–look alive, man!” Motts’ urgent voice spilled out of Charles’ headphones, and he snapped back to reality.
Charles sprang into action just in time for a sniper shot to completely take him out–for about the fifth time that night alone. Without Charles as cover, Motts was quickly taken out as well, and the match went to their opponents.
“Damn it, Charles! Okay, what is up with you tonight, man? You keep missing easy kills, wandering out into open, making yourself a target–”
Charles huffed and flung his controller aside. “Lay off! I have a lot on my mind.”
There was a pause, and then came the unexpected, “You wanna talk about it?”
For one, brief moment, Charles debated telling his friend about his gigantic boy crush on Lucas–but it was a fleeting moment. Charles wasn’t out. Not to Motts, not to anyone. He couldn’t be, because he was Charles Freaking Aughtly, destined to take over his father’s company and live the rest of his days hating his sad, miserable life.
“Okay, how about baking? Making shit always seems to calm you down.”
Charles pressed his palms to his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. “No–it’s not… I don’t think baking will help this time, Motts. I’m not seven.”
Motts hummed. “Well, how about you write about it? Dr. Hepburn always tells me it helps to write about your feelings.”
Oh, great, now Motts was therapizing him.
Charles’ eyes flickered to the flier again–to the email at the bottom of the page, neatly written in Lucas’ handwriting. “What if someone sees it?”
“Just delete it after, man. Always works for me. Not that I write about my feelings–er, often.”
“I’ll talk to you later, Motts.” Charles disconnected before his friend had a moment to answer and crossed his room from the couch to his desk where the flier sat like a beacon of everything Charles hated about himself.
It was only one email, right? No one would even have to read it. He wouldn’t send it, he’d delete it after, and it would be like nothing ever happened.
Maybe then he could get over Lucas once and for all and put the whole gay thing to rest.So, he booted up his computer, opened a new tab, and started writing.