Back to School, Ring the Bell – Ch. 12

Zain

Platt showed up at my door on Wednesday night five minutes before Spectrum. Given that we had to walk to Chauvenet Hall for the meeting still, that was practically late. I didn’t mention it, though. I was glad he’d come at all.

He stood staring blank-faced at the window while JJ finished tying his shoe. I’d seen that look before. It was the does-not-compute one he got when he was doing his absolute best job at blocking out anything beyond his own head. Trying to shake him free of it, I asked, “How was the pool lesson after I left last night?” I’d decided to raise the training wheels a bit and let him and Myrick talk alone.

Platt blinked and aimed a furtive glance at JJ. “It was good,” he said. “I finally mastered the draw shot. Seb said you haven’t heard back on the house yet?”

Don’t want to mention Myrick was the one teaching you, huh? I thought, smirking. As if the entire company didn’t know, by now, that the pool table was in use for an hour each night, and if you so much as looked at the cue rack before Platt showed up to start playing, you got Myrick’s strongest flat-eyed glare until you backed off.

“No,” I said. “But they have until Friday to send a counteroffer or refuse.”

“I hope you get word soon,” Platt said.

“Me too,” I said. Whatever their decision, the prolonged wait was killing Seb, even with Quint’s regular spankings and my being as silly and distracting as possible.

JJ tucked in his laces and straightened up. “A’ight, let’s move out!”

We left Bancroft and walked over to Chauvenet. I whistled Hakuna Matata softly on the way. Platt said nothing and hardly took his eyes off his feet. At the door of the classroom where the meetings were held, I stopped, blocking Platt with my shoulder as JJ went in and grabbed a seat.

“Listen,” I said, turning to the kid. “You’ll be okay. Take a breath and stop looking like someone’s out to get you.”

He obeyed on the first part, at least. But his eyes stayed wide as a cornered animal.

I gave him a smile. “If you want to leave at any point, whisper ‘exodus’ to me, and I’ll go with you. Got it?”

At that, his mouth opened and closed again. “You remembered.”

“What, your safeword?” I asked, still quiet enough not to carry into the room. “Of course I did. I’m a good Dom. I’d really like it if you could stay for the full meeting and the hang-out period afterward, but if it’s too much, say the word.”

He nodded, and his face finally relaxed a tiny bit. “Thanks.”

Then I led him through the door. We entered into the back of the room, where a few desks had been pushed together to make a refreshments table covered with bags of chips, two-liters of soda, and disposable cups and plates. At the front, the club president, a firstie named Page, sat at a real table, with the vice president to one side of her and the treasurer and secretary on the other. A group of fifteen or so mids stood around the other desks in Blue and Gold jogging suits.

One of them was Nakamura, of course. I saw him spot Platt and watched him blink, and I prepared to run interference to stop him from making the kid uncomfortable. But after a second he simply turned away and sat.

JJ had claimed a desk near the middle, with his feet propped on the chair to his right and his hand easily reaching the backrest of the one to his left. He craned around and jerked his head at us. Platt made a beeline for the left desk and sat, slouching down several inches like he wanted to slide all the way under it.

“Move,” I said to JJ. He got up and let me have the center desk without comment.

“Let’s go,” said Page. “Sit, all of you. You’ll get time to chat and eat later.” When silence fell across the room, she glanced at her secretary. “The meeting is called to order. Begin taking minutes.”

I tuned out as they went over minutes from the last meeting and some other administrative stuff. I was trying to keep an eye on Platt without staring at him. Poor kid probably felt hyper-aware of every single look his way—which wasn’t a huge number, thankfully. Most people had focused on the club officers. Nak was far enough in front of us that he’d have to turn his head to see the kid at all, and he didn’t.

As for Platt, his gaze darted from the officers, to the clock on the wall, to the door, and around the room. Looking for possible threats, I thought. But he didn’t lean over to whisper ‘exodus.’

“Now, new business,” Page was saying when I started paying some attention again. “We need to plan an activity for Bisexual Awareness Week, which runs from September 19th through the 26th.”

I bit the side of my index finger for a second to hold in a snort of laughter. Platt glared at me from the corner of his eyes.

What? I mouthed at him. I didn’t know.

He shook his head and slouched down even more, keeping his gaze fixed on the desk as Page said, “Floor’s open for suggestions.”

On my other side, JJ raised his hand.

“Yes?” she asked. “You’re new, aren’t you? Want to introduce yourself?”

“JJ Jacobson,” he said. “Here with my roommate, Mo, to show my support.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “I just had a question. You said it’s Bisexual Awareness Week, but isn’t everyone pretty much aware of bisexuality already? Or am I being an ignorant jackass who should shut up?”

She smiled. “No, I think that’s a good question to start. Actually, a lot of people deny that bisexuality exists. Even ones that accept homosexuality. And bisexuals tend to get lumped in with gays if they’re men, or lesbians if they’re women, which denies that they face their own unique challenges that those groups, and straight people, don’t. Bi Awareness Week is about combatting that.”

JJ bobbed his head. “Oh, okay, I get it a little better now. Thanks.”

“I think JJ’s question points to the kind of activity we should be doing,” I said. “Something that involves more than just our group. Outreach to the Brigade as a whole, to clear up misconceptions.”

“Yeah, definitely,” said someone else. “Maybe we should start with a list of myths to bust.”

The mids at the desks in front were turning now, so pretty much everyone faced each other. Because we three were in the middle, we became the center of focus. Platt’s shoulders crawled up to his ears as his face went pink. No one noticed, that I could tell.

“Like how we’re unfaithful sluts?” asked a female mid. “That’s my personal pet peeve.”

Nak said, “What about ‘you’re not really bi unless you’re attracted equally to guys and girls,’ huh? Just because for me it works like a Chinese buffet doesn’t mean–”

“Whoa, wait,” a guy across from him cut in. “A Chinese buffet?”

Nak grinned. “Yeah! You know, you’re loading up your plate with egg rolls and sweet and sour chicken, and then at the end there’s always that one pizza? And you’re like, ‘well, I didn’t really come here for pizza, but it’s there and it looks delicious, so I might as well grab a slice.’ It’s like that!”

A few people started laughing. I broke off monitoring Platt’s reactions to raise my eyebrows at Nak and ask, “In this analogy, my fiancé is a slice of pizza?”

“A very hot slice,” he replied, still grinning. “The kind that burns your mouth.”

Seb would blush so hard when I told him. I couldn’t wait. I kept the stern look, though, as I said, “You keep your mouth away from him.”

Which led to a few taunts of, “Oooh, watch out, Nak!” and “Dad’s gonna kick your ass.” When they died down, the mid who’d suggested starting with a list of myths said, “Am I the only one who really wants pizza and Chinese food now?”

“Hey, we could do something with that for Bi Awareness Week,” said another. “What if we had a big party, open invitation to the Brigade, and served those? And if someone came up to get both kinds, we could say, ‘Wait a minute, you have to pick one or the other!’”

A short silence fell before they all started talking excitedly at the same time.

“Or, ‘I don’t believe you really like both. You just don’t want to admit you’re only into pizza!’”

“‘You’re just trying to get attention.’”

“How about, ‘Wow, that’s kinda greedy. Why can’t you commit?’”

I used the cover of their voices to lean over the arm of my desk and ask, “Doing alright, Platypus?”

“Yeah,” he said. He glanced around the room. “How many of them are… are bisexual?”

It was the first time I’d ever heard him say that word. Smiling proudly, I answered, “I don’t know. Four or five are out, I think. Could be there’s more.”

“Like…” He licked his lower lip, on the verge of saying something.

My heart rate sped up. I leaned closer.

“Hey, timeout a minute!” Page called through the babel.

Nooo!, I thought, as Platt jerked in his seat and snapped his mouth shut. Along with everyone else.

“It’s a good idea,” she went on when she had our attention, “but I don’t think we can do this with some random mid from the Brigade. What if they don’t play along, or they get really upset? Plus, if we’re playing the role of ignorance, who’s going to present the truth?”

“So then, it’d have to be a member of Spectrum,” said the treasurer.

“People would figure out it’s fake right away,” someone objected.

“Someone who isn’t known to be associated with us,” said someone else, from behind me. “One of the new guys.”

Then, of course, all eyes turned to Platt and JJ.

Platt froze. It was as if he thought no one would see him as long as he didn’t move. Pointedly, I glanced at JJ, waiting for him to create a diversion. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, a voice at the very back of the room said, “I’ll do it.”

My head whipped around to see Myrick standing up, solemn and dark-eyed and drawing everyone’s focus. Including Platt’s, naturally. The kid stared like he was seeing a ghost.

“Myrick,” said Page, “I didn’t see you back there. You want to help us out?”

“Yes,” he said. He probably looked certain as the sun to everyone else. I thought I could read him a little better now, though, and I detected a hint of unsureness. I also saw his gaze flick to Platt for an instant.

Page said, “Alright, we have our volunteer victim. We can work on scripting out exactly what’ll happen next week. For now, let’s make sure we have enough money to cover this thing.” She turned to the treasurer, who began to speak, and I switched my attention to Platt again as Myrick sat down.

The kid’s chest rose and fell with rapid, shallow breaths. Bending towards me, he demanded in a fierce whisper, “Why is he here? Did you ask him?”

“No!” I said. “You’d have to find out from him.” And please don’t ask me if I told him where you’d be, I thought. I’d hoped this would be enough to get Platt to realize his feelings were returned and create some kind of breakthrough with them, but I was beginning to suspect I’d miscalculated. Or maybe he just hadn’t figured it out yet. Did he think Myrick was attending as an ally, like JJ? That could be it.

While I tried to decide what to do next, Platt looked lost in thought, too. He stared into the middle-distance, hardly moving until Page said, “Meeting closed. We have about half an hour to hang out, guys.”

Platt got to his feet in jerky motions, glancing back over his shoulder towards Myrick. “Ex–”

“Hey, let’s get some food!” JJ said on my other side. “All that talk about pizza, I’m starved.”

I raised an eyebrow at Platt in a silent question.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m hungry, too.”

“You sure?” I asked. I was almost certain he’d been about to safeword.

Nodding, he went around me and joined the line forming at the refreshments. I followed close behind his shorter form. The result was that when he reached the soda at the end and started to pour a cup while balancing a plate of Doritos in his other hand, I was standing right next to him. My eyes met Myrick’s over his bent head.

Yeah, close up, he looked nervous as hell.

Say something,’ I mouthed.

“H–hello, Platt,” he said.

Platt almost spilled the soda. I grabbed the bottle to steady it as he looked up, swallowed, and gamely replied, “Hello, sir.”

I rolled my eyes. Perhaps the training wheels were still needed. With all the patience I could muster, I asked Myrick, “Why’re you here?”

Shrugging, he said, “I thought it was time I came.”

Platt frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean–”

“Hey, can you guys move?” someone asked behind me. “Other people want soda.”

“Sorry,” I said, gently nudging Platt forward. Myrick backed into the corner of the room, and I herded the kid after him.

“I mean,” Myrick said again once a few feet separated us from the table, “that I… I like both pizza and Chinese food.”

Okay, not perfect, but maybe it would do. I held my breath.

Platt studied his Doritos like he could see his own pink reflection in them. “Yeah, th–they’re good to eat.”

Oh, for the love of–

“I meant in the figurative sense,” Myrick said softly. “Although… I’d love to go out for one or the other with you sometime.”

Platt’s head came up. “What?” he asked, like he couldn’t believe his ears.

“It doesn’t have to–” Myrick said. “Uh, that is, as friends if you wanted. Or. More.”

The kid blinked. “You… you mean you…”

He looked at me, and then back at Myrick, and then he put his plate down on a desk and bolted for the door.

The crowd around the refreshments slowed Myrick’s and my pursuit. By the time we made it to the hallway, Platt was rounding the corner at the far end of it. I broke into a run after him, calling, “Kid, wait a minute!”

He ignored me, but I caught up just the same. I held my hand up behind my back, and Myrick slowed a few yards to the rear of us.

“Hey, c’mon,” I said, lengthening my stride so Platt couldn’t outpace me without running. “Let’s calm down.”

He came to a dead halt and glared at me. “Calm down?! You lied to me! You told him I’d be at this meeting, didn’t you?” Spinning around, he shouted to Myrick, “Didn’t he?”

“Yes,” I said before Myrick could, stepping between them, “but I didn’t lie to you. I didn’t ask him to come. He did that on his own, because he cares–”

“What else did you tell him?” Platt demanded. “What else?!”

I blinked. He looked angrier than I’d ever seen him, and I felt a familiar cold dread of losing his trust. Shit. Damage control time. Very softly, I said, “I told him that you looked like a kid with a massive crush. The night we watched 101 Dalmatians. I didn’t know about the dreams then, and I never told him about those, I promise you.”

Platt sneered, not mollified. “But he came here because you told him I’d be here. And he’s still with Cameron. I thought he was honorable.”

“He is,” I said. Was that what this was about? Hadn’t Myrick been laying the groundwork there?

Platt’s gaze shifted beyond me, and I heard Myrick’s footsteps cautiously approaching. He stopped a few inches to my right. “Platt, Justine knows about this,” he said. “She wants it, too.”

The rage drained from Platt’s expression. In its place came a mix of astonishment, disbelief, and, undeniably, longing. He looked like he’d been told all his dreams were within reach.

Take them, kid, I thought. Just stretch your hand out…

But he started to shake his head. Slowly at first, then faster. “I don’t believe you,” he said, voice trembling. “Both of you have been hiding things from me. Why should I believe anything you say at all?”

“Look, you can call Cameron,” I said, fumbling my phone out of my pocket. “I have her number–”

“NO.” Anger closed his face off again. “Exodus,” he spat at me. “And I’ll walk myself back.”

A sharp pain tore through my chest as I watched him stride away.

“Why aren’t we stopping him?” Myrick asked, his jaw clenched with tension.

“Because he said exodus,” I replied, dully. “It’s his safeword. C’mon.” I turned around, and Nak and JJ were standing at the end of the hall. Sighing, I went to meet them.

“That kid is all kinds of messed up,” JJ said, shaking his head. “Sorry it didn’t go well, man.”

“Nakamura,” said Myrick, “accompany your roommate back to quarters.”

“You can’t–” I started, but he glared at me—the wild-eyed, desperate glare of a man with a strong protective instinct that’s being thwarted—and I shut up.

“Yes, sir,” said Nak. He trotted off the way Platt had gone.

Myrick waited until he’d pushed through the exit doors. Then he asked, “Now what?”

I sighed. “I have no idea.”

In my hand, my phone buzzed. I blinked down, surprised I was still holding it, and saw a text from Seb.

Mom just called. We got a counteroffer. Can you Skype now?

“Now,” I said, taking a deep breath to pull myself together, “I have to talk to my fiancé. Then I’ll help you figure this out.”

Myrick looked like he wanted to object. I left before he could.

Seb

Quint reached over from the second chair he’d brought into my bedroom and tugged on the chain of Zain’s dog tags looped around my neck. Only then did I realize I’d been chewing them while I stared at my laptop screen waiting for the Skype call. I let them drop against my t-shirt. “Sorry.”

“You’re alright,” he said. “He’ll be here in a minute, and you told me yourself that this counteroffer is within the range of what you’d discussed.”

Just barely, I thought. With closing costs, it’d be too much. I started to fiddle with my alert bracelet, tightening and loosening the hemp knot. Quint rubbed the back of my neck and said nothing.

Several long seconds of anticipation later, the call came. I answered and felt a chill on the first sight of Zain’s face. “What’s wrong?” I asked, leaning forward. Quint’s hand stilled.

Zain shook his head with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Platt being Platt. It can wait. Is Maeve still on the phone?”

“No, she had to feed the hens,” I said. “I told her we’d call back later with our decision. What happened with–?”

“It’ll wait, habibi. We’re talking about the house first. What was the offer?”

I glanced at Quint, but he was watching the screen with a faint frown. I gave them the number, then said, “It’s too much. Mom said their real estate agent thinks so, too.”

“Okay, so we counter-counteroffer?” Zain asked.

Pulling my knee up, I rested my heel on the edge of my chair. “…Yes?”

He tipped his chin to the side and almost looked normal. “Try that again, Seb.”

Hurriedly, I put both feet flat on the floor. Quint squeezed my thigh with the hand that wasn’t on my neck. All his focus was on me now, as well.

“Um,” I said. “I… I’m worried that we already went too low with the first offer. What if they feel even more insulted when we don’t accept this one? What if they back out?”

“Hey, they were willing to play when we pitched a lowball,” said Zain. “I don’t see why they’d get huffy now. Plus, your parents’ realtor is trying to earn a commission, right? He has incentive to give good advice.”

Quint spoke up. “From what I overheard of Seb’s side of the conversation with Maeve earlier, it sounded like the realtor did have a suggestion. What was it, mon chaton?”

“He said we should accept the price on the house but ask that they pay all the closing costs,” I said. “Doesn’t that amount to lowering the price, though?”

“Technically, yes,” said Quint. “However, I think perhaps psychologically, if the seller is tied to the idea of not letting it go below a certain price, that could help.”

“I can see how that’d work,” Zain said. “What did Maeve say?”

“That they’d do whatever we wanted,” I said. “Including accepting the offer outright, even though I told her it’s too much.”

Zain squinted at me. “Maybe not, if it keeps you from cutting off your circulation with that bracelet and causing nerve damage in your drawing hand. Quint, take it from him, would ya?”

I blushed and dug my fingers into my skin, loosening the knot again.

Quint held his palm out. As I dropped the bracelet into it, Zain said, “Thanks. You can give it back to him tomorrow. Babe, much as I’d love to just get this all over with, it’ll bother both of us if we ask your parents to pay more than they originally agreed. I say we go with the closing costs idea.”

I swallowed. What if they refuse and we lose the house? But I knew he was right. I couldn’t peacefully live in a place that cost my parents so much money. There would be other houses. “Okay,” I said, breathing out a lot of tension at the same time.

“Good,” said Zain. “I’ll call Maeve.”

“Text her,” I said. “If you call, you’ll get pulled into a conversation, and I want to know what happened with Bradley.”

He shrugged much too casually. “Oh, just a minor setback. We’ll be fine.”

“No,” said Quint, with all the tenderness gone from his voice. “You look awful, and you need to talk to Seb about it, not brush it off.”

We both blinked at him. Then Zain started to grin. A real grin, unlike earlier. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“I apologize if I was out of line,” Quint said.

Zain shook his head. “You weren’t. I asked you to keep my Brat as relaxed as possible. That includes protecting him from my attempts to save face, because they’ll only make him imagine the worst. The truth is, I was wrong about something, and it always kinda kills me to say that. Let me text your mom, babe, and then I’ll explain, I promise.”

“Okay,” I said.

Quint stood. “I don’t need to be here for this, I think,” he said, before kissing the top of my head and closing the door behind him on the way out.

Zain, meanwhile, was tapping his phone. “Alright, that’s done,” he said, setting it down.

“What did you get wrong?” I asked. My mind was already conjuring up awful images.

He tipped his chair back and looked towards his ceiling. “Wellllll, turns out Platt seeing Myrick at the Spectrum meeting wasn’t the lightening-bolt moment of dawning love I’d hoped.”

Eyes widening, I asked, “Myrick came?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, wry. “And told the kid that he’s bi, that he wants to date him, and that Cameron does, too. Only he left that last part off for just long enough that Platt doesn’t believe him and thinks he’s cheating scum. Also, Platt figured out I’ve been helping Myrick, so he’s pissed at me. Again.”

“Poor Bradley,” I said. All that sprung on him at once.

Zain frowned. “Hey, what about poor me? I’m stuck between these two, just trying to help, and I’m the one catching all the flak. I think even Myrick is mad at me now.”

“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”

He backed up and told me from the start. When he’d concluded with Bradley flinging the safeword in his face, he sighed heavily, gaze fixed on his desk. “So I kept Myrick from going after him like he wanted to, and naturally, he wasn’t happy.”

I wished I could hug him. “Poor Z.”

The corner of his lips twitched. “That’s more like it. A bit of sympathy is all I ask for.”

“It wasn’t your fault Bradley safeworded,” I said. That had to be killing him more than anything. “It was the situation he wanted to escape, not you.”

His eyes came up. They were bright with pain. “A situation I engineered,” he said. “And he made quite clear he didn’t want to be anywhere near me, so I think he was escaping me, too.”

“No,” I said. Pushing hard, I made the words come free. “Bradley and I… we’re the same kind of animal. I seek high ground and hide. He runs. But it’s ourselves we’re trying to get away from, not others. You said right after Myrick told him about Cameron, he looked hopeful?”

“I thought he did,” said Zain. “I could’ve been wrong, like I was wrong about everything else tonight. Maybe he’s not interested in polyamory at all and this whole thing has been a waste of time.”

I chewed on my lip, torn in two. Never before had I told Zain what was in any of Bradley’s emails without his permission. Now, though, the dejection casting its shadow over Zain’s sunshine was making my heart hurt. He needed something to regain his spirit. And I could still remember the roundabout, veiled questions Bradley asked me about three-person relationships at the beginning of the summer. Finally, I said, “Yes, he is interested. Don’t ask me how I know.”

Zain stared. “He is?”

“I can’t tell you how–”

“Yeah, but you’re sure?”

I nodded.

The clouds cleared. While he didn’t smile, I saw the spark in his eyes again, could practically feel him regrouping and plotting out his next moves to solve this problem, and I knew Bradley didn’t stand a chance. Lucky for him.

“Thank you, habibi,” Zain said, straightening. “Now go get Quint.”

I didn’t ask why, just went and found him with Theo in the living room. When I brought him back, Zain was entirely normal again.

“Hey!” he said to Quint. “Between the offer on this house, what’s happening with Platt, and the presentation getting closer, I think it’s time to engage phase three of the game plan. Start him tonight, okay?”

Quint’s gaze flicked to me for the briefest instant. I couldn’t read it. “Certainly,” he said.

“What’s phase three?” I asked.

Zain ignored me and continued speaking to the other Top. “You might want to give yourself an extra twenty minutes or so. Send me a full report after.”

“I will,” said Quint.

Twenty minutes?! I thought. “What is phase three?”

“Ignorance is bliss, babe,” Zain said with a grin.

Dread filled me. “Zain–”

“I gotta go,” he said. “JJ will be back and wanting to start homework soon. Love you, habibi. Have a fun night.” He waved and ended the call before I could say anything else.

I turned to Quint and tried to look appealing. “Please tell me what phase three is?”

He studied me a moment, then smiled. “You are much better with the Bambi Eyes when you don’t put so much effort into it. No, I’m not telling you. You’ll find out soon enough. Come watch White Collar with Theo and me.”

Left without any other choice, I did. I spent the entire time worrying about ‘phase three’ so much that thoughts of the house and Bradley hardly crossed my mind. Zain had probably planned it that way, the bastard.

The moment the end credits rolled on the episode, Quint patted Theo’s chest and got up, making Theo grunt as he was forced to move and ask, “Where are you going?”

Quint said, “Seb and I have some business to attend to.” He gestured ‘come here’ to me. “It’s time.”

I looked at the clock. It was ten minutes to nine. Early bed? Is that phase three? No, too simple.

“Time for what?” Theo asked.

“Nothing for you to be concerned with, angel,” Quint said. “Seb, come along, please.”

Swallowing, I unfolded myself from the armchair and took his hand.

He brought me back into my room, shutting and locking the door behind us before he sat on the edge of my bed as if he was getting ready to spank me. But then he asked, “Where’s your Lantus pen, mon chaton?”

I yanked free of his hold and backed right into the corner. “No!”

He didn’t come after me. “Seb,” he started, quite calmly.

“I don’t care what Zain said!” I hugged both arms across my stomach, tight, covering the injection sites I’d been using recently for the Lantus. My breath was coming so shallow and fast, it felt like my abdomen had muscle spasms. “That is not going to happen.”

“Yes, it is,” said Quint. “Do you still keep the pen in your nightstand?” He reached over and slid it open. A bunch of granola bars and a sketchbook were the only things inside, though. Quint moved them so he could see into the back of the drawer, then raised his head to look at me again. “Where is it, please?”

He was so unperturbed and patient, I just knew he wasn’t going to give up. My lips trembled as I pressed them together and thought rapidly. Then I pointed to my wardrobe, against the wall at the foot of the bed.

Quint glanced over his shoulder. “I suppose if I asked you to get it, you would refuse.”

I jerked my head in a nod. No way was I going to make this easy for them.

With a small sigh, he stood and went to open the wardrobe. While his back was turned, I inched sideways and took the doorknob in my hand. It rattled as I unlocked it, and he looked around, but too late. I’d already twisted it and darted out into the hallway.

Freedom lasted three seconds. He came right on my heels and caught me behind the couch. I tried to elbow him away, succeeding only in throwing myself off-balance so I had to grab the backrest in both hands, and at the same instant, he brought his palm down twice on each of my upper thighs.

The sting was beyond yelping. I gasped with it, only half-aware that Theo was lying right below me, staring in astonishment.

“What–?” he asked, sitting up and grabbing Jagger’s collar before the dog tried to join in the ‘game.’

“It’s alright,” Quint said. He still sounded calm. His arm was around my waist, supporting me just as much as the couch, and his other hand rested right over the spot he’d lit on fire. “Sébastien, breathe.”

“I am breathing,” I snapped.

“Slower,” he said.

I did, but only because I was beginning to feel light-headed.

“What the hell is going on?!” Theo asked.

“He wants to give me my Lantus,” I told him. “Like I’m incapable. I’ve only been doing it myself every night for fourteen years, after all–”

Quint swatted me again. I jerked upright to better glare at him, and he raised his eyebrows and said, “No one believes you are incapable, and you are very well aware that is not why we’re doing this, young man. Now breathe.”

“What is the reason, then?” Theo asked. He was watching both of us with interest, now.

Not taking his eyes off my face as I huffed air in and out, Quint said, “It provides a physical reminder that Seb has people willing to take care of him when he feels overwhelmed. Zain tells me there are times when he even welcomes it.”

A flush of embarrassment streaked through me at that. It was true. There were times when I gave into the pathetic voice inside me, the one whispering even now about how nice it’d be to have one less injection to worry about.

Quint went on, “Neither of us expected tonight to be one of them, although when Zain mentioned the possibility of a temper tantrum, I must admit I was picturing the more understated variety.”

“I am not throwing a tantrum,” I said, and my foot stomped of its own accord.

Theo snorted. “Really? Sure seems like it.”

Ta gueule,” I shot back.

To Theo. Without any high blood sugar to blame whatsoever. Ice-cold shock ran through me, overpowering the flames of my annoyance.

He just looked puzzled. “Huh? What does that mean?”

“Nothing you need to know,” Quint said, letting go of me at last to cross his arms. “As for you, Sébastien Leon, do you need to stand in your corner until you’ve curbed this attitude?”

I stared at the floorboards, feeling my face burn worse than my bottom. “No,” I whispered.

Pointedly, he asked, “Hmm?”

Non, monsieur.”

“Good. Tell me, is the Lantus actually in your wardrobe, or was that simply a distraction? And before you answer, I’ll warn you that each lie will earn you an additional minute for your mouthsoaping.”

Additional?! I thought. Merde. Blinking rapidly, I said, “It’s… it’s in my desk.”

“Let’s go,” he said, sweeping one arm towards the hallway.

I hesitated a moment before making myself say, “Theo? Je suis désolé,” looking at him from the corner of my eye.

“Hey, I forgive you,” he said. Then he leaned closer to me over the cushions and lowered his voice. “Just teach me what it means later.”

“Do not teach him what it means,” Quint said. He took my elbow and steered me ahead of him.

Back in my room once more, I went straight to my desk, opened the middle drawer, and took out the Lantus pen and the container with fresh needles and alcohol wipes. “Sharps box is under the bed,” I told Quint as I handed the other items over.

“Thank you,” he said, sitting down again. “Before I start, I’d like you to do a blood test. You had a lot of excitement just now.”

Oui, monsieur,” I said. Then, struck by an appalling thought, I asked, “Is, um, there a phase four?”

“Zain hasn’t mentioned one to me,” said Quint.

“And this is only the Lantus?” I asked, to be sure.

Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Yes, only the Lantus. You can do the test yourself.”

I did, while he watched. When the number came up on my meter, I said, “That’s probably a little low for this time of night.”

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s get this finished first. Come here, please.”

My feet felt like they were stuck in mud, but I pried them loose and stepped over in front of him.

He had an alcohol wipe in his hand already. “Where is your site for today?” he asked.

I almost wished it was on my butt. Unwillingly, I lifted my shirt to show him and exposed the lumps of scars. “Away from those,” I said, pointing with a shaking finger. “About here.”

“You’re doing good, mon chaton,” he said as he circled the wipe on my skin while I kept holding my shirt up. I bit my lip and stared at the wall over his head until I felt the prick of the needle and, ten long seconds later, heard him say, “There, all finished.”

I dropped my shirt immediately. He stood and bent to put the used needle into my sharps box. Then he pulled me into a hug, and I clung to him as if he was the tallest, safest tree in the world, and started to cry.

“Shhh,” he said, stroking my back. “Was it really so terrible?”

Blubbering, I could only shake my head. It took nearly a minute for me to pull myself together enough to explain. “No, it was g–good. And I was awf–f–ful to you earlier. I lied, and I swore at Th–Theo, and I’m not ev… even high.”

His breath moved my hair as he sighed. “Thomas Jefferson,” he said, “once wrote a letter to James Madison in which he stated, ‘a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.’ Obviously, he meant it in a rather different context, but I believe it to be true in this one as well.” Pulling away a few inches, he caught my eye as he wiped tears from my cheek with his thumb. “That does not mean you aren’t still getting your mouth washed out for the lie, however.”

I gulped. “What about… what I said to Theo?”

He looked like he was considering a moment. “Technically, I don’t believe it was a swear word, and given that Theo didn’t know what it meant and so couldn’t be offended by it, we can let it pass this once. Would you like to eat your snack before or after?”

“After,” I said. Maybe it would make the taste of the soap go away quicker. Not that I deserved that, or any other mercy. “I think ‘ta–’… um, what I said, I think the closest translation would have a swear word in English.”

Quint shook his head. “I’ve made my decision, Seb. It’s final. You will have two minutes with the soap in your mouth, and not a second more.”

Well, I thought as I followed him across the hallway to the bathroom, at least I know I’m getting spanked soon. That was… comforting. Gods, Theo was right. I was a back-to-front Brat.

*

Soap doesn’t mix with apples and peanut butter, I discovered. I ate it anyway, not wanting an overnight low to lead to another Giant Dipper Day. While I chewed, I used the last ten minutes before no-screens time to write an email to Bradley. I didn’t know if he’d be mad at me as well as Zain, but I had to try.

Dear Bradley,

Zain told me what happened tonight. I think it must’ve been a really big shock to you. Maybe Myrick could’ve handled it better. Zain, too. But they both want what’s best for you. You have to believe that. Please don’t shut them out. Or me. I’m here if you want to talk.

Your friend,

Seb

Was signing it ‘your friend’ pushy? Too corny? I frowned at it, tapping my finger against the J key of my keyboard.

“Seb? Turn that off, please,” Quint said from the couch. “I’d like you to color before bed.”

Quickly, I changed it to, I’m here if you want to talk, although I might not be able to answer before tomorrow, and then hit send.

*

There was no reply when I checked the next morning. I did my yoga and meditation, then brought the laptop with me out to the kitchen so I had it nearby in case he wrote while I had breakfast. Quint was just putting his shoes on by the door.

Bonjour,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

I paused with my hand on the fridge handle. “Relaxed,” I said, with a note of surprise in my voice. “Even though I haven’t heard from Bradley yet, I feel… okay.” I frowned. “Doesn’t that make me a bad friend?”

“No,” he said, firmly, although he was smiling, too. “You’re much better equipped to handle whatever is going on with Bradley in this state, aren’t you?”

I considered it. “Probably. I feel like I can think more clearly.”

“Excellent.” He stepped over and kissed my forehead. “You let me know if that changes today, understood?”

Oui, monsieur.”

Saying goodbye, he picked up his briefcase and left.

Theo came out of the master bedroom a few minutes later, while I was eating. As usual, he went straight to the coffee. Then he brought his mug over and plonked down across from me, sipping with one hand and scratching behind Jagger’s ears with the other. After a few swallows, he grinned at me over the rim. “So what does ta gull mean?”

“‘Ta gueule,’” I corrected.

“I’m not hearing a difference,” he said.

I sighed. “You’re worse than Zain. And I can’t tell you what it means.”

“Fine, tell me how it’s spelled so I can google it.”

“No,” I said, laughing now. “Quint will kill me. Ask Zain, if you want to know.”

“Oh, you don’t have a problem with Quint killing him, I see,” he said. Then some of the amusement faded from his eyes. Glancing down at the table, he asked, “Are you mad at them? For keeping what they’re planning secret? It would drive me insane.”

“Not really,” I said. “It would’ve driven me insane to know beforehand that that… last night… was a possibility. And it, uh, probably wouldn’t have worked so well.”

“It worked?”

I nodded, ducking my head like that would hide my blush.

“What if it didn’t?” he asked. “What if it was a terrible idea and made things worse? Would you be mad at them for withholding then?”

“I don’t think it’s withholding,” I said. “Withholding is when Zain doesn’t tell me something that’s bothering him, not when he doesn’t tell me his plans and has a good reason for it.” Cautiously, I asked, “Are you mad at them? Like you were before?”

“No,” he said, and I felt relieved. “Just trying to understand. I think I get what you’re saying. If they’d told you about the Lantus way beforehand, you would’ve been stomping around all week– no, wait, scratch that. Forgot who I’m talking about.” He grinned. “You would’ve done everything you could to prevent it, right? Hidden everything you were feeling overwhelmed by.”

I nodded again.

“Okay. Good reason, not withholding. Gotcha. Thanks for being willing to talk about this stuff. You’re getting better at it.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

The conversation turned to Zain and Quint’s upcoming Disney World marathon for the rest of breakfast. Just as I was bringing my bowl to the dishwasher, though, the sound I’d been waiting for came from my computer. I sat down again and clicked the email.

I don’t know what to believe. I thought Myrick would be faithful to Cameron. I thought Mohyeldin wouldn’t go behind my back. Both of them planned that. Probably planned the pool lessons, too. Have you been in on it? I feel like it’s all a game to them, or a joke. Why would they keep it from me otherwise?

Nak rambled at me last night about when he first realized he was bi, and how he struggled with it, and how he came out. As if I wanted to hear it. I’m never telling anyone else about this. I wish I’d never told anyone at all. He’s acting like he knows now, too. Your double-crossing fiance probably told him, and he’ll tell everyone. What am I supposed to do when that happens?

“Seb? You okay?”

I looked up at Theo, still halfway through his toast, and blinked a few times. My eyes were prickling. “Yeah. Sorry, it’s Bradley. He’s upset, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“About what?” he asked.

Sniffing, I said, “Remember how you asked what if Zain’s plan had made things worse? In Bradley’s case, it kind of did. Or he thinks it did, anyway.” I laughed weakly. “He’s basically mad at him for withholding.”

“That sucks.” He thought a moment, then gave me a faint smile back and joked, “Maybe you could just explain to him that it wasn’t withholding, like you did with me.”

“Yeah, that…” I trailed off, thinking it over. “That might work, actually.”

“Really?”

“It’s better than not answering.” I hoped. Slowly, I started to type.

Bradley,

Believe in the Zain who did everything he could to help you with Belcher, and with Gould, and who made you go to the hospital to get checked out when you might’ve damaged your kidneys in January, and who volunteered to get tied up in that club before he’d let that girl come near you with rope. He cares about you. Why would he be playing games or making jokes at your expense? And if he trusts Myrick, you should too. He wouldn’t let Myrick near you if he thought he was up to something mean.

Look, I’m not saying Zain isn’t a sneaky bastard. He is. I say that with love, though. He doesn’t tell me things he’s planning sometimes either, but it’s always with my best interests at heart. Sometimes I don’t want him to tell me. Even if he makes a mistake, I still know that he was trying to help. Please, please believe me.

I’m not going to lie to you. I thought Myrick might show up at Spectrum last night. Zain told me he was hoping he would. I didn’t know for sure, though, because Zain didn’t actually ask him, and I definitely didn’t know Myrick would ask you on a real date.

Speaking of that, it’s up to you when you come out to people. Nak should understand. But if you’re worried about him telling anyone, please go to Zain. Zain can talk to him for you. Please trust him.

One other thing, and I’m really scared to tell you this, because I love you and don’t want to lose you as a friend. But I don’t want there to be any other secrets between us. What Myrick and Zain said about Cameron is true. I’ve known it longer than Zain has. I could see it between the three of you, that day when I gave you the lion drawing. After Belcher and Gould attacked us, and they came to see if you were alright, remember? I told Zain what I suspected then.

And (please, please don’t be mad) I know you want that too. You were asking about it when we emailed at the beginning of the summer, weren’t you? That confirmed it for me, and I confirmed it to Zain last night. I didn’t share the emails with him, I swear. I just told him you were interested.

You don’t have to answer this. Just think about it. And maybe, if you want, go read some stuff on this website: https://www.morethantwo.com/ It’s what my sister Keegan sent me when she first told me she’s poly.

Your friend,

Seb


Note: I’m so honored to say this chapter inspired a story by Dizzy! It’s part of her Greek Gods series, but can definitely be read alone (although I highly recommend the rest of the series; they’re hilarious). You can read it here. Please go give her some love!

4 thoughts on “Back to School, Ring the Bell – Ch. 12”

  1. I haven’t finished reading yet but had to comment on this as I have been awful about saying anything because I’ve been reading them on my phone. I have been really enjoying the entire series. So many good lines.

    “You can’t–” I started, but he glared at me—the wild-eyed, desperate glare of a man with a strong protective instinct that’s being thwarted—and I shut up.

    This right here hit me between the eyes. It is just so very arg when you get hit with road blocks and your protective instinct is screaming bloody murder at you to fix it, fix it now. It sometimes manifests itself as a wolf pacing back and forth in my head growling. Which probably won’t make much sense to some people, lets just say I’ve read too much Sentinel and Harry Potter fanfiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *