Back to School, Ring the Bell – Ch. 9

Zain

Platt showed up at my door after dinner on Friday. It was propped open, and he hovered in the passageway just on outside the room, looking between me and JJ, who was reading something on his computer. I waved the kid in from my rack. “Sup, Platypus?” Pointing to the chair at the desk below the rack, I said, “Sit.”

He did. JJ grinned over his shoulder and said, “Yo.”

“Hi,” Platt said, before craning his head to look up at me. “I wanted to talk to you about the… the meeting we discussed attending.”

“Sure,” I said easily, thinking, Uh-oh. Not backing out on me, are you kid? That didn’t seem like him, though. I swung down from the bunk and went to sit on the windowsill to his left. “What about it?”

He glanced again at JJ, watching us curiously.

I caught my roommate’s eye and then shifted my gaze pointedly to his computer screen. His eyebrows went up an inch, but he turned and kept reading.

“Uh,” said Platt. “Well, what am I supposed to, y’know, do?”

“Oh, nothing much,” I said airily. “Make a speech confessing your deepest secrets and swear a blood oath with everyone present.”

“If you don’t want to help,” he said, starting to get up.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “Sit down again.”

He sank, scowling, back into the chair. From the corner of my eye, I saw JJ giving me a sideways the-hell’s-wrong-with-him? look. I ignored it.

“All you really have to do, Platypus, is watch and listen. I promise they’re friendly. I’ll tell them you came with me.”

“What if they ask me questions about… things?” he asked, two spots of pink appearing on his cheeks.

I shrugged. “Say whatever you want. I’ll go along with it. Although maybe keep in mind you might want to be friends with them at some point in the future.”

Nak will be there,” he said.

“Yeah, so?” I asked.

He didn’t answer. I watched his eyes go to the photo of me and Seb pinned up on my bulletin board behind my computer. His lips pressed together hard.

Leaning forward, I put one hand on the edge of my desk and said, “Relax, kid. It’ll go fine.”

Platt looked unconvinced, but before I could say anything else, JJ asked, “Hey, are you talking about Spectrum?”

I closed my eyes briefly as Platt froze in place, and when I opened them again, he was glowering at me like he thought I’d given away his secret.

Cheerfully, JJ said, “Mo never mentioned you were joining.” He tipped his chair onto its back legs and smiled around at us as if he didn’t notice Platt’s reaction. “That’s a great thing for you to do, Platypus, showing your support as an ally like that. Maybe I’ll come, too. When’s the meeting?”

Platt frowned in confusion.

“Wednesday,” I said, with a silent thank you that I hoped came through in my expression.

“Yeah, I’m free,” said JJ. “Think anyone’ll mind?”

I grinned. “More the merrier.” It’d certainly make Platt feel like less of the odd one out, with JJ there being large and talkative and drawing attention. “Kid, you mind?”

Platt blinked a couple of times, and then said, “No, that’s fine.”

“Cool!” JJ said.

Standing up, Platt said, “I should go. I have to study in the library.”

“Sure,” I said, because he looked pretty okay now. “See ya later.”

After he’d gone, JJ thunked his chair down on all four legs and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “He ain’t going as an ally, is he?”

I gave him a bland look.

“Right,” he said, and went back to the computer, putting his earbuds in and opening a game.

I sat down at my desk and pressed the keys to wake up my own computer. It was time to see how Seb was doing.

He answered Skype in seconds, like always, but his head was turned towards the door of his room when the camera came on. “Oui, monsieur,” he said.

“Hey, babe,” I said, and then, leaning forward and to the side like the screen was a window, “Hey, Quint.”

Seb shook his head at me. “He went out.”

Shrugging, I said, “I’ll catch up with him later. What were you oui, monsieur-ing about?”

He twisted his finger into the silver chain that held my dog tags around his neck. “Um. He wanted me to talk to you about the house hunt.” With halting pauses between each word, he added, “I’ve been kinda worried.”

I should’ve figured, after he struck out looking with his parents. “We have plenty of time to find a place, babe,” I said, “and remember we’re going to look next weekend, too, when you guys come down for Labor Day.”

He bit his lip.

“Not soon enough, huh?” I asked.

“I’ve been searching the websites,” he said. “There’s… there’s this open house at a place tomorrow. Hang on, I’ll send you the link to the listing.” His hands moved over the keyboard and trackpad, and my email client dinged with an incoming message. As I clicked the link, he was saying, “It’s a little above our budget, but it’s been on the market so long, I hoped they might accept a lower offer. What do you think?”

Right away, I could see why he liked it. I clicked through a slideshow of photos and saw a clawfoot tub in the bathroom and built-in bookcases under sloped ceilings. Along with seriously ugly wallpaper and linoleum floors. Those would be easy fixes, though. “It looks nice, habibi,” I said. “You want me to go to this open house?”

“If you can find a ride,” he said, and then, quicker, “If not, it’s fine, no big deal.”

“Uh-huh.” I tilted my head, making him flush. Smiling, I said, “I’m sure I can find someone.” Being a third-class midshipmen meant I was allowed to ride with whoever, not just upperclassmen and sponsor parents. “Klatsky might be available.” He looked blank, so I added, “My friend who’s renting Quint and Theo his place next weekend? He loaned me his car once before, remember.”

“Zain, do not drive a car,” he said, warningly. “It’s still against regulations if you aren’t on leave.”

“You’re such a Joe,” I said, only remembering when he looked confused that he didn’t know mid-slang that well. “Goody two-shoes,” I clarified. “Named after the fictional mid who lives in the sample room next to the main office. Anyway, I wasn’t going to drive a car. I don’t need to. You haven’t climbed any trees and refused to come down for the cops lately, have you?”

Just as I’d hoped, he blushed. “Shut up, JJ’s right behind you!”

Rolling my eyes, I raised my voice a bit and said, “JJ?” over my shoulder. He didn’t look around from his game. “See, he can’t hear,” I told Seb. “I’ll call Klatsky as soon as I hang up with you. If he can’t give me a ride, I can ask around the other mids. One way or another, I’ll get to this open house, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, and his shoulders relaxed an inch.

“Now, speaking of climbing trees… how’re things going with Quint?”

The tension didn’t come back, but I saw him squirm and start fidgeting with the dog tags again. “He– he said he’s been emailing you progress reports. I don’t see why I need to give them, too.”

“That well, huh?” I asked, pleased. “I thought we might be on the verge of a breakthrough last night with the no-pants thing. Good one, by the way. This plan is working better than I hoped.” Slouching in my chair, I interlocked my fingers on the top of my head and grinned.

He scrunched his cute little nose up at me. “Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard. It also freaked Theo out.”

“What?” I straightened and dropped my hands. “Squirt was fine when I explained it all to him!”

Seb looked like he regretted saying anything. “He is fine, now. Quint and I had to explain some of it again, and he understands. Before, though, he, um, tried to stand in a corner in solidarity with me.”

The image made me crack up, even as I said, “Awww, that was sweet of him.”

“Yeah,” he said, and then, in a transparent attempt to change the subject, “How’s Bradley?”

Well, Quint would fill me in on the rest, I figured. “Alright. Has he emailed you since he and I talked?”

“Just once. He sounded a little unsure about the Spectrum meeting.”

Nodding, I said, “He was, but he’ll go. He was just in here, actually, before I called you, asking questions about it. JJ volunteered to go too, and that calmed him down.”

“Good.” Seb shifted, rocking around the chair as he did something with his legs. “Z, about Myrick going…”

“Yeah?”

“Do you really think it’ll be that simple?” he asked. “What if Bradley sees him and freaks out? What if Myrick doesn’t want to do it? What if–?”

“What if they kiss and both turn into frogs? Wouldn’t that be fun?”

He frowned. “Zain, be serious. I’m not sure asking him to go to that meeting is the best idea.”

Widening my eyes innocently, I said, “Who says I’m going to ask him? It’ll be completely up to him if he goes or not. And letting things continue as they are isn’t helping anyone, is it?”

Reluctantly, he shook his head.

“Well there you go,” I said, settled. As an afterthought, I added, “Color an extra page in one of your books tonight.”

Seb scowled and muttered, “Quint’s already making me do that.”

“Oh, good! I’ll let you go, then, so you’ll have plenty of time to do two extra before bed.”

He looked surprised, and I didn’t really blame him, but I wasn’t going to let the anxiety build up again, after all the hard work Quint and I did pushing through it. A moment later, he made a face. “I hate you.”

“Love you too, habibi,” I said, and blew him a kiss as I ended the call.

Then I looked at the clock. Study period hadn’t started yet. And speaking of Myrick… he had a car, too, didn’t he? There was a way to kill two birds with one stone. I got up to go find him. I’ve always loved efficiency.

*

His thick eyebrows came together over his shadowy, deep-set eyes when he saw it was me who had rapped on his door. Slipping around it, he joined me in the passageway and quietly asked, “What? Did something happen with Platt?”

“Yes, actually, but I can’t tell you. Sorry,” I said, and then, when he frowned harder, “It’s a step in the right direction, I promise. I just can’t tell you.”

“Then why are you here?”

“We need to continue your lessons.” That was true. I’d barely had a chance to speak with him since the first one, between his responsibilities as a Brigade officer and both our schoolwork. “Do you have plans for tomorrow?”

“I can cancel them,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Are you going to set up another surprise encounter for me?”

I grinned. “No, so you can drop the posturing and relax. This’ll be a one-on-one lesson. Also, I need to ask you a favor.”

He looked suspicious, but he did uncross his arms as he asked, “What kind of favor?”

I explained about Seb moving and the open house. “Figured if you give me a ride, we can talk on the way there and not worry about being interrupted or overheard,” I concluded.

Nodding, he said, “Makes sense. Meet me here when your liberty starts.”

“Aye, sir,” I said, mostly because a group of plebes was walking past. Once they’d gone out of earshot, I leaned closer and added, “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“No, I still owe you several,” he said, and went back into his room before I could ask what exactly he meant.

*

We walked to his car together the next afternoon. It was parked close to Bancroft Hall—one of the privileges of being a firstie. Another was the ability to depart for town liberty wearing civvies, but for some reason he was still in his summer whites, like me. I didn’t ask. As I got in the passenger side, I said, “Do you have a GPS? If not, I can use Google maps on my phone, but I’d rather save the data.”

“You said it’s in Crownsville. That’s where they hold the Renaissance Festival.”

I paused in the middle of buckling my seatbelt and blinked sideways at him.

Justine likes it.”

“I’m not judging,” I said, holding up my hand, palm-out, and fighting a grin. “I was picturing you in a tunic and leggings, but I wasn’t judging.”

“Stop picturing me,” he said. “That’s an order.”

Snorting, I finished buckling in while he started the car.

Once we were past the gate and off the Yard, he asked, “What’s the lesson plan for today?”

“Friendliness,” I said. “We’re going to practice.”

“I don’t need practice being friendly,” he said, with a look halfway between a frown and a scowl.

“Uh, yeah, you do.”

“Platt and I got along just fine before whatever-it-was happened over the summer.”

That was true, by all accounts. Still, I tried to picture Myrick being friendly with anyone, and it was harder than picturing him in a Renaissance costume. “What’d you talk about?”

He shrugged. “Mostly judo. So I’ll just talk to him about that again.”

I almost choked on my own spit. Coughing, I said, “No. Absolutely not. That is the one subject you will stay away from, clear?”

“What? Why?” he asked.

Trust me. Unless you want to freak him out. There’s other stuff you have in common, isn’t there? Besides taste in women?” I paused and frowned in consideration. “Actually, maybe Cameron would make a good topic. We need to start hinting to him that she’s okay with this.”

“How do you suggest doing that?”

“No idea. I don’t even know how you and him and her are going to work, exactly.”

“We want to be in a polyfidelitous triad with him, where I would be his and Justine’s Dominant, and Justine would be able to switch,” he said, so sure and matter-of-fact it might’ve been a training objective he was outlining.

“Okay,” I said, nodding slowly. “Good. Nice clear goal to work towards.”

Myrick took his eyes off the road to glance at me, and all the confidence was gone. “Assuming he wants the same thing.”

My heart hurt for the poor guy. I remembered when I first started officially dating Seb, how nervous I was. ‘Thank the gods,’ as Seb would say, I’d never have to go through that particular hell again. “I think he does,” I said. “He just doesn’t know it’s possible.”

“Possible?” Myrick scoffed. “He doesn’t even seem to know he’s attracted to me.”

I opened my mouth and closed it again. He saw.

“Does he?” he asked, hope lacing his voice.

“I really can’t say,” I said, regretfully. He stared out the windshield for a few seconds while I debated how much I could tell him and still keep my honor. Finally, I offered, “He’s going to Spectrum with me Wednesday night.”

His head snapped around again. “He is?”

“You didn’t hear it from me,” I said.

Turning back, he replied, “No, of course not,” drawn-out, like half his mind was on something else. How helpful it would be to go to the Spectrum meeting and tell everyone he was bi, I hoped. I decided not to interrupt his thought process, so we rode in silence for several minutes while outer Annapolis gave way to fields and trees.

Then he pressed on the brake so suddenly it threw me against my seatbelt for a second. I automatically looked for an animal in the road. There was nothing, and he hadn’t even fully stopped the car. Leaning forward, he peered at a road sign as we crawled by.

“Shit,” he said. “I don’t recognize this.”

I blinked. “We’re lost?” That seemed so unlike him.

“No, we are not lost,” he replied, with the same almost-sulky expression he’d given me after admitting I was better at something than him. “I’m just… not sure where we are.”

Rolling my eyes, I pulled my phone out. “Google Maps it is!”

“Put that away. I’ll figure it out in a minute.”

“Myrick,” I said, to the ceiling of the car. “We need to get to this open house. Now’s not the time to pull macho, don’t-need-no-stinkin’-directions crap, okay?”

“Shut your trap and let me think, Mohyeldin.”

Sighing, I dropped the phone in my lap. “I’m giving you five minutes.”

“I only need one,” he said, and pulled into a gas station to turn around.

Five minutes later, my tongue hurt from biting it so I wouldn’t suggest consulting a map, and it was clear that we were more lost than ever. To his credit, the second my time limit ended, he said, “Fine, use your phone.”

I did. We were now, somehow, farther away than we’d been when we left the Yard. Myrick stepped on the gas, bumping us just over the speed limit, but it still took ages to make up the lost ground. I watched the clock tick through the end of the open house period, philosophically thinking, Well, maybe Seb will take it as a sign this place isn’t the right one.

“Here,” I said, awhile later, pointing through the windshield. “Turn down that road.”

That’s a road?” Myrick asked as he hit his signal.

It did look more like a roughly-paved driveway, and that impression only grew as the car rounded the corner and we drove into deep woods, the branches of trees meeting overhead and blocking out most of the sun. There was no sign of buildings or other vehicles. They wouldn’t have been able to pass us without driving onto the shoulder. Myrick slowed again, bumping over potholes. Then there was a bend, and the house came into view beyond it, at the very end of the road. Still, we didn’t see any cars.

“Maybe the realtor hasn’t left yet?” Myrick said. He killed the engine.

I was already getting out and going up to the detached garage, which was the only place they could’ve hidden a vehicle if they were here. Cupping my hands in a circle, I peered through the dirty window. Inside looked equally dirty. And empty.

“Nope,” I said, dusting my palms together as I turned back to the car. “No one’s home.”

Myrick dropped against the driver’s side door, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “I’m sorry. This is my fault.”

“Nah, I think we were already lost enough the first time that we would’ve missed it,” I said, partly because it was probably true and partly because he looked so guilty. “And that was my fault. I distracted you, talking about Platt.”

“I shouldn’t have allowed myself to become distracted,” he said.

I had to laugh. “Okay, be noble and take the blame if you want. I’m gonna inspect the outside of the house, since we’re here.”

One eyebrow went up. Not quite to Quint’s standards, but he could get there if he practiced. “That’s trespassing.”

“Oh, quit being a Joe,” I said, and went over to the house to start examining the foundation for cracks.

As I walked around the corner with all the windows that had immediately made me think studio space when I saw it online, I heard his voice call after me, “Mohyeldin, we’re both in uniform!” And then, quieter and suddenly military-polite, “Hello, ma’am.”

Uh-oh.

I backtracked and saw he was now standing beside an older woman with steel-gray hair and a red pant suit. “Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked. “You missed the open house. I’ve already locked up.”

She was the realtor, then. Putting on my most winsome smile, I approached her with my hand held out. “Third Class Midshipman Zain Mohyeldin, USNA, ma’am. I apologize for being late. We got a bit lost on the way.”

Her frown relaxed a little as she gave me a firm handshake.

“My fault, ma’am,” Myrick put in. “I was driving.”

“This is First Class Midshipman Brian Myrick, ma’am,” I said, and they shook hands too.

But then she said, “I wasn’t aware they paid midshipmen enough to own houses. If you’re just looking, you’ll have to move on.”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “We wouldn’t waste your valuable time. It’s my fiancé’s parents that would be buying the house, actually, for my fiancé to live closer to me. I have their authority to make a purchasing decision.”

“Well,” she said, looking me over, “I suppose since I’m here already, it wouldn’t hurt to show you around.”

Her frown went away altogether when I beamed. “Thank you, ma’am. I truly appreciate that, as will my fiancé. Out of curiosity, how are you here without a car? If you don’t mind my asking.”

She pointed through the woods. “I live about three hundred yards in that direction, so I walked.” Turning, she started for the front door and said over her shoulder, “My name is Cecilia Strong, by the way, and feel free to call me Cecilia rather than ‘ma’am.’”

“We’ll try, ma’am,” Myrick said. “Habit.”

We followed her up the steps and into the small enclosed porch, then waited for her to unlock the door. As she did, she launched into a speech that sounded as if she’d said it many times before. “It’s a lovely Cape Cod, built in 1933, very structurally sound and well-maintained. It’s a cliché because it’s true: They don’t make them like this anymore.”

“Structural soundness is good,” I said, coming behind her into the living room. “My fiancé and I can do basic DIY, but major problems are outside our skillset. That’s why I’d like to finish looking at the foundation later, and the roof and siding, as well.”

“Certainly,” she said, turning to face Myrick and I. “You’ll also find it does need some cosmetic updates here and there. I think you and she will enjoy making it your own.”

“He. I’m engaged to a guy,” I said, with another disarming smile, in case she minded.

If she did, she didn’t show it. “When is the wedding?” she asked, politely.

“In three years, after I graduate,” I said. “Midshipmen aren’t allowed to marry.”

Cecilia nodded. “My late husband fought in Vietnam. We became engaged while he was there, and I had to wait for him to return home before I could even start planning my wedding. I understand why you would want him to live closer.”

The three of us talked about her husband and about Seb as she showed us the house. She was right on the cosmetic updates, but I’d already seen most of those in the photos. I looked more for signs of water damage or uneven floors that could indicate a foundation problem. It all seemed sound, just as she’d said. Even the unfinished basement looked alright to my eye. I didn’t have much experience with them, though. The Hawaii house was built on a slab.

In the bathroom, I realized there was a clawfoot tub, yes, but it had no showerhead. Even Seb doesn’t like to take baths all the time. I pulled out my phone, did a quick search, and found we could easily add one ourselves for not a lot of money, so that was fine.

The two bedrooms sat on opposite sides of the second floor with a large walk-in closet sandwiched between them, all under ceilings that sloped from the main pitch and the shed dormer. Easy access to the roof, I thought, looking out the window in the master bedroom.

Trailing back downstairs after Cecilia and Myrick, I started to sing. “So it’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but this we’re certain of: you can fix this fixer-upper up with a little bit of love!”

Cecilia gave me a stare over her shoulder and then looked to Myrick.

Gravely, he said, “He does that a lot, ma’am. It’s probably a Disney song.”

“It certainly is Disney,” she said to him. “I’d recognize the Frozen soundtrack anywhere. My granddaughter listened to it on repeat for an entire month.”

“Your granddaughter and I would get along,” I said cheerfully, going around them to open the door for her.

“Yes, I believe you would,” she agreed as she went through.

Outside, I finished my inspection and took a walk around the lot with Cecilia showing me the property line. She told me the immediately surrounding land belonged mostly to the state, with her own lot and a few other neighbors on the far side of it. Seb would love that. I could see I’d have my work cut out for me to find him if he decided to climb a tree.

When she’d answered all the questions I could think of, I said, “We’ve kept you out here long enough. I’ll speak with Seb and his parents and see what they think. Thank you again for being willing to stay for another viewing. Can Myrick and I walk you home?”

“I know the way,” she said, and, with a last sturdy handshake for each of us by the car, she hiked off through the woods with apparently no concern for mucking up her pant suit.

Myrick got into the driver’s seat as she disappeared between the trees. I stayed where I was a moment more, gazing up at the shallow-pitched roof over the dormer.

Yes, it would be perfect for laying out with Seb like we did all those countless nights living in his parent’s farmhouse, and again in Hawaii. A wave of missing him hit me so hard it was difficult to breath for a moment. I wanted him in this house. Close to me.

“Mohyeldin, are you coming?”

“Yeah, sorry,” I said, pulling myself together and opening the passenger-side door. “I’ve gotta call Seb.”

I did it while Myrick navigated us back to the highway—without directions or getting lost, this time. Seb answered by saying, “What took you so long? The open house ended ages ago!”

“Tell you later,” I said, because it didn’t seem kind to get into it with Myrick right beside me. “Babe, I’m going to text you photos of the place, okay? You picked a good one. It’s nice and private, doesn’t need much work from what I can tell so far, and it’s got charm up to the eyeballs.”

“And it’s almost exactly halfway between the Academy and MICA,” he pointed out.

“That, too,” I agreed. “I’m so looking forward to getting to see you more often, my boy.”

“Don’t call me that,” he said, sounding furtive.

“Why not?”

There was a pause before he answered, and his voice was even more muffled. “Because I’m at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens with Quint and Theo and about a hundred other New Yorkers, and I’m wearing yoga pants.”

I grinned wickedly. He must be missing me a lot, too, if a single ‘my boy’ was enough to make him worry about pitching a tent. Had I not been sitting beside Myrick, I would’ve teased him more, but since I was, I said, “The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens? Who’s idea was that?”

“Theo’s. He thought I might like it.”

“I’m betting he was right.”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful. We were just sitting on the lawn of the Cherry Esplanade when you called. I did studies of one of the cherry trees.”

“Sounds relaxing. Tell Theo I said thanks.” Then the other shoe dropped. “Wait, Quint was sitting on the lawn?”

“Laying on it, actually. Picking shapes out of the clouds with Theo.”

The image made me smile. “I’m glad you’re all having a good time. Listen, I’ll text you the photos as soon as I hang up, and then I’ll Skype when I’m on the Yard and we can talk about the house more, alright?” In my mind, I was thinking it’d be a good idea to call his parents and tell them to put in an offer today, but I didn’t want Seb to pick the house just because I liked it so much. And he was fully capable of doing that.

“Okay, I’ll let Quint and Theo know we need to head home.”

“No need to rush.”

“I’m not rushing,” he said. “We’ve already been here most of the morning. Quint will probably want to leave soon anyway.”

“Let him decide, then, brat.” The one word said everything I wanted. It effectively got his attention, too, I could tell from the silence through the phone.

After a moment, he grumbled, “Fine.”

“Good,” I said. “I’ll go now. Get back to your cloud-watching. Love you.”

He sighed. “Je t’aime.”

I hung up and texted the batch of pictures to him while Myrick very carefully did not look away from the road. When I was almost done, I said, “You can ask.”

His dark eyes swiveled sideways, then back straight ahead. I thought he looked embarrassed, but it was hard to tell. Then his curiosity got the better of him. “Is ‘brat’ a petname, or…?”

“Yeah,” I said, hitting send on the last photo. “Also an accurate description. From your reaction, I’m assuming you’ve heard of discipline relationships.”

“Yes,” he said, shifting his hands on the wheel. “Justine isn’t interested.”

Meaning you are? I thought. Huh. That could be interesting.

I’d had the urge to swat or spank Platt many times, but I’d chalked it up mostly to my inner nature, not his. I’d never discussed discipline with him. Neither had Seb. We both thought it would only confuse him as he was learning about BDSM, and maybe scare him off exploring his own submissiveness. I wondered if it might be the time to bring it up now—with the excuse of explaining mine and Seb’s relationship better. Then we could gauge him.

Myrick let the quiet stretch out while I thought, not elaborating on his ‘yes’ at all. But then, he always seemed to leave stuff left unsaid. Like when he described his goal for Platt earlier. He hadn’t really mentioned love or a future together. I wanted some reassurance there.

Alright, time to stop being a man of few words, I thought, looking at him. Then, because I’d been wondering about it, I asked, “What did you mean yesterday when I asked you for the ride, about owing me several favors?”

“Last year,” he said, like that was the only explanation needed.

“What about last year?”

He frowned. “The way you took care of Platt and Justine.”

Frowning back, I said, “I didn’t take care of Cameron. The one time I offered her help with Gould, she refused.”

“But you offered, and you brought us evidence,” he said. “The photoshops they made of you and Platt.”

“It didn’t prove anything.”

“It got the investigation reopened,” he said. “It was stalled since the beginning of the summer, and you weren’t here before that. You don’t know how much Belcher and Gould got to her with those disgusting photos.”

Now that he’d started, the words kept flowing, but his voice deepened with grimness. “I tried to help. My room was next to theirs, and I overheard them talking about it. I reported them, but they weren’t using their school-issued computers for it, remember. They said I’d misunderstood. There was nothing to back me up.”

“Were you and Cameron together then?” I asked. From the way he was talking, I thought they must have been close.

He shook his head, though. “We were in the same company, so we knew each other, but that was it. Then we started talking because of the photos, and I tried to take her mind off it when she was having a hard time. Going bowling and to movies as friends, stuff like that.”

“And that led to being more than friends,” I guessed.

“No, Platt did.”

I blinked. “Platt?”

“What happened with Platt over his plebe summer,” Myrick said. “Justine… when she found out Belcher was hazing him right under her nose, it gutted her. She knew what that asshole was like. She felt like she should’ve stopped it sooner, even though he covered up his tracks.”

“I know the feeling,” I said.

Myrick gave me a long, hard stare as he said, “There wasn’t any proof unless Platt had talked, and he didn’t. He hardly talked after you guys caught Belcher in the act. Neither you or her could’ve done anything differently, got it?”

With one eye on the upcoming corner, I replied, “Yeah, I got it, Seb and my counselor both drilled that into my head, now could you look at the road while you’re driving?”

He did, turning the steering wheel just in time.

I let out my breath. When my heart rate had slowed down, I asked, “So how did that bring you and her together?”

“She tried to watch over Platt afterward,” he said. “But since I was his squad leader, I had more opportunity. I reported back to her regularly about him, helping set her mind at ease.” He shrugged. “I guess both of us feeling responsible for him made us even closer. We were together by Parent’s Weekend.”

“And when did you both realize you were feeling more than responsibility for him?” I asked, smirking a little.

He definitely looked embarrassed then. “For me, it was when I was giving him judo lessons,” he admitted. “I was ashamed. Justine and I hadn’t talked about… anything like polyamory. We’d hardly been together a month, and I had these feelings for someone else. I kept wondering if my feelings for her were going away, but they just got stronger.

“She said to me later that she first realized it the night of that judo meet when we saw the rope burn and you as good as told us it was a self-bondage accident.” Here, he shot me a look that might’ve been him remembering how cheeky I was, teasing him after I figured out he was a Dom. Then he said, “We didn’t talk about it with each other until the attack happened. Almost losing him terrified us.”

“So that’s when you came up with the plan to form a triad,” I said.

“It came together over time, but it started then, yes. We’ve done our research and thought this through while we waited for his plebe year to end, and we kept watching him as closely as we could. Both of us….” He trailed off, sighed, and said, “Have you ever looked at someone and felt like they were made to be yours, somehow, like they were born with a mark that says they belong with you?”

“Yes.”

He nodded, unsurprised. “That’s how we see him. But we had to keep our distance all last year so no one accused us of fraternizing, and now… Now I don’t know if he’ll think we’re crazy, and Justine is counting on me because she can’t be here. I don’t want to let either of them down.”

“You won’t,” I said. “Not saying it’ll be easy, because it’s Platt, and nothing with him is ever easy, but you’ve got me on your side.” The song I’d been singing at the house popped back into my head. I grinned. “He’s just a bit of a fixer-upper. He’s got a couple of bugs. His isolation is confirmation of his desperation for healing hugs! So he’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but we know what to dooooo… The way to fix up this fixer-upper is to fix him up with you!”

Myrick watched me dance in my seat with a faintly disbelieving look.

“Hey,” I said, “you want my help, this is part of the package.”

“Carry on, then,” he said, dryly. So I kept singing.


The guys recently answered some character-building questions. Check them out in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave your own. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Back to School, Ring the Bell – Ch. 9”

  1. * If you were to open your character’s fridge right now, what would you find?

    Zain: We don’t get to have room fridges until we’re firsties. I can have a potted plant this year, though!

    Quint: When I left this morning, our fridge held the ingredients for the next several nights’ dinners, a gallon of orange juice, a quart of Seb’s favorite yogurt, two slices of pizza that I’m sure will be gone by the time I get home, and some half-and-half for coffee. I’ll need to pick up more of that for tomorrow. Oh, and the butter compartment is full of insulin.

    * If your character were at a karaoke bar, what song would they sing?

    Theo: When I do karaoke, I like songs you can really belt out. Adele is great. So’s Whitney Houston. Bohemian Rhapsody lets you hog the stage for forever with no one getting mad. Zeg and I love to do Joy to the World by Three Dog Night.

    Zain: Let it Go is usually the only Disney song they’ll have. I round it out with some Taytay. You should see Seb’s face when I sing “Get me with those green eyes, baby, As the lights go down, Gimme something that’ll haunt me whenever you’re not around, ‘Cause I see, sparks fly, whenever you smile.”

    *What is your character carrying in his/her pockets?

    Seb: Um, well, I keep most of my stuff in my bag, because there’s so much I have to carry around, but I always have some simple carbs. It’s hard candies today. There’s a couple of pencil stubs and an eraser in my other pocket. And my phone. That stays in my pocket so I can feel if Zain texts me.

    *It’s 4 o’ clock on a Tuesday afternoon- what is your character doing?

    Zain: Tuesdays are drill days, so I’m marching around a field in formation with a bunch of other mids, counting the minutes until I can leave and maybe text Seb real quick before dinner. Drill is soooooo boring.

  2. This was a fantastic chapter. I loved seeing more of Myrick, who’s a fascinating character. I also really like that Justine is still around in the storyline– I hope we see her again! Thanks!

  3. May I ask some character-building questions?
    What is one memory that always makes you smile?
    Have you ever had a doubt, however fleeting, that you and your fiance/husband were meant to be together?
    What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
    What one political issue are you the most passionate about?

    I love all these characters, and these stories. Thank you so much for sharing them so freely!

    1. Thank you for the questions, Wintergreen! And for your patience this past week. I’ve been on vacation. I will definitely answer them and include them in a comment on a future chapter, so stay tuned!

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