Simple Physics

Chapter 3 - Variables

On Wednesday, Dash had a question.

“Hey, Kwan?” The clang and clatter of lifting weights rang in the background, but Dash deciphered a grunt of acknowledgement from amidst the clamor, originating from somewhere to his left.

“Yeah?” said Kwan, sounding slightly out of breath.

Dash pondered a moment before voicing his question, trying to choose his words carefully. “What would you say…defines gayness?”


Obviously, it wasn’t what Kwan had been expecting. “I mean, I’m not gay,” Dash quickly clarified. “It’s just…you know…I was wondering. Like…how would you really know?” He was on his back benching, but he’d lost track of his count a while ago. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kwan frown, the oriental sitting up and wiping his brow with a nearby towel.

“Um…I don’t know, man,” he said uncertainly. “I guess you just…know, right? I mean…if guys turn you on…”

“Guys don’t turn me on,” Dash snapped.

“I didn’t mean-” Kwan flushed, but it might have just been the exercise. “I was just… You asked,” he mumbled, sounding put out.

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” Dash frowned. “Well, what if…like…just say…a guy sucked you off…”

Kwan grimaced. “That’s kind of disgusting.”

“Um, right, yeah,” said Dash. “But…but I mean a mouth’s a mouth, right?” he pressed anxiously. “I mean, it’s just like a girl if…well, if you didn’t know…there’s really no… It shouldn’t make a difference. Don’t you think?”

Kwan looked doubtful. “Dash, man, are you alright?”

Dash blushed, but he hoped it looked like it came from the exercise. “Er, yeah,” he said. “I think so. Why?”

“You…I don’t know. You just seem…really worked up about this. Did, um,” Kwan hesitated, “did a guy-”

“No,” Dash interrupted quickly.

For awhile, Kwan said nothing, and Dash drifted off into his own train of thought. Then, Kwan spoke up, and Dash glanced down from the ceiling to find his teammate looming over him with an odd expression.

“Um…did you say something?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Kwan. “I asked why you were only pushing one-twenty. You usually do almost twice that.”

“Oh,” said Dash. “Yeah. I um…I guess I was just…seeing what it felt like.” Thankfully, Kwan didn’t press the issue. Mentally he noted that Tucker was in fact very, very light.

On Thursday, Dash had a test.

“This is a comprehensive review of everything we’ve been over this quarter. Do your best. You may begin as soon as you receive your paper.”

Dash wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t breathe. Before him, the words and numbers on his paper blurred together into one dizzying black mass, threatening to consume him, and he wanted nothing more than to get up and run.

What had ever made him think he could do this?

He swallowed, fingers trembling as he reached for his pencil, almost dropping it twice, and he swore beneath his breath. Shutting his eyes, he forced himself to try and relax. Breathe slowly, he thought.

Why did this always happen to him?

He knew the stuff—he knew he did. He’d learned it, and it had made sense, and he had figured it all out, and then—then the test hit his desk and his mind died. He knew nothing. He was stupid again and everything the teacher wrote was meaningless gibberish scattered across pounded white tree pulp.

It wasn’t fair.

Unable to face his paper, he lifted his head, eyes wandering the room in search of nothing in particular. All around him, his classmates mocked him; twenty-some-odd bodies hunched over their desks scribbling diligently. They knew this. They understood. They thought this was easy.

God, he hated them.

Then, his eyes landed on Tucker.

if guys turn you on

Hell. Dash dropped his head in his hands, shoving his hair back from his forehead and squeezing his eyes shut. Somewhere, deep, deep down in the hottest fiery chasms of hell, Satan was having a really good laugh right about now. He sighed. And then—then, to his abject shame and humiliation—he looked back up at Tucker.

He didn’t hunch like the rest of them, Dash noticed. And his pencil didn’t stutter and jerk nervously across his paper, either—no. It scrolled: confident and self-assured, like its owner. Here, now, in this classroom, with his numbers, Tucker was in his element.

Dash rolled his pencil between his fingers idly, openly staring and willing the boy to look up. Look at me, he thought fiercely, as if he believed that by concentrating hard enough, he could somehow bend Tucker to his bidding. Put your pencil down and look at me—see what a fucking mess you’ve made.

But he didn’t look up.

Then, apparently, he came across a more challenging problem, and Dash watched with rapt fascination as a full brown lip disappeared between clean white teeth, Tucker’s brow furrowing in thought.

Where had he seen that look before?

Tucker shifted in his seat, still worrying his lip. When he glanced to the clock, Dash’s stomach clenched hotly, and he swallowed a groan, shutting his eyes as he suddenly remembered with vivid clarity exactly where he’d seen that look before.

When he opened them again, Tucker was watching him. Right then, he almost snapped his head down—guilty and caught in the act—but at the last minute, he forced himself to hold the gaze. Tucker raised an eyebrow, and then—damn him—the boy smirked at him. At him! Dash Baxter, of all people! It made him want to hit him, or kiss him or—no, wait, Dash thought, quickly backtracking—it definitely didn’t make him want to kiss him.

As Dash pondered this egregiously erroneous notion, Tucker slid down in his chair, hand slipping down into his backpack in such a subtle move, he likely wouldn’t have noticed had he not been staring the whole time. A moment later, Dash almost jumped as his phone vibrated in his pocket, and his cheeks burned hotly as he prayed the teacher hadn’t heard. He thought he’d turned it off?

Discreetly as he could manage, Dash, too, leaned back in his chair, working hard to look unsuspicious as he carefully slid out his phone, keeping it under his desk, and flipped it open. There, on the screen in glowing letters, was a single message. “Good luck,” it read. Cursing the giddy flutter in his stomach, Dash promptly snapped the thing shut and stuffed it back in his pocket.

How the hell had Tucker gotten his phone number?

On Friday, well…

Dash stared at it. Just a bleached dead tree, he told himself. Just a bleached dead tree—with some very crucial numbers scribbled in red ink on the other side. He swallowed.

What if he’d failed?

The teacher was going around from desk to desk, handing back tests and putting them face down before their owners. Dash always hated it when they did it that way. Why torture kids like that? They were going to get whatever they got no matter when they found out. Why not just let them see it from the get go? What could possibly be the point of dragging it out, making them wait and stare until they finally couldn’t wait anymore and just had to see? Dash reached for the corner of his paper.

What if he’d passed? What did that mean?

His fingers caught the edge and he shut his eyes, taking a breath. It meant Tucker had finally done what no teacher had ever really managed to do before: teach him something.

One, two, three—

Dash squinted at the red lettering, dreading what he might see. When he finally opened his eyes wide enough to read it, his stomach fell out from under him, his head swam, and for two whole seconds he forgot to breath. Then, he was grinning from ear to ear, dropping his head back against the back of his chair, and covering his mouth so as not to draw the attention of the entire class as he laughed, body shaking, overcome with relief.

Yes, he had passed—but it was more than that.

He, Dash Baxter, had succeeded at school. Sure, he’d passed tests before. Obviously, he never would have made it to his senior year—without ever being held back, mind—if he hadn’t passed tests on occasion. But again, it was more than that. This time, he hadn’t passed because his parents could pay to provide new computers for the math lab, or because he’d made that touch down just in time and Lancer figured one or two points from a D was really close enough in the long run, or because the teacher was pretty and young and Dash was born with natural good looks and charma. No. This time, he’d earned it—the right way.

It felt really good.

Without even thinking about it, he looked up, seeking out Tucker almost instinctively, and a moment later he found him. There, on the other side of the room, in his desk—and yawning. He hadn’t worried about his score for a second.

Somehow, though, Dash couldn’t hate him for it—wasn’t even jealous, in fact. Tucker looked good—with one hand fisted and stretched over his head, the other covering his mouth as he leaned back, utterly oblivious of the way his yellow shirt rode up on his dark stomach, teasing any who looked with a barely perceptible sliver of milky brown. How could Dash hate anyone who gave a show like that?

The bell rang.

Smirking only to himself, Dash grabbed his test and stood. The teacher was saying something about a lab on Monday and wishing everyone a good weekend as they piled out the door, minds closed to everything but thoughts of the weekend. Tucker was crouched beside his desk when Dash got there, rapidly stuffing papers away in a mad scramble, and Dash watched, bemused.

“So,” he asked after a moment, trying to sound as casual as possible, “how’d you do?”

“Ninety-eight,” said Tucker, snatching something from his desk and shoving it behind a folder in his backpack without so much as a sideways glance in Dash’s direction. “I forgot to convert from centimeters to meters on problem seven and he counted off.” Finishing with his backpack, Tucker zipped it quickly and stood. Then, finally, he met Dash’s gaze. “You?” he asked.

Dash dropped his test on the desk, and Tucker’s eyes flickered to the circled number in red. Upon seeing it, he smiled.

“So,” he said, not missing a beat, “what movie did you have in mind



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