Simple Physics

Chapter 19 - Volatile Elements

"Alright, alright, I got one…so, how's this…what's 'gay' stand for?"

Dash clicked open his locker, dropping his sweat-soiled shirt, socks, and sports shoes on the bench beneath it and fishing out his change of clothes. The speaker was either a sophomore or a junior – he didn't pay much attention to the lower classes – whose name he couldn't remember, but he spoke loudly, obviously vying for attention, and his friend beside him snickered, in on the real joke immediately.

"I dunno, man," he responded just as loudly. "What does gay stand for?"

"Got AIDS yet," the first shot back, taking the time to turn a little more in Dash's direction when he said it, and privately, Dash sighed, clanking his locker back shut and suppressing the urge to scowl. That was what they wanted, after all.

At first, the jokes had annoyed him a little – most of them totally stupid, a few verging on mildly clever, and still others downright offensive – but after a while, regardless of what the joke actually said, it just felt old.

The paper issue had raised a raucous of sorts, but a surprisingly large portion of the student body had either dismissed it entirely or simply hadn't given a damn one way or the other – the largest rifts taking place among the A-lister crowds, not surprisingly – and he and Tucker had more or less silently agreed to use this to their relative advantage, ignore the suppositions, and continue largely as they had before they'd even started dating, i.e.: staying out of each other's way at school.

But gossip was, unfortunately, a nearly impossible beast to kill once birthed, and among those who found it amusing to cling to the rumours, to say that things "didn't get much better" over the following weeks would have been something like saying that the three hundred pound girl at prom with the long sideburns, stubborn uni-brow, and budding moustache "didn't look that bad."

The whispers had picked up first – and the stares, of course – the sort that trickled through the halls and hummed around corners like the rustling of secret notes smuggled under desks, but hushed abruptly once caught, like a love confession gripped tightly, frozen in a nervous palm until the teacher's eye passed safely by again.

If nothing else, the various pranks showcased both most teenagers' complete lack of creativity and, on the opposite side of the coin, cruelty's occasional knack for sheer inventiveness. The breeding of gay jokes like rabbits on fertility drugs in the locker room fell under the first category.

Later, though, someone took the liberty of feeding several nice, candid shots of their dick through the grate in Tucker's locker – along with various other paraphernalia, including loose condom packets and a sheet of paper with links to gay porn sites and chat rooms for homosexuals – and Dash had thought that that was sort of clever, in a kind of bawdy, disturbing way. Tucker had grimaced and brought duct tape to school the next day, slapped on several layers behind his grate, from the inside – defacement of school property be damned – and done his best to keep heavy textbooks securely stacked behind it from then on.

"Nah, nah, listen, this one's totally better…" the friend of the first speaker spoke up, and Dash stepped away from his locker to grab a towel from the shelves. "So there's these three dudes all chillin' in a hot tub, right?"

Dash's hand paused for only a second as he bit back a groan. This one again?

"And all three of 'em are mindin' their own business, when suddenly-"

"-a blob of jizz gurgles to the surface," Tyrone, a senior on the basketball team, cut in, just coming out from the showers, from the looks of things, and providing more of a comedian's flare to the joke than either of the first two. Apparently, they agreed, because they let him take over. "An' so all three of 'em just sit there, starin' at it for a bit…'til finally, one o' the guys sighs loudly an' says-"

"-alright, fess up," Dash grunted, taking over effortlessly, "which one of you fags farted?"

First, Tyrone raised an eyebrow, amusement tugging at his lips. Beside him, the initiators of the joke made a poor show of trying to bite back their laughter, and somewhere in the back of the room, several whines of disgust – apparently from a couple of those who actually hadn't heard that one yet – made it to the front.

"Take it y've heard that one," Tyrone observed, and Dash grumbled, slinging his towel around his neck.

"Yeah," he muttered, "I've heard it…" 'Probably twenty damn times…'

"Aww, no need to get touchy, captain…" Marcus joined in, and Dash subconsciously tensed. "We all understand a guy can get desperate for some ass every once in a while…especially after so long without…and after the way Paulina ditched you?" He tisked. "I mean…that must have struck a low blow…who's gonna blame you for being a little insecure about your sexuality after that?"

It was the first time anyone had launched a direct attack at him, in person.

Dash took the opportunity to size up his opponent: tall, decently built, but not heavy. Marcus would have a slight height and reach advantage, but Dash had him beat in weight and muscle mass. The locker room floor was wet, though, in places, and likely slippery. This would not be a good place to fight.

He reached up idly, gripping each end of his towel on either side of his neck, and made a show of pondering Marcus's jibe.

"Alright," he responded at length, "so…what? You want me to…say grats? For being the last guy to score the girl who's spread her legs for every member of the team before you and then some? Or…thanks? For picking up my last month's trash and keeping her out of my business while I move on with more important shit in my life?" He opted to steer completely clear of any comments relating to his sexuality. If they stuck with arguing about Paulina's choice in dicks, he figured he had a much higher chance of holding his own without resorting to deciding it with a throwdown.

Unfortunately, Marcus was wisely uncooperative. "Right," he snorted, "and when do women move on? I can tell you…it's not when they're sexually satisfied with their man, that's for sure…and the little detail that she pulled an eagle for all those guys while with you?" Again, Marcus clicked his tongue and shook his head. "Sorry, but I just don't see how that reflects well on your…" He cleared his throat, "…how should I put this politely…'performance'…?" he finished, looking wholly pleased with himself when small snickers and whispers ghosted around them in response.

Dash decided that pointing out that technically he had actually broken up with her was probably an unnecessary, nitpicky detail, highly likely to backfire and make him look sore and childish. This, though, was just one of so many reasons he hated verbal sparring. He just wasn't good at it. And, to be fair, Marcus had probably been planning this, at least to some extent, ahead of time, waiting for the right opportunity to shame Dash as blaringly and openly as possible—preferably in front of many witnesses. Grumbling, he settled for Plan B: when topic couldn't be avoided, turn the tables on the accusation.

"So…what's my sex life to you, anyway?" he retorted. "Can't blame you for being curious, but I mean…didn't know you were interested in that sort of thing…"

Again, Marcus expertly avoided the pitfall. "Oh, trust me, I'm not…in fact, it sort of disgusts me, but…I am trying to look out for the team, here…"

Dash rarely felt powerless. The feeling terrified and sickened him. Here, though, as boys started to wordlessly gather, slowly bunching in around them – mostly edging towards the side of Marcus – he got the distinct sense that this was significantly more premeditated than he'd originally assumed, and felt control slipping as inevitably as water through cupped fingers.

"We can forgive a lot, you know…" Marcus continued, "…like when you were pretty obviously spending a good bit more than necessary 'quality time' on 'studying' last semester…but you gotta know, this is a little different…"

Dash wondered what Marcus was getting at, ultimately, and what his options were. He opened his mouth to say as much.

"Using a bottom feeder to experiment…" Marcus went on, closing off Dash's opportunity to fit a word in edgewise; he shrugged, "…no big…but getting snugly during class experiments?"

'Okay, that was a long time ago,' Dash mentally grumped, 'and only once…' Unless he was talking about the time only a few days ago when they'd taken the class outside, but Tucker had been shivering and-

"Missing practices?"

That also only happened once. Or possibly twice. Or, wait…

"Making kissy-face in the parking lot?"

Yeah, definitely a good idea to keep one's mouth shut on that one.

Marcus shook his head. "And word has it…he hasn't even given it up for you, yet…"

Dash made a mental note never to tell Kwan anything. Ever.

"Hey, now wait a second…" Speak of the devil. "I only said that like…for, umm…" Kwan frowned, and Dash tried not to wince. "Look, it just doesn't have anything to do with anything relating any of you," Kwan persisted stubbornly, making a broad sweeping gesture towards the now substantial crowd of onlookers, "alright? So just…do everyone a favour and…get off his back…"

Marcus snorted. "Well, I can see, as the only other guy we know of that he likes to make-out with, you obviously have a biased opinion…"

Dash's scowl darkened; Kwan's face warmed noticeably, and there was a rapid, hissed conference between the two of them which went something along the lines of:

"So was I the only one who didn't know about that until a few weeks ago?"

"Well," Kwan looked guilty, "it sort of happened, umm…in the middle of your living room floor-"


"-and a lot of people saw! Okay? It wasn't my-"

"And you didn't think that would be at all important to tell me before-"

"…but," Marcus continued, emphasizing the word to cut forcefully in over their spur-of-the-moment mini-convention, "you being biased or not doesn't really affect us and our legitimate concerns…"

"Legitimate?" Kwan squawked. "How the fuck is who he screws a concern of-"

"Maybe we don't want a fag in our locker rooms!" Marcus barked back. "Changing with us… fucking showering with us, don't you think that might make a few people uncomf-"

"Oh, right! Because we always climb into stalls with each other and share each other's soap and shit and heaven forbid he see you the same way he's seen you a thousand times before because this time he might suddenly…what? Rape you? Have nasty thoughts about you?" Dash felt sort of queasy. "I don't think-"

"Maybe we just don't want him ogling our asses…" Tyrone provided neutrally, and Dash scoffed.

"Right. After seeing the freaky shit you watch, Ty, I'd say I'd rather ogle a goat, but maybe that wouldn't get the message across quite right…"

Tyrone looked immediately put upon. "Hey, wait now, hold up, see…that ain't fair, 'cause…I still have no fuckin' clue how that shit got on my phone. I swear-"

"The point," Marcus cut in, "is that the gay act was only tolerable to an extent…and we've reached it. If things don't start clearing up from here on out, stuff just won't be as simple. For you…or your little…boyfriend…you get me?"

Dash glowered. "No. I don't, actually. What is it you want me to do, huh? Tell you I'm not a fucking fag? Or say that none of the shit you've said so far is true? 'Cause so far it doesn't sound like you'd believe me, even if I did."

"Nah…you're right," Marcus conceded. "At this point…I don't think anyone would."

Dash opened his mouth.

"Which is why…" Marcus went on, "…we're gonna want a little proof that you still have your…priorities straight."

At 'priorities,' Dash's gut roiled ominously, and only Kwan's hand at his shoulder – lightly restraining – clued him in to the fact that he had, in fact, been progressively advancing over the course of the back and forth. He decided to ignore it, shrugged it off, and took another step forward.

"Alright," he growled, relishing in the first few, budding sparks of real anger, despite his best initial intentions. "Let's say I decide to play your little game. What kind of 'proof' are you looking for? But first…how about you tell me why the hell should I feel I need to prove myself to you, anyway?"

Apparently, pissing him off was on the agenda, because Marcus looked entirely too pleased with himself. "You should care because…let's face it…you're not the self-sacrificing, hero-type. You know how to look out for yourself…and this is the last semester, of our last year. We all wanna go out looking well. To do that, though…we need a captain with his head in the game…not around some little queer's cock…"

Dash's fingers itched to fist. He reminded himself that this would be a bad place to fight.

"So if we don't think you're gonna cut it…some complaints will only be natural, but then, you know how things get around…this isn't the sort of thing you really want getting back to your parents, is it?"

Dash's eyes narrowed dangerously. "So…wait, are you seriously telling me…that your big, threatening plan…is that if I don't do what you want…you're gonna go cry to mommy?" He sincerely hoped his sneer showed none of his trepidation; dragging his parents into this probably was the worst of all possible outcomes, as far as he was concerned. They'd probably send him to therapy. Or boarding school. "That'll be funny…what's the big speech gonna sound like, huh? 'Oh, boo-hoo,'" he mocked, "'Mommy, our sport's captain drove a nerd to school, and now I think he's gay…*sniffle, sniffle, cry, cry*'…?" At least someone laughed. That was a plus.

Marcus, unfortunately, looked disappointingly unmoved. "The thing about mommies…" he said at last, "…is that, as annoying as they can be on a day to day basis…they are really good at some things…and making a fuss when they think there's something affecting their kids at school is one of them…"

Since when did Paulina date smart guys, anyway?

"…and that's only the big threat if you really don't give a damn about what happens to your little experimentation partne-"

"If you touch-" Dash started vehemently, and then realized too late – as Marcus raised his eyebrows and others around the room frowned – that that outburst alone revealed more than he wanted.

"I see…so he is your boyfriend, then?"

"I didn't—that's not what I…" Dash swallowed awkwardly. This was not going well. "I didn't say that," he grunted at length, the words scratching coarsely in his throat, and Marcus's eyes on him made his skin crawl.

"Alright…so how about you say it," Marcus suggested coolly, "or don't say it…just answer the question. Is he your boyfriend?"

"He's…" Dash's heart declared violent war against the cage of his chest, his pulse clamouring up the sides of his throat like a free-climber with no fear of death and his fingers twitching – half-fisting – as his palms dampened.

Then, quite suddenly, he shook his head, bursting out with a harsh, "No! No, no, no, and just…fuck no, okay?" and though the words stung, bringing guilt with them as if lies came packaged with an automatic 'Tell One: Feel like shit for free' coupon stapled to the side, he persisted stubbornly anyway. "Dammit, no, he's got nothing to do with…with…" 'This' sounded too suggestive, "…anything, alright? So just…" Dash swallowed, "…just leave Tu—Foley out of it. If you got a problem with me, deal with me…or tell all the parents you like! But don't…" 'Don't touch Tucker. Please, please, please don't touch Tucker, or so help me…'

Finally, Marcus frowned, as if Dash had actually managed to throw in a factor he wasn't ready for. Unfortunately, "You're…protecting him?" wasn't exactly the sort of reaction Dash had hoped for.

Immediately, his cheeks burned. "No! I'm not…I was just…I meant-"

"You…you actually…" Marcus looked legitimately thrown. "Holy fucking Jesus…" It was peculiar, watching someone fight simultaneously with laughter and disgust, "…I mean, sure, I believed maybe you messed with him…used him for—man, who the hell knows what, and I sure don't want to, but…I honest to God never thought you were actually…that you were seriously…" He choked on some hybrid between a laugh and a snort. "You've gone and got yourself whipped…" Dash's jaw tensed, "…and by some techy little fag!"

Kwan's hand caught his wrist, stalling his abrupt jerk forward, and Dash stilled, willing his fist back into an open palm.

"Oh, that's priceless…" Marcus was snickering now, a little too low pitched to be termed giggling, though it fit the rapid, almost helpless pattern. "You…oh, man…do you guys, like, cuddle and everything? 'Cause-"

"Man, shut up!"

"Ooh…let me think…" Marcus tapped his chin, "…no." He smirked. "I'm sorry…is this irritating you? It's actually very uncharacteristic of you…that you're still just standing there, taking it, after all this time…"

Dash's fingers curled back in.

"Or, oh, I know…it must be that he's taught you better now, and that it's against the rules to lose your temper?" Marcus guessed. "You're doing such a good job, so far…so well-behaved-"

"Fuck you," Dash hissed.

"Dash-" Kwan blurted, and Dash knew he should drop it, just let it go, maybe even simply walk out of the room, right now, before things got out of hand. But he didn't.

"Oh, yes, very clever," Marcus said, "and listen to him, too-"

"What do you want?" Dash snarled, and suddenly Marcus looked very serious.

"Well…" He drew it out thoughtfully, "…there were a couple things, though now I'm not sure you'll like any of them…but I'll tell you anyway and explain in nice small, slow words so you can get the gist, how's that sound?"

New goal: Don't throw the first punch.

That was all he had to do, Dash counselled himself, repeating the mantra in his head, 'Don't throw the first punch.'

"Basically, the bulk of what needs to has already been said: we don't feel comfortable showering with cocksuckers."

'Don't throw the first punch…'

"So either you can cut it to the quick now and dump your little…" Marcus made a face as he picked his words.


"…nigger bitch, or-"

Dash threw the first punch.  



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