Categories > Movies > Newsies > Gameplan

II

by studentnumber24601 1 Reviews

Chapter two: more baseball, a couple of bullies, and a very bad crush.

Category: Newsies - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst, Humor, Romance - Characters: Jack Kelly, Kid Blink, Mush - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2005/06/17 - Updated: 2005/06/17 - 7545 words

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Gameplan
.two.

For just a second, Kid was horrified. Then his brain slowly recovered, reminded him that for all he'd had problems at his last school, plenty of straight guys wore necklaces. In manly fashions.

"Well, uh, I'm impressed you know it's his number," he said.

Michael smirked a little. "Looking around this room, it's impossible to miss. It's like a shrine in here." He paused. "I don't think I've ever seen you wear this."

He tossed it to Kid, who noticed that Michael had rotten aim, but catching things was instinctual for him so he caught it anyway. "I don't wear it much," Kid confessed.

"When do you wear it?" Michael asked.

"For... Luck," Kid answered. "It's my good luck charm."

That was true. He used to wear it every day. Kid had always thought he was a pretty lucky guy overall, though; there weren't a lot of people who knew at age sixteen what they wanted to do in life and how to get to do it. He had. That was lucky.

"You wear it at games and stuff?"

Kid nodded and regarded the chain in his fingers. He almost itched to put it on; after three weeks, he no longer felt like he was missing something, but he hadn't really thought about it since. Now, looking at it again, he started to feel naked again.

Naked. In a room with Michael.

He fastened it on and shrugged. "Maybe it'll be good luck for our project."

"You should wear it Tuesday, then." Michael cocked his head a little, studying Kid, and smiled. "It suits you, anyway."

"Uh... Thanks."

Kid tucked it under the jersey he was wearing and they got to work. But it still felt good to have it on.

*

It took several weeks for anything else interesting to happen, Kid decided. His presentation with Michael went well, but as soon as it finished, they stopped speaking again; they shared an occasional nod or hello in passing in the halls, but Michael was definitely not part of what had become Kid's social group. Though Kid found himself watching Michael more often, more carefully; saw that though Michael didn't have many friends at the school, there were a couple; and he found out that most of Michael's friends were part of a local community theater group.

He found out that Michael was in an upcoming community show, and marked the dates down in his Yankees logo student planner when he saw a flyer posted on the school bulletin board.

The second thing he noticed that week was another new kid, or at least, Kid thought he was new. He was tall with broad shoulders, dark hair, and a permanent scowl; his name was Aaron Snodgrass, but was known throughout the school as Snoddy. He was like something out of a cartoon or a kids' TV show; he looked like he probably spent his free time beating up middle schoolers and stealing their lunch money. He made crude comments towards girls, was hostile towards boys, and spent far too much time in the office.

Kid found out quickly he'd been to the school before. People began whispering rumors&#151;he'd disappeared because he'd been in jail. He'd disappeared because he'd been in a mental hospital. He'd disappeared because he'd killed someone, needed to lie low for awhile...

The truth, which eventually came out, was much less interesting. His parents were divorced; he'd disappeared for a few months because he went to live with his mother. She kicked him out, he went back to his dad's, and back to his old school.

But people walked quietly when Snoddy was around.

Especially Michael, Kid noticed. For all Michael flipped off Jack when he made rude comments&#151;which wasn't often, but did happen&#151;when Snoddy said almost the exact same things, Michael shrank back against the wall and looked desperate for help. Kid saw that Michael started skipping lunch altogether, because they had it the same period as Snoddy, and Snoddy clearly made Michael nervous.

Kid didn't know why for sure. But he had a pretty good idea.

But both of those observations took a backseat to trying out for the baseball team, finally, as the weather began to show that someday, spring might come up from under the snow. The atmosphere was tense, though; the team was good, and it only took the best. Kid wasn't the only new kid this year hoping to make it; not to mention the kids who were finally moving up from JV, when the team already only had a few starting positions not filled by returning players.

Standing in the locker room, having changed into his gym clothes, Kid stared down at the flash of gold still in his duffle bag. He'd brought the necklace with him. It was his good luck charm, after all; and even with skill, which he had, a little luck never hurt. But...

He glanced around. Jack was lounging nearby, lazily pulling on his sneakers, like he'd already made the team&#151;which Kid noted he probably had, since Jack was a senior, a returning starter, and nearing graduation. And Kid waited patiently for Jack to straighten up and turn to walk out, then hurriedly pulled the chain over his neck and hid the necklace under his shirt.

If someone looked closely, it was possible to tell he was wearing it; the gold chain showed at the back of his neck and there was a wrinkle caused by the pendant, but probably no one would noticed. And Kid felt a little more confident, wearing it. After all, he had to work harder than anyone else trying out. No one else was blind in one eye.

But he felt ready as he went out to stretch and wait for things to begin.

*

The weeks slipped by. Kid made the team, and his circle of friends expanded further now that he was officially a baseball player and had a defined place in the school. He was playing catcher, and slated to be a starter, and his family couldn't be more thrilled. Practices were fun, and games drew closer, and Kid felt more at ease in school than he had yet.

He couldn't stop watching Michael out of the corner of his eye, though, and wondered if Michael ever saw him watching. They only caught eyes a few times, and every time Michael would look kind of started, then ease into a smile.

Michael's show went up the week before the first baseball game, and after a long practice, Kid found himself showering off and coming his hair, looking disdainfully at his usual jeans-and-t-shirt outfit and wishing it was classier, because his mother had always taught him to dress up for theater. But it was just a community play, and Kid hadn't even realized he wanted to go until he'd seen it written in his planner that morning.

Finding it took awhile, Kid didn't know much of the layout of the surrounding town. But it turned out to be in an old, refurbished fire hall, turned into a theater so small that Kid wasn't sure it could fit more than thirty people, so he was glad it wasn't sold out. But he slid into the back and settled in for the performance of some musical he'd never heard of, though he was pretty sure the plot had been stolen by a Tom Hanks version. Michael played the villain, who was both a womanizer and a business cheat, and watching him on stage almost took Kid's breath away.

Michael on stage was amazing. Michael's singing voice was amazing. The way he moved, the confidence he exuded and the charisma he projected kept Kid thoroughly enthralled for the whole show, and he was certain that Michael had stolen ever single scene he'd appeared in.

After the lights came up, people milled around for a few minutes; Kid caught a glimpse of Michael's mother and who he assumed was Michael's father, with another teenager holding a bouquet of flowers next to them. Kid started to head out, then stopped to wait, thinking that if other people were waiting around, maybe there was a reason; and sure enough, a few minutes later the cast members began to trickle out, Michael near the end.

Kid started forward to see him, but fell back when Michael's family did instead. He greeted his parents with hugs, and then turned to the boy who stood with them, and laughed and blushed. The boy pressed the flowers into his hand, and Michael shook his head. The boy insisted, and finally Michael rolled his eyes but accepted the bouquet and let the boy lean forward and kiss him&#151;though Michael turned his head at the last second so the boy's lips grazed his cheek instead of his mouth.

And as he turned his head, he saw Kid, standing a few feet away, and gaped for a second. Kid watched as he hurriedly excused himself from his family as Kid tried to pretend that the sight of another boy kissing Michael didn't affect him at all.

"Kid!" Michael exclaimed, moving like he wanted to make physical contact, then stopping abruptly and just standing there. "What are you doing here?"

"I came for your show." Kid shrugged nonchalantly. "I, uh, saw the poster."

"Oh, wow, uh, thanks for coming."

Kid shrugged again. "It was... It was good, you were real good. I didn't know you sang. Except in the shower, I mean."

Michael laughed. "I can't believe you remember me saying that."

Kid didn't tell Michael that he remembered almost every word they'd said to each other. He just smiled, then glanced at Michael's family. "I, uh... I didn't know you had a boyfriend."

"What? Oh. I don't." Michael shrugged uncomfortably. "That's just Davey, he's a good guy and all, but... Not really my type. Too bad I'm his."

"You two aren't...?"

"No, he likes me, but... Like I said, not my type."

"What is your type?" Kid asked.

Michael raised an eyebrow. "I like blondes," he answered.

Kid blushed slightly. "Uh, well... I should get going, long drive home and all. So if I wanna get my homework done before midnight..."

"I hear that, this show's been keeping me so busy..."

Kid coughed. "So, uh... I'll see you 'round, Michael." He couldn't stop himself, he put a hand on Michael's shoulder. He hoped it looked like a friendly gesture, that Michael didn't pick up on how nervous he was as his fingers brushed across Michael's neck, came to rest against his back. "You were real good," he said again.

Michael smiled as Kid finally dropped his hand and hurried out. And when Kid glanced back, Michael was still watching after him, smiling.

*

Michael started staring back at Kid across the room and through the halls after that. Kid would glance at him, and smile, and Michael would smile back and not look away. Kid found that he wanted to talk to Michael more, but never had an excuse to. And he had even less of an excuse to reach out and brush his hand against Michael's, but he desperately wanted to.

Denying that urge was hard. He tried to stop watching Michael in history, stared down at the worn picture of Derek Jeter on his assignment book instead, but it was hard. He only managed by counting down the hours until the first game as it got closer and closer.

He spent the day of the first game so jittery that he could barely concentrate on classes, and for the first day in what felt like weeks, he didn't think about Michael. He just thought about the game, and tried but failed to lock down his nerves.

But the nerves slipped away as he pulled on his uniform, his catching gear, and went out to take the field. Then, he didn't think about anything except the game, what he was doing, what he had to do. It was one part instinct and four parts hard work, but it felt good.

They won the game by two runs, and Kid was so exuberant he couldn't stand still. His parents and his grandfather were there to congratulate him, he met the families of most of his teammates, and he couldn't calm down. He didn't even want to go back inside, despite the grime on his skin; he didn't mind being dirty when it was dirt from a win.

But the crowd began to thin out and Jack rolled his eyes, mumbled something about, "Come on, superstar," and began to drag him towards the school. Scanning the bleachers, he saw no one else he knew to talk to, so he obliged and followed Jack towards the school&#151;then stopped as he saw a familiar head of brown hair pick its way through the last remaining observers.

Michael waved and Kid glanced at Jack, then glanced back at Michael, turned around and walked back to the stands, where Michael waited. "You watched a whole ballgame?" he asked.

Michael shrugged. "I was a little late, I had rehearsal."

"I thought your show was over."

"New show." Michael smiled. "I want to act, you know. Sing. On Broadway."

"I... I didn't know," Kid answered.

"I know it's silly..."

"Hey, I want to play professional baseball, so..."

"Yeah, but you're good. At least, that's what people kept saying, hell if I know."

Kid laughed. "I, uh, I did okay." He smiled a little, and Michael raised an eyebrow.

"Talented and modest. You just get better and better, Kid."

Kid reached up to wipe some sweat off his face with a muddy hand, and conveniently smeared mud across his cheeks, hiding the slight blush. "I, uh..." He should go. He should go shower, before Jack wondered where he'd gotten off to; he should go before people realized he was talking to Michael. But he didn't want to. "What's your new show?"

Michael grinned. "Believe it or not, it's Damn Yankees."

Kid laughed. "Well, I'll have to see it, then."

"It was nice of you to come to my show."

"It was nice of you to come to my game."

They looked at each other, caught each other's eyes, and there was a long moment when neither of them spoke or moved.

Finally, Kid cleared his throat. "I gotta go shower."

"Okay."

Kid gave Michael a friendly chuck on the arm. "Well, 'night, then."

"'Night, Kid."

It was hard, but Kid made himself turn around and walk away, but he felt like he was floating.

*

Kid's life felt like it was broken down by games and practices. He knew the day of the week by if he was playing or practicing; he knew the date by which team he played. School merely passed the time before baseball; eating and sleeping got him refreshed. But his day centered around the sport.

The best nights were game nights. They won almost twice as often as they lost, and even when they lost, there was nothing like playing. And at home games, sometimes Michael came to watch and would wait to say hi afterwards. Kid liked those games best.

Even though people had begun to notice.

"I swear, Mush has a thing for you," Jack noted on the bus to an away game. "He always stares at you in class, he stares at you during games... He's gay, what the hell is he doing even coming to games?"

"Just because he's gay doesn't mean he can't like watching baseball," Kid said. "Who doesn't like it?"

"He never did before this year."

Kid shrugged.

"Kid encourage him," Skittery put in, turning around to face him from the seat in front of theirs. "You talk to him after, like, every game."

"So?"

"So... I dunno," Skittery said. "It's weird, is all."

"He's kind of nice."

"He's gay."

Kid rolled his eye. "So what? Can we change the subject?"

"Oooh, defensive," Jack noted.

"Yeah, shut up," Kid answered.

"I'm just sayin'."

"I know, I know." Kid glanced up at Skittery. "How's your hamstring? You said it was tight last night."

Kid let out a breath as the subject changed. Now he was starting to feel nervous just talking about Michael.

*

Days off were confusing. They threw off Kid's rhythm, and he found he didn't like just sitting around the house. It made him feel lazy; even if he was resting instead of working out or playing, he didn't want to feel lazy.

His mother told him to just get out of the house. Kid, who had been lying on his bed thinking about Michael, Derek Jeter, and all sorts of things he normally didn't let himself think about, agreed. He didn't really want to think too hard about those things, especially Michael.

Being in the closet didn't bother him too much. He knew what he wanted from life; being gay just made it impossible, so he could ignore the fact that he was gay...

...Except for when Michael caught his eye and smiled at him after a game, except for when he let his hand accidentally brush Michael's elbow in the hallway.

So he tried not to think too hard about it, as he climbed into his SUV with no real destination. He found himself driving towards his new school and willed himself not to drive to Michael's house, because some things were a step too far.

His stomach rumbling, he pulled into a mall parking lot, figuring he could get a cheap meal and wander around to kill time. He wondered what his various friends were up to on their free Sundays, and briefly entertained the fantasy of running into Michael in the food court. But he pushed that thought out of his mind as he ordered a slice of pizza.

The pizza didn't keep him entertained for long, and he wandered the mall listlessly. He wasn't really one for window shopping, though he killed some time in Spencer's Gifts looking at the gag gifts, and looked for familiar faces in the hallways.

He ran into them eventually, but not the faces he wanted. People he hadn't seen in months. People from his old school.

Kid's heart rate sped up and he tried to turn and not attract attention to himself. He made it a few steps back down the hallway before, "Heeeeey, Kid! Long time no see, huh?"

Kid froze, turned to face them. "Hey," he said, glancing around for an escape.

"So you really did it. You really switched schools."

"Yeah."

Kid tried to stare down the three of them but it wasn't very effective. He hated conflict, and these three brought conflict with them everywhere. They hadn't been his friends, though they hadn't had anything against him. At least, not at first.

The closest one stepped around to Kid's other side and he backed up against the wall, feeling surrounded. He looked around at them again. One of the three wasn't too intimidating&#151;short and Asian&#151;but the other two were both taller than Kid, and certainly wider.

And there were three of them and one of him, so he wouldn't have felt too comfortable even if they'd all been short.

"Now why would you go and do that?" the Asian kid asked mildly.

"You know why." Kid tried to keep calm.

"Yeah, I think we do know," one of the others sneered, and shoved Kid's shoulder a little. "Faggot," he added, spitting.

Kid slid down the wall, trying to edge away from them slightly. He ignored the insult and the shove, because he really had no other way to deal with it. One of his strengths, he knew, was focusing on what he could do and not the impossible, and getting it done.

"Oh, don't run away yet," the third put in. "Don't you want to catch up?"

Kid swallowed. "Transferred, had no friends, made the baseball team. You want to know anything else or can I go?"

Another slight shove. "Now that's just rude. Any cute boys at your school, Kid?" the Asian one asked in a fake lisp. "Have you met that special someone yet?"

"Would you just leave me alone?" he mumbled.

"Now that's no way to treat old friends."

"I&#151;"

"Hey&#151;!" came from somewhere else, and Kid thought he recognized the voice and really wished he could just sink into the floor. "Hey, Kid!"

"Oooh, who's that? Your boytoy?"

And the next thing Kid knew, Michael was standing in front of him, reaching out, grabbing his arm. Michael shot an annoyed look at the three boys around them. "Come on," he said, "the guys are waiting, geeze. You took long enough."

"Sorry," Kid answered, wondering what the hell Michael was talking about, as Michael expertly began to steer him away and down the hall.

"Hey," one of the kids called behind him. "Do all of Kid's new friends/know he's a /fag?"

Michael glanced over his shoulder. "Can't say as any of them care," he yelled back, Kid still felt like he'd rather be dead than have to explain what had happened. Which, unfortunately, wasn't going to happen; Michael pulled him back to the food court and got them a table.

"Uh... Thanks? What guys are waiting...?"

"What? Oh." Michael smiled at him a little. "I figured that they'd be less likely to... You know, start something if they thought you had other friends lurking around."

"Oh, yeah. Good thinking." Kid shoved his hands in his pockets and stared down at the table, embarrassed. He wondered how Michael got to be so smart, and so kind of brave, to walk in there and pull him out so confidently. It was really, really wonderful of him, Kid thought.

"Who were they/?/ I saw them shove you."

"They went to my old school." Kid didn't really want to talk; he felt a little like he was breaking inside. Like if he talked, it would break through to the outside, too.

"Oh."

Silence hung between them.

Finally, Michael searched Kid's face with his eyes and asked, "Are you what... What they called you?"

"A fag?"

"Gay," Michael said, tapping his fingers against the table top.

Kid felt sick to his stomach, but he didn't want to lie about it. Not to Michael. So he cleared his throat. "Yeah," he said simply.

"Oh." Michael, Kid decided, looked stunned. But he did cover it quickly, and broke into a smile. "I, I can't say I didn't wonder. Hope."

"Michael..."

"I really like you, Kid. And I know you like me, I thought you did but I thought you were straight so it didn't make any sense. But if you're gay, like me..."

"Michael," Kid said again.

"Kid, this is wonderful."

Michael gave him a grin, and for a change Kid wasn't enchanted by it. He was worried.

"No, Michael. It's not." Kid frowned slightly. "You weren't supposed to know. No one is supposed to know."

"Why?"

Kid stared at him, then shook his head. "Look, it doesn't matter."

"It does matter. It matters to me."

Kid shrugged.

"At least tell me if you like me," Michael said finally. "Tell me if I imagined that."

"I..." Kid trailed off, shrugged, and Michael's face fell.

"Oh. Okay. I'm sorry I even mentioned it." Michael stood up. "I should go, anyway, I'm done with everything... With my shopping, so..."

"Yeah, me too." Kid stood quickly, wanted to get out as fast as he could. But he couldn't just leave with that look on Michael's face. "Um, Michael. I... I'm sorry."

Michael shrugged. "I'm used to it. I... It just hurts more, knowing that you're... That it's me and it's not just because you're straight. But everyone gets rejected sometimes... Bye, Kid."

And then Michael was walking away, and Kid watched him go, but he didn't look back.

He'd told Michael the truth, he was gay. But then he'd lied.

He liked Michael.

He liked Michael a lot.

*

Michael stopped looking at Kid after that. Kid noticed, because Kid couldn't stop watching Michael. Michael also stopped going to baseball games, which Kid found more than a little disappointing. He missed seeing Michael in the stands, waiting for him; he missed the eye contact and the occasional touch, and he really missed seeing Michael smile at him.

Michael didn't seem to be smiling much at all.

Kid wasn't the only one who noticed; Jack asked him why Michael wasn't following him around anymore.

Kid just shrugged. "I told him I didn't like him back." Which was even true, the way he phrased it. He just hated not having Michael there anymore. But Jack seemed proud of him, in Jack's own twisted way, and Michael didn't tell anyone.

So Kid's life continued as normal. For awhile.

*

He'd been late getting out of class, because he wanted to get the stupid essay /finished/. So almost ten minutes after the bell rang, with only five to go get changed for practice, Kid hurried out of the classroom and down to his locker, and as he turned the corner to head down the stairs to meet Jack, there were Michael and Snoddy.

It was hard to say just exactly what was happening. "Fight" didn't seem quite right, because it was quite one-sided; one of Michael's arms was wrapped around his stomach, and one clutched his face, and as Kid watched, Snoddy slammed Michael's head against the wall.

"Hey!"

Kid didn't know what came over him, as he ran down the hall. Snoddy looked up in annoyance; Michael looked at him, but his gaze barely seemed to register that someone else was approaching. His eyes looked kind of glazed.

"Just walk on by, Kid," Snoddy snarled.

"No." Kid stopped and took a deep breath, and realized this was probably not very smart, because Snoddy was taller than he was, weighed more than he did, and judging by how shitty Michael looked, knew what he was doing when he got into a fight. But still, Kid wasn't going to just walk by. He liked to think he wouldn't have walked by anyone getting beaten up, but he felt something very dark inside himself because it was Michael.

Kid didn't want to see Michael in pain. Ever.

"You get one last chance, Kid." Snoddy let go of Michael, who sagged against the wall like he was broken, and Kid stood up straight and clenched a fist. He wondered if maybe he could get in a decent punch if he did it first, as a surprise, and if that would help him in the fight overall.

He wondered if after the fight, he'd be in any shape to play in the next day's game.

He wondered if he'd be suspended and unable to play anyway. That thought almost made him walk away; playing was important. It was his life. Not to mention how pissed off his family would be.

Michael groaned, and dropped his hand, and Kid could see his lip had been split and was bleeding badly, he had a bloody nose, and a large bruise forming.

"Leave him alone and get out of here," Kid said, more courageous than he knew he could be.

Snoddy laughed.

Kid glowered.

And then there were footsteps behind him. "Kid, where ya been, you're going to be..."

Jack's voice trailed off, and then he was there, next to Kid. And Skittery and Bumlets were behind him, and Snoddy sneered at the four of them. Kid watched as Jack looked at Michael, and then at Snoddy and Kid. He cleared his throat.

"Things here okay?"

Kid thought that was a stupid, stupid question. But what he said was, "Ask Snodgrass. But Michael's not okay."

Michael finally seemed to be regaining some coherence, and he looked at Snoddy and Kid and the baseball players, saw that Snoddy was watching them and not him, and took off. Kid thought that was probably a smart move.

Snoddy glowered at Jack, but Jack was good at keeping his cool. "Things here okay?" he repeated.

"Get lost, Kelly," Snoddy answered, but apparently he no longer liked the odds, because he turned and walked away, too.

Kid was just glad that he didn't walk in the same direction as Michael. And then Kid was very glad Jack had good timing.

"You're lucky he didn't beat the snot out of you, Kid," Jack noted. "What were you doing?"

"Michael was about to pass out, what was I supposed to do?"

"You're too nice." But Jack seemed to mean that as a compliment.

"Come on. No one deserved that, it's... anyone would have helped. You'd have helped him, right?" Kid hoped that didn't sound desperate.

Jack shrugged. "Well, yeah, but probably not by challenging Snoddy myself, ya dumbass. Some of us want to be in shape to play tomorrow."

"I should... Someone should go check on Michael, make sure he's okay..."

"Oh, he's fine," Skittery put in. "He can take care of himself, and you are so late to practice. Don't think we're covering for you, either."

"Yeah, yeah." Kid sighed, but didn't mind too much.

Risking the coach's wrath was better than not helping Michael would have been.

*

Kid knocked on the door nervously. He'd been distracted all through practice, though no one pushed him, given why he'd been late, except for at the end when the coach gave a not at all subtle lecture about focusing, giving your all, and how they had damn well better not be so scatterbrained in the next day's game.

But that was also when Kid had decided that he'd go make sure Michael had made it home okay. He didn't think he'd be able to sleep if he didn't make sure. Even if it was stupid to do, considering how much he liked Michael, how Michael had been avoiding him, and that didn't even take his reputation into account.

Kid's mother opened the door. She gave Kid a cold look. "Can I help you?" she demanded.

"I, uh, my name is Kid. I'm a friend of Michael's, I... Is he around?"

Because if Michael hadn't made it home, she'd panic if she heard why. Kid didn't want her to panic.

But she answered, "He's not feeling well. I'll tell him you came by."

She started to shut the door, and Kid actually overcame his urge to be polite and physically held it open. "I'm sorry to be a trouble, ma'am. I'd just like to see him. I heard about... saw... I was there this, this afternoon. I wanted to make sure he's okay."

"If you saw, why didn't you stop it?" she demanded. "My son is not&#151;"

"Darla," a male voice said, and Michael's father stepped into the foyer. He was tall, unlike Michael or his wife, and his skin was a pasty white and his hair was blond and curly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Kid decided Michael got his good looks from his mother, though he did appreciate the curls. "Who's this?"

"He's leaving."

"Wait," Kid pleaded. "Please. I'd just like to talk to Michael for a minute."

Michael's mom glowered at him, but his father cleared his throat. "What did you say your name was?"

"Kid."

"I'm so sorry."

Kid smiled. "That's what Michael said," he remembered. So maybe curls weren't the only thing Michael had inherited from his father. Sense of humor was important too.

"Now, would you be the baseball playing Kid our boy is so fond of?"

Kid nodded a little, wondered how much Michael had told his parents.

"Timothy&#151;"

"Darla, let the boy in. He just wants to talk."

She scowled some more, but opened the door again. Kid was a little relieved, though not very happy that she insisted on following him to Michael's room.

Michael was lying in bed, propped up by a mountain of pillows, covered by a large comforter. He was dozing off, and Kid could see his face clearly now. His whole left cheek was covered in a bruise that faded to green and purple at the edges, looking unnatural on such a beautiful face. His eyes were shut gently, his lip was cut visibly, and the cut trailed down onto his chin. Or so Kid guessed, from the band-aids.

"I can wait so I don't wake him," Kid murmured. "I don't want to be a bother."

"That might be best, perhaps you could come back another day."

"I&#151;"

Michael's eye fluttered opened, then widened. "Kid?" he asked.

"Hey, Michael." Kid shoved his hands in his pockets.

Then Michael looked at him skeptically. "What are you doing here?"

"I just wanted to make sure you're okay."

"Oh. Okay." Michael looked up at his mom. "Mom, can we..."

"I don't want anyone upsetting you right now, Mikey."

"Mom," Michael whined. "He's not gonna upset me, he's my..." He trailed off.

"Friend," Kid supplied, and was rewarded with the ghost of a smile from Michael.

"Friend," Michael finished. "And he helped me this afternoon. He was the one who helped me."

"Oh," Michael's mother said suddenly, and then she nodded. "Well, you boys take as long as you need, then. Kid, I..." She trailed off.

He shrugged. "It's okay," he said. "I'd be worried about Michael too. I was worried."

She smiled and nodded and left them alone, shutting the door behind her. Hesitantly, Kid moved to sit down on the bed, faced Michael.

"Thank you..." Michael said quietly. "For helping me, I mean. It was... It was real nice, considering..."

"You didn't deserve it. No one deserves that."

"I know... I know, you're nice to everyone. Still, though, it... It takes a good guy to stand up for someone else like that."

"I didn't do much," Kid mumbled. "He'd probably have wiped the floor with me, if Jack and everyone&#151;"

"Kid, don't be modest." Michael smiled a little. "You're always modest, about baseball and how cute you are and about... About this. Most people aren't so /good/, Kid, don't you get that? You're so good." He looked away from Kid abruptly. "I wish you hadn't come."

"What? Why?" Kid felt a little stung by that.

"I was doing so well at getting over you." Michael looked back up at him, hesitantly. "I even almost managed to dislike you, tried to think of you as an idiot jock and all. But then you had to go and be nice again."

"Anyone would have stopped to help you."

"Yeah, but how many people would come check on me after?"

Kid shrugged.

Michael sighed. "I'm fine, I am. I just... I hate Snodgrass so goddamn much. I hate him."

"Can you... Can you, like, report him? Get him suspended or expelled or... or press charges?"

"Nah." Michael pulled his knees up to his chest and winced. Kid supposed something probably ached, which he just couldn't see, under Michael's blankets. "I mean... I probably could, but that would just make him hate me even more. And, and anyway, I'm not... I don't want to be the kind of guy who runs for help from the authorities or whatever. I want to fight my own battles."

"Isn't that what the... the authorities are there for?"

"Maybe." Michael shrugged. "But people already figure I'm a, a pussy, and if I don't handle it on my own that just proves them right. I'd rather get the shit beat out of me than let fucking Jack Kelly sneer at me any more."

"Jack's not so bad."

"You wouldn't say that if he knew you were gay."

That hung in the air for a minute, and Michael shook his head. "Sorry, geeze. Sorry, I should be way nicer to you than that. I guess I'm just bitter because you don't... You and I..."

"About... About you and I. Me."

Kid took a deep breath. He didn't want to do this; he didn't want to say it. But it was only fair to Michael that he be honest.

He wished he had his necklace on for good luck.

Michael gave him an odd, quizzical look.

"I'm sorry, Michael, I... I don't know how to... God." Kid looked away. "I do like you. I like you so much that I, I think about you all the time. I watch you in class and in the hallways and I went to your show because I liked you, and I didn't like seeing another boy kiss you at all. I wanted to do it."

Michael didn't say anything, and finally, Kid looked at him.

Michael was gaping.

Finally he said, "I think Snoddy hit me harder than I thought, because I could swear I heard you say..."

Kid nodded, and Michael beamed. But Kid looked away again. "And that's why I'm sorry I can't come out, because I really like you, and I wish I could... I wish we could go out sometime. But we can't, so I'm sorry."

He didn't look back at Michael. He didn't want to see the crushed facial expression.

Finally, he heard Michael ask, "Who says you can't come out?"

"I say." Kid looked back at him, then turned away. Michael looked bad enough to begin with, but now he looked like someone had killed his puppy dog and then beaten him up.

"Why?"

"You'd think it was dumb. You wouldn't... No one understands."

"At least let me try."

Kid hesitated, then nodded.

"I... It's because of baseball."

He stopped short, wondering how to possibly explain it, and Michael took that as just a stop, apparently, because he said, "Well, that's stupid."

"No it's not. It's like... Ever since I was born, I've wanted to play baseball. Play professionally. I've spent my whole life... I had a gameplan. My family and I did. My grandfather played, and my dad wanted to but he didn't have the talent. Worked hard, but no talent. They both wanted to see someone else in the family do it. Then I was born and...

"I mean, Dad was disappointed. I was blind in one eye, they figured I couldn't play. But Gramps, he taught me to play anyway, as a kid. He convinced me I could do it. He convinced my parents I could do it. And it's all I want, all I ever wanted... I had a gameplan. I did.

"But... But getting a crush on Derek Jeter wasn't in the plan, not at all. So I... I ignored it, hoped it would go away, you know? But it didn't and I was... I mean, gay. And there aren't a whole lot of gay athletes out there, so I... I told my folks, we had a long talk and decided I should just ignore it. I knew what I wanted, I know what I want, and being gay would just get in the way. So I can ignore it, mostly, except you're so fucking beautiful when you smile, that I..."

He trailed off, and had to take a deep breath. But before Michael could say anything, he was talking again.

"At my old school, there was this guy. He was a lousy first baseman, but he was cute, and funny, and I liked him a lot. More than any guy except... Well, you and Derek." He almost laughed at how stupid that sounded, admitting it aloud. "I didn't know what to do. I liked him, I got all awkward around him, I acted like... Like I had a crush on him, except no one knew I was gay, so no one realized that was what it was. Until I told him, because I couldn't keep it bottled up anymore.

"Tony... I mean, he took it okay. He just was startled, freaked out, so he tried to talk about it with one of his friends... Who blabbed to the whole school. And I was stupid so I didn't deny it, and next thing I knew, there were people... There was the kind of trouble that made me decide to keep it a secret to begin with.

"The team... it was the end of last semester, when I finally told Tony. And next thing I knew, there was a petition. All the baseball players signed it. Asked me not to try out for the team again." He swallowed hard. "And there were phone calls. They weren't as polite. They swore at my mom and threatened me and my family and...

"I had to get out of there, I had to switch schools. But that meant the plan, it wasn't ruined. I could get it back, I just had to... Focus more, block out people like you. People I liked. Because I will not go through that again."

He finally looked at Michael as he wrapped up, ran out of words. "So, I just... I like you a lot. But I want to play baseball."

"You want to play," Michael repeated, murmured. "And I guess I'm not in your plan."

"I'm sorry." Which was true. Kid had never been sorrier about anything in his life.

"So then..." Michael shook his head. "I don't get it. I mean, I get you want to play and all, but Jesus, Kid. You really want to hide your whole life? You think you'll like that?"

"No, I don't want to. But I don't have a choice."

"You do. You can't plan your whole life around&#151;"

"All I want in the whole world is to play professionally, Michael. It's all I've ever wanted. I'll do whatever that takes, even if..."

"And you don't think someday you'll look back and be... Be fucking ashamed of hiding? You think you'll never mess up like you did at your last school or... or by telling me? You think you're never going to look back at your life and regret having been a damn /liar/through the whole thing?"

"I think if I don't, I'll look back and regret not trying to play for sure. I... I'm good/, since you said not to be modest. For someone my age&#151;let alone half-blind&#151;I'm really /good. And I've got a good chance, my grandfather knows some scouts... I can get a baseball scholarship to college, probably, and go from there if the scouts don't notice me next year. I'm good, I've got a real chance. If I don't blow it."

"What if it gets blown for you?"

"What?"

Michael said quietly, "What if someone... Tells someone and the rumor spreads again?"

"You're the only one who knows."

Michael didn't say anything.

Kid stared at him, and finally said, "I don't think I'd like you anymore. And anyway, I'd deny it, this time. And I'd make people believe me."

"How? When you... You helped me out, came to check on me, came to my show. You think people won't read between the lines?"

"I'll do what I have to." Kid felt like he was making a threat, and felt a little sick again. He didn't like threatening Michael, or arguing with him. "People will want to believe me. I'll call you a fag, I'll say you're making things up, that you're jealous because I don't like you back. I'll date a cheerleader and dump her before she figures out why I don't want to have sex. I'll do whatever it takes."

Michael stared at him, horrified, upset. "Then I guess you really do know what you want."

"It's all I've ever wanted, Michael. In my whole life."

"I think you're wrong. I think it's what your grandfather wanted and you don't know how to tell him no."

"Then you don't know me very well."

"Maybe you think it's what you want, Kid. But someday you'll regret it."

"No, I won't."

"And..." Michael sounded a little choked. "I guess I'm not worth ruining your dream for, huh? Even though unlike at your old school, I do like you back. A lot."

Kid shrugged. He wasn't going to say aloud that it was true. He'd never say anything so hurtful as to agree to that aloud.

"You should go, then."

"I know. I... I'm sorry, Michael. I just wanted to tell you the truth. I'm really sorry..."

Kid stood up, but Michael reached out and grabbed his arm.

"Wait," he said. "One last thing." He tugged Kid back down to sit on the bed, and Kid sat, even though he wished he could just get out of there already.

But then Michael leaned forward and kissed him. Lips to lips, and then Kid felt his mouth part slightly, felt Michael's tongue, noted the coppery taste of the cut on Michael's lip. And Kid knew he shouldn't respond, but he couldn't help it. He'd wanted to kiss Michael for so long, no matter how he denied it.

It felt like forever before Michael pulled away from him, but still not long enough.

"I figure, if you stick with your gameplan, that's the only real kiss you'll ever get," Michael said. "And now I've kissed you, so I don't regret anything, either. So go on."

Kid stood again. He walked out without speaking, because he didn't know what to say.

But he didn't eat dinner, and he didn't brush his teeth that night. He wanted to hold on to Michael's taste for as long as he could.
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