Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

Hips Don’t Lie  [Something in the Water]

Hips Don’t Lie [Something in the Water]

“Hey, Kit-Kat?”

Kat lifts her head slowly, meets the warm, blue gaze of one Reese Lockwood. He stares at her, shifts a little awkwardly, before finally looking away, toward the other end of the library.

That’s never good, she thinks, but slowly closes her notebook. A fidgety Reese is a Reese who has something he wants to share, but isn’t sure he should.

“Yeah, Pieces?” she asks, tucking her notebook away. It’s midterm and she really shouldn’t engage him (Christ, biology is killing her), but this won’t go away. Reese will, sure, if she asks him to—but he’ll be just as fidgety tomorrow, maybe worse. He’ll be distracted at practice and then Gord and Gabriel will yell at him for dicking around in the pool, and they’ll all have to do extra repeats because Reese will fuck up their times.

She really is not in the mood for extra repeats tomorrow. She needs that time to study.

He chews on his lip for a moment, still staring across the library, at the looming October sky, bruised with clouds and heavy with rain. The ground is already wet; it rained earlier this morning. Colorful leaves whisk by the window on the autumn gale, the only color in a world turned prematurely dull and dark. The lights of the library reflect in the glass, trying to brighten the outdoors, but they can’t block out the threatening storm.

“Can I ask a favor?” he inquires, turning back to her abruptly. His eyes dart to and fro, reading her. They’re searching.

She sighs. He probably wants help in their nutrition class. Why he doesn’t just ask Gabriel is beyond her; after all, Gabriel is the smart one, and he’s in the same class (apparently because he needed a lark course or something? Kat doesn’t think it’s difficult, but Reese … Reese is struggling, which she doesn’t really understand).

He looks at her again, then says, “Can we go somewhere else and talk?”

She considers for a minute, then shrugs and says, “Sure.” She puts her laptop in her bag, secures her books. She tugs on her jacket and slings the bag over her shoulder. “All right.”

He nods, and they head out of the library together. The wind has picked up, tangles Kat’s long, dark locks as they trek across campus.

It starts to rain, which hurries their footsteps a little more, and just before the sky breaks open, they dart into the foyer of the nearest building, leaves skittering across the floor ahead of them. The door bangs shut and they stare out at the rain for a moment.

Reese leads the way; he knows the science building better than Kat does, apparently—how, she doesn’t know, because Reese isn’t a science major and he has virtually no reason to be in here most of the time. Even their nutrition class isn’t in this building.

They head up three flights of spiraling stairs, and then creep down the hall, Reese peering into various rooms, before finally alighting on an empty classroom. He flings the door open and gestures for Kat in.

It’s only then that Kat thinks this could be a bad idea. Her heart beats a little faster.

Reese is always nice enough—but he’s a total frat boy, lives to party, thinks he’s amazing (or uh-mazing, as he sometimes pronounces it), and he’s just sort of a douchebag bro in a way Kat can’t even describe. Just looking at him, you know.

And she’s heard stories, rumors, gossip in the locker room, from some of her biomed friends who also took nutrition with her, surprised she knows him—and yeah, they’re on the swim team together, duh?—and some of the stuff they have to say …

Well, it’s not particularly flattering.

Her nervousness grows exponentially when he glances outside, as if to check that the coast is clear, then shuts the door and locks it.

She swallows tightly. This was a bad idea. A really, really bad idea—fit as she is, she doesn’t think she can fight Reese off, and if he’s taken something into his head—

Thing is, if she’s perfectly honest with herself, she’d do him. Speedos don’t hide much, and Reese is a lot of toned, masculine perfection standing on the pool deck day after day, in nothing but that tiny piece of fabric, and when he smiles, it lights up a whole room—

“Kat,” he says. He slams his hands down on the desk in front of her as he says it. Both she and the table jump.

“Y-yeah?”

His eyes bore into hers, something intense brewing in their crystalline depths. “I need your help with something,” he says, his voice falling, and oh boy, here it comes—

“What’s that?”

He glances around again, then looks back at her, his brows knitting high on his forehead. He looks …

Upset. Distressed.

She flops down in one of the chairs, biting her lip. “What … what is it, Pieces?”

Now he won’t look at her. “Y’know that dumb masquerade thing we’re doin’ for Halloween?”

Kat nods. It’s a joint effort between a couple of the sororities and fraternities—a masquerade ball for Halloween. Kat’s been involved in some of the planning through her sorority.

Reese looks a little sheepish. “Uh, I … managed to convince Gabby to go,” he says, and Kat boggles a bit, because Gabriel never does anything team-related or social outside of swimming. He’s like … the anti-Reese.

“You convinced him to go?” she manages, hoping she doesn’t sound too incredulous. But, like, Gabriel. At a party. At a Halloween party.

Reese nods. “Um,” he says, then bites his lip again. “But …”

“Buuuuut?” Kat prompts, leaning forward a little more.

Reese turns scarlet, right up to his ears. “I. Um. I’m not gonna go with him.”

Kat sucks at her teeth as she considers that, lets it sink in. “No?”

He shakes his head furiously. “No, like, I can’t go with him if I wanna …”

Kat is used to not following. Reese isn’t very coherent most of the time. He’s even worse when he’s drunk, which is the state she most often encounters him in (she’s never quite sure how sober he is at practice), so he’s been surprisingly clear up until now.

“Wanna what?”

He flushes even brighter—she didn’t think it was possible—and then sits down in a chair on the other side of the desk. Backwards, of course, his arms wrapped around the flimsy plastic back.

“Don’t tell,” he says, pleadingly, “Kitty-Kat, you can’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Of course,” she huffs, “my lips are sealed—whatever is said in this room stays here.”

Reese studies her as though he’s evaluating the worth of her word—and it is the most scrutinizing look she has ever seen him give anything. She feels a little ashamed—does he not think he can trust her?

He leans forward, whispers into her ear, hot and low, “I wanna seduce him.”

Kat feels her eyes expand in their sockets, as though they might try to escape her head. “What,” she spits, staring at the wall, the clock ticking down the seconds.

Reese pulls back, still bright pink and giggling. “Like,” he says, his eyes darting first to the left and then to the right, “like, as a joke, Kitty-Kat, jeez—like. It’ll be fun, screw with his head a bit, and–”

She grabs Reese’s wrist, twists it viciously, satisfied when he winces. Huh. Maybe she could take him in a fight. “Pieces,” she says sharply.

“Yeah, Kitty-Kat?”

“You want to try to seduce Gabriel.”

“As a joke—”

“Are. You. Sure.” She doesn’t mean it to sound so halting, but there it is.

Reese is silent, then says, “No, like not as a joke at all.”

She releases his wrist. “You’re gay?” She almost winces; she didn’t want it to sound like an accusation. Man, she’s bad at controlling her tone this morning.

Reese looks a bit dazed, then finally hangs his head and mumbles, “Yeah …”

Kat boggles. “But what about all the rumors—”

Reese huffs, glares up at her. “I start half of those. Seriously. Do you think I want everyone to know?”

Kat considers that for a moment more, then says, “Well. No.”

“Exactly,” Reese says, “if I wanted everyone to know, then they’d know.”

He has a point. Reese isn’t exactly shy when it comes to sharing about his personal life, much to the chagrin of his team members.

She tips her head to the side, watches him for a long, measured moment. Then, she says slowly, “Pieces.”

“Yeah?” God, he looks so clueless sometimes. So sweet.

“Are you … asking me to be your fag hag?”

“My what?”

He looks genuinely confused. Kat tries to stop the incredulous smirk spreading across her face and waves a hand in dismissal. “Never mind,” she says, “sure, I’ll help you. But …”

She frowns, her brows knitting. “I’m pretty sure Gabriel’s straight,” she says at last.

Reese lifts a brow. “Oh?”

She flushes a bit. “Well, like. He doesn’t seem to like anyone.”

Reese shrugs. “And that’s why I’m gonna try to fix that.”

*

Three weeks later, Kat isn’t quite sure why she agreed to help Reese. Turns out, Reese has given this some fairly elaborate thought; he has a plan, one that involves several steps and relies on quite a bit of cunning, actually.

Kat doesn’t really want to point out that there are a few fundamental flaws in Reese’s plan—such as “what if Gabriel is straight?” and “what if Gabriel is not into you?” and “what if you piss him off forever and ever and also manage to accidentally tell everyone at the party you’re gay?”

Reese is so intent, it seems like it might be cruel to starting poking holes in the plan. She’s concerned about him, after all—she just wants to make sure he stays safe, that he doesn’t get hurt—but.

It’s not really her place to tell him this is a dumb idea, she thinks.

Of course, she regrets it, because part of Reese’s plan is getting gussied up in drag—“So Gabby doesn’t know it’s me right off the bat, yeah?”—and, man, he has big plans. Big plans. Custom-tailored plans, and Kat finds herself running to and from the tailor’s, picking up Reese’s costume, carting it back to his place, helping him into it (she has never seen so much of a guy she can’t have, and damn, yeah, he’s kind of right that Gabriel would be stupid to pass up the opportunity, straight or not, gay or not), then carting it back to the tailor’s for more adjustments.

She does not need this, not during midterms, but Reese seems pretty nervous about going into the tailor’s shop. “They’ll know,” he says, “like, they have my measurements, right? They know it’s not for you, can’t be—so if they see me …”

And all right, she supposes he has a point with that. Nonetheless, she’s pretty sure she spends about five hours or more running this ridiculous delivery service by the time the night of masquerade arrives.

She has to enlist the help of her roommate Jackie, who knows way more about make-up than she does. She’s an athlete. She knows fuck all about make-up. It would just wash off in the pool, and after practice, she’s too exhausted to think about reapplying. So she never really learned to do much more than basic eyeliner (and she sucks at it).

Jackie’s a little weirded out, but they tell her it’s a joke, and she relents. She picks red shadow to highlight Reese’s eyes, makes them pop, and he fidgets and squirms, swears at them; “I don’t get how you girls do this,” he grumbles when she tight-lines his eyeliner, then glues on false lashes.

Kat has the honor of helping Reese into the unwieldy gown he commissioned; it’s early twentieth-century flamenco, and the corseting through it is ridiculous, but Reese insisted. His rationale is the gown style is likely to give him something resembling a feminine figure—he’s not a small guy, all six feet, two hundred pounds of him, and his frame is husky, bordering on heavy (how he’s a swimmer, Kat has no idea). He’s mostly muscle, of course, but with a stereotypical male profile—broad shoulders, broad chest, then narrowing through the torso, down into his hips.

So, yeah, he kind of has a point. The gown has layers upon layers of red frills and a two-foot train (again, at Reese’s insistence) to give the skirt the illusion of fullness, which disguises how narrow Reese is through the hips. The incredibly cinched waist created by the corset loans him the illusion of an hourglass figure, and Kat’s a little jealous when they’re done, because she doesn’t even have anything close to an hourglass figure. She’s boyish, muscular, straight up and down.

Reese prods a bit at the tape they’re using to manipulate his pectorals; he’d stopped shy of getting falsies like a proper drag queen, so they’re just giving him the illusion of cleavage, really.

“I mean,” he says, “it’s not like I want Gabby to think I’m a chick all night.”

“Uh-huh,” Kat says, yanking a bit on the strip of tape she’s currently plastering to him.

“Ow—hey, watch, I know they’re useless on me, but nipples are kinda sensitive, Kit-Kat—so. Like, yeah, I mean, I doubt he’s gonna think I’m a chick anyway, but like, the point is he doesn’t know it’s me, not that he doesn’t know he’s getting hit on by a dude in drag?”

Kat lifts a brow. She sticks a final piece of tape to him, then helps him wriggle into the top, settling the frilly cap sleeves over his shoulders—surprisingly, they seem to minimize his breadth. She yanks on the corset strings again, earning a little gasp from Reese as she effectively uses the rope to crush his ribs toward each other.

“So, you … just don’t want him to guess your identity.”

“Right,” Reese says. “Like—I’m tryin’ to seduce him, right? So I don’t want to let him think he’s takin’ a chick home or anything. Like, a weird chick, sure—too tall, probably a bit too muscular, deep voice—but no. I want him to agree to goin’ home with a dude in drag, a guy he knows is a dude in drag.”

“Okay,” Kat says, then looks at her watch. “Pieces, can you take it from here? I gotta go get Gabriel, or he’s likely gonna skip the party.”

Reese tries a couple of breaths, and Kat doesn’t even feel sorry for him when they’re sharp and pained. “Go on,” he says, “I don’t want all this to go to waste.”

*

Gabriel is not somebody who particularly likes social outings. He’s even less fond of being duped into going to social gatherings, like this stupid masquerade ball thing the frat is putting on. It’s stupid. He thinks most things the Greek houses do are stupid, but this is particularly stupid.

The only reason he even considered going (and even then, it was only a consideration, and he seriously thought about retracting his position more than once), was because Reese wants him to, so badly. Like, harassing him about it constantly badly.

So he’s particularly pissed when Kat shows up on his doorstep and says, “Uh, hey. Sorry—Pieces isn’t feeling well, so he’s not going …”

Gabriel almost slams the door in her face, he’s that close to just giving up the whole enterprise.

“I know,” Kat says, rolling her eyes, “I know. You hate frat things—don’t blame ya. But … it’ll do you good. Like, it can’t hurt to come out once in a while, right?”

She gives him a fangy smile, and he lifts a brow. “What are you supposed to be?” He hasn’t played dress-up like this since he was eight. After the divorce, Mom just hadn’t had time to take them out trick-or-treating, hadn’t had the money to put them in costumes even. It had been fine for Izzy and Heather, because they were both older. Gabriel had gotten the short end of the stick.

“I’m a vampire,” she says, lifts her arms to show him her cape.

“Mm,” he says.

“What are you?” she asks.

“Gabriel Foss, captain of the swim team,” he replies tartly.

She rolls her eyes. “Oh, c’mon, Gabe—”

He glares at her. He is Gabriel, not Gabe. The only person who gets away with calling him anything but Gabriel is Reese. Because. Reese. There’s no point in reprimanding him or trying to stop him.

“You have to have a costume,” she says.

“I do not,” he says, gesturing for her to come in. He steps back into the kitchen of his tiny, rented townhouse. “It’s a masquerade ball, not a costume party.”

“Oh, fine,” she huffs, “but seriously, everyone else is going to be dressed up—”

He dons his cape, his hat, and his mask. “There,” he says, “Zorro.”

She stares at him before finally nodding, the hint of a smirk playing on her features. “Okay then,” she concedes.

*

Gabriel regrets letting Kat talk him into coming the second he walks through the doors. Despite the mask, despite the hat, everyone knows it’s him instantaneously. A couple of people hold up their drinks in recognition.

JT is having none of subtlety though; he’s practically on top of Gabriel before he reaches the punch bowl (damn, he needs a drink). “You really showed up!” JT enthuses, all but bouncing excitedly next to him, his hands curled into fists. “Pieces said you were gonna come, but none of us believed him, ‘cause you’re such a stick in the mud—”

Gabriel glares at him, lets punch overflow his cup just to keep glaring at his moron teammate.

JT cowers. “Uh,” he says, grinning.

Gabriel strips off his soaked glove, pitches it under the table. He pours himself another drink, then sips on it as he levels the sophomore with another glare. “So,” he says finally, “what the hell are you supposed to be?”

JT rolls his eyes. “Dude,” he says, “I’m a ninja turtle. Didn’t you watch TV when you were growing up? Or did you spend all your time trying to be Aquaman?”

“Ha!” That’s Brody. Fuck Brody. “Man, why aren’t you dressed as Aquaman, that would be so fitting—”

“What are you supposed to be anyway?”

He sighs. This is gonna be a long night.

He glances around, ignoring the little crowd that’s gathering near him—JT and Brody attract idiots (friends?) apparently, and then there are some people who know them tangentially, and then more acquaintances, all of them trying to get close to the guy who went to the Olympics and owns not one, not two, not three, but four medals. (Only one of them is gold, and that’s the only one that counts in Gabriel’s mind.)

There’s a reason he doesn’t come out to these things, honestly.

He looks around at the garlands, draped from the column-and-arcs that sweep their way across the room, all of them black and shimmering with hints of silver or purple. He looks at the cobwebs and tries to decide if they’re decorations or if someone just hasn’t cleaned in a while.

He allows his gaze to sweep upstairs, to the balcony that overlooks the ballroom floor. He catches sight of Kat, who is talking to—

What may be the homeliest woman he has ever seen in his life. Like, whoa.

She’s wearing way too much make-up, and it takes him a minute to figure out that her hair is a wig. But her facial structure is all wrong and whoever did her make-up didn’t look to fix that at all, and—

She’s on her feet, and whoa, okay. Now he understands. That’s a guy who decided to dress up in drag.

He takes another long sip of his drink.

Kat and the drag queen disappear.

He catches snippets of what JT and his friends are talking about; someone elbows him, and JT apologizes profusely, and he wonders, briefly, if he’s really so prickly JT feels like he has to apologize for a drunk acquaintance bumping into him.

Like, he likes his personal space, but …

“Wanna dance?” He glances down to his left, to the hopeful face of a girl who’s dressed like a Playboy bunny. She looks like Regina George from Mean Girls. Not that he watched Mean Girls. (Izzy and Heather inflicted it on him.)

“Sure,” he murmurs, leaves his crushed cup on the table, which is already littered with trash.

It’s weird, he thinks, to be at a costume party—no, a masquerade ball, because that is specifically how they billed this—dancing to club tracks, dirty R&B and rap and hip-hop, the girl in her flimsy Playboy bunny suit all but grinding up on him, and he just tries to follow and not look like a twit, because he doesn’t dance. He doesn’t go to clubs. He mostly certainly doesn’t pop and lock or bump and grind.

Not his scene.

“Oh honey,” says a voice that’s somewhere between someone getting sacked and a guy’s normal baritone, and there’s a hand on his arm, twirling him away from the girl. He comes nose to nose with the drag queen, strange hazel eyes. “You poor thing,” he says in that strained voice, and he kind of wants to punch him for it. Like, stop trying. “You ain’t got no rhythm—you need someone to teach you?”

He winks and Gabriel is horrified. The drag queen is hitting on him, oh dear God, what is even wrong with his life—

The music has shifted, he realizes; the dirty sounds of the club have faded away to a far more Latin flare, stuff he’d hear in movies …

… like Zorro, he realizes, as the drag queen gives him a little spin, then draws them close together. “Hm?” he asks, guides his hand to his hip.

Gabriel doesn’t know what to say, what to do. He just stares into those eyes, thinks that there’s something vaguely familiar about them.

The drag queen grabs up his other hand; his leg presses forward. Gabriel takes a hesitant step back. The queen steps forward again, so he steps back. Forward, back, forward, back, and hey, maybe he’s got the hang of this—

His partner stops abruptly, forces him to spin him about. The dress swirls, a trailing torrent of red, and he almost misses the flash of arm as the sleeve rides up a bit, the flex of defined biceps.

The drag queen’s facing him again, now with his hands on his skirt; he hikes it up off the ground a little, swishing it back and forth as he shimmies toward him, and he is kind of mortified, kind of aroused—and he can’t look away as he mentally fights that voice screaming, ‘Intriguing!’ at him, and he tries to imagine it’s one of his prof’s voices and—

The queen’s a couple of inches shorter than him, he realizes, even though he’s wearing heels—so maybe he’s a really short guy?—but he’s right there, looking up at him with those hugely exaggerated eyes, golden powder glinting off pale cheeks, and he smiles with those blood-red lips and—

He fucking grins like a loon, and it’s Reese, it’s fucking Reese in drag, all but grinding up on him, holy shit—

He doesn’t know what to do. The music is getting faster, dirtier—the DJ’s transitioning back to club hits, but cycling through the Latin tracks first—“Oy Oy Oy” is playing as Reese grabs at his hand, leads him through another couple of steps—

And he wonders why the only thing he can think of is that he had no idea Reese could move his hips like that, why didn’t he know that before now?

And that’s a really terrible line of thinking when a guy you consider a friend—possibly even your best friend—is gussied up in drag at a masquerade ball, all but grinding up on you as everyone in your frat looks on—and some of the sorority girls are watching too, evidently a little annoyed, and Gabriel wishes, wishes he knew what the hell to do—

He grabs Reese’s sashaying hips, maybe with the intent of stopping him, but he doesn’t even know himself right then and there, and Reese just keeps moving, undulating side to side in time to the rhythm, and Gabriel’s hand slips a little lower, and he’s just as mortified when he squeezes—Reese’s head jerks up and he stares at Gabriel for a minute, through the contacts, and then something wicked flashes through his irises, visible even under the syrup-hued plastic—

Reese’s arms slide around his waist, fingers brushing lower. Reese flutters his eyelashes—ridiculously long, Gabriel notes—and bites his lip, gets lipstick all over his teeth.

That’s enough to break Gabriel from the stupor that had consumed him. He jerks back, then grabs Reese’s hands and slowly, pushes him away.

He doesn’t want to make a scene. “Uh,” he says.

Reese’s eyes light up again, and he cocks his hip to the side, laughs, high and tight. “Well, sugar,” he titters, “you only get one lesson, and I can’t help ya with that.” He waggles his eyebrows—what the fuck, Gabriel thinks—and then sashays off.

Gabriel isn’t sure if he wants to follow him, if he needs to book a hasty retreat out of the party, or if he should just act like nothing happened.

He glances about—most people are ignoring him, but JT’s nearby, the girl in the Playboy bunny suit is right there too, so he makes for the bar and orders himself the stiffest scotch on the rocks ever.

*

Reese hears the bathroom door close, glances up into the mirror to see Kat creep into the room, press her hands against the door as she closes it softly. “Hey Pieces,” she says quietly, then clicks the lock and moves toward the sink.

Reese busies himself with splashing more water over his face, scrubbing fruitlessly at the make-up smeared across his cheeks, under his eyes.

Kat hops onto the counter. He puts his head under the spray of the faucet, hopes she buys that the redness of his face is from scrubbing, not crying.

Because he was definitely not crying in the bathroom like some girl, make-up and dress be damned.

“So,” she drawls at last, “that went well.”

He glowers at her.

She sighs heavily. “Pieces, I’m sorry—but, like, did you ever think it might not work? Like, I said right at the start, I’m pretty sure Gabriel’s straight …”

Reese sighs heavily, turns the water off. He turns about, lets his head drop. “I thought there was at least a chance …”

She dabs at his face with a piece of tissue. “It’s okay,” she says, “shit happens. You tried—now you know, right?”

He presses his lips together.

She produces a small bottle from her purse. “Here,” she says, “let’s get you cleaned up. Then you can make a proper entrance—we’ll forget all about this.”

“Sure,” he says, closing his eyes and turning into her touch as she gently cleanses his skin of the make-up, of the embarrassment and shame of having failed.

He hadn’t thought …

He’d thought …

Well, it didn’t matter.

Kat helps him out of the dress, and he switches into some blinged out tee, sequined shoes, and board shorts. He twists on a cap, grins broadly at her. “Skater boy?” she chortles.

“Gangsta,” he replies, “like, you don’t even know.”

She glances about, then produces a vodka cooler from her purse. “Here,” she says, “it’s not hard or anything, but it’s something.”

“Thanks,” he replies, cracking the top. “Y’know, if you thought this was … gonna suck so much, be so shitty, why didn’t you stop me?”

She watches him for a moment, so he sucks back most of the cooler. It’s not hard stuff, no, but if he drinks it fast enough, he might get buzzed.

And that’s where he wants to be. He doesn’t want to think about going home to the empty house.

Kat’s a little offended that he just stuffs the dress into the duffle he brought and hid here in this upstairs bathroom—“we spent weeks on that,” she huffs, “how can you just toss it around like that?!”—but they head back downstairs and join up with the swim team.

“Heyyyy, Pieces!”

“Oh, look who made it out after all!”

“I thought you were sick?”

Reese shrugs, grins broadly, says, “You guys know I never miss a party—ain’t no flu bug that’ll keep me away.”

“What the fuck are you supposed to be, anyway?”

Gabriel’s glaring at him. Like really glaring at him. Glaring like he might make Reese spontaneously combust if he does it hard enough, long enough. Reese tries to ignore him, keeps talking to JT, to Brody and their friends. He leers at girls with them, slaps a girl dressed like a slutty Snow White on the ass as she walks by, earning a yelp and glower, and his buddies laugh at him.

Gabriel still glares, and Reese is starting to get uncomfortable, like what is Gabby’s freaking deal—

Then the other swimmer finally pushes away from the wall, grabs him by the wrist. “A word,” he whispers, wrenches on Reese’s wrist, and Reese winces, follows Gabby outside, into the frosty night.

“Hey man—”

Gabby drags him straight into the garden, and okay, Reese thinks, this is going straight to bad romcom territory.

The moon is high and full, the midnight sky that particular shade of blue, the stars studded across it like cold diamonds. The trees have lost most of their leaves now; their naked branches claw toward the sky, swathed in only the blackest of shadows. Their footsteps leave marks in the glittering frost that’s falling across the path.

Gabby stops abruptly, whirls on him. Reese all but stumbles into him, looks up at him. He’s a little scared, to be honest.

He grabs his wrist back, rubs it. “Jeez man, what’s your deal—”

“What’s your deal?” Gabby hisses, leaning forward. “The fuck was that all about, Pieces?”

“What was what about, talking shit to my friends, oh I guess you don’t know about that ‘cause you don’t have friends—”

“Not that,” Gabby huffs, “before.”

Reese frowns. “What, like, that I didn’t feel well?”

“You seemed to feel just fine while you were grinding up on my dick—”

Reese knows his eyes must be the size of dinner plates; his jaw goes slack and his mouth is open in a little, round “o” so he claps a hand over it.

Gabby sneers at him. “You think I’m that dumb? That I didn’t notice it was you? Pretty clever, wear a wig, contacts, get all painted up like that—“

He pauses, then says, quietly, more softly, “But you can’t hide your smile, you twit—you still smile like you.”

Shit. Shit shit shit—

He laughs. “It was a joke, man!” he offers, and it sounds hollow to him, his laughter echoing emptily through the naked trees. He shivers as the cold wind wraps around him, lifts gooseflesh on his arms.

Gabby doesn’t call him on it, doesn’t sneer, “Yeah right,” doesn’t say anything. He just looks at Reese, his eyes boring into him, darting to and fro, like he’s trying to read him like some goddamn book.

“A joke,” Reese offers again, “like, haha, funny? Or, I guess you don’t understand tha—”

Gabby grabs him under the chin, tilts his head up—there’s four inches between them again, now that Reese has ditched those stupid heels—and he looks into the younger man’s syrup-hued eyes, so warm and brown, before his lids flutter shut and he mashes his mouth against Reese’s.

It’s the most awkward, sloppy kiss of Reese’s life, but he won’t break it, oh no.

He wraps his arms around Gabby’s neck, slides one hand up into his hair, taking deft control of the kiss as he does so, because Gabby clearly has no idea what he’s doing—he’s all teeth clicking and awkward angles. So Reese convinces him to back off a bit, presses their lips together, then carefully nips and licks at Gabby’s mouth until he parts his lips, and Reese dives inside, tastes scotch and mint on Gabby’s tongue, wonders what he tastes like (probably shitty vodka coolers), and then Gabby shoves him back, breaks the kiss.

He stands there, panting, and Reese watches him, licks his lips, feels them tingle as they start to swell—Gabby all but attacked him, like he wanted to hurt him.

The younger man looks down at him at last. “This doesn’t mean anything,” he pants.

Reese stills.

Gabby’s brows knit together. “I … fuck, Reese, why’d you do that? Like …”

Reese drops his gaze. “I just … I thought it’d be kinda funny, I guess I got carried away.”

“Reese.”

Gabby’s tone is stern, so he lifts his head a little, lifts his gaze away from his shoes. He shivers again.

“Was it a joke?”

Reese lifts his shoulders. “Sure—”

Gabby grabs him by the shoulders, squeezes. “Was it a joke?” he grinds out, and Reese shakes his head.

He doesn’t know why that feels so shameful to admit. His heart is pounding, and all he can hear is thump-thump-thump.

Gabby is silent for too long, so Reese bites his lip and tries to focus on the cold.

“I don’t know,” the younger man all but whispers at last. “Like, Reese, I have no idea—what to. Think. How I feel. So.”

Reese risks a look up at him.

His expression is twisted around his emotions—confusion, hurt, anger, maybe even something else, all playing there. “So. It doesn’t mean anything. Like. Okay? That I …”

“Okay,” Reese says, because he wants Gabby to stop talking. He knows what comes next, he knows the next few sentences, such simple words, so easy, and then the incomparable pain—

“I have to think,” Gabby says, “figure out what the fuck is going on in my head. ‘cause, like. Pieces, you got me upside down, I can’t think right now. Nothing makes sense, nothing except that …”

It takes Reese a second to realize that Gabby’s trailing one hand down his abdomen. His fingers curl over his hip.

“You’re pretty good at dancing,” he murmurs, “and all I can think, is I wonder …”

He squeezes a little tighter on Reese’s hip. “…what’s that look like without all that cloth in the way?”

Reese flushes, despite the cold. “Gabby,” he spits, both shocked and a little delighted—at least part of his plan worked.

Gabby shakes his head. “Like, no, don’t take it wrong, but I don’t—I don’t wanna do anything, Pieces. Like, I do, but I don’t. I don’t—not right now, ‘cause, ‘cause I just … I never thought like this before, so okay? I need to … think about it more.”

Reese grins, leans in close, whispers, “You can think about me giving you a lapdance in my skivvies all you like, Flossy.”

Gabby’s turn to flush, and he does so brilliantly. “Not what I meant,” he fires back.

“I got you,” Reese assures him, pulls back. “Uh. Thank you?”

Gabby stares blindly at him. “For what?”

Reese rolls his eyes. Like, isn’t it obvious he’s thanking Gabriel for not crushing his poor little heart, shattering it into a thousand fragments because that’s what he gets for taking a stupid risk?

“Never mind,” he mutters.

Something warm and heavy encircles his shoulders, and he glances at the swath of black draped around him. He peers up at Gabriel, who’s looking pointedly at the sky. “You looked cold,” he says.

Reese grins, tugs the cape a little closer around himself. “Yeah,” he says, “you know me, Florida boy can’t handle this freakin’ northern weather of yours.”

“It’s not even winter yet,” Gabby murmurs.

“This cape is cool, where’d you get it? Duuuuude, I can be a gangsta vampire now!”

Gabby rolls his eyes hard, and Reese laughs like a loon, because he needed to break this serious talk up somehow and getting Gabby to look so put upon is like one of his goals in life, so he killed two birds with one stone.

“Wanna go back to my place and play video games?” Reese asks, tipping his head to the side. “This party’s boring, man, didn’t anybody get kegs? No kegs, no party, isn’t that a rule?”

Gabby sighs. “Oh,” Reese says, “and we could, like, order pizza! And wings. Fuck, that sounds good right now, I got beer too, you want some? Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about your underage drinking—”

“How old are you again?” Gabby sighs, drags a hand down his face.

“Older than you,” Reese replies, lifts his head imperiously.

Gabby pulls him into another kiss—fingers gentle under his chin, hands hesitant on his cheeks. It’s chaste this time—lips ghosting across lips, and then they’re done.

“I need to experiment a bit too,” Gabby explains. He’s tomato red right up to the tips of his ears.

“Okay,” Reese says. He’s not sure he likes the idea of being an experiment—but it’s better than flat out no.

“Video games sound good,” Gabby says, “I’m pretty done with being social.”

“Cool,” Reese says, whips out his cell and calls a cab. He pitches it to Gabby immediately after, says, “Dial for pizza, dude, I got us wheels.”

Gabby sighs, scrolls through Reese’s contacts. “Domino’s?”

“Ew, fuck no. Call my man Mario, he’ll get us hooked up.”

Gabby lifts a brow.

Reese grins, shoves his hands in his pockets as they come to a stop at the curb, waiting for the cab to arrive. “You might’ve lived here your whole life, but lemme tell you, I am the pizza conno—conni—“

“Connoisseur,” Gabby supplies, clicks on the contact card for Mario’s.

“That,” Reese says, “I know all the best pizza joints. I’m like a bloodhound, but for great pizza.”

Gabby lifts a brow. “Okay, Puppy,” he says.

A couple of cars whiz by; Gabby puts in their “usual” order—study sessions at Reese’s have been a staple since two weeks before midterm, and they don’t get much studying done; they play a lot of video games and drink some beer and eat pizza, then pass out and get up stupid early to get to the pool, even though they’re both a little hungover. Reese always drives, and Gabby thinks about calling his mother to ask if his life insurance is up to date.

Gabby hangs up, passes the phone back to Reese. “Three extra-large, one four-cheese, one pepperoni, and one with olives.”

Reese makes a face.

“Seriously, you can eat the other two. Or pick the olives off.”

The cab pulls up, which cuts their conversation short, as Gabby trots around the car. Reese yanks open the door and slides in. They bump shoulders in the middle.

“Belmont Ave,” Reese says over the clicking of their seatbelts.

The driver gives him a kind of funny look, but whatever. He pulls away from the curb.

Fingers curl around his own frozen digits, and he glances over at Gabby, a sort of thrill running through him at contact.

Gabby spares him nothing more than a glance, and Reese spends the rest of the ride wondering just how the driver would react if he started making out with Gabby in the backseat.

Not well, he thinks. But he’s not sure Gabby would take it well either.

The pizza delivery guy beats them to the door. Gabby pays for the cab, and Reese pays for the food, gives the guy an extra twenty, then bustles into the house, Gabby following him.

“Still can’t believe you live here,” he murmurs, glancing at the vaulting ceiling. Reese kicks the door shut, then gives it a secondary tap with his foot. It’s old and doesn’t like to close properly. He kicks off his shoes and takes the pizza into the kitchen. “Are you complaining?” he asks, clearing old boxes off the table, setting the new ones down, lifting the lid. “Oh, gross. Olives.”

Gabby snags a slice. “They’re really not that bad, Pieces.”

Reese glares at him. “They are poison, and you’re … indestructible for eating them, you freak.”

He pulls a couple of beers out of the fridge, cracks them open. He passes one to Gabby, who holds out a slice of (non-olive-contaminated) pizza to him. “Thanks man,” he says, then tears into it with his teeth, glancing at Gabby as he does so.

“Take the damn thing, jerkwad, I’m not holding it for you,” Gabby huffs. “What do you think this is?”

“An experiment,” Reese replies, then grabs the slice and knocks his beer against Gabby’s.

They make their way to the living room, gun up the Xbox for some CoD. The surround sound kicks in; the characters move across the 75” plasma TV, shooting the shit out of each other.

Somewhere between kill streaks, Reese notices Gabby’s moved in a bit closer, so that their thighs are bumping together, even with all the space on the sofa (seriously, Reese can stretch out on it and not touch one end, which is amazing).

Another round and Gabby’s dropped his hand, his knuckles brushing against Reese’s.

Their hands are greasy, they taste like beer and pizza (and Gabby tastes vaguely like olives, ugh), but they set their mouths to skin, lips to lips, hands all over, and Reese lets Gabby pin him to the sofa, opens his knees wide so Gabby’s between them, lines their pelvises up as best he can with Gabby pressing him down into the leather of the sofa, clutching at him.

Gabby pulls back when Reese rolls up against him, pressing himself against the younger man’s thigh. He looks confused, maybe a little concerned, and that’s probably it, Reese thinks, that’ll be the deal-breaker.

Gabby’s not into cock. Fine.

Then Gabby grabs his arms, rocks against him a little bit, says, “It’s just … weird? New. Like. I haven’t done this … hadn’t even thought about doing this before.”

“It’s fine,” Reese replies. “You—like. You don’t have to. Like, we can. Stop.”

Gabby still seems uncertain, thrusts at him again, and Reese is about to take that back—Gabby can’t stop, needs to keep going—but he rolls off Reese and that’s that.

“Sorry,” he says, “I still need time.”

“It’s cool,” Reese says.

His phone starts ringing, and aww, shit, it’s Owen. He claps Gabby on the shoulder. “You good in the spare?”

“Yeah,” Gabby replies easily, like they hadn’t just been dry-humping each other on the sofa.

“Cool,” Reese says, “gotta take this—my bro.”

Gabby nods, and Reese grabs up his cell, heads upstairs.

 

*

Mel quirks an eyebrow, then glances at Kat. Kat starts, slams the lid of her laptop shut. The heat creeps into her cheeks.

Both of Mel’s eyebrows are lifted now. “I mean, I’ve read my share of Harry Potter fanfic,” she says nonchalantly, “but … are you seriously ‘shipping Flossy and Pieces?”

“N-no,” Kat stammers. “I just clicked on the link, I thought it was a news story—”

“Uh-huhn,” Mel says, but her tone says she’s distinctly unconvinced.

“Well!”

“Whatever floats your boat,” Mel says, shaking her head, “but, like, maybe not our teammates?”

With that, she saunters out of the room, leaving Kat clutching her laptop. She glances around, then slowly opens the laptop up again. She saves the document, closes the laptop lid again.

She’s just thankful she wasn’t re-reading the next chapter when Mel walked in.


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