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DescriptionBilly Bronner is, to all appearances, every inch the 1950s American dream: handsome, clever, captain of the high school football team, looks good enough in tight jeans that people can even forget heâ€™s Jewish. Then the new guy on the block, the enigmatic Leonard Nachman, turns his head, and over the summer Billy discovers a new world of romance and loveâ€”in a manâ€™s arms.
But when Kit Oâ€™Reilly, Billyâ€™s best friend and shadow, comes home after spending the summer with relatives, he finds Billy actingâ€¦ differently. Soon enough, it becomes obvious that this change is related to Len, and Kit will have to decide if heâ€™ll accept the relationship Billy and Len have forged, or if heâ€™ll push Billy and their longtime friendship away.
Reader Rating: (15 Ratings)
Excerpt:THE only thing that sticks to Billy Bronner is sex. Thatâ€™s what the guys say, anyway, and Iâ€™ve got to admit, Iâ€™ve never seen any counterevidence.
Youâ€™re gonna tell me everybody catches shit. Well, buddy, as a general rule, youâ€™re right, of course. Everybody from the jocks to the calculus nerds gets screwed over somehow: youâ€™re failing math, so they want to throw you off the football team; or youâ€™ve aced every test you ever took but you suck on the field, which is just as bad. Some teacher hates you. That chick youâ€™re crushing on laughed in your face. Everybody gets screwed over, one way or the other, because thatâ€™s just the way high school works.
Thing is, Billy isnâ€™t everybody. Heâ€™s not even somebody. Itâ€™s like heâ€™s in this little box all on his own, and maybe itâ€™s got a nonstick coating or something, like one of those expensive frying pans, â€™cause he doesnâ€™t catch anything he doesnâ€™t want to keep ahold of. In this neck of the woods, let me tell you: Billy Bronner? Heâ€™s a man apart.
Looking at his permanent record, youâ€™d be damn lucky if you could find an empty space to put your stamp without obscuring some facet of his demigodhood. Captain of first-string football, obviously. Honor roll student. Ranked first in his class in Lit and French and half a dozen other things, andâ€”although it doesnâ€™t say this on his recordâ€”you can take it from me, he never lifted a finger to study. Record-wise, Billy Bronner is the goddamn American dream.
Off the record, thereâ€™s still not a speck on this catâ€™s shine.
Good-looking, undoubtedly, with the kind of face guys respect and girls go crazy for. Great threads. Great car. Itâ€™s a â€™49 Chevy, bright blood-red, and he got it for nothing â€™cause he works in his uncleâ€™s garage in the evenings, poking the undersides of cars until they run again. That Chevy was a wreck when he got her, and he fixed her up with the kind of care youâ€™d show a little girl. Sheâ€™s his pride and joy, and of course, all the chicks want a ride in her.
Result is, Billy gets a ride on all the chicks. Thatâ€™s just the kind of luck this guy has. And the worst of it is, apart from a general assumption that he can be pretty damn arrogant when he feels like it, people like him. Not only is he incredibly good-looking, talented, dexterous, clever, and charming, he is alsoâ€”drum roll, pleaseâ€”pretty much a nice guy.
Bet you hate him, donâ€™t you? Thatâ€™s the thingâ€”if you met him, you wouldnâ€™t. I mean, he can be a little oblivious, sure, and that rubs some people the wrong way, but you just gotta realize he doesnâ€™t mean anything by his bullshit; thereâ€™s no malice in him. You met him with an open mind, and heâ€™d just grin his hundred-watt grin at you and call you â€śbuddy,â€ť and youâ€™d be lost. Trust me. I know.
Nothing gets under Billyâ€™s skin. Everybody knows that.
This is the story of what happened when something did.
THEREâ€™S something about that dry-paper smell of new books in September that makes summer feel like a long-forgotten dream. Driving in on the first day of a new semester, and Billyâ€™s beautiful ride feels like a hearse. Heâ€™s got all his attention on the road, eyes dark-smudged underneath from one last sleepless summer night, and my eyes are on him, â€™cause something about the set of his shoulders just isnâ€™t like Billy at all.
â€śHey, Kit?â€ť Caitlyn creeps her little hand into mine. â€śWhat you thinking about?â€ť
Damn. I must look like my attentionâ€™s wandered. Itâ€™s all right, baby; Iâ€™m not thinking about that chick with the hair, or even Marianne â€śD-Cupâ€ť Barrett. Thatâ€™s not me. Iâ€™ve only got eyes for Caitlyn, but right now I want to know why Billy looks like death warmed up. Heâ€™s chewing gum, jaw working casually, methodically, but thereâ€™s something in his face like everything broke in the night, and I want to know what everything is. Canâ€™t fool me, Billy-boy. I remember you with braces on your teeth.
I put my arm around Caitlynâ€™s shoulders and give her a little squeeze. â€śNothing, baby,â€ť I tell her, â€™cause I donâ€™t feel like explaining, not right now. â€śHoping it isnâ€™t Calculus first period.â€ť
â€śIt will be,â€ť Bill throws in dully, as he flicks on his turn signal and glances both ways for traffic, looking magnificently, devastatingly bored. I roll my eyes.
â€śHey, who rained on your parade?â€ť From here in the backseat, I can just see a packet of gum sticking out of the pocket of his jeans. One arm still around Caitlyn, I lean forward and snatch it. He slaps at my hand but Iâ€™m too quick, and I grin at him as I pop a stick into my mouth. He makes a face.
â€śThe hell are you doing? You canâ€™t just go taking things out of a manâ€™s goddamn pocketsâ€”â€ť
â€śEyes on the road, Billy,â€ť I tell him easily, and he flips me the finger and puts both hands back on the wheel. Caitlyn laughs. A muscle twitches in his face, but he doesnâ€™t say anything else. Heâ€™s taking the high road this morning, Billy is. Problem is, I know him, and I know heâ€™s quite capable of taking that road right off a goddamn cliff, if I let him.
Iâ€™ve got no intention of letting him.
â€śWhere were you last night?â€ť I ask, extracting a second stick of gum for Caitlyn. â€śI called you and your mom said you were out.â€ť
â€śWent for a walk,â€ť says Billy, without looking round.
Now, if thereâ€™s one thing Billy Bronner canâ€™t do, itâ€™s lie. He knows it, and he damn well knows I know it. So when he tries a blatant untruth like that one, what he means is he doesnâ€™t want to talk about it, and whatever heâ€™s actually said, what everybody hears is â€śnone of your goddamn business.â€ť I try to catch his eye in the rearview mirror, but heâ€™s looking away, watching the curb as we pull into the parking lot. Here already, and heâ€™s decided to play the international man of mystery, and itâ€™s probably gonna be Calculus first period.
Yeah, thereâ€™s that new-semester feeling. Itâ€™s kind of like the feeling you get when you realize you just sat on someoneâ€™s gum.
Billy switches the engine off and leaps out of the car. There was a time when Billy was capable of exiting a car like a normal person, but those days are long gone. Now, he invariably stands up and vaults over the closed driverâ€™s door, and heâ€™s damn lucky heâ€™s a limber little thing, â€™cause most of the guys Iâ€™ve seen pull that trick have got four or five inches on him, heightwise. This morning, though, it gives me a little hope to see him do that, heâ€™s been acting so unlike himself.
I mean, Billyâ€™s a sunbeam, as a rule. No two ways about it; if heâ€™s not laughing about something, itâ€™s usually only because heâ€™s got his sexface on, trying to charm his way up some chickâ€™s skirt. And todayâ€”well, letâ€™s just say the outlook is cloudy.
I get out of the carâ€”yes, like a normal personâ€”and hold the door open for Caitlyn. By the time Iâ€™ve got her hand in mine again and the door slammed behind us, heâ€™s walking away, collar up and hips swinging.
Billy wears his pants too goddamn tight, a denim second skin from waist to ankle. I tell him it makes him look like heâ€™s selling something obscene, but the girls go stupid for it, so why would he listen to me?
â€śBilly!â€ť I holler after him. He hesitates, and then looks round.
â€śWhere you going?â€ť
Heâ€™s patting his pockets. Like thereâ€™s even a chance he could have missed something in the negative space between his jeans and his skin. â€śHomeroom. You still got my gum?â€ť
I toss it to him, and he snatches it deftly out of the air, easy as you might expect from a cat who plays every sport going like he was born to do it. â€śWait up, and weâ€™ll come with you.â€ť
He waits, but he doesnâ€™t look too happy about it. Heâ€™s got this look on his face like he doesnâ€™t want to be here, and while thatâ€™s not surprising in itselfâ€”I guess nobody wants to be here, except a few select freaksâ€”thereâ€™s an edge of cynicism under it that I havenâ€™t seen in Billyâ€™s face before, and would never have expected to see there. Iâ€™m just thinking about this, as Lyn and I cross the yard toward him, when the lookâ€¦ changes.
Itâ€™s shock, now, pure and simple. Shock, and then, in the aftermath of that first stunned, blank expression, a quick succession of other things flickering over his face. Recognition, definitely, from the first; then anxiety, a distinct oh shit expression; and maybe a little something else I canâ€™t put my finger on. Heâ€™s just seen someone unexpected, clearly, and I swing around quick as blinking to find out who this apparition is.
The other side of the yard is pretty emptyâ€”kids always tend to gather close to the building on the first day of a new school year, itâ€™s easier to find your buddies that wayâ€”so it doesnâ€™t take much to work out whoâ€™s in his line of sight. Thing is, this catâ€™s so damn unlikely I almost think the relevant person must have dodged out of the way before I could turn my head. But Billyâ€™s still staring, and his forty-yard stareâ€™s still directly aligned with this guyâ€™s face, so I put my doubts aside and give him the once-over.
Judging on his clothes alone, Iâ€™d have called him a nerd. Heâ€™s totally square from head to foot: sweater under a blazer; shirt under that; neat, pressed pants like my dad wears to work. Iâ€™m looking at his face, though, and something about it makes me quail from calling him anything at all. Itâ€™s a strong face, all planes and angles and high cheekbones, and eyes so black you canâ€™t stop looking. Jewish face, Iâ€™d guess, good-looking in a severe sort of way. Dark hair, lots of it, parted on one side, and a twist to his mouth that says donâ€™t fuck with me.
Heâ€™s staring at Billy, no doubt about it. And Billyâ€™s staring back at him like he just saw a goddamn ghost, which, however threatening this catâ€™s expression isâ€”and I admit, itâ€™s pretty damn unnervingâ€”seems like an overreaction. The only things Iâ€™m sure of in this situation are firstly, that Iâ€™ve never seen this guy before in my goddamn life, and secondly, that Billy most definitely has.
â€śBilly,â€ť I begin warily. Iâ€™m about to ask him something, everything, like who the hell this kid is, and how Billy knows him, and why heâ€™s got that look on his face, and whether this has anything to do with how weird he seems today in general. But before I can even draw breath to go on, Billyâ€™s shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and walked off at a pace that says pretty clearly that Iâ€™d better not follow if I like my nose the shape it is. Caitlyn looks at me with a question in her eyes, and all I can do is shrug, because Iâ€™m just as in the dark about all this as she is.
And when I glance back across the yard, wanting to know how the mystery guy has reacted to Billyâ€™s abrupt departure, I find that heâ€™s gone too.
New-semester feeling. I can tell you, itâ€™s a drag.
THE lunch bell rings, and Billyâ€™s somehow managed to avoid me all day, unless you count the brief moment between second and third period when he hit me in the arm with his bag as we passed the drinking fountain in the atrium. As we were both moving at great speed, in opposite directions, I donâ€™t think I really need to take it into account. Especially since he, whether by accident or design, didnâ€™t even make eye contact. Talk about ships passing in the night. We havenâ€™t had any classes together yet, so Iâ€™m looking forward to catching up with him to compare timetables, see whether heâ€™s in any of my afternoon classes. And, hey, I want to know if he had Calculus first period, â€™cause Lyn and I were in the chem lab, but Iâ€™m still damn sure there must have been someone doing calculus first thing after summer vacation. It just wouldnâ€™t be high school, after all, without those subtle touches of administrative evil.
The period before lunch, Iâ€™m in a physics class with Mr. Rosenberg, who pissed me off all junior year with his illegible handwriting, so Iâ€™m not in the best possible mood when I get to the cafeteria. I look around for Billy, of course, but he isnâ€™t here yet. Caitlyn is, though, sitting by the window with Angela and Marianne, and a couple of other chicks I know by sight but not by name. She waves at me when she sees me, and I throw her a wink to indicate that Iâ€™ll be over as soon as Iâ€™ve picked up lunch.
Itâ€™s not like Billy to be late for lunch. I said already that he wasnâ€™t acting like himself, but this is something really serious. I canâ€™t actually remember the last time he wasnâ€™t in line ahead of me when I got down here for lunch period, even when I was setting record times for the journey down. Iâ€™m just starting to get worriedâ€”the weird-looking stuff theyâ€™re passing off as spaghetti is only adding to the creeping sense of uneaseâ€”when I see him saunter in, hands in his pockets, hair fallen over his forehead in that perfect goddamn wave. Heâ€™s chewing gum, swinging his hips, not looking at anything he doesnâ€™t have to. To everyone else, I guess he just looks like Billy Bronner, going about his daily business: cool, collected, just a little above it all. To me, though, his indifference is telling, that jocklike moody expression a world away from his usual cheery demeanor. He should have been grinning at me by now; he should have been calling out, â€śHey, Kit, you save me a seat?â€ť and slapping my pockets for smokes. Hell, Billy Bronner is late for lunch. That on its own is quite enough to tell me that somethingâ€™s gone wrong with the works.
â€śBill!â€ť I wave a hand, gesturing for him to come join me. He nods acknowledgement, and sure, the corners of his mouth quirk up, but itâ€™s not exactly a smile, you know. Not from a guy like Billy, who can throw out a stunner like itâ€™s nothing. When he reaches me, plastic tray in hand, I nudge his shoulder, trying to jolt him back into some sense of normality.
â€śHey. Lemme guessâ€”you had Calculus first period?â€ť
â€śI had Am Lit,â€ť says Billy, picking up milk cartons and shaking them till he finds one that satisfies whatever test heâ€™s carrying out here. How itâ€™s different from any of the ones that came before it, I donâ€™t have a damn clue, but there it is.
Goddamn. This is like pulling teeth. I feel like a dentist with a whole enormous mouth to denude, and Iâ€™m still struggling on the first molar. I sigh, and decide to go straight in for the kill.
â€śBilly,â€ť I begin, going for casual, â€śis something wrong?â€ť
He shrugs. â€śI hate spaghetti?â€ť
I look at the spaghetti on his plate and shake my head. This is typical Bill evasion, and Iâ€™m not gonna fall for it. â€śWho doesnâ€™t? Apart from that.â€ť
â€śWhy should anything be wrong?â€ť
Thatâ€™s when I see him. Billyâ€™s glaring at me, on the defensive, anticipating my reply, but suddenly Iâ€™m looking past him. Billâ€™s face goes a weird color in my peripheral vision and he turns around to follow my gaze, all the way to the skinny guy on the other side of the cafeteria, with his square old-man clothes and his coal-black eyes. I look him over a minute, and then catch Billâ€™s eye again. â€śYou tell me, Billy-boy. Whoâ€™s that cat?â€ť
Billy gathers up his tray and immediately tries to move away. â€śNobody.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t give me that bullshit!â€ť I stick out an arm to bar his way. For a second, he looks like he might actually hit me or something, just to get past. But then his shoulders kind of slump, and he looks up at me with this face thatâ€™s gone all weirdly slack, like all the fightâ€™s gone out of him, and thatâ€™s worse.
He says, â€śHeâ€™s just some guy, Kit. Weâ€”we got in aâ€¦ a fight, but I thought he was going back off to Massachusetts or someplace, so it wouldnâ€™t matter. And instead, turns out heâ€™s here, so Iâ€™m understandably pissed about it.â€ť He shoots me a look with a little of the old fire in it. â€śOkay?â€ť
I hold up my hands, like I surrender. â€śOkay, okay.â€ť I point across the room to where the girls are sitting. â€śLetâ€™s just go eat, all right?â€ť
â€śSure,â€ť Billy says, tossing me a smile like heâ€™s trying to console me or something, and he picks up his tray and does as heâ€™s told, for once.
At the table, everyoneâ€™s talking at once, comparing their timetables and their vacation spots and their holiday flings. Billy smiles and nods and compliments the chicks, and everyoneâ€™s pleased to see him, just exactly as usual.
Seems like Iâ€™m the only one whoâ€™s noticed that he doesnâ€™t say a single damn word about himself.
And thatâ€™s not usual at all.
Reader Reviews (3)
Submitted By: hooked on Jan 5, 2013really cute story. solid 4 star
Submitted By: aphelia6 on Oct 2, 2011Loved this story of first love that grows/develops into something lasting. The scenes between Len & Billy where they are discovering the physical side of their relationship were wickedly hot. Great read.
Submitted By: hnnaah on Sep 7, 2011Highly recommend. Story well-done. Loved Christopher(Kit's) character.
Summer SongBy: Louise Blaydon