Only the McKay family would visit Florida in August.
They were from northern North America, for God’s sake. They weren’t built to thrive in conditions this hot and humid and, worst of all, sunny. Sure, they had all those things back home, but it was different here. The sunshine in Florida was like some sort of napalm that came straight out of Satan’s ass, searing Rodney's eyes and burning his skin right through his clothing. After a week-long death march through the state’s most famous tourist attractions, he was bright red and crabby, and thoroughly sick of both the outdoors and his family.
His parents, who were operating under the delusion that this was some sort of dream vacation, didn’t seem to understand that Disney World, while great entertainment for four-year-old Jeannie, wasn’t all that thrilling to sixteen-year-old Rodney. The Magic Kingdom had been a temple of inanity, the EPCOT Center a bastion of simplistic science dumbed down for the masses...and Rodney’s little sister had wanted to see every inch of both. Rodney had plodded along dutifully while his brain baked inside his head, wishing for a swift and merciful death.
Now a week stretched before them in the hell on Earth that was Cocoa Beach, a place that could be called a “beach” only in that it was where land and water met. There was no sand, really, and certainly not the soft, snowy white stuff of postcards. The scrubby grass behind the resort petered out onto heaps of gravel and broken seashells that would cut you to the bone if you weren’t careful. Fun for the whole family!
Seven days of rest and relaxation, his mother had said. More like seven more days of solar radiation poisoning. Jeannie, who had four different swimsuits and refused to wear much else, was in heaven. Though their parents had instilled a healthy fear of drowning in her, she loved the beach and the pool and the bathtub, and just about anything else bigger than a mixing bowl and full of water.
Rodney didn’t like the beach. It was a crappy place to read.
They were staying at the Twelve Palms Resort & Family Fun Center--just the name made Rodney cringe--and his parents had rented a two bedroom suite, which meant he and Jeannie shared one bedroom while his parents had the other. Rodney had thought that having a room to escape to would give him some privacy, and a place to hide during the day while his parents escorted Jeannie through an endless cycle of beach to pool to beach.
He was so, so wrong.
They were back in the room constantly, for snacks and Band-Aids and clothing changes, and there was Jeannie’s inevitable naptime, which she resented to the depths of her being, and said so, loudly. As soon as they finally left him in peace, the maid service would invariably show up, and even Rodney, who most often chose to ignore social cues if they inconvenienced him, could tell he was in the way. All that vacuuming and bed-stripping made it hard to focus anyway.
So he’d been driven to find alternatives, of which there were few. The game room, consisting of a well-used dart board, an air hockey table, and a Space Invaders arcade game, had no comfortable chairs and was obviously out. The atrium surrounding the indoor pool wasn’t much better; the smell of chlorine and the shrieks of children did little to encourage concentration, and Rodney was only fifty pages into the coming school year’s trigonometry textbook, and it was already mid-August. He was horribly behind on his summer reading.
Then, salvation at last. Tucked into the corner behind the elevator was a library, which had plenty of soft chairs and hardcover books, and also, strangely, a pool table. The adults tended to utilize it in the evenings, but during the day it was deserted and dark, cool and quiet.
Heaven. The perfect place to spend the next six days.
Rodney opened his book and settled in.
The family was out on the beach bright and early on the second day, too. Rodney, who was peeling away his sixteenth layer of skin, had once again refused to set one toe outside, envisioning another quiet day spent in the library with his book, which would, if he’d figured right, put him back on track.
But when he opened the library door, someone else was already there, standing over the pool table.
It was a boy, about Rodney’s own age. Their eyes met, instantly sizing each other up with the innate ability kids had to assess and categorize each other in a split-second. It was a handy talent that enabled them to keep to their own social strata.
The other boy was tall and dark-haired and good-looking, his faded T-shirt a little too small and not quite covering the waistband of his jeans, like maybe he'd grown out of it over the summer, but refused to give it up. He was the kind of skinny that led to descriptions like “lean” and “athletic,” as opposed to Rodney’s kind of skinny, which was usually called “scrawny.” His hair was a little weird--kind of a grown out military buzz cut, sticking up at weird angles--but he exuded the self-confidence that came from being socially popular. He was probably good at sports, Rodney thought, and had lots of girlfriends. Someone whose major academic accomplishment was making the display on his calculator spell “boobies.”
There was a cast on his left arm that probably explained why he wasn’t out on the beach with the other good-looking teenagers. It was brilliantly white and devoid of a single signature. Obviously very new.
“Hey,” the boy said, and he actually sounded like he was happy to see Rodney. “Wanna play?”
“I don’t know how,” Rodney said.
The other boy was already racking the balls. “It’s not hard.” He handed Rodney a cue. “My name’s John.”
John Sheppard was American, seventeen years old, and went to some boys’ military school where they had to get up at 6am for reveille. The school situation explained the haircut, which John evidently hated, but Rodney had little sympathy for him--his own hair never did what he wanted it to, no matter how much mousse he put in it.
John was vacationing with his parents, too, and had already done a lot of the same things the McKays had done, though the fun had been brought to an abrupt end when John had broken his wrist in some sort of water park accident.
“Are your parents going to sue?” Rodney asked, visions of a large cash settlement floating in his head. He'd gladly spend a few weeks in a cast for a shiny new Apple Macintosh.
John shrugged a shoulder, apparently indifferent to large cash settlements. “Nah, it was my fault.”
Between Rodney’s inexperience and John’s cast, they were actually evenly matched at pool, and since it turned out to be mostly a matter of simple geometry, Rodney caught on pretty quickly.
When they got tired of shooting pool, they tried their luck in the game room. Rodney won at Space Invaders, sucked at darts, and held his own at air hockey. After that, John wanted to get something to eat, and Rodney had to confess that he had no money, which didn’t bother John at all, who offered to pay.
They decided on the ice cream parlor, lamentably located right next to the equipment room for the pool, which meant it was constantly too warm and the tables vibrated slightly. They both agreed it was a small price to pay for hot dogs and banana splits. Rodney's eyes bugged out a little at the handful of bills John pulled out of his wallet. So John Sheppard was good-looking and rich. Luckily, he was very affable--and paying for the food--or Rodney would probably have hated him.
He seemed genuinely intrigued by the fact that Rodney was from Canada, asking him a lot of questions, and they spent a while comparing the differences in schools and television and music. John was sufficiently impressed that Rodney had skipped two years in school--most kids didn’t adequately appreciate that sort of thing, in Rodney's opinion.
While Rodney was licking the last of the hot fudge off his spoon, John leaned across the table and grabbed Rodney's trigonometry book. "Is this trig?" he asked, flipping through the pages. "I’m taking this in the fall."
Rodney, dazzled, could only nod and hand over his notebook. He let John look at some of his equations for the first chapter, and didn't even yell when he chewed on the cap of Rodney's pen.
John wasn't dumb after all, it turned out. He was taking some fairly advanced courses in preparation for a career as a pilot, which Rodney thought was pretty awesome. They had more in common than he'd thought at the outset, and more than he had with some of his friends back home, truthfully.
Before Rodney knew it, it was 6pm and he had to go meet his parents for dinner.
“Wanna hang out again tomorrow?” John asked, as they parted ways at the elevator.
“Sure,” Rodney said, thrilled.
“Meet you in the library,” John said, and ambled away, swinging his cast like a golf club.
It wasn’t until he woke up in the morning that Rodney realized John hadn’t specified what time they should meet. Same time as yesterday? Earlier? Later? Okay, 8am was probably way too early, but he was up, because Jeannie was an early riser, and not quiet about it. She was wide awake and full of energy, already armed with her swimsuit and water wings.
The first stop of the day was the breakfast buffet, which was one of Rodney’s favorite things, being an unlimited source of potatoes and donuts and sausage. He did look around for John and his family, but they didn’t appear to be in attendance. There were several breakfast options, including room service, so he wasn’t that surprised, but a little disappointed. It would have solved the timing issue.
He bolted his breakfast and was excusing himself from the table when disaster struck.
“Take your sister with you,” his mother said offhandedly, not knowing she’d just completely destroyed his day.
“Mom! I can’t!”
“Your father and I are going shopping,” she said, which meant, Rodney knew, that his mother was going shopping and his father was being dragged along. “Just take her over to the pool. Make sure you watch her. It’s only for a few hours. ”
Hours?! “I’ve got plans,” Rodney said, desperate. “I can’t have her tagging along.”
“Rodney,” his father said, and snapped the newspaper open. There was no arguing.
John looked surprised to see Jeannie bounce into the library behind Rodney, though part of it may have been a reaction to her outfit; she had refused to take off the swimsuit and water wings, and had only grudgingly allowed Rodney to shove her feet into a pair of pink Barbie sandals.
“This is my sister,” Rodney said feebly. “I have to watch her for a few hours, so…” He was being noble, giving John an out. Maybe they could hang out later. No self-respecting teenager wanted to be seen with a four-year-old.
To Rodney's surprise, John didn't flee immediately. Instead, he hunkered down in front of her and smiled. “What’s your name?”
Jeannie, who had never been shy a day in her life, suddenly stuck her thumb in her mouth and dug at the carpet with the toe of her sandal.
“Jeannie,” Rodney supplied for her, annoyed, then watched as she looked up at John through her bangs and grinned around her thumb. With mounting horror, Rodney realized Jeannie was acting like a total weirdo because she thought John was...was cute. Gag!
“My name’s John,” John said to her. Jeannie batted her eyelashes and giggled. John stood again, looking uncertain. “What should we do? Does she like video games?”
“Yes!” Jeannie said, pointing at John with her wet thumb. “Pac Man!”
“We don’t have to do anything with her," Rodney said, determined to get on with his day the way he had planned. "She can just sit and--“ he looked around, then shoved her toward one of the overstuffed leather couches “--watch us play pool.”
Jeannie scowled at him. John looked skeptical. “She’ll be fine,” Rodney said.
Jeannie was not fine.
She drummed her pink sandals against the couch, and sighed dramatically in profound boredom. She took a book off the shelves and tore one of the pages trying to open it. She sang "Row Row Row Your Boat" about eight hundred times, until both John and Rodney were humming it against their will.
Desperate, Rodney took off his calculator watch and handed it to her, grimacing as she gleefully pushed the tiny buttons. It would probably be telling him the time in China when he got it back from her.
That diversion only lasted a few minutes, and then she asked for the hundredth time when they would be done with their game, and then she claimed she was going to play the next game--with John, of course.
Rodney was so aggravated he lost by a wide margin, which only aggravated him more.
John stood staring at Jeannie for a second, chewing his bottom lip. Then, much to Rodney's disappointment, he put his cue away. Rodney was plotting murderous revenge on both his sister and his parents when John said, “I’ve got an idea. I’ll meet you guys outside by the pool.”
Rodney's relief over not being ditched was short-lived, surviving just until the word "pool" sunk in. Great, Rodney thought. More time in the sun. He glared at Jeannie, who gazed adoringly after John as he left the library.
Rodney was just paranoid enough to assume John really was ditching them, but he showed up at the pool a few minutes later, as promised. The real surprise was the little boy trailing after him. He was roughly Jeannie’s age, clad in bright yellow swim trunks, and carrying a Sesame Street towel.
“This is my brother, Tommy,” John said, steering him by the top of his head.
Tommy grinned, showing off a missing front tooth, and pulled his swim goggles down with a snap.
Rodney couldn't believe it. More than once he’d cursed his luck that not only had he been saddled with a sister, she was so much younger than him as to be completely useless. His friends with siblings close to their own age sometimes had common interests, but Jeannie was way too young for that to be even a remote possibility. Sean Murphy, Rodney's neighbor and the product of an Irish Catholic family, had a brother in kindergarten, but he also had about six brothers and sisters in between. Jeannie had been an accident, like Rodney himself, and had come into the family long after Rodney had adapted to being an only child.
But John had a really little brother, too. Which couldn't have been more convenient at the moment.
Whatever shyness Jeannie felt around John did not extend to Tommy, and within minutes she had organized a game that involved her being a mermaid princess and Tommy being a dolphin. John and Rodney sat in the shade with their sodas, playing countless of Uno, until Jeannie and Tommy emerged from the pool and announced they were hungry.
John wanted to go to the ice cream parlor again, and everyone else agreed that was a great idea. Half an hour later, Tommy was drooping in his chair, and Jeannie looked like she was about to slip into a butterscotch-induced coma.
John reached for Tommy and pulled him over into his lap, something Rodney would never have thought to do with his sister, especially in public. Jeannie was mostly a smartass and a pain, and didn’t really inspire tender feelings in Rodney. He thought about setting her on his lap, then pictured her probable reaction to such a rare and unwelcome gesture of affection, and decided against it.
“I think it’s nap time,” John said, mussing Tommy’s hair. He looked at Rodney. “You wanna get a movie?”
Rodney didn't follow. "Get a movie where? What movie?"
John shrugged. "Whatever you want. We can watch it on the VCR in my room."
“You have a VCR in your room?” Rodney was astounded.
“Yeah. We can get movies from the front desk.” Rodney's parents hadn't even mentioned that was an option. Cheap bastards.
Rodney definitely wanted to watch a movie. His own family didn't have a VCR. He had a friend back home who had a Betamax player, but only two or three movies for it. Rodney didn’t know many people whose parents were willing to shell out a hundred bucks for a movie everyone had already seen.
The hotel had about three dozen movies, including a copy of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, which nearly sent Rodney into delirium. They also grabbed, at Tommy's insistence, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And that thing John had said about "his" room hadn't been a figure of speech, Rodney realized a few minutes later--John had his own room. Tommy and his parents were sharing the suite next door, and there was a connecting door, but it was still his very own room. The Sheppard family, Rodney decided, went on vacation the right way.
The room was neat as a pin, he noticed, looking around as John put the movie in. So neat it hardly looked like anyone was in residence, except for the empty suitcase on the floor against the wall and a beat-up paperback on the table next to the bed. John didn't even leave his underwear on the floor, which Rodney didn't think was possible for a teenager.
Tommy and Jeannie set up camp on one bed, after Jeannie was finally persuaded to take off her water wings, while Rodney and John commandeered the other. The air conditioning was chilly, so John took the extra blankets out of the closet and the little ones eventually napped while John and Rodney watched the movies, washing down gift shop candy with about sixteen cans of soda.
It was, Rodney reflected, the best day of his vacation so far.
Rodney, like most other adolescent boys, had read every book in the sexuality section of his local library, plus his mother’s copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Though he had little practical experience, he considered himself something of an expert on human sexuality.
He sometimes got crushes on guys. Usually on really smart and funny guys, though he wasn't totally beyond the occasional shallow infatuation with someone who was simply really, really hot. He knew that was perfectly normal. He also knew that even one hint of that made public knowledge was social suicide, because not everyone was as smart and open-minded as he was, and your average high school student certainly wasn't savvy enough to know human sexuality was a continuum on which anyone could exist on any point at any time.
Most of the time, Rodney existed on the heterosexual end of the spectrum. The last few days, not so much.
He already had a whopper of a crush on John Sheppard, who managed to be smart and funny and really, really hot, and it was probably a good thing they lived in different countries, because it was only getting more intense by the minute. It was worse than the crush he’d had on Wes Preston at computer camp when he was fourteen, and it was even stronger than what he'd felt for Jenny Hammerling, who had been his sort-of-girlfriend for three glorious weeks last year, followed by one annoying week where they’d fought several times, followed by the really crappy day when she'd dumped him.
No, he liked John way more than he'd liked Jenny or Wes, and every time John smiled at him, Rodney wanted to die, and it was hard to act like his hormones weren't raging all over the place whenever John was within fifty feet of him. It didn't help that John was interested in aerodynamics, and the book next to his bed was "The Right Stuff," and that he looked almost bashful when he asked if Rodney wanted to sign his cast.
Rodney suffered in silence, and secretly squirreled away the memory of every instance of bodily contact, every time John's knee bumped his under the blanket while they watched TV, every nudge and fake punch. It was crazy and obsessive, but Rodney was keeping track of each and every one, because it was all he was going to get.
He tried to not to stare too much (no point in letting on that he was crazy and obsessive), but John was a living, breathing smorgasbord of staring opportunities, with his collection of too-small shirts, and that strip of skin above the waistband of his boxer shorts peeking out every time he bent over the pool table, and the way he'd touch his lower lip with his tongue when he was concentrating.
Once Rodney got so absorbed in looking at the curve of John's spine, the way he gripped the pool cue, that he didn't notice right away that John was watching him, staring silently over his shoulder, motionless. Rodney, totally busted, turned away to find the chalk, and tried to think about something else, anything else.
John missed the shot.
"Who ya gonna call?" Tommy screeched.
"Ghostbusters!" Jeannie screeched back.
"You don't need to sing along with this every time they play it," Rodney pointed out from the marginal safety of the other bed. MTV was quickly losing its appeal, and it was barely noon. "And stop jumping on the bed. If Jeannie falls and cracks her skull open, I'll never hear the end of it."
Both kids kept right on jumping and screeching. Typical.
"You're the one who was sick of being outside," John pointed out. He was draped across the corner of the bed, flipping through an issue of Guns & Ammo he'd picked up at the resort newsstand. Rodney found John's fascination with weaponry to be slightly disturbing, but also, to his embarrassment, vaguely arousing.
"I didn't mean I wanted to be trapped in a small room with these two lunatics." Rodney was working his way through a book of logic puzzles, also from the newsstand, and his preferred logical thought environment was silence.
John tossed his magazine on the floor and sighed. Rodney ignored him. He nudged Rodney with his cast. "Hey."
"Wanna arm wrestle?"
"No," Rodney said, emphatically, scowling. He hated all that macho testosterone garbage.
"I ain't 'fraida no ghosts!" Jeannie yelled, and then did a face plant on the bed.
"Thumb wrestle?" John asked.
"I'll let you pin me, and then we can see how long it takes for me to get free."
"That's the stupidest game I've ever heard of," Rodney said, and it was stupid, but that didn't stop him from feeling insulted at John's assumption that the only way Rodney could pin him was if John let him. It was a valid assumption, but Rodney was still insulted.
"You wanna learn the Deadly Romanian Chokehold of Doom?"
Rodney peered at John, at his open, earnest face, his hopeful look. He wasn't fooled. "That's not even real."
"It sorta is," John said. "I invented it when I was seven."
"Watch me do a somersault!" Tommy shouted. Neither John nor Rodney looked up, as they had given up watching somersaults somewhere after the twelfth one. "Did you see?" Tommy asked a second later, breathless and too loud.
"Yes," Rodney said, not looking up from his book.
"It was perfect," John assured him. "You need help with your puzzle?" he asked Rodney.
Rodney didn't really want or need help, but it seemed the only way to get John to shut up. "Fine," he said, "but I control the pencil."
"It's all yours," John said, scuttling up to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Rodney. He leaned over and looked down at the page, frowning as he read the clues. He smelled like hotel soap and Dentyne, and he was doing the tongue thing again.
It didn't seem possible that he could get any closer, but he did, somehow, worming his good arm between Rodney's back and the pillow, hooking a foot over Rodney's calf. "Put an X there," he said after a bit, pointing at one of the squares, and Rodney went ahead and did it without double-checking, distracted by the fact that John was practically sitting on top of him.
"Watch me do a somersault! Watch me do a somersault!" Tommy shouted, right before he launched himself into the air and bounced clean off the end of the bed onto the floor.
For a split second, the only sound in the room was Ray Parker, Jr. insisting that bustin' made him feel good, and then Tommy and Jeannie both started screaming bloody murder. Rodney's pencil went flying as John scrambled over his legs and off the bed to pluck a tearful Tommy from the floor.
Much to Rodney's relief, Tommy wasn't bleeding from the face, and none of his arm bones were poking through his skin. Rodney had once witnessed a live-action compound fracture in gym class, and lived in fear of seeing another one.
Jeannie was still wailing like a banshee, so Rodney fished around in the blankets until he found her Barbie doll, hoping to distract her. She batted it away at first, then snatched it back when Rodney pretended to take off the doll's dress.
Tommy slowly subsided into sniffles, huddled on John's lap as he felt around on Tommy's head for lumps. Tommy's hair had about a hundred cowlicks in it and was normally pretty unruly, but by the time John was done it looked like he'd just had a close encounter with a live wire.
"Is he okay?" Rodney asked. John nodded as he rubbed slow circles into Tommy's back. "I told you guys to stop," Rodney said. "No one ever listens to me."
"Real nice, Rodney," John said. "You're a regular Florence Nightingale."
"Well, it's true."
Jeannie, now fully recovered, was at the end of the bed, re-creating Tommy's nosedive with her Barbie doll. "KAPOW!" she said, as Barbie bit the dust once again.
"That's kind of morbid," John said, watching her.
"I want Mom," Tommy said.
While John was next door explaining what had happened to Tommy, Rodney took the opportunity to turn a protesting Jeannie over to his parents. She immediately spilled the beans about Tommy's header into the floor, complete with Barbie doll re-enactment.
"I hope you're keeping a better eye on your sister than that," Rodney's mom said disapprovingly, while Rodney glared daggers at Jeannie. He couldn't escape back to John's room fast enough.
After a blessedly quiet afternoon of goofing around, and debating whether or not Batman could kick Spider-Man's ass (Rodney favored Batman--John seemed unable to choose a side for more than five minutes), they were playing poker and eating potato chips when John scratched the back of his neck, frowned at his cards, and said, "My parents want you to have dinner with us tonight.” He looked rather embarrassed about it.
Rodney, in full crush mode, would have done anything John wanted.
“Sure,” he said. How bad could it be?
Five minutes into dinner with the Sheppards, Rodney had a whole new appreciation for his own family. They didn’t get along all that well, and they shouted at each other a lot, but Rodney was sure he preferred it to the polite iciness of the Sheppard family.
John’s mom was thin and fragile-looking, and even her smile seemed sad. His father was a colonel in the U.S. military, and looked appropriately grim and intimidating. John called him “sir.” Even little Tommy seemed cowed by the stiff formality that passed for family time, and struggled quietly with his fork and knife, worrying at his lower lip with his one front tooth.
They were all dressed up, Rodney as much as he could be out of his vacation suitcase. John and his father wore ties, and Tommy had a little polo shirt on over his pressed khakis. John’s mother was in a dress, her pale yellow cardigan held together at her throat with a brooch, like she'd just stepped out of a suburban kitchen in the 1950s. Everyone had very good manners, which made Rodney self-conscious of his tendency to stuff his face and talk at the same time, so he slowed down and tried not to clear his throat every ten seconds, though it was hard not to, because the compulsion was strong.
“Johnny says you’re from Canada,” Mrs. Sheppard said, and Rodney felt every set of eyes at the table turn toward him.
“Yes, ma’am,” Rodney said, the “ma’am” coming automatically, and from God knew where.
He somehow managed to stumble along, replying to Mrs. Sheppard's polite questions until finally they landed on the topic of school, and suddenly Colonel Sheppard joined in. He seemed to approve of Rodney’s plans for his post-high school education, though it was a little hard to tell through the impenetrable stoicism. When Rodney mentioned his interest in astrophysics, Mrs. Sheppard looked at the colonel and said, “Perhaps Rodney would like to go along on Friday.”
The colonel frowned at his baked potato and said, “It’s up to John.”
Rodney looked from the colonel to John and back again several times, but no one volunteered any further information, so Rodney finally asked, “Go where Friday?”
“The Kennedy Space Center," John said, eyes flicking to his father. "My dad knows someone. Private tour.” He looked like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted Rodney to say yes or no.
John may have said something after that, but Rodney wouldn’t have noticed. He was too busy gripping the tablecloth so he wouldn’t start whooping for joy and doing cartwheels across the dining room.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he choked out, the best he could do when he was trying his hardest not to scream. John just shrugged and smiled.
Rodney grinned. “Of course I want to go! Pass the rolls, please.”
After dinner, Tommy wanted to hang out in John's room, so Rodney went off to fetch Jeannie. If one kid was around, it was a lot easier to let them keep each other occupied.
Jeannie was in the bathtub, a situation that normally required a crowbar to facilitate her removal, but she hopped out in a heartbeat when given the opportunity to spend more time with John, who she still worshiped beyond all reason. Since bed-jumping was now strictly forbidden, she brought her coloring books and crayons, and the kids scribbled away at the table in the corner while John and Rodney sat around and bullshitted some more.
It turned out this wasn't the first time John had broken a bone--he seemed to fall off his bike and his skateboard with frightening regularity. Most of Rodney's emergency room visits involved his various allergies, which didn't have nearly the cool factor.
“Our other brother had a skateboard, too," Tommy suddenly piped up, grinding yellow crayon into paper with intense focus. "He died.”
Rodney froze. Tommy kept coloring, oblivious to the fact that he'd just dropped a bomb in the room.
“Tommy,” John said sharply. His voice was harsh, and didn't sound much like the John Rodney had been hanging out with all week.
Jeannie's eyes were positively huge. “Did he drowned?”
“Jeannie!” Rodney hissed, horrified. "Shhh!"
The kids stared at John and Rodney with hurt looks on their faces. Rodney had no idea what the hell he was supposed to do.
“Let’s watch the movie,” John said, after several more painful seconds of silence.
"Mom said I can talk about him whenever I want," Tommy said stubbornly.
"Yeah, well, I'm not Mom," John said, jaw tight as he pushed the buttons on the VCR.
Unfortunately, the tension in the room didn't go away once War Games started. The kids were quiet except for hushed whispers and rustling candy wrappers, and Rodney didn't try to talk to John at all. By the halfway mark, the little ones were snoozing under their blankets, John was staring up at the ceiling while the movie droned on the background, and Rodney couldn't take it anymore.
"Are you okay?" he asked, feeling a little like he was intruding. "Do you want us to leave?"
“No, it's fine," John said. Then, "I shouldn't have yelled at Tommy."
"He'll be okay." When John didn't seem comforted by that, he added, "Jeannie gets yelled at all the time, and she barely notices."
"Yeah, but it's not his fault I hate talking about it," John said. "I just." He huffed out a breath. "He's dead, you know? Talking about it won't bring him back."
“How long ago did it happen?” Rodney asked, which may or may not have been a rude question, especially since John didn't want to talk about it.
John didn't seem to mind. “A couple months ago.”
Their family made sense, Rodney thought, the way they all seemed to bang against each other like pieces that didn’t quite fit together, because one piece was missing, and it would be years before everyone’s edges rubbed smooth enough to fit. Maybe they never would.
“I’m really sorry.”
Rodney didn't know what else to say, but John seemed done talking about it anyway. "Now and Later?" he offered, and John smiled gratefully at him, so Rodney didn't even bitch when he took the grape one.
War Games ended and was replaced by Rocky III. They'd already watched it once, but Tommy, who had a slight Hulk Hogan obsession, had talked most of the way through it, regaling them with tales of the Hulkster's various exploits. This had included a point-by-point retelling of his crushing victory over the Iron Sheik, which went on, Rodney estimated, about three times longer than the actual match itself.
Halfway through the movie, Rodney decided he hadn't missed much the first time. He dozed off, feeling drugged on sugar.
He woke up with his face mashed into the pillow, the remnants of a Now and Later stuck to his teeth, and something tickling his nose. John's hair, he saw, when he cracked his eyes open. He was tucked into a tight ball in the curve of Rodney's body, one narrow shoulder blade poking Rodney's chest.
He knew it was stupid, that John would probably wake up if he did it, but his willpower had already been stretched to the max, so he pressed his face a little closer, breathing apple-scented air into the top of John's head. It did wake John up, and Rodney eased off, feeling disappointed and guilty, but all John did was burrow back until they were spooned together.
"Is this okay?" John asked softly.
"Yeah." It was more than okay, it was fantastic, even if John's ass was pressed against his groin, which Rodney thought was a very, very dangerous position to be in.
Rodney couldn't quite figure out where to put his arm, and since John didn't seem to mind all the touching, he hesitantly draped it over his waist, easily the most terrifying thing he'd ever done. John didn't seem to mind that, either. His shirt was rucked up in the front, and Rodney could feel warm, fuzzy skin there, rising and falling as he breathed. He tried not to touch, but his fingers curled toward his palm anyway, dragging softly over John's bare belly.
They were both utterly still for a moment, and then John slowly turned over, a lazy rearrangement of limbs that ended up with one of his legs between Rodney's, noses bumping as he nuzzled in, hand running up Rodney's shoulder to close around the back of his neck. Rodney was holding on too tight, clutching John's shirt in his fist, but he couldn't stop. He tilted his chin up just enough, and it seemed impossible that this was really happening, but John's eyes fluttered shut and his mouth closed carefully over Rodney's.
It started out gentle, a soft press of slightly open mouth with a hint of grape. When John started to back off, Rodney yanked him back in and went for it.
It was nothing like the first kiss, and nothing like any other kiss of Rodney's life. It was deeper, harder, hungrier, and John went from zero to sixty in milliseconds. He rolled, dragging Rodney half on top of him, grabbing his hair, and when his leg came up and over Rodney’s hip and he ground against him, Rodney thought he might have a heart attack.
Just when they were really getting into it, when Rodney was getting up the nerve to work a hand between their squirming bodies, Jeannie said, “Rodney?” in a groggy voice. They jumped apart, wiping their mouths and clearing their throats, Rodney's face feeling hotter and redder than it ever had under the Florida sun. He had no idea where the last of his Now and Later had gone.
Jeannie was still under the blanket on the other bed, blinking sleepily, and probably hadn’t seen anything. He hoped. "I wanna go to bed," she said.
Dammit. Of all the people in the world with bad timing, Jeannie McKay was a master.
“I should take her back to our room,” Rodney sighed, sincerely wondering if his legs could even hold him up.
"Yeah, I should take Tommy back, too," John said. He sounded short of breath, which didn't help Rodney's leg problem one bit.
They got up, John rising just as gingerly as Rodney, and picked up their respective siblings. Rodney's heart was still racing from the kisses, though at what felt like a more survivable rate. He didn't want to go. Not now.
They stared at each other for a second, not moving. “Can you come back?” John whispered over Tommy's head.
God, yes. Rodney nodded, squeezing Jeannie a little too hard when John grinned at him. “Cool," John said over Jeannie's complaints. "See you in a few.”
“Yeah. In a few,” Rodney gulped.
They'd just made plans to mess around, he realized as he stepped into the hallway, and holy Christ he needed to get rid of his sister now.
He raced back to their suite as fast as he could, pausing only to double back and pick up Jeannie's Cabbage Patch doll when it tumbled out of her hands. He wrestled her into her pajamas and into her bed as fast as he could, then slipped into the bathroom to brush his teeth before he scribbled a note for his mom.
The door to John’s room was propped open on the deadbolt when Rodney got there, so he darted inside without knocking and locked it behind him. John was standing in the middle of the dark room, and Rodney only saw his face in the light from the hallway for a second before the door closed, but there was no mistaking the mixture of terror and excitement. Rodney had just seen that same look on his own face in the bathroom mirror.
Neither of them moved at first, but Rodney had three days of frustration and longing built up, and he wasn't waiting another second. He kicked off his shoes, and that was all John needed to get him moving, too. They tumbled onto the bed, kissing and groping, John laughing against his mouth.
John started pulling off Rodney’s clothes and putting his hands all over him, and Rodney almost ripped John’s T-shirt trying to get it off over his cast, and then they were naked. Skin sliding against skin, glancing contact and insistent pressure, and John's eyelashes brushing his jaw while his mouth explored Rodney's throat.
Then John’s fingers slid along Rodney’s thigh and Rodney’s eyes rolled back in his head because, wow. It was so much better with someone else’s fingers stroking him, making him twitch and shiver. He was never going to forget this, never going to forget John, and never forget the way John said his name, choked and muffled into Rodney’s neck, when Rodney touched him back.
Rodney was loving his life. He’d gotten further with John in three days than he had with Jenny Hammerling in three weeks, and if dating guys was always like this, he was signing up.
He was even feeling magnanimous towards Florida and its godawful sunshine, which he'd decided wasn't so bad when it was streaming in through the windows while John licked a wet stripe down his belly.
They spent as much time as possible in John's room, in John's bed, working diligently at perfecting the art of the handjob, the blowjob, and just about anything else they could think of. John had a suck mark on his hip, and Rodney had a small bump on his head where John's flailing arm had bonked him with his cast, and maybe the hot water stung just a little on sensitive places in the shower, but they weren't going to stop for anything in the world. They didn't talk about it, but they both knew they didn't have much time, and they would probably never see each other again.
“Do you not want me to go?” Rodney asked that night. John got oddly quiet whenever the Kennedy trip came up, and Rodney was starting to wonder if he wasn't welcome, which was an unpleasant thought in more ways than he cared to count.
"Of course I want you to go," John said, but his face was carefully blank, the ceiling suddenly of interest to him.
"You don't act like it." If it had hurt to think it, it hurt fifty times more to say it out loud.
"What am I supposed to act like?" Just a touch of irritation showed through the blankness; this was clearly another thing John didn't want to talk about.
"I don't know," Rodney said. This conversation was making his stomach ache, the closest thing they'd had to a fight all week, the Tron vs. Blade Runner debate not included. "I think you wish your mom had never brought it up in front of me."
John scowled and covered his eyes with his forearm. Probably so he wouldn't have to look him in the face when he told him he didn't want him to go, Rodney thought. He braced for it, but John just sighed and said, “No. I just. You know. My dad. He can be...” John's fingers opened and closed, opened and closed. "Well, you met him."
“You have no idea what I'd put up with to see that place,” Rodney said, meaning it from the bottom of every corpuscle.
John lifted his arm enough to turn his head and raise a suggestive eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Oh, yeah," Rodney said, grateful the fight was over and he was still going to Kennedy after all.
John rolled onto his side and hitched closer. This time, his fingers closed over Rodney's hip. “Even the Deadly Romanian Chokehold of Doom?” he asked.
"I'm pretty sure that's not what this is called," Rodney said.
Space shuttle Discovery was set to go up in two weeks, and Rodney desperately wished they could stay and see it launch. It was in the bay right now, people swarming over it, and when the colonel’s friend asked if they’d like to see the inside, Rodney had to sit down and put his head between his knees so he wouldn’t faint.
He spent the whole tour vibrating with excitement, and even John, who was playing it slightly cooler than Rodney, looked fit to explode when some of the crew wandered into the bay. Two of them even signed John's cast, Michael Coats writing his name with a flourish right next to Jeannie's blocky pink crayon letters.
When the adults stepped away to talk, Rodney turned to look up at her one more time, still not quite believing he was here. This whole day--this whole week--seemed like it was way too good to be true.
John moved closer and put his hand in his pocket so his bent elbow brushed against Rodney’s bare arm. It was only the smallest touch, but Rodney was aware of it, so aware of it. He’d never been this happy in his whole life, he thought.
He moved his arm, bumping against John, who bumped back, and they grinned stupidly at each other before they went back to staring up at Discovery.
He'd be back here eventually, Rodney thought. He belonged here, and he would make it happen.
“Someday, I’m gonna build one of those,” he said.
“Someday,” John said, “I’m gonna fly one.”
Comment on this story at my LiveJournal: http://devildoll.livejournal.com/746278.html
- Space Shuttle Discovery took off from Kennedy Space Center on August 30th, 1984.
- Yes, movies on videotape did once cost $100 and up.
- Link found randomly on the web that was oh so timely: Computer Camp, 1983. It's up to you to decide who is Rodney and who is Wes Preston.
- My former step-mother, who is from Maine and loves winter BEYOND ALL REASON, did get sunburn through her clothing on a family trip to Florida. She insisted she was genetically unsuited for Florida.
Teenage Kicks by Undertones
Are teenage dreams so hard to beat
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighborhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night
I'm gonna call her on the telephone
Have her over cos i'm all alone
I need excitement oh i need it bad
And it's the best, i've ever had
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night