NOTES & DISCLAIMERS: Young Americans is the property of the WB and other corporate entities. And probably some soft drink company. No profit ever for me. The book referred to in the English class is Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Thanks to Amber and Dine for betas. Title from the New Radicals song.


GET WHAT YOU GIVE

He got lost in New York.

He had Jake's address, of course, and when he got off the train, he caught a cab. The cab driver stared at him when he gave the address and then asked him how they got there. Hamilton said, "I don't know. Isn't that your job?" The driver got within ten blocks and said they were there, overcharged him and then drove away.

He walked around for an hour before he found the house. Jake didn't even seem that happy to see him.

*

She didn't come back to Rawley. Of all the shit people had pulled over the years, it turned out that dressing like a guy and getting good grades was the sort of thing that got you expelled. It probably didn't help that Hamilton had freaked out and run away to New York when he found out Jake might not come back to school. It didn't help that Jake's mom finally noticed her and didn't take a job for three weeks.

Jake emailed him: Can you believe my mother made me see a therapist? At first the guy had a million questions about my 'gender identity' and then he just said let's talk about your relationship with your mother. After two weeks, she said her mother even came to a session.

*

School started and his parents said he had proved that he wasn't ready to live in the dorms. "Maybe next semester," his mother said. He thought about all the hard luck out-of-control kids who ended up in Rawley and wondered how anyone thought running away for three days before being sent home in a limo compared to that.

He wondered if they'd heard the rumors that he was gay.

*

So there was school which was harder than summer session. He sort of knew everyone. But they all knew each other better. Even Will and Scout had come back from six weeks in St. Martin with a secret language that shut him out.

He was moping. His mother said so. His father didn't say anything but September was really busy for him. Hamilton spent every night in his room with his door closed IMing with Jake as much as he could. As much as she was online.

*

Scout said, "Dude, everyone likes you. Everybody thinks you're cool. Anyone who listens to those stories, man, they're full of shit. I mean, sure, Jake had a lot of us fooled, but I know you sensed her inner pussy."

"Fuck, man, don't use the word pussy about Jake."

Scout blushed.

Will was the one who said it straight. As it were. "Man, Bella said Grace told her that Ryder's telling everyone you blew him. And that you sucked at it. But that might have been Grace talking. I dunno, man, it's bullshit. Ryder's such an asswipe."

"That's completely untrue, you know."

"Of course." Will rolled his eyes. "Who believes the crap that comes out of Ryder's mouth?"

*

In October, he'd officially served his punishment for running away and his parents said he could go to New York for the weekend to see Jake. But Jake's mother had a new play in Connecticut and she was actually taking Jake. She didn't say anything about him coming.

So Hamilton called her up and said, "Maybe we should break up."

She was quiet for a moment and then said, "Sorry."

He thought she'd say no way, that she loved him more than the crumbs of her mother's attention and she'd make time for one weekend with him. Instead she said, "I love you, you know that, but."

*

They never even had sex.

His mother gave him a soft look and said a lot of things that he didn't listen to about love and losing people you loved. He was pretty sure it was crap. What did she know?

*

His parents had given him a new bicycle so he biked into town every afternoon for a week. He was sitting in that diner place Scout had worked at over the summer, nursing his third coke and reading Wired when Bella came in and sat down across from him.

"Hey, you," she said, poking his magazine with a straw.

"Hey."

"So I heard about the break up. Sorry."

"You heard?" He looked up from his magazine.

"We email. I mean, me and Jake."

"You have a computer?" He saw her frown and said, "I mean, I know you were having problems after you guys bought the station back and I just didn't think you had a computer. But you do."

She shrugged. "It's a piece of crap. I mean, Windows 95. It crashes all the time."

"I can get you Windows 98. Look at your computer." He liked the idea of being helpful.

"Really?" She stood up. "Like right now? I'm trying to use it for school and it's such a piece of shit." She blushed as she cursed.

He followed her back to her house. Grace came into the room while he was running a scan on the computer and said, "I was gonna say Dad won't like you having a guy around that he doesn't know, but I know you're safe with Hammie." She smirked.

"Shut up, Grace." Bella flicked her off. Hamilton kept his eyes on the screen.

*

There was a dance. There was always a dance. He hadn't thought about going before. But he got tired of people leaving the showers when he walked in or asking him for sex tips. Sometimes it was the same guys. Rawley students, he thought, were very stupid.

He'd been over at Bella's house every afternoon for two weeks. After he'd installed a back up and talked her through the accounting software he'd pirated, he said, "So. There's this dance at school."

"Last Rawley dance I went to sucked." She licked her lips. "You really want to bring a girl, don't you?"

"I think it would be a good thing. I mean, some of the guys think I'm gay and some of them think I'm this incredible stud and it's stupid. It drives me crazy." He looked at her and hoped he looked doleful. "It would be great if you went with me. Just as friends. You can tell Sean that and, I promise, no moves. Nothing."

She sat down and played with her hair. "Sean and me broke up."

"So I can try some moves?" He grinned.

"No." She stood up and patted his shoulder. "But I'll go. You need it."

*

She had a different dress from the cotillion. This one was beige more than white. Hamilton remembered everything about the cotillion because he remembered the kiss. When Clifton Peverell offered them a swig from his flash, Hamilton took a deep breath and said, "Please."

Bella rolled her eyes and said no. He drank more than two sips and said, "Can I have more later, too?"

Clifton smirked. "Absolutely."

Bella patted his arm and said, "Okay, come on. Let's do this."

It wasn't really that hard at first. She hung on his arm and knew his friends, so they stood and talked with Will and then Scout. They danced to two faster songs and one slow one. It was fine.

Bella wandered away to get "something that is actually food and not just a sprig of parsley." Clifton offered him another drink. Hamilton nodded yes. Clifton emptied the flask into a glass of punch and handed it over. Hamilton drank it all in two swallows. His throat burned and his eyes watered. Much better, he thought.

At some point he had to go to the bathroom. He leaned against the wall and tried to think if it would be worse if he peed in his pants. Maybe he could go outside.

It was just a fucking bathroom. The same bathroom where they first kissed. Back when he was the center of her attention.

He went in the bathroom. It looked the same. He stared at the wall. When he was done, he washed his hands. The water was so hot it was scalding.

He didn't look up when the door opened and so he wasn't prepared for Ryder, fucking Ryder suddenly breathing on his neck, stinking of cigarettes and saying, "The dean's pretty daughter, all dressed up for the party."

"Fuck off." Hamilton backed up away from him.

Ryder grabbed his arm. "Oh, come on. Let's visit."

Hamilton backed away again and then he was against the wall. He put his hands out for balance. "I don't want to visit. I'm leaving."

"Door's two feet that way." Ryder said, stepping up close and smirking. "Did you have a little drink? Are you breaking the rules?"

Hamilton thought, stupid. He thought, do something and leave.

Ryder stepped even closer and put a hand against the wall, right by Hamilton's head. He said, "Nice cologne. Rum?"

He was sniffing Hamilton's neck. Stupid.

Hamilton said, "What are you going to do now? Kiss me?"

Stupid. Ryder leaned in, stale smell everywhere, and kissed him. Mouth against his, tongue pushing in, teeth clicking together. Hamilton pressed his hands against the wall. His fingertips burned. Ryder tasted bad.

He made his hands move and he pushed Ryder away. Ryder didn't move more than an inch. He said, "Like you didn't enjoy that," and moved one hand, brief hot touching him down there. Hamilton tried to breathe.

He mumbled, "Fuck you," and walked back out to the party. He danced three more times with Bella and didn't see Ryder again that night.

*

He didn't have any classes with Ryder, he never saw him. It wasn't summer session anymore.

He knocked on Ryder's door and went in without waiting for a reply.

Ryder was hunched over his desk. He looked up briefly and narrowed his eyes. Then he went back to looking at his book. He said, "Do you know anything about calculus?"

Hamilton blinked. "I'm taking pre-calc. I'm a sophomore."

"Then you're not going to be much help." Ryder slammed his book closed and spun around in his chair. "And now I'm bored."

"Look, I wanted to talk to you."

Ryder rolled his eyes. "Then come in and close the door, please? I don't like to be seen with you."

Hamilton closed the door and leaned against it. Up against a wall, again. "You don't want to be seen with me but you'll kiss me?"

Ryder was right there again but this time he smelled like deodorant and socks. He said, "No one else was in the bathroom, o brilliant one. You're very perceptive, you know that?"

"Shut up."

Ryder shrugged. He leaned forward and his hand hovered around Hamilton's waist. "I'm still bored. Are you going to do anything? At all?"

"I'm going to leave. I don't know why I came here." He wished he knew.

A hand against his waist, hot through his jeans, and he heard Ryder say, "Let's see, you're very very gay and you want me and you're all tortured or something stupid like that," and then Ryder was kissing him again.

There was nothing soft about the kiss, nothing like Jake or the two girls before her. And Ryder, Ryder was unbuttoning his jeans.

Hamilton felt drunk again. He couldn't quite stand and he didn't want to fall which was what he told himself as he grabbed the back of Ryder's neck.

Ryder said, "I'll go first but you have to reciprocate."

He didn't say yes but when Ryder had a hand around his dick, Hamilton thrust up so he guessed that counted. It did to Ryder because he started moving his hand. Moving, jerking, Hamilton couldn't think of the right word. Better than doing it himself. He was sweating and his shirt felt damp. He felt drunk still, almost woozy, tension tight in his stomach, bright and hot against his neck and jaw and mouth where Ryder kept kissing him and he was sure he'd never felt quite this good.

He hit his head against the door when he came. He said, "ow," and slumped to the floor. He'd come on his shirt. Gross. He pulled off his shirt and looked up at Ryder. Ryder was flushed and breathing heavily.

Ryder said, "My turn," harshly and opened his own jeans. He grabbed Hamilton's hand and put it on his dick, kept his own hand over Hamilton's and started pulling up and down. His hand felt raw. Hamilton grabbed Ryder's shirt and kept at it even after Ryder moved his hand away. Ryder tugged at Hamilton's hair, brought him closer to his dick. Hamilton was panting, watching his own hand move and he was doing that.

Then Ryder sat down on his bed and changed into pajama pants. Hamilton said, "Give me a shirt. I have to walk home."

Ryder rolled his eyes again but he threw a shirt over. Hamilton looked at it and said, "No, fucker, give me one of your Rawley shirts. I have to go home."

Ryder said, "See you later, I'm sure," as Hamilton closed the door.

*

He went back. Ryder was sitting at his desk again, but this time he didn't ask about homework or school. He just closed his book and fiddled with something on his desk, then stood up and took off his shirt.

Hamilton leaned against the closed door and thought he should say something about assumptions. But his mouth was dry and instead he said, "Why did you tell everyone I gave you a blowjob?"

Ryder shrugged and sat down on his bed. He started taking off his jeans. "I don't really remember. It was months ago, wasn't it? At least a few weeks." He shifted on the bed and his jeans were on the floor. "I think, really, I was just thinking that you had a fuckable mouth. Wishful thinking?" Another movement and he was naked. He held his dick and licked his lips. "Make my wish come true."

This was the part where Hamilton thought he should just leave. Humiliation. For Ryder. He thought about it but he walked to the bed.

He didn't make Ryder's wish come true, it was just more handjobs. This time Hamilton took his shirt off first so he didn't need to borrow one.

*

Ryder went down on him first, the third time Hamilton visited. Hamilton didn't go down on him until the fourth time. Ryder pulled at his hair and his voice was raspy as he said, "Keep your eyes open. I want to see your eyes." Like a staring contest. It hurt Hamilton's throat but he liked it.

They didn't talk, except when Ryder was explaining in his own special way how Hamilton could do things better, when they were both swearing at each other, when they came.

The tenth time Ryder said, "I'd like to fuck you." They were naked on Ryder's bed again, Ryder looking up from between Hamilton's thighs, fingers moving inside him. Hamilton closed his eyes and pushed his hips down, harder.

He said, "You first."

Ryder looked up at the ceiling and said, "Fine. Fine."

Hamilton liked that, too. Lying over Ryder, holding his hips and fucking him. He nearly blacked out when he came.

The eleventh time, Ryder fucked him. Ryder waited until right before he first pushed in to say, "This might hurt a bit. Don't be loud, the walls are thin."

Hamilton said, "Shut up." Ryder grunted and then it did hurt. But less than he'd expected. He clawed at the bed and the sheets came up, no purchase. Ryder held onto his hips, fingers digging in as he thrust.

Another thing Hamilton liked he hadn't expected. Liked a lot. He felt Ryder breathing on his back and then his neck, his back again, warm wet breath and Ryder inside him. He closed his eyes and thought if he had a camera, if he had a picture he'd send it to Jake. To show her.

*

He went to Bella's once a week. They were building a computer for Grace now, buying parts on Ebay and putting it together themselves. It was fun. He was checking on a new email program he'd installed on Bella's computer when he saw the email. He closed his eyes but he'd seen the address, he knew it, and then he saw the subject with the re: in front of it.

Bella noticed he'd stopped typing. She said, "Yeah. We still write." She looked away for a moment and then back at him. "I mean, we're friends, Hamilton, me and her."

"She doesn't write me." He looked away from the screen, away from her. He found himself staring at the crack on the rim of the glass of Coke Bella was drinking. Bubbles, he thought, and he couldn't remember the word for soft drinks and then he thought, carbonated.

Bella said, "I know. She misses you, you know. Like, do with that what you want, but if you wrote her, she'd write back."

She'd write back, but she wouldn't come back. He wanted her here.

*

He had a routine. School and studying at nights, ignoring his parents and checking his email every hour to see if Jake had emailed which she never did. Those parts of his life dragged like they would never end. He went over to Bella's once a week and worked on the computer for Gracie, then building an even better one for Bella. He went to Ryder's room two or three times a week. Those parts flew by.

Ryder actually did his homework; his books were always open and marked up. He only read books for class. He liked British music, mostly things Hamilton didn't recognize. He spent a lot on his clothes. His mother wrote often, his stepfather never. Neither of them ever called. Hamilton picked up all those things from sitting in his room because it wasn't like they talked. Ryder would bitch about Hamilton's hair and his technique, Hamilton would tell Ryder to shut up and then they'd be quiet.

*

In November, his mother said he could move into the dorms next semester, "If you still want."

He shrugged. "Not particularly. This is fine."

She shook her head. "I want you to be happy, Hamilton. I thought the dorms were what you wanted, since you spend so much time there already. Who's the friend?"

Hamilton slumped deeper into his chair. Like it was her business. "No one. I'm not visiting a friend."

"Not your friend Will or Scout? I see you eating lunch with them."

"Nope."

She was right behind him. He could hear her breathing. She was pissed which he thought was stupid. His life was none of her business. "Munchie, I'm worried about you. You seem depressed, you disappear for hours at a time, you never talk to me. I want to know what you're doing."

"I'm not doing anything. I'm sorry I'm not over this, this awful thing that happened to me in time for you. My grades are fine, you can clean out my hair brush and test me, whatever, so I think you should stop worrying." He stood up and marched out. He knew he'd get in trouble when he got back, grounded or something. They couldn't really hurt him anymore.

Ryder was sitting on his bed when Hamilton came in. "Aren't the dorms locked down now?"

"Like I don't have a key. Where's your roommate?"

"He's got a girl in town. A fatal weakness for townies, it's a sad thing." Ryder grabbed his pager.

"What are you doing?"

Ryder snorted. "Don't you ever wonder why he doesn't ever walk in?" He threw his pager back on the desk. "I told him I have ADD so I page him when I need to be alone to study."

"You probably do have ADD."

"You're so clever," Ryder said. Hamilton was already naked and getting into the bed. "Aren't you glad I worked out a little system, though? I'm sure you don't want your reputation sullied more."

"Thank you," Hamilton sneered. "Isn't he suspicious that you say you're studying and he comes back and you look like you're been fucking?"

"He thinks I've been wanking, so what?" Ryder grabbed Hamilton's neck and tugged at his hair. "Why are you here so late? Couldn't sleep?"

Hamilton reached down and held Ryder's dick. "You don't care." Then he kissed Ryder so he would shut up. He muttered, "We have to be quick."

Ryder said, "Fine," and then flipped him over, pushing him into the bed. Ryder's sheets always smelled clean. Ryder smelled clean, too. Ryder rubbed against him and kissed him hard, teeth pulling at his lower lip. Hamilton clawed at his ass. They were both bruised and done in fifteen minutes.

Hamilton took a deep breath and rolled off the bed. He got dressed and said, "See you later." He closed the door before he heard if Ryder replied. When he got back home, he snuck in the back door and made it to his room without anyone seeing him.

He only got grounded for two days for mouthing off to his mother.

*

At lunch, Will said, "So, Scout is going home for the Christmas break, I'm staying in the dorms. What about you, Ham?"

"Don't call me that. And, you know, we don't vacation. So I'll be here, of course."

Will started talking about plans and things the two of them could do, hanging out with Bella and Sean. Hamilton looked up and saw Ryder's roommate come into the cafeteria. Scout looked up, too, and said, "Man, I would not want to room with Ryder. Fucker."

Will said, "I heard he's sleeping with three different girls in town."

Hamilton said, "Ryder or the roommate? I heard the roommate's sleeping with some girl."

"Ryder. The roommate's dating some friend of Bella's, uh, Kayleigh?" Will glanced at Hamilton and Hamilton looked down at his crappy lunch.

"I've got this thing I need to write before English," Hamilton said and got up.

*

Jake sent a Christmas card but no gift. He didn't send her anything because he wasn't expecting her to send anything at all.

*

It snowed for the first time in December and didn't seem to stop for weeks. Or months. Hamilton wiped out once on his bike on his way to Bella's and scratched his arm from wrist to elbow. Ryder made fun of him and called him clumsy but managed to avoid brushing against the arm when they fucked on his desk.

In the middle of February it stopped snowing and the temperatures rose above freezing. The snow melted and all the grass was yellow. Ryder smirked and said, "Let's fuck by the lake. There's a load of places where no one will see us."

"Like something romantic?" Hamilton was trying to get his boot off. "I'm not interested in romance with you."

"It's not romantic, it's hot."

"We'll freeze." He stopped trying to get his boots off, though.

They snuck out and found a place near the lake's edge where Ryder swore no one would see. "Brought a girl here last year and she screamed her head off. No one noticed."

Which meant, naturally, right about the time when Ryder was slumped over with his head buried in Hamilton's lap and Hamilton was panting, "fuck, fuck," the bushes rustled and Will peeked in. He looked appalled and then he disappeared. Hamilton came and Ryder didn't notice anything.

He thought he'd get to wait until morning to have to talk to Will but the fucker was waiting on the steps for him. He still looked appalled. Hamilton said, "What are you doing here?"

Will stood up and sputtered and then said, "Was that Ryder?"

"It's none of your business, Will." He tried to walk by, but Will moved so he couldn't.

"Look, okay, I guess you're, you're gay and --"

"I'm not."

"But you were-- have you been doing that a while?"

"It's none of your business. I have to get to my room before my mom checks on me." Hamilton clenched and unclenched his fists.

"We can talk tomorrow but right now I just want to know, why Ryder? God, Ham, he's such an asshole. You don't even like him."

Hamilton muttered, "Don't fucking call me Ham," and pushed past Will, finally.

*

He managed to miss Will before first period and they didn't have a class together until right before lunch. Maybe he'd escape having to talk.

Someone grabbed his shoulder as he walked to his next class and he turned around saying, "Will --"

It was Ryder. He hissed, "No, me. But I had a little chat with Will this morning. Why didn't you tell me last night?"

"God, what did he say?"

"I think you can imagine. Something about what a bad, bad person I am and how I better keep my hands off you which was quite funny considering you started this."

"You started it."

"Oh, please." Ryder rolled his eyes. "I've hardly been holding a gun to your head for the last fucking six months."

"No." Hamilton looked down at the floor. "I was hoping he would just bother me. I'll take care of it."

"I'll take that as a sorry, then." Ryder paused and looked around all the students walking by, some of them staring outright at the two of them. "Look, Will's full of shit. Don't believe any stories he tells you."

"You're the one who's full of shit. I've never known Will to lie to me. What's --" The bell rang again and Hamilton pushed by, shoving Ryder's shoulder.

Ryder walked on to his class, shoulders slumped.

Will caught him after second period in the hallway. He said, "Can we talk during lunch?"

"Do we have to? Just, god, Will, accept it, okay? It's none of your business."

"God, Hamilton, are you insane?" How can you? Do you, you know, fuck."

"Look. We're not, you know, dating or anything. It's just --"

Will whispered, "Sex? That's all? He's a complete asswipe, you know that?" Will looked deranged, angry like Hamilton had sat on his mother or something. Hamilton found it mystifying. Then Will looked around and said quietly, "When summer session first started, me and Ryder saw your mother kissing Finn and Ryder was perfectly happy to tell everyone, he didn't give a shit."

The word shit sounded incredibly loud to Hamilton, echoing in his head. He threw his bag at Will and heard himself shouting, "What the fuck did you say?"

Will made a woof sound when the bag hit, then brought up his fists. He said, "You heard me, damn it."

Hamilton tackled him, heard something crack on the floor and started hitting every part of Will he could feel. His hands hurt and his shoulder ached and he kept going.

*

His father sighed and rubbed at his face. He said, "I'm here as the dean and as your father, Hamilton."

Hamilton stared at the ceiling. His father said, "Why did you attack Mr. Krudski?"

He closed his eyes. He wasn't going to say a word. It would all just come out of him like vomit if he opened his mouth and he knew it. His father said, "Please, Hamilton. I should suspend you."

He thought, go ahead. Suspend me, you fuck. He felt sorry for his dad because -- then he stopped thinking. His father spoke again. Now he sounded sad and broken. "I know you've been depressed, I know you've been upset, and I thought by now you'd be over this and stop acting out. I need you to talk to me."

If he opened his mouth, he'd say what Will had said, he'd talk about Ryder, he'd cry. He pressed his lips together and looked at the ceiling.

"Hamilton," his father said slowly, "go home. I'll have this figured out when I get home for dinner. I'm calling your mother." Hamilton opened his mouth when he got out the office but all he could do was laugh.

He went home and thought he'd be too full of thoughts to do anything but instead he went to his room and fell straight asleep. When he woke up his father was standing over him and his mother was rubbing his leg. His father said, "Hamilton?"

He rubbed his eyes and said, "Yeah." He could talk again. He should think of a lie.

His mother said, "Will said he provoked you. He wouldn't say how, but he was very apologetic. He said you shouldn't get in trouble."

Hamilton sat up. He said, "Fuck him."

"Hamilton." His father crossed his arms. "Whatever Mr. Krudski said, no fighting at Rawley. You're suspended for the rest of the week. You will not be permitted to make up any tests you miss. Furthermore, you're grounded for two weeks. You can leave the house for school and you will come straight back when classes are over. No visiting in the dorms, no trips to town. No phone calls." Another deep breath. "And we're changing the lock on the back door. You'll get the new key when you're not grounded anymore."

"Fine." He didn't look at either of them. "Look, can I at least call Bella to tell her I'm not coming?"

His mother said, "I'll call her. I have the number."
 
He didn't want to look at her so he laid back down and rolled onto his side. He said, "I don't want dinner."

*

Will sat down next to him at lunch the next day. Hamilton said, "Fuck off."

"I deserve that."

"Yes. Please leave." Hamilton thought he'd never eat again.

"Look, I'm sorry. I couldn't be sorrier. Caroline and I broke up, I had this stupid fight with Scout, Bella was giving me crap about something and then this thing with you and I never should have said those things."

"Were they true?"

Will looked at his tray and didn't say anything. Hamilton grabbed his books and left.

*

Scout brought him notes from the classes he missed and said, "He feels really bad. I don't know what happened or anything like that, but I know he feels really sorry."

"Thanks for the notes," he said. "I'll get in trouble again if you stay."

His mother said over dinner they were thinking about sending him to therapy. Hamilton said he wouldn't go. He looked at his food. It tasted like sand. He promised them he'd be better.

*

When he wasn't grounded he biked into town to see Bella. She hugged him hello. "I can't believe you got into a fight."

He shrugged. He sat down at the computer and started booting it up. She said, "Will feels really bad."

"I keep hearing that." He stopped the boot because of a whine he heard. "Can we not talk about it?"

"You got suspended. Shouldn't we talk about it?"

"I don't want to, okay? Can we just, you know, talk about computers and, um, anything else?"

She said, "Okay, fine."

When he got back he went to the dorms and walked up to Ryder's room. He should, he thought, not do this. But he knocked on the door and went in. Ryder stared at him and then said, "Your dear friend William told me you were grounded."

"He what?"

Ryder said, "It was unbelievable. He acts like we're dating." He stood up and took off his shirt. "Insane, yes?"

"Yes, god. He's so fucking annoying. Like you wouldn't have heard anyway." Hamilton took off his shirt too and said, "Don't forget to page your roommate."

*

He made up with Will, mostly by nodding a lot when Will apologized. Will finally said, "So, do we talk about this?"

"About?"

"Um. You're gay? Or something? And dating someone you hate?"

"I'm not dating him. Okay. It's just, just." Hamilton closed his eyes. "I can't believe you went to talk to him."

"I was trying to help." Will looked away. "I hate him, I can't believe." He shrugged. "Okay, never mind. If it's just sex, I guess." He trailed off and sighed.

"Does that count as talking about it?" Hamilton rubbed his eyes. "I have a lot of studying to do."

*

All the girls Ryder was supposedly dating in school and in town, they never left marks on him. Hamilton wondered how Ryder explained the bruises on his hips, the marks on his back to the girls. He never asked. He didn't imagine the girls Ryder spent time with thought he'd never done anything before.

Ryder had grown out his hair. Hamilton said, "Nice mullet."

"It's not a mullet, Fleming." He tugged at Hamilton's hair. "And what's this, then? Too depressed to cut your hair? Sad, beaten down?"

"I'll beat you," he muttered and grabbed Ryder's hair to pull him down towards his crotch.

Ryder shook off Hamilton's hands and opened his mouth. His tongue, his fingers against Hamilton's dick, and it was just like every single time they'd ever done this. A buzz in his head, a tight feeling in his chest and his fingers tingling. He liked that he never thought about anything else but what they did, the sex. It was the best distraction he'd found.

*

Finn paced in front of them. Even with spring finally come, they still had class inside. No more summer session bullshit classes in the shell. Finn held up the blue paperback and said, "What's happening here?"

Scout said, "It's like a spiral. Yossarian keeps thinking about this one incident and not thinking about it. And we don't see what actually happened until the very end."

"Which Heller also did in his lesser book, Dear God. What else?"

"So it's about denial?" Scout wrote down something in his notebook.

Hamilton hated Finn. He'd stopped taking notes in class since the fight with Will. His grade hadn't suffered at all.

As they were finishing up, Hamilton raised his hand and said, "Are we going to read different books next semester? Maybe ones that might be on the AP English exam?"

Finn looked bored. "Like what, Mr. Fleming?"

"Like ones written by women, maybe? Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Alice Walker, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Conner?"

"You sound just like your mother." Finn smirked.

Hamilton glared at him. "Those authors have all showed up on the AP English exam and you don't teach them. I think that's stupid."

"You take the AP English exam at the end of next year."

"My friend who goes to the high school in town is already reading some of them."

"Public schools are more hostage to political correctness. Here we teach --"

Hamilton stood up as the bell rang and thought, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, how dare he bring up his mother. Then Will jostled his arm and gave him a look, like he had a right to an opinion. Finn was still smirking as they all walked out. Asshole.

*

Ryder bent down and kissed him once, twice, and then bit Hamilton's lower lip, laughing. Panting. He pushed against Hamilton's legs and thrust harder. Hamilton closed his eyes and thought about nothing at all. He felt alive and hot and he was just about to come.

When they were done, Ryder said, "I'm going to college in Cambridge. Any chance you'll be driving up once in a while?"

"They let you into Harvard?" Hamilton snorted and pulled on his pants.

"They did. And my dear stepfather only gave them a very small financial gift." Ryder looked away and said, "It wouldn't be that far away if you felt like visiting. I promise not to admit knowing you. You'd be even more embarrassing up there so it won't be hard."

"I'm not going to Boston just to have sex with you. Besides, I'm sure you'll find plenty of people to fuck. At least until they get to know you." He was at the door when he added, "Thanks for asking," but he wasn't sure why he said it.

*

He thought he'd write Jake an email but he had no idea what to say. Dear Jake, how are you? I'm numb and depressed most of the time. I'm getting laid, though, so I guess that counts for something. I'm fucking Ryder. Thanks for making me gay.

Not that she'd turned him gay. Not that he was gay. Or maybe he was. But he'd spent a lot of time when he and Jake were going out thinking about her naked, how he'd touch her. He'd never once thought about Ryder in bed when they weren't actually in bed. He'd never thought about Ryder outside of bed ever.

He'd opened an email and started typing Dear Jake when his mother came in his room. Without knocking. He closed everything on his computer and didn't look at her.

"Hamilton, I really want to talk."

"What did I do now?" He sighed and thought, liar, liar, liar.

"You didn't do anything. You're not doing anything at all." She touched his shoulder. "Sweetie, I worry about you."

He looked at the black screen. He took a deep breath and said, "Mom." Then, "Were you having an affair with Finn last year?"

She gasped and took a step back. He thought she stumbled. She said, "Who told you that?"

"Why does it matter?" He stood up and turned around. She was pale, her arms crossed over her chest. If he hadn't believed it before, he knew it was completely true now.

She closed her eyes and covered her face. Then she took away her hands and said, "Look, I can't explain this, but it's over and it's done and it never went very far."

"Very far? What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means -- God, I don't know." Her shoulders shook and she looked like she was about to cry. "Does your father know?"

"How would I know?" His father didn't know, though, Hamilton was pretty sure. They both would have been able to tell.

She was crying now, her voice ragged. "Is this why you've been so out of it?"

He shrugged. He had no idea. He didn't want to think about it. He said, "I don't want to talk about it. I just, I wanted to know. And now I do."

She tried to hug him but he pulled away. He said, "I need to study, Mom, okay?" He was surprised to hear his voice crack.

She said, "I love you, honey," but she left.

*

His mother kept looking at him until he finally said, "Mom, it's okay. It's okay."

She nodded but she said, "Is it really? Is this why you've been so depressed?"

He looked away and said, "Maybe. But it's okay. Okay?"

She rubbed his shoulder. Another hug and he hugged her back to make her go away. She said, "It's completely over, Hamilton. And you know I love you and your father loves you and nothing is going to change."

He almost laughed.

*

Hamilton was studying in his room, books open, the same draft email with just a "Hi, it's me," open on the computer when someone knocked on his door.

"What?" He didn't want to talk to his mother again. Things had been pretty much back to normal for the past two weeks.

Ryder walked in and closed the door behind him. "Long time no see."

"What are you doing here?" Hamilton stood up.

"I haven't seen you in two weeks. I wondered if you'd gotten in trouble again." Ryder leaned against the door.

"No." Hamilton sighed. "I just decided not to do this anymore. This," he waved at Ryder, "thing the two of us do."

Ryder stared at him.

Hamilton said, "I'm sorry. I should have said something."

"Decided you're straight? Because you're not."

Hamilton sat down on his bed. "I know. I meant, more, not with you. Not what we're doing."

"So you're dumping me. Or would be if you ever gave a damn about me."

Hamilton winced. "Pretty much." There was a long silence.

"You're not breaking my heart, Fleming, don't worry," Ryder finally said. "You were a pretty good lay, towards the end, so I'll miss that." He sat down next to him. "One last time, then? Before you find your true love of a boyfriend?"

Hamilton lay back on the bed. He was tired and he felt guilty. It was so much easier to say yes. "Fine. Whatever. Come here."

Ryder was on top of him in a moment. Hamilton braced himself for rough, rougher than they used to have. Instead Ryder kissed him without biting and stripped him without tearing anything. And everything was suddenly slow, the kissing, the touching. Even when Ryder took Hamilton's dick in his mouth, even then he was slow. Then Ryder fucked him and slow was just maddening and teasing and evil. Hamilton wondered if it ever would have been like that with Jake. It wouldn't have been this good, he thought and looked away. It was time to stop distracting himself.

Ryder stood up afterwards and dressed without saying anything. Hamilton looked at him and said, "What was that?"

"Let you see what you'll be missing." Ryder smirked but it wasn't much of one. He mostly looked tired. "I have things to do."

*

Bella said, "You know what? This summer we should start a business. I mean, not the expensive way with incorporating and lawyers. But we could put up ads and do, like, computer repair. We've gotten really good at this."

"That's a great idea." He grinned and leaned back in the chair. "I mean, I can take do some of the day stuff, when I'm not in class and you're working, and then we have the evenings and stuff."

"Totally." She smiled and patted his arm. "We make a good team." Her hand was warm, her nails dirty.

He smiled and patted her hand. Then he moved away from her. "Business team. We'll be rich. Sort of."

She grimaced. Then she shook her head and pushed her hair back. She had really beautiful hair. But he stayed where he was. She smiled again and said, "Any money I can start saving towards college is a really good thing."

*

He had to sit up on the dais with his parents for graduation. Watch all the students go by, off to colleges, every one. His father did good work or the parents did. Ryder's stepfather making a donation to Harvard. Though now that Hamilton thought about it, Harvard had a huge endowment. His father had said so once enviously. Maybe Ryder just got in on his own and didn't want to admit it. Hamilton stared at the sky. He looked back at what was happening when his father called Ryder's name. Ryder looked at him and Hamilton went back to looking at the sky.

At the reception, his mother said, "I didn't know you knew any seniors that well, Hamilton."

"I don't."

"Ryder came by the house last month to talk to you. And he was looking over at you when he got his diploma."

Hamilton shrugged and tried to think of an excuse to leave. She said, "You're never going to tell me anything, are you?" He rolled his eyes and she chuckled like she'd been joking.

"I tell you all sorts of things, Mom." He put down his drink. "I have to go."

*

He sat with Will when the new students moved in for the summer session. Will said, "You got the camera back out."

Hamilton looked down at it. "Yeah, I did."

"So," Will said. "I guess you and Ryder are over."

"We were never started." Hamilton picked up the camera and watched the students looking lost through the lens.

"So what was it then? Denial, depression, working through your issues?"

"It doesn't matter. It was never anything." Hamilton took a picture of a boy's face. "Run to the lake later, right?"

Will laughed and started talking about Bella and his plans for the summer and things like that. Scout came over and sat down next to Will and neither of them noticed that Hamilton wasn't saying anything at all.

He stopped looking at the students' face. He took pictures of their feet and hands and butts. Only the guys. When everyone was inside, he took a picture of his own sneakers.

He went back to his house and opened the email to Jake. Hi, it's me. Sorry it's taken so long to write. But this is goodbye and I think that's something that has to wait until you can say it right.

THE END.

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