Standard Issue Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, may not be suitable for all readers, author retains any and all applicable copyrights that he can get his grubby little hands on, etc. Oh, and please, please, everyone remember to help nice old ladies across the street.

"Mom, he's doing it again!" My sister Rebecca complained.

"Denim, stop whatever you're doing!" My mom growled at me from across the kitchen.

I turned to Mom, impishly grinning and flipping my blonde ringlets. "But Mom," I whined, "I didn't do anything…" My grin turned to a frown and my eyes began to water. "Becky's just trying to get me in trouble…"

I started to cry. My mom did an about face, fussing and telling Rebecca to not worry about what I did while she gave me a big hug and lifted me into her arms, patting me on the back. Over her shoulder, I looked darkly at my sister, grinning at her frustration. I squeezed Mom's shoulder and hugged tighter, loving the look on Rebecca's face. Everyone loved the golden child. No one could stand against my monstrous innocence.

My English teacher Jenkins stopped in mid sentence and glared in my direction. "You four," he began, clenching his jaw, "would you kindly explain why you've had to disrupt my class three times? I know it's Monday morning, but if you paid attention to these grammar lessons you'd have better grades."

Our eyes circled around at each other, wondering whose turn it was to respond. Shelley, Vice, and Leon all looked at me expectantly, so I rose to my feet in slow motion, flipping my hair and hitching up my low-rise jeans for dramatic effect. "We're sorry, sir," I lied. "We don't mean to be disrespectful, it's just that we're so excited by your beautiful past participles, we can't contain ourselves." I laced my fingers together and stretched my arms overhead, staring at the ceiling, at the door, at anything except my classmates who were struggling to contain their laughter, or Jenkins, who was struggling- and failing- to keep his eyes off of that lick of flesh between the hem of my shirt and the dangerously low waistband of my jeans.

I unlaced my fingers and let one arm drop, while the other one lazily played across my shoulder and chest before coming to rest on my hip. I leveled my gaze at him and stared expectantly, hiding my revulsion as his eyes crawled up my body and came to rest on my face. He flushed when he met my eyes, knowing that I had caught him staring at me. "I promise we'll try not to do that again," I said.

"Yeah, we're sorry," Leon chimed in. "I mean, I just don't see the point to grammar if I want to be a pilot. I don't want a noun, all I want is a cock…pit."

The girl sitting next to me dropped her lipstick when she heard that. I heard someone's pencil hit the floor, and I looked back at Jenkins as his shoulders heaved with rage. He looked like a bull, about to charge, and I could almost hear the threads of his shirt, screaming in protest as his muscles tensed. Instead, he turned back to the board.

I sat down, grinning to my friends.

"Way to go," Leon grinned, slapping me on the shoulder.

"Nicely done," Vice added quickly, keeping pace with Leon.

Leon cast an eye over at Vice. "Piss off," he spat. Vice returned his glare and flipped him the bird. I sat back and watched them, wondering which would raise his voice loud enough to be caught by Jenkins.

My girlfriend, Shelley, smacked the back of my hand. "Stop this, Denim, before it gets out of hand."

I looked at her, smiling. "Why?"

She tilted her head towards Leon and Vice. "You know what'll happen."

"Leon, just shut up," Vice said, shaking his head and turning to listen to Jenkins.

"Make me, cockface." Vice didn't respond. "I said make me, cockface!"

Jenkins stopped and threw down his chalk. "Damn it, Leon, what's the matter with you? Can't you stay quiet for one period?" He crushed the stick of chalk underfoot, grinding his jaw. Vice gave Leon a satisfied smirk. "The three of you, stay after class, and if you know what's good for you, you'll be quiet."

Leon smirked back at Vice. "Maybe he'll call home, Vice. I bet your Dad'll love to hear about this."

"Whoa, Leon," I interrupted. "That wasn't cool."

I reached forward, clapping Vice on the shoulder, but he shrugged it off and leaned forward, suddenly finding interest in grammar.

I looked over to Shelley, who shook her head and cast Leon a scathing look. Not that Leon gave a damn.

The bell rang duly, after Jenkins had killed us twice with boredom. "Not so fast, boys," he called out. "Take your seats."

We slumped back down into the unforgiving plastic chairs. I hoped my ass wasn't deformed from sitting in this thing for so long.

The air worsened as Jenkins hulked nearer, towering between Vice and Leon's desks. The man smelled like cheap aftershave. "I know what it's like to be your age," he said, his gaze flickering between the three of us; "and to be restless. But you have to focus. Pay attention to what's really important, and focus on that, and afterward you can fool around with each other to your little heart's content."

I fought back a snicker. Was this man a pervert or an idiot?

Vice shifted in his seat, leaning away. "Can we go now?"

"In a minute," he said, planting one crushing hand on Vice's shoulder, and the other on Leon's shoulder. If that was my shoulder, I'd burn it off. "Just remember to play nice with each other and try to listen in class." He gave both shoulders a squeeze and stepped away. "You can go now, boys."

I don't think we've ever left class faster. Just watching Jenkins do that made me want to vomit. "God," I confessed. "That was creepy."

"Dude's seriously a child molester," Leon declared. "I could feel it."

"I bet you'd like that," Vice shot over at him, rubbing his shoulder.

Ouch. Vice gets a point for quick wit.

"Oh, that was nice. Almost as nice as 'can we go now?'" Leon simpered in a high falsetto, mincing his steps.

And two points to Leon for a fast retort and a good imitation.

Leon ran a hand over his head. "I gotta go, boys. Gonna check my hair before I look for Amy."

"Nice," I said, smiling. "She'll be all over you, man. I'm talking her hand in your pants in the cafeteria and everything."

"Whoa, whoa, slow down," Leon joked. "Maybe if you're lucky, Vice'll do the same for you."

"Go to hell, Leon."

I shook my head as Leon disappeared towards the bathroom. "Blockhead," I muttered. "He'd be lucky if she looked at him. Damn, he's one ugly kid."

"Even if she did, he'd probably just drool and reach for her chest," Vice agreed.

I threw my arm around Vice. "This is why you're my best friend and not Leon."

"Really?" He brightened.

"Would I lie?"

He shrugged, flipping his hair. Vice has interesting hair- dirty, blond and with natural, nearly platinum highlights that stand out against his olive skin, and it always smells like baby shampoo. I leaned in to catch a whiff, winking at him when he pulled away, confused. "Just making sure you're fresh, babycakes."

He elbowed me in the ribs. "Jeez, Denim, someone might see."

I looked around. The hallway was empty. "Like who?" I teased. "Milo?"

Vice bit his lip, shaking his head as I said that. Oh shit…I went too far.

"Do you ever regret what we did?" Vice asked.

I reared back. "Don't even tell me that. Milo made his decision, not me. Don't blame me because he couldn't take it. He never said a word about it to anyone…"

"Maybe he didn't know how," Vice said. "Maybe we should've…"

"Bullshit. Maybe and should've are just words. They won't bring him back."

Vice shrugged. "You're right, Denim." He let out a strained breath. "As usual."

"I gotta get to class," I said. "What do you have?"

"Family Studies. You?"


"Ouchie." He made a face. "I'll see you at lunch. And Denim?" he stepped closer. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned Milo."

His words settled like a brick in my gut. Fuck.

It was all Leon's fault. He was held back in grade six, and so he was bigger than the rest of us all through junior high. He never let us forget it, either- not a day went by that he didn't trip someone or throw a paper ball with a rock inside it at someone's head. And then, one day, during our lunch hour, he decided I was his newest target.

Being held up against a chain link fence isn't fun. So I was looking desperately for options when Leon told me he was going to punch me through it.

I looked to the left, towards the gym wall. A thin figure slinked along it, in a worn, oversized blue flannel jacket, kicking at pebbles with scuffed up shoes. He was a quiet boy, from the poorer side of suburbia. He'd be a better target for Leon than me.

To the right, a fat kid was tossing rocks at pigeons. He looked over at the waif of a boy by the gym, sneered, and chucked a pebble at him. He'd be an easy target, too.

The pebble bounced at the boy's shoe, startling him and making him yelp. Leon turned around, surprised at the noise. "What you chirpin' at, welfare boy?"

The fat kid, smiling at his reinforcements, waddled a few steps closer and lifted another rock. "He got nothin to chirp about, sides bein' poor."

"Shut your mouth, fat ass!" The other boy yelled.

"Why don't we work together," I whispered to Leon, getting his attention. "We can both kick his ass. Hell, he'll help us." I jerked a thumb at him. "C'mon."

The fat kid's face fell when he saw Leon approaching, with me in tow. The other boy, beaming at his saviors, slunk along.

That was the first day we kicked Milo's ass. Afterwards, the other kid introduced himself as Vice.

Leon thought Vice was shit on his shoe, and told him so. "I don't hang out with charity cases. Get lost."

"Aw, c'mon, Leon," I stepped in, toe to toe. "You're an asshole. A stupid asshole at that. You wanna beat people for no reason? Then get a punching bag." I flashed a grin at him. "But the three of us…think of the fun we can have with bags of shit like him." I jerked a thumb at Milo, who was getting up and running away with a bloody nose. Before he rounded the corner, he tripped and farted, loud enough for everyone to hear. So, just for fun, Leon kicked his ass again. He earned himself a weeklong suspension, but our friendship was born.

When Leon got back, we treated Milo like shit day in and day out. Somedays Leon would slam him into a wall just to get a thrill out of the look on his pudgy face, and other days Vice would disappear with his backpack, leaving it in the washroom urinal. Lardass, unable to fight back, just took it. Until one day, when he didn't show up. And the next day, he didn't show up- but guidance counselors and grief therapists did, to break the news and help us "deal with our emotions" or "the grieving process" or whatever the hell they called it.

I caught up with Vice and Leon in the cafeteria during our study period, at the end of the day. "How was math?" Vice asked.

"Boring. How was Family Studies?"

Leon guffawed. "Do any sewing? Or did they have your ass in the kitchen?"

"You'll have your ass in a sling if you don't shut the hell up," Vice grinned back. "I had to listen to some speaker rant and rant about eating disorders. She had the triple whammy- anorexia and bulimia, and then compulsive overeating."

Leon laughed. "Compulsive overeating. Like Milo?"

I bit my lip and exchanged pointed looks with Vice. "Leon…"

"Chill, dudes. You're all serious. It's been what, half a year since then?"

"Don't you have a conscience?" Vice demanded.

Leon glared at him, disgusted. "You're such a pussy, Vice. Milo probably…"

Jenkins was approaching from behind Leon. Vice and I shrank back in our chairs. "Leon…shut…"

"Dude, I'm talking," Leon snapped. "Don't interrupt me. Why are you so bent out of shape? Milo probably choked to death on a fucking juice box."

Vice and I didn't laugh, but Leon sure as hell did, pleased with the wittiest thing he'd said all year - with Jenkins right behind him. I cringed.

Leon took one look at our faces and turned around, face to face with Jenkins' broad belly. He looked up at the human monolith before him, unable to speak- which was good, because Jenkins looked absolutely livid. His chest heaved as he took in a deep breath, and then his cheeks rounded obscenely as he exhaled, struggling to stay in control. Finally, he looked down at us and dropped four syllables onto us. "Detention, boys." His attention fell across the three of us, and a cold eye lingered on Leon, before he walked away.

Shit. I was supposed to meet Shelley after school. "Thanks a lot, Leon," I spat.

Leon ignored me. "That bastard. I'm gonna make him pay."

I rolled my eyes, dreading whatever Leon was planning. Detention was never hard. We sat in a classroom, by ourselves, and were told to do work, like writing about what we did. If we didn't do it, we had to stay the next day to do it- and the day after that, or until our teacher tired of keeping watch outside the door. But nothing, besides the threat of having to sit in that room, could make us write it.

By Wednesday, I started to miss spending my afternoons with Vice. We were about the same size, but he was more muscular. He'd started lifting weights, always planning to knock his old man flat the next time he came home drunk and angry. He'd been planning for "the next time" since sixth grade. But instead of hanging out at my place, we were stuck at school.

Sitting in detention sucked. I scooted back in my chair. "Screw this."

Vice had a sinister smirk on his face. "We should pay him back for making us do this," he said, grinding a fist into his palm.

"I've got an idea," Leon said. "Here's what we'll do."

Vice went white after listening to Leon's idea. "Guys…that's not cool."

I found myself agreeing with Vice. "Leon, are you sure?"

"C'mon, guys," Leon cajoled. "Do you want to waste all year in this room?"

"Fuck you, Leon," Vice hissed. "I'm not doing it. No way in hell."

"Let me talk to him," I cut Leon off before he could start. "Vice…"

"I said no!" he shouted, standing up.

Leon settled back into his chair, pissed at Vice's newfound backbone. "You piece of shit," he replied. "You worthless piece of…"

Vice's fist silenced him. We sat, stunned. "Look, just drop it," I said. "We'll think of something else, okay?"

I was shouldered aside, and Leon knocked Vice to the floor. He bloodied Vice's lip pretty bad before Jenkins hauled him off and threw him as if he was nothing. For a moment, I thought Jenkins was going to go after him, his meaty fists balled into huge hammers and he looked insane, absolutely fucking insane. "Get out, both of you!" he bellowed, his body trembling as he glared at us. Quickly, we hauled our asses away from there. Leon was strong, but he was nothing compared to a pissed off Jenkins, who looked ready to throw him through the cinderblock wall.

On our way out, Leon stopped by our lockers. "Just stick with the plan, Denim. Forget Vice. The two of us should be enough." He cracked his knuckles. "I should've kicked his ass long ago."

"Leon, are you sure you want to do this? I mean…"

Leon slammed his fist into the locker next to his. "I've made up my mind, Denim. So just shut up and do it." He slammed his fist into the locker again, next to my head, and stormed out.

I went to the lobby to wait for Vice, who came out of the bathroom about fifteen minutes later, pressing bloodied tissues to his face. He had a scared look in his eyes as he saw me. I smiled, but he just nodded in acknowledgement- given his split lower lip, smiling wouldn't help.

"C'mon, let's go to my place," I said, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "You can spend the night if you want."

The walk home was quiet. Once we got in, though, Vice went to the bathroom while I got ice for his lip and wrapped it in a face cloth. Vice refused it, saying he'd get blood on it, so I had to hold it to his cheek as we sat in the den. The fucker was stubborn.

"Thanks, Denim." He looked me in the eye. "You know, you're a true friend." He still had that scared look in his eyes, which sucked, because Vice had nice eyes. Usually when I met his gaze, I could feel the warmth shining from those deep brown eyes, like pools of melted chocolate.

I smiled back, and wondered how I could convince Vice to do something he was vehemently against. He'd punched Leon in the face over it. I thought he wanted payback, and instead he wanted to be soft? This didn't make sense.

Things continued to not make sense, as Vice kept his eyes locked with mine. I couldn't help it- his gaze captured my attention. I guess my lips had the same effect on him, because he leaned in and kissed me. Just a peck, as tender as his battered face.

What the hell was that?

I kept my face neutral, wondering what was going on. I mean, God knows I'm cute, and people give me what I want, but since when did I want Vice to give me a kiss? I had Shelley for that sort of thing. And then Vice started to cry.

Oh, Christ. This wasn't just some bizarre friendship thing, or a bit of confusion. Oh no, Vice was a bona fide queer. No wonder he was acting like such a pussy.

But if I wanted Leon's plan to work, I needed Vice's help, I told myself. Here was opportunity. So I tried to banish the thought of Shelley, and kissed Vice's cheek. Maybe Leon and I could have some fun with this, once we were done with Jenkins.

Vice's tears stopped abruptly. "Denim…please, don't play games."

"I'm not playing," I said softly. "I'd never play with you, Vice." I swallowed hard. "Vice, I…I…"

I didn't get a chance to lie and tell him I loved him. He pinned me to the carpet and kissed me again, harder. He cringed when I responded, and I tasted the slightest hint of blood, so I broke the kiss. "Vice, be gentle. Your lips are hurt."

He pulled back, blushing. Before he could pull away entirely, I grabbed his face and dragged it down to mine. The thoughts of Shelley I'd just recently banished, I called up again quickly. If I pretended I was kissing my girlfriend, then I was still straight. But Vice's lips were different from Shelley's. And Shelley sure as hell never stuck her tongue in my mouth…silly prude.

As I kept kissing Vice, feeling his lips against mine, feeling the fabric of his shirt beneath my hands, and feeling his hands as they awkwardly fumbled up and down my sides, I stopped picturing Shelley. Her hands were never like his. Her kisses were dainty little gifts- Vice's kisses were a plea, and pulled me into his need. I liked it better. I liked- no, I craved the feeling of it all; of his arms as they encircled me and rolled me onto me onto my back, and of his chest muscles as we continued to migrate around the room while kissing. I couldn't get enough of it. I banged my head on the coffee table, and Vice stubbed a toe on something, but that didn't matter. I didn't care if my mouth tasted like Vice's blood or if his tasted like my peppermint gum, I needed it all, and now.

Holy shit, what the hell? Since when do I like kissing boys?

Vice must have sensed my apprehension, because he finally dragged himself from me, a look of worry on his face. I took advantage of it to push the coffee table back- it was dangerously close to our heads.

"Vice…how long have you wanted to do that?" I asked him before he could start.

He hung his head. "Awhile."

I pulled him down again, making my shoulder his pillow. "It's okay, baby," I cooed to him the way I'd done to Shelley. "I've wanted it for awhile too."

"But…what about Shelley?"

"She's just an image," I said. An image with the nicest rack of the entire class, but still an image. "You're the only one that I want. You, Vice. My best friend."

"Denim…" his eyes watered up again. "You're my only friend. I think…I think I love you."

Part of me was thinking of ways to use this to my advantage. Part of me hated myself for wanting to do that. All of me knew I wanted to make out with him again.

"I love you too," I said; not sure if I was lying. "That's why I want to make that bastard suffer. If he wants to put me and Leon in detention for being asses, that's fine. But not you." I stroked his dirty blonde hair. "No one hurts my best friend."

"What about Leon?"

I scrunched up his hair and let it fall. "Trust me. Just go along with the plan, and that'll all be taken care of."

Vice looked up, insecurity in his eyes. God, they were beautiful. "Denim?"

He paused and let out an awkward breath, sucking his teeth for a minute. "Nevermind. If you think it's a good idea, I'll trust you. I believe in you, Denim."

I kissed his forehead. "That's what love is about, my best friend."

And then, just because I was ticked at Shelley for not visiting me in detention over the past three days, or just because, we moved to the sofa and made out again. I reached down to adjust my shirt, brushing my hand against Vice's leg.

My eyes flew open as Vice reared back, pulling out of my reach. "Whoa, babe," I said, trying to calm him. "I was just reaching for my shirt. I didn't mean to go that far."

Vice gave me an appraising look, searching for something behind my words. "Oh." Then he reddened and his eyes moistened again. "Sorry."

I thought he was going to start crying again. "Sorry, Vice. I didn't…"

Vice looked away as he rose from the couch. "I gotta go, Denim."

"Wait!" I called as he stepped into his shoes. "About tomorrow…"

"I'll see you there."

"Remember the plan!" I yelled to his retreating form.

I fell back onto the sofa, confused. What the hell had just happened?

The next day, Vice and I worked our asses off at those retarded desks. I made my apology sincere and heartfelt, and handed in a total of five handwritten pages to my teacher. Vice did the same, only with two - apologies were rare in his life. Jenkins barely gave our papers so much as a glance- his eyes were glued onto Vice, staring at the damage Leon had done. A moment later, he grunted and motioned for us to go.

"How about you, Leon?" Jenkins called back into the classroom.

He muttered something under his breath. I caught "how about you suck my…" before he trailed off.

Jenkins had never liked Leon. When he heard this, he marched into the room.

Vice and I burst around the corner, and then ran for the guidance counselor's office, banging on the door until she opened it, confused.

Crocodile tears trickled down my face as I blurted out the story we had come up with. Vice squeezed my shoulder, trying to comfort me, and then pulled me into a hug.

My acting should've won me an Oscar. I freaked out, and I threw him away, screaming "don't touch me!" and then fell backwards, wild-eyed.

The guidance counselor and the principal both ran down to the room, where they saw Jenkins standing puzzled and Leon hiding under the desk.

"What's going on here?"

"Oh thank God," Leon scurried over to the principal. "Please…don't let him touch me. Please…"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Jenkins was confused.

"Leon, go to the office. Let us take care of this."

Police officers arrived within minutes, as did the school nurse, taking us aside to ask about what happened.

We all stuck to our story. They were skeptical of what Leon had to say. Even me, the epitome of wayward innocence, they had their doubts about. But they believed Vice instantly. Somehow, Vice came out with a graphic story about being raped, and started bawling. He even claimed Jenkins did it yesterday, after the fight with Leon.

The guidance counselor nervously bit her lip as Vice spilled out details. The nurse's plastic chair squeaked in protest when she shifted her weight to one side as she crossed her legs and then uncrossed them, finally crossing them again as she leaned towards Vice. The principal fumbled with his handkerchief as perspiration beaded on his splotchy face. All the while, their eyes never left Vice. Being the caring friend, I stood and held him when he finally broke down, while Leon made an awkward exit. Holy shit, Vice was a good actor. I thought I was good with my crying, but Vice was in full blown hysterics. I clutched at him as sobs wracked his body, and astonishment betrayed me when I felt hot urine seep into my pant leg. Damn it, man, I thought, that was overkill.

Parents were called, along with Child Protection Services. Jenkins was escorted out, wearing his jacket low to hide the handcuffs from any prying eyes that might have still been lingering around the school.

Head down, nestled into my collar, Vice whispered, "Payback's a bitch."

That confused me. "Vice?" I held him tightly. "Payback for what?" He didn't answer- he just burrowed into my shoulder, which was quickly becoming a sodden mass.

Then Child Protection Services arrived in the office, along with my mother. She took one look at the scene in front of her, and at the CPS people, then pressed a hand to her mouth to control herself.

"Vice, we need to talk with you," one of the men from CPS said. He glanced at me skeptically, then added, "in private."

I felt Vice go limp as he allowed himself to be pulled away, trying not to cry even more. He wiped futilely at the humiliating tears running down his face before trying to wipe his nose. As they dragged him away, a single, nearly invisible strand of clear spit between my shoulder and his mouth stretched and snapped. Helplessly, I watched as they removed him from the room, bawling like a child. I felt my eyes fill up with hot wetness as they took him out of sight, and I angrily brushed the tears away.

Mom was silent as we walked to the car, the wet spot on my jeans quickly chilling. It took her three tries to get the remote starter to work properly.

"Mom," I began.

"Not now, Denim."


"I said not now!" she burst out, before crossing her arms over the wheel and leaning her head into them. I felt like a piece of shit as Mom cried and blamed herself for what happened. I tried to assure her it wasn't her fault- I mean really, it wasn't…right?

As we pulled into the driveway, we both agreed we wouldn't tell Dad or Rebecca. It just wasn't something we were ready to deal with, and by we, I mean Mom. Not that I felt like pulling this one on my sister- if she believed me, I'd feel like an ass. If she didn't, she'd kick my ass when she wasn't studying for her midterms.

I went to my room as soon as I got home, looking at myself in the mirror. Normally, I loved what I saw. Today, I saw a monster. My eyes were puffy from crying and my cheeks were discolored. My shoulder was still damp from Vice's tears and snot, and the leg of my pants had Vice's urine slashed across them. Jesus, man…he didn't have to go that far.

I stayed home from school the next day- Mom told me that I should take the rest of the week off, so I watched early morning cartoons in my underwear and did nothing all day.

Word leaked out about the story. By Saturday, reports of a teacher sexually assaulting students were all over the news- the three of us had made our school famous.

I called Leon, who was exuberant about our success, and then I called Vice's house, only to get a recording. "The number you have called is no longer in service."

I was upset - and angry. Where the hell had Vice gone to? I wanted an explanation, both for his disappearance and the stunt he pulled in the office.

I didn't have time to wonder about that. The doorbell rang, and then Shelley barged in. "Denim, where the hell are you?"

"Right here," I called from the den.

Shelley walked in, clicking her tongue. "What's going on, Denim?"

I looked at her, baffled. "Obviously, I'm sitting in my pajamas, watching TV."

"I mean with Vice. No one knows where he is, and I know it's connected with this stupid prank of yours." She looked like she was going to continue yelling at me, and then paused. "Where is he?"

"I dunno. I called his house and got disconnected. It's like the bastard left me."

"You sound like the two of you were dating," she said, accusingly.

"Please, Shell. You know me better."

She looked at me. "No, Denim. I know."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" This was pissing me off.

"Den…it's okay, I don't care." She looked away. "About you, or Vice, or any of your dumb shit anymore. I don't care. I'm done with it all. So you two can fuck each other senseless- I don't give a damn."

"Hey, I'm not gay," I protested. "You're my girl. C'mon, don't be like that."

"Then who left that hickey on your neck?"

Shit. Oh damn, she looked pissed.

"It was a mistake," I said. "I…he kissed me. I just…"

She looked at me contemptuously, "you heartless monster." On her way out, she slammed the door.

When I went back to school, people knew not to ask me questions. Even better, Shelley couldn't break up with me without appearing to be a shallow bitch. I made her stay with me in public, even pretend to show affection. But people treated us differently now. People didn't want to hang around me, and conversations inevitably stopped when I came near.

It was even worse at home. Mom took leave from work so she could be there when I got home to make sure I was okay. And whenever we watched the news, she'd clench my hands tightly enough that my knuckles were white. She took up smoking again, and whenever Jenkins' face appeared on the screen, she'd reach for a cigarette and light it with shaking hands.

"Accused sex offender appeals for police protection?" Dad read the headline aloud at breakfast one morning. "That's disgusting. He should be strung up and killed. How was he even allowed to teach to begin with?"

"Dad, come on now," I said nervously. "Maybe he's innocent. We don't know him; maybe it's just a rumor. I mean, the headline doesn't say he's guilty, it says-"

Mom slammed her coffee cup on the kitchen table. "You know damn well he's not innocent, Denim! Don't you dare deny what that son of a bitch did!"

Dad looked up. "What's this?"

Mom got up and ran out of the room, clutching her cigarettes.

"Nothing, Dad. Just…just some shit going on at school."

"You're alright though, right?" he looked at me closely. "Denim, you're okay?"

Bile rose in my throat. "Yeah, Dad. I'm totally fine," I lied.

The brick in the gut feeling I had whenever I thought of Milo resurfaced nightly as I watched the news on the Jenkins scandal. People picketed his home, daily. Somebody spray-painted the word MONSTER on his garage door and on his van. So many people harassed him whenever he went out that the police had to protect him and do all of his errands for him. The man couldn't leave his house for fear of being attacked. All of this because we didn't want to go through detention? And I still had no idea where Vice was. What the hell was going on?

One day, I arrived home to chilling news. Jenkins had disappeared. My parents got a phone call, warning about it. Apparently, he was considered armed and dangerous. And probably looking for revenge. The police promised regular drive throughs in our neighbourhood, gave us the number for the detective in charge of the case, and cautioned me not to go out alone.

Ice gripped my heart when they told me. The only thing I could do was call Leon.

"Leon?" I couldn't keep my voice from shaking. "What are we gonna do?"

"Chill the fuck out," Leon was scared too. "We're fine. He doesn't know where we live. We'll be perfectly fine. They'll find him and kill his ass. Heck, he comes near me, I'll kill his ass."

"I hope you're right," I said. "But…what about Vice?"

"Forget him," Leon chuckled. "Little pussy. Maybe Jenkins'll track him down and rape him again."

"Leon, that was just a story," I sighed.

Leon laughed. "I dunno, man. You saw what he did in the office. His performance was almost too good."

I dropped the phone. By God…this couldn't have happened. But it all made sense. That's why Vice was so against it. I dug my fingernails into my hand, angry.

"Dude…what the fuck?" Leon's voice came from the receiver. "Denim, pick up the phone."

"What?" I snapped at him. "What the hell, Leon?"

"Chill. Look, Vice'll be fine. So will we. Just don't do anything stupid, Denim."

"Wait, Leon. What are you talking about?" But I was talking to a dead line.

I was so confused. I had to do something. Numbly, I answered the phone when it rang again.


Holy crap, could the voice really be his? "Vice?"

"Oh God…I thought I'd never hear you again."

I smiled. "Where are you? Where the hell have you been?"

Vice was quiet. "I'm living with my Gram for now, over in Harbourview."


"Denim, they put me in foster care, and wouldn't let me call anyone. After awhile, I tried to kill myself. I just…I couldn't deal with what happened."

Holy shit. "So…you weren't acting that day."

"Yeah…" he trailed off. "I'm sorry, I was going to tell you, after we, um…after we kissed," I could swear I heard him blush over the phone. "But…I was afraid you'd freak out and stop talking to me."

I slid down to the floor as my legs flopped out in front of me. I stared blankly at the ceiling, trying to think of something to say. "I'm sorry, Vice."

"No it's not. I know this sounds awful, but if you and Leon hadn't been brave enough to tell, I…"

"Can I see you?" I had to see Vice. I had to tell him the truth, face to face.

"Gram doesn't want me to leave the house. Not with…well, did you hear?"

"Yeah, Jenkins on the loose. Scary, huh?"

"Tell me about it," he said bitterly.

"Can I come visit?" I wanted to tell Vice I was sorry, but how do you apologize to someone for something like this? How can you tell your best friend that your heroics were just a stupid prank, and he was the next target? For the time being, I kept my mouth shut, biting my tongue.

A new voice broke in. "Vice honey, time to go. You can call your friend later."

"Okay, Gram," he said. "Bye Denim." Silence lingered for a second before he added, "I love you."

The line was quiet for a few seconds, and then the phone clicked. "I love you too," I said shakily, hanging it up. God, what a mess. I hated Leon for it all.

In school, I couldn't stop thinking about Vice. Occasionally, Milo surfaced in my mind. What had Leon and I done?

Leon looked at me at lunchtime while we sat in the cafeteria. "What's up with you today, man?"

"I heard from Vice last night."

Leon made a face. "Did he call collect?" When he saw me glare, he quickly faked interest and added, "What's Welfare Boy up to?"

I felt like someone had punched the wind out of me. "Leon…Vice wasn't lying that day. Jenkins raped him!"

"Oh." Leon said, startled. Then he shrugged, reaching for his drink. "So?"

I blinked at the stranger across the table from me. "Vice is my best friend, Leon. Goddamn, Leon, what's wrong with you?" When he didn't answer, I grabbed his Pepsi and threw it against the wall before I turned to him, burning with hate. People were staring, but I didn't give a damn.

Leon stood up, so fast that his chair skittered across the tiles. "You piece of…"

"You killed Milo!" I screamed. "You make me sick! I wish you were dead!"

"You killed him as much as any of us!" He yelled back. "You, Denim, you!"

I lunged at him, slamming him against the wall. "Why Vice, Leon, why Vice?"

Leon grabbed me and swung us around, slamming my head against the wall hard enough to make my teeth rattle. "What does it matter? Did you want a piece of his ass like Jenkins did? Are you a little pussyboy, like Vice?"

I summoned up all of my fading self-control to expel the one word I needed to get out. "Yes." Then, abandoning all notions of pretty boy innocence, I bashed my fist into his nose, smiling darkly as it gave way beneath my knuckles.

The cheers of the cafeteria were drowned out as I kept pummeling Leon. I raised my fist and suddenly I found myself back on the basketball court in ninth grade, with Leon menacing me. Milo was standing to one side, throwing rocks at pigeons, while Vice was trying to blend into the wall on the other side.

"Come on, you son of a bitch!" I yelled. "Hit me! Isn't this what you've always wanted?" I didn't even feel it as Leon's fists rained down on me- I just kept hitting him.

All too soon, we were hauled apart by a cluster of teachers. Leonseemed to settle down once he was off me, but it took the gym teachers to hold me back from him.

There was a welcoming party for us in the office. The school nurse got ice for us both, but kept her mouth shut. When she finished, the police officer spoke.

"Denim Livingstone and Leon Connor?"

"That's us," I said, glaring at Leon.

"I need to take you both down to the station."

"For a fight?" Leon wasn't buying this.

"I'll explain it down there," he said. "C'mon. Leon, you ride up front."

Down at the station, the sergeant filled us in. Jenkins had been caught in a home invasion, but was now in custody, facing more time. What chilled me more was the sergeant's next words. "We caught him breaking into a place over in Harbourview."

I shook convulsively. Vice's grandmother… "No…please God, no."

Leon looked at me, nervous. "Dude, just chill."

I smiled at him. "Why the hell should I protect you, predator? You should be the one behind bars for all of this."

"Denim, calm down…"

"Get away from me!" I screamed. "Just…get…away!" I looked to the sergeant. The brick in my stomach was churning. "Please, just tell me Vice is okay. It was a fucking sick prank we did. Jenkins didn't do anything wrong to me or Leon. We made it up to see if we could get away with it to punish him for giving us detention. We're not good people. People think I'm this golden child who can do no wrong, but that's not true. We're…I'm evil. I'm a fucking monster." I grabbed the sergeant's garbage can and threw up. I didn't care what he thought of me- I couldn't take this anymore.

"That's not true," a quiet voice said when I was done.

I wiped my mouth and turned to the speaker, and watched as an officer walked in with Vice. "Jenkins was a predator…just not to you two."

Vice walked over to me, paused for a second, and then gave me a hug. I wrapped my arms around him and returned his hug tightly. He snuggled into my shoulder, and I glared at a confused Leon, needing someone to hate. Everything that had happened with Vice, even the shit with Milo, it all hit me at once. I couldn't breathe. I didn't want to breathe. I wanted to die. I didn't deserve a second chance with Vice, not after this.

"You two should give yourselves more credit," the sergeant told us, looking me in the eye. "Your actions saved him."

Leon and I stared at each other, dumbfounded.

An elderly woman came in. Vice's Gram. She wrapped her arms around Vice and I, and pulled Leon into the hug too. For a small woman, she sure was strong. "You saved my boy…my life," she said. "You boys…oh you boys…"

"Gram," Vice was embarrassed.

"Just doing what we could to help," Leon choked out. God, I hope he hated himself as much as I did.

She looked at me, and I saw where Vice got his eyes from. "Some people might call you a hero, Denim."

I wanted to tell her she was wrong. I wanted to confess I was a monster. That I was a selfish piece of shit who deserved to be shot in the face for manipulating someone so trusting. Instead, I looked at Vice. And then I broke down. I pawed at him, clutching him tightly. Even Leon, heartless ass that he was, knew to be silent, though he quickly left the room.

I dried my tears and looked at Vice, my angel. In his eyes, I was a champion. In my own, I was a monster. I wanted to confess that I had used him. That I hadn't intended to fall for him. That he had only been a piece in my twisted plan, and that I'd gotten myself all twisted up in it instead. After all I'd done, did I deserve someone so innocent, regardless of how they felt about me? I looked at him, wondering what would've happened if we hadn't pulled our prank. I couldn't tell if the feeling in my stomach was vindication or hate. I opened my mouth, but Vice's lips found me before I could find my words.

Sometimes silence is golden.