"You have no idea how hard it is to do this one-handed," Colin says, trying to unwrap his scarf from around his neck and nearly poking Ephram in the eye.
"Yeah, but you make it look easy," Ephram says.
"Dude, shut up and help me." Colin tugs at his scarf, his backpack slipping down his arm.
Ephram's noticed that Colin doesn't ask for help from Amy or Bright, but sometimes he asks for Ephram's help, like it's no big deal.
"Or we could just stand here a lot," Colin says, about to drop his toast.
"I was just thinking of selling tickets to this freak show you've got going here," Ephram says, grabbing the scarf away from Colin before he chokes himself. "What else can you do?"
Colin takes a bite of his toast. "I can kick your ass one-handed."
"Sure, if I gave you a handicap," Ephram says, trying to figure out how this will work. He isn't having a lot of success and has to step in closer because he's fake-strangled Delia with her scarf a million times but she's about three feet shorter than he is and Colin isn't. Colin is biting his lip and hitching his backpack up on his shoulder and squinting at someone down the hall.
Ephram gets a lasso motion going, smacking Colin in the face with the scarf a couple times. Colin stops squinting and being distracted and smiles instead, hair curly and still a little wet from the snow. Ephram likes it when Colin smiles.
Ephram steps back and the scarf finally lets go of Colin. Colin sticks the rest of his toast in his mouth and rubs the back of his neck.
"Make a note, Ephram. No more scarves."
Colin has these birthmarks scattered along his neck, hidden behind his ear, a trail of them disappearing into the collar of his shirt, all these tiny brown spots that look amazing against his pale skin and Ephram is sure there's more of them he can't see. There is no way he'll be able to concentrate in trig today.
"Hi Colin," Amy says, popping up next to them. "Ephram," she says and purses her lips.
Colin squints down at her. "Hey, uh, Amy? Are we wearing the same sweater?"
Amy's eyes go big and she shakes her head a little.
Colin reaches out and opens Amy's jacket wider. She's wearing a dark blue sweater that's identical to Colin's except for the pink squiggly thing happening around the bottom.
Colin glances at Ephram. Ephram shrugs.
"I got it for you for Christmas. Last Christmas, before the--" Her chin comes up. "You never wore it. So I got my own."
"I found it in my closet," Colin says. "I liked it."
Amy looks like she's going to cry. Colin's looking like he regrets ever waking up that morning. And no one cares what Ephram looks like because this is the Amy & Colin portion of the program and he really should just go but he's still holding Colin's scarf.
The warning bell rings and Colin blinks and checks the schedule he has tucked inside his sling.
"Geography," Colin mutters, looking up and down the hall.
"We've got that together," Amy says grimly, like they're headed off to war. "Mr. Fostien, in that room hidden behind the gym."
"Okay," Colin says. "Lead on."
Amy clutches her notebook to her chest and takes off down the hall. Colin starts to follow, but Ephram catches up to him.
"You're in geography too?" Colin seems dazed, like Ephram could tell him anything right now and he'd believe it.
"No, man, just, here's your scarf back."
"Oh, thanks," Colin says, taking it. Ephram watches him walk away, awkwardly looping the scarf around his neck and following Amy down the hall.
"So, what's to stop us from just, you know, saying we watched the movie?" Colin asks from the couch.
"It's for extra credit." Ephram reaches behind the entertainment center and wiggles a cord. "Now?"
"Still blue," Colin reports. "But so what if it's extra credit?"
"Nerds don't cheat at extra credit." Ephram flicks a switch on the back of the DVD player. "Anything?"
"Nope." Colin crunches on some pretzels. "You're not a nerd."
Ephram shrugs even though he's hidden behind the TV. He finds a cord that's not plugged into anything. "There are worse things to be."
Colin doesn't say anything and Ephram leans forward to look between the television and the cabinet and out into the family room. Colin's staring at something on the wall.
It used to worry Ephram when Colin zoned out in the middle of a conversation. Ephram thought it was him, that he wasn't cool enough and Colin was bored and thinking of someplace he'd rather be. It would happen with Amy, though, when Colin was surrounded by his friends, all those people Ephram can't possibly compete with. So Ephram's decided it's just the way Colin is now. Amy still tries to prompt him, like she's got the script memorized and he's just forgotten his lines, but Ephram lets him stare. Colin always comes back eventually.
Ephram discovers a component cable that seems to have both ends plugged into the DVD player. His father may be a brain surgeon but his grasp of home electronics stops at setting the toaster for bagels. The DVD player hasn't been hooked up right since they moved and until now Ephram hadn't been interested in fixing it.
"I think I like pretzels," Colin says, sounding curious. The bag crinkles.
"Eating salt until your lips bleed. What's not to like?" Ephram moves a yellow audio-out plug to a white audio-in hole. Something loud explodes and he hits his head. "Please tell me that was from the movie."
"Do I have to?"
"It worked?" Ephram crawls out from behind the TV. A mob of men with rifles and muttonchops are charging up a hill. GETTYSBURG, the screen says, flags waving and cannon firing.
"Oh, no way," Colin is reading the DVD case, his head thrown back against the couch, "this movie is four and a half hours long!"
Four and a half hours of sitting next to Colin on the couch. Ephram could definitely think of worse things. He's even getting ten points of extra credit out of it and god, Colin was wrong. Ephram is a nerd.
"Five hours." Colin makes a face, his nose wrinkling. "That would put anyone into a coma."
"Hey, I didn't say we actually had to pay attention," Ephram says, getting the remote out of the endtable. "We just need an 'adult' to sign our slips. My dad'll have to fake it."
Colin looks up and Ephram points out the window, where his father can be seen doing something with the gutters that involves a ladder and a lot of swearing. Probably another idea he'd gotten from watching the neighbors.
"Your dad's pretty cool about letting you do your own thing," Colin says.
"My dad? That maniac out on the ladder? You're kidding, right?"
Ephram could write a book about what a pain his dad is. Lately he's been asking where Ephram's going and when he'll be back and who's driving and is Ephram aware that marijuana can accelerate brain cell death and may in fact worsen psychotic symptoms in people who have schizophrenia, which often manifests during puberty, so maybe Ephram should just steer clear of the potheads altogether in case one of them snaps and tries to take him out with a Bob Marley CD. He's like a PSA with no mute button or sense of the appropriate and Ephram would accuse him of attempting to drive Ephram insane if he didn't suspect that this was the way dads were supposed to act. Not that either of them has a clue about that.
Colin shrugs with one shoulder. "He lets you try stuff. He's not...afraid of you."
Ephram flops down on the couch and concentrates on getting the DVD on the right track. "Trust me, I'm the only thing on earth my father is afraid of."
"Why do you think that?"
"Why?" Ephram says. Colin blinks at him. "He just, doesn't have any idea what to do with me. Like he's scared that if he pushes too hard I'll break, so he leaves me alone and I think he trusts me or whatever, but then I do one thing he doesn't like and he flips out and locks me in my room for a week."
"My parents quiz me," Colin says, picking the salt off a pretzel. "Ask me stuff, like they might catch me off guard, like they think I'm faking or something."
Colin is quiet, Gettysburg raging on in the background full of fifes and drums and other historical stuff they'd already done a group project on, and Ephram's afraid he's finally gone too far. He tries to treat Colin like a normal guy because he thinks that's what Colin wants from him, but Ephram could totally ease up on the sarcasm. This isn't his dad he's dealing with.
But Colin grins. "Sometimes. Yesterday I remembered what radio station I used to listen to."
"Come on, you only get two stations in Everwood and one of them's KGOD. That's no great accomplishment." Ephram reaches for the pretzels but Colin blocks him.
"Hey! I could have been all about god. Maybe I was going to become a nun." Colin frowns. "Or a monk."
"I say go for nun, break through those socially enforced gender barriers. And, hey, I bet you'd look cute in a wimple." Ephram raises his eyebrows.
"I don't know what that is but it sounds kinky."
"It's because you have a dirty mind. Are you planning on sharing those pretzels?"
Colin looks down at them. "Haven't decided yet."
Which is fine with Ephram because it means he pretty much has to sit right next to Colin because Colin's got the bag of pretzels trapped between his thigh and the arm of the couch.
"They are my pretzels," Ephram says, leaning.
"I like them," Colin says, dropping a couple in his mouth. He's wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, but it's warm in the house and he's got his left sleeve pushed up to his elbow. He's got more moles on his forearms, hiding beneath the dark hair there like a connect-the-dot game.
Ephram never paid this much attention to another guy before, but he can't remember knowing anyone with as many moles as Colin.
There's a tapping at the window and Ephram shifts away from Colin and looks up, feeling way too guilty under the circumstances, unless his sympathetic nervous system knows something he doesn't. His dad is standing there holding something in one hand and miming a two-act play with the other.
"My...seagull ate your parachute," Ephram translates. "I will now return to slaughtering the gutters. Watch the skies."
His dad waves.
"What was that about?" Colin asks, laughing.
"Beats me," Ephram says, even though it feels a lot like those "Hello there, son, I see you on the couch with your young friend, don't think you can possibly have a moment of privacy while under my roof" moments that seem to happen a lot on TV. If that's where his dad's getting his parenting advice, they're both screwed.
Colin leans forward to grab his Coke and his shirt pulls away from his jeans just enough that Ephram can see a flash of skin and three more moles. Ephram practically has to sit on his hands to prevent him from doing something stupid because Colin's skin looks so soft.
Colin sinks back into the couch, closer than before, and Ephram slouches against him and puts his feet up on the coffee table. His mom had always been the one to yell at him for that. His dad couldn't care less.
Rachmaninoff is like a millipede. If Ephram stops to think about what he's actually doing, he can't start again. Too many notes and accidentals to keep track of. So when he hears the creak of the threshold he starts wondering who it is because his dad learned about that noise months ago and now avoids it when lurking in the doorway but who else would be here and maybe he should check and the piano makes a noise like it got its tail slammed in a door.
"Sorry," Colin says, when Ephram turns around. "Your sister let me in."
"I found him on the porch," Delia says, head tilted and fingers wrestling with the chin strap on her new bike helmet. "You shouldn't make your friends wait outside. It smells funny out there."
"I think that's the 'fresh air' Dad's always going on about." Ephram motions her over. "You coming or going?"
"Going," she says, letting Ephram tighten the helmet's strap.
"Does Dad know?"
"Yes," she says, turning it into an entire sentence.
"Did he warn you about the bugs?"
She narrows her eyes at him. "What about the bugs?"
Ephram leans down so they're at eye level and takes her by the shoulders, giving her his best big brother look.
"If you go too fast on your bike, you'll get bugs stuck in your teeth."
"Gross, Ephram!" She squirms free and runs off, sneakers making hollow smacking sounds on the wood floors. The screen door slams.
Ephram straddles the piano bench and turns to Colin. "So, it's come to this. Hanging out on my porch. You've clearly exhausted the entertainment possibilities of Everwood. What, the feed store closed?"
"Your window was open," Colin says, scratching at his sling and smiling.
The window is open, its gauzy white curtain fluttering in the breeze. It's not quite warm enough for it, but his father insisted. Someone down the street is mowing their lawn and the buzz-grumble of the lawnmower is a new noise for Ephram, something he never heard in New York, but now it wakes him up in the mornings and drowns out his afternoon anime marathons.
"Okay," Ephram says. "The window's open."
"I could hear you playing. I didn't want to interrupt."
Ephram swings back around to face the piano. "That's okay. I was just messing around. My dad's really on my back to practice more."
"You don't like playing?" Colin asks, coming to sit beside him. Their legs bump together.
"No, I do, I just, want it to be my idea, I guess. I'm tired of hearing about how I'm some sort of piano prodigy and I owe the world, and wow, do I sound like an asshole. Ignore me. It's just this thing I do."
This is what happens when Ephram tries to play. He turns into a whiny idiot that misses his mother. She was always the one who encouraged him and dressed him up and took him to his recitals and hugged him afterward and bought him a milkshake and fries no matter what time it was. His dad only pushes him because it's on his list of parenting responsibilities right next to "Feed Delia" and "Wake up in the morning."
"No, you're good," Colin says. "I mean, Amy told me. You're kinda famous or something."
Ephram wipes some dust off a ledge on the piano. "Or something."
"Okay, now you are being an asshole," Colin says, but he doesn't sound mad. Ephram turns to look at him and realizes they're sitting really close together, like so close Ephram can count Colin's eyelashes, the tiny moles in the crease of his eyelid.
"You don't like my tortured genius act?" Ephram jokes.
"Yeah, uh, actually...I do," Colin says, putting his hand on Ephram's knee, and before Ephram has time to be surprised about that, Colin leans in and kisses him. Ephram still has his eyes open because Colin may have been giving him these looks lately, but Ephram wasn't sure if they meant what he thought they meant. Apparently they did. Or do, or something. And while Ephram's trying to figure that out, figure out how this works and what he's doing and what it means, Colin stops, pulls back and blinks a few times.
Ephram's still about a chapter behind and for once in his life can't think of anything to say. He licks his lips.
Colin gives a complicated smile, like it took three steps to assemble. "I'd better go."
Colin slides off the piano bench and is gone before Ephram can stop him. The screen door slams. Ephram chews on his lip and watches the curtain blow in the breeze. Colin kissed him and ran.
Liszt is Saturday morning cartoons. Ephram plays Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, the part that always accompanies chase scenes.
Ephram knows this is a dream because Colin is mowing the lawn.
Straight green lines in two different shades that go back and forth across the yard like the outfield in a baseball stadium. Ephram sits on the porch steps and watches the muscles in Colin's arms bunch as he pushes the mower.
There are bright green grass clippings stuck to Colin's tanned legs from where the mower spat them up and his hair is in tiny curls at the back of his neck because it's hot and he's sweating.
He's hot, and on his next pass, Colin takes off his shirt and throws it at Ephram, who's sitting on the steps watching, because Colin didn't trust him with the lawnmower.
Green has a smell now, cut grass and sweat and gasoline, greasy and high, and Ephram watches as Colin drags the back of his hand across his forehead. Ephram had no idea all the things he'd been missing in New York. He'd never thought to want something he never had, lawns and lawnmowers and smirking neighborhood boys wearing ratty cutoffs and grass-stained sneakers and nothing else.
A car drives by and Nina brings them lemonade on a tray. The glasses are slippery with condensation, fat ice cubes chinking together inside. It's real lemonade with real lemon slices floating in it and a sprig of mint like something out of a magazine, which it probably is because Nina only makes lemonade from a mix.
The mower sputters to a halt and Colin comes over, wiping his hands on the back of his cutoffs. It makes them pull tight against his hips for just a second, and then he's standing in front of Ephram, blocking out the sun, nothing but a dark spot to Ephram's sunblind eyes.
Colin steps between Ephram's spread legs and takes the lemonade. Ephram can feel the heat coming off him. He smells like summer.
Colin drinks half of Ephram's lemonade then leans down and kisses him, warm and lingering, tongue dragging across Ephram's lips and Ephram opens his mouth and that must have been what Colin wanted because he runs his tongue along the inside of Ephram's bottom lip and hums. Ephram feels like they could do this forever, just sit on the front porch and kiss and grope each other in full view of the town.
Colin's kneeling between Ephram's legs now, running his hands up and down the inside of Ephram's thighs from his knees to the hem of his baggy shorts, down to his knees then up to the shorts and then under them, each lap bringing him closer and closer until Colin's hand is wrapped around Ephram's dick, pumping and squeezing.
Ephram breaks the kiss and falls back onto his elbows, panting, legs spread, knees bumping against Colin's ribs. Colin smiles and uses both hands.
Ephram opens his eyes, heart pounding, and tries to understand what's happening to him. His alarm's going off and he's hot and hard and jesus is his subconscious trying to kill him? Because Colin -- and Ephram's going to be late for school but he doesn't care, just shoves his hand down the front of his pajama bottoms and finishes what his subconscious started, jerking off to the image of Colin crouched in front of him, dark eyes, naked chest and lemonade mouth.
Something slams downstairs and Ephram turns his face into the pillows and comes. His radio plays some inane pop song while he catches his breath and realizes he's going to have to wash his sheets again.
In the shower, Ephram tries very hard not to jerk off again and almost succeeds.
Ephram balls up his sheets with his pajama pants hidden in the middle and rushes downstairs, dressed and very late. His father is standing at the kitchen island with a cup of coffee and a knowing expression.
Ephram has almost gotten used to this, but today things are just so far off from normal that he can't deal with it.
"Don't you ever shut up?" he snaps, slamming into the laundry room and making plenty of noise so he doesn't have to hear his father's response.
Ephram sits on one of the three stools lined up at the kitchen island. At least in their apartment in New York there was a fourth chair at the table, even if it was always empty. He never uses the middle stool. It's not like he thinks one day he's going to come home and find his mom there. He just doesn't like feeling pinned in.
His dad comes home right on schedule, which is part of his penance for the three stools. "Ephram," he says, like he's discovered all over again that he has a son. He squeezes Ephram's neck and claps him on the back, peering over his shoulder at the open textbook. "I thought you were taking earth sciences this year."
"Chem," Ephram says. He's studying, but not really. The book is open to the right page. It's not like his dad is going to send him to bed without his dinner if he doesn't do the homework. He'd have to know which science Ephram was taking first.
His dad smiles stupidly as he backs toward the sink, like Ephram has told him a secret. "I was thinking of making myself a nice pastrami on rye. Do you want one?"
Ephram shakes his head no. His dad is the worst Jewish mother in the world, trying to feed Ephram twelve times a day. His dad scrubs his hands with dishsoap, like the pound of deli meat needs a lobotomy. The only time Ephram's ever seen his hands shake is when he dropped a page of the eulogy on the frozen ground.
His dad cuts the sandwich into two perfectly even pieces and pushes one across the butcher block. "Here. I should save room for dinner anyway."
Ephram is a little hungry after all. He takes a bite, pushing his stool back to grab a bag of Lays from the cabinet. They're held closed by a plastic clip with a Claritin logo.
His dad crosses his arms on his chest. "So we've been talking for almost five minutes and you haven't told me to screw off yet. Is everything okay?"
"You sure? I haven't done anything too deeply uncool?"
Ephram doesn't laugh. His dad's not that funny.
"Cause I thought maybe I was riding you a little hard about the piano practice." Ephram shrugs. "Or the thing with the laundry?" Ephram shakes his head. "Or asking you to spy on Colin maybe?"
"Colin's fine," Ephram says, and then stops.
"Nothing," Ephram says.
His dad takes a sip of juice. "What?"
"Nothing, it's just weird watching him figure things out about himself." Ephram runs a finger through the condensation on his glass. "Like food. Or, whatever. Like people he likes."
"People he likes," his dad repeats, leaning back against the sink. "Well. Most scientists believe that things like sexuality are essentially immutable." Ephram stares at his textbook and the type swims a little when he blinks. "Is that what you mean?"
He nods, not looking up. "I guess." He can hear his dad take a deep breath. Ephram really hopes he's not going to hear a lecture on the medical history of homosexuality. He doesn't want to be treated like one of his dad's students.
"I think sometimes," his dad says, and his voice is gentle, "things that were there all along just need some kind of catalyst to make them more clear."
Like flying through a windshield at fifty miles an hour, Ephram thinks but doesn't say.
"Your Uncle Brian says he always knew, except he wasn't sure what he knew exactly until he went away to college."
Uncle Brian's not really his uncle, except in all the ways he is. Some things don't change. "What happened in college?" he asks, glancing up. Maybe Uncle Brian got hit on the head, too.
"Oh, he." His dad covers a grin like he's finally remembered he's talking to a kid who still can't legally go to an R-rated movie by himself. "He met some people who'd already figured it out, I guess."
Ephram flips pages of his chem book and can't tell one brightly colored diagram from the next.
"You're a good kid," his dad says to the window, soapy hands paused in mid-air above the sink. "Colin's lucky to--"
"Oh, please don't--" Don't think I'm. Don't say I'm his friend because I don't know what we are. Please don't turn around and look at me right now.
His dad rinses a plate and stares out at the mountains. "No one should have to figure these things out on their own," he says.
Ephram shuts his book with a cardboard thud. "I have to finish my homework."
"Yes you do," his dad says. Ephram bolts up the stairs.
Laynie opens the door and for a second Ephram doesn't remember who she is.
"Oh, it's you," she says. Ephram holds up a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby. "What's that for?"
"English," he says.
She leans with one arm up, blocking his way. Her hair is spiked and angry-looking. She shrugs.
"Colin's homework?" Ephram waves the book. "He's supposed to read twenty pages for tomorrow or whatever."
She turns around and walks back to the living room, plopping on the couch and burying herself under an ugly afghan. Ephram goes upstairs.
Colin's door is open and his room is plaid. Totally plaid. It makes Ephram's head hurt. Colin is sitting on the floor watching TV, the heel of his hand pressed hard against the bridge of his nose.
Ephram raps at the door and Colin looks up. Ephram says, "What are you watching?"
"Some soap opera," Colin says. There are two women wearing a lot of makeup and sitting by the side of a hospital bed. "That guy just had leukemia. I think." He reaches back and pushes up with his good arm. He rocks a little on his feet and then catches his balance.
Ephram tosses the book onto the bed. "Fitzgerald," he says.
Colin dismisses it with a fake smile. "Thanks, man. What's it about?"
"I don't know," Ephram says. "I'm not in your class. Bright threw it at me."
Colin scratches his stomach through his t-shirt and sits down on the mattress. His jeans are too big for him and he looks lost, even here in his own room.
"Are you feeling okay?"
"Sure," Colin says. He nods emphatically but tucks his left hand under the sling, holding his arms crossed like a mummy's. His hand looks pretty good for having gone through a window.
"Guess you probably don't need a sick note to take a day off," Ephram says. "How's your pitching arm?"
Colin blinks. He seems confused and Ephram feels like an asshole, like he's making retard jokes. "Sometimes the idea of going there, going to school and having to spend the whole day acting like I know where I'm going and why..."
"Yeah," Ephram says. "Of course, yeah."
"Anyway what difference does it make?" Colin slaps off the TV. "The school didn't even call to see where I was. No one's going to notice if I have no idea what that book is about." He's holding onto the windowsill, looking out at the street.
Ephram's backpack slides down his shoulder and he hitches it back up. "Right," he says. Colin's thermal shirt is shoved up around his elbow and Ephram doesn't know what the big deal is. Lots of people have moles. "I'm gonna--"
"Hey," Colin says, turning toward him. "Just ignore me. Just -- you want, I don't know. You want to watch something?"
"Got enough soap opera in my life already, thanks," Ephram says. He takes a step back and hits his backpack against one of the plaid walls. The door swings halfway shut. "Any minute now Delia's going to have an evil twin or something just to make sure we're all paying enough attention to her."
Colin steps forward, reaches around him to push the door closed. "I'm really okay," he says, and Ephram nods. Everyone's okay. Colin leans in and says, "You don't have to go."
"No," Ephram agrees. His backpack is falling off again and he tilts forward, closing his eyes. Colin is just right there, lips under his, tongue slick in his mouth. Ephram lets the bag drop to the floor. Colin pushes closer, bites Ephram's bottom lip hard. Colin's arm is pressed between them, the nylon strap on his sling scratching against Ephram's wrist, and Ephram pulls back.
He opens his eyes slowly and Colin is smiling, almost smug. "Going?" he asks, palm flat on the door next to Ephram's head.
"I--" Ephram swallows. "I have homework."
Colin shrugs as he backs away. "I'll see you around, then."
Ephram is running late. Delia wanted him to trace her body's outline on colored paper and his dad asked him go by the post office and buy stamps and this is what he gets for thinking that if he's a good kid his father will never try to finish their conversation about brain chemistry.
Colin is sitting in the booth in the corner, studying the menu carefully. He looks up and grins when he sees Ephram. "Hey," he says.
Ephram waves at Nina behind the counter and slides in across from him. "Hey. Sorry. My dad made me--"
"It's okay," Colin says, and smiles wide. "I think I'm gonna have a shake." He pushes the laminated menu over and his fingers just barely brush Ephram's.
"I want...more than that." It sounds accidentally profound and Ephram grits his teeth.
"They have banana splits," Colin offers.
Other than his life making sense, Ephram wants a banana split more than anything in the whole world. He smiles. "You rock." He flips the menu over and scoots it to edge of the table.
Colin's arms are crossed on the table and little moles dance up the length of his arms, all the way to his shoulders. "Hey," Ephram says. "What are you wearing?"
Colin laughs and shakes his head. "I have no idea."
"You look like..." Ephram squints.
"It's warm today," Colin says. "I found this in my bottom drawer."
"Huh." It looks like a gray tank top. The muscle kind. Sort of tight, with torn-off sleeves.
"I think it's mine."
"It must be." It looks like something Bright would wear. It makes Colin look like he has a lot of shoulders. The moles on that arm look like a constellation Ephram should be able to recognize. Here you can see the whole sky.
"Dude, look at the pants." Colin half-rises from the booth, propping one hand on the red vinyl. He's wearing basketball warm-up pants with a drawstring waist and mesh down the sides. His shirt rides up and Ephram can see a dark blotch of a beauty mark on his stomach before Colin slides back down the seat. "I have to go shopping or something before it gets any warmer."
Ephram's wearing a black CBGB's t-shirt and jeans and a zip-up sweater his mom bought him. "I need clothes," he says, even though he doesn't. He needs Colin to back him into a corner again, Colin and his better-than-average moles. It's the only time he seems to make sense.
Nina comes over with two glasses full of water. She takes their order and as soon as she's gone, Colin eases his arm out of the sling, flexing his fingers on the Formica.
"Look, ma, both hands," Colin says, reaching for a straw. He's been trying out ambidexterity in various forms for about a week now. Ephram's noticed that half the coordination Colin had managed with his left hand has been lost. It's like both hands work a little, but one has been on vacation, and the other is used to doing everything wrong.
Ephram blows his straw wrapper over Colin's shoulder. It whizzes right past Colin's ear. Colin laughs but as soon as he looks up from his clumsy attempts at tearing his own open, he knocks over Ephram's glass. It shatters and glass and ice water spill everywhere.
Colin looks panicked and frozen, and Ephram jumps up to snag a dishrag off the counter. Colin uses their two totally soaked napkins to dam the spill before it cascades over onto his lap but he won't look up. There's broken glass everywhere.
The diner door crashes open with a jangle of sleigh bells and three guys from the team pushing and shoving each other. Ephram lines the rag up against Colin's barricade, mopping up the mess. "No big deal," he says. He squeezes Colin's wrist. Colin flinches and Ephram sits down again.
Colin tucks his arm back into the sling and stares at the pile of soggy paper and cotton crumpled together at the edge of the table. He keeps his back to the door and crosses his arms. "Maybe if the piano thing doesn't work out you can be a waitress," he says.
Ephram starts to laugh, because that would be pretty funny, him stuck in Everwood as a two-bit truck-stop waitress with Colin the ex-jock coming by every two or three months. He starts to laugh but he stops when Colin's mouth stretches tight, like something hurts.
"Is everything okay?" Ephram asks.
It's like Colin knows something that before he was just guessing at. His eyes look sure, but also a little hard, almost mean. The jocks are hitting each other and giving Nina a hard time about their orders, and Colin winces.
"Everything's great," he says, pushing out of the booth.
Ephram's face is hot and his eyes hurt. "Okay," he says.
Colin takes some money out and drops it on the table. "I gotta go," he says. On the way out the door one of the guys from the team claps him on the back and Colin smiles, wide and fake. They all leave together.
Ephram slides down in the booth. Nina brings over two bowls of ice cream and all he can think of to say is "thank you."
Ephram's stoned. Which is fine. The jacket he's wearing isn't his, but that's fine too because there's a package of gummi bears in the pocket. He might be stuck at this fucking party, but he's got some fucking gummi bears. He's biting the head off a red one when Amy comes out from the house.
"Oh, Ephram, I didn't know you were out here," she says, pulling on fat pink mittens.
"Everyone knows I'm out here," Ephram says, chewing. "I knocked over the ficus trying to get the door open and then the cat escaped."
"Well, uh." She clears her throat. "Do you need a ride home?" She tilts her head and her hair spills over her shoulder like a golden waterfall. Or maybe it's the deck lighting.
Ephram blinks. "Leave? And miss the epic struggle between Bright and beer bong? Never."
Amy frowns. "You just don't seem to be having much fun. No offense, but this isn't really your crowd."
It's not Ephram's crowd. It's Colin's, and Colin has spent the last three hours making sure Ephram knows that. Left hand in the back pocket of Amy's jeans, and the newly freed right showing off stupid secret handshakes with everyone who comes up to him. Colin and Amy, having a conspicuously good time laughing with all those idiot jocks in their Miners jackets until Ephram couldn't watch anymore and wandered off and got stoned with Nelson Wainwright's older sister.
"We can drop you off," Amy says. "It's really no problem."
"Can't go." He'd rather be eaten alive by monkeys. Ephram picks through the bears until he finds a green one. "I have to wait for Spongebob."
He looks up at her and she's like a blonde giant in pink mittens. "The cat."
"You--" She sighs and sits down next to him on the steps.
Inside the house there's a brief dip in the noise level while the stereo switches from one CD to another. He can hear people chanting Colin's name. There are blue gummi bears. Ephram can't tell what flavor they are. They taste blue.
Amy makes an annoyed sound. "Ephram, did you hear me?"
"Yeah, about what?" He hates the way she says his name. He hunches into his stolen jacket and eats another blue gummi bear.
"I don't know why you're still hanging around Colin. He's got his memory back. He doesn't need you anymore."
Amy looks like a rat with her pinched face, like a beautiful golden rat, and the worst part is what she's saying is true, even if it's not in the way she thinks. "Oh, hey, you win," he says. "Congratulations. Enjoy your lifetime supply of fucked up."
Amy gasps and stands up, her mittened hands in fluffy pink fists. He wonders if she'll punch him.
"You have no idea what you're talking about," she spits. "You weren't there. You don't know what he's been through."
"Neither do you," Ephram says.
Behind them, the sliding door opens. Colin comes out of the house and stands at the top of the stairs, Miners jacket on, basketball pins glinting like war medals. His eyes drag over Ephram. "Ready to go?" he asks.
Ephram knows Colin is talking to Amy, but he can't help the lurch of hope.
"Yeah," Amy says, and glances over at Ephram. Her lips twist into a smile. "Let's go."
Colin comes down a few steps to stand behind him. He runs one hand through Amy's hair and watches Ephram. "You gonna be okay out here in the dark, Ephram?"
"Oh, I'm great," Ephram says, so angry he has no idea what he's saying. "Communing with nature. The great outdoors. You should really try it."
"Colin, don't," Amy says, pulling him down the stairs.
"I just wanted to make sure our good friend Ephram was gonna be okay out here all alone." Colin rests his hand on Ephram's shoulder.
Ephram shrugs it off. "Don't worry about it," he says. "I know how you feel."
Colin blinks, then claps Ephram on the back and follows Amy. "See ya, Ephram."
Ephram closes his eyes and leans his head against the deck railing. His chest hurts, he's thirsty and lonely and if he eats another gummi bear he'll puke. He wants a nap. He wants to lean into Colin and rest his head on his shoulder, but Colin doesn't want him. It's been two weeks since they kissed at his piano and now he's sitting in the dark on the Wainwrights' deck wearing someone else's coat and being swallowed by the Colorado sky.
Inside, the basketball team is chanting Bright's name. Ephram gets up to start the long walk home.