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One of Us Must Know
Chapter One
Posted 10/1/14

One of Us Must Know 2014 by Rowan McBride. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without author's permission.

*****

- One -


Waiting in the park, I tugged at the sleeves of my blue thermal to make sure they covered my wrists. I adjusted the t-shirt I was wearing over it as well, trying to obscure the outline of my chest. My pecs weren't big by any stretch of the imagination, but they were hard as hell and could be tricky to hide. At the beginning of the summer I'd been flat as a board, but now...

"Dylan!"

I waved, my entire body softening as I watched Bobby Saito run toward me. Black hair long enough to catch the wind, dark eyes that held humor and music and me. He was waif thin, but always bursting with energy. "Hey."

He skidded to a stop in front of me. "Gaw. Aren't you hot?"

I guess it was pretty weird, dressing like this in summer, but heat didn't affect me so much anymore. Like all of the other weird shit that had been happening, I'd been trying my best not to notice. "Nah."

He looked into my eyes, and for a second I was sure he'd draw out all my secrets. "Did you hit a growth spurt?"

Oh. God. Please don't let me get taller on top of everything else. I liked being the same height as Bobby. I liked being 5'7. "N-New shoes."

"Oh," he said, taking my explanation at face value, like he took everything I said at face value. He held up a game case. "Ready to play the latest Divinity Wars?"

"Ah, yeah. About that." I rubbed the back of my neck. "My brother decided to spend the last couple weeks of summer with us before he goes back to university."

Bobby visibly blanched. I couldn't blame him. Mark wasn't a bad guy, but he was kind of a douche and liked to tease.

"So..." I started, forcing a smile. "You think we could play at your place?"

His face instantly lit up. "Sure!" He spun and took off at full speed.

A few weeks ago, I would have had trouble keeping up. But now running beside him felt like a light jog. Another bit of weirdness. And at this stage of the game, my brain was pretty much through with not noticing.

Ah, hell.

What was happening to me? I'd gone to the doctor when all this had started, and he'd just smiled and said, "Welcome to puberty."

Puberty. The fuck? I was almost seventeen! My voice had dropped! I had chest hair!

Well, one chest hair. Which I'd plucked last year because it just looked so damned lonely.

Point being, this wasn't puberty. And even if some freaky late bloomer thing had decided to blindside me this summer, it was also something much more.

I spotted Bobby running straight for a branch and pulled ahead, knowing he didn't see it. Reaching up, I tried to lift it out of his way and ended up tearing it off the tree entirely. "Shit!" Frustration made me tighten my grip, which snapped the branch in my hand right in two. "Dammit."

Wide-eyed, Bobby brushed the debris from my shoulders. "Are you all right? That branch must have been rotted through to fall apart all over you like this."

"Yeah," I muttered, all too willing to use his explanation. "Rotted through."

He didn't take off into another run, choosing to walk beside me instead. "Thanks for trying to move it out of my way. I didn't even see it until you grabbed it."

I wanted to loop my arm around his shoulders, but instead I shoved my hands into my pockets. Changes in my body aside, emotionally things had gotten a lot more intense for me as well. I didn't want to get too close to him until I had a handle on both my body and the feelings inside it. "No problem."

As we made our way across the park, I couldn't help smiling as I relived some memories. Swings. Slides. The basketball court if we could get it. All my best times were with Bobby. Just the two of us.

He chattered away as we walked. He sounded excited about starting junior year in a couple of weeks, but he was nervous too -- I could tell. And who could blame him? High school hadn't exactly been kind to either of us, but Bobby always seemed to get the worst of it. Maybe because he was one fourth of the only Asian family in town. Maybe because he was talented and shy. Maybe because he was pretty. Who knew.

Maybe this year I could protect him.

I rubbed my arm, testing the hard new bulge there. Hardly any give, even in my grip, and it kinda scared me.

Would it scare Bobby too?

"Does your arm hurt?"

I saw Bobby looking at me with his earnest, concerned eyes, and shook my head.

He grinned and opened his front door.

I'd been so lost in thought that I hadn't noticed we'd gotten to his house already.

"Tadaima!" he called, toeing off his shoes and stepping into a pair of slippers.

I called out the same greeting, taking off my shoes too. After all these years, it had become a habit -- I even had my own pair of slippers to put on.

His mom's happy voice floated in from the kitchen. "Okaerinasai!"

His brother's voice shot down from upstairs. "Okaeri!"

And his father, relaxed in his recliner, glanced up from his newspaper as we passed the living room and flashed us a playful grin. "Welcome home, Bob Dylan."

Bobby rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Dad. Don't you think that's starting to get a little old?"

I couldn't help chuckling like I always did. I liked how his father fused us together that way. "Hey, Mr. Saito."

He gave us a wave and Bobby raced toward the stairs. Probably to circumvent his dad from breaking into some Bob Dylan song, which would have been painful, even for me.

His big brother bounded down the stairs as we made our way up. "Video games tonight, guys?"

Bobby went still and shy, tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear. "Y-Yeah."

"Good deal." Greg smiled warmly. He was the same age as my brother, but he was one of the nicest guys I knew. And that was saying something, considering he was a baseball jock. All the other jocks in our lives seemed intent on making us as miserable as possible.

He reached out, looked like he was going to ruffle Bobby's hair, then pulled back. "Have fun."

I didn't miss the relief that softened Bobby's body. It wasn't that he was scared of Greg. Hell, when we were freshmen and Greg was a senior, he was always looking out for us, shielding us from pretty much all the bad parts of high school life. But now Greg was in college, and the knowledge of what big, strong guys could do to Bobby had been beaten into his muscle memory. He couldn't help it -- jocks made him skittish. Even his brother.

"Yeah," said Bobby again, his voice just as soft as it'd been the first time.

God, if my own body kept changing, would Bobby react to me that way?

They shared another awkward moment together before we headed up the stairs and made our way to his room.

He popped the disc into his GameStation and fired it up. "Been dying to play this since yesterday, but I knew it would suck without you around to play with me."

Damn. When we were alone, Bobby was forthright as hell. Why couldn't I be like that? It made my chest tighten with affection. It made other parts of my body tighten, too. "Thanks."

Desperate to distract myself, I let my gaze drift away from him. His room was colorful -- what with the piles of graphic novels (manga and American), DVDs of cartoons (anime and American) and video games (from all over the world, really) -- but it held an air of maturity too. A slim silver stand with sheet music carefully arranged on its holder. A shelf of CDs that consisted almost entirely of classical music. Posters on the walls of Albert Einstein and Yo-Yo Ma alongside Jake and Elwood Blues (how random was that?) sitting on top of a cop car. His textbooks were arranged neatly on his desk and the shelves above it, a sleek computer at its center.

Somehow, it all came together and spelled out "Bobby."

I glanced at his bed, neatly made with maroon covers and matching pillows, and spotted a slim black case I knew very well. "Hey, before you turn the TV on..."

He looked up, his hand hovering over the remote. "Yeah?"

I nodded at the case and sat on the floor. "Play me a song?"

His grin nearly split his face in two. "Sure," he said, already opening the case and pulling out a slim silver flute.

I tried not to notice the scratches covering his most treasured possession. Sometimes guys like to play keepaway with it, laughing when they "accidentally" dropped it on the floor. I always tried to jump in and stop the jerks, but I was never strong enough and the game usually ended with both of us sprawled out beside the flute.

Well, maybe I'm strong enough now.

Bobby put his flute to his lips, and all those thoughts slipped my mind when he let the music out.

As always, I was enthralled. Sometimes the notes lilted, sometimes they were sharp. Every time, whatever song he played, they found their way inside of me and gave me sadness or joy or peace. And it didn't matter which, because while he was playing I was fucking grateful for whatever emotion he pulled out of me, and I never wanted it to end.

God, what kind of asshole treated that flute as anything other than a hallowed instrument?

Bobby caught my gaze, his own full of mischief.

What was he planni--

His head bopped up and down, and he started to beatbox. While still playing the flute.

A little bit of jazz, a little classical, a little hip hop. All swirling in time with his mind-blowingly fast beatboxing. And the notes were still clear, the melody still crystal, even as his mouth somehow managed to add a hard percussion rhythm to tie it all together.

My gaze locked onto Bobby's lips, pursed and tight and parted, depending on the sound they were making, and I knew I was screwed, because all I could imagine was that sublime mouth blowing me.

Luckily my thermal was untucked, and I yanked it down to cover my crotch. That area was getting harder to hide as well, though, and for the first time in my life I prayed he'd end the song soon. Because he wasn't just playing his flute, he wasn't just playing some crazy-cool interpretation of a song I'd heard dozens of times before. He was playing every nerve in my body.

But -- and, oh God, thank you -- the beatboxing stopped, the melody drifted into something slower, safer. And then it faded completely, at which point I released a slow, controlled breath.

"So what did you think?" asked Bobby, his eyes bright with excitement.

What could I think? "It was awesome." I shook my head in disbelief. "Where did you learn to play like that, Bobby?"

He grinned, his lips full and oh-so-kissable from playing so hard. "Saw a YouTube video. Been practicing all summer."

He'd seen something he liked and taught himself, then. "You sounded like you've been doing it all your life."

A blush stained his skin, creeping into his neck and cheeks and ears. "I should show you the video I saw." He turned to put his flute back into its case. "That guy's freaking amazing."

I don't know what the hell got into me just then. Maybe it was those last lingering notes of music, or maybe it was his mouth, his blush. Maybe it was because I was still half hard and this was Bobby and I realized in one blinding flash what a fix I was in. But I blurted it out.

"I'm gay."

And there was no taking it back after that.

He glanced briefly over his shoulder before snapping his case shut. "Yeah? Okay."

Okay? That was... That was it? I'd sorta imagined my first coming out to have a little more drama to it, even with Bobby. "So, I take it you're straight?"

He paused, then slid off the bed to sit beside me on the floor. "I don't know?"

"You don't know? How can you not know?"

He shrugged, self-consciousness seeping into his body language as he leaned back against the bed. "I've never been attracted to anyone, guy or girl."

All right. Hadn't expected that.

He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "I was thinking maybe I was asexual, but I still have...urges."

My mouth went dry. "What kind of urges?"

"I don't know. Sexual ones, I guess?" He glanced at me and then dropped his gaze to the floor. "Only I'm not attracted to anyone. Arousal just hits me and it's random and a little scary and I don't know why it's happening."

That sounded weird as fuck, but as soon as he said he was scared I was scooting closer to him and taking his hand.

He gave me a shaky smile. "I've been doing some reading online, and I think I might be grey-asexual? A grey-Ace?"

He wasn't telling me, he was asking me, but everything I knew about asexuality came from biology class and the reproduction cycles of certain organisms, which did me jack-all good here. "I-I don't know," I said softly, figuring it was best to be honest.

Bobby nodded, as if he'd expected that, but he didn't pull away from me. "I found other terms on the spectrum too. Like demisexuality."

Now that was one I'd never heard before, biology or otherwise. "What's that?"

He frowned. "Different sites had different definitions, but one made it seem like the relationships are kinda flipped. Like, instead of thinking someone is hot and falling in love after you get to know them, you fall in love first and start thinking that person is hot."

In love. Considering this was the first day I'd wanted to full-on jump Bobby's bones, I knew I wasn't clear enough to parse out something that deep. Even so... "That sounds nice."

His frown vanished in favor of a smile. "It does, doesn't it? But I guess that means I won't know if I'm demi until I fall in love for the first time."

It was too soon. Way too soon. But I had to admit I was hurt that he wasn't already in love with me.

I shook off the feeling, knowing I was being selfish. "You'll figure it out. I'll help if I can."

All that uneasiness, all that insecurity, melted out of him. Then he reached over my lap (deep breaths, deep breaths) and grabbed two game controllers. "Ready to play?"

"Hell yeah, I'm ready." I stopped short. What was that? I'd practically growled just now.

Which meant I wasn't ready to play. His game, my game, our game. This summer had changed all the rules on both our ends, and I didn't know any of them.

Shit. I was probably going to crash and burn at level one.

*****

Asexual. Grey-Ace. Demisexual. The words swirled around in my mind as I trudged home. Not that I'd understood them in the first place, but now they weren't making any sense at all. Just random syllables breaking apart and crashing together into uneven piles of gibberish in my head.

I tried to keep as quiet as possible when I got to my house. Dad was out of town, but it was past midnight, and Mom was definitely asleep. Both my parents were pretty generous with curfews, but that could change in a New York second if I made a Broadway production of coming home.

The lamp by the door had been left on, so I didn't have to fumble around in the dark, at least. As parents went, they were pretty cool.

I slipped off my shoes and carefully made my way up the stairs. I'd just passed the master bedroom when my brother's door opened.

"Hey bro," he said on a yawn, his hair sticking out in all directions as he absently scratched his bare chest.

He was bigger than Bobby's brother. Total football jock -- and had the muscles to show for it. He was also a monster six-foot-three, which meant I had to basically crane my neck all the way back just to look into his face. "Hey," I mumbled, already moving around him.

He grinned broadly. "Surprised you came home at all tonight, what with the way you were going on this morning about playing games with the little nip."

My temper snapped, and I grabbed his arms and shoved him back against the wall. "For the last time," I said, struggling to keep my voice low, "don't call him that."

His eyes rounded for a split second before narrowing in anger. "Get off me, you little--"

He pushed.

Nothing happened.

And I mean nothing. He didn't move; I didn't move. Hell, my biceps barely twitched with the effort of holding him in place.

Something else was weird, too. Growing up, we'd gotten into our share of scraps like most brothers do. All those times he was putting me in a world of hurt, I remembered them vividly and I remembered his body as a rock-hard wall of muscle. But now, as I moved my forearm to his chest, he seemed... soft.

Mark's brow furrowed, and then he started to bear down on my hold for real. It was bizarre, watching him struggle, the muscles in his arms pumping bigger while his soft chest sorta...squished against my forearm. The vein pulsing in the middle of his forehead as his face turned red fascinated me the most. I'd only seen that happen when he was pushing himself to the next level on his free weights.

And still, neither of us moved.

When he finally stopped struggling, he was sweaty and breathing hard and full of shock. "What... What the fuck?"

I was as floored as him, but I knew better than to show it. "Ready to listen now?"

Slowly, tentatively, he nodded.

"Good. Because you've cut me off every time I tried explaining it to you before, so this is your last chance to be still and hear the whole thing. Understand?"

Again, he nodded.

"Nip comes from Nippon, the Japanese word for Japan. Whenever you call him that, you're calling him a fucking Jap. So I don't care that you think it's cute or clever or whatever the hell you think it is, I don't ever want to hear that word out of your mouth again, got it?"

When he didn't answer, I pressed my forearm a little harder into his chest. "Got it?"

"D-Dyl," he gasped, clawing at my arm as I effortlessly pinned him against the wall. "Can't breathe!"

All at once, I realized I wasn't just pushing against his pecs anymore -- I was caving in his entire goddamned ribcage. I instantly eased up -- he was my brother for God's sake -- but I kept my arm on his chest as a warning. "Tell me you understand what I'm getting at, Mark."

His whole body was trembling now, his face gone from red to ashen. "I-I understand."

I let him go and went to my room without looking back.

As soon as the door closed behind me, I let loose a hard, shaky breath, and asked myself the questions I'd asked a million times today.

What had just happened? What was happening to me?

Mark played for the goddamned Crimson Tide. I shouldn't have been able to intimidate him at all, let alone dominate him like that. It was freaking me the hell out. But... But...

But oh shit, damned if it hadn't felt fan-fucking-tastic.

I scrubbed my face with my hand, then let my palm trail down my neck and sweep over my pecs. Not as big as Mark's by a long shot, but so much harder.

How strong was I now? Mark had a gym set up in the basement, but until today I'd been so intent on hiding what was happening to my body that it never occurred to me to test myself out. Now, I was curious. About a lot of things.

I whipped off my t-shirt and thermal, turned around to face the mirror hanging off the back of my door, and really looked at myself for the first time all summer.

My shoulders caught my attention first. A little wider, a little thicker. I even had the beginnings of traps rising out of me. My pecs were barely noticeable under a couple layers of clothing, but now they looked hard and defined, with a groove separating them that etched deeper than I was used to seeing it.

And my abs. They were shredded. Each brick carved into my torso, expanding and contracting with every breath I took. A real six pack...

I frowned, tracing my fingers over the dips and swells of my torso. Holy shit. Was that the beginning of an eight-pack? Oh, I could get to liking this.

A chill went through me and I stopped, my hands falling to my sides as I stared at my reflection. Yeah, I could get used to this. Unless it scared Bobby away.

Then it was going to be the worst thing to ever happen to me.



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