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Heat, sweat and noise. It should be just like a dance floor, but it wasnâ€™t. Caleb had never really caught on to the appeal of sporting events. Usually, he avoided them like the plague, but Levi had wanted to come, and Caleb had the worst time ever saying no to the man.
Except he could only take so much. Now he was hiding in the restroom off the gymnasium, gripping the sides of the sink. He avoided glaring at himself in the mirror, knowing he was going to that emo place he hated.
"Fuck." He turned on the water, letting it run into the sink, losing his thoughts in the white noise. He was too warm. Too jittery. He wanted out.
Out of what?
He ran his palms over his jeans, tugging at the tight material, stomped his feet, feeling the weight of his boots and hearing the jingle of chains and buckles arrayed around his body. Through the blue fringe of his hair he looked at the blurred lower half of his body and could almost feel like himself if he took the time to remember what the jeans actually hid. But he avoided, for one more moment, seeing the floppy hoodie heâ€™d thrown on over his own top. The only saving grace of the ugly garment was that it belonged to his boyfriend, and Leviâ€™s scent clung to it, offering some measure of comfort.
Glancing in the mirror, past his own shoulder, he surveyed the room. It was empty. If it stayed that way for just a few more seconds...
His fingers trembled just enough to make him fumble the zipper, but he managed to get a grip on it and yank it down. The tight vest underneath appeared, black cotton offset by brilliant blue lace to match his hair. There wasnâ€™t much lace. A bit of trim and a stretch of it across his back. But enough.
Behind him, the door banged. Voices echoed off the tile walls. Laughter bounced and shouts filled the room to overflowing as he jerked the zipper back up.
It caught on a bit of lace and stuck.
The laughter stopped abruptly and Caleb looked up, meeting a glittering, focused glare in the mirror. The manâ€™s face twisted into a sneer and he mouthed a single word, "Pussy."
Caleb flushed. "Fuck off, Shank."
All three men who had entered the bathroom snickered as they lined up at the urinals, Larry Shank shouldering Caleb hard as he walked by, making him catch himself on the edge of the counter to keep from slamming into the mirror.
"Asshole," Caleb muttered, shutting off the water and moving towards the door. It only earned more snickering, and it was all he could do to clench his fists and get the hell out without taking a swing at the guy.
Not like it was anything new. Heâ€™d endured such taunts his entire life. He should be used to it. He should be able to ignore it by now.
Out in the corridor, around the corner where no one would wander by, he slouched against the wall, gently fiddling with his zipper until the lace was free, and pulled it up until no part of the more delicate clothing beneath was visible. He knew it was there, though, and wished just knowing could be enough.
Sliding until his ass hit the floor, he tried to push the hollow wish out of his head. He stayed there, listening to the waves of cheering and booing and cat-calls from inside the gym.
He sat, knees pressed together, hands pushed deep into the pockets of the hoodie. A trickle of sweat meandered down his spine. He should have just removed the delicate, lace-trimmed vest Levi had lent him the sweater to hide. But the way Levi had draped the sweater over his shouldersâ€”the way heâ€™d zipped it up carefully and smiled, intimating that the vest was Calebâ€™s private business and Levi was willing to protect that privacyâ€”had convinced him not to take it off.
Roaring cheers and taunts ebbed and flowed from the gym, and he hunched his shoulders, trying to lose the chaos in the rest of the background noise in his head. Concentrating, he listened to the faint music heâ€™d been working on for weeks now. He hadnâ€™t written any of it down, yet. He didnâ€™t need to. He could hear it, and he knew he could play it. He just had to find the opportunity and the right audience.
A hank of his blue-dyed dark hair flopped into his eyes and he tossed his head to get it out of the way, tried to tuck it behind one ear with his fingertips, and immediately cringed at the girliness of the motion.
"Hey." Feet came into view in front of him. A pair of red Converse sneakers he knew too well.
"Hey," he replied.
"Had enough?" Levi slipped down the wall at his side.
"Nah." Levi bumped him with his shoulder. "It was a massacre anyway." He fell silent for a minute and Caleb slowly gravitated until his head rested on Leviâ€™s shoulder.
"Something happened," Levi said quietly after a few more minutes had passed.
"Doesnâ€™t matter." Caleb reached for his hand. "We can go back in. I just needed a breather."
"Itâ€™s fine. We donâ€™t have to go back in."
Caleb listened for the stretch of Leviâ€™s voice over the truth. He hadnâ€™t asked Caleb to come to the game with him because he didnâ€™t care if they watched it or not. He cared. He wanted to be here, and he was giving it up because it made Caleb uneasy.
"Iâ€™m all right." He squeezed Leviâ€™s fingers. "Promise."
Beside him, Levi rose to his feet, bringing Caleb up with him. "Gameâ€™s almost over," he said, a hopeful tilt to his voice and his head.