A sliver of light sliced across the black room as the door crept open. The gap grew, making a dull outline of lockers appear. Two figures slipped inside, and the door clicked shut, snapping back the black. Only the muffled flow of music from the gymnasium vibrated through the murky silence.
“Man, it’s dark in here,” one teen said, his voice echoing through the room.
“Yeah. You got a lighter or something?”
“Hey, I do.” The sound of rustling clothes scattered the dark. “Just a sec. I almost got—Ouch!”
A loud thump was followed by the echo of hollow metal.
“What was that?”
“I ran into something. Oww, my shin hurts like son of a gun.”
“Well quit moving before you run into something else and just get the lighter.”
“I’m trying. It’s stuck in my pocket.”
“You know, if you didn’t wear your jeans so tight, you wouldn’t have that problem.”
“Dude. Tiff Morgan says she likes them tight.”
“Yeah, well Tiff Morgan has worse taste in clothes than she does guys.”
It took a moment for the injured party to realize he’d just been burned. He muttered an insulted, “Hey,” making the second boy chuckle.
“Geez, you’re slow.”
“Don’t go talking trash on me, man. I know where you live.”
The sniggering only grew. “Ewww. Now you really got me scared.”
An inch of flame sprouted between them. Two youthful faces glowed, shadows jiggling across their bodies. The light flickered and swayed, dumping a yellow flush on the room.
The light holder scowled at his grinning friend before he glanced down. “It was this bench.”
“Huh?” The other turned away, distracted. He looked across the row of lockers. They smelled of fresh paint. He raised a hand and touched one, but it was dry, smooth, and cold against his fingers.
He hadn’t known what to expect when they’d decided to browse around the boy’s locker room of Tri-Delta Educational Academy, a private school for only the elite of Seattle’s youth. Maybe body odor, moldy showers, floors littered with trash… just like the locker room at his school. But there was none of that here. The smell of fresh paint hugged him, wrapped around him so tight he thought he might choke on the jealousy.
“I ran into this bench,” his partner in crime explained. “It’s bolted to the floor. Bet I’m gonna have a bruise.” He hefted his foot onto the offending bench and tried to hike up his pant leg but couldn’t budge the tight material above his calf muscle. He tugged harder, then yelped when rough denim scraped over the sore spot.
“Shh,” the other hissed.
“Sorry,” he whispered and gave up, pushing the pant leg back into place. Then he glanced around. “Nicky? Where’d you go?”
“I’m over here, moron.”
Besides being best friends, the two were first cousins. They’d grown up on the same street, spent holidays together, and became no less than close brothers. Nicholas Farrow, Jr. and Vince Delotini did most things as one. So, when they’d been out carousing the streets and came across the private upper class academy in the midst of a dance, where a side door had been left unlocked, Vinny was prone to follow Nick, who wanted to see what the inside of a rich kid’s school looked like.
“What’re you doing,” Vinny asked.
Nick still faced the closed lockers that smelled so fresh and new. After digging in his pocket a moment, he pulled out a butterfly knife and flipped it open.
Vinny edged closer. “Where’d you get that thing?” As metal flashed, he examined the knife with glittering, excited eyes.
Nick studied the row of shiny new lockers and shrugged. “I traded it off for my Swiss Army from some idiot in Chuck’s gang. I just hope Chucky don’t find out I swindled one of his boys.”
“Aren’t owning butterfly knives illegal?”
Nick shot his cousin a grin. “Probably.”
The knife ascended on a locker.
Vinny nudged his chin toward the door. “Whose locker is that?”
“Who cares?” Nick jimmied the knife into a keyhole. “The boy’s rich, whoever he is. So I don’t like him.”
The light flickered as Vinny bent down to rub on his sore shin some more. When the zippo went out, sweeping the room with black, he fumbled to relight.
“Hold it steady, will you,” Nick said.
“Well, hurry up. I don’t know how much fluid’s left.”
A few seconds of prying, and the lock slid free. Nick held his breath as he opened the door and peered inside. Vinny raised his lighter above their heads and moved closer so he could get a look too.
The inside wasn’t as neat at the out. Candy bar wrappers, jock strap, and deodorant piled on the bottom along with balled paper and a couple of textbooks. Clothes hung carelessly from the side walls on tiny hooks.
“Hey, a flash light.” Vinny fished it out and flipped it on. He shoved the lighter back into his pocket.
Nick took out a pair of pants and lifted them, holding them up by the waist. He wrinkled his nose and glanced toward Vinny, who snickered. “Thank goodness we don’t have to wear dumb uniforms to school.”
“Yeah,” Nick answered even as he lowered them to his waist. “But, what do you know. They’re just my size.” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.
Vinny frowned. “Nicky?” His voice quivered, uncertain and suspicious.
The music from the gym paused before a new track started.
“Shall we mingle?” Nick said.
“No.” Vinny held up both hands. “That idea’s just plain crazy, Nick. Nicky? No way.”
Nick shrugged out of his own hole-ridden jeans.
“They’ll find us out, I’m telling you,” Vinny said.
Nick shoved his foot into a blue polyester pant leg. He knew his cuz would follow suit. Vinny trailed him everywhere.
“Two slums like us,” Vinny tried again, “will stand out like a turd on a rose.”
“Not if we’re dressed like them,” Nick said. “Besides. It’ll be dark.” He pulled the pants over his hips and zipped them closed. “Man, these things itch.”
Vinny watched him button a white dress shirt, then pull on a sweater vest. “What about me,” he finally said, fidgeting as he sent a nervous glance to the locker room entrance.
Nick finished fitting his clip-on tie into place and turned to study Vinny’s clothes. “I’m sure there’s something here that’s just your size, sir,” he said, mimicking a British accent as he scratched his chin and studied Vinny’s shape. Then he raised a finger. “Let me check my stock.”
Knife raised, he turned to the next locker.
They exited the room minutes later, dressed like twins in their Tri Delta dress-code uniforms. Nick stood taller, hovering barely over six feet, slim with wide shoulder blades like starched cardboard under his wool sweater vest. Shorter and flabby in the middle, Vinny owned chipmunk cheeks their grandma liked to grab and shake, making his second chin flap. He'd stopped by the sinks on his way out and slicked back his dark hair until it lay matted to his head and poked down around his ears.
Nick glanced over as they strolled down the quiet halls and lifted an eyebrow. “You look like a geek. You know that, right?”
“Hey, this is what rich people do to their hair,” Vinny said and patted at it again with his fingers.
“It’s what morons do to their hair.” Nick licked his thumb and forefinger, then plucked up a chunk of Vinny’s hair at the crown of his head and twisted it between his wet fingers until it stuck up straight. “What a dork.” He barked out a short laugh.
Vinny peered at his reflection in the glass of a trophy case in the hall only to slap the piece back down. “Jerk.”
Still grinning, Nick grabbed his arm. “Come on. Let's check out the action.”
The music grew louder as Nick dragged Vinny closer to the gymnasium doors. A popular song played fast and furious.
Vinny jerked his elbow out of Nick’s hand, but continued to follow him. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Oh, please. You always have a bad feeling. Just tell me. Have you ever had a bad feeling that hasn’t ended up perfectly fine?”
“How about that time you told me to jump out of the tree in Jimmy Tricket’s yard?”
Nick winced, but quickly covered it with a shrug. “So what? You mangled your ankle a little.”
“I ended up in the hospital.”
“Yeah. You got out of school, ate ice cream all day, and had nurses bending over you, letting you gawk down their shirts. Uh, huh. I really feel for you, buddy.”
“I had to sit out the rest of the basketball season.”
Nick peeked around a corner, then turned when he saw it was clear, and started up a new hall. He glanced back, checking on Vinny who reluctantly followed. “You suck at basketball," he said. "You would’ve sat on the bench anyway. I just gave you an excuse not to look bad while you did it.”
Vinny frowned. “I don’t suck at basketball.”
Nick stopped; his cousin skidded to a halt beside him.
“Look,” Nick said, staring at a set of double doors. The music was intense now. “There they are.”
They each took a small rectangle window and peered inside. Colored spotlights flared and flashed. A large disco ball spun overhead. Three tables of refreshments lined the side bleachers. Boys dressed like them in starchy, scratchy uniforms and girls in matching plaid skirts twirled across the dark gymnasium.
“Wow, it’s a co-ed school,” Vinny said as a girl stopped and bent down to adjust her shoes.
Rolling his eyes, Nick snorted. “What’d you think, Bozo, if they’re having a school dance? That boys would be dancing with boys?”
Vinny tugged at his collar and watched Nick reach for the door handle. “I gotta take a whiz,” he said before Nick could enter.
Nick sighed. “You always gotta take a whiz when you’re nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.”
“Whatever. I’m going in.”
Vinny’s eyes bugged. “Without me?”
Nick paused, glanced over. Vinny’s tie was askew and little flyaway hairs lifted around his ears.
“I’ll wait for you by the food. OK?”
“Yeah, now get out of here. Go find the john.”
Nick watched Vinny scamper down the hall. Then he faced the entrance and took a deep breath. Grabbing the handle, he opened the door.