Disclaimer: I have no control over any of the lovely boys from Smallville Kansas, or Everwood Colorado. If I did, I'd make sure they treated each other well. The title was meant for the Typography challenge, until I realized it was a CLEX challenge, and poor Lex isn't in this story. (Don't worry, I'm sure he's having an interesting time.) I'm keeping the title, anyway. Also written as part of TimIan's Tower of Drabble-On. Big thanks to LifeInWords for being such an encouraging audience.
Three days at a regional basketball conference in Denver, and Whitney is glad for the chance to get away. It's a stifling spring in Smallville, dry heat rising like dust from the corn. He welcomes the change, even if it's only for a weekend.
Colorado is cooler, and busy enough to be anonymous. He is not "Whitney Fordman: Smallville's future" here There is no confusion. No girlfriend with a history he can't cheer her out of, no father with expectations beyond his own past. He's just here to play.
He could be anyone he wants. He wonders who that is.
The boy he's with has dark tousled curls, high cheekbones, and an easy grace on the basketball court. He moves like he owns the world, and a sideways shift of denim blue eyes tells Whitney what else he'd like to own.
The one Whitney wants is back in Smallville, deceptively awkward and shy.
The hands are strong and lovely without the power that holds him in dreams. The mouth is not quite right; but it makes him forget he can never voice what he wants.
He cries out "Clark!" when he comes.
"Colin," says the boy. "But that's close enough."
The kid -- Colin -- slipped into his bed late last night, knowing Whitney would leave the hotel room door unlocked for him. They've only just met; fifteen minutes in the locker room cementing their intimate connection.
When they talk, it's about girls in small towns: Amy, who sounds like Lana, but clingier. Colin doesn't ask who Clark is, and Whitney doesn't wonder who Colin might be thinking of when he touches him.
The air is thinner in Colorado, but it's easier for Whitney to breathe. He can push himself farther; unfurl the flag no one in Smallville knows he carries.
His teammates think they're doing him a favor.
"We'll teach that creep a lesson."
"I've seen the way he watches Lana."
"Kent won't bother you anymore."
They try so hard to get into his good graces. Whitney wonders if they'd still feel the same if they knew how he really felt.
He fakes brotherly camaraderie as he slips Lana's necklace around Clark's neck. He knows he'll never get the image of Clark out of his head: on his knees, sweat pooling in the hollow of his throat.
The big red "S" stands for "sick". It stands for "shame".
Whitney feels like an asshole. He's shooting hoops, trying to get his fear and frustration under control.
He shouldn't be feeling like this. It's not like his father got sick on purpose. He just can't see him like that. Weak. Old.
The look Clark gives him as he takes the ball is kind, and a little bit calculating. Like he can see inside him, and know the real truth.
It isn't the look of someone who hates him. Whitney cannot fathom why. He is not worthy of this kid's thoughtfulness.
"We also regret what we don't say," Clark tells him.
Whitney's mother hands him the newspaper article. Section C of the Daily Planet: Star Athlete, 16, injured in drunk driving accident. Prognosis guarded.
"Isn't that the boy you met at basketball camp?" she says. "You won't do anything stupid like that, will you, Whitney?"
"No, Mom." He doesn't tell her he's done stupider things already.
He remembers the way Colin was always in motion; chasing the ball across the court; sinking purposefully down his body. He can't picture him lost in stillness, now.
He thinks of farm boys tied to fence posts. He thinks of chances taken, and opportunities missed.
When it finally ends with Lana, Whitney isn't sure whether to be pissed or relieved. Things had been awkward between them, but they were wary of dissolving the facade of the perfect couple.
With uncommon insight, she tells him "I'm not your cheerleader anymore. I get the feeling I'm not what you really want, anyway."
He asks her what she means.
"I'm not an idiot. You've been looking at Clark the way you used to look at me."
"I'm sorry," he says.
"Don't be. We've both changed."
"I'm not sure who I am anymore."
"Then it's time you found out."
Now that there's an opening, he expects to see Clark make his move. Instead, Clark approaches him and says, "Lana said you guys broke up; you could use a friend."
"I haven't been much of a friend to you. I'm sorry."
Clark looks uncomfortable. "That wasn't all you. I know that."
"That doesn't excuse me. My friends thought they were doing me a favor. Assholes. I didn't know you would get sick."
"It was the necklace. I'm allergic." As soon as the words are out, Clark looks scared, like Whitney will use it against him.
"I'd never tell anyone, Clark."
Clark is in flannel, as usual. Whitney recognizes the shirt from the store, and imagines he had been the one to smooth it on Clark's sun-kissed skin.
"Remember when you told me we regret the things we don't say?"
He tells Clark about Colin. The weekend. The accident.
"I didn't realize you were ... I'm sorry about your friend."
"I didn't want to admit it, but it was always there. But the thing I haven't been able to say -- until now -- is that I wanted it to be you."
Clark's grin is incandescent as he leans in to kiss Whitney.
Colin finds the Polaroid stuck between the bottom two shelves of his dresser, where he keeps T-shirts from teams he no longer plays for. He's leaning back on a truck, next to a tall blonde boy with a jacket that says "Smallville Crows." Whitney.
An old movie flashes in his head. The Wizard of Oz.
It hits him then, the memory: a sports conference. They'd bonded over cheerleader girlfriends, and a mutual attraction they'd never talk about, or act on past the weekend.
Later, when Ephram strokes him, it's like going Technicolor. Colin doesn't tell him this is nothing new.
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