|We'll Say The Hail Marys, You Make The Free Throws
When Boots walked into the room, Bruno was lying on Boots' bed, contemplating a zucchini stick. "Who looks at a zucchini and thinks, this should be deep-fried?" Bruno said. "Really. I've been wondering this for a week now, since you first made that awful face when you tasted them. This is a terrible idea. Whoever had this idea should be fired, and I should get his job." He levered himself up on to one elbow and tossed the zucchini stick out the window.
Outside, a voice said, "Ow! Jeez, Walton, watch it!"
"Sorry," Bruno called. "That was Boots."
"Hey," Boots said. He dumped his books on his desk and sank down onto the floor. Bruno had flopped back against Boots' pillow, one arm thrown over his eyes like a Victorian heroine. "Don't blame the zucchini projectiles on me, Bruno, this is all your fault."
"You always say that everything's my fault," Bruno complained.
"It is always your fault," Boots said. "Everything bad that has happened to us since we got to Macdonald Hall, all of it has been your fault."
"Some of it was Cathy's fault," Bruno said.
Their entire room smelled like fried zucchini. Boots said, "Is there more zucchini in here?"
"Yes," Bruno said. "Hank the Tank tried to force some on me while I was walking home from dinner, and apparently 'I'm not hungry and I just had dinner and seriously, I just ate four plates of lasagna' is no excuse in the face of zucchini sticks. They're under your bed."
"You ate four plates of lasagna? Why are they under my bed?"
"No, Wilbur did," Bruno said, rolling over onto his stomach and staring at Boots thoughtfully. "If Hank the Tank stopped him, he wasn't going to have an excuse. Sucks to be Wilbur. Why weren't you at dinner?"
"I had stuff to do," Boots said. "I went ... to visit the bush hamsters." I was hiding from the zucchini and the Zucchini Disposal Squad in the library, and then I was forced to have an incredibly awkward conversation with the Fish about where I wanted to go to university because I ran into him and Mrs. Fish outside their house on my way home didn't seem like an excuse Bruno would accept.
"You don't have any stuff to do that doesn't involve me," Bruno said. "And you never skip meals. And you never visit Elmer unless you have to."
"The smell of the zucchini could put me off food for the rest of my life," Boots said. The Fish thought that Boots should consider UBC, which had an excellent English department, and Boots -- who had no opinion on UBC, English Department or otherwise, but who also did not enjoy conversations with the Fish that might lead to the question what are you boys doing with all that zucchini -- had fled as fast as he could from the scene. "I have plenty of stuff to do that doesn't involve you."
"Not this year, you don't," Bruno said firmly, reaching under Boots' bed and pulling out a grease-stained plate piled high with congealing zucchini sticks. "This year, it's football and Zucchini Disposal Squad and that's it."
"I think my parents will be disappointed when I don't do my homework," Boots said. Bruno nudged the plate of zucchini sticks toward him.
"Your parents wanted to send you to York Academy because we didn't have a good enough sports program," Bruno said. "Prove them wrong, and who cares about school?"
"I do," Boots said. "Can you get rid of those?"
"They were under your bed," Bruno said, hopping up to his feet and shoving the plate up against Boots' knee with his toe. "They're your problem."
"You're my problem," Boots said wearily, but Bruno was already climbing out the window.
He paused, one leg in and one leg out, and said, "God, zucchini and no rec hall and hamsters. This is the worst year ever."
"At least you don't have to eat zucchini while wearing a tie," Boots said sadly. The zucchini smell was really starting to make him queasy. "At least Wizzle's not here anymore."
Bruno snorted and dropped out the window. His disembodied voice said, "Wizzle wouldn't know what to do with all this zucchini. Wouldn't that be something to see? Don't go anywhere, Boots, I'm bringing the rest of the Zucchini Disposal Squad back with me."
"I never go anywhere without you," Boots said.
"Damn straight," Bruno's voice said, faintly, getting quieter. The zucchini sat silently next to Boots.
"I hate you," Boots said to the zucchini, because even if he could have said it to Bruno, he wouldn't have meant it.
"Of all the bad ideas you've had," Boots said, morosely feeding zucchini to the bush hamsters (who were clambering for more, and the smell of their cage was almost overwhelming), "Cathy as quarterback is the worst one."
"Yet," Bruno said. "Do you think the bush hamsters would jump up and catch the zucchini if I tossed it?"
Elmer said, "These are highly advanced rodents, Bruno, they are not common dogs."
"I'm just asking," Bruno said.
"Stop asking," Boots said. "Stop thinking."
"I'm trying to have a vision," Bruno said, tossing a zucchini stick onto the top of the cage. One of the bush hamsters scrambled up the side of the cage, tugging the stick through the bars. "A vision of the rec center. Man, these little furballs can climb, can't they?"
"I've got a vision of us getting killed trying to protect Cathy," Boots said.
Bruno said, "That was her idea, you know."
"Of course it was," Boots said. "You two are perfect for each other, you're both completely insane."
"I don't like Cathy like that," Bruno said. He upended the rest of his plate onto the top of the cage and watched one of the smaller hamsters climb onto the head of the biggest hamster to get to the zucchini. "I tried to kiss her once and she punched me. Turned me off from kissing for months."
Boots stared. "You tried to kiss Cathy? Is that how you got that black eye last year?"
"I wondered what kissing girls was like," Bruno said placidly. "That's all the zucchini for the day. Come on, let's go, Boots."
"I have never wondered what kissing girls was like," Elmer said, looking vaguely queasy at the thought.
"It's not all that great," Bruno said, slouching out the door.
Boots had spent the previous summer kissing the girl who lived three doors down from his parents' house, who had known Boots since they were both five years old and Boots had spent summers running around his yard with no clothes on. It was nice, but in the middle of July she had said, "God, you really talk about that Bruno guy way too much," and even though she had kept kissing him, Boots had found the rest of the kissing less than interesting. "Kissing girls is okay," Boots said. He'd spent two days wondering if he did talk about Bruno too much, and another four days wondering what that meant, that he talked about Bruno so much, and he had come to no conclusions, except that he liked Bruno better than anybody else in the world, even when Bruno was a pain in the ass.
And he didn't like kissing girls all that much, though it wasn't repellant. Whatever those two things meant together, Boots still didn't know.
"Football is better," Bruno said blithely. "Come on, let's go. We have to lift weights if we're going to protect Cathy."
"Thank you for the zucchini," Elmer said.
"Not a problem," Bruno said. "Get a move on, Boots."
Boots went, because Bruno didn't like kissing girls who punched him, and all the zucchini was gone, and Cathy was going to get flattened by brutes because Bruno wanted a recreation hall, and all of those things shouldn't have gone together, but they did, because it was Bruno, and Boots went where Bruno led.
After practice, Bruno punched Boots in the arm and said, "Round up the Disposal Squad and meet me at our room, we've got to get moving."
"Moving on what," Boots called, but Bruno was already beating a hasty retreat across campus away from Boots, toward their dorm, and Boots was left standing outside the locker room, watching the Disposal Squad dispersing in about seven different directions, and Cathy's hastily retreating figure scrambling across the highway in the distance.
Boots didn't talk to himself very much; his mother had always said that a tendency toward mumbling to oneself was a tendency toward insanity. But his mother had never lived with Bruno, and his mother had never played on a football team with a girl for a quarterback, and Boots' mother definitely had never encountered, up close and personal and on the loose, an endangered species with an appetite that rivaled Wilbur's.
Boots thought that he had earned a little mumbling to himself. "Bush hamsters," he said, stomping in the opposite direction from Dormitory 3. "Girls playing football. Bruno, it is not so much to ask that we go one year without having any sort of excitement, trauma or chasing by Miss Scrimmage. Bruno, please stop thinking for six months so I can rest up for whatever you're going to get us into next. Bruno, all of this is a very bad idea."
None of the sentences Boots mumbled to himself made him feel any better, though, and by the time he'd found Mark and Chris hiding in the newspaper office, apparently trying to avoid the siren call of Bruno Walton's insane schemes, Boots was feeling a little insane himself. "My mother was right," he told Mark and Chris as they went (grudgingly) with Boots, in search of Wilbur and Dave.
Mark said, "Right about what?" Chris, Boots was vaguely cheered to see, was looking as miserable as Boots felt, although probably not for the same reasons -- Boots was miserable for many reasons, starting with Cathy Burton and ending with girls who punched you when they kissed them, and a possible desire to kiss Bruno. Chris just looked like he wanted to flee from any Bruno Walton-related madness.
Boots could relate. Bruno Walton-related madness was always the core of any of his problems, and the trouble was that Boots wanted the madness to stop so he could have a reasonably normal life, but at the same time -- the thought of Bruno, tamed and decidedly sane, made Boots' stomach twist up in funny, uncomfortable ways.
The two were, unfortunately, mutually exclusive.
"She was right about the fact that people who talk to themselves are probably crazy," Boots said. "Because I started talking to myself tonight, and now I can't stop, and I'm feeling a little bit insane, to say the least."
"That's just Bruno," Chris said resignedly.
He cornered Dave (and the Blabbermouth) in the dining hall with Wilbur (who complained heartily when Boots dragged Wilbur away from his 22 tacos), and Sidney was stuck in a garbage can outside of the Science Building. "Sidney, didn't you fall over enough during practice today?" Boots complained, bracing his hands against Sidney's back while Chris and Dave tugged on the garbage can.
"No," Dave said. "Sidney never falls over enough. He couldn't possibly."
Sidney came free of the garbage can with a large crunch. Chris and Dave fell one way. Boots fell the other, with Sidney (and a shower of garbage) landing on top of him. "Ugh," Boots said, shoving Sidney off and scrambling to his feet.
"I'm going to take a shower," Sidney said.
"We'll go with you," Boots said.
Chris, Wilbur and Dave made awful faces at Boots, shaking their heads as they got up off the ground, and Sidney said, "Hey, I can shower by myself." Then he tripped on a banana peel, slid three feet, and bowled Chris and Dave over on to the ground. Sidney said, "Uh."
"We'll go with you," Boots said. He wondered how this had gotten to be his life, waiting around for other guys to take showers.
"Hey," Chris said. "You coming, O'Neal?"
Boots blinked, and shivered, and trotted off behind the rest of the guys. His life was weird, always thanks to Bruno, and getting weirder, thanks to the fact that he couldn't stop thinking about Bruno and not in his normal worrying-that-Bruno-will-get-them-kicked-out-of-school way. "Yeah," Boots said. "I'm coming."
When Boots finally got back to their room with the Disposal Squad (and the Blabbermouth, and a freshly de-garbaged Sidney) in tow, Bruno was sitting at his desk wearing nothing but his underwear. Boots stuck his head through the doorway, trying to shield the Disposal Squad from Bruno's pale, hairy legs, and said, "Bruno, what are you doing?"
"I think better without my pants," Bruno said.
"You don't think at all! With or without your pants, or even with your pants on your head, you never think at all!"
"Hey, what's going on?" Blankenship said from behind Boots.
"Nothing," Boots hissed. "Bruno's just lost his mind and his pants."
"That's not news," the Blabbermouth said.
"Hey," Dave said. "Call the papers, Myron thinks something's not news."
"Shut up," Boots hissed, craning his neck to glare at the Disposal Squad clustered behind him, all of them trying to peer through the door of their room.
"It's not like we haven't seen Bruno wearing weird stuff before," Wilbur said. "Like that time Scrimmage caught him covered in mud and clinging to the drainpipe, and he ended up wearing Cathy's skirt home."
"I don't even know why you're here," Boots said, turning to the team.
Dave grumbled, "I don't know why, either. Canadians are crazy."
"Bush hamster retrieval squad," Bruno called from inside their room. "A night search didn't turn anything up, so instead we're trying daylight hours. And we've only got about one, so we're going to have to move fast."
"One what?" Wilbur said.
"One hour," Bruno said. "It's getting darker earlier, and we can't afford to be seen with the night-vision goggles on another time. That old bat already thinks we're a roving gang who wears sunglasses in the middle of the night, we've got to throw her off the trail."
"By wandering around without pants?" Sidney said, and then he wobbled over, crashing into a fire extinguisher and knocking it off the wall with an echoing clang. Boots winced, Wilbur winced, the rest of the Disposal Squad winced, and three seconds later, the fire extinguisher went off, covering Sidney and the hallway of Dormitory 3 in masses of white fire-retardant foam.
Boots took advantage of the chaos to slip into his room, throwing the lock shut and leaning against the door. "We need a new plan," Boots said.
"Why?" Bruno said. He'd moved from the desk to Boots' bed, and he'd put on a t-shirt, but he was still without pants. He was lying with his head at the foot of the bed, bony ankles propped up on Boots' pillow, and Boots' first thought, when he processed the scene, was not about Bruno's feet on his pillow -- it was about the thin stripe of skin between the waistband of Bruno's boxers and the bottom of edge of Bruno's t-shirt, which was riding up.
Someone pounded on the door, rattling the wood underneath Boots' head. Mark shouted, "Can we borrow your towels?"
"We need a new plan," Boots said again, and when he said it, he meant, we need a new plan to deal with Cathy as quarterback, and the bush hamsters, and the fact that I can't stop staring at your stomach. Mark pounded on the door again, indistinct shouting and crashing ringing out underneath the thumps, and Boots blinked, pulling his eyes away from Bruno's stomach.
Bruno sat up, stretched and said, "We do. I really don't think the towels will contain all that fire extinguisher foam."
Boots closed his eyes and banged his head against the door, just once. When he opened his eyes again, Bruno was wearing pants and staring at Boots with a strange, curious expression on his face. Boots said, "I'm glad you put pants on."
"You would want my mental facilities reduced whenever possible," Bruno said, but he sounded amused when he said it, and he was staring right at Boots.
Boots looked away first.
"Normal people play football," Boots said. He was standing in the middle of room 306, trying not to touch anything. The shower in the locker room had helped, but the team had still tracked enough mud to fertilize six of Elmer's experiments into the dorm. (Elmer, in leather pants and sunglasses despite the rain, had seen the mud and exclaimed, "I am glad I do not have to play this barbaric game," which had made Wilbur roll his eyes so hard that Sidney fell over, streaking mud up a wall in a pattern that didn't normally occur in nature. Boots still wasn't sure how Wilbur rolling his eyes had led to Sidney falling over, but Bruno had propelled him into the room, saying, "Don't ask these questions, Boots, we have to figure what we're going to do if it's still raining next weekend." Boots had gone placidly because Bruno's hand was warm on his back through his damp clothes, and because Boots was losing his mind and staying quiet seemed like the best way to deal with his incipient insanity.) "We roll around in the mud."
"What?" Bruno shouted from the shower. "I can't hear you."
"MUD!" Boots called. "We roll around in the MUD!"
"Speaking of mud," Bruno said, emerging from the bathroom wrapped in a towel, "I think all the grass from the field clogged the drain."
Boots was staring at the ceiling -- because staring at Bruno's bare chest was just going to freak him out -- and he blinked at Bruno, startled. "Grass?"
"Clogged the drain," Bruno said, matter-of-fact. "There's three inches of standing water in the tub right now."
"So to sum up," Boots said, slumping down onto the floor. He had decided not to care about mud on the carpets, or Bruno's towel covered ass.
"I don't need your summaries," Bruno said loftily, rummaging through his dresser and holding his towel up with his other hand. "I have been there, I require no summaries."
"To sum up," Boots repeated, "the bush hamsters are gone, we broke Elmer so badly that he's wearing leather, and our quarterback is a girl. And the bathtub is clogged up."
"You kill the joy in everything," Bruno said. He gave up the hunt for -- Boots wasn't sure, underwear or pants or a t-shirt, something, anything other than the towel, and dropped onto the floor next to Boots. "This isn't the worse mess we've been in. This isn't even a mess!"
"The floor is a mess. But at least we don't have a hundred boxes of typing paper in our room," Boots said sadly, and Bruno laughed. "I wonder what Wizzle would make of all of this."
"A total ruin," Bruno said, and then he yawned hugely and tilted sideways, leaning heavily against Boots' mud-encrusted shoulder. "I told you to stop -- " Bruno yawned again, and got heavier against Boots' shoulder. "-- mentioning Wizzle. He got married, and therefore he is gone, and therefore he should be considered a dead topic."
"The Fish is married and he's not a dead topic," Boots said. "Considering how much time we spend in his office, he's definitely not dead."
Bruno made an indistinct noise against Boots' shoulder, and slumped further, one hand clutching at his towel, which was sliding off, and the other hand clutching at Boots' thigh. Boots stared at the mud congealing on the carpet and thought that it would probably still be there when they graduated from the Hall, if they didn't get expelled for losing hamsters and breaking Elmer and harboring a girl as their quarterback before that. "At least the Fish can't blame the clogged drain on us this time," Bruno said. "This was an act of Nature."
"You're an act of nature," Boots grumbled, trying to wriggle out from under Bruno before Boots accidentally said or did something he would regret in the morning. Bruno's towel slipped further and Boots flopped down onto his back, staring at the shoes lined up under his bed and thinking about anything but Bruno in a towel -- the Fish in a towel, Hank the Tank in a towel, Miss Scrimmage in a towel. "You're also a frustratingly unflappable optimist, which I just don't understand. There's mud, Bruno. There's Cathy."
Bruno flopped down onto his stomach, propped himself on an elbow and peered down at Boots. Boots frantically thought Miss Scrimmage in a towel, Miss Scrimmage in a towel, and tried not to think about Bruno's unselfconscious towel-wearing ass next to him. "You're an unflappable pessimist," Bruno said. "We balance out. Though to be honest, I'm not sure why. Everything always works out."
"Of course I'm a pessimist," Boots said. "Everything always works out after we're almost expelled! Or arrested! Or sacrificed to Scrimmage's shotgun!"
"Ha," Bruno said, and Boots looked over at him. Bruno had mud on his cheek, a streak from where he'd pressed against Boots. "The key word is almost. None of those things have happened, therefore I am right to be an optimist and you are wrong to be a pessimist. So there."
"We're not 12 anymore, Bruno," Boots said, and he was going to say something like, So there is not an acceptable argument, or I told you so won't convince me this time, but Bruno grinned at him, suddenly incredibly close to Boots' face, and Boots' stomach flipped over nervously.
Bruno said, so close to Boots that Boots could hear Bruno's heart beating, "I think it's good that we're not 12 anymore. When we were 12, we didn't have a pool."
"Uh," Boots said, and scrambled to his feet. "I'm going -- shower. Yes."
"Save water," Bruno said, sounding dry and amused by Boots' upcoming nervous breakdown, which Boots was certain showing through the mud caked on to his face. "Shower with a friend."
Boots swallowed hard, took a step toward the bathroom, tripped on Bruno's knees and fell over, showering dried mud onto the floor. He scrambled up and said, "I'm just going to shower at ... Elmer's."
"Maybe he'll appreciate the mud you leave in his bathtub," Bruno said. "Maybe we can get the old Elmer back, if we just fill his room up with junk, like it used to be." Bruno stretched and yawned, scrubbing the mud on his cheek off with the back of his hand. Boots stared, for several long seconds when the only sound in their room seemed to be the thumping of Boots' heart, and then he fled, scattering mud in the best fashion of Sidney.
Boots, sitting on the floor of the locker room in his street clothes, showered but still too sore to move somewhere more comfortable, thought that he seemed to be spending most of this school year either watching Bruno make things worse, or sitting around on floors. Sometimes, his brain amended, sitting around on floors watching Bruno make things worse!
"Shut up," he told his brain, and Bruno, who was pacing the length of the locker room shirtless, in bare feet, turned and stared at him strangely.
Bruno never thought he was making things worse, and Boots thought, feeling a little unsettled by the thought, that at least this year wasn't as bad as it could have been. Sure, Bruno was single-mindedly driving a football team (that was quarterbacked by a girl, and often manned by a bunch of complete screw-ups) in pursuit of a rec hall (that was nothing more than a pipe dream without any blueprints at the moment), but it could have been worse: they could have been watching the Scrimmettes dance on stage wearing very, very little.
And when Boots thought about it, Cathy was maybe the most normal part of the entire year, because Cathy doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing and using Bruno and Boots to cover for her, that was totally normal -- bush hamsters and zucchini and football were all disasters, but Cathy was normal.
"Uh," Boots said, because he was suddenly aware that while his brain was running off the track without his permission, Bruno was still staring at him, standing so close to Boots that Bruno's toes were touching Boots' toes, and peering down at Boots curiously. "We've got to do something to shut Elmer up."
"Oh, he's not hurting anyone," Bruno said. He nudged Boots' toes with his own, and then crumpled to the floor beside Boots in a familiar, comforting, oddly attractive sort of way. Boots had been pretty sure that he was gay, long before he'd kissed any girls and discovered it for sure, and it wasn't the idea of kissing guys that made this whole thing weird -- it was Bruno. Bruno, who was Boots' best friend, and who was attractive and charismatic and who always thought that he had Boots' best interest in mind.
Bruno, who had always touched Boots casually -- a hand on his shoulder, a kick in the ass to get Boots moving, and Boots hadn't noticed until this year, when he came back from the summer and found Bruno standing in the football stadium, and Boots had thought, I think I'm in love with my roommate, even before Bruno had turned and smiled at him. Bruno, who was leaning against Boots' shoulder for the second time in a week, as though Boots wasn't sitting beside Bruno and panicking about the places Bruno's warm, strong shoulder was pressed up against Boots.
"He's not hurting anyone," Bruno repeated, and nudged Boots casually with his whole body. Boots shivered, and Bruno blinked at him, twisting his head and peering at Boots. Bruno's eyelashes shadowed his eyes, and Boots stared back, fascinated by Bruno's familiar face, until Bruno said, "Hey, O'Neal, what're you looking at?"
"Freckles," Boots said without thinking, and felt his face flush darkly.
"I've got 'em," Bruno said cheerfully, stretching his legs out in front of him and prodding Boots in the side with his finger. "You never noticed before?"
"No," Boots said. "But Elmer -- "
"Elmer likes my freckles?" Bruno said. "That is more than I needed to know, thanks."
"Elmer's going to blow this whole thing wide open," Boots said.
Bruno shrugged. "We made it this far. All Hank the Tank said was a good showing, and we'd get our rec hall. This is a pretty good showing, even if Elmer blows everything wide open."
"That's not the point," Boots said, even though he didn't know what his point was.
"What's the point, then?" Bruno said.
Boots said, "I don't know."
"But not about the fact that Elmer likes my freckles?"
"No," Boots said.
"Does anyone like my freckles?" Bruno said.
"Uh," Boots said. "I --"
"Well, that's good," Bruno said. "You have to like them, you live with them. Couldn't have you hating my freckles and trying to erase them in the middle of the night. Let's go."
"Go where?" Boots said.
"I don't know," Bruno said. "Somewhere else?"
Boots had the sinking feeling that nothing was resolved, that everything was still strange and on the verge of breaking apart into a million pieces, and he had no idea what was going to go to hell. There were so many possibilities.
"It'll be okay," Bruno said, like he was reading Boots' mind, and he poked Boots again, before curving his hand around Boots' hip and squeezing. "It always is."
Boots shivered again, and Bruno squeezed his hip a second time before scrambling to his feet and offering Boots a hand. "Come on," Bruno said. "Let's go."
"Okay," Boots said, and when he scrambling to his feet, he tripped, feeling as clumsy and awkward as Sidney, and fell straight against Bruno's chest. Bruno caught him, an arm around Boots' waist, and Boots stared at him, paralyzed for a long moment, before wrenching himself away.
"Are you okay?" Bruno said.
"Yes," Boots said. "Of course."
"Put some shoes on and let's go," Bruno said.
Boots put his shoes on while Bruno stood over him, tapping his foot. The problem was that Boots followed Bruno everywhere; Boots' natural urge to flee was impossible, because Bruno was always there. Boots wanted Bruno to always be there, and Boots wanted to hide under his bed until this thing he was feeling about Bruno went away. It made perfect sense in Boots' head. And it was awful.
"Okay," Boots said. "Let's go."
"Now you're getting with the program," Bruno said, and Boots thought that he wasn't getting with the program, not at all.
He didn't know what to do with this thought, so he followed Bruno out.
The problem and the solution, all at once.
They won, except they didn't.
Elmer's breakdown eventually got them in Cathy-revealing trouble, except that no one cared.
Everything fell apart into a million pieces, except that in the crowd, after the game, Boots was standing shell-shocked that they'd done it, and Bruno came barreling up to Boots, tackling him to the ground and pinning Boots flat on his back.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Bruno said.
"Tell you what?" Boots said. Bruno was heavy, and sweaty, and his face was two inches from Boots' face. Boots bit his lip and tried not to think about kissing Bruno, sweaty, freckled Bruno.
"You are so dumb," Bruno said, and in the middle of the crowd, everyone celebrating so wildly that no one was paying any attention to football players on the ground, Bruno closed the two-inch gap and kissed Boots.
Boots tried to flail, but Sidney had just stepped on Boots' hand with his cleats, and Bruno was kissing him, so Boots seized the day and kissed back. Four second later, Sidney removed his shoe from Boots' hand, tripped over Boots' elbow, and fell smack on top of Bruno and Boots, which interrupted the kiss -- which, in the end, was probably a good thing, because Boots was happy to kiss Bruno, but in the middle of a celebrating crowd of people hadn't been his number one place to do it.
"There," Bruno said, after he'd hoisted Sidney off of them and scrambled to his feet. "Honestly, Boots, you're clueless sometimes." He offered Boots a hand up, like he'd been doing all fall while Boots sat on floors and freaked out, and Boots took Bruno's hand and climbed to his feet. The crowd was still celebrating madly, the head of the Daw Cup standing on a platform trying to bring some order to the whole mess, and Boots leaned against Bruno, trying not to think too hard, and grinned.
Afterwards, long afterwards, after Hank the Tank saved them again, and the Fish didn't care about Cathy, and the rec hall was going to happen, Boots was sitting on the floor of Room 306, leaning against his desk, staring at the open window and wondering where Bruno gone off to. Boots had taken a shower; Bruno had been lying on his bed, singing something under his breath and smiling stupidly, and when Boots had gotten out of the shower, Bruno had been gone and the window had been open.
They hadn't talked about Bruno kissing Boots, or Boots kissing back, and then Bruno had done a runner, so Boots was sitting on the floor feeling sorry for himself when Bruno climbed back in the window, a fistful of brightly colored fall leaves clutched in his hand. Bruno slid to the floor, leaning against his desk across the rug from Boots, and thrust the leaves out toward Boots. "Here," Bruno said.
"Uh," Boots said.
"I tried to find flowers, but they were all dead," Bruno said. "So I brought leaves."
"Uh," Boots said.
Bruno ducked his head, unexpectedly sheepish, and Boots bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling -- Bruno, sheepish, was such a rare sight, and one that made Boots stupidly happy, and since he was sure that Bruno was getting ready to throw him out of Room 306, Boots didn't want to smile. "Cathy said I should get you flowers," Bruno mumbled. "She said that I was treating you like a wife, not a --"
"If you say girlfriend," Boots said, "I will shove these leaves down your throat."
"I didn't know," Bruno said, sounding helpless, and he blinked at Boots oddly. "I thought you were -- you always act weird! You weren't acting weirder than usual! I didn't know."
"Didn't know what?" Boots said. This conversation had derailed, and Boots wasn't even sure where it had happened.
"Didn't know," Bruno said, and he thrust the leaves at Boots again. Boots took them, damp and cold against his fingers, and Bruno leaned across the space and kissed Boots again.
"Oh," Boots said, when Bruno pulled away.
"I didn't know," Bruno said, and rested his forehead against Boots' forehead, Bruno's breath warm on Boots' face.
Boots said, quiet because he was still afraid that Bruno was going to bolt, "It's okay."
"You should have said," Bruno complained, but he didn't give Boots a chance to answer because he kissed Boots again, longer and sweeter and Boots dropped all the leaves on the floor so he could put his hands in Bruno's hair and hold Bruno close. Everything suddenly seemed worth it, and Boots didn't care when the leaves crunched underneath them.
Later, Bruno said, "Well, now things can get interesting."
Boots sat up from his prone position on the floor so fast he hit his head on his desk chair. "Interesting?" he said. "Interesting? We had a girl for a quarterback! We had hundreds of bush hamsters! We had Elmer's nervous breakdown! We had zucchini, Bruno, how can it get more interesting?"
"I don't know," Bruno said. "But there's still six months left in the school year, it's got to get interesting."
Boots opened his mouth and found himself speechless. Bruno laughed, his head thrown back, and because Boots could, because it was the only way he knew to shut Bruno up, Boots leaned down and kissed Bruno, Bruno still laughing against Boots' mouth.
author's notes: for pru on her birthday -- with deepest affection, utmost respect, and the use of the hair knives any time she needs them. so much love, baby. happy birthday.
outstanding betas by kel. and steph. all remaining mistakes are my own. bunners sent me my copies of the books, thus allowing me to re-read the zucchini warriors fourteen times in the last three months. xoxoxo.
the title comes from an apocryphal story about the 1957 ncaa champion university of north carolina basketball team. in 1957, the carolina basketball team went 32-0 (33-0 if you count the mccrary eagles) and was coached by a flashy new yorker named frank mcguire, who made his name coaching at st. john's. the team started five kids from new york city: four catholic boys, and a skinny jewish kid named lennie rosenbluth, who would go on to average a carolina record (that still stands) of 28.0 points per game during his senior year (and carolina scoring history includes, for the record, michael jordan -- who never came close that per game average as a tarheel).
the story goes like this:
late in the season, late in a close game, rosenbluth at the free throw line.the 50th anniversary of that championship is this season, and there's much press being made of it in chapel hill. i told pru the story about the hail marys earlier this fall, and she said, somebody should write a story with that as a title. and so i did.
and yes: i know there are no free throws in football. that's why it's funny.