April 17, 2014 by Anne Tenino
What we have in this post is a longish cut scene from Poster Boy—just about 2,000 words (the whole scene is almost 3,500, but part of it is revealed in the upcoming blog tour). The scene was cut because we were trying to take out as much from the pre-France section of the book as possible (it all seemed like backstory), and because, for a lot of readers, it would be covering old ground. This is (mostly) Jock’s reaction to the picture of him sucking off another guy being sent to all his new Theta Alpha Gamma frat brothers, although the scene begins before he knows about that. He’s just left the frat for a morning run, and his thoughts wander to meeting Toby the night before at Brad and Sebastian’s party.
The reason I’m sharing it is because I think it gives some insight into what the guy’s really about. I mean, the book does that, sure, but since the book isn’t out yet, and not many readers have seen much of Jock, I thought I’d share. One of these days I might get around to posting this in the freebies section . . .
He pushed himself harder, breathing in more of the frigid January morning air until he felt it chill his lungs—not making them cold, but definitely a contrast to how much heat he churned up inside. He’d made the right choice, coming out here for a run. It was sunny as hell and the sky was crazy blue and endless with only a couple fluffy white clouds. For the first time, he could sort of get why Tank said Oregon could be beautiful when it wasn’t raining. Tank claimed it could be beautiful when it was dripping wet, too, but Jock had a hard time believing that. Right now though, he had to admit part of what made it so attractive were the wispy pockets of fog lurking in the fir trees he ran past, and the way the dew on the grass caught the sun, like maybe it was storing up light to be released slowly over the rest of the day.
He needed to do that. Store up light and heat. Winter was always a shitty time for him. He’d never said it to anyone, but a kind of fog settled in over his mood by November every year. Upstate New York had sunny days in winter, but not enough of them to make him happy or make that fog lift. Before going off to school in Massachusetts he’d read they had more days of sun in winter than Utica had, so he’d figured it wouldn’t be as bad. When he came to Oregon and looked it up, they had fewer clear days. Like, almost none.
So, yeah. The weather. Soak it up today and suck it up tomorrow.
He got the rhythm of the run down—the thump of his heart inside his ears and the fall of his foot on the path and the whoosh of air in and out of his chest—but he couldn’t seem to totally lose himself in it like he’d wanted. He’d almost get there, but then something would pull him out of the zone. Once it was a little gray bird with a black head and a tiny brown beard that landed on the asphalt in front of him. Jock just had time to veer, but then it took off again before he even got to it. When he’d almost slipped into that state again, a bicyclist came up behind him, ringing her bell and saying, “On your left.”
So fucking stupid to do that—he always jumped the wrong way and ended up blocking the biker’s path. He couldn’t keep left and right straight without thinking about it, even after years of hockey. It’d work better if she’d said, “On your nine.” If people would just do shit the way I wanted, the world would be a better place. A short laugh broke out of him at the thought—the next thing to startle him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cracked himself up. And last night, Toby had made him laugh. When was the last time someone did that for him? So what if the guy wasn’t into him, couldn’t they be, like, friends? Maybe it was worth figuring that out.
Besides, he was pretty damn sure Toby’d been interested last night.
He pretended not to notice when his feet headed toward Brad’s place at the next corner, rather than away.
Jock could tell something was wrong as soon as Brad answered his knock. The dude’s face was pale, and there was too much white around his eyes. “What?” Was it Tank? Had there been—
“Someone emailed the picture to everyone in the frat.” Brad swallowed. “They sent it from your address.”
The picture. Jock knew that meant something significant; something bad, but he couldn’t make the words fit anywhere in his head. They made all the sense of one of those posters dentists hung on their ceilings so patients would focus on figuring them the fuck out rather than the whine of the drill. “The picture?”
Brad nodded, gripping the door tighter and stepping to the side.
Jock didn’t go in. He stood there, and his head pounded along with his heart, while all his fingers went cold. “Of me and that guy. That picture.” Of Jock on his knees in front of the dude, sucking his dick.
Brad nodded again, scratching behind his ear. Then he reached for Jock. “Come inside and—“
“No.” Jock turned and took off. He didn’t want to punch holes in their walls, that’d be rude. He couldn’t stop his fists from clenching and unclenching, even while he ran, and he could barely see. No fucking clue where he was going, just following his feet, letting them pound the asphalt, and the sidewalk, then the grass, then back to asphalt. He’d known all along that this could—would—happen. He’d thought he’d been prepared for it, but when Brad had said the picture went out to the guys . . . Fuck this. He forced himself to concentrate on the on the rhythm of his body, get lost in the running, letting all the stuff he couldn’t put into words pulse through him with his blood, filling up every nook of him, coursing around his body in flashes of heat. It was the only way he knew to deal.
He ran forever, until he wasn’t so pissed at himself. By then his side ached worse than a broken rib, and his vision tunneled and had started to go black and white around the edges. Falling on someone’s lawn totally worked for stopping. The grass was wet, chilling his back—didn’t soak it, because his sweat had already done that—while Jock stared up at the blue, blue sky and concentrated on his breathing, making his exhalations longer than his inhalations. The pain in his flank faded slowly. After a while, when he’d stopped feeling like his whole body shook with every surge of his blood and his breathing had calmed some, a fluffy white sheep-cloud floated across his horizon. Totally uncaring of his huge fucking disaster of a life, it just wandered by, flirting with wind up there. Happy.
You really fucked yourself this time. How many other people got sent that picture? Jock sat up, ignoring his own question, resting his elbows on his knees and hanging his head between them, working to slow his breathing more. He couldn’t change anything now, and he’d find out the extent of the damage sooner or later. Probably sooner.
“You all right, son?” an old man’s voice asked. It sounded like a man. And it was—a half-bald gray-haired guy standing in his driveway in a robe and slippers, leaning on a cane, looking at him with both concern and caution.
“Fine. I just . . . gotta stitch in my side. Sorry. I’ll go,” he half-panted. He still hadn’t quite caught his breath.
The old guy’s mouth turned down, all concern now. “You need some water or something?”
Jock waved him off. “No, I’m fine. Thanks, really.” He shoved himself up, getting a little mud on his hands, rubbing it into his palm lines when he tried to brush it off. “I’ll just walk the rest of the way. Um, thanks for letting me use your lawn. I’ll leave.” He’d go back to the frat/dorm, as much as he never wanted to know how the guys were going to react. As much as he didn’t want to find out who else might have been sent that photo.
The man frowned at him, but nodded. Then he set his jaw that way old people did. Maybe Jock would figure out why they did that when he was this guy’s age. After a couple more awkward seconds, he tipped his chin and started walking.
At this point in a movie, the man would have said something that somehow made Jock’s life a little more bearable. Helped him figure out a tiny piece of his shit. Maybe a sentence or a whole conversation. Maybe he’d invite Jock inside to meet the husband the guy had been with for forty years, and they’d tell him how much harder they’d had it, and Jock could put things into perspective. Possibly even see a way that things could eventually work out.
But then from behind him a screen door squeaked, and he heard a woman’s voice call out, “Earl, did you tell that young hooligan to get off our lawn yet?”
Yeah. Not a movie. He was on his own for character development.
Brad was waiting for him at the frat when Jock got back, leaning against the wall next to the stairwell door with his arms crossed over his chest. Jock’s hamstrings turned to jelly but he locked his knees. “Hey.” He could face this. No choice.
“The picture only went to the frat guys as far as we can figure. Ashley—you know, Kyle’s girlfriend? She did some checking around to see if anyone else had gotten anything, but she won’t breathe a word to anyone about it.”
Jock’s legs didn’t want to hold him up anymore, so they planted his butt on the asphalt, while a storm of relief surged around inside him, knocking things off-kilter and shorting out systems. Thank fuck the picture wasn’t everywhere, at least not yet. His frat brothers seeing it he could deal with for now. They might not be his first choice for friends, but they were his pack, and he knew himself well enough to know he was a pack animal. Since he wasn’t a hockey team animal anymore.
Brad’s hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed. “Did you think I wouldn’t stand by you, dude?”
Jock shook his head and swallowed a couple times. “It’s not that, I just didn’t expect . . .”
“Me to be here.”
“S’cool.” Brad let go of him, backing off a little.
Jock took a minute to get himself under control and stand back up, shaking out his legs and arms, trying to ease some tension. It didn’t do anything for the pit of his stomach. When he’d done what he could, he met Brad’s eye and nodded.
“You really want to go up there?” Brad asked.
“No.” He planted his hands on his hips. He didn’t want to face the TAG brothers at all, except for the part of him that wanted to get this all over with. Figure out what the guys were going to do. “But I have to.” Muscles that had been bunching up in Jock’s neck eased when it finally hit him. “They aren’t going to kick me out.”
“They’re more likely to stage a protest march in your honor.” Brad smirked. “Maybe we can get them to do it naked.”
He wasn’t quite up to laughing, but he could crack a smile over that.
Brad eyed him, as if making sure Jock was ready, then turned toward the door and grabbed the knob. “It could get rough if any of the guys see you.” He looked over his shoulder. “I mean, you know, ‘cause they’re all sensitive and shit.”
That should be amusing. “Well, I saw when they got the revolutionary spirit over beer terrorists, and what happened when Collin was outed, so yeah. I pretty much expect those freaks to pop off with unconditional acceptance the second they seem me.”
“I’ll run interference if you need it.”
“I’m not going to try and talk you out of it.” He was too tired. He could take it on the chin or face it like a man or whatever the fuck next time—because there probably would be a next time. Worry about it when it happens. For now, he followed Brad through the doorway. Walking up the stairs, Brad looked taller than him. He knew it was just perspective, but with those wide shoulders and that dark hair, Jock could fool himself into thinking Brad was his big brother. Not Tank, another one who he wasn’t as irritated with.