What was he going to tell Andy? What was he going to tell Nick? He could already see the disappointment on his face, could already picture the sad droop of his shoulders when he found out. It would crush him, knowing that he wouldn’t be going to any of Beck’s games, wouldn’t be seeing him play on the varsity team. The season had just started, but it was already ending for him. Already over before he could even start in his first match. It made something in him twist.
“Mr. Beckett, are you listening to me?”
Beck stared down at the palms of his hands, a small frown on his lips marring his features. “Yeah, I’m listening, Mr. Hammond.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” He asked, dipping his head, trying to catch the young man’s gaze.
“Yes.” Beck grit out, glancing up, eyes hard and resolved. “Yes, I understand. Impossible as it is to believe, I’m actually not stupid. I can, in fact, understand the spoken English language.”
He felt resentment flare up in him. Burning and angry, and he knew that it was mostly directed at himself and not at his guidance counselor. It just so happened that Hammond was a lot easier to be pissed at than himself.
“I wasn’t trying to imply that you were—”
“—So, I mean, what the fuck can I do?” Cutting him off with a snap, Beck shifted in his seat, uncomfortable in the way his skin seemed to crawl with irritation, the way knots of anxiety weighed heavy in his gut. “What the fuck can I do to—?”
“Mr. Bennett, I’d appreciate it if you watched your language.” Hammond glowered, leaning forward in his chair, elbows resting on the top of his desk. “If you’d settle down for a second, I could tell you just what you can do.”
Beck bit back the response he was going to make; scathing and sarcastic, ready to tell him exactly where he could stick his advice. A dark brow ticked up over Hammond’s eyes, and his fingers drummed against the wood of the desktop as he waited. Heaving out a deep sigh, Beck shifted again, leaning back heavily in his chair as all his limbs sagged like he was a marionette with its strings cut.
“I can still practice, can’t I?”
Hammond pursed his lips, shaking his head. “No, Mr. Bennett. You can’t. Your grade point average is too low to participate in any school organized sports. You can’t play, you can’t practice. Not until it’s at least a two-point-five.”
“Afraid not,” he replied with a grim look. “You have to get your grades up, Mr. Bennett. You have to graduate. Don’t you want to be successful?”
Oh, he wanted to. He wanted to so badly. Wanted to get out of the suburban Hell he was trapped in. Wanted to get away from this town, the people in it, his father. From everything. Wanted to take Nick with him, pile into his car with everything they owned, and just drive until he couldn’t see straight.
He wanted to go to college, to get a degree, to make enough money to send Nick away to University when that rolled around too.
But wanting and deserving are two completely different things.
Hammond sighed, running a hand over the smooth skin of his scalp as he stretched back into his chair. “Listen, Mr. Bennett—”
“My name is Beck. Stop calling me Mr. Bennett. That’s my dad.”
“Beck,” Hammond sighed again, and he had a keen feeling that he was going to end up doing that a great deal when it came to this particular student. “You’ve got to get yourself on track. You’re a junior; you’ve still got time to get your grades up, to get into a good college. But this year is crucial, Beck. If you don’t start trying now? Well, I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to.”
Glancing back down, he stared at his hands again. Traced the lines of his palms with his eyes, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. His shoulders rolled forward, slumping slightly in his seat, and he huffed out a resigned sound. “What do I need to do?”
Hammond grinned, relief evident in his expression. “Thought you’d never ask.”
Skepticism was a nice way to put it.
Really? Kyle fucking Mooney? A tutor? His tutor?
He stared down at the slip of paper, walking out the double doors that lead to the fields almost on autopilot. It was fourth period. Which everyone knew meant their resident bad boy would be skipping class and hiding out in the bleachers; he’d been caught there on more than one occasion in years previous, not to mention the half a dozen or so times he’d gotten a detention slip— and subsequently skipped said detention— already that semester, and that was the problem with small schools like theirs. Everyone knew everyone else’s business.
By the time he’d made his way to the stands, he’d shaken off most of the shock, and had to slow his pace when he noted the fact that there was no one there. Had he actually gone to class this time? Hesitating for a moment, he stepped up onto them, metal creaking under foot. He scanned over them once more as he climbed up, pausing about three-quarters of the way to the top in order to look around. He could only imagine how much of a lost puppy he must appear to be.
“Great,” he huffed, feeling irritation well up within him. He would really rather not spend the rest of his day trying to track this guy down. “Fucking great.”
He slumped down, hard, onto the bench seat, wincing as it jarred his body, and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He stared hard at the slip of paper with Kyle’s name scrawled across it, and felt that sharp edge of anger twist in him.
“Well,” he muttered to himself, crumpling the paper up and then chucking it as hard as he could across from him. “This is fan-fucking-tastic.”
Reputation was a powerful thing. It dictated one’s life; your dress, your speech, your general appearance. It was the mask you applied every day in order to face people. The same applied for Kyle Mooney, leather clad with an attitude three miles wide. Most days, his reputation was what kept him going, somewhat prideful of the way juniors parted way for him, leveling with the same trademark half grin that had the majority of the cheer squad— and a surprising portion of the male populous— turning to putty in his hands.
Blowing out a long sigh, he rolled his shoulders, still a little sore from a total of eleven hours in a tattoo artist’s chair, soft navy cotton brushing against raw skin as his jacket shifted across his back, weighing down what was otherwise a light shirt. Taking off his bag, Kyle thought about leaning against the cool metal of row upon row of ugly green lockers but thought better of it when he recalled the fresh black ink sitting under the skin of his upper arms. Riffling through his timetable, he groaned softly. Whilst English was his favorite subject, he couldn’t stand his teacher, Mr. Martin, though Kyle had a habit of calling him Steve. It was times like this he hated his reputation, baring his desire to correct his teacher— it was wherefore art thou, not where art thou! Juliet knew where her Romeo was, she wanted to know why he was a fucking Montague.
Flicking his gaze up to trail over a skinny looking girl awkwardly trying not to make her stare obvious, he raised a singular eyebrow, a flash of embedded metal glinting duly. Tilting his head, Kyle regarded her with an oddly intense stare, like one would an offering. He was in no mood to flirt, but she, like many of the people who watched him, was vaguely interesting. He had always been fond of watching people; their mannerisms, attitudes and reactions all filed away for future reference.
Looking away from her with a soft smirk, he carefully shouldered his bag again and headed in the exact opposite direction of his English class. He already knew Romeo and Juliet backwards and forwards anyway. Walking out of the school halls with his usual confidence, Kyle took to climbing up the back of the bleachers, both ignoring and being ignored by the PE teacher inflicting God-knows-what on poor, unsuspecting juniors as he slipped down beneath the bleacher scaffolding, perching on a high rung, balancing on booted feet as he hung his bag on a protruding screw.
With a quick glance around, Kyle assured himself he was not being observed as he pulled out a battered copy of An Actor Prepares, dog-eared and pencil marked from his insistent and ever changing note-taking. Opening to his bookmarked page, Kyle read familiar paragraphs— ones that he had practically committed to memory. The Magic If. What would I do if in Hamlet’s position? How do I bring this man to life?
He lost track of time, not sure exactly how long he’d been reading, often pausing to contemplate what he was reading, applying it to roles past and previous, pulling out the stub of a well used pencil from behind his ear, careful not to catch the metal bar that formed his scaffold piercing, to scratch notes in the ever shrinking margins.
Kyle was startled out of his focus when he heard scuffled footsteps coming up the bleachers. Oh, great. Company. Quickly, he shoved his book back into his bag, hoping nobody saw it. It wouldn’t do for the resident ‘bad boy’ to be seen reading an acting manual.
Raising his head, he peered out from between the bleacher seats, glaring at the well proportioned figure of one Beck Bennett; jock, popular, and all around asshat. Hissing in annoyance, he crouched under the bleachers, looking out at him in hopes they wouldn’t have to talk. Kyle was a few things, but judgemental wasn’t one of them. Unless the subject of judgment was Beck— because that guy irked him to no end. All-winning smile, taken a few too many hits around the head, knocked the few brains cells left around.
It wasn’t as though they’d spoken a great deal. In fact, the one time Kyle had spoken to him was only passingly in the hall, jibed at by the gaggle of swimmers with him, apparently leather pants equated with homosexuality. He only wore his favorite leathers on special occasions now.
The closer Beck got to his perch, the more disgruntled he became, to the point that he was flat out glowering at him. It wasn’t until Beck had taken a seat right next to where he was hiding that he spoke, a voice that didn't quite match his age—thanks a bunch, puberty.
“What do you want?” He asked, blunt as ever, shouldering his bag.
Beck startled, practically jumping out of his skin, and whipping around in his seat so fast that he ended up falling between the bench seats with a harsh sound. “Shitfuckingdamnit— Would you fucking warn a guy?”
He would like to say that he was surprised, making out Kyle’s unamused face between the slats of metal that made up the stands, but he definitely wasn’t. Couldn’t be. Couldn’t bring himself to be. Not past the frustration still bubbling under his skin.
“What the hell are you doing under there?”
With surprisingly agile movements, Kyle climbed over the bleacher rail, jumping down to stand a few steps above him, landing with a muffled thump. “I don’t think that’s any of your business. I asked you a question. What do you want?” He asked flatly, skillfully hiding his amusement at the way Beck had sprung off of his seat. Like a frightened cat.
“Uh...” he swallowed, appearing vaguely bashful as he scrambled onto his feet, dusting his jeans off with sharp, jerking movements. “Hammond. Mr. Hammond told me to find you.”
Raising a studded eyebrow, Kyle took a moment to recall the name. Hammond. Yes, the one they’d sent him to when he was a junior. Apparently moving out of home warranted some kind of counseling, though he thought otherwise: if anything he was better off away from the majority of his family.
“Let me rephrase then. What does he want?” Kyle asked, leaning lazily up against the rail, a slip of pale skin peeking out from under his shirt.
Beck hesitated, tongue darting out over his lips as he braced himself for the next words that were going to spill out. There was a large part of him telling him to forget it. To just leave. He already had a part time job at Stefon’s and another at Amy’s; he could drop out and hit one full time. It wouldn’t be a big deal, everyone expected it out of him anyways— yeah, he was pretty, could kick a ball around and swim a mean hundred butterfly, but he was never going to amount to much.
But he thought of the look on Nick’s face. The look he would give him if he dropped out, if he gave up like that. It would be the same look he gave to Andy everyday— rather, on the days that he was actually in the house and not drowning in the bottom of a bottle at some bar.
Jaw flexing, Beck huffed out a sharp breath and gave him a dry look. “I need a tutor. He said you were the guy to talk to.”
With a soft snort, Kyle regarded him for a long moment, unsure if this was a joke, or if Beck honestly needed his help. Kyle had always been smart— sometimes that was the only thing keeping him in school, because if he didn’t both achieve and tutor the odd person, they’d have him expelled so fast his head would spin. An innate ability to do well in tests without much effort was his savior; his brother, Ryan, called it his ‘naturally bullshit-laden personality.' Kyle prefered to call it intelligence.
“So you want me to give up my precious time for your dumb ass.” He stated, pausing for a moment as he grumbled to himself, knowing he had little choice but to tutor him. “I don’t do math, and I don’t do easy rides. If want to do well, you will work your pretty ass off for it. Understand?”
Beck was getting sick and fucking tired of people asking him if he understood. “Yeah, I get it.”
Beck’s hands flexed at his sides, and he resisted the urge to shift under his gaze. He didn’t like this anymore than Kyle seemed to and in all honesty wished he didn’t have to do it at all. The fact that it was with Kyle of all people only made it worse. It wasn’t as though they fought, as though they were enemies of some kind. They just didn’t exactly talk; the few interactions they had had were never exceptionally friendly. But they weren’t volatile either.
“So how do we do this?”
Kyle didn’t so much as blink, staring over at him as though weighing up his value. He could see the frustration, though its cause remained hidden. “I teach. And you learn. It’s not hard.” He deadpanned, shuffling his bag on his back as it pressed a little too hard on his still healing skin. “What subjects do you need help in?”
All of them, Beck thought begrudgingly even though it wasn’t exactly true. He was aceing gym, at least. Two C’s— one in English and the other his pre-calc class. There was a D in art, and the rest were all F’s.
“You know, world history. Bio.” He shrugged, doing his best to suppress the embarrassed flush that wanted to overtake his face, tucking his hands into the pockets of his pants. Beck wasn’t used to asking for help. He was used to failing, but he wasn’t used to being forced to ask for help, to focus so much light on his ineptitudes. “The usual bullshit. I don’t need much help. Just enough to get me to a C average, enough to get me back in sports.”
Kyle rolled his eyes, pinning him with an unamused look as he moved to stand next to him. “I’ll ask again: what subjects do you need help in?” He said, stance all confidence as he stared over at him. He wasn’t used to being snarked at, generally, he demanded enough respect entirely based on his reputation to command some attention. “I need syllabus’, class content, and the names of your teachers.”
Beck blinked, feeling suddenly quite weary about this entire thing— irritation placed on the backburner as he regarded him, taking a slow step back to put more space between them. “Why the hell do you need all of that?”
“Did you think I can just pull a full study plan entirely for your subjects and texts out of my ass?” Kyle challenged, annoyance growing by the second, lord give him preservation. “I’ll need to talk with some of your teachers to see what’s difficult, I need your class work to see what the hell it is I’m supposed to tutor you on. Rather self explanatory.”
“Yeah, okay.” Beck gave a breathy, agitated slip of a laugh, eyes going skyward for a moment as if asking for some kind of guidance. His gut clenched and rolled, burning and boiling as he flicked at his nose and moved to walk away. “I’ll just round all of that up. With any luck, maybe a bit of witchcraft, I should probably have it to you by tomorrow. What day is best for you to start working, princess?”
Beck asked day. Because, really, who the fuck would want to spend more than a couple of hours tops one day of the week with this condescending prick?
“That’s Prince Charming to you, asshole,” Kyle drawled out, “It shouldn’t be too hard to find. I want it before the week's end, and I’m free every afternoon except for weekends and Fridays. I’ll see you ‘round.” He added, walking away without so much as a smile in the other boy’s direction.
Beck watched him go. He wanted to punch him. Wanted to punch someone. Something. He couldn’t believe that this was happening. Biting back a sound of frustration, he made his way down the bleachers, headed back for the school building.
Fourth period. He could really use some mind-numbing art-talk right now.
Beck was nervous about going home. Sweaty palms, churning stomach, that kind of thing. His car idled as he sat in his driveway, engine purring and giving him away. He could only sit outside for so much longer before Nick came out to investigate why he was taking his sweet time coming inside to cook him dinner. Growing boys and all that.
Staring at his steering wheel, he grimaced. He didn’t want to go inside. Didn’t want to deal with questions about how his day went.
Jaw flexing, he braced himself, killing the engine and jerking his car door open when he spotted his nosy little brother peaking at him through the living-room window. Climbing out, he slung his bag over his shoulder and shut the door with reluctance, wanting nothing more than to get back in and drive off. He moved away from the car, jogging up the short flight of stairs to their home.
It was in surprisingly good shape considering Andy didn’t take care of it— the lawn wasn’t the greenest and the house could use a new coat of paint, but it was passable. Beck tried to make sure he mowed the yard every other weekend to keep it under control, and he had Nick put out the sprinkler when he came home from school every once in awhile to keep it from yellowing. The backyard was a little worse for wear; it didn’t matter as much. No one could see it but them, so they didn’t have to pretend back there. There was a ratty old trampoline Beck had spent nights on, just staring up at the stars, spent afternoons teaching Nick how to do front flips and backflips on. There were still patches of dead grass from when Nick had brought home a stray golden retriever and kept him for two weeks before Andy had come crawling back from two towns and three bars over and thrown a fit.
The only thing Beck made sure to keep up back there was the single apple orchard by their back fence. He trimmed it when it needed trimming; when the season came around, he picked the shiniest apples and washed them and put them in a pie or two. It was a bittersweet act, baking apple pie, like his mother had when they were young. Leaving just the right amount of peel on them, leaving them to soak in butter, sugar, and cinnamon before baking it in the crust. It always reminded him of coming home from school when he was eight to find her sprawled out on the kitchen floor, eyes open wide, skin pale and pie burning in the oven.
It had been a cerebral aneurysm. There had been no way to see it coming. No way to catch it, or fix it, though she’d been complaining of headaches for days. Andy had blamed himself for not taking her to the doctor’s, for not insisting, and had since been losing himself in bottles of Jack and self-pity. All the while, his children were struggling to stay afloat— Beck trying to keep food on the table, trying to keep his dad proud with sports, and letting his grades go by the wayside. Thank god the mortgage had been paid off years previous. And thankfully, they weren’t completely alone in the mess; Beck often got help from Amy— extensions on paychecks— and handouts from Stefon— who often sent meals from the restaurant over for the both of them-- even though Beck insisted he could take care of Nick and himself. Stefon and Amy had both been close friends with Andy and Ellen, and they’d both made sure to keep an eye out on his boys even if Andy wouldn’t.
The car door opened with a creak, and Beck reminded himself for the millionth or so time that he should get some oil for the hinges when he got the chance. “Hey, Nicky, I’m home!”
“You’re early!” He called back from the living room, rushing to make himself look casual as he slumped over-dramatically on the couch and turned the TV on to an infomercial. “No practice today?”
“Something like that,” he muttered, not bothering to hide the affectionate smile that curled on his lips as he leaned against the jam that lead from the foyer to the family room as he stared at his brother. “How was school?”
Nick glanced over at him, brow furrowing. “What do you mean ‘something like that’? Are you skipping it?”
“What?” Beck shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from fidgeting. Hiding things from his brother was hard; lying to him was harder. Especially considering the fact that the intuitive little bastard seemed to see right through him more often than not.
“Why aren’t you at rugby practice?”
“Why are you watching a program about how to get the perfect abs?” Beck deflected, shoving off the jam to walk over, plopping unceremoniously down next to him on the couch. “Trying to impress somebody?”
“What are you— Oh,” Nick sighed, blushing faintly before he turned the TV off and gave Beck a bashful look as he pushed against his side. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t answer mine,” he retorted, poking him just under his ribs, right where he knew the younger boy was ticklish. Laughing as he squirmed away, Beck followed after his movements, poking him again before Nick slapped his hands away with an aggravated snap of his name.
“I asked first— would you cut that out?” Nick huffed, pushing at him as he tried to tickle him again, letting out a sigh of relief as his brother finally ceased and retreated to his side of the couch. “Why aren’t you at practice, Beck?”
He hesitated. Honestly, he really didn’t want to tell him why he wasn’t there. But he knew better than to lie to him, knew not to do something that Andy did all the time. Beck refused to be anything like their father. Leaning forward, he braced his elbows on his knees, giving Nick a serious and earnest look.
“Do you promise not to be mad?”
Nick’s expression fell. “Beck, what did you do?”
“Hey, breathe, okay? It’s nothing... too terrible. Little embarrassing, honestly.” He admitted, glancing down, preparing himself for the disappointment. “I’m not doing so well in some of my classes. Can’t play until they’re all good again.”
Nick frowned, brow furrowing, and he inched a bit closer, as if sensing his brother’s distress. “Well, do you need any help? Do you need my help? I can help.”
“No. No, Sam, it’s—“ Beck cut himself off, glancing up to see the hopeful look there, and he laughed faintly. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. I’d really like your help. Between you and my new tutor I’ll be rolling in the good grades in no time.”
Beck sighed just at the mention of it— of him. Kyle Mooney. He couldn’t imagine how the hell he, of all people, was supposed to be Beck’s tutor. From what he understood, Kyle was worse than him. Almost never showed up to class. How was Kyle supposed to help him get his grades up if he barely went to class in the first place? Beck figured that he was probably only still in school because his parents donated quite a bit to the district, and his siblings had provided a great deal for the school’s reputation. Kyle had great grades, kept the school’s records up— or helped anyways— which meant they kept him around despite all of the classes he missed. At least he was still on campus when he ditched.
“Yep. Got myself a tutor.” He assured Nick, grinning. “So, really, there’s nothing for you to worry about. Like I said, I’ll be back in the game in no time.”
Nick practically beamed at him. “That’s great! I’m so proud of you, Beck. I know you’ve got some bad grades, but at least you’re fixing them, right?”
“Right,” he agreed, smiling softly, feeling a warmth bloom in his chest at his little brother’s words. “Well... now that we’re done with that. What are you making for dinner tonight?”
“What? Beck, I don’t make dinner. You do.”
Letting out a fake yawn, Beck stretched his arms above his head, toppling over to sprawl over the top of his younger brother, squishing him beneath the weight of his body. “I dunno. I’m kinda tired. Think you should make dinner tonight. I’m a hard workin’ guy, Nick.”
Wrapping his arms around his squirming form, Beck snuggled against him, face rubbing against his chest as he gave another large yawn. “Yep. So tired, Nick. Think I’m just gonna curl up with this fancy new pillow and catch a few. You can make that thawed chicken on the counter, can’t you?”
“Beck, c’mon! Would you stop? I’m not a pillow, and I can’t make dinner!”
“Weird. This pillow sounds just like you.”