The first time Lukas sees Philip it’s January, right after the holiday break. He’s at lunch, picking at the cafeteria food (chicken today, though it could be anything as far as he’s concerned). He has his arm slung around Rose who is seated next to him and who is subtly rolling her eyes while Dave regales the table with a story about his latest conquest – a certain Mary Anne who sounds either crazy or made up. Could go both ways with Dave, Lukas figures.
It’s the average lunch period talk and Lukas finds his attention wandering, first to his Chemistry homework he forgot to finish – he’ll have to ask Rose to copy hers later, take her out for dinner to make it up to her – then to the guy seated at the otherwise empty table next to them. Brown hair, leather jacket, bored expression. New, because Lukas has never seen him before and everyone knows everyone in Red Hook. He has that 80’s-mysterious-romantic-lead look going on, and Lukas almost wants to walk over and tell him to cut it out, because it’s not the 80’s anymore and that kind of stuff doesn’t work at Red Hook High School.
Then new guy suddenly looks up, and Lukas is left in the awkward position of having to either pretend he wasn’t watching him – too late, they’ve made eye-contact now – or own up to it, keep looking at him, which is if possible even more awkward. The guy raises his eyebrow.
Thankfully Rose chooses that moment to turn to Lukas and ask him whether he’s got plans after school, if he wants to hang out at her place maybe, and by the time Lukas looks back to the guy he’s taken out his phone and is staring fixedly at the screen, ignoring his surroundings completely.
Lukas decides to forget about the new guy with the, admittedly, pretty cool leather jacket.
The second time Lukas sees Philip, really sees him, is one week later during English. Lukas sucks at English, doesn’t get the point of reading authors who died 200 years ago, and he’s been barely scraping by since he started high school. Rose loves English though, which is the reason he’s barely scraping by and not actually failing. Except Rose isn’t at school today because she has the flu, and he doesn’t need Dave or Lenny sitting next to him because they’re if possible even worse at English than him, and he actually has plans to graduate this year. So when the new kid walks in and scans the room for an empty seat, Lukas casually moves his backpack from the chair next to him and smiles at the guy. New kid seems like a quiet loner, which means there’s a 90% chance he’s good at English. Right?
New guy looks at the empty seat, looks at Lukas, scans the room again, and then walks over, with the kind of no-care attitude Lukas secretly envies a little. It’s less like an act when the guy does it, and more like he genuinely just does not give a damn.
New kid motions to the chair. “This one’s free?”
“Yeah dude.” Lukas nods. The guy drops himself into the chair and stares straight ahead, making no attempt at small talk. Alright then.
“Hey, you’re new right?”
“Huh?” New kid stares at Lukas. “Yeah, moved here a bit ago. Change of scenery, quiet town, you know.” He trails off. Lukas doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to ask.
The guy has turned away from him again, and it makes Lukas sound awkward, like he’s trying to chat up a girl that’s too cool for him.
“Philip,” he finally answers, giving Lukas a reticent half-smile.
Lukas has half a mind to ask him where he got the leather jacket from, wonders if he could pull it off – Rose would dig it, he knows – when the teacher walks in and Philip turns back to the front.
Turns out Lukas was right though. New guy is good at English.
The next day it turns out some freshman’s mom works for social services and by noon everyone knows the story about how Philip Shea’s mom is a junkie who has a tendency to overdose in the presence of her son, his dad’s been MIA for years, and he’s been temporarily taken in as a foster kid by the Tivoli sheriff Helen Torrance.
Lukas decides that’s not something he wants to be associated with, and anyway, Rose is back so his English grades will be fine.
January changes into February, and Lukas doesn’t talk to Philip again until one day after school when his bike is refusing to start for some unknown reason. It’s cold, he’s in an empty parking lot, and he really just wants to go home. He promised his dad he’d help him out fixing the roof of one of the stables and he’s already imagining the talking to he’ll get if he’s late because of his bike. Cursing his choice to forego a proper jacket today, he messes with the engine a bit. Maybe if he checks the battery –?
From the corner of his eye he sees Philip walking past, looking at Lukas, slowing down, almost like he’s hesitating. It doesn’t fit with the image Lukas has cultivated of him in his mind. Philip is confident, in that weird loner guy way. He doesn’t do uncertainty.
Philip takes another step. Does a half turn, walks towards Lukas.
Lukas turns his attention back to the engine.
“Hey, you okay?” Philip asks once he’s reached him.
Lukas looks up and does a decent oh-hi-didn’t-see-you-there impression, if he says so himself. Philip does that eyebrow raise again, like maybe Lukas’ impression wasn’t that good after all. He seems to reside in a constant state of unimpressed aloofness and it pisses Lukas off in ways he doesn’t anticipate, makes him want to prove to Philip that he’s more than just some rich kid asshole who’ll stay stuck in this deadbeat town forever.
“My bike won’t start,” is all he says.
Philip walks around inspecting, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket.
“It’s a cool bike,” he comments eventually.
“You know something about bikes?”
Philip seems to hesitate again. “A little.” He shrugs. ”Enough. You take it out to the woods?”
“Yeah, for practice. I do competition, got sponsors and everything.” Lukas puffs out his chest. He’s good at motocross and proud of it. Mostly though, motocross is his ticket out of Tivoli. If he can just become good enough, make people notice, go national – he’ll never have to worry about this damn town and the people in it again.
“Cool,” Philip says, but he sounds a little impressed. Ha! Score one for Lukas right there.
“So you liking it here?” Lukas asks, immediately regretting it. Why is he making small talk with this guy? Is he gonna bring up the weather next?
Philip frowns and looks off in the distance. “Well, you know. It’s alright I guess. Quiet.”
“Sorry about your mom – I mean, it must suck to – uh…” he trails off at the look on Philip’s face. Okay, bad topic. “Shit, sorry, you don’t want to talk about that.”
Philip just looks at him with a calculating expression, and Lukas turns back to the bike so he has something to do that doesn’t involve looking at Philip.
“No, I don’t,” he says eventually.
Well this is awkward. Lukas wishes for a distraction, or for his bike to finally get the message and switch back on already. He regrets his wish when he sees Dave walking past with his gym bag slung over his shoulder, giving the two of them a strange look.
Lukas nods at him, yells “fucking bike!” with a what-can-you-do shrug of his shoulder. Dave raises his thumb as he leaves the parking lot.
Lukas gets up and fiddles with the gears without looking at Philip, who just stands there.
Finally, finally, the bike starts again. Relieved beyond measure, Lukas slings his leg over the seat and turns his head to Philip.
“See ya?” It comes out as a question.
Philip shrugs. “Sure.”
Lukas leaves the parking lot half an hour later than he’d planned. He pretends the nerves in his stomach are because his dad will be angry at him for being late.
“You know he’s gay, right?” Dave says at lunch the next day, and Rose sighs and tells him to stop being a homophobic jerk.
Lukas sits there and wonders if Philip is actually gay.
He tells himself he doesn’t care. It’s not like they’re going to be friends anyway.
The thing is – Lukas is not an idiot. He know what it means when he starts to scan the hallways every morning for a face that isn’t his girlfriend’s, or when his eyes linger just a little too long on the straight line of Philip’s jawline during class. He’s gotten good at shutting down those thoughts, at ignoring the reason why he chose to date Rose and not one of the other popular girls at Red Hook who would be more than happy to hook up after a week of dating. He might not be an academic genius, but Lukas Waldenbeck fucking excels at self-delusion.
Surviving in a town like Tivoli or in a school like Red Hook is easy when you’re rich and you look like Lukas. There’s just a few rules, that’s all. One rule is, you don’t look at boys the way Lukas has started looking at Philip. He’s learned that from the way his dad talks about those queers from work, from the way Dave says ‘you know he’s gay, right?’ like it’s a warning.
Philip, though. Philip, with his damn leather jacket, with his effortless aloof attitude, with his large brown eyes and inviting, full lips. Lukas is starting to think Philip might turn out to be his downfall.
There’s a guy taking pictures at the edge of the woods when Lukas returns from a bike ride the following Saturday. He’s crouching to get a good angle of the trees, and it takes Lukas a second to realize it’s Philip and not some random weirdo. The jacket is a giveaway.
Lukas parks his bike and takes off his helmet, then sits there watching Philip take pictures for a while, feeling progressively more awkward. Before he can decide whether to start a conversation or not, Philip angles his phone towards Lukas. He pauses when he notices him, then looks back at the screen of his phone and takes a few pictures of Lukas.
“I didn’t know you were a photographer,” Lukas finally says, because this whole thing is weird and he’s had it with looking awkward in front of Philip.
Philip looks at the phone in his hands and laughs deprecatingly.
“Some photographer, without a camera.” He tucks the phone into his pocket and walks up to Lukas.
“It’s a cool shot though, you on that bike with the woods in the background. You’re a good model,” he continues. It’s said in a half-joking way – which leaves 50% of not-joking left, Lukas knows enough math for that. And that’s – okay, he doesn’t know how to handle a comment like that. So he just stands there, staring, and Philip looks at him like maybe he’s onto him, though onto what Lukas doesn’t know.
“Do you want to come along for a ride sometime? Take a few videos for my channel?”
It’s a split decision, a stupid one, Lukas realizes the second after he’s said the words, but then it’s too late to take them back and anyway Philip is nearly properly smiling now and it’s almost – almost – worth it.
“Yeah, sure,” he says, tentative and surprised, and Lukas thinks, fuck.
None of this was the plan. The plan was winning some motocross championships, getting out of this town, and keeping his head down in the meantime. But then there’s Philip Shea and his smile, and he’s trouble, is what he is. Lukas only wonders if he cares enough to stay away.