But then a truck pulled up to the building next to this one and Jase stepped back fast. Luis pulled up his pants and wiped his lips. Jase adjusted the plastic cup and straightened his football pants. A minute later, the guys in the next building climbed back into the truck and pulled away.

“That was a close call,” Luis said. He reached down and grabbed the plastic cup between Jase's legs. He'd always wanted to feel one of those things, too. “We could have gotten into a lot of trouble. We have to stay away from each other from now on, Jase.” He didn't even want to think about what could have happened. Something like this could have ruined Jase's life. And Luis didn't want to be responsible for that.

Jase punched the wall again. “I know. It's just when I saw the way Alec was looking at you I got a little crazy. It was wrong. I have no right to behave this way, especially since I'm not even gay. I just wish you were a woman. That would make it all better.”

Luis clenched his fists this time. Another guy had once said the very same thing to him; he'd never forgotten it. For Luis, this was the highest form of insult any man could make to a gay man. “I'm not a woman. I'm a man and I'm proud to be a man. And, just so you know, I don't want to be a woman.”

Jase rolled his eyes. “Don't get so emotional. I didn't mean it as an insult.”

“It is an insult,” Luis said.

“Okay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it.” He looked up, let out an exasperated sigh, and said, “I'm not sure what I'm saying anymore.”

“You said you didn't like the way Alec looked at me,” Luis said. “You said it made you crazy.” He was thinking about the way Betsy looked at Jase and how crazy it made him feel. Evidently, this didn't seem to matter to Jase.

“Yes,” Jase said. “It makes me crazy. Alec is a pervert. He's only interested in getting into your pants. He's the one you have to stay away from, not me.”

Luis thought for a moment. He felt a sting in his eye and swallowed back. “Good,” he said. “I'm glad you feel that way. Now you know exactly how I feel when Betsy looks at you.” Then he sidled past Jase, grabbed the weed trimmer and a small can of gasoline, and left him standing in the outbuilding alone.

Chapter Nine

When Luis walked into the chemistry lab at four o'clock, he found Ashton hunched over a Bunsen burner whispering something incoherent. He seemed deep in thought; he didn't look up to see who had entered. He was wearing a thick pair of reading glasses, with heavy black trim and a piece of white surgical tape holding one arm to the lenses. His gray plaid shirt seemed to have even more wrinkles and his jeans were hanging below his waist. Luis cleared his throat and said, “I hope I'm not interrupting you, Ashton.”

Ashton's body jerked with a start and he knocked over a beaker. He caught it fast, before it could fall to the floor and crashed into a thousand little pieces. When he set it on the counter and looked up at Luis, his hands looked a little shaky. “No, you're not interrupting me. I've been waiting for you. I was working on something that involves volume and mass. It's somewhat complicated; I've been working on for a while.”

Luis crossed to where he was standing. Though Luis knew nothing about chemistry or volume or mass, he did know how to get what he wanted from a man like Ashton. And the best way to do that was to pretend to be stupid and build the guy's ego. It never failed. “That sounds fascinating,” Luis said. “I'm such an idiot when it comes to these things. I wish I could be half as smart as guys like you.”

Ashton squared his back and smiled. His face seemed to light up instantly, as if he was starved for attention. “I'll explain more about it if you're interested.”

Luis moved in closer. The last thing he wanted to hear about was a complicated study on volume and mass. It would do nothing to improve the quality of his life. In fact, most of what he'd learned in high school had always seemed so pointless. He rubbed up against Ashton's arm and spoke in his lowest, softest voice. “I'd love that. Please, tell me more about what you're doing.”

This was all Ashton needed to hear. He dove right into a twenty minute dissertation about his new theory and only paused to take a quick breath every once in a while. Luis sat down on a lab stool and rested his elbow on the counter. Then he set his jaw in his palm and gazed up at Ashton with his undivided attention. He nodded yes, as if he understood every word Ashton used. He agreed with everything Ashton said and continued to tell him how amazing and smart he was.

At the end of the little speech, Luis even reached out, grabbed Ashton's wrist, and said, “I find it refreshing a guy as nice looking as you are is so smart, too. It's a rare combination.” He had to be careful how he phrased this; he wasn't certain about whether or not Ashton was comfortable being gay.

But Ashton cleared all the confusion up fast. Without being too obvious, he turned away, stared down at his gum-soled shoes, and said, “Let's not kid ourselves, Luis. Guy's like us aren't taken seriously, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. It's always been important for me to be smarter, study harder, and excel more than other guys my age. I don't want to be labeled and I don't want to be a stereotype. In other words, my goal isn't to become a florist or an interior designer. I really do want to help change the world. And I can tell by looking into your eyes you understand. We don't have much in common, but we have that much.” Then he turned and flung a serious look in Luis's direction.

Luis smiled. “I know exactly what you mean. You're right, we shouldn't kid ourselves. I can see it in your eyes, too. And I don't think you should worry.”

“Why?” Ashton didn't seem convinced.

“I have a feeling you will change the world one day, and all the things you're worried about now won't matter much in the future. You're going to look back on high school as if it were a bad dream. And I think, if nothing else, it's the best thing most of us can hope for in our futures.”

Ashton smiled so wide the dimples in his cheeks became lines. “What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Luis took deep breath. He waited, thought about how he would phrase his next sentence, and then exhaled. “I've been wondering about time travel. I figured since you're so smart you might know something about it.”

When Ashton heard this, his entire body seemed to lift. He smiled and started talking about his personal beliefs with regard to time travel. He talked about science fiction novels he'd read, always emphasizing he believed they were always on the border of fiction and reality. He seemed so mesmerized by the romantic aspects of the subject he talked longer about time travel than he did about his experiment with volume and mass.

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