It’s just a faceless high school, isn’t it? It’s just like all of the others: the litter on the floor, ever in the process of being cleared away by the bitter janitor, the A4 posters with bad graphic design advertising sports clubs and home grown theatre productions plastered to the walls, row upon row of lockers which, if they could speak, would happily recount each and every one of the dozens of dorks pushed into them in a daily basis. The canteen buzzing with life and colour: the sports jocks, they’re obvious with their bright blue uniforms and sweat-soaked brows, fresh from practice. They talk in a huddle, discussing tactics and strategies as though high-school football is the be all and end all of the human race. There are the hipsters, over by the corner, and the geeks (characterised by the fact that they’ve got their school work out even though it’s lunch time). Then there are the cheerleaders who, as a general rule, are slim and ponytailed with charming smiles and flirtatious mannerisms. They, unlike the jocks and hipsters and geeks, are scattered in careless abandon: one chats to her music group friends about the concert coming up, another murmurs in hushed and silky tones to her boyfriend in the corner. A cluster of them are by the vending machine, waving their Diet Cokes and Pepsis as they speak. One is trying to get a nerd to do her math homework.
Marluxia, halfway down the stairs, glances over the tops of everybody’s heads at the girls, and sighs theatrically. They couldn’t just sit together, could they: they all had to spread out to the far corners of the bustling canteen, just to make his life difficult.
“Right,” He says to himself, and benignly shoves an eighth-grader out of the way as he makes his way into the throng of people. A few are staring at him, but it’s only some of the kids from the lower years who are evidently not accustomed to seeing a tall, broad, pink-haired male in cheerleader uniform. That, or they’ve heard some of the rumours flying around and managed to match Marluxia’s face to his name. But he disregards them, after years of practice. He aims to the gaggle of cheerleaders first, because they can help him round up the others, and slaps one amiably on the back when he reaches them.
“You were supposed to be at practice ten minutes ago.”
“But Kairi said-“
“What Kairi said is that she can’t make it to practice, not that you all get a day off.”
Marluxia is something of a monster of the school’s cheerleading team. Many a poor, naive girl has signed up to the club, knowing that the Captain (there’s no coach, given the school’s increasingly strained budget) is a pushover, only to be suddenly and embarrassingly acquainted with Marluxia the moment they step a foot wrong.
“Oh, come on, it’s Friday.”
“I know it’s Friday,” Marluxia drawls. “And guess what we do on Fridays.”
“Practice,” One of the younger cheerleaders groans. Marluxia nods, steering her into the crowd of lunchers.
“Very good. And I expect to see all of you in the gym by half past.”
They don’t hate him, not per say: he’s too charismatic and too damned pretty to be hated by conscientious teenage girls; they just wish that he’d get off their backs about practice every now and again.
Marluxia moves on, to the one flirting with her boyfriend.
“Come on, smooth talker. Snogging does not constitute as physical exercise.”
“We weren’t even-“
“You were about to. You’ve got five minutes to get to the gym.”
Marluxia’s not quite sure why he likes cheerleading so much. A lot of people would speculate that it’s the physical aspect, the girls in short skirts with pom poms, but he’s not so sure. He thinks, maybe, that it’s the aesthetics: footballers may have impressive and even beautiful physiques but there’s nothing elegant about donning gross caricatures of protective wear and running head first into each other for the sake of a piece of stuffed leather. But cheerleaders twist and turn in perfect synchronisation: it’s like dancing, but sexier.
He’s not much of an academic, Marluxia (even if he probably could be, if he tried hard enough). His passions, broadly, are for casual horticulture, cheerleading, and sex. Just sex. He’s never really fallen in love, and doesn’t have time for the few girls still naive enough to swoon over him - as far as he’s concerned, intimacy equals sex, and there is nothing more satisfying that he could want from other people. It’s not like there’s really any secret to getting people to open their legs, either: all it takes is the right reputation, the promise of sex without consequences, and a complete willingness to sample anybody, in any situation.
Being pretty damn hot probably helps, too.
So the cheerleaders wander casually in around about half past, grumbling about having to leave the comfort of lunching like any of them weren’t fully aware that the cheerleaders always practice on Friday afternoons - even if their Captain, Kairi, happens to be out of state visiting her elderly Grandmother.
“Thank you for finally turning up,” Marluxia says once everybody has finally arrived, even the three faceless boys (two of whom were forced in by their girlfriends because the squad needed lifters; the third is probably the most flaming homosexual Marluxia has ever had the pleasure of meeting), who huddle together at the back. Marluxia runs through a quick ten minute warm-up, the anatomies of which he has long since memorised; then he sets groups off to discuss the regionals next month. They’re not going to win (they have the talent, maybe, but with a budget like theirs they can hardly afford new pom poms, let alone the insane costumes and pyrotechnics the winners always seem to have), but he wants to place, at least. The did well in the preliminary tournaments, in out-of-school competitions. The girls have worked hard enough this year to deserve a trophy, even if it’s not the most acclaimed one.
They practice moves that Kairi will probably want included in the choreography; Marluxia assigns them research homework (knowing full well that otherwise, he’d be doing it all with Kairi two days before the competition), shows them a few videos of other routines on the cheerleader squad’s crappy laptop. And eventually, at three thirty or so, they all filter out, cheering with lethargic limbs for the blessing of the weekend.
Marluxia clears up after them, stuffing the decrepit pom poms in their locker with the laptop, collecting the cardigan that someone always leaves on the side. And he’s just showering off the worst of the day’s sweat and grime in the lonely changing room (the footballers get Fridays off) when he hears his phone, deep in some pocket over by his bag, ring with a tone he hasn’t heard for quite some time.
He shuts the water off, grabs his towel (not for modesty: to dry his hands), and rummages for his phone. He wriggles the device out of his pocket, eventually, hits green, and presses it to his ear.
The voice on the other end of the phone is a familiar one, the same high, screechy tone always dripping with sarcasm and with the unique ability to transform “bitch” into a three syllable word that Marluxia fondly remembers from months ago. The nostalgia? Its owner has been in Europe somewhere Marluxia couldn’t locate on a map as an exchange student since last semester, where the internet connection was so crappy that not even Skype calls got through.
The girl’s name is Larxene. She’s also a slut, albeit with different tactics; Marluxia gets laid because he is, as a general rule, pleasant and charismatic and sociable: Larxene gets laid because she is a fickle, shallow and domineering bitch of a young woman.
“So I literally just got back yesterday,” Larxene says, which is news to Marluxia. “So how’s my best pink-haired friend today?” And then she corrects herself affectionately: “Best male pink-haired friend.”
“And exactly how many male pink-haired friends do you have?” Marluxia asks dryly, wondering if he should bother to dry off and get some clothes on in case anyone comes in, or leave himself up to chance.
“Oh, Marluxia,” Larxene drawls in a sing song voice. “You’re in a class of your own. Ask me how the exchange went.”
After all these years, Marluxia has learned to humour her.
“How did your exchange go?”
“It’s true,” Larxene says dramatically, “Swedish guys have huge cocks.”
“It’s not all about size,” Marluxia replies tiredly.
“Oh, you would say that, wouldn’t you.”
Marluxia hums a little, without even bothering to rebuke Larxene’s little joke. Her views on sexual perfection are just like her partners: they change daily.
“So,” Larxene says, apparently finished in recounting her year spent abroad; “Are you going to be a gentleman and buy me a coffee tonight?”
“Do I have a choice?” Marluxia asks sardonically. When Larxene laughs at him, he adds: “I’m just showering off from cheerleading practice. I can be at the café in half an hour.”
“Still a cheerleader? Oh, you’re so cute.”
Marluxia smirks humourlessly.
“I’ll see you later, Larxene.”
“Uh-huh. Don’t be late!”
Larxene doesn’t hang about with goodbyes on the phone, which is one of the few things about her that Marluxia appreciates. She just laughs a little, and click - she’s gone.
Marluxia returns to the showers to rinse the last of the bubbles from his skin, then dresses quickly in a casual shirt and slacks, and takes the quick route down to the middle of town, a busy bustle of shops at the centre of which is Twilight Café, for years a popular haunt of students from the nearby schools. Larxene is already waiting: and in her provocative tank top and cropped jeans, her slick peroxide hair cut off at the nape of her neck, she’s hardly changed at all.
She rises a little in her seat as he approaches and settles into the stool opposite her, in some mockery of his manners, then gives him a critical once over. Marluxia, unlike her, is no longer the scrawny kid he used to be.
Marluxia rolls his eyes at Larxene’s less than flattering choice of words.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Do,” Larxene replies with a laugh. “If you have a six pack I will fuck you right now.”
Marluxia triumphantly pulls up his shirt and the next half hour is spent in the cramped compartment of the café’s toilet until Larxene has newly explored the flex of Marluxia’s muscles and Marluxia has remembered every precise curve of Larxene’s body once more. They rearrange their clothes into some semblance of order and give the cleaner a five dollar tip for the mess he hasn’t even seen yet.
“So,” She says once Marluxia’s bought her a drink with adequate foam, chocolate and sugar. “How’s life on the boring side of Connecticut?”
“Same old. The regulars. Cute virgins. Closet gays. Speaking of, I finally nailed that hot quarterback last month.”
“I told you he was gay,” Larxene says triumphantly. “Never seen a guy look so put off by the thought of licking a girl out.”
“Oh, I thought that was just the normal response for anyone meeting your vagina for the first time,” Marluxia says calmly. Larxene reaches over and punches him, hard.
“Oh, I’m sorry, hit a sore spot, did I? I heard there were a lot- ow!”
The thing about Larxene is that she’s tenacious. She doesn’t just punch once and let the transgressor get away with further mockery: and her aim, after years of practice, is almost flawless. So he apologises, even if they both know he doesn’t mean it, and moves on.
“There was actually something I wanted to talk to you about,” Larxene says as she’s finishing the last dregs of her sugar-infused coffee.
“Oh, you didn’t just want to see me for the company?”
“Well, and the free coffee.” Larxene says, yawning. “So you know my brother, right?”
Marluxia nods. He knows the one. Name’s odd, he remembers that.
“Blonde. Glasses. Lanky. Kinda cute.”
“Well, the first three, sure,” Larxene says. “Anyway, so while I was in Sweden I ended up talking to him - trying to sort out the internet, you know how it is, and he was the only one online at two o’clock in the morning.”
“What about him?”
Larxene doesn’t talk about her brother very much: after she left home with her mother at the age of six they’ve been alienated from each other, the brother (what Marluxia knows of him) a sullen, secretive boy and Larxene with much more pressing matters to hand, like having a social life.
“Well,” Larxene says, he voice dropping from her usual high-pitched screech. She glances down, at her hands, and then back to Marluxia with an almost uniquely piercing gaze. “Well, you know as well as I do that I don’t give a shit about other people, but…”
“But what?” Marluxia asks, worrying. If Larxene looks worried, then somebody’s world is probably about to collapse.
“Well, I asked him how he was,” Larxene says, pretending that the passersby on the street are suddenly very interesting, “And you know how normal people just say ‘I’m fine’, right? And he just goes into this massive rant about how his parents are anti-Islamic, homophobic religious fanatics and won’t let him do anything at home except study and do housework and how he’s getting picked on at school and nobody likes him and blah, blah, blah. And you know I don’t give a shit about his problems because we’ve all got problems, and then.”
“And then?” Marluxia prompts, because Larxene has stopped quite suddenly.
“And then he just goes ‘I hate myself.’”
Marluxia doesn’t speak again: Larxene sounds like she wants to say something else, and besides, he’s not sure exactly what he can say to any of this. Yes, Larxene’s brother is having personal difficulties; but what can Marluxia do about it but offer condolences to his sister like she’ll ever pass on the message?
“Christ, he used to be an arrogant little jerk when he was six,” Larxene says suddenly. “What happened?”
“A lot of things can happen in ten years,” Marluxia replies gently, which is both true and has absolutely no meaning at all.
“Twelve,” Larxene corrects dully. “I just, I don’t know. Anyway, so we talked a bit more and mostly he just complained and told me that I wasn’t listening - he’s like that - and then finally, one day he’s just like ‘Larxene, I need to come out to you about something’.”
Larxene laughs humourlessly.
“So I’m like ‘lol, that really makes you sound like you’re gay’, and he just says ‘well, actually…’ Can you believe it? Of all the people who could have been gay, and it’s him. He was never going to get a girlfriend, let alone a boyfriend. And he’s got nothing to protect him if it gets around school. And his parents are almost definitely going to kick him out of the house if they find out.”
“I thought people like that only existed in the South these days,” Marluxia says before his brain’s really had time to ingest all of the information Larxene has spewed in the last two minutes.
“You’re so naive. They’re everywhere,” She retorts dryly. “Anyway, he’s just rebuking me because I’m his sister, like that actually means I have to talk to him, so do me a favour and just, you know, give him a nudge in the right direction.”
“Just talk to him?” Marluxia asks. It would probably be easier for him to worm his way into the kid’s pants than try to be his friend - but Larxene, for once, seems genuinely concerned, so he nods soberly. “Got it. Anything I need to know?”
“Oh, he’s got a chess competition coming up next month. A big one. Tell him we’ll watch it on telly, or something.”
She pauses long enough for a waitress to clear away the cups and saucers.
“And his name?” Marluxia prompts gently.
“Oh, right. It’s Vexen.”
“Vexen.” Marluxia recalls the name from some distant past, perhaps an old conversation with Larxene, once upon a time. It’s not a pleasant sounding word, all sharp syllables and sudden stops. “Strange name.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too,” Larxene says, but she doesn’t elaborate. Then, she stands, quite suddenly, checking her phone.
“Gotta go. Partying hard tonight. I’ll see you around, yeah?”
Marluxia nods, kisses her just to make her laugh, and watches her disappear into the warm spring evening air.