The characters of Gabriel and Mohinder are not mine.
Gabriel pushed his glasses up on his nose and pulled at his constricting shirt collar. Behind him the rest of his Biology class slouched and kicked against the wall, waiting to be let inside. Gabriel hated these last period classes. Everyone was giggly and stupidly excited about school letting out, and this was the time he was most likely to attract their attention, when they needed a butt for their jokes.
He heard whispering behind him and tried to ignore it. There were nervous giggles and hushed encouragements and he waited for the inevitable.
“Hey Gabriel? Would you help me with something?” the bubblegum voice belonged to Monica Grant. They had been next to each other on the role call since kindergarten and she had been Gabriel’s first, and only, girlfriend at the tender age of six. Where she had turned into Jailbait Barbie, Gabriel was working a look which made him look like an extra from Happy Days.
“What do you want?” he said wearily.
She twirled her hair around her finger and glanced back at her pink minions. “Well, me and the girls were just wondering, have you ever done any modelling?”
From the squealing Gabriel surmised that that was the punchline and turned away. He caught his reflection in the glass panel of the door. Gray slacks, white shirt, blue sweater vest, glasses which would never be fashionable, not even ironically. He looked down at his shiny brown leather brogues. They clashed horribly, even he knew that, but he had gone up two sizes in the last year and now these were the only ones that fit. Even they had been ones that his father had been given and never worn . That strange feeling of being too tall and noticeable came over him and he bowed his head, his usual defence.
Just then the Biology teacher Miss Patel swept past him, ignoring him as she opened the door and flicked on the lights. As the students took their places she went to her desk and started shuffling distractedly through her huge teacher’s bag.
Gabriel sat, twisting his fingers nervously under the desk. Around him the class was bustling with last period frustration, teenaged static. A ball of screwed up paper hit his arm but he was wound too tight to even acknowledge it. Today was the day they would be given their lab partners for the next six weeks, and he was desperate not to be saddled with some idiot who might damage his point average. He glanced around the class wondering who could match him for grades. Two, maybe three of them. The rest were dead weight.
“Alright, settle down!” Miss Patel banged a board marker on her desk and waited for the quiet. “As you know today you’ll begin work on the final project, the last opportunity to boost your grade before exam time. It’s going to be an easy one today people, just talk to your lab partner and get some general ideas about where you might want to focus the research. Remember that we’re looking at reproduction.”
She paused to allow the wolf-whistles and general giggling. Twenty three years teaching and still the sophistication of the average 12th grader hadn’t improved. “Okay, thank you. Now, get next to your lab partners and let’s start.” She looked down at her papers as the classroom noise began to swell.
Gabriel looked around, none of the others were going to correct her, they’d just sit here like fools until she realised they weren’t working. He raised his hand tentatively, hoping no-one would notice. No good, Miss Patel was engrossed in whatever she was reading. “Miss Patel?” he tried.
“Keep your mouth shut Gray!” hissed Monica. “Why do you have to be such a fucking suck?”
“Miss Patel!” Gabriel said louder, ignoring her.
“Yes Gabriel?” finally she looked up and shushed the class half-heartedly.
“We haven’t been assigned lab partners yet.” He said quietly, aware that the class’s attention was now on him and feeling himself burn from their looks.
“Oh, where is my head? I was getting you confused with my other class. Okay, let me find my list…” she dug into her capacious bag while Gabriel ducked from the numerous missiles sent his way. “Okay, let’s see now. Lisa Brennan and Robert Walsh. Jenny Carter and Melanie Vaughan…..”
Gabriel tried to listen as the other students reacted to their partners with either deep sighs, nonchalant grunts or excited squeals.
“Phillip Davis and Monica Grant, Gabriel Gray and….”
“Sorry I’m late.”
Gabriel’s head jerked up to see a blond haired boy smiling sweetly at Miss Patel. Wes Sharp would have been the complete high school stud stereotype if he’d had any kind of ability whatsoever. As it was he didn’t do sports, wasn’t in a band, wasn’t anything except very cute. And for all his charm he really was dumb as hell.
“Mr Sharp this is the third time in as many lessons that you’ve been late, this class begins when the bell rings, not when you deign to grace us with your presence. Is there an excuse this time?”
Sharp smirked and settled into a free seat, cocking his head and staring out from behind his bangs. “I lost my timetable again.”
Some of the stupider girls giggled, that was the excuse he gave for everything. Gabriel rolled his eyes and tapped on the desk.
“Oh really? Well I think it’s time you learned to take a good example from someone who is never late, always turns in homework and may actually walk out of this school with a future. Your lab partner is Gabriel Gray.”
“What?!” Gabriel and Wes chimed in together.
Miss Patel looked at Gabriel with surprise. “Is there a problem Gabriel?”
“No ma’am”, he whispered, as a sigh of derision came from Sharp.
“Good. Wes, sit next to Gabriel. All of you, get your heads together and start planning your assignments. And I want to see something in writing by the end of the period.” Miss Patel took an eraser to her list to adjust for the new development. One of her better ideas, she thought. Gabriel was the only student in the class whom Wes couldn’t possibly derail, and Wes might actually pass with Gabriel’s influence.
“Okay Gayboy, this is how it’s going to work.” Sharp heaved himself down onto the lab stool, slinging his bag under the desk. “You do the assignment, put both our names on it, and I don’t kick your ass. Sound good?”
Gabriel stared into the middle-distance. So he got to work by himself, and he didn’t have to talk to Sharp at all. He knew what he was going to do anyway, and he doubted that Wes would be able to keep up. “Fine with me.”
“Well it isn’t fine with me.” Miss Patel made them both jump as she bore down on them. “What kind of fool do you take me for Sharp? At the end of every class you will come to me and give me an oral report of your progress on the assignment. Oh, and I am invoking the plagiarism rule which states that I can demand your assignment be hand written. I want to see your notes at the end of every week, am I understood?”
“Ma’am.” Sharp managed to squeak as his head hit the desk. He looked up, and saw Miss Patel settling back down at her desk. “Where the hell did she spring from? She’s like a fucking ninja.”
Gabriel smiled despite himself and Sharp’s face softened to see him join in on the joke. “So, come on Gray. What should we work on?”
Gabriel pulled out his notebook and opened it at a marked page, pleased to be in control. “Well, I was hoping to look into discrete inheritance, specifically Gregor Mendel’s work on pea plants. You see…”
“Whoah, whoah!” Sharp held up his hands. “Listen, Gray. If I have to actually work on this, then you’re going to have to dumb it down a little okay? Inheritance, you mean like money?”
“No, like the things you inherit from your parents, genetically.” Gabriel waited for him to catch up. “Like, your mom or your dad is blond right?”
“Yeah, my mom.”
“Okay, well that’s why you’re blond. That’s inheritance. And she’s blond because one of her parents was blond.”
“No, she’s blonde because she pays $50 a week to have it bleached.”
Gabriel bit his lip. “Okay, well, still, there has to be some part of your DNA which says you should be blond, and you get your DNA from your parents.”
“Oh DNA! Right, yeah. My Uncle Phil does stuff with DNA.”
“He does?” Gabriel wondered what the hell he thought DNA was.
“Yeah, it’s like his job or something. He’s really smart, he used to work at MTI and he just won this, like, award for it.” Wes nodded, feeling like he was actually contributing.
Gabriel shook his head. “Do you mean MIT?”
Sharp clicked his fingers. “Yeah, that’s it MIT. It’s near Boston.”
Gabriel tried to process the information and flicked excitedly through the notebook, finally pulling out a newspaper clipping. “Is this him?”
A look of recognition spread across Sharp’s face. “Hey yeah, that’s my uncle Phil! He made the papers?”
“He won the Nobel Prize!”
“Yeah, but it was only like a European thing, he had to go to Europe to get it.”
Gabriel stared at him, wide eyed. “This is… this is huge! Wes, the Nobel Prize is like….” He tried to think of a reference that might work. “It’s like winning the Superbowl for science.”
Sharp gave a huge smile. “Wow! Go Uncle Phil! So you think he can help us with the assignment?”
Gabriel replaced the cutting and allowed himself a grin. “I think the fact that you and the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Philip Sharp share a gene pool is…remarkable. And yes, I think, actually Wes, you are the assignment.”
Wes nodded. “Good enough. As long as Miss Patel stops balling me out. So, like, can you tell me what to write? And no big words, okay?”
Gabriel smiled. This was going to be easier than he thought.
Three weeks later the most unlikely partnership ever seen at Lincoln High School was flourishing. Gabriel was no longer known as ‘Gayboy Gray’ and Wes’s popularity had given his lab partner some kind of weird force field. His glasses hadn’t been thrown down the toilet since the first time they spoke, and one of the more troll-like members of the football team had actually apologised when he inadvertently knocked Gabriel’s books out of his hands, instead of kicking them down the stairwell like last time. Even more unusually, Wes was actually passing Biology.
“I’m very impressed with the work you’ve done so far boys. This really is very good. Mr Sharp, I am particularly astounded at how far you’ve come.” Miss Patel handed back the final draft and moved back to her desk. “Alright class, that’s it for today. Good work.”
Gabriel and Wes started to pack away their books. “So, we’re okay, right? I mean, we’re gonna nail it?” Wes looked genuinely concerned.
“We’ll pass easy,” said Gabriel, waving his hand dismissively. “No-one else is going to come near to what we’re going to achieve.”
Wes looked him up and down, as if making a judgement. He took a deep breath and reached into his bag, pulling out an envelope. “Here, er, it’s my birthday in two weeks, you’ll come over right? Big party. My folks are too stupid about my new passing grade in Biology to even care.”
Gabriel took the invite like it might explode in his hand. “Ah, sure. Great. Thanks.”
“Oh my God!” Monica snatched it from him. “You’re not seriously thinking of coming are you? This isn’t a costume party Gabriel, so you can’t come as your Grandfather like you do at school.”
Wes grabbed the invite back. “Monica why don’t you do useful with that mouth huh? And then swallow.”
Monica pouted and flounced off as Wes handed the envelope back to Gabriel. “Ignore that bitch man, it’s my party.” He walked away but stopped at the door. “Actually….”
Gabriel let his shoulders fall. Well, he had been invited to a party for five seconds. He got ready to hand back the invite and pretend he didn’t care. Wes was rummaging in his bag again and produced a flyer. “Here, my sister works at Crease. She can get you 20 percent off if, if you know, you wanted to get something new.”
“Thanks.” He said, taking it as Wes nodded and jogged away. He had never heard of Crease but from the pictures it looked like a men’s clothes store which catered exclusively for people the exact opposite of him. He didn’t even have clothes he would comfortable wearing to shop in a place like this. He tucked the flyer into his pocket. At least he would think about it.
Gabriel was so pre-occupied that the walk home seemed to take precisely one minute. He opened the door and groaned as he saw a pair of pink Converse All Stars sat lined up with the other shoes.
“I’m so sorry Naz, I completely forgot I was supposed to meet you.” He began as he headed towards the kitchen. The dark skinned girl didn’t even look up as she shook her head and carried on with her calculus.
“I figured you might have so I just came straight here. Oh by the way, I’m Nasreen, I know we haven’t seen each other in years but I used to be your best friend, you know, before you started starring in 90210.” She shot Gabriel a smile and ducked as he went to cuff her ear.
“Hey! You leave my daughter alone.” Gabriel’s dad Martin wandered in, leaving the TV blaring as he went to the coffee maker.
Gabriel sat at the kitchen table and took off his coat. “She’s not my sister, she just acts like it.”
Naz looked at him, twirling her pencil. “So what happened, did you have to meet Brenda and Dylan at the Peach Pit?”
“You are hilarious.” Gabriel deadpanned as he sneaked a look at his Dad and then pointed towards his bedroom. Naz gathered her books up, excited that she was getting some gossip at last. “Hey Dad, we’re going to study in my room, okay?” Gabriel said, pulling his bag back onto his shoulder.
Without turning round Mr Gray nodded. “Keep the door open.”
“Ew! As if –“
“Come on Dad!”
They chimed their disgust at the implication and Mr Gray chuckled watching them retreat and pointedly close the door behind them.
Naz dropped her books on Gabriel’s desk and sat on the neat single bed, bouncing eagerly. “So? Why haven’t I seen you in a week? Why haven’t you called me? Why did Jessica Murphy say she saw Wes Sharp leaving here one night?”
Gabriel grinned, pulling his chair over. “It’s not what you think.”
Naz tucked her legs under herself. “I think he’s your lab partner and he’s been here working on your assignment and that he’s totally not your type anyway, and even if he was you’d never make a move on him because you’d be too terrified.”
“Okay, it’s pretty much what you think. Only, look at this.” Gabriel handed her the invitation which he’d torn from it’s envelope as soon as he thought no-one could see him.
“Oh my God! His birthday? This is like, THE big event of the year for the stupidest and sluttiest people in the entire school! Oh wow! Are you going to let him get to second base?” She rolled her eyes and handed back the invite, giving Gabriel her best ‘you’re so lame’ face.
“He’s not such a bad guy, and when exactly was the last time I got invited to a party?”
“Er, try a month ago?!”
Gabriel smiled. “Your My So-Called Life video marathon does not count.”
“Says the vice-president of the Jordan Catalano Fan Club, Queens Division.” She pouted.
“Look at this too.” Gabriel handed her the clothes store flyer. “He said his sister works there, said she could get me discount.”
Naz couldn’t control the giggle that escaped her when she saw the name of the store. She shoved her hand in front of her mouth but it was too slow to save Gabriel’s feelings. “Oh I’m sorry G, I just…come on. Is this really you? Shopping at Crease and going to parties where you’ll be the only person who can read at an eighth grade level?”
Gabriel shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I was just thinking about college and stuff, you know? I don’t want to be the weird guy who doesn’t go to parties and dresses like his Grandfather.”
Naz stood behind his chair and looped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Listen, you’re not weird, okay? Just because you don’t spend every weekend in a pool of your own vomit doesn’t mean you’re not as good as them. And FYI? I’ve seen pictures of your Grandfather and he is a stone cold stud.”
Gabriel laughed and patted her hand. “Thanks Naz.”
She pecked him on the cheek and went for her bag. “I have to get going, but don’t forget, tomorrow’s Saturday so be at my place for six, okay?”
“OK, sure.” Gabriel watched her go and heard her chirping good bye to his father. He picked the invitation and the flyer up off the bed and stared at them before screwing them up and throwing them towards the trash. As they bounced off his Dad’s legs he looked up, startled to see him in the doorway.
“You never were any good at throwing, son.” He bent down to pick the balls of paper up and Gabriel jumped to his feet.
“Dad, your back!”
Mr Gray waved him away and pulled himself back up, smoothing out the paper balls. “What’s this? You going to a party?”
Gabriel shook his head. “No, it’s not really my crowd.”
“This is your friend Wesley’s birthday.” Mr Gray squinted at the invite, reading the details. “He is your friend isn’t he?”
“Well, yeah but…”
“So he’s your crowd!”
“Look at the other one Dad. He’s basically saying that he doesn’t want me there unless I look cool.”
Mr Gray looked at the coupon for Crease. “Discount huh? You know what they say about gift horses son.”
“I couldn’t afford it even with 90% off. That’s the place in the Mall, the place with all the mirrors and the weird empty picture frames hanging in the window..”
His father nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. And you sure would have to take a lot of risks to go to that party. Risk people not liking what you’re wearing, making fun of you, not talking to you.”
Gabriel scoffed. “They do that now.”
“Oh they do? So what do you have to lose exactly? Just a friend if you don’t show up.”
Gabriel sighed. “Like I said Dad, even if I did go, I can’t afford to go to that store. I don’t wanna show up at Wes’s party looking like this and embarrass him.”
Mr Gray looked up at the ceiling like he always did when he was thinking about how something was going to work. “Heck, you know son, I don’t think I ever gave you that five dollars I promised you for washing the car.”
“Car? Dad we haven’t had a car since I was...ten!”
“Mmm hmm. And what with interest, well I’d say I owe you a fair bit, now let’s see….” He pulled out his battered brown leather wallet and started flicking through the bills.
Gabriel stood, settling his hand over his father’s. “Dad no, please. I can’t. I won’t.”
Mr Gray called up the two inches in height he had on his son and looked him straight in the eye. “Now since when did you become the head of the house, boy? You don’t think your old man can manage the family finances? You think you know better?”
“No Sir, I just…It’s not important that I go to this party. Really. I don’t need to change to make them like me, I don’t care if they do.”
Gabriel relaxed as he felt his Dad’s hand on his shoulder, squeezing just hard enough to let him know that he should listen. “Son, you make me proud of you every day. But you’re 18 years old, and only just that. And I’m not ready to believe that you’ve done all your changing for this lifetime. You’re not the finished article Gabriel, no-one is at your age. Now don’t tell me you’re too afraid to see what a few shirts and some beers might do to you? I’ll be it don’t stop anyone thinking you’re a fine young man.”
He handed Gabriel $200 and patted him on the shoulder to signify that the conversation was over. “What do you say now?”
“Good boy. Now come on, that cop show I like’s on soon. The one with the shaky cameras.”
Gabriel smiled and put the money in his nightstand before following his Dad into the living room. “It’s called NYPD Blue dad, and it’s not on until nine.”
Martin settled himself down in his chair and scrabbled in his magazine rack for the pizza menu. “I can’t stand in that kitchen tonight, my back’s killing me, call us up some dinner would you son?”
“I could make something dad, I don’t mind.”
Martin waved the menu impatiently. “No, you call them up. And bring two beers from the fridge on your way back, we’re gonna start building your resistance for this wild party of yours.”
“Dad, really, I don’t like beer.”
“Oh a scotch man huh? Beer first buddy, then scotch.”
Gabriel grimaced but did as he was told. Why did he get the feeling that this was a very bad idea?
Chapter 2 Teaser
“Can I help you with something?”
Gabriel jumped a little and turned to the source of a warm English accent.
“I er..” Gabriel blinked as he saw the shop assistant, wide eyed and expectant. He had skin just a shade lighter than Naz’s, framed with shining black curls which were held back with a thin elastic alice band. His fine bone structure made him look like he might have stepped off the cover of a magazine and Gabriel couldn’t help but stare at him