Mutual Benefits – Chapter 2

Taylor sighed in resignation. “Can we go back to factorials?” she asked, her voice strained.

She wasn’t understanding permutations at all. We were hitting a bit of a roadblock – while we hit it off well in our first week, all things considered, there was a factor in our arrangement we hadn’t considered: I may have known the math, but I did not have the communication skills to teach them.

“Well, we have n and we have r, so we just need to take n factorial and divide it by n times r factorial,” I explained, the solution clear to me.

Taylor stared at me. I didn’t look her in the eye but I could feel it. I coughed nervously. “What’s n in this circumstance?” I asked her.

Just staring. “What’s n in a permutation?” I asked, trying to broaden the definition. 

Still nothing. “The total. n is the set or population. So in this circumstance n is four, right?”

Taylor nodded. I knew she didn’t get it. 

“And it’s asking about the top three in the race, so r, the subset or sample from the set is…” I waited for her. Nope. “…r is what number, Taylor?”

Just silence. “I am spoonfeeding you the answer here,” I boldly complained.

“Don’t be rude, I don’t get it! You’re the tutor, isn’t that your job?” she finally snapped at me.

“There are two numbers I pointed out. One of them is n and one of them is r. I said that n is four, and the only other number is three and the only other variable is r. r is the only other number. So if n is four… r issss…”

“Three?”

“We have liftoff!” I almost shouted. “So, we then plug it into this formula. Good news, now it’s just factorials. So now we do four factorial divided by four minus three factorial, which is one factorial, which is one, so the a-”

“When the fuck am I going to use this stuff after I graduate?!” Taylor complained to herself.

“Why’d you take this class, anyway?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I heard it was, like, the easiest math class, and I heard it really helps for a lot of different jobs.”

It was my turn to shrug. “Okay.”

“I think we can call it here today. I appreciate it, Quinn, I really do, but…” she trailed off. I simply stared at her in response. She looked at me for a few seconds before continuing. “I dunno. Like, it seems like I’m not understanding it, and you’re just getting mad at me.”

“I’m not getting mad, I just don’t know any other way to explain it,” I tried to explain myself.

“That sounds condescending,” Taylor complained. 

“Now it sounds like you’re getting mad at me,” I pointed out. 

“I’m not – forget it. Let’s just… try again next week, okay?”

“Okay,” I conceded. We gathered our stuff and left the library, getting into her red convertible. Before long, we were on the road.

“So what do you want to do for your job, anyway?” Taylor attempted to make small talk while she drove. 

“I don’t know.”

“Okay… do you have an idea? Like, are you going to college or something?”

“I sent out applications to MIT, Peterson and Boston University.”

“Oh, what for?”

“Computer Science.”

“Oh, wow! So you do have an idea what you want to do. I hear that there’s a lot of, like, money involved in that.”

“I guess.”

Those were the last words we exchanged before we arrived at my place. Taylor thanked me for my time and quickly headed off.

***

Hey Quin. this is morgan, taylor’s friend. could we meet for a sec afterschool today? I just need to talk real quick

I stared at my phone in confusion. How in the hell did Morgan even get my number…? What was this about?

Kevin lazily craned his head so he could look at my phone, still eating his roujiamo. I caught him staring and just asked, “What does this mean?”

“I’m no expert, but I think she wants to talk to you after school.”

“Yeah, but what about?”

Kevin shrugged. “Either you’re doing something really right or something really wrong,” he said with his mouth full. “But hey, Morgan, huh? Nice.”

“What?”

Kevin rolled his eyes and made a motion with his chest. “Morgan, dude,” he replied, as if he had made his point fully. 

I rolled my eyes in turn. “Okay.”

“I’m serious, she’s known around the school for it,” he insisted. “Hold on.” He waved across the cafeteria to some girl. “Hey, Robyn!”

Robyn was a girl Kevin knew. They’d been hanging out a bit, though Kevin insisted they weren’t a thing. She had kind of a reputation around school for being a bit of a stuck-up brat, but she seemed to have good chemistry with Kevin. With a confused expression, she approached us.

“So,” Kevin began, “got a weird question for you. What’s like the one thing you’d say about Morgan that stands out?”

“Morgan Jones, from chem?” she asked hesitantly. 

“Yeah, her. And like, not just to you. What’s she, uh… known around the school for?”

“Why?” Robyn was as uncomfortable as I was.

“I’m trying to prove a point to Quinn here.”

Robyn turned her face to me and smiled politely to say hi. I didn’t really say anything, but that was the norm for me. “Um…” she began. “Well, she’s a nice person-”

“Nah nah nah, that’s just filler stuff. What do, like, people around the locker rooms say about her?”

Robyn sighed in disappointment. “Yeah, okay, her breasts are large. Was that what you called me over to say?”

Kevin smiled triumphantly towards me. I could feel myself blushing. 

“Why do you want to know?” Robyn asked. 

“Hmm? Oh, Quinn’s got some kind of meeting with her,” Kevin replied disinterestedly.

Robyn’s gaze fixated on me for… whatever reason. “What are you meeting with her about?”

“I don’t know. She was the one that asked me to meet with her,” I replied, eyeing the table and not Robyn.

I could still see shock paint her face. Was it really so unbelievable that popular girls were talking to me?! This was getting ridiculous.

I don’t know, in hindsight, why that was the tipping point for me. Maybe it was because Robyn was so very shocked at me getting to talk to Morgan. Maybe it was the realization that this would be the rest of my life if I didn’t do something, and here was an opportunity. Before I knew it, I found myself standing up and leaving.

My feet brought me to one of the two Popular Tables in the cafeteria. One was reserved for the jock-types, but the other was reserved for the other popular people. The two groups kind of mingled with each other, but their lunch seat situation was very precise. When I got there, everyone there figured I was just walking past or something, so I cleared my throat to get Morgan’s attention.

“Hey, Morgan,” I found myself attempting to say casually.

The table quieted down and most of the people there stopped to look at me. The last person to notice me was Morgan, and she was taken aback. “Uh, yes?”

“You asked to speak to me,” I replied, daring to look her in the eye. 

“I asked if we could talk after school about someone, yeah,” she replied. My guess was that she was trying to clarify to the others about her reasoning, as if to save face for daring to talk to a nerd. 

“I’m busy after school,” I lied coolly. “Chess club or kung fu or something like that. You don’t seem busy now.”

Morgan’s look of bewilderment lasted only a second. “Okay,” she eventually admitted uneasily, then stood up. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she clarified to a friend before walking off. 

Wordlessly, she walked and I followed until we were out the doors of the back entrance to the school, near the parking lot. “So what’s this about?” I asked as her walking slowed.

“So, I was just wondering if everything was all good between you and Taylor.”

“How do you mean?”

“She was just telling me about the lessons and she mentioned how you wouldn’t speak to her much unless it was involving math.”

I digested what she said. “…I’m her math tutor. I’m going to talk to her about math.” 

“Right but when she tried to make small talk with you, you barely spoke to her, and you wouldn’t look her in the eyes.”

“That sounds like me,” I admitted, “but that’s just how I… communicate with people.”

“You seem to be okay speaking in full sentences and looking me in the eye,” Morgan protested.

I knew in my mind why that was, but I also knew Morgan wouldn’t buy ‘I’m feeling more confident right now.’ I only shrugged.

“Look, Quinn, it doesn’t feel good when someone treats you like you’re nobody, even if you’re not there to be her friend.”

I had to laugh. “Since when did popular kids like you care about treating people like they’re nobody? Do you really think you need to tell the nerd that being ignored sucks?”

“When did I ever personally ignore you or shun you or something?” Morgan challenged me, her green eyes staring holes into mine. “When did Taylor ever do that? It just seems like you have a chip on your shoulder.”

“When we first met you didn’t even acknowledge my existence until we were at Taylor’s car.” I could feel my face getting hot.

“…So you’re not talking to Taylor because I took a bit too long to say hi?” Morgan concluded.

I shut my eyes and shook my head. “No, like… I’m just saying, it’s something I’m used to.”

“Clearly not.”

“I just mean, I’m used to people ignoring me and I learned to ignore them.”

“But that’s not fair to Taylor. She hasn’t been mean to you.”

I shot Morgan a tired look. “Does she want to be my friend? Be honest.”

“She wants to at least be friendly with you. What would it cost you to be friendly back?” she asked me. “You seem to only talk a lot when you’re defending yourself.”

I sighed and looked down in thought.

***

“and they knew that if I ever got poor grades, that was more reflective of my dumb ‘whitey’ teachers… their words, not mine, than of my own skill. But at the same time, after they set the standard for me, I could never go home empty-handed, or else…” I trailed off.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Taylor nodded along. It had been maybe thirty minutes since we arrived, and the textbook hadn’t been opened once. “My parents are… kind of strict? Like, they let me live my life, but they keep nudging me along to do certain things. Get a job, attent this family gathering, do this thing…”

“What do you want to do after high school, anyway?” I asked, folding my arms.

She shrugged. “I don’t know, to be honest. Probably something where I, like, use my voice. I can’t picture myself doing a desk job.”

“What, you mean like singing?”

She laughed. “Oh, God no. I meant something like a salesperson or something. I can talk my way out of, or into, a lot of things. I guess that’s like, my most marketable skill? If I can even call it that.” She looked to me for approval.

I shrugged. “I’m just your math guy, I’m not a dictionary too,” I pointed out. She chuckled. “I think I get what you mean.”

“I appreciate that you’re talking to me more,” she said, shifting the topic suddenly. “Not gonna lie, I thought you were pissed off at me that I didn’t get it or something last week.”

“No, I’m not. Communication isn’t exactly my most marketable skill,” I finished with a slight nervous chuckle.

“Yeah… what changed?”

“Huh?” 

“It’s not just that you’re talking more. You, like, also sit up straight and aren’t avoiding eye contact anymore,” she observed. 

“I… honestly don’t know.” I started slowly, looking at the ground in thought. “I think I just had… an epiphany.”

“What’s that?”

“Like, a breakthrough, a sort of ‘eureka!’ moment. I just…” I just got really insulted when Robyn was in disbelief that Morgan and I were meeting up, and then Morgan was a jerk about – okay, fine, Morgan raised a reasonable point. But for some reason, saying any of that seemed like a bad idea. I shrugged. 

“Did meeting up with Morgan help?” Taylor asked, as if we were sharing a joke.

I smiled uneasily. “Ah, so she told you about that?”

She winked at me. “She had to get your number somehow!”

“And you just gave it to her?”

She paused. “Well… yeah, is that okay?”

I opened my mouth to protest, but quickly shut it thinking of what we discussed and what would have happened otherwise. “I just… feel bad… for the fact that… my wording… or I guess my lack thereof… made you feel like I didn’t like you,” I slowly said, making sure my word choice was deliberate.

“Like me?” Taylor asked.

Well, that was a bit of a misfire. “Um, you know, I didn’t want you to think I dislike you.”

Taylor smiled and shook her head. “You’re weird,” she said in a kind tone. 

“Anyway, why’d she ask for my number anyway?”

Taylor gave me a sheepish look. “Well, I kinda told her that… I thought you disliked me, yeah,” she admitted. 

“I think we both still need to adjust to each other’s worlds a bit,” I thought aloud. “And I guess me talking more like this is my way to try to meet you halfway.”

She smiled at me. “I appreciate that, Quinn,” she told me. “And how can I meet you halfway?”

“I don’t know, I don’t really have a guide or anything. I guess, uh, be honest but be yourself?” I suggested half-heartedly.

She smiled again. “Okay. I’ll try that. Should we start?”

She was initiating. This was a good sign. “Sure.”

***

It was entirely possible that I was more comfortable talking and stuff because I was masturbating more. As weird as it was, I realized that that moment I snapped internally was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that the moment had been building in me for a bit. Was it because I was getting more practice talking to Taylor? Was it because I was jacking off thinking of her? I didn’t know.

I was glad that jacking off to thoughts of Taylor didn’t make me creepier around her, at least not in any way I could see. I was still hard a lot of the time I was looking at her, but at least I was able to contain it and not freak out about it now. 

But when I got home…

“Oh Quinn,” the imaginary Taylor would moan. “Fuck studying. You wanna know what’s been on my mind all day? When you’re going to finally take me right here on this table.” As she said this, she would pinch one of her small brown nipples, emitting a slight gasp in pleasure as she made her sensitive nipple hard.

She would be bold, she’d make the first move. I’d lay there, dumbfounded, as she would strut over to me and fish my cock out of my pants, sinking to her knees and giving the shaft a generous lick. 

“Oh Quinn, you naughty boy, how long have you been trying to keep this away from me?” she would purr. I could only groan in response.

A giggle. “You’re always so tongue-tied, Quinn,” she’d laugh. “Something on your mind?” With that, she’d pop my cock into her mouth and start sucking, moaning on my dick as she took the whole thing like a pro.

Taylor was right about one thing – she could use her mouth in practically any situation. She knew exactly how to use her tongue to make a guy see stars and moan up to the heavens. Every muscle in her mouth would contract in just the right ways and her eagerness – her slutty, slutty eagerness – was the cherry on top. She wanted this. She wanted me. Quinn Shen, the nerdy nobody, was her little pet, her little project.

But now the pet was owning her. Before I knew it, in my fantasy, I was pinning her by her wrists to the wall as I roughly shoved myself inside her.

“Oh fuck, Quinn!” she’d practically cry. “Fuck, it just feels so good. I’m yours, take me, please take me!”

And I would gladly oblige. Just as she was helping me with how to talk to people, she was helping me with how to fuck, offering up her body – the body every straight guy at school fawned over – to the nerd. It was our little secret. Our… dirty little secret.

While fucking her, I’d receive a text. 

Hey Quin. i don’t know if this is a good idea. This is really disrespectful to her, don’t you think?

I stopped masturbating and my eyes shot open.

That was… really weird. I immediately grabbed my phone. No new messages. Was Morgan just inside my head now? Or was this just me trying to tell myself to stop fantasizing about someone I was tutoring? I knew it was wrong for teachers to fuck their students – obviously – but was it just as irresponsible to fantasize about it if it was peer tutoring? 

Without thinking about it too much, I picked up my phone again and began to text Morgan.

Hello, Morgan. I talked to Taylor and I think we’re more on the same page now. I’m sorry I kept arguing back to you when we had our little meeting. 

It was awkward as fuck, but hey, so was I. Send. A few minutes later, her response appeared.

Ok, thanks quin

Quinn. It wasn’t that hard. Speaking of, I pulled my pants back up, moment thoroughly ruined, and began to worry if I was some horny creep. I get the text was just in my imagination, but still, I couldn’t just bring sex into the situation appropot of nothing.

***

“I have just been going crazy lately. Three months! I have gone three months without getting fucked. I need to find some dick soon or I’m gonna fucking explode!”

I couldn’t stop my jaw from hanging as Taylor complained to Morgan on the drive to her place. Morgan shot a quick glance to my expression, and turned back to Taylor. “Um, yeah,” she mumbled.

“What? Weren’t you complaining about this yesterday too?” Taylor asked, her voice bubbly like I’d never heard. “Oh wait, did you fix it? Ugh, you didn’t just go back to Arin, did you? I told you he sucks. Great dick, but he is not worth it.”

Morgan shot another look back to me. My expression hadn’t changed. “Um, Taylor, we’re not the only ones in the car,” Morgan uncomfortably replied.

“Oh, what? It’s not like Quinn’s never heard of sex before. Hey, Quinn, you’re okay if we talk about whatever, right?” she asked me.

My mouth felt like cotton. “I, uh… I mean, talk about w-whatever you want.”

“See? Quinn’s cool if I act like myself here.”

Was that why she was saying this? Was this to set the tone for how she acted or something? If nothing else, it suddenly became a bit clearer why she was so very popular. Morgan insisted that the conversation be postponed and they complained about some teacher until Morgan was dropped off. The rest of the ride to the library was relatively silent.

Was this a sign? Should I move in? It was clear by the way she was talking that A, Taylor got to pick whatever dick – uh, guy – she wanted. B, she was not saying it to hint anything at me. If anything, she did the trademark “he doesn’t exist” shtick on me being in the car, only she somehow still managed to acknowledge me too. Impressive. 

As we got to our regular table and sat down, my mind was ablaze with ideas. Should I ask her about it? Should I play it cool, or maybe be bold enough to ask if she needed help? Should I pretend I actually knew a lot about sex and subvert her expectations, or should I admit I was a virgin but was interested as fuck?

“Okay, so, permutations,” Taylor began.

“Huh? Oh, right.” I snapped to attention. “Yeah, permutations.”

Taylor stared at me for a few seconds. “You okay?” Her chipmunk face was twisted into a smile of concern. 

“Uh, long day,” I lamely replied. “Lots on my mind.”

“Ugh, you’re telling me,” Taylor complained. “I’ve got so many things stressing me out I feel like I’m gonna explode.”

“Yeah, I gathered that from you talking to Morgan in the car earlier,” I admitted.

“Right, yeah. It’s not that Mrs. Jackson is a bitch, she just doesn’t get me,” Taylor began to complain. 

Yeah, Taylor. I was talking about the teacher thing. We really did live in different worlds. Taylor’s world had her having sex… apparently, usually more frequently than once every three months. Hey, she was beating me by a lot. And it was so casual to her, such an everyday thing, that she didn’t even care about bringing it up in front of me, and thinking so little of it that when I reminded her after, she thought I was talking about something else. 

I wanted, really badly, to be the cool guy and bring up sex bluntly to her. “Hey, Taylor? It sure sounds like you’re in a bind. Well hey, tell you what. How about after this lesson, you teach me how to have sex? You get some dick, I get to fuck someone before I leave high school. Win-win. Whaddya say?”

I wanted to say that instead of dumbly sitting here like a bag of bricks listening to her complain about her English teacher. Then again, ‘in a bind?’ Maybe it was all the better that I wasn’t opening my mouth. 

“But hey, that’s English,” she finished. “Anyway, what’s on for today?”

“Right.” I sat up straight and looked over the textbook. “So, uh, you’re getting permutations, so let’s move on to combinations. It’s kind of like permutations, but not ordered. So, kind of like, if I wanted to choose two colors from a set of six colors, how many different combinations of two colors could I pick? Make sense?”

Taylor nodded. “You’re getting better at this.”

“What, the math? I’d hope so, it’s what I’m here to teach.”

Taylor smirked and shook her head. “At the talking part of teaching. I’m getting this stuff quicker.”

I shrugged. “Well hey, I bet that’s because you’re getting more of this stuff too. We’re both getting better.”

Her smile got bigger. “I guess so,” she replied cheerfully. I was rock hard. This wasn’t ideal.

***

“Son of a bitch!” Kevin complained as Father Gascoigne killed his character for the fourth time in a row. “This sucks.”

“You’re still playing it like Dark Souls,” I pointed out.

Kevin glared at me. “It’s a Souls game, you fuckin’ poop.”

“It’s different though. It’s faster. You have to change your gameplay style to keep up with it,” I argued. 

Kevin sighed and shook his head. “This sucks,” he repeated, eyes glued to the screen. 

I shrugged. “If the game is faster, you have to be faster too.”

“Quinn!” Mother called from the kitchen. “In the kitchen, right now.

Kevin and I shot each other a look as I got up from the couch and headed towards the kitchen. Mother was there, preparing supper.

“I’m here, Mother,” I called to her as I approached. 

She turned around to face me and motioned to the trash can. “I tell you to take out the garbage this morning. The garbage is still here. Can you tell me why the garbage is still here?”

“I’m sorry, Mother. I forgot,” I mumbled as I extended my arm towards the garbage. 

“I do not ask for much,” Mother continued, swatting my arm away so that I would look at her when she was talking to me. “I give you too much free time. You do not have a job, you do not have clubs or social activity. You do not have a girlfriend, you just have video games.”

“I was doing homework, Mother. Kevin was playing video ga-”

Fei hua!” Mother cut in angrily. “I am giving you too much free time and you are wasting it. Tonight after homework you will create a résumé and tomorrow you will apply for three jobs. Do you understand?

Mandarin. She was serious. “Yes, Mother. I understand.” I took the garbage bag and left the apartment, taking it to the chute. Sighing to myself, I threw the garbage down, listening to the bang-rattle-clang of the garbage making its way down. 

After the sound died down, I heard voices down the hallway. Out of curiosity, I turned to see a couple talking, a man and a woman. The woman was noticeably way more attractive than the man. I wasn’t the best judge on the planet, but the guy frankly looked… well, ugly. The woman, on the other hand, looked noticeably beautiful, both in terms of her looks and how she dressed. And judging from the body language, his looks didn’t bother her one bit.

In fact, he was kind of leaning in to invade her personal space. “So what do you think, maybe sometime next week?” he asked her suavely, then leaned in a little more. “Of course, if you decide you’re not done seeing me now…” he trailed off suggestively.

The woman laughed encouragingly. “You are such a boy,” she teased. “What are you offering?”

She was clearly into him. He had nothing going for him in the looks department, but he just… pressed on. I wish I had that level of confidence. Hell, the advancement I made just recently was already a leap, but if I had this guy’s moxie, even with my looks I would have made out alright. He leaned in to respond before noticing me, leaning back and changing his posture. “…Can I help you?”

Too embarrassed to even talk, I just turned and walked away before the woman even had a chance to get a look at me. Red-faced, I walked back to the apartment and reflected. 

As weird as it sounded, it was one of those things I knew but never felt before. “You don’t need good looks to get the girl.” Or guy, or whoever. I mean, what was the guy doing if not just talking to her? Sure, maybe he had money or something, but it’s not like I knew. Besides, I just saw an ugly guy getting a hot girl – I was not about to try to explain it away using some reason I didn’t know.

I got back to my room just in time to see Kevin die again. He slammed his controller in his lap in annoyance and turned to face me. “Was Mother pissed?” he asked.

I shrugged and nodded. “She wants me to get a job. She’s probably gonna ask you too soon, fair warning.”

“I got extracurrs, I ain’t worried.”

“Do you think I’m ugly?”

Kevin paused. “That was… blatant. No, I think you look okay, why do you ask?”

“I dunno, just was thinking about it. It’s cool if I am, I just wanna know.”

“Quinn, you look fine. You just need to… get out there a little more, that’s all. Talk to people. You’re tutoring Taylor, maybe use that as an in.”

“Yeah. ‘Here’s how a combination is calculated. Hey Taylor, can I come to the next party you go to?’”

“You joke, but that could work.” He put down the controller. “You do realize the implication of asking your twin if you’re ugly, right?”

“You’re more popular than me, and it’s pretty clear you look slightly better than me.”

Kevin grinned in a challenging fashion. “Oh, so I’m slightly better than allegedly ugly, huh?” He laughed at me. “Dude, just relax. If I look good, and I can get girls, then those are the control variables. What’s the independent variable here?”

I sighed. “How much I put myself out socially?”

“Bingo! Hypothesis: can Quinn get pussy? Method: get a dumb hot girl in your class and become her tutor. Conclusion: not for the first month he can’t.”

“Taylor isn’t fucking dumb.”

I had no idea where that came from. I didn’t often swear at my brother like that. Hell, he was the only one I ever really talked to. I wasn’t even sure if I believed she wasn’t dumb myself, but for some reason, when Kevin said it, the words spilled out of me in a white-hot rage.

Kevin looked at me incredulously. “Woah,” he mumbled in disappointment to me before going back to his game. He didn’t look me in the eye for the rest of the night.

***

Taylor was enough of a social butterfly that she could fit into any social group she wanted to talk to, but usually, she had her own little circle of friends. It wasn’t like the movies, where they always walked in the halls together or couldn’t be part of other circles or they were the most popular group (as if groups even worked that black-and-white), so it was hard to discern what her circle was from the outside, but after tagging along with her for a bit, it became decently clear.

Taylor, of course, was the ringleader, but some kind of accidental ringleader. She wasn’t one of those stuck-up ‘I rule the school’ types, she just happened to get the most attention. A cynic might have said she wasn’t smart enough to capitalize on her fame – honestly, the more time I spent with her the more it became clear that power and influence wasn’t really what she wanted.

Crystal was that type though. It was kind of obvious from the outside that Crystal only really hung out with that gang because of how much influence it had. Crystal was a brunette with a thin, wiry body and the weirdest combination of a ‘resting bitch face’ and complete innocence to her look. She had an attitude that most dismissed as bratty, but with my guess, that was her constantly trying to push the envelope and see if she could upset the power imbalance and finally claim the status of ringleader for herself. Only problem was, she was extremely clumsy at it and anytime she got close, something she said or some rumor or some, ahem, thing she did after school would blow up in her face. 

It was pretty clear why Taylor was closer to Morgan than anyone else. As if my meeting with her didn’t already clue me in, Morgan was very protective of her friends and noticeably distrustful of others. I thought that would explain why she talked to me the way she did, but from the way she talked to outsiders from her group, she actually talked to me with less disdain than anyone else. I wasn’t sure if her having a noticeably huge chest and the fact the hated outsiders, especially guys, was related, but I was reasonably sure that was the case.

Lexi was Crystal’s best friend and seemed to not quite have her social status figured out but she seemed to be down for the ride. The shortest in the group by a decent amount, she practically had to jump to be noticed by them. I would say ‘she made up for it with her bubbly and sarcastic personality,’ but honestly, if that personality wasn’t being ignored by the group, then it seemed to work against Lexi. My inner cynic would have told me her personality was too strong for her to be popular, and maybe the girls had yet to realize it.

The final person in the group was Milo. When he arrived at the school his name wasn’t Milo and to be honest I was surprised as hell, knowing what I knew about the popular kids, that the trans friend wasn’t immediately ostracized from the group. I guess their years of friendship won out. He was probably another good reason why Morgan was so very with-us-or-against-us. Me, I didn’t really have an opinion about him. When he transitioned he was the top name on everyone’s lips for like a week, until some lovestruck wannabe gangster kid broke a window to impress his ex or something and got arrested. Conveniently, everyone forgot about Milo, and despite the group he was in, that seemed to suit him just fine. 

When GameStop took me in as their latest employee, the first shift they gave me was on Thursday. I was too shy to ask for a reschedule of my first shift and admitted to Taylor that I couldn’t make it. Taylor was surprisingly pragmatic and immediately suggested I meet her at her lunch table instead, which is what we did. Morgan, Crystal, Lexi and Milo did the usual popular friend group thing where they smiled politely at me but didn’t say a single word, and Taylor and I got right to work.

We got nothing done. The cafeteria was noisy, the attempt to eat and learn at the same time was a disaster, and while Taylor had a pragmatic attitude, if any of her friends was around at any time (which, during a group lunch, go figure, they were) she would get distracted immediately. She could basically only give me ten seconds at a time, then talk to a friend because she heard something that set her off, then turn back to me with a telltale, “Okay, sorry, what?” Then I’d have to re-explain. Rinse and repeat.

After the first one went nowhere, given a test was coming up soon, we agreed to meet at lunch the following day. The group of friends, notably Crystal, were getting a bit annoyed that I was becoming such a regular at their table, but when Taylor gave them the sad eyes routine, they waved it off.

Taylor was even less focused this time than before. I tried really hard not to eavesdrop, but it became abundantly clear why she wasn’t paying attention – the group was having a bit of a crisis.

“What am I supposed to do?!” Crystal asked in desperation. “I can’t walk down the hallways anymore. Fuck. Oh my god, I’m so embarrassed.”

“So what?” Milo asked. “Boys get excited about nudes all the time. People are gonna call you slut for a few days, but fuck them. They don’t know you. Okay? They don’t know you.”

“So you break up with Mitchell and he instantly sends your nudes around?” Morgan asked incredulously.

“Fucking pig,” Crystal agreed.

“Oh my god!” Taylor was into this conversation now. “Do you know how far they got? How many boys?”

“I think it’s safe to say the gifted kids aren’t seeing my titties anytime soon,” Crystal joked, then immediately cringed and looked at me. “Uh, no offense.”

I shot a stealthy look at Morgan, but pretended like I was barely noticing the conversation. I shrugged meekly.

“Anyway, like, a lot. I have boys that don’t even know me catcalling me and shit.”

“Well, it’s annoying, but it’s not like it’s the end of the world, right?” Lexi jumped in. 

“No, guys, you don’t understand!” She leaned in, as did the rest of the group. I think they were trying to make sure even I didn’t hear what she whispered next, but I did. “They’re the ones I sent him when I was fifteen.

“Three years ago?!” Lexi asked, surprised. “If I wanted to show you off revenge-porn style, like, your camera technique has only gotten better since. The fuck is he getting by-”

“Not funny.” Morgan interrupted. She turned to Crystal. “Do any of your teachers know?”

“Oh my God, I’m gonna be fucking expelled,” Crystal realized with horror painting her face.

“I thought Mitchell was better than that,” Lexi carried on. “I could see like Jake doing that, but not Mitchell.”

“Oh my god, fucking Jake,” Taylor interjected. “Like, he’s such an asshole, but…”

“I totally would,” Lexi agreed, reading her mind.

“Would? I did!” Taylor giggled.

“What?!” Lexi blurted out. “Betrayal! When? How was he?!”

“Hello? Guys? I thought you were my friends!! Who cares about fucking Jake at a time like this?!” Crystal angrily spat out.

“He kissed me, but he said he was ‘holding out for someone he loves.’ I thought he was a softie,” Lexi complained.

“Yeah, he didn’t say that to me, you clearly did something wrong,” Taylor told her.

“Hey!” Morgan sharply interrupted.

“Oh what?” Lexi asked, annoyed. “If you didn’t want to get busted like this, why’d you even send him nudes? You knew the risks!”

“That’s not fair.”

My voice. That was my voice. All five of the friends turned to me as I felt my face redden. A took a deep breath and repeated, “That’s not fair.”

“Not fair?” Lexi challenged me.

“Crystal was, uh, sending her – someone she loved, nudes. Consenting…ly. She was giving him permission to, you know, see her body. So when, uh, Mitchell sent her nudes to other people, as an act of revenge, knowing she’s underage in them, he’s the one that broke that trust and got other people to see them, not her.”

Lexi was unmoved. “Um, sending nudes of yourself when you’re underage is a crime, boy. If she didn’t send them in the first place she’d be fine.”

My tone was weak but I held fast. “Have you ever sent nudes before?”

Lexi gave a single laugh condescendingly. “I’m sorry, have you?”

“No, you got me. I’m a virgin. Nice job. Never kissed a girl, never had sex, never got sent a nude, never sent a nude myself. but if I did, I’d be feeling really hurt if someone betrayed me by sending them to other people as soon as I wasn’t in a relationship with them. And I’d be feeling even more hurt if I confided this in my own friends and the first thing they did was blame me. Even if Crystal might have broken the law, distributing this pornography is also illegal, right? Is Mitchell still in this school right now? So they both have broken the law. One sounds like an asshole and one is your friend. Why are you making her feel bad for breaking the law because she trusted someone, when someone else broke the law specifically to hurt your friend?”

No one said anything for a bit. “He – yeah!” Crystal finally shouted, gesturing towards me and staring daggers at Lexi. 

“I don’t think talking to Mitchell would solve anything,” Morgan grimly added, eyeing the floor.

Milo turned to me. “That was really sweet, Quinn,” he told me, a soft smile on his face. “It’s nice to see men standing up for her.”

“We need more male voices like yours,” Morgan agreed, and raked her face with her fingers. “God, I wish men weren’t such assholes.”

Taylor was smiling at me. She waited until the others had moved on and turned to me. “That was a cool thing you did,” she said.

“I don’t think Lexi is going to like me much now,” I mumbled. 

Taylor rolled her eyes and laughed. “You clearly don’t know Lexi. By tomorrow she’ll have completely forgotten everything you just said.”

“Which means she’s just going to keep believing Crystal was at fault for trusting her boyfriend,” I mused.

Taylor gave me a look, a look I couldn’t quite identify. It didn’t look happy, nor sad, nor neutral. Just… something. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “Do you think we have enough time to study?”

I glanced up at the cafeteria clock. “Honestly, no,” I admitted. “Plus, it sounds like your friend is hurting.”

Taylor gave me a sad chuckle. She didn’t speak for the longest time. “Quinn…” she started.

“Yeah?”

She gave a great big pause. “You’re, uh… you’re cool. I’m sorry about that thing Crystal said today.”

I shrugged. “It’s not like she was wrong. But for the record, I wouldn’t want to see that nude of her anyway. I mean…” My face scrunched up. “I don’t mean that as if she doesn’t look nice, I just mean… I’d only want to see her body… on her terms… if we were like that.”

“Yeah,” Taylor quietly agreed. 

“I should go. I hope you all resolve this soon,” I told her as I stood up and put my book back in my bag. She smiled politely then turned back to her friend group. They were still in a huddle as I walked out of the cafeteria. 

I can probably just finish my lunch in the study hall or something, I reasoned to myself as I kept walking. On the way, I saw some guys outside the gym. They were huddled around one guy, showing off something on his phone. They were hooting and hollering and offering him fist bumps as they gawked over whatever the phone was showing.

Somehow I didn’t need to think hard to know what was on those phones. She was worried she might get expelled. He was getting fist bumps.

***

GameStop was alright. It was a job. Stand and work the cash register. Answer questions. Make sure people don’t steal stuff. Know where the game CDs are. The hours simultaneously lasted forever and went by way too quickly. Thoughtfully, they decided to put my first shift alongside the one guy in the universe who was shier and talked less than I did. Either that or I really was getting better at this whole socialization thing.

I came home to an awaiting smiling Mother and a small basket of sweet nian gao. “Well done on completing your first shift, my son.” Mother said to me. “I am very proud.” She picked up the basket and offered it to me.

“Hey, wow! Thank you,” I said bashfully. I loved red bean snacks, not to mention I started associating them with accomplishments (or the New Year). 

“How was it?” she asked.

I shrugged. “It’s a job,” I laughed. “I don’t think I’ll be working much at GameStop after I graduate. Where’s Kevin?”

“He is out, also giving résumés to stores,” Mother explained, getting a broom and absentmindedly sweeping the floor.

I smirked to myself. So, the extracurriculars didn’t save him after all. Mother and I made small talk about the future for a bit longer before I dismissed myself to my room. Normally I would have booted up my PS4, but after working all day, at a games store no less, I just flopped down on my bed and lay there. No sleep, no games, just a dead tired Quinn.

After a few minutes, my phone started to buzz. I lazily lifted my head to look at my phone and saw Taylor’s name on my phone. She was calling me. Weird.

I hit the “talk” button and put my phone to my ear. I didn’t say anything. After a few seconds of silence, a hesitant, “…Quinn?” met my ears.

Oh, right. “Hello, Taylor. How can I help you?”

“Hey. So, I’m like, freaking out. The test is tomorrow, right?”

“I believe so. For Data Management, right?”

“Yeah. But, like, I still don’t know how to do combinations, and Mrs. Li wouldn’t give me an extension! What do I do?”

I sighed exasperatedly. I would have helped her out today, but I had the shift. “Um, we could try tomorrow at lunch…”

“We both know that’s not gonna work,” she complained.

“Well, I don’t know any other options,” I replied plainly. “I have a full class schedule tomorrow. My only free time is lunch.”

She was silent for a few seconds. “Could you… could I pick you up and we study at my place? Just until I get it, then you can go home.”

I glanced at my alarm clock. “Taylor, it’s like, eight o’clock at night.”

“I know, I know, but like – look, I’ll pay you, okay? I can drive, and I’ll pay. I just really need to pass this test. Please, Quinn? Please?”

I put the phone down to my chest and sighed to the ceiling. “Give me a sec,” I said back into the phone, then set it to mute and walked back to the kitchen.

“Mother, is it okay if I go out for a few hours?” I asked, bracing myself?

“A few hours? It is PM eight o’clock! Where would you go at PM eight o’clock?”

“Taylor Wise needs me to help with her math.”

“A girl?! Quinn!” Mother laughed. “First a job, now a girl! Wā!

“It’s not a girlfriend, Mother. She’s the classmate I’m tutoring. We have a test tomorrow and she feels underprepared. She’ll drive me.”

Mother looked unconvinced. Now was the time to hit her with the big one. “She’s offering to pay me.”

Mother gave me a look. “Be home and in bed by eleven, do you understand?” she finally told me.

I agreed and went back to my room, hitting unmute. “Hey, Taylor, you still there?”

After a second or two, her voice greeted me. “Yes. Can you do it?”

I wasn’t thrilled about it, especially considering I was getting money now anyway, but frankly, at this point a part of me felt sorry for her. I just couldn’t articulate how. Maybe this was how she won over Mrs. Li and it was just a slower burn on me.

***

When we got to Taylor’s place, we almost immediately went to her basement. She lived in, go figure, some sort of ridiculously posh and nice suburban house. The first floor had a foyer, a staircase that went up, and a door that went down, as well as arches into the kitchen and living room. The living room had several couches and a big television. The kitchen was done up with black countertops and white floors. Her mom was in that kitchen, waving politely to us as we descended the stairs.

Her basement was also kind of typical for a suburban house – white shag carpeting, plain white walls, some furniture but mostly just unorganized stuff like magazines on the floor.

“Okay,” Taylor said, sitting down on the floor. “So, we just need combinations, right?”

“The test covers factorials, permutations, and combinations. I’m gonna make sure you know the first two as well, since I don’t think Li is going to give us any formulas.” I opened the book, trying to find the section on combinations. “So what does a factorial look like and how do you calculate it?”

“That’s like… a number with an exclamation mark after it, and… you calculate it by multiplying it by every number below it.”

“Good, okay. What’s a permutation?”

“Um…” She struggled a bit more with this one. “Like… a combination but…” She sighed. “I um… I forget. Could we go over it quickly?”

There was a lot of work ahead of us.

***

“So the answer is…” I trailed off. 

Taylor sat unmoved for a bit. She wrote a few things down, filling in n and r, and did a bit of math in her head. Finally, she sat up. “Fifteen?”

I grinned. “Yes! You got it!”

“Really? Oh my god!” She seemed to be as ecstatic as I was. 

Just to make sure the work was done, I covered up the formula. “Now, just rewrite the formula for combinations and I think we’re done here.”

Taylor’s expression went from joyous to fearful. “…The formula?”

“Just do your best,” I coaxed her. Remember all the n’s and r’s? Just try to recreate it.”

It took her two tries. After the first one, I nudged her in the right direction, and after she rewrote it, I grinned and took my hand off of the formula. Taylor went right back to joyful, standing up and cheering.

“Oh my god! Oh my god! We did it! Can I, like, hug you?”

Um…” I stood up awkwardly. “I mean, sure, if you want.” Taylor held her arms out and approached me, giggling as she gave me a friendly hug. I pulled my pelvis back for shameful reasons. 

“You saved me. Thank you sooo much!” She pulled back from the hug, still beaming at me. “You’re a really nice guy. I can’t believe you’ve never even kissed a girl. I hope that changes for you soon.”

I gave a sheepish laugh. “You remembered that, huh?”

She chuckled. “Yeah.”

“By the way, how is Crystal doing? Is she going to be okay? I can’t imagine what she must be feeling.”

“I think she’s going to be alright,” Taylor admitted. “One of our friends talked to the school counselor about it and she told us the school knows what we’re up to and that there’s a kind of don’t ask don’t tell policy. As long as it doesn’t become too much, like, public knowledge, the school won’t crack down on it, because apparently that’s really hard to do.”

“Yeah, I can believe that,” I replied. “That’s very progressive of them.”

Taylor didn’t react to me. “I’m just glad nothing bad is going to happen to her. Because I – I mean…”

I smiled in understanding. “Can I assume you’ve sent nudes too?”

Taylor glanced up the stairs to find the closed door to the basement. She turned back to me, bit her lip in shame and nodded.

I put my hands in my pockets to adjust my pants, making sure anything there wasn’t obvious. “Don’t worry. I don’t think any less of you for doing it, at all. Do what you like. I mean, no sex for three months, right?”

She chuckled softly. “So you remembered that too.” She looked off in annoyance. “It’s, like, closer to four now. I don’t know how you manage to stay sane, you haven’t done it at all.”

“Let’s just say I don’t know what I’m missing, yet.” Was that suave? It felt suave. For me, at least, it was suave. 

“Anyway, what do I owe you? What do you think that lesson was worth?” she asked me, changing the topic, looking for her wallet in her purse.

For a guy scared of social interaction, I sure wasn’t afraid of being bold when I wanted to. I just never had a reason to be bold, I guess. Had I explored friendships more, I would have found out earlier that I was the type to say exactly what was on his mind. And I wasn’t ready to change the subject just yet.

“Can I be real with you?” I asked.

Taylor gave me a weird look. “Um, yeah. Of course.”

I exhaled the last of my nerves away. “If you mean what you, uh, said, I have a solution that works out for both of us. I guess I do kind of want to know what I’ve been missing. If you’d feel comfortable taking pictures of yourself for me, you could, uh, save money. I don’t really care about money anyways, but, uh… yeah.”

Yup, I just said that. Taylor looked at me with the most shocked face I’d ever seen her have. For the first couple of seconds she didn’t say anything.

Too many seconds. “Was that, uh, out of line? I didn’t-”

“I mean, it was weird, but…” Taylor trailed off. She supplemented the awkward silence with a nervous laugh. “You are a guy, so… I guess I shouldn’t be that shocked, huh?”

I parroted her awkward laugh. “Yeah.”

“I think… I think we should keep it to money though, like, if that’s okay with you.”

I honestly took it surprisingly well. I think I was expecting her to say no. The rejection didn’t hurt at all. I mean, the most popular girl in school was turning down the least popular guy. Practically every media piece about high school had prepared me for this.

“Taylor, if you didn’t want to send it, I wouldn’t want to see it,” I pointed out.

She smiled. “Is it mean to tell you ‘no’ then say, ‘I wish more boys were like you?’” she asked with a laugh.

“Hey, it’s self-aware,” I said with a shrug. “I dunno. Twenty is fine.”

“Okay.” She reached into her wallet and handed me a twenty-dollar bill. “Here you go. Sorry. Y’know.”

“No, I’m sorry I made it awkward,” I replied. “I should probably be better at picking up on these cues and now this kinda thing is in the open. I hope you don’t think less of me or something.”

“Oh no. Not at all, no,” she instantly replied. “Yeah, not at all. It’s just… y’know? My gut tells me no.”

“Then let’s listen to it,” I replied with more confidence than I usually had replying to… well, anything. “Perhaps you should take me home now?”

“Yeah, good idea.”

With that, we went back upstairs and promptly got into her car. We made polite small talk, though I think I was back to the short answers again on the way. It got to the point where I wanted to address it, even if I knew it might dig me a bigger hole.

“Uh, sorry if my answers are, uh, shorter again. I just feel embarrassed and-”

“I understand, and don’t feel embarrassed,” Taylor let me know. “Is this the place?”

“Uh, yeah,” I replied feebly.

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow at class. We can figure out if we need to, like, continue the tutoring after, okay? I guess it depends on how I do on the test or something.”

“Uh, yeah, sounds good. Have a good night!” After I closed the door, she drove off.

I was a few minutes late. You might guess Mother tore me a new one but to be honest she never really cared that much about punctuality. Father was surprised to see me come home after him “for the first time in his life,” but both of them were glad to hear that I finally got paid for my tutoring services. Mother thought I should have gotten more than twenty, and hey, I nearly got more. Much more.

After supper, Kevin and I hung out in our room, as usual. “Her place, huh? It’s getting serious.”

I laughed as I eyed the floor. “Jealous?” I mumbled, in a tone that wasn’t normally mine. Truth be told, I was embarrassed and horrified at myself for asking Taylor to do such a thing – well, only embarrassed and horrified because she said no, but still. Internally I felt hot with shame. Externally, though, I felt almost empowered. Was this what made guys dicks? Should I maybe have stopped being around the popular kids, lest I end up outside a school gym fist-bumping over getting to see some non-consensual nudes?

Kevin just laughed. “This is cool, dude. Welcome to planet us. It’s only uphill from here, although, if by some cosmic magic you sleep with Taylor, it’s only downhill after that.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just shrugged. Kevin certainly had his view of the world, and he was hoping that I was going to join him soon. Frankly I just kind of wanted my own world.

Right before curfew, I was in the washroom brushing my teeth, doing the usual stuff, getting ready for bed. On the counter, my phone vibrated. It was Taylor.

Hey, are you still up

Puzzling. Immediately, I put down the toothbrush and answered. 

Yes, I am. What can I do for you?

I felt an intense nervousness. Was she going to rip me apart? Did she call the police? Well, I guess I did nothing illegal but… the creepy police? Was I too creepy?

The next message she sent me changed everything.

This never happened, and I’ll never forgive you if you blab

Taylor motherfucking Wise sent me her tits. It was a picture, of her (although she was smart enough to not include her eyes in the picture, just her mouth), topless. Her tits, which looked just as impressive on her frame with no shirt as they did covered, were on full display. And fuck yes, I was right. Small, brown, adorable nipples. 

I was glad I put the toothbrush down. If I hadn’t, I’m sure I would have choked to death right then and there. She was wearing the same jeans she wore today, so I knew it was taken right then and there, and her sexy chipmunk face sported a cheeky little grin to complement the picture. 

I had to sit down on the floor to compose myself. My cock was throbbing. I don’t think my mouth left the O position. If I was an anime character, it would have been Nosebleed City. Granted, thanks to porn a bit ago I knew what nipples looked like, but… these were Taylor Wise’s nipples. Plus, just minutes ago I was sure I’d never see them in my life, and I had tried. What a roller coaster tonight was. 

After a few minutes of admiring, I realized I was neglecting her. “Less is more,” I found myself repeating out loud as I wrote a response text. “Less is more.”

I’m speechless. You’re so beautiful.

I never liked the idea of masturbating in the bathroom (hell, the concept of masturbating was still kind of foreign ground to me). Something about the idea of people being just outside, maybe wanting to use the bathroom, and getting caught. But Kevin was in my room, and the sexiest, most popular woman in school just sent me a picture of her tits, knowing full well that I wanted it, and knowing full well what I wanted to do with it. I lowered my pants, and grinned. It was no longer creepy to do this. She sent this to me. She knew what I was going to do with it.

And she was fine with that.

As I began to stroke, my phone buzzed again with another message from her. As one could imagine, I already had the phone in my hand, so the message came up on the overlay. It was simple, clear, and concise.

Less is more. I figured that was all she wanted to say on the subject, and she did not want me talking about it for half the night, so I assumed she’d send another message if she wanted to talk about it more, and left the conversation at that. 

If one had told me even ten minutes beforehand, let alone when I started tutoring Taylor Wise, “Hey, she’s going to show you her tits,” I would have never believed them. Heck, depending on the timing I may have even been weirded out by such a notion. But now it was real, it was here and it was happening, and it was my reality. And the scariest and most exciting part was, this was clearly not the end of the story. In fact, I realized as my orgasm approached, nearer and nearer…

This may have just been the beginning.

________________________________________________________

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