Chapter 10: Yeah, she did!

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"Guys, relax," Troy says in face of the tension that's rising rapidly like a cartoon thermometer about to blow. His sibling, Gabi, dressed in a unitard and cat ears is surrounded by a squad of Nuffim High's more simple-minded jocks.

"That's my little brother," Troy explains. He's painfully aware that he's no Jesse, but with a bit of luck, these drunken oafs will accept his clique currency as an able, if socially awkward, wrestler. But is it enough to diffuse this clash of cliques? It's a gamble with terrible odds and a horrible exchange rate. Troy knows that even if Markham backs down, Gabi's not going to forget Troy's use of a gendered noun and will make him pay.

But these are desperate times. Markham's a nightmare when he's sober; now, drunk and probably high, he's more unpredictable than any of the many iterations of the insane Joker from the Batman franchise.

Troy tries to look casual as he limps into the arena of male bluster and machismo, wincing from the pain in his butt. The wound he suffered has superficially healed but the muscle's still sore. He gives Gabi a warning look. Gabi shakes their head, jaw clenched, promising retribution.

"This is a dude?" Markham jerks his thumb at Gabi. "What is up with your family's gene pool?"

"He's ... rehearsing for a summer play," Troy lies.

Gabi's fingers curl into fists. "Don't call me 'he,'" Gabi growls at their brother. "And, unlike you, Troy, I'm not treating life like a dress rehearsal."

"Let me handle this," Jesse says to Troy, brushing him aside.

No, Troy thinks. Gabi's my problem, I should be handling this.

But Jesse's always been the alpha in their friendship and in their high school. Markham won't listen to Troy, but even under the influence of whatever cocktail of substances he's consumed, Markham might listen to Jesse.

Gabi will be safe, Troy thinks, reminding himself that's what matters, not his ego, but couldn't both be satisfied for once?

Jesse will take care of everything. Jesse will ...

Gabi howls like a wolf and kicks Markham in the balls. 

Markham chirps like a surprised baby bird, clutches his groin, and falls, whimpering, to the ground

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Markham chirps like a surprised baby bird, clutches his groin, and falls, whimpering, to the ground.

Instantly, the ache in Troy's butt cheek swells; his temples throb, veins rise on his forearms, and his pupils dilate. He feels Markham's pain coursing off him like bands of energy, and Troy doubles over, covering his crotch as if Gabi had kicked Troy in the balls.

The cheerleaders wander over, including Chad and Mandy.

"What is going on?" Chad asks. "This is supposed to be a fun end-of-summer party."

Markham struggles to his feet, cheeks clenching at the pain. Troy finds himself doing the same, feeling an angry drive that overrides the throbbing ache in his lower abs shooting up from his testes. He sees Markham's fingers curl into a fist. Troy looks at his own hand, also clenched, without his awareness, in readiness to take a swing.

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