Luke Snyder’s foot taps unconsciously to the pulsating music that thrums its beat throughout the darkened room. Flashing strobes highlight a dance floor that writhes with movement, seeking out the darkened spaces that seem filled with yet more bodies. There may even be some writhing going on there, too, but he doesn’t really want to look too closely at that, thank you very much. Slouching deeper into the uncomfortable chair, he pulls his cowboy hat further down over his eyes, hell bent on ignoring everything around him and hoping for some measure of invisibility.
He obviously fails miserably, as a hand slaps him heavily on the back. By the time Luke’s turned to look up at whoever it was, they’ve moved on and he can’t see who delivered the latest blow to his now-aching shoulder. What he does know is that the many congratulations he’s receiving are well on their way to leaving visible marks; he’s gonna be black and fucking blue tomorrow. Who knew success could be so painful? He sighs miserably, bringing a finger and thumb to press deeply into his eye sockets, praying silently to whatever deity will listen to please get him the fuck out of this cupid-infested hell of his own making.
Luke doesn’t want to be here. In fact, at this precise moment he would give anything to be anywhere else. It’s torture, and he’s counting the minutes until he can leave without attracting attention. Not that he hasn’t already done that because, let’s face it, who else would be pathetic enough to turn up to a high school Valentine’s dance on their own…and dressed as a gay cowboy? Luke Snyder, that’s who! The sad loser who’s organised this shindig in the vain hope that this year he’ll have someone to share it with; that this would be the one year since he came out that he’d be able to stand proud with someone at his side. What a joke! What a sick fucking joke. All he’s gotten for his trouble is a shitload of extra work and a broken heart he’s trying desperately to ignore. Damn Noah Mayer for making him feel like this.
High school isn’t an easy place or time to get through, no matter who you are, how much money you have or what you’re into. Hell, even the most popular kid has their problems; it’s maybe how good you are at hiding your insecurities that gets you through with a minimum of scarring. At least, that’s how Luke’s always looked at it. High school is something you have to get through - it’s as simple as that. At least, it was, until he realised he was gay, and then it was like all bets were off. Suddenly, he was one of those guys with something to hide and he now had two choices; he could either keep this side of himself hidden, living in private fear that his secret would be found out, or he could stand up proudly for what he was – what he’d always been, actually. He chose the latter, coming out first to his parents and then to his school friends. It hadn’t been easy, but then, as his dad always told him, nothing worth having ever was. And wasn’t that the goddamned truth? He’d lost a couple of friends, kids he’d gone to kindergarten with who no longer wanted anything to do with him, but he didn’t let it get to him for too long. He was Luke Snyder and proud of it.
After the excitement of gossip had worn off, Luke’s life went on pretty much as normal, the only difference being that he gradually realised how alone he was. Everywhere he looked there were couples doing…couply things, and he wanted that – he really did. The only thing that kept him going was the idea that this was his last year in high school; surely he could get through it and move on to college and the chance of meeting someone? And if he still heard snide comments in the hallways or had books knocked off his desk by some random Neanderthal jock once in a while? Well, he could handle it because it wasn’t gonna be forever.
It was his soon-to-be ex best friend, Maddie, who talked him into joining the Valentine Ball committee. She went on and on about how he should get involved in more school activities, until he agreed just to shut her up. He figured he’d help out with the organisation – it’d look good on his college applications – and then spend the evening watching a movie and eating ice cream straight from the tub; just his usual, ‘hey look at sad ol’ me with nobody to love’ evening.
There turned out to be only four people interested in organising the seniors’ annual Valentine Ball, which wasn’t actually too much of a shock – Luke, Maddie, Casey (who was trying to impress Maddie) and a guy called Noah Mayer, whom Luke had never really had anything to do with. He’d seen him around sometimes, but they didn’t share any classes or extracurricular activities and both moved in different circles. Noah was more the jock type; tall, athletic, muscles in all the right places. Yeah…it hadn’t taken Luke long to catalogue the guy’s physical attributes, that’s for damn sure – and coupled with those eyes? Damn! He’d have to be dead and buried not to be attracted to the whole gorgeously wrapped package.
Within the first couple of Operation Valentine meetings, Luke knew he was in trouble – serious trouble. Initially worried he might have to battle against the general homophobic air that so many of the sporty guys wore like a fucking badge of honour, he shamelessly used Maddie and Casey as a buffer, voicing his ideas through them. He quickly realised that Noah wasn’t like that. In fact, he was everything that Luke found attractive; smart and funny, with an underlying vulnerability that just reached out to him, Noah genuinely didn’t seem to realise what a great guy he was.
By the third meeting, Luke was in deep, and he now consciously used the other two to stop from making a fool of himself. He was pretty fucking sure Noah might object to being tackled to the ground in anything other than a second quarter play, and he felt like Maddie and Casey were the only thing holding him back. By the time the fourth meeting came round, Casey had obviously given up even trying to get into Maddie’s panties and disappeared to pastures easier. And by the sixth meeting? It was just the two of them left…organising the most romantic event of the year. What could possibly go wrong?