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Fall Back | Straight Ahead

SUGAR BABY -- PG-13 (1/2)

[title] Sugar Baby (1/2)
[author] kissontheneck
[pairing] Cookleta
[beta] rajkumari905
[rating] PG-13
[word count] ~16,000
[summary] David Archuleta is a good student, maybe the best student. It’s totally fine with him when he doesn’t have anyone to partner up with for a group project in home economics; he's secretly thankful that he’ll have total control over everything. Yep, everything was going swimmingly until David Cook walked in the door.
[disclaimer] Surely, I have nothing to do with either of these fine young men, no matter how much I wish I did.
[warnings] Teenager ridiculousness, one weird POV shift, a couple intense moments
[author's notes] You all should know that rajkumari905 served as Head Cheerleader, Assistant Planner, and Editor-in-Chief on this fic, which very nearly makes her Second Author if you ask me. SHE IS THE BEST. (Also, if I recall this story started as a joke and now it’s 16,000 words. IDEK anymore.)





David’s daily routine never changed. It never changed because he never let it change, because his routine worked. He got up at the same time every morning. No matter how he felt, he pushed himself out of bed. He went for a run, even if he didn’t feel like it. He took a shower, got dressed, had some breakfast, kissed his mom on the cheek, and arrived at the bus stop at 7:20 every morning to catch the 7:25 bus to school.

His life ran like clockwork, which he liked. He was never late and never forgot anything. Chaos was not a part of his life vocabulary.

Monday had been a day just like this. Monday was the day when everything changed.

At 8:00 on the dot (David secretly loved that school started at precisely 8:00, not 7:50 or 8:05, but exactly 8:00), the bell rang for the start of first period. David, of course, was already in his seat at the front of the class with his notebook out and homework ready to turn in. Mrs. Green, his home economics teacher, made her way to the front of the class, where David had already noticed that her large project table was towering with five-pound bags of sugar. It wasn’t unusual to come into Mrs. Green’s class and discover such things because she was always coming up with creative projects for the class to work on.

"All right," Mrs. Green said, starting to hand out thick instruction packets. "Today we'll begin the project I was hinting about last week -- everyone will find a partner and I'll adopt a sugar baby out to you. You'll have the sugar baby for four weeks, during which time you must care for the baby, make sure it doesn't get injured, and keep a journal about the challenges you've faced." She paused as everyone in the room groaned. "Yes, yes, I know. Just be thankful the school doesn't have the budget for those mechanical ones that can wake you in the night. Honestly, I'm doing you a favor. Okay, team up!"

The room instantly turned to chaos as the popular girls flung themselves at the popular guys, the two-girls-David-thought-might-be-dating giggled at one another, and everyone else sort of relented to their nearby choices. David hated picking project partners because he wasn't outspoken or forceful enough, and like always, he found himself staring sort of hopelessly at Mrs. Green like a floundering fish.

"David," she sighed, trying to keep a smile on her face. She rested her hand on his shoulder. "Care to take a stab at single fatherhood?" She lowered her voice and added, "I'll give you extra points for your trouble."

David didn't know what to do except shrug and say, "Yeah, sure." Actually, being allowed to do the project alone would be okay; he wouldn't have to deal with a lame partner who just sat by while David did all the work.

Mrs. Green opened her mouth to say something else, but was interrupted by someone bursting frantically through the door.

"Ah! Sorry, Mrs. Green, I overslept and -- are we baking today?" The newcomer's eyes scanned the sugar bag table as he whipped his messy bangs out of his face. David Cook had to be one of the coolest kids in school, but not in a captain-of-the-football-team kind of way. It was more of a C-plus-average-I’ve-got-my-own-garage-band kind of way, and although David hadn’t actually interacted with Cook very much, he felt a little uneasy. After all, Cook was routinely late for school, looked like he got dressed out of Goodwill’s dumpsters, and couldn’t keep his hair the same nonexistent-in-nature color for more than three days straight. If someone looked up “chaos” in the dictionary, Cook’s picture would probably be right next to it.

"David Cook!" Mrs. Green bellowed cheerfully. "You're just in time. We were just picking partners for our next project."

"Awesome," Cook replied, slinging his backpack onto the floor by an empty desk.

"It seems everyone's gotten a partner already," Mrs. Green continued, "except David."

"Yeah, sure." Cook nodded towards his classmate, and David suddenly realized what was happening. "What's the project?"

In reply, Mrs. Green lifted one of the five pound bags from the table and cradled it into Cook's arms. "Congratulations, you're both fathers."

David wanted to melt under his desk, and found himself sliding as far down as he could while Cook stared wide-eyed at his teacher.

"Pardon?" Cook managed to say, blinking his long bangs out of his hazel eyes again.

"All the instructions are here," Mrs. Green answered, handing Cook his copy of the instruction packet. "So I'll just leave you to it."

Mrs. Green picked up another baby and carried it to the other end of the classroom where the head cheerleader and the basketball captain were groping one another.

"Um, I missed something, didn't I?" Cook asked, slowly sinking into his seat.

David couldn't speak. He just stared down at the paper in front of him, heart racing. The downfall of their project was already rushing through his mind. Why did Cook have to arrive at that moment? David had been homefree as far as control over his project had been, and then this had happened. A wrench thrown into his perfect comfort.

"Let's um, it says the first thing we should do is open the attached envelope," David read quietly from the paper. Indeed, a small envelope had been taped to the sugar baby's bottom. "And find out the s-sex..." David swallowed hard and continued.

David looked up timidly to find Cook grinning wolfishly back at him, his eyeliner-accented eyes squinting jovially.

"David Archuleta," Cook said, gently resting the sugar sack on his knee. "Do you have a problem saying the word sex?"

Just then, David was swallowed up to his eyeballs in reddening heat as David Cook barked in laughter.

~*~


Because it was the first day of the sugar baby project, and because the class period had been mostly taken up with discussing rules and procedures, Mrs. Green let everyone put their sugar bags in their backpacks and not worry about suffocation or anything like that until they got home and were able to completely finish “birthing” their children. According to Mrs. Green’s instructions, that meant naming, clothing, and creating the baby’s hair, eyes, mouth, and other features, in addition to beginning to consider the baby’s personality and other attributes.

Again, this would’ve been all fine and wonderful if David were doing this by himself. He’d just get a few markers and be done with it. But he wasn’t. No, instead he’d had a very awkward conversation with a cool guy he hardly knew after Mrs. Green had announced that the class period was almost up.

“I can finish this when I get home,” David had offered.

“Not by yourself,” Cook had replied, flipping his hair and looking hurt somehow. “You think you get to make all our baby’s choices?”

The fact that Cook had said “our baby” made David choke on his tongue.

“Well, I just didn’t want… to like, inconvenience you?” David had replied, knowing it was a ridiculous answer.

“I know it’s awfully soon to meet your parents,” Cook had said absolutely stone-faced, “but we do have a baby together.”

David would really need Cook to stop saying things like that if he expected to survive the next four weeks.

Cook had band practice after school, but he promised to cut it short and head over to David’s as soon as possible. That had required David telling Cook his address, which he had temporarily forgotten for some reason and of course sent Cook into knee-bending hysteria. At least Cook was proving not to be the moody, angry, sociopath David thought all rock musicians were supposed to be.

When David walked in the door, he was greeted by his mother who was passing by with the laundry. Out of habit he gave her a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, and she told him there were homemade cookies in the kitchen for a snack.

Surprisingly, his sisters weren’t gathered around the kitchen island giggling at one another, though it was apparent they had been there if the plate smeared with cookie crumbs told him anything. Luckily, his mom always made enough for an army, so another plate remained, piled high with chocolate chip cookies. He poured himself some milk and grabbed a few of them with a napkin.

At the dining room table, David began unloading his schoolwork, including the sugar baby. He’d been reviewing the instructions again when his mom passed through.

“What is that sugar doing on the table?” she asked. “I thought I’d put it all away.” She was just starting to pick up the baby when David yelped at her suddenly.

“Ack, no, Mom! Don’t!” Mrs. Archuleta stared at her son, clearly taken aback. “I mean… sorry, but that’s for a school project.”

“Oh,” his mom replied, a smile returning to her face. “Sorry, mijo. What are you working on?”

David fingered the thick paper flap at the top of the sugar bag. “Well, it’s a baby,” he answered simply.

“Oh, the sugar baby!” his mom said, perhaps a little too excitedly. “I heard from one of the other moms that the project was coming up. How exciting! You get to take care of a baby!”

Now that he thought about it, David had already taken care of plenty of babies, as he had three younger siblings. So this project was either going to be super easy or super irritating, he wasn’t yet sure which.

“Yeah. Well, I’ve got someone coming over soon to help me… design… the baby. So…”

“Oh, good,” his mom said with some relief. “You’re not a single dad. Oh gosh, I’m a grandmother!”

Maybe David’s mom needed to be partners with Cook instead, seeing as how much more excited and crazy the two of them seemed to be about the whole thing.

“Moooom,” David whined, just as there was a knock on the door. David froze. “Oh gosh!”

“I’ll get it!” Mrs. Archuleta practically sang, and David didn’t have time to stop her from rushing out to the door. A deep sinking feeling seeped through his chest as he realized the effect David Cook was about to have on his clean-cut household.

David had barely made it to the entryway as his mother opened the door. Though Mrs. Archuleta was very good at going with the flow without letting on to anyone that anything ever threw her off guard, David did detect a slight twitch in her eye upon seeing Cook filling her front doorway.

“Hello,” she greeted kindly, but with slight hesitancy. It occurred to David that she probably feared this was one of Claudia’s crushes or something.

“Mom, this is David,” David rushed in, practically pushing his mother out of the way. “He’s working on the project with me.”

It was obvious that Mrs. Archuleta couldn’t decide if this was better or worse news.

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Cook said, putting out his hand. Mrs. Archuleta took it, smiling.

“Well, I’ll leave you boys to your project. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!” David’s mom picked up her laundry basket and headed up the stairs.

For three seconds, the boys stood awkwardly in the entryway before David remembered he should invite Cook in.

“Um, we could work in the dining room, maybe? The table’s pretty big so we’ll have lots of space.”

“Lead the way, my man,” Cook replied, hefting his backpack up onto his shoulder.

David showed Cook to the dining room, telling him to make himself at home. Cook dropped his backpack and started to take off his jacket, but not without examining the formally decorated room at length.

“Would you like something to drink?” David asked. “We’ve got, uh, milk, water… possibly soda, but if we do it’s caffeine-free.” The options sounded pretty horrible considering Cook was probably used to injecting coffee straight into his veins or something.

“I’ll take my chances with the soda,” Cook answered. “Thanks.”

David hurried to the kitchen, not wanting to make his guest wait too long. Luckily, they did have soda, but it was the last one, so he hoped his mom would understand since she was really the only one who drank it. He grabbed the milk he’d poured himself earlier and just grabbed the rest of the cookies that were left on the counter, balancing everything on a tray before heading back to the dining room.

“Um, I brought cookies,” David said as his reintroduction to the room. Cook was just getting out his beat up notebook and folders.

“You didn’t say there’d be cookies!” Cook teased, though David didn’t take it as a joke at first.

“Uh, yeah, my Mom makes them for us sometimes. We’re lucky any were left.” David put the plate down in the center of the table and Cook carefully took one. It wasn’t until that moment that David noticed Cook’s nails were covered in chipping black nail polish.

“What should we do first?” Cook asked, biting into his cookie. Crumbs tumbled down the front of his Ramones t-shirt, but David seemed to be the only one who noticed. “I guess we should open the envelope,” he added, shoving the rest of the cookie into his mouth before carefully pulling the green envelope from the bottom of the sugar bag.

“Gah, I’m so nervous!” David replied, genuinely wringing his hands together.

Cook gave him a puzzled look. “I can’t imagine why,” he said honestly.

“What if it’s got like, I don’t know, diabetes or something!”

Cook’s fingers stilled over the half-open envelope. “What? David, babies don’t get diabetes.”

“I’m pretty sure they do!”

“David, he’s made of sugar!”

“See why I’m worried?!”

Cook sort of stared at David for a long moment and David realized he was maybe being a little neurotic. Not only that, but he’d promised himself that he’d try to be more cool about things, not because he himself cared about being considered “cool,” but rather because he knew Cook’s somewhat disorganized self would drive him to a panic attack before the end of the first week if he didn’t. He took a deep breath.

“Sorry,” he apologized, his voice much more even. “I get a little stressed out by group projects.”

Cook smiled kindly. “Don’t worry about it, bro. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

Even though Cook was saying it, David didn’t feel so sure.

“Okay, see, this is fine,” Cook said, pulling an index card out of the envelope. “Male, normal weight at birth, does not have diabetes.”

Cook flipped the card so David could see it and for a half-second David expected it to literally say “does not have diabetes” on it. He sighed with relief.

“Okay, next step,” he said, referencing Mrs. Green’s instructions. “Dress, design, and name your baby.”

“Excellent,” Cook replied. “This is gonna be the best part.” He started pulling pens and pencils out of his backpack, though it really just amounted to two highlighters (pink and green, unfortunately) and a blue Sharpie.

“I’ve got some colored pencils,” David said, pulling some out of his backpack. “We can probably find other things too as we think of them. My mom does lots of crafts.”

“Cool,” Cook replied, uncapping the Sharpie. He squinted at the sugar sack like David imagined Michelangelo probably had at slabs of marble.

Just then, because the Archuleta house almost literally couldn’t go twenty minutes without someone interrupting someone else, the two were joined by David’s nine year old sister galloping into the room.

“What are you doing?” Amber asked, squeezing between the two Davids.

“Amber, please, go play upstairs or something. We’re trying to study!”

“No, you’re not, you’re coloring.”

David wanted to protest, but Cook had just started drawing eyes on the sugar sack.

“We’re not coloring, we’re--”

“What color eyes should the baby have?” Cook wondered out loud, presumably to no one in particular.

“I have lots of colors! I’ll go get them!” Amber declared, and without invitation she ran out and up to her room.

“Great, she’s gonna bug us all afternoon now,” David grumbled.

“She’s cute,” Cook replied. “Besides, I just have this Sharpie, that’s no good.”

David watched as Cook added curving eyelashes, which actually looked pretty good. David couldn’t draw to save his life, so he was happy to let Cook take over on that front.

“David! Did you take all the cookies out of the kitchen? Mom says you have to share!”

Jazzy, David’s 11 year old sister, came storming into the dining room like a whirlwind. Immediately, she reached around her brother in an attempt to get at the cookie plate that still sat in the middle of the table.

“Jazzy, stop! You guys already devoured half of them earlier, these are for us!”

“Moooooom!”

“Oh my gosh, Jazzy, okay!” David stood up and started pulling cookies off the plate and onto one of the napkins he’d brought. “At least leave us a couple.”

“Jazzy, did you find David? I don’t know what he’s thinking--”

Eighteen year old Claudia had now appeared at the doorway, hand on her hip. She’d stopped mid-sentence as soon as she’d seen Cook.

“Calm down!” David replied, shoving the plate into his middle sister’s chest. “Can’t we just do some work in peace around here? You’re all making me crazy!”

Jazzy, with absolute glee on her face and cookies almost literally in her heart, ducked around her older sister and raced down the hall.

“David,” Claudia said, her tone changing dramatically. “You didn’t tell me you had someone over. You also didn’t tell me you knew David Cook.” She smiled sweetly and played with the ends of her hair.

At the sound of his name, Cook looked up from his drawing, which now included a cartoonish smile. He flicked his bangs out of his face and smiled politely.

“Hi,” he said, which seemed to be a relatively disappointing reaction to Claudia. David knew what she was doing though and couldn’t forget how boy-crazy she’d been lately. Anything less than a proposal from a boy seemed to be heartbreaking if recent overheard conversations with her girlfriends had been any indication.

“Would you go away?” David practically bellowed. “We’re working.”

“Let me know if you need any help,” Claudia offered, batting her eyes. “I’m always helping David with his homework.”

Firstly, that wasn’t true and Claudia had gotten a B- in home economics if he hadn’t been mistaken. Secondly, he definitely wasn’t going to ask her for anything now for the rest of his life.

“He doesn’t need you, Claudia, because I’m helping.” Amber had returned with an armful of art supplies that David wasn’t even aware she had.

“I brought some paper and scissors and glue,” she said. “Also, glitter.”

“Yes, glitter!” Cook replied, and Claudia scowled at the fact that Cook had reacted more enthusiastically to her nine year old sister than to her. “We could do a little glam rock thing with this kid or something.”

David didn’t know what the heck that would entail, but he’d just about had it.

“Would everyone get out RIGHT. NOW. Mom!”

“Why is everyone yelling?” Finally, a voice of reason had heard his cries and come to his rescue: Dad.

“Dad, everyone is bugging us.”

“Okay, everyone leave these guys to do their homework, okay?” Thankfully, Claudia knew not to cross her dad and slinked out past him.

“Amber…” Mr. Archuleta warned.

“She can stay,” Cook replied. “She’s helping me pick a hair color and I value her opinion.”

Both David and his father glared at Cook, who had both yellow and pink construction paper in his hands, while Amber sorted through a thick stack, pulling out more choices every once in awhile.

“Okay, but you’ve got fifteen minutes before you have to come help Mom with dinner.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Amber replied without looking up at him. She was too busy accordion-folding some green paper and cutting it into long strips. Mr. Archuleta left and David narrowed his brow at Cook and his sister.

“What’s that for?” he asked.

“It’s his hair,” Amber said matter-of-factly. She started testing different lengths on the sugar sack.

“No, no, no, no, no,” David replied, irritated. “Babies don’t have green hair.”

“They could!” she protested. She reached for some glue.

“Amber…” David warned. He could feel his jaw tightening, even more so because he glanced up to Cook for some support, but instead found his classmate sorting through glitter pens, which made him feel even more uneasy.

At this point, both Cook and Amber had started drawing on the sugar baby, essentially ripping all control out of David’s hands. If the shortness of breath he was feeling was any indication, he was probably moments from his mom driving him to the hospital for treatment of a heart attack.

He watched in horror for several minutes as strands of the crinkly green hair were applied, to which Cook added several straight blonde pieces. The face had made it to a basic features outline before David’s mother could be heard calling his sister.

“Amber! Please come help with dinner now!”

David hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until that very moment. He let out a giant sigh as Amber left the room. He wanted so badly to ask Cook if he thought the glue had dried completely yet and whether they could get those green pieces off without ripping the bag open, but Cook had begun what could only be called styling the sugar baby’s hair. Maybe distracting Cook from the designing would help him regain a little bit of control.

“Okay, so. What’re we gonna name this kid?” he asked, trying to sound casual but failing miserably.

“Hmm, good question.” Cook didn’t look up as he glued a tiny rhinestone to the baby’s earlobe. David reminded himself to breathe evenly.

“Right. Well, I like Jeremy,” David offered.

Cook sort of huffed. “Jeremy? Boring. I was thinking like, Ziggy Stardust.” Cook flashed his hands in front of him as if describing the vastness of the universe.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Your sister left a glitter pen, I can just draw a lightning bolt across one eye…”

“You’ll do no such thing!” David yelped, finally losing it and knocking the pen out of Cook’s hand. “Our baby isn’t a 70s glam rocker.”

Cook pursed his lips. “Come on, Archuleta. It’s gotta be something catchy. Give him some character, you know? I know! Bocephus!”

David glared at Cook. What was he even talking about? Bocephus? Was their baby some kind of backwoods banjo player? What?

“Absolutely not,” David said sternly, crossing his arms. “Kids are gonna make fun of him at school!”

“David, just how long do you think we’re gonna have this kid? We’re not sending him to college!”

And suddenly, David felt really sheepish and ridiculous. He’d let his petty emotions get to him and he knew it.

“Sorry,” he said in a more rational tone. “I get worked up sometimes.”

I get worked up sometimes if I feel like things are getting out of my control would’ve been the complete thought, but he was definitely too embarrassed to say that to Cook.

Cook considered him a moment, then smiled. “It’s okay, I understand. Oh man, look at the time. I gotta go if I wanna make it home for dinner. Sorry to leave all this…”

“Don’t worry about it,” David replied, actually relieved that he’d have something to do himself. “I’ll clean all this up. You want me to finish it, or…”

“Do whatever you want,” Cook reassured. “I’ll be cool with whatever you do. Again, sorry to leave your dinner table a disaster.”

David could only manage to nod because he’d been left speechless from embarrassment. That and something about the way David Cook picked up his backpack, slung it onto his back, and ran his fingers through his hair made David’s insides seize up. Cook was definitely way out of David’s friendship league.

~*~


The next day, David was almost too embarrassed to walk into class carrying Bocephus. He slipped into class and tried to hide the glitter-drenched sugar baby behind some books at his table.

Mrs. Green picked up on it immediately, of course.

“Ooh, David! Did you finish getting your baby ready? Can I see?”

Of course, David couldn’t refuse his teacher and she’d inevitably be seeing Bocephus over the next four weeks, so he reluctantly pulled the sugar baby out where she could see him. A huge smile immediately filled Mrs. Green’s face.

“Wow!” she exclaimed, poking at Bocephus’ weirdly colored hair. “I did not expect that. Great job, David. He’s incredible.”

David was in shock. So much in shock that all he could manage to say back to her was, “His name is Bocephus. Cook named him.”

Mrs. Green shook her head, apparently in disbelief. “You guys are doing an awesome job so far,” she replied. “Keep it up.”

She wandered off and David felt more than just a little bit relieved. Glancing around, David figured out why she was so happy about it; regardless of Mrs. Green’s personal style tastes for babies, she had to also be glad that Bocephus was just overall better executed than almost everyone else’s sugar baby. Many of the class’s babies merely had marker drawn faces, maybe with some crayon hair if they were lucky. Other than the girl who had glued colored cotton balls to her sugar sack for hair, not many people had gone beyond basic drawing.

When Cook arrived to class (remarkably on time), he couldn’t help beaming at Bocephus as soon as he saw him.

“Hey, Bo,” Cook said directly to the sugar sack. “Hope you had a good night with Daddy.”

David kind of cringed at the thought of anyone calling him Daddy.

“Um, what are you then?” David asked, sort of fearing the answer.

“Papa,” Cook replied easily. “Oh man, Bo is so cool, I can hardly stand it.”

To David, Bo looked like he’d met with an explosion at a glitter factory, but again he felt it was better than a boring marker drawing.

“Good morning, everyone,” Mrs. Green greeted as soon as the bell rang. “Now, today we need to talk about a few things. Schedules, for one. Remember that you need to log when each of you has your sugar baby in your group. It needs to be as fair as possible. Do not forget that if you go somewhere your baby either goes with you, goes to your partner, or you need to arrange babysitting.”

David was dutifully writing down everything Mrs. Green said. After making a few more points, she let them work independently for awhile.

“I’ve got church each Sunday,” David said, getting out a ruler to create a calendar. “I probably can’t take Bo with me.”

Actually, he could have, he just didn’t want to. Talk about embarrassing.

“That’s cool,” Cook replied. “You can drop him off with me on Saturday night. Oh! But Saturdays the band has regular shows at the Lincoln House, so…”

The Lincoln House was a kind of hang out place for teenagers something akin to a bar but without all the alcohol of course.

“Okay, how late does that usually go?” David asked.

“Like ten or eleven,” Cook replied.

David stared. “We get up pretty early for church, I can’t be out at eleven taking Bo to you.”

“You could bring him before the show?” Cook suggested.

“But who’s gonna watch him while you’re on stage?” David asked, panic starting to rise in his chest. He didn’t completely like the idea of Bo sitting around somewhere with musical equipment just waiting to be knocked over and destroyed.

“Hmm,” Cook hummed, thinking. “Oh! My mom will totally watch him. Just take him to my house whenever.”

David let out a breath. “Okay, good. Make sure you double-check with her.”

“Gotcha.”

David felt a little anxious that Cook wasn’t writing any of this down. Unfortunately, the bell rang before he could express any further concerns.

“Don’t forget your first assignment that’s due tomorrow!” Mrs. Green shouted over the gaggle of students fighting for the door. “You must do it together, so find time to meet after school or online!”

“See you after school, Archie?” Cook asked, picking up his things.

“Uh, what?” David asked, taken aback. “What did you call me?”

Cook grinned. “Archie. Do you like it? From Archuleta.”

David wasn’t sure, but didn’t have time to think too long on it. He merely nodded and then said, “Yeah, see you later at my house?”

Cook ran his fingers through his hair, nodding.

~*~


Mrs. Green had given a mountain of assignments for the sugar baby groups, one that was due nearly every single day. And so, nearly every single day, David Cook showed up at the Archuleta house, ready to work on their shared assignments while being bombarded by Archuleta family members left and right.

Claudia couldn’t keep her nose out of the dining room to peer at Cook at least once a day. Daniel had decided he should start incorporating Cook’s style into his own. Amber had decided that she and Cook might as well be getting married for as much as she enjoyed talking to him. (David had to admit that Cook was pretty great with little sisters.) And day after day, David Cook became more and more a part of the Archuleta family.

“Can you believe Mrs. Green gives us so many assignments?” David asked one day, sorting through a new packet they had to complete. “It’s intense!”

“Parenthood is intense,” Cook replied as he helped himself to some milk and one of the brownies that Mrs. Archuleta had left for them. “Obviously all these assignments are meant to be done together because raising kids is meant to be done together. Every day.”

David looked up at his partner, sort of surprised by such an intelligent answer.

“Could you just write that down so we can use it later?” David asked.

Cook shrugged his shoulders, apparently unaware that David was totally serious. David put down his pencil and regarded his partner curiously.

“Don’t be offended by this, but what grade are you getting in Mrs. Green’s class right now?” David asked. He kind of wondered if Cook’s demonstrated intelligence matched up with his actual school work.

Cook didn’t seem fazed one bit. “Um, I think a C. Not bad, I guess, since I’m late all the time.”

It nearly broke David’s brain to think Cook was fully aware that his tardiness affected his grade so much, but he didn’t do anything about it.

“Why aren’t you ever on time?” David asked innocently. “Like, can’t you get up earlier?”

For the first time ever, Cook diverted his eyes away from David as if embarrassed. He picked up another piece of brownie and shoved it in his mouth. David, not one to push someone who was clearly uncomfortable, tried a different approach instead.

“I just wonder,” he said carefully. “I guess… I guess I don’t actually know very much about you.”

Cook dared to glance up, his temporarily jet black hair hanging over one eye.

“Okay, well,” he answered. “What do you want to know?”

David couldn’t think of anything good, of course. What he really wanted to do was ask terribly personal questions that explained all of Cook’s off-the-wall behavior. But because he was an absolute coward that way, he took an entirely different direction instead.

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Are you kidding me, Archuleta?” Cook, thankfully, was half-grinning.

“Sorry! I just -- I don’t have specific questions, I just… don’t feel like I know you. You’ve been to my house like every other day the last two weeks, so I think you get the gist of my life.”

“Are you saying you want to come over to my house?” Cook asked. For the first time he seemed genuinely surprised, like he hadn’t expected such a request.

“Uhm, I mean, I wasn’t getting at that exactly, but -- ”

“Tomorrow we’ll go to my house,” Cook said with finality. “No problem.”

~*~


For some reason David felt weird going to Cook’s house the next day. It might’ve been because it was a new place (David sometimes had problems with new places) or that he still felt badly about making Cook feel uncomfortable about his school habits. Either way, the feeling didn’t die down any as he approached the house with Cook’s address on it.

Walking up the worn down front steps, David carefully knocked on the door and waited. A long moment passed in which David wondered if Cook had forgotten their arrangement, and he worried that Cook was standing at his front door right then too. Or maybe Cook had gotten held up at band practice after school. He knocked again.

“Archie!” David heard Cook from somewhere above him. He stepped back and could see Cook hanging out of an upstairs window.

“Come on in!” Cook shouted. “The door should be unlocked! I’ll be down in a second!”

Even with permission David felt guilty just walking into someone else’s house. He stood in the entryway for a long time, waiting for Cook. The house was way smaller than the houses in David’s neighborhood, and clearly much older as well. In fact, David could almost see every part of the downstairs from where he stood, something that struck him oddly since he was so used to his house being so open and spacious. It was nearly claustrophobic.

A few seconds later and Cook was bounding down the creaky stairway towards him.

“Sorry,” Cook apologized immediately. “My little brother needed help with something and my mom’s still at work.”

“Oh, is your dad away?” David had asked the question innocently enough.

Cook took a second to answer. “My parents are divorced,” he said at last. “It’s just me, my mom, and Andrew.”

“Oh, gosh, sorry,” David replied, cheeks reddening. Why he couldn’t have come to that conclusion himself before he opened his big fat mouth he had no idea.

“No worries,” Cook replied, easily enough. “Um, the dinner table is kind of full of stuff at the moment -- Mom’s working on taxes or something. Wanna go up to my room?”

“Yeah, sure,” David agreed and followed Cook upstairs.

At the top of the landing they were immediately presented with a series of doors huddled around a small open space that served as hallway, though no one could really call it a hallway at all. In fact, just having two people standing in the space proved sort of tight -- one could hardly turn around at all.

“That’s my mom’s room down there,” Cook explained, pointing. “There’s Andrew’s room. Bathroom over there if you need it. Here’s my room.”

Cook led David through a door covered in scraps of paper and magazine photos of rock bands David had never even heard of. Inside, Cook’s room had been painted a deep purple color, nearly black, and the poster decorating style permeated throughout. The room couldn’t have been more than ten feet by ten feet, packed with all sorts of musical instrument equipment, piles of clothes, and just about any other sort of junk a person would expect in a teenage boy’s room. The difference being, of course, that David’s room was always picked up and his bed made, whereas Cook’s must’ve been the example mothers were thinking of when they compared their kids’ rooms to tornado disaster areas.

“Uh, lemme just clear off my desk,” Cook said, relocating some books that had been stacked high on a small table in the corner. As he did so, David could hear the front door opening again, followed by Andrew racing down the stairs to greet his mother.

“All right, what’re we looking at today?” Cook asked, gesturing to David that he should go ahead and sit at the desk.

“Okay, we have an article to read about adoption in the United States,” David replied, pulling out his notebook and placing it on the desk. “Um, I think it covers a lot of demographic stuff, so we’re supposed to write a response about what we’ve read.”

“Cool,” Cook replied. He started to say something else but was immediately interrupted.

“David!” Mrs. Cook’s voice could be heard coming closer as she ascended the stairs.

“Yeah?” Cook called back. The door to Cook’s room had still been cracked open, and Mrs. Cook pushed it a little more in order to peek in.

“Oh! You have someone over!” she said upon seeing David there.

“This is David, Mom,” Cook introduced. “We’re working on a project together.”

“Nice to meet you, David,” Mrs. Cook said, smiling. She turned back to Cook. “Honey, I hate to interrupt you, but can you come help me real quick? It’ll just be a second. Sorry,” she added, apologetically.

“No problem,” Cook answered. “We haven’t even started yet.”

Mrs. Cook thanked him and immediately turned to go back down stairs.

“Be right back,” Cook assured David, his hand on the door. “Hey, you want something to drink or anything? I think we have Sprite. Or water, of course.”

“Um, yeah, Sprite’s good,” David replied. “Thank you.”

“No probs,” Cook answered, ducking out of the room. David listened as Cook thudded down the stairs again.

Once again David found himself idly looking around, taking in all the cluttery strangeness of Cook’s bedroom. He wasn’t used to walls being collaged to death by photographs and weird band-related logos and stuff like that. His mom would probably kill him if he tried that at home. He got up and took the few steps it required to go from one end of the room to the other, finally deciding to sit down on Cook’s unmade bed and wait.

For some reason David felt really awkward sitting alone in Cook’s room. Well, David felt really awkward pretty frequently, to be fair, but this was different. This was like, butterflies different. Almost like singing in front of church anxious, but still not quite that. He’d already embarrassed himself a few minutes ago about Cook’s dad situation, so he was scared he would say even more stupid things soon and Cook would be offended and automatically declare him not his friend anymore and he’d never be able to go back to school ever again and his parents would have to send him to his aunt’s in Florida.

Which kind of begged the question. Was David Cook his friend?

Really, they were just doing this stupid project together, and in two week’s time they’d turn in their essays and have no real reason to ever talk to one another again. Other than the time they spent with the sugar baby, their lives were worlds apart. This reality sinking in suddenly made David inexplicably sad.

“Hey, why the long face, Archie?”

Cook’s reappearance startled David enough that he clutched his chest.

“I, uh… nothing. Just thinking.”

“What about?” Cook asked, plopping himself onto the bed next to David and handing him the Sprite he’d promised. “Like nuclear war or something? Because you look devastated.”

Cook did his signature hair-flick thing and David thought he might throw up. He’d gotten along so well with Cook the last couple weeks that the thought that their friendship was probably on the downswing made every little quirk of Cook’s practically painful. He’d miss that, he realized, that hair-flip. And his stupid eyeliner and ripped jeans and that weird pink and blue stripe that went through the middle of his bangs (new since the day before). He still didn’t understand it, but he’d miss that too. And somehow, sitting there, he didn’t want to look at him anymore. Because every stupid inch of his stupid face just reminded him of the stupid reason they were even in the same stupid room together.

“I’m sorry,” David said shakily, suddenly getting to his feet. “I’m not… I think I need to go home.”

Cook cocked his head to one side, genuine concern overcoming him.

“You okay, buddy?” he asked. He flipped his hair again.

“I just… suddenly felt a little queasy, so… I’m sorry.”

“David.”

The latter half of the conversation had happened at David’s back because he’d already taken several steps towards Cook’s bedroom door. But at the sound of his name, at the sound of Cook calling him David instead of Archie, he’d frozen stiff with his hand lamely outstretched for the doorknob.

“David.”

Cook’s voice had lowered, but gotten closer. Rough, guitar-beaten fingertips touched his elbow, a feeling that was both pleasant and chilling at the same time. A warm brush of breath snuck across his cheek, and Cook had only returned to David’s vision for a second before his eyes suddenly closed. Closed, like a natural reflex or something. And a weird, soft, damp, tingling sensation met his lips, something he recognized as a kiss, but at the same time something he didn’t recognize at all. It didn’t last long enough for him to figure it out, and his eyes came open again to find two dark hazel ones looking back hopefully.

David had heard of time standing still, but never understood it until that very moment. This moment when he’d forgotten words, like language wasn’t even a thing, and Cook must have too, and maybe he was being a little dramatic, but everything in the whole dang world was just really, really beautiful at this exact point in time of the universe.

Hard knocking on the door made David nearly tumble over with fright into Cook’s arms.

“Dave!” Andrew was shouting as he pushed open the door. “Time for dinner. This kid staying?” He stared between his brother and David.

The half-cocky smile returned to Cook’s lips and he brushed his hair back, asking, “You wanna stay for dinner?”

All David could manage to do was nod.

~*~


On Saturday morning, David awoke feeling hungover, or at least how he imagined being hungover must’ve felt like. Blurry vision and a pounding head seemed like that fit the bill, in addition to being very disoriented to time and space.

David Cook had kissed him, he was pretty sure. But it had happened so quickly that maybe he had actually imagined it. Either way, the feeling lay heavily in his chest that he didn’t mind the idea, which somehow felt conflicting at the same time.

His mother must have noticed because she brought him an extra cup of hot chocolate after breakfast as he still sat there even after the rest of the family had abandoned the kitchen.

“You feeling okay, mijo?” Mrs. Archuleta asked, pushing the hot chocolate in front of her son.

“Yeah,” David said lamely, which was a lie of course. Mrs. Archuleta reached out to stroke his temple.

“You don’t have a temperature or anything,” she observed. “Is something bothering you? Is it school? Is it a girl?”

Gosh, if only it had been a girl. David hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about anyone romantically yet in his life, and now he was suddenly dealing with Cook apparently-maybe liking him and how he felt about that himself. It was terribly confusing.

Luckily, another thing came to mind that he had also been thinking about since the night before, distracting him from his complicated feelings towards Cook.

“Mama,” David asked, sipping his hot chocolate. “Are we rich?”

Mrs. Archuleta looked mildly surprised by this question.

“Well, not exactly,” she replied honestly, “but God has blessed us with many good things. Why?”

“I just, I went to Cook’s house last night,” David explained. “Their house is so small and I don’t think they have a lot. I… I don’t know. I felt bad.”

Mrs. Archuleta stroked her son’s shoulder, gently shaking her head. “You can’t feel badly about that, mijo,” she said. “The more important question is, are the Cooks happy?”

David had to think about this for a second. During the course of the evening David had observed many examples of how the Cook family struggled to get by, how their dishes were mismatched and that their car wasn’t exactly new. He’d also learned that Mrs. Cook relied on Cook a tremendous amount to do things for her as she was constantly busy with work and keeping little Andrew in line. But were the Cooks happy? Well, despite all the things David had observed, the family still joked with one another, teased and poked, made fun of themselves even. Cook didn’t seem bothered at all to have to help out a lot at home, even offered to do things without being asked. So David felt he probably did know the answer to that question.

“Yeah,” he answered quietly. “I think they are.”

Mrs. Archuleta was clearly happy to hear that. “Then don’t worry. I know we don’t always have the opportunity to interact with families like the Cooks,” she admitted, “but I’m glad you’re getting this chance now.”

David felt exactly the same way.

“Oh,” he said, remembering another thing he needed to ask her. “Can I get a ride to Cook’s later? I need to take Bo to him since we’ll be going to church early in the morning.”

“How about this,” Mrs. Archuleta proposed, cupping one of David’s hands. “You can borrow the car and drive yourself.”

David nearly spit hot chocolate all over the white linen table cloth.

“What?” he exclaimed, wiping his mouth.

“You have your license,” his mother explained. “Why not?”

“Yeah, but you never let me drive anywhere unless I’m also doing an errand or taking Jazzy to soccer practice or something,” David replied in amazement.

“I know,” Mrs. Archuleta said. “That’s why this is special.”

Sometimes David didn’t understand his mother, but he decided to go with it.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, leaning into her shoulder. “You’re the best.”


{{Keep going! Here's Part TWO}}

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