Plan C: Mawg Dilligs

by Driver

Chapter 3

It was another week before I got to see Aaron, and even then he wasn't in great condition. The flu bug had hit him hard. He was pale and tired looking when I saw him, and had little energy. Oddly, there had been no confirmed cases in Mt. Harman. Riverton, about thirty miles away, had been hit hard. Some schools had closed because so many teachers and students were out sick. A freshman girl at the university had died, as had a lot of other people.

It seemed to be an all-at-once thing, at least. The people who, like Aaron, had been sick were up and about again, even though they were drained of strength. New cases were rare.

Aaron's room, his whole house, smelled of confinement when Alton dropped me off. Mrs. Castle let me in when I knocked, and Aaron appeared right away. His face was pale, and that was about all I could see. He was wearing more than one sweater, old looking corduroy pants, slippers and a bathrobe.

Still, he managed a smile for me, and it was a little grin by the time I reached him for a kiss.

His mother said in parting, "Get dressed, Aaron. Take a shower. Evan didn't come all this way to see you looking like ... whatever that is."

I might have protested most times, but I didn't. Aaron looked so fragile and worn out that all I wanted to do was make him comfortable. We headed to his room while I fussed over him, then that smell hit me. It wasn't anything awful, just kind of old and stale ... the smell of illness. It was an Aaron aroma, but not his best effort. It was his sweating out the fever, taking his meals in bed, being sealed up in there for ten days, that's what it smelled like.

Aaron smelled like that, too, and when he offered to take a shower I didn't protest. I even offered to take one with him, and for the first time he declined, thinking it best that he check himself out first. Cooties, you know.

Well, talk about the caterpillar and the butterfly! Aaron morphed in the bathroom, and he must have boiled himself. He came back in just the robe and slippers, his face all pink and happy looking, and he flashed me briefly to prove his recovery.

"That felt really good," he said. He looked around and sniffed disapprovingly, "This room stinks!"

I said, "Let's wash the bed things, I'll help."

Aaron looked at me in horror, "Is it awful?"

I laughed, "Not that bad. Not for a scummy, scuzzy egg, anyhow."

Aaron smiled, "You remembered that? I don't even know why I said it!" He threw his arms around me and pulled me close, "I love you, Evan! I've missed you so much!"

I kissed him gently, then harder. "Tell me once," I said, and I pulled his hand to my crotch. "Tell me twice," and I put my hand on him there, "and tell me three times," and we were prone on the bed.

Sadly, the bed felt diseased enough that we made it up with clean sheets and the like. That little effort didn't stifle our mood one bit, and when everything was as clean as Aaron was, we made a pretty good show of our love.

That part hadn't changed. Laying there afterwards, we teased, laughed, and knew that we loved each other. It's a funny thing, love. Words won't do it justice, and common sense doesn't apply. I was a pretty big kid, athletic and strong and all that. Aaron wasn't frail, but he wasn't substantial, either. Still, in just a few summer days, we had found love between us, and that love wasn't some sudden flash that didn't last. No, it had grown, and continued to grow over time.

Being gay is kind of strange if you fall in love with someone. It's expected in the world that for every guy there's the 'right' girl, and vice-versa. I was just as in love as anybody could be. At least, I couldn't see how my feelings could have been stronger or more real, but it was with another boy, and we had absolutely zero to go by as far as reference points were concerned.

Right then it didn't matter, because we could always leave each other breathlessly happy, and the flu didn't change that.

Aaron felt better, actually, and suggested we get some guys together and go out for soft-shell and lobster rolls.

"Are you sure?" I asked. I was salivating, praying he felt good enough.

He moved as if to sock my stomach, "I'm all better now. I'm craving something besides soup, bread and crackers."

"Get warm," I said, "get dressed. You feel alright to go?"

Aaron smiled, "I'm okay for a while anyhow. Is it cold out?"

I said, "Not like it's been," and that was the truth. It was still winter, but the deep freeze seemed to be taking a break. There had been a solid month of single-digit temperatures during the day, and it had been below zero every night. Now it was high thirties, and it felt like a heat wave.

Aaron bundled up more than I did, and we headed down the street. He had called Billy and Huck, but they were both busy. It was the two of us, and that was fine. Aaron rarely put a hat on, but his mother had insisted, and he had a wool ski cap, pulled down over his ears, that did nothing for his looks. I didn't want him to get sick again, so I kept my mouth shut, but with wool instead of hair, and right down to his eyebrows, he didn't look like Aaron.

It didn't take long to get to Bill's Snack Bar. When we went inside, we both turned to the handwritten things above the counter to see what they had. I was hungry, so anything would sound good.

"Evan?" I heard from behind me, and turned to look. It was Arnie, seated there in a booth with a woman who looked older than him.

"Arnie!" I cried. "Wow, good to see you!"

He grinned, "You, too. This is Elise," he said, "Elise, this is Evan. I told you about him, right?"

She nodded, and it didn't take a genius to see that she'd been drinking. I knew by default that Arnie was always drinking, but he held it pretty well.

"Sit with us, Evan," Arnie said.

I nodded, "Let us get some food." I noticed that they didn't have theirs yet, either.

They had crabs that day, so we both ordered crab sandwiches and a single small order of fries to share. We got our drinks and went to sit with Arnie and Elise. I introduced Aaron, and Arnie remembered him anyhow. Elise just slid farther into the booth so I could sit.

Arnie smiled, "It's good to see you, Evan. You too, Aaron."

I said, "Good to see you, too. How's everyone? Are Shane and Eli still there?"

"Shane is. Eli headed south, at least for the winter. He might come back, but I doubt it."

Aaron asked, "Should I know Eli?"

I reminded him, and he did remember, he just had the name wrong.

Elise leaned forward and stared at Aaron for a moment, then looked at me, then at Arnie. She indicated Aaron with a twist of her head, and asked, "Where'd you find this fruit loop? I want to eat my food, not choke on it."

Oh, God! I looked at Arnie, then Aaron. Aaron looked like he might cry, but Arnie looked mad. He said to Elise, "Shut up, and I mean it!" He turned to me and said, "She's fucking drunk," then back at her. "I swear, bitch, you say one more word and you can go home hungry."

Elise made a hmmph noise and sat back, then she pointed at Aaron. "I know your type, pretty boy .."

Arnie hissed, "I told you .."

Elise sneered at him. "So you did! Well, I don't need you, Arnold!" she said Arnold sarcastically. She shoved me to get out, "Move it, kid! There's a smell of faggot in here!"

I almost fell getting out of her way, and Arnie shoved Aaron at the same time, so we were both standing when Arnie followed Elise to the door, pleading after her to be reasonable.

She faced him and asked, "What the fuck do I need this for?" She pointed at Aaron, "You think I can eat with a sperm drinker like him? I'm a woman!"

She whirled and marched unsteadily out the door, leaving us all stunned. She made woman rhyme with Roman, and that made her sound like Elmer Fudd, so it was suddenly funnier than the sum of the parts.

Arnie dropped some money on the counter and went out after her, and what he was really after was pretty clear by then.

Aaron laughed with me, but I could see that he felt bad at the same time, and I felt awful for him. There were other people in the place, and they'd witnessed the whole thing, so there was the one choice for us; stay or go.

Aaron finally said, "There's our food," so we went back to the booth. I felt awkward at first, but the sandwiches were a delicious treat, and soon enough they were the only things that mattered.

I kept finding Aaron's eyes while we ate, and I wondered if, or how much, it bothered him when he encountered people like Elise. I had my own feelings. Elise wasn't bad looking, but she clearly drank to excess. It was hardly late, just past seven, so it was like she spent the day drinking, not the night.

Still, Aaron had done nothing ... not a thing, and she'd still gone off the deep end, so I figured she wasn't worth worrying about. Arnie would probably get what he wanted, bring her where she wanted to go, then hope for better luck the next time. End of story.

Aaron wasn't dwelling on it, so I didn't either. The crabs were as good as I remembered, maybe even better that night. We hadn't over-ordered, and the amount of food was just right, and Aaron was really enjoying being out after all that time in bed.

I paid for the food when we were done, and we held hands on the way home. I was still ticked about Elise, and I asked, "Did Elise piss you off or what? What an idiot."

Aaron sighed, "I wasn't mad. Not really, but kind of disappointed. It does make me a little afraid. I don't mean her, especially, just that people like her are around. What if it was Arnie who thought like that? He could really hurt me."

Aaron was right, but he'd said that with some amusement in his voice. I said, "I don't think Arnie wants to hurt you. He looked like he might really smash Elise when he left."

Aaron giggled, "He doesn't want to smash her, he wants to pork her."

"Turn her into a pig?" I asked.

Aaron laughed, and it was good to hear, "Arnie missed his chance for that, Ev ... a long time ago!"

I had to think, then I came up with a real belly laugh, one that lasted all the way to Aaron's house. When we were climbing the steps I asked, "You're all better?"

"I am now," Aaron said sincerely.

"How do you deal with people like Elise?" I asked. "She had no right."

Aaron opened the door and I followed him in. "She has every right, Ev," he said gently. "She's a bimbo and her life won't go anywhere. If I give her something to look down on, then ..." he grinned, "then I'm providing like a public service, right?"

I laughed and hugged him, "Only you, Aaron! Tell me you're tired."

"I'm tired," he said innocently, probably thinking I asked because he was acting oddly.

"Great! Let's hurry to bed!" I cried, but I had better things in mind.

* * * * * * * *

I heard the alarm when it went off in the morning, and I heard Aaron slap it off, then I was fast asleep again until Justin called through the door, "You guys up?"

I opened my eyes, and Aaron was already sitting up with his feet over the side of the bed, and he was rubbing his eyes. He smiled when he noticed me, and said, "We're getting there, Jus. Come on in."

I looked at the clock and it was just after eight, so it wasn't like we really slept late. Justin hadn't combed his hair, and he was wearing just gray sweat pants and an undershirt. He smiled, "We're going to the movies later if you want to join us. I don't know what's playing, so don't ask. We're just going," he smiled hesitantly, "um, right after I get my ear pierced."

Aaron's eyes went wide, "Really?" His excitement was funny, and he squirmed, "Dad said okay? Can I, too?"

I just watched. Justin grinned, "Mom said it was okay. Then Dad just gave up. They're all worn down, brud. Make your play."

He turned and left, and Aaron felt his ear, like something was about to happen to it. "Would you like it, Evan? I mean, if I got it pierced?"

I smiled. Aaron could hang a truck off his ear and I'd like it, because he'd figure out a way to do it with style. Piercing wasn't for me, but it looked okay on some people, kind of stupid on others. Aaron and Justin looked a lot alike, but I could picture Justin better with a thin ring, and Aaron needed something shinier, like a little jeweled stud. I said, "Get something neat, Aar, like a diamond stud or something."

He looked at me like he was thinking, then he smiled, "Earth to Evan! A diamond? Like sure, I can afford a diamond. Why don't I just get two or ten of them?"

I conceded, "Well, yeah, there's that. It doesn't have to be real does it? How about that cubic zirconium or whatever it is? It looks like diamond, and it doesn't cost much at all."

Aaron nodded absently, but he had this fixed smile on his lips, like a pierced ear was something he'd waited on for a long time.

We got cleaned up and dressed, then went downstairs for breakfast. There was nothing waiting for us except coffee, so we had some of that, and Aaron made toast while I found some raisin bran.

Halfway through my meal, Aaron got up to do something and noticed a note. "Call Chris, Evan. He called last night," he said as he handed me the note.

I nodded and left the note in front of me, then when we had cleaned up I called, but Chris was out by then, so I left a message.

We walked up to Billy's house. His father answered, and seemed pleased to see us. "Billy!" he called. "Aaron's here, and Evan's with him!"

"Coming," we heard from afar, but Dean showed up almost immediately, and he was all smiles.

"Jesus, Castle. When you get sick, you get sick! You okay now? Ready to sing?"

Dean was enthusiastic sounding, and that perked Aaron up. He grinned, "I think so, I haven't tried singing." Then his look changed, "Why? How long were you sick?"

Dean said, "I was down for the count, but only for three days." He grinned, "Hi, Evan! Sorry."

I just smiled and said hello, then Billy burst into the room. He was beaming, and cried, "Grins!" He kept coming and fell right into me, hugging me briefly. He pulled back, his face a huge smile, "You look great, man!"

I said, "That's one of the benefits of good health. You look good for someone who had the flu bug."

Billy snickered, "Yeah, it doesn't bother me like it does some people." He grinned, "Jeez, it's been awhile, huh? How's everything?"

We sat in the living room and talked for a long time . The television was on with cartoons, and Dean brought us all glasses of chocolate milk. It reminded me of when I was little, when I'd watch 'cartoonies' and drink 'chocolate moo-moo'.

We talked about a lot; Christmas and the things we'd given and received, driving school, which Billy was about to start, the weather, school, and we talked about my own situation and what was happening with Lee Erasmus. I'd talked about him with Aaron over the phone, but I wanted Billy's views too, so I started again.

"I met him, Bill. A few of us went out to eat so I could meet him, and guess what? I liked the kid. He's bright, and he seemed honest, and the big thing is that he doesn't want to murder me."

"So what was the deal?" Billy asked. "He kind of tried to kill you, didn't he? Like twice at least?" He smiled and shook his head, and he looked at Aaron, "What about this guy?"

Aaron shrugged and asked, "Which one?" He got a sly look, "Evan says Lee is cute, so I automatically like him."

Billy blushed, and I think I did too. Billy looked up, "Okaaaay ... moving right along ... well, let's not change subjects yet." He looked at me seriously and asked, "Listen, how do you know you can trust this Lee guy? I don't think you should just automatically trust him because he's fuckin' cute. You're smarter than that, Evan. Tell me you're smarter than that!"

I sighed, "It's not that, Bill. I just got this feeling that he was being honest with me. He's the guy with the messed up life, not me. And his father was the one who couldn't get past what happened to Lee. Lee seems to be trying hard to keep it separate ... like it happened, but he didn't make it happen, so it's just a bad thing in his life." I caught Billy's stare and added, "Anyhow, it's not like we're trying to be buddies or anything. We talked the one time, and now we know each other. He shows up to play hockey sometimes, and that's it."

Billy looked at me and said softly, "Watch your back anyhow, Evan. You're probably right, but I wouldn't personally trust the guy too easily."

I looked dumbly at Billy while that sunk in, and he was right. I liked Lee Erasmus when I met him, and it was my tendency to trust people I liked. Lee was also one of two people who had tried to kill me, and I could see that I was being foolish to trust him just because he seemed like a nice guy. He wouldn't have a way to get to me if he hadn't been nice, because then I wouldn't let him near.

"You're right, Bill, "I mumbled. I looked at him, "I don't like not trusting people, but you're still right. I have to be more careful."

I held my look on Billy until he smiled at me. We didn't get a lot of time together, but he kept finding ways to remind me what a good friend he'd become. He had my back now, as well as Aaron's, and he did a bang-up job guarding it.

Dean had to do something else, but Billy was happy to join us for shopping and a movie, and we walked back to Aaron's house together when it was time to meet Justin.

Justin was funny. He's a big guy, very strong, and presumably pretty tough. Yet as we headed out to pick up his girlfriend, he said, "I'm scared. This is gonna hurt!" Ear piercing apparently sounded better in his abstract future than when he was actually on the way to have it done.

Aaron giggled, "Scream right when they do it, Jus. It won't hurt so much then."

Justin snickered, "I'll scream if you do."

Aaron cocked his head, "What do you mean?"

Justin smiled, "You may as well get yours done, too. As long as we're there, I mean."

Aaron pouted, "Sure, except I don't have permission." He looked up suddenly, "Do I? Do I?"

Justin grinned and nodded, and Aaron started wiggling with glee. "Did you hear that?" he asked nobody in particular. "I'm going to have my ear pierced! Oh man," his voice got shaky, "now I'm scared!" He felt his ear with his hand, "Ooh, I'm so going to love it!"

Billy was riding up front, since we hadn't picked up Cindy yet, and he pulled down his visor and looked in the mirror, fingering his own ear. "I don't know, maybe I should too." He looked back at me over the seat, "Come on, Evan. Let's all do it!"

I said, "Uh uh, not me. Not until I get my license anyhow, maybe after that."

Aaron took my hand, "Come on, Evan. We can get something that matches."

Billy groaned and turned around, not ready to hear about Aaron and I matching. I liked the idea, but said, "Aaron, when I can get an earring, I'll get one to match yours. I just don't think it's a good idea right now, and I haven't asked anyhow."

Justin said happily, "Never mind, Billy will get something to match you, Aaron. Right, Bill?"

We were pulling into Cindy's driveway right then, so Billy didn't get a chance to answer Justin, but as soon as Justin got out Aaron asked him again. "Would you, Bill? That would be so cool. Maybe Huck and Chris could get ones, too, then we could all match!"

Billy grumbled like an old man, then said hesitantly, "Wellll ... allllll right then. Maybe one would be okay, but I'm not gonna go around looking like John Balls, you got that?"

I laughed, "If that kid gets near enough to a big magnet, it's gonna rip his head right off!"

We all laughed, and Billy got in back with us when Justin came back with Cindy. She was friendly with us, but mostly tied Justin up with chatter until we got downtown. The place we were going to was called 'The Blue Streak' and it was kind of a head shop, and probably wouldn't have been my first choice if it was me who was going to get an ear pierced. The inside was, as suggested by the name, mostly blue, and the shelving was all glass and chrome. There were strobe lights enough to make anyone jittery, if not actually disoriented. It was loud in there too, with techno coming from hidden speakers.

It was a good place to look for a poster or maybe some incense, and they had plenty of that to offer. I just wasn't sure I could aim a sandwich at my own mouth in there, much less perforate some tiny little spot on an earlobe.

There was a slick looking black girl working, dressed in a tight black top that had silvery things dangling from the sleeves. She was wearing black pants that looked like they were painted on, and she had the shape to carry it off.

Justin announced that he was there to get his ear pierced, and she led us to a display of 'starter' things. It wasn't a bad deal, really. The regular price was ten bucks, and that included the piercing, a cleaning kit, and one of several earrings and studs. According to the sign, it was all thirty percent off, so seven dollars.

There were, of course, many cases of other things you could stick through your body if you were so minded. I poked around looking at that while they crowded the starter display, and some things were pretty nice. I saw a little diamond stud like I'd envisioned for Aaron, and it wasn't that expensive. I didn't want to buy it in front of him, and there were plenty of places in Mt. Harman that sold the same type things. I'd get him one for a surprise.

Meanwhile, Aaron was picking things out for them with Cindy's eager assistance. They did well, too, I thought. The little studs they picked out were all the same shape, just a tiny ball, but Justin got one that was a shiny black onyx, Aaron got titanium, and Billy's was gold.

When they were decided, a little detail popped up that nobody had thought of. Somebody eighteen had to sign for permission. Justin's birthday wasn't for another month. The store wouldn't accept a phone verification, only a signature. They were bemoaning loudly that they didn't know where their parents were, and the girl said, "Oh, it doesn't have to be your family. Anyone who's eighteen or older can sign."

I smiled, thinking it probably took an entire legislature and the governor to come up with that one. Still, they all decided at once that all they had to do was hang around in front of the store for a few minutes, and somebody they knew who was of age was sure to come by.

It was funny. It also gave me barely enough time to buy that diamond stud for Aaron before they came back in with a friend of Justin's who could produce an ID card.

Then it was time for the actual piercings, and Justin went first. He sat on a stool and the sales girl aimed a big light at the side of his head. Then she took what looked remarkably like a blunt, felt-tipped pen and, while Justin squeezed his eyes shut and tensed visibly, put it to his ear. She put the thing down, then held a mirror up for him to see. Justin, thinking he hadn't really felt a thing, looked happily surprised and relieved, until he realized that it had been a pen, and she'd just put a dot on his earlobe so he could approve where the real hole would go.

He nodded unhappily, then she took a different device that made the hole and inserted his stud in one quick motion. He jumped a tiny bit, but came up smiling when he realized it was all over.

I was cracking up, and Justin did too when it was Aaron's turn, then we all did when Billy sat on the stool. I somehow knew that I'd have a big audience if I ever did that, but it was over soon enough, and we headed over to the theater.

I'd always been kind of oblivious to minor ear piercing, but where it involved Aaron I found it fascinating. That tiny little stud wasn't quite like a new shirt. It was more permanent, more a part of him, and I had to and wanted to get used to it. I kept touching it in the car, feeling the change it made in him, and I really liked it.

I liked Billy's gold one, too, and it was the right color for him. Aaron and Cindy did well. He looked a lot like Justin, but the black stud suited Justin while the silver one was right for Aaron.

I felt weird for even thinking about it, because I was about as style conscious as a camel. I knew good when I saw it though, and they all looked good.

We had to pick out a movie when we got to the theater, and the only one that appealed to a majority was 'Daredevil', so that's what we went to see. I'd been to that theater complex a few times, and I really liked it. There were ten screens, and they all had what they called stadium seating. What that meant, basically, was that unless the guy in front of you was ten feet tall, you'd be able to see over his head. It also meant, that seated in the middle of the theater, you'd be looking straight at the screen. Not up at it, not down at it, but it would be right there. The seats were good and they had cup holders, too, so we settled in with giant sodas and a few tubs of popcorn with free refills.

I knew that Aaron and Billy got into movies more than I did, but Justin did, too. I loved being there with Aaron, but it was the exact kind of movie that cried out to be watched with Shane. I managed a chuckle a few times when I imagined Shane's reaction ... when he'd be gripping my arm, when he'd cry, "He's blind?" when he'd stand bolt upright and yell, "Jesus Fucking Christ!"

It was funny thinking about it. When the movie made the second-run theater, I thought I might go again with Shane. It would be the better deal for sure. Admission was cheaper, popcorn was way cheaper, and it was the exact same movie. With Shane there, I'd know that all the parts were good parts, too. You couldn't waste money on any film if you saw it with him. Even if it was a groaner, you'd have the time of your life groaning with Shane.

It was fun with Aaron, too. He did things that Shane never once did, like drop his jacket in my lap so he could slip his hand under it and stroke my dick while the movie played. That certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the afternoon, if not the movie. After a while, I took his wrist to make him stop. I had lost the gist of the movie completely, of course, but that wasn't the entire problem. Aaron got me close, and I had no real desire to see if I could write backwards and inside-out on my pants like he could. No, that sort of thing was fine in the summer, but mid-winter begged for more decorum. That's how I thought of it anyhow.

When the movie ended and we walked outside, nobody said anything about the show, which didn't surprise me. I was usually like that unless I'd just seen something that blew me out of my seat. The movie we'd just seen was fine, but it didn't leave much to talk about. I'm sure Shane would have had a lot to say.

Back in the light of day, I found myself checking out everyone's ears all over again, especially Aaron's. I'd always been kind of ambivalent about earrings on guys. Some guys could pull it off better than others, but in general I didn't see what it was supposed to do for your looks. I didn't dislike them at all, but I never thought they were for me either.

Seeing Aaron with one, I wasn't so sure any more. That little stud looked really nice on him. Justin's looked fine, too, as did Billy's. I knew I'd have to think before I ever got one for myself, and I felt a little foolish about the diamond stud that I'd bought for Aaron. It wasn't big enough to cause a commotion, but it was still ornate and very, very shiny. I smiled anyhow, thinking he could either save it for special occasions, or he could give it to Cindy for the heck of it.

I was the judge of the day, anyhow. The guys noticed me looking at their ears, and they asked my opinion, and I gave flattering ones, especially to Billy, who just got caught up in things when he had it done, and was having second thoughts.

I think they were still feeling lingering effects from the flu. Billy, Justin and Cindy seemed a little off, and Aaron looked pale and tired again. Everyone felt it, and Justin dropped Bill at his house and, after goodbyes, he dropped us off at their house, then went to take Cindy home.

Aaron, of course, had to show his parents his ear decoration, and they seemed to like it. We said we were going to lay down, but I had another message to call Chris. I carried a cordless phone into Aaron's room and dialed Chris while Aaron stretched out on the bed. I sat and held his hand, and ended up leaving another message for Chris because nobody answered.

I put the phone down and laid beside Aaron, giving him a kiss on the cheek, then on the mouth. He smiled, "Do you really like this in my ear?" he asked while fingering the stud.

"Yeah," I nodded. "I think it looks great on you."

He smiled, "Thanks. You never talk about clothes or style much."

I chuckled, "I'm not qualified. If there were no fads, I'd be dead meat."

Aaron's mouth turned up into a little grin, and he said, "You're really that hopeless? Never mind then, I'll watch over you."

"That's why I love you. Well, it's one reason. I like being watched over by you."

"Even in a fashion sense?"

I giggled, "That's what I usually need most, so yeah. I like it when you just plain-old watch over me, too. I like that you care so much."

He made a funny little smile, "I don't look after you, Ev. Not that way!"

I said, "Oh, but you do! You're always there, Aaron, at least when something important happens. There's a long, long list." I propped up on my elbow, "Want to hear it?"

He smiled, "Okay, I can't wait."

"Alright, here goes. Don't talk 'til I get to the end, okay?"

"Heh, okay."

"Okay. Who was there when I first got feelings for a new boy? Who was there for my first date with that boy? Who was there for our first kiss, the first time we held hands? Who was there when I had my first crab sandwich, my first blow job?"

Aaron giggled, "Crab sandwiches and blow jobs go in the same sentence?"

I poked him, "That was a question, not a sentence, and I'm sorry. You weren't supposed to interrupt."


I snickered, "It's okay. Who was there the first time I told somebody I loved him? Who was there to sleep on when I got hurt?" I smiled, "You say you don't look after me, Aaron, but I say you're my main man! There's more, lots more, but you get the idea." I kissed him on the nose, "I love you Aaron, and you're always there when I need you most. You're incredible."

Aaron's eyes got wet and he smiled with a quivering lip. "Thanks, Ev, and because I know you mean it."

"I do mean it, Aaron."

He smiled, "And you'll never know what it means to me when you say that. I've always been ... I don't know, the sissy, the girly-boy, and nobody ever took me seriously." His smile brightened, "Not before you. If I'm there for you, it's because I love being with you so much."

I kissed him again and said, "I know you understand. It's hard to say, but you know already so I don't have to say. I love you, Aaron, more than anything."

That brought on a long, happy kiss. We dozed off to it, happy in our confidence and confident in our happiness. I didn't try to flatter Aaron. My feelings toward him were too real to need embellishment. He was a lot of things to me, and we loved each other for sure, but I felt that I got the best of the deal. Aaron set me free, at least in my own mind. Before I knew him, being gay had been a given, but still kind of abstract because I didn't have any real way to do anything with it, no focus.

Meeting Aaron had brought the barriers down with a crash, thrown my switch to 'permanently on'. It was Aaron who made me feel right about being gay, and I loved him for that. I loved him for lots of reasons, but really because of who he was. Before I met him, being gay was kind of weird, and for a lot of reasons. I had Chris, and he let me fool around, but it would never go beyond that with him. What I was missing was the whole concept of loving, particularly loving another guy.

That's where Aaron was my anchor, because there was no way that I couldn't love him. It was amusing, I suppose. We weren't alike in some ways, but he still tripped my wires. It's hard to think about without coming up with cliches. Aaron had traits, and they were less than masculine in the common expectation. Still, he was a guy like any other in most ways. He was also a goof, and everyone loved that part of him.

In my case, Aaron was there, and I emphasize that because it meant so much to me. Lots of people were there, important and influential to me, but Aaron was there, like a real presence to guide and accept me.

For the most part, I had always lived in a kind of steady-state. I was nothing if not compliant, and I got along like that.

Still, there were times when I'd rather stand than sit, rather run than walk, rather sing than talk. That was my own nature, and it had always found its way out, but with Aaron I found myself almost stifling it because it was always out. He helped me more to be Evan, to be myself, than I ever imagined possible, and I knew I did the same for him. We could both be gay kids, and be happy that we were instead of all guarded and afraid of it.

We were born to good fortune in that way, because we had family acceptance to start with. Beyond that, we had big, strong friends, and I was kind of big and strong myself.

When it was just Chris and me who knew my gayness, it was this wild, scary unknown to me. I'm serious, it was an abyss I was afraid to fall into, a bridge I couldn't cross.

Then there was Aaron, and there was a really good reason to cross that bridge. Gay like me, and I knew it before I met him. And oh, was he pretty! And sexy! And way different than anyone I ever met before, and he had that voice! Oh man, he could fascinate me just talking, hypnotize me when he hummed ... and when he sang! His voice was so perfect! Pure, but complicated at the same time, and he mesmerized everyone who heard him. I was as totally in love as a person could get.

* * * * * * * *

"Evan," I heard. "Evan, what are you doing? You're humping me!"

I only came half-to. "Huh? Wha ..?"

Aaron's voice sounded amused, "You were humping on me. Are you trying to tell me something?"

I grunted and sunk my face in the pillow, "Mmmmph. Don't wake me up with two part questions, okay?" Aaron shifted, like he was in a snit. I said, "If I was humping you, it was in my sleep! Jesus, man! You hump me and I don't make a big deal out of it!"

Aaron snickered, "Uh oh, watch out! Evan's all cranky now."

It was time to get up. I lifted my head and said, "I am not cranky, Aaron. And I'm sorry if I humped you, but if it advances my cause any, you're the only person on this whole planet that I'd even consider humping."

Aaron sighed happily, and wiggled his butt back into me. It felt really good, too. All parts of Aaron felt good, but he didn't have many that were naturally padded, so we often cuddled up like we were then. "I wasn't complaining," he mumbled.

"What time is it?" I asked. "It's still light out."

"Four," Aaron replied. "I just needed a nap, not to sleep all night. I feel better now."

I sat up and rubbed my eyes, stretching afterwards. I yawned, "That's good." I noticed the stud in his ear and whispered, "I got you something. Don't move."

I picked up my pants from the floor and got the little box from the pocket. "It's not wrapped," I said as I held it out. "I hope you like it."

Aaron's eyes went wide, as did his mouth. He is one of the absolute best gift recipients I've ever heard of. He's in love with the idea of getting presents, and he would express happy surprise if he unwrapped new socks, maybe even old socks. When it was something nice, though, it was like another sun came out, and the awed, happy noises that he made were priceless.

I didn't know what to expect from the little thing I bought that day, but back when he unwrapped the reproduction of 'Chrysanthemums' that I got him for Christmas, he put on a show that eventually got everyone else laughing.

Still, just in anticipation, he sat there clapping silently, but excitedly. He took the box and opened it, then his jaw dropped and he pulled out the contents. I'll spare most of the dramatics, but it was another good show.

"Bling!" Aaron leapt off the bed and stood in front of the mirror for a second, then he ran to look for something, which turned out to be the instructions on his piercing. He read them furiously, then went back to the mirror and held the new stud beside the one already in his ear. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet, and he said, "I can't put it in yet, I have to keep this one in for twenty four hours. COME LOOK! This is awesome, Evan! Hold it for me so I can see?"

I did. I took it from him, then looked at where to hold it, and did the best I could to get an angle that would look close to what the end result would be.

Aaron was beaming when I glanced in the mirror, then I jerked my head back to look at the two of us.

This was a spontaneous moment. It showed in our mussy hair and our disheveled clothes. I sometimes felt strange looking at pictures of myself, and I'm not sure why. Well, some were crummy pictures, but even good ones unsettled me somehow. That had changed when I met Aaron, and I loved every picture that had the two of us together. The way we were together sometimes showed in a picture, and I liked when that happened.

The mirror, though, that was a reflection of the here and now, and I watched Aaron's eyes as he moved his head around for the best view. Suddenly, he noticed my eyes following his, and we both fixed our gazes on each other. I was behind Aaron, with one arm draped around to his front, and the other holding the jewel to his ear. Aaron was just barely shorter than me, but I was way heavier than he was. I didn't have any fat, but everything about me was bigger than him. My shoulders were wider and heavier looking, as were my arms, my chest ... everything.

I smiled at him in the mirror, and the smile was one of wonder that the two of us could find love with each other.

I put the little diamond down on the dresser and kissed Aaron's hair, not taking my eyes off the mirror. I said, "I like this picture, Aaron. I think we look good together, don't you?"

His smile said enough, but he added, "It's wonderful, Evan." He leaned back into me, "I can't believe it sometimes, but here we are."

"And here we'll stay," I said. "I love you, Aaron." I snickered, "I'm so much bigger, I feel like I should be protecting you, but you do all the protecting."

Aaron shook his head, "I don't protect you," he said quietly. "I can't protect anyone. I do look out for you, though, and I worry about you." He leaned fully into me, "We can't protect each other, Evan, not all the time anyhow. I'm okay anyhow, at least most of the time." He gulped, "There's always gonna be ..." and he stopped. He broke away and turned to look at me, "We're big boys, Ev. There's danger for guys like us, so it's our job to avoid it when we can." He looked at me sternly and put a finger almost to my nose, "You're the one who needs to be careful, Evan. I know what you told me about Lee, but you should still watch out for that kid."

I closed my eyes for a second, then said, "I know. I'm being careful. It's just ..."

Aaron took my hand and turned around, pulling me away gently. "I know what you mean, and I know how you feel. If I can be blunt, I don't think you should trust that guy like you do, Evan. You have his story about that night, but he was there, and they tried to kill you." His gaze leveled on my eyes, and he said steadily, "I saw you that night." He blinked and wiped his eyes, then went on, "I never ... Oh Evan, I've been pushed around, teased, made fun of. I was never, ever made to bleed like you did." His look warmed, "I never thought I'd see you hurt like that. I still cringe when I think about it." He looked away, then back, "I don't know what to say, Evan. You trust people, and I want you to, but this kid tried to kill you." He made a funny expression, "Can't I not like him because of that?"

I looked at Aaron and said, "Whatever. Come here," and he snuggled up to me. I stroked his arm, "I don't know either, Aar. I'm not on some quest to make friends with Lee, but I'm not afraid of him, and I figure I'm going to see him around. He plays hockey sometimes, and I see him just skating. He has a life, and we have a few friends in common, and that's it. I am being wary of him, and I don't like being nervous of someone. I never really thought I'd have to, but live and learn."

"Live and learn," Aaron repeated. "What should we do tonight?"

"What do you want to do," I asked.

"I wouldn't mind just staying here and talking. I was in bed for two weeks, but you had a life while I was down."

I was going to say something when Aaron's mother knocked on the door, "Telephone, dear!"

"Coming," Aaron said as he hurried out to get it.

I straightened myself out, combed my hair, then fixed the bed while he was out. He came back smiling and humming.

"What's up?" I asked. "Good news?"

He nodded eagerly, "Yeah. I missed an audition for a summer play when I was sick, but I'm getting another chance."

"Wow," I said. "They must really want you."

Aaron giggled, "I wish. They had to postpone the tryouts because so many people were sick. I really want to get in this one. It's a musical, and I'd get paid and everything. It's like a summer job."

I put my hand on his shoulder, "You'll get it. What's the play?"

"Guys and Dolls, it's a revival." He shuddered, "I don't know, it's eight shows a week. It won't leave time for anything else."

I watched Aaron's nervousness and asked, "You're not worried about me, are you? If you are, don't. If it's what you want, it's what I want for you." I grinned, "Dearie!"

Aaron instantly barked out an uncharacteristic laugh. "What? What? You called me dearie?"

I think I blushed. I didn't know why I said that, it just came out of the blue to me. Sweet talk and pet names weren't my thing at all, but dearie so fit Aaron that it had to stick. I smiled, "You don't like it? It's so you, Aaron!"

He nodded eagerly, "I know, I love it! I just never thought I'd hear something like that from you. Oh, God! Now I have to think of one for you."

"Don't," I suggested.

"Ooooooh," he sighed, stroking his chin, then he sat up, "I've got it! Sweetheart! No, no, no, that totally bites. I know, I know, honeybunch!"

"Don't you dare," I growled.

"Okay, okay ... Angel! That could be a name!"

"Yeah, one uttered by dead people. Don't do it, Aaron. Please?"

He sat back and looked at me guiltily. "Okay, sorry."

"I'm Evan. I like being Evan, alright?"

He nodded, and I thought we were done. After a minute of silence, where I'd turned my attention to other thoughts, he piped up, "Sweets! Oh no, oh God! That's too hard to say with Smiley. Heh, Thweeth Thmiley. What if I had a lithp?"

I looked at him. "I don't need a new name, Aaron. Can you thay Cathtle?"


"Aaron Cathtle?"

"Aaron Cathtle."

"Lithping ith hard to thtop onth you thtart."

"Yeth. It thure ith."

I had tears coming from my eyes. "We need to uthe wordth with no etheth."

"No etheth."

"Like men, not boyth, becauthe boyth hath an eth."

"Men, then. That'th eathy enough."

I was wheezing, "No. Men. No problem!"

Aaron gave me an utterly innocent look and asked, "Do men talk like thith?"

"Yeth, of courthe. All the time."

Aaron was laughing hard but quietly. He said, "I can do better and avoid that letter altogether. How am I doing?"

"Tho far, tho good!"

He pointed at me, "You will die, you know. With a dick in your mouth, you wouldn't have that impediment anyhow."

"Really?" I asked. "Whothe?"

He was giving me a look that answered me, and was already unzipping his pants. It turned out that he was entirely correct, too. No impediment at all.

* * * * * * * *

Justin was at Cindy's, so Aaron and I ate with his parents. It was a simple meal of salad, yummy meatloaf and baked potatoes. They had all just recovered from the flu, so they were quieter than usual. They were tired, and I volunteered to clean up, which Aaron's folks appreciated. Aaron sat and watched. I'd managed to call him 'Dearie' enough times that his parents got the point. His mother called it charming, and his dad groaned, but he was now Aaron Dearie, and it was better than Castle because it had no etheth.

Afterwards, Aaron and I sat in the living room watching a video. It was an old movie, "Cliffhanger", and it was exciting enough that we both almost went through the ceiling when the phone rang.

It was Chris. "Hey, man. I thought we'd never catch up," he said by way of greeting me.

"We're just watching a movie," I said. "What's up?"

"Um ... I'm not sure, Ev. You tell me. I saw John last night in the mall, and he has the idea that you're hitting on him."

I held the phone out and looked at it in amazement, then put it back to my ear. "What?"

"That's what I said. Get this, he says there's 'sexual innuendo' every time he's around you. Innuendo? Did you ever hear him say a word like innuendo?"

"No, not hardly," I muttered while I tried to think. "We're talking about John Berman here, right? I know he's paranoid, but he's fucking psycho if he thinks I'm hitting on him. And when was this supposed to happen? I haven't been alone with him ... ever!"

Chris said, "Hey, calm down. I didn't say I believe him, I just wanted you to know what he's saying."

I didn't know what to think. "Who's he saying it to?"

"I don't know, Evie, maybe just me. He said he wouldn't tell anyone that you're gay, and as far as I can tell he's been good about that. Maybe he's dreaming it up. Maybe it's another way somebody can be after him. I didn't want to get you worried, but I know you. If you have time to think about it then it won't be so bad. How's Aaron, anyhow?"

"Thanks, Chris. Aaron's a little shaky, but he's good. This is his first whole day out of bed since he got sick. He got his ear pierced."

Chris snickered, "Oh, the fever really got to him."

"I guess. Justin and Billy both did it, too."

"Uh oh," Chris said. "Did you get your ear pierced?"

"No, not yet. I mean, I wouldn't mind. Until I get that license to drive, I'm not doing anything to make Dad change his mind."

Chris said, "I know, I can't wait. Three more weeks, man!"

Oh, Lord. From where I was sitting, that three weeks looked like three years. It was three weeks, though. Three measly weeks to a life of freedom. Even my father said I was a good driver. My brother had taken me out on the road, as had my mother and father. I switched fathers with Chris one day just for perspective, and all I can say about that is that my father is a much more aggressive driver.

"Soon, Chris," I said. "Very soon."

I shouldn't say things like that to him, I really shouldn't. Chris was impatient to the max, and when someone tells him that a long time is soon, he does something like singing. He came back with "Ready? Okay, RoyAL," he sang loudly.

I knew my part and sang, "Pudding!" and together we went, "Rich, rich, rich in flavor! Strong in value, too!" and we started laughing.

For some reason or another, the Humphrey family owned a video of ancient television commercials, and the Royal Pudding one was on it. For no good reason it was hilarious to me and Chris. Lots of them were funny, but not many had parts you could sing.

We had our days, and sometimes, when there was pudding in the cafeteria, we'd sing that song there for everyone, and loudly. Even a Jell-o day took a turn when we tested the theory of 'if it doesn't jiggle, it's not Jell-o' and I had jiggled a little square of jell-o in its dish until it took off across the table. With my luck, it landed in the lap of this girl, Sandra. She was probably the only girl in school that day wearing a skirt, but she was, and it was white. She was furious, and frantically tried to pick up the squiggling square of red jell-o, which wasn't easy.

When she had a steady hand on it, she threw it at my face, but it flopped right over my head and hit some girl behind me in the back.

Girl fights are not pretty things, so I won't go there, but it was one of those days that helps to make life interesting. And funny.

I laughed with Chris for awhile, and he made me feel good like he always did.

When we hung up, I turned to Aaron, who looked tired but pretty. I asked, "You okay?"

He smiled, "You laugh with Chris. I like that. You sing, too, and you don't do that with me." He gave me an inquisitive look, "Teach me that song? It was funny!"

I grinned, "It's a food commercial, Aar. RoyAL!"

"RoyAL!" Aaron sang.

"Pudding." I sang that, then laughed, "This is silly. It was an old commercial from who knows when!"

Aaron didn't care, and he learned it in one try, then we watched the rest of the movie before going to bed fairly early.

* * * * * * * *

I got a call the next morning from my father. He had never called me at Aaron's before, and he sounded pretty excited. "I found a car for you to look at, Evan," he said after we exchanged pleasantries.

That was the magic word as far as I was concerned. "Really? What car? Where is it?"

He chuckled and said, "Right up the street. Dave McNair is selling his Acura. Let me read off the features."

I listened closely, and each of my hot buttons got pressed in turn. Sun roof, cd player, power everything, and it was blue, and I loved blue cars. He said other things, like the car had really low mileage, was in top condition, and that all sounded good too. It was just under the five thousand I thought I could pay, and Dad said it was a steal at that price.

He wanted me to get a solid, reliable car, and that was fair enough for a father to want. "It's a good car, Evan, and very sporty, too. I'm pretty sure you'll like it."

I grinned, "I already do. Can we see it when I get home?"

"Sure. If I pick you up an hour early, you can even see it in the daylight. It's a good looking car, Evan. I don't know where you'll find a better deal."

I didn't have to think long before agreeing to an hour less with Aaron. It was, after all, for the purpose of a car, a good looking car that I'd like, that was a great deal I could afford, and it was a blue car!

Aaron was as excited as me when I told him, and his father seemed really interested, too. He said, "Those Integras from the mid-nineties, they're like the '57 Chevies of today, guys."

That drew blank looks from us, so he explained the popularity of those particular Cheverolets with teenagers when he was a kid. They didn't cost very much, were good looking and dependable, and their popularity led to a big aftermarket for parts to make your car your own. I couldn't picture in my own mind what an Acura looked like, so we ended up looking on the Internet, which led to a few calls home to determine the exact model.

By the time we found the particular car, I was all worked up. I loved it! I loved everything about it! Aaron loved it, too, and if he hadn't missed so much school already, he'd be missing another day so he could go with me.

It was an unusual feeling for me to be with Aaron and hoping to be somewhere else. I couldn't help it, though. I was excited like I hadn't been in a long time. I was usually pining to get with Aaron, and I certainly didn't want to leave. I just wanted to see that car so badly I could taste it.

We couldn't even spend our time very productively, because Aaron had to work hard to keep me there on earth with him. He said he thought it was funny, and it probably was, but after two weeks apart it hardly seemed right for me to be chomping at the bit to go home.

I was though, and my excitement had everyone amused. Aaron's father finally suggested that, before I had a heart attack and died, maybe we should all go and have a look at the car.

"Yes!" I cried! I called my house and told them we were on the way there, and in twenty minutes we were actually on the way.

Mr. Castle didn't like the road to Mt. Harman any more than anyone else did. He kept us amused with a discourse on how disappointed he was, because even in the year 2003, there were no flying cars, and they had been promised to him when he was a child. "It wasn't just Popular Science, it was the New York Times, for Pete's sake! Newsweek, Time, they all said we'd be flying by now. So what do they do? Give us flying cars? No, they build slower airplanes !"

"Is that true?" Aaron asked.

"It's true," his father said. "Jets used to go five-fifty, six hundred miles an hour. Now they can't get out of their own way. And the Concorde is going out of service, the one plane they got right in all that time."

It was my turn to be amused, and I was because Aaron's dad had just sounded like my own father. I wondered if I'd get like that, where some nebulous 'they' did things to mess up life, or didn't do things they were supposed to, and messed up life anyhow with their inaction.

We actually made pretty good time, and we drove past the Acura at the top of our hill, sitting in a driveway with a 'For Sale' sign in the window.

I think my heart stopped. Even at a glance, that car was a thing of beauty, and my father had totally neglected to mention that it had a wing on the back, and that it was painted the most gorgeous, metallic blue on Earth!

I couldn't get back up the hill fast enough, and Aaron only knew to come with me because I pulled him bodily, leaving his parents still in their car.

There it was, though, when we got there. I just couldn't believe it, because it was too good to be true. I'd learn later that there were little tar spots on the front end, a little chip out of the back bumper, but right then it was love at first sight. The car sat low, with alloy wheels and wide tires. It had an appealing wedge shape overall, and the design was simple to the point of being beautiful.

Aaron and I bumped heads together trying to look in through the driver's side window, and the interior was dark and hard to discern.

"The door's open," I heard, and turned to look at a man approaching us. I knew who he was from living there, but the McNairs didn't have any kids, so that's all I knew. He was smiling and seemed friendly, and I opened the door and got in, sitting just when he got to us.

The car looked like new inside, and I was really surprised that it had leather upholstery. The inside design was as unadorned as the outside, and I leaned back and stretched my hands out to the wheel. Mr. McNair was talking a mile a minute about how great the car was, and some of that sank in.

Aaron had sat down in the passenger side, and by then our fathers had shown up.

I let the men talk, and grinned at Aaron. "I'm buying this car!" I said. "Can you believe it? This is my car."

"Yay," Aaron said. "Aren't you going to drive it first?"

I'm sure I blushed, "Well, sure I'll drive it first. I mean, if it drives good, then it's my car." I blinked, "Well, if the radio works."

"The radio works fine," said Mr. McNair as he handed me the keys. "There are eight speakers and, I think, one hundred forty watts." He leaned in and pointed things out, "You have a cd player and a cassette player there." Then on my left, "Here's the sun roof, and the cruise control is right here."

"It all works?" I asked in amazement.

"I work at home, Evan. This car spent most of its life right in the garage here."

Just when the question formed in my mind, he answered it, "I'm only selling it because I got an SUV to pull my new boat. The Chevy dealer insulted me on the trade-in, so I'm kind of splitting the difference. Trust me, this car is a great deal."

I had no idea what he said, because with the key in the ignition everything worked! Everything being the blinkers and the radio right then, but if they worked I had to believe the rest of it did, too.

Before I knew it, my father took Aaron's place beside me and Aaron was in the back seat with his own father. "Start it up," Dad said.

Yes, sir! Started, and after a glance at the pedals, we were out of there. I'd learned a stick shift on Alton's Mazda. I was shaky on the low gears, but didn't stall. Then it was ten minutes of pure, fearful pleasure. I drove slowly and carefully because our fathers were in the car, but I could still sense what I had with that gas pedal, and it felt awesome.

My dad kept pointing out turns, then we went up the ramp onto the Interstate and he said, "Put your foot in it, Evan!"

No shit? I, the obedient son, did just that. With my father's Chrysler, that would have snapped necks, but in the Acura the speed came on more gently. It seemed endless, though, and I noticed the redline on the tach was up over eight thousand rpm. In third gear, I tried to get the revs up there, but then I would have been blatantly speeding to do that. I was impressed, though. Deeply impressed. There was this spot where the power just came on, and if you stayed in that range it seemed like there was nothing that car wouldn't do.

I was nervous in a strange car, but I managed to not do anything stupid, and by the time we got back everyone agreed I should buy it. I could have told them that a half hour earlier.

I made the deal with Mr. McNair, and he offered to let me take the car home with me right then. I couldn't give him any money until I went to the bank, but Dad didn't mind if I drove it home, so that's what I did. It was a big deal, too, and even though it was only about eighteen hundred feet down the road to our house, I made our fathers walk and drove the whole distance proudly with Aaron.

I pulled into the driveway feeling as pumped up as I ever had about anything in my life. I pulled the brake and shut the car down, then grinned at Aaron. "We have ten seconds, man. Let's park!"

His mouth started to form a word, then he got it and leaned in for a big, fat kiss, and when we broke it we were both breathless. "Wow," I said, looking at him.

"Yeah, wow! You should get a car every day!"

I smiled, "You like it?"

"You never kissed me like that before. I love it!"

I meant the car, but didn't argue with his answer. I loved that kiss too, and bent to Aaron for another one.

* * * * * * * *

I went to the bank the next day after school and got a bank check for three thousand dollars. That's when I felt qualms about buying a car. That was just about half of my life's savings, and it felt somehow wrong to spend it in a big chunk like that. My parents were going to pay for what I wasn't, and that was something they'd started with my brother, Matt. Two thousand max toward your first car. They were getting off just under that with me.

Every time I thought of that car, though, I'd just about burst with happiness. Coolness, actually. I would have been happy with any wheels that I could call my own, and now I had a really nice car. How good do things get?

My dad came home early, and we walked up the street to do our business with Mr. McNair. It didn't take long at all. He had to fill out some forms from the state, then he gave me the spare keys and the maintenance records, and some other things he had found that came with the car.

On the way home, my face was locked in such a ferocious smile that it started to hurt, but I couldn't help smiling anyhow.

Everyone seemed excited when we got home, and came outside to look over the car again, and Chris showed up because he knew I was getting it. He loved the car as much as I did, and we made all kinds of plans for going places in it. Then he went home and got his father's digital camera and took pictures of the car and me.

While the pictures were loading onto my computer, we looked over the new license regulations again. They really bit the bone, and we knew who we weren't going to vote for when we were old enough to vote.

"This is a nanny law," Chris said. "Why even bother? I mean, you can't even take a date in your car for six months?"

I agreed, and said sarcastically, "It's for our own good, you understand. Our legislators think we're lethal until we've driven our mommies around for six months. I don't get it, either. They don't care if I kill my own family, I just can't kill you."

Chris chuckled, "He, maybe I'm in favor of that part. If you killed me, I wouldn't get to kill you back. It's not like basketball, where if you put a hurt on me you get your own hurt in return. If you kill me, someone else has to avenge me, and I don't know who'd do that." He sighed and handed me back the rules, "I just wish they'd do their goody-goody deeds to someone who deserves them. I wonder who this pile of crap was supposed to make a feel good."

I put the papers back on the desk and we started working on the pictures. I worked and Chris watched, I should say. I loved that we could walk in from outside, and in just a few minutes have good pictures of me and my car on the computer. They didn't need much work, I just made some smaller copies for email. People with a dial up connections always bitched when I sent graphics, so I knew better than to send the originals.

There were a lot of pictures, and many were redundant, but I didn't care. I had fun looking at them, but at the same time a darker thought was trying to worm its way into my consciousness. I hate when that happens, but once it gets close all you can do is let it happens.

I sat back and stared. "Chris. What you said ... do you think somebody will try to avenge Leonard Erasmus' death? Aaron wants me to watch out for Lee, but you never said what you think."

Chris looked at me intently, then looked back at the screen. "I don't know what to think, Evan. I thought Lee would be the bogeyman, then he shows up and he's like Tom Sawyer. I was all ready to not like him, then I couldn't do it. My mother said that craziness doesn't have to run in families, but it's common enough when perfectly normal parents have a looney tunes for a kid. She thought that if one of the parents is off, it's probably more likely that a kid would be, but really only if there's a physical cause to begin with."

I noticed that I was biting my lip and I made myself stop. "Lee's father snapped, though. He was okay until Lee got kidnaped." Chris nodded. I asked, "What if he was always crazy, but always had a good life so it never showed up?"

Chris said softly, "I don't know, Evie, I just don't. It could be, though. You always hear that these people who murder their families or something, are these wonderful people next door. Maybe we're all like that, and we just never know it until it's too late. We can all fly off the handle, so maybe it's a matter of degree what we can do when we're off it."

I thought about that and wondered if it could be true. Was it possible that, given some unforeseen circumstance, I could experience a change of nature profound enough that I could kill someone? Even someone I loved? People did it all the time. Mothers drowned their babies. Fathers shot up entire families. Kids did in their siblings, their parents. The reasons were always nebulous and weak sounding, and the why of any given situation like that probably couldn't make sense to anyone. That's why the friends and neighbors were always so stunned. "Not them! No, they were always friendly, happy seeming, helpful people."

Yet they did things like that.

Leonard Erasmus murdered the man who hurt his son. He did it in cold blood and in public, and he basically got away with it. Then, years later, he tried to kill me. Twice. His son, Lee, was with him both times, yet I put my will into keeping Lee out of adult court. I had no say in it, but if they had to punish him, I thought they should do it in a way that was appropriate to his age, especially given his own experience. A judge thought like I did, and now everything that might happen to Lee would be within the silent framework of the juvenile system.

Chris had just said what I felt about meeting Lee. I hadn't known what to expect, really, but normal wasn't on the menu. That's what we got, though. Not just normal, either, because Lee was bright, articulate and likeable.

I hadn't met Lee thinking that I might like him, the opposite was true. I did like him, though, and it wasn't just me because Chris did, too. There was nothing to not like about him, and we clicked just like that. He was the kind of guy that I would normally seek out as a friend. I knew his past, and it was bleak and ugly, but he didn't wear it on his sleeve. I didn't see anything to not trust, and maybe that made the meeting a bad idea. If I hadn't gone to meet Lee, then mistrust of him would still be in me. Now he was like some dim shadow that I didn't want to step on, and I sensed that shadow too often. I needed to clear up my misgivings one way or another, otherwise they'd just wear on me.

I needed to know: Who is Lee Erasmus?

I spaced our for a second, and found myself with tears in my eyes. Chris noticed and asked, "What's wrong?"

I shook my head, because a lot of things would never add up. I said almost absently, "People go hungry, they go unloved, lots of things are wrong, Chris. What's wrong with me is I have this dread in me now. I feel it, and I can even explain it, but I don't know what to do about it."

Chris touched me on the arm and said, "You," he snickered, "You remind me of a little robot that was in some movie that always wanted more information." He put a little pressure on my arm so I'd look at him. "Evie, I don't have any good advice here. Information is your best defense right now. Maybe we should get closer to Lee, rather than farther apart."

I understood and nodded. "Right." I slumped against Chris, "That makes sense. I need to be close to figure him out." I looked over at him and smiled, "Does that keep me from being a target, or does it make me a bigger one?" Chris gave me a blank look, and I elbowed him gently, "You're pretty smart, you know that? I didn't go far enough, that's all." I leaned over and gave him a quick smooch on the cheek, "You're my man, Chris. I'll figure out Lee Erasmus, and I won't stop until he's all figured."

Maybe my brain was addled by love, or maybe it was fear of the truth, but I'd only gone part way with Lee Erasmus, and until I tried to understand him better I'd never know what he was really like.

Or what he really wanted.

Continued ...

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