Plan C: Mawg Dilligs

by Driver

Chapter 5

At home that night, after Aaron fell asleep, I lay awake thinking. I was comfortable and happy, but the encounter with Lee had me wondering about a lot of things. Also, the delicious dinner of lamb stew and Irish soda bread that Mom made had tempted me into really stuffing myself. The rain had turned to sleet outside, then snow, and hot stew was the ideal thing to keep warm with.

I thought mostly about Aaron, the boy beside me, who trusted me no matter what. If Lee wasn't what he seemed, then Aaron could get hurt. That thought worried me a little, because I was acting deliberately with Lee Erasmus, and it was me who pulled Aaron into whatever might happen.

I was taking something of a chance, and I knew that I was, and I hadn't really communicated the fact that there might be a risk to Aaron. I had him going on his faith in me, and I wanted to wake him up and tell him that. I had no business creating any kind of risk at all for him, and certainly no right to do that without him knowing.

I thought he did understand, but I promised myself to warn him in the morning anyhow. I was personally comfortable with Lee Erasmus, but he had a history, and it wasn't right that I should expect others to share my comfort level. They should at least develop their own, or know that they should.

I wasn't all that concerned about Aaron and other people, but Lee had my interest, and not as a case study.

I felt bad for Lee, and really bad. I'd felt bad for other kids before, but for way less reason. Some parents sent their kids to school looking like idiots, and I felt bad for them. Others went on school trips with not enough money, and that sucked, too.

Lee stood way out beyond those little things. He had been there when his friends got murdered by a madman, and that had to be the worst, hardest to comprehend thing that could ever happen to a young kid. That same lunatic had taken Lee home with him and used him as a sexual toy for months, viciously and repeatedly.

Still, Lee Erasmus was trying really hard to be just a regular guy doing regular things. Everybody, and I mean everybody knew his past, too, and it had gotten far worse recently, when his father turned the last corner and blew himself up.

I laid there thinking admiringly of Lee. I couldn't fathom the pain and humiliation he'd been through. It was pointless to even try. Yet he was doing his best to put it behind him, to make something of himself. How hard would it be? Could he do it?

I wanted to help him, and in the worst way. With all the horror, all the pain Lee had suffered, it was him who wanted most to not be special, and it took Paul to recognize that. After we dropped Lee off in the worsening weather, Paul said, "Let him be, guys. Let it be. If I'm wrong I'll eat it, but that kid needs to forget a lot of things. He can't do that if we're running around reminding him of everything." Paul turned to me and grinned, "And you thought I led a screwy life!" He looked back at his driving and added, "I just play games, Evan, and they're my own games ... like I'm in control. Lee hasn't had control for a long time, not of his own life." He stopped talking for a few minutes, then went on, staring at the rain and sleet and the wipers. "He needs real help, you know. I mean professional help." He glanced at me, "He needs Santa Claus, too. That was a good move, Evan. Now we just have to keep it up."

"Keep it up?" I asked.

Paul chuckled, "I don't mean buy him the whole mall, just hang in there. I talked to him, guys, and he'll come around. He knows his head is on backwards right now, and he even jokes about it. He said he shits out his prick and cums out his asshole and that ... that's funny!"

"Shits out his prick?" Aaron asked.

My turn, "Cums out his asshole?" and I burst out laughing. It made me feel better. First that we all thought it was funny, and second that Lee had some sense of humor still in him. The first time I met him, I sensed a kindred spirit, and that feeling had been reinforced. Oh, had it ever!

My life wasn't one of privilege by any means, but I'd never wanted for anything important. I'd never actually witnessed anything horrible, either, and I'd been attacked, but never abused in any way other than verbally, if that's abuse to start with.

Lee had it dumped on him, though, and it was amazing to me that he could stand there and, without him saying it, you knew he meant "I am going to be normal!"

I finally fell asleep, cuddled up to Aaron, and knowing Lee was right. I'd help, Aaron and Paul would help, Chris would. None of us could undo the bad that had fallen on Lee in the past. We could only be there to try and prevent future bads, but mostly to help him be Lee. He didn't need heroes, he needed steady friends. He had to know that his father went crazy because of love of his son, not some mental defect.

It was gray and cold-looking when we woke up, and several inches of wet snow had fallen, so Aaron and I just hung in the kitchen after breakfast. We talked quietly about the day before and Aaron's impression of Lee.

Aaron studied my face sometimes, and he was doing it then. I could tell that he was interested in my reactions to his words when we got into new areas, and Lee was new to Aaron. He said gently, "I like him, Ev. If he's a bad guy, then he's very, very good at concealing it." Aaron fixed his eyes on mine and said, "I know about being hurt, Evan ... more than you do, anyhow. There's this dense feeling that comes with it, because it doesn't make sense. You know this already, but when we were little, Justin picked on me when my parents weren't around, and it was the worst kind of thing. It was worse because I didn't know why. I mean, I adored my brother, I admired everything he did, and nothing could have hurt more than him teasing me all the time. He let his friends do it, too, and he laughed at me with them."

Aaron didn't get intense very often, but he was then and I could almost see the sad memories in his eyes for a moment, then he relaxed a little and smiled.

I smiled back and said, "You could have gotten a complex or something."

Aaron snickered and looked down, "Yeah, I could have. I probably should have, too, but I didn't. That's why I mentioned it, because I turned out okay. I remember what it felt like ... exactly what it felt like, and I never want to feel like that again, not ever. I was different, and I didn't know why I was so different. I knew I was, and I didn't have words for it yet." He sighed heavily, "I was a boy, and I knew that, but no boys liked me." He sat back and smiled more brightly, "If I don't have a complex, then it's a miracle, because I sure earned one!" He giggled, "Let's talk about that later. I want to compare with Lee right now. I admit, what I went through was just teasing and name calling, but I was little and it hurt a lot. I didn't understand it, none of it, so keep that in mind. The things that happened to Lee are worse, so worse that I don't want to think about them, but they're things that he mustn't have understood!"

I began to see where Aaron was going, and I nodded encouragement.

"Lee," he went on, "Lee needs a Billy like I had. Somebody to look after him, to shield him, to stand up to his enemies with him. He needs someone to be his own personal friend, Ev, a guy he can talk to about things that bother him, things he wants to do, things he just wants to yak about. He can understand someday or not, but he needs to be back in the middle of life to know that."

I eyed Aaron, "Do you understand?"

"What, my brother? I think I do. Justin probably would have been mean to a puppy if we had one. He was always just like he is now; the biggest, best looking, smartest kid around. It took Billy O'Shea to teach him that those things didn't make him better than anyone, just luckier. Billy showed him that being mean was a good way to get yourself hurt. Now Billy's the best, and I don't care if I am taller than him now, I'll always look up to him."

I snickered, "For the way he was when he was seven?"

"Six," Aaron corrected, then we both laughed. "Justin always says seven, but he's trying to make Billy sound bigger than he was."

I said, "So you trust Lee?"

Aaron looked at me, then grimaced. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I should, I guess, but give me some time. He sure doesn't seem like anyone to be afraid of, but I ... I hate to say this."

"Don't then," I said.

"No, I have to. I can't just jump from being afraid of him to trusting him, not just like that. You shouldn't either, Ev. All we have to go on is what he says, and ... well, you know."

I frowned, because I did know. I felt better about Lee, but Aaron was right. All I knew about him was basically what he'd told me, added to what everyone knew. He could harbor bad feelings for me and just be biding his time. Restaurants and malls aren't great places to seek vengeance, and I'd never seen him except in public places. I stared at Aaron and kept my thoughts to myself.

After awhile, we went and shoveled off the snow, then sat in my car. Even after I got my license, it would take another six months before Aaron could actually ride with me if I was driving. The car had gas in it, though, and the radio worked, and it made a lot of sense to burn a little of that gas to keep things like the heater and the cd player up to snuff.

We were having something like fun. Aaron had his nose in the owner's manual, and I was polishing the dash with a cloth. Aaron twisted around to look out the back, and I asked, "What?"

"I never noticed a wiper back there. Did you fill the rear reservoir with windshield cleaner?"

I twisted around to look, "I have a rear reservoir? I didn't know that."

Aaron said, "Yeah, it says right here .." then I heard my mother calling. "Evan, phone!"

"I'll be back," I told Aaron, then ran inside. I asked my mother who it was on the way by, and she shrugged.


"Evan? Hi, it's Lee."

A nervous sounding Lee, so I tried to put a little happy in my voice. "Oh, hi! I was just outside. What's up?"

He still sounded nervous, "Nothing ... I ... I was wondering if maybe you'd want to come over here. You and Aaron, I mean, and Paul if he wants to."

I could feel my defenses trying to come up, but it was a weak feeling. "What's to do?" I asked.

Lee sighed audibly, "Nothing special. We could just hang out, maybe?"

Oh God, I felt bad. Lee had some desperation in his voice, and I wanted to go visit with him. "Um, let me ask Aaron. Let me call you back, actually, then I can give Paul a call."

"Okay, do you have the number?"

I glanced at caller id and told him what it said. "That's it. I'll be here."

I hung up, and what lingered in my head was the almost pleading sound in Lee's voice. I thought at first that he was reaching out, then cynically wondered if he was striking out, then I rejected that idea and called Paul.

He was still in bed, and he said he wanted to stay there because of a long night. I was a little disappointed, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I started back toward outside when the phone rang, and it was Paul again. "I'll go. Give me a half hour."

He hung up, and I held onto the phone while that sank in. Then I smiled and put the phone in the cradle. I knew the day before that Paul and Lee had made some kind of connection. It was obvious enough, even if the reason wasn't clear. Paul might well enough have been a natural big brother. He had plenty of siblings to practice on, but I sensed something more, even though I didn't have a clue what it might be.

I went back out to tell Aaron, then slowed down when I got there, because I realized I should have asked him first. I smiled, "Lee asked us over."

"Really?" Aaron asked, sounding in favor. "For when?"

"For now," I said. "I have to call him back, but Paul will take us."

Aaron gave me a funny look while he climbed out of the car. "Lee called here?"

I looked at him, "Yeah, why?"

"Oh, no reason. It's good, I think. Did he ask Paul or did you?"

I looked at Aaron, "He did. Why?"

Aaron looked perplexed. He mumbled, "I don't know why, Ev. I just had the feeling that Paul and Lee ... I don't know."

I snickered, "Heh, I don't know either, Aar, but I had that same feeling."

Aaron nodded, and we went inside to get dressed. We didn't have much time before Paul would show up, and I wanted Aaron all of a sudden. He was pulling off his sweats, and I said, "Stay like that ... just like that." I hadn't called Lee back, so I did that in a real hurry. Like, "Hi, Lee. Bye, Lee. We'll be there inside the hour!"

Lee had sounded astonished and quite jubilant, and it made me feel good.

The rest was a rush. I had my evil way with Aaron, and was moderately presentable when Paul showed up. Aaron was kind of weak-kneed, but in a great mood. I don't know what my burp from the back seat sounded like to Paul, but Aaron sure tittered away, and Paul gave me a sharp look in the mirror.

Paul knew the way from the day before, and when we got to Lee's I got nervous, and I could sense that we all did. I looked at Paul, wondering how much he could have come to like Lee in just a few hours, but there was nothing on his face to tell me anything, so I had to keep wondering about it.

The door opened just when I reached for the bell, and Lee stood there, a hesitant smile on his face. A smile that turned brighter when he saw all of us there.

"Come on in," he said brightly. "Hey guys, this is great that you came over!"

We came in behind him; Paul, then Aaron, then me, and I stood beside Aaron once we were inside. The house, which was made of brick outside, was pretty impressive from the doorway in. I knew Lee and his mother were staying with relatives, and these particular ones seemed to be doing well. The entranceway was big, for starters; bigger than my bedroom at home, and it was all trimmed in heavy oak woodwork. It was both handsome and pretty, and it made me smile. When I turned back toward the way we'd came in to hand Lee my coat, I smiled even more brightly. That wall, on both sides of the front door, was covered floor-to-ceiling in black and white, framed photographs, and the subject matter seemed to cover just about everything. They were all different sizes, and somehow arranged like they belonged there. There were people, some famous, and places, and again some famous. There were pictures of plants and animals, tools and toys, buildings, bridges, mountains and lakes. Even a real fire engine in one, and a toy one in another.

Charmed is the word for how I felt. Seeing those pictures so suddenly and unexpectedly had caught me off guard, and I couldn't help taking the time to look at them all. That's what Paul and Aaron were doing, too, and the three of us were smiling.

"Neat, huh?" Lee asked from behind us. "If you like that wall, you're gonna love this house! If you're bored, you can pick a wall and stare at it forever. Come on and meet the people, then we can do something."

He led us down a hallway to a large room. The hall was loaded with pictures, too, and the room we walked into was a picture. There was a burning fireplace in the middle of it, with an iron exhaust hood over it. Two window-walls formed a corner, and the view outside was pretty even in the black and white bleakness of winter. The other two walls, where there was space, were again covered in framed art. It wasn't all photographs. There were some paintings and some framed crafts, even a butterfly collection framed under glass.

There were sculptures in this room, as well as pictures, and one of them was a small bronze of a boy with an absolutely perfect ass on him. I elbowed Aaron and leered at that, and he seemed to go all woozy for a second.

There were people there, though, and I knew one of them. This turned out to be Herb Sutton's house. He was a man who dropped into my life because I'd left home. As a television news cameraman, he had been to my house several times when things were going on there. He was there the day I came home, and he was there the night I tried to out myself.

He'd gone home that night and told Lee's family why I'd left home, and that set off a whole new chain of events. There was nothing to blame Herb for about that. Lee's father, Leonard Erasmus, had become a ticking bomb while in prison, and nobody knew it. Nobody. When Herb told his family the outcome of my interview, it was just to close the book on my disappearance, not to start a new horror story.

Herb was in the room, along with his wife and two of their daughters, and Lee's mother.

Herb was the outsider, looks-wise. He was heavily built, and darkly complected. His wife and daughters, and Lee's mother and Lee all shared a look of Irishness.

I met the others easily, but when I stood in front of Lee's mother, she touched my cheek and whispered, "Evan!" God, she had the strangest look in her eyes, like she was terrified of me, and she said, "You mustn't think ... I don't ..." she looked away, and I forced myself not to cringe.

"I don't think," I said. "I don't blame, I don't do anything." A thought came to me, and I had to gulp to get it out, "You had all the loss, you and Lee. I'm fine, so don't ..." I couldn't finish, and I turned away. Herb's wife, her sister, was there, and when Lee's mother started to sob she led her gently away.

Herb stood up and patted my shoulder, then tried to be the merry master of ceremonies, and he was good. In a few minutes everyone was cheered up, and we all had something to drink. We sat around for a while, and it wasn't really uncomfortable, but a bit awkward. After awhile, Paul asked, "You got any sleds here, Lee? Severn's Hill is right down the road, and the snow should be outrageous!"

Lee looked lost, but Herb stood and said, "We have a toboggan. It might be the toboggan. It's a seven footer! Come on!"

It soon became apparent that Herb was going with us, which was fine by me. His old toboggan certainly was the longest one I'd ever seen, and it looked to be in great shape. We brought that and a couple of flying saucer sleds, bundled up again, and walked down the road to the hill. I'd gone sledding there before, but it wasn't close to my house so not often.

It was the perfect hill, almost. At the top, you had to jump an old-fashioned guardrail and cable kind of thing, then the hill dropped right off. If you weren't quick, you could miss your own sled and have to run down after it. At the bottom, the transition to flat field was kind of abrupt, but there was no worry about hitting trees or anything. At the bottom were the playing fields of an elementary school that faced a different street. I'd heard a story about some girl who lost some teeth there once, but I couldn't see how.

It didn't matter. It was the steepest hill in town that was open to the public, and we figured out how to work it after just one ride down. Herb explained his theory of tobogganing before we started, and it was a good one. The heaviest person went in front, and the lightest in the back, and a gradient in between. When we wanted to stop, or when he wanted to stop, he'd yell out, "Scuttle to the left!" or "Scuttle to the right!", and we were all supposed to lean that way together to take the sled on its side.

We walked along inside the guard rails until there was a spot big enough to get set up on. Herb got in front, followed by Paul, me, Lee and Aaron, then we pushed right off. We didn't get up a lot of speed on the first few runs because we were cutting first tracks in the new snow, but it got progressively faster and more fun. The uphill trek was work, but worth it the next time down. Other people showed up with all different kinds of sleds, but our track seemed to become the official toboggan run.

When we were taking a break, I saw where some kids had piled up snow to make a jump, so I took a saucer over there for a few runs. I did well the first time over the jump, getting some air under me then landing well. The second time, though, I went a little sideways coming off the bump, and I took what I knew had to be a huge looking shitter, and I landed hard in the snow, then slid downhill for probably fifty feet.

Thankfully, nobody missed that one. It sounded like everyone on the hill was either laughing at me or cheering me, so I stood and took a snowy bow, then went looking for my sled, which had made it all the way down.

I sat in it where it lay, with my legs crossed yoga-style, to catch my breath, and I idly started making a snowball. Let me tell you, that snow was great for snowballs, so I made a bunch of them. I filled the little saucer right up, then looked around for targets. It was too easy, and I started flinging them at the kids coming off the jump, but only if they made it.

Somehow, through all the laughing and screaming of sledders, I picked out Aaron's happy laugh. I spotted him up at the top, leaning against the cable and pointing me out to the other guys, who all started laughing, too. Curious, I tossed the last few snowballs, then scrambled back up the hill.

"What?" I demanded when I got close enough.

Aaron was positively gleeful. "Oh, Evan! You are so funny!"

I didn't get it. "What? What'd I do?"

They all laughed, and Paul shoved my shoulder. "It was the sight of you, Evan. You're down there, all by yourself on a pie plate in the snow, and you're flinging snowballs at people you don't even know. You were right there in the open, but you're doing it like if nobody could see you." He snickered, "What got us going was Aaron. He said you did that like you were supposed to be doing it!"

I looked at Aaron and asked, "You said that?"

He nodded meekly, and I grinned, then Herb said, "Evan, if you'll give me time to get my gear, I'd love to have video of that. It was amusing, and it would be a great lead-in for the weather."

I pointed a finger at myself and asked, "A star in my own right?"

Everyone laughed, and Herb said, "I'll be twenty minutes, tops! Don't break anything while I'm gone."

He hurried off, and we took the toboggan on a few runs, then waited at the top of the hill. If I was a poet I'd say that we were all pink of cheek, bright of eye, and happy of smile, but it doesn't rhyme so I'm no poet.

I think we were all starting to feel the cold by the time Herb came back, but it didn't take long for me to get down the hill and make some snowballs, and just doing it again made me see how funny it might look. Evan Smiley, self-made sixteen year old jillionaire, sitting stealthily out in the open on a round hunk of aluminum, pegging snowballs at the heads of unsuspecting boys, mostly younger than me. The ones I nailed laughed, so it was a good thing. I could see the humor in it.

Lee apparently could, too, because he showed up opposite me, and we got people in our crossfire, and that's when I saw what they thought was so funny. Lee, looking all serious kneeling on a flying saucer, I don't know. He was all bundled up against the cold like everyone was, and his motions seemed hilarious to me. It was all stiff and fat, like if he was a two-year-old who'd been dressed by his Italian Grandmother. The arm worked, sure, but it looked more like a batting-cage arm than a human one, and it got me laughing out loud.

Then, when I wasn't looking, Lee took my hat off with a snowball that just grazed it, and when I dove for the hat he landed one on my neck. The back of my neck, where it wasn't funny anymore.

"Oh yeah?" I said as I got up, and the fight was on, and it didn't stop until I got Lee down on his face in the snow and made him give. He did so laughingly, and we both got up laughing. We collected our saucers and joined the others, who had gone back to tobogganing while we played.

Everyone was tired and cold by then, so after one more run on the toboggan we headed back up the street to Herb's house.

We had to warm up and dry off, and we all needed the bathroom, too. Then Herb made coffee and tea and we relaxed and dried off in the kitchen.

I found myself watching Lee, who had obviously enjoyed himself. He was wired up and happy, and that made him fun to be around.

He noticed me watching him, and I think I blushed a little when I realized that he did, but he just smiled and asked, "What?"

I smiled back, "Nothing. It's just that I never saw you relaxed like this before."

He looked at me and said, "I could say the same thing."

That caught me off guard, but he was right when I thought about it. I'd only seen Lee a couple of times before, and this was the first time I'd really relaxed and let my guard down. I said, "You're right, you could say the same thing." I grinned, "Never again, though." I held my smile, and I held Lee's eyes, and there was no more mistrust on my end.

His own smile came out with the understanding, only his was almost like a little boy's, and it turned into a dimply grin.

We all sat there talking nonsense until our drinks were gone, then Aaron mentioned that he should be getting home. He asked if he could call, but Paul said, "I can give you a ride, don't bother anyone."

I looked at Paul in surprise, while Aaron asked, "You don't mind?"

Paul shook his head, "I like to drive," then he looked at Lee, "Feel like taking a ride?"

Lee looked to Herb, who nodded, then he grinned at Paul and nodded his head.

I called home and talked to my mother, and she agreed to call Aaron's house to tell them we were on the way. We got our coats back on, thanked Herb for all the fun, and we were on our way, with Paul driving. Lee sat up front with him, while Aaron and I were in the back.

Paul and Lee got to talking right away, so I started making out with Aaron right away. We were tuned out, and things were righteous. Suddenly I heard Paul exclaim, "Ahh! Jesus!"

Aaron and I broke apart and I looked at Paul and asked, "What happened?" thinking it was a car or road problem.

"Um, nothing. I ... um ... nothing, okay?"

Aaron said, "He saw us, Ev."

Paul was busy adjusting his rear view mirror to point at the ceiling, and he said, "No problem, okay? I just .. no problem!"

I think he'd been embarrassed, and I didn't know whether to talk about it or not. I opted to talk. "You know Aaron's my boyfriend," I said. "Why the sudden surprise?"

Paul and Lee looked straight ahead. I asked, "Did you hear me? What's the problem? We'll stop if it bothers you."

Paul sighed audibly, "Be quiet back there. Am I allowed to be surprised, Evan? Just shut up and let me absorb all this. I said it's no problem, and I meant it."

I could feel Aaron starting to jiggle with humor, and it caught me too. I muttered, "Sorry," and turned my attention back to Aaron for the rest of the way, and nothing else was said about it.

After we got Aaron home, Lee offered me the front seat, but he was hitting it off with Paul so I declined, and I dozed most of the way home. When we stopped to drop Lee off, he asked if he could call me sometime, and I said he could, and that I'd call him too. He and Paul exchanged numbers, then I was in the front seat again, and we were headed home.

There was silence until we got to my house, which only took a few minutes. I opened the door and said, "Thanks, Paul," then I closed it again and looked at him.

He seemed surprised, and I studied his face for a moment. "I mean it when I say thanks," I said. "I ... I'm just starting to see you as different than what I thought." He grimaced and I added quickly, "Not bad! Good! Very good! I just never thought ..."

"What?" Paul asked, kind of dryly. "I'm not what you thought I was? You told Lee I 'm a doper."

I blushed, and didn't say anything. Paul continued, "That's true, I am. Why didn't you tell him I'm blond, or that I'm lazy, or that I have my own car? Why didn't you call me your neighbor, for Christ's sake? I have to be the doper? What'd I ever do?"

Oh, I didn't expect that. I thought quickly, "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry! That's not all I said, and if it's all he heard then ... then I don't know. I like you, and I like Lee. And I did tell him that we're neighbors, and I did tell him you have a car. If all he heard was the pot .."

Paul touched my arm and snickered. "Easy, Evan. Calm down! I guess I'm toying with you a little."

"Toying?" I asked, annoyed. "Is that what you were doing on the way to Aaron's? Toying?"

Paul got annoyed himself, "Will you calm down? I'm not playing games. I said I was surprised, and that's what I meant, Evan. I looked in the mirror to see the road, and I saw you kissing Aaron, and it surprised the shit out of me. Why is that hard to understand?"

I looked at him feeling awful, and he grinned, "You're my first gay couple!"

He said that with a certain delight in his voice, so I questioned it. "You know gay singles?"

He smiled smugly, "I think so, but they're not talking." He questioned with his expression, then smiled again. "That's what I think is so cool, Evan. You and Aaron just do it, and the world be damned!"

I looked at him incredulously, "You like that I'm gay?"

Paul eyed me, a sly smile still on his face, but he lowered his voice, "I do like it, Ev," He said slowly, "It makes you different ... different from me, and I like different."

I let that sink in, then asked, "So gay is different, and different is good, so it's good that I'm gay? Don't say anything yet, Paul. What if being gay still freaked me out like it used to? Would that be good? I mean, do you really think it's good, or is this just for your amusement?"

Paul looked at me with real merriment in his eyes. "Ev, if you were just like me, then there'd be two of me and no you. Where would that get us? The way things are, I get me, I get you, I get lots of different people. Most of us comes from heritage, but gay doesn't, so I want to study you, if you don't mind."

By then I knew he was kidding about the study thing, and I snickered. "Okay, what if I was part black, part Asian, and part wild boar? Would that make me more interesting?"

Paul finally laughed, "Yeah, it sure would.. You'd be a sight, too, with tusks."

I laughed hard enough to choke, and Paul had to pat my back so I could get my breath back. I said, "I have to go in. What's with Lee? You seem to really like him."

"I do," Paul admitted. "He wants me to get him some pot, and I think I will."

I was stunned, "Do you think that's a good idea? He's had a freaky life, Paul, and you think pot is the answer?"

Paul was so cheery. "It might be just the ticket, Evan. So he smokes a joint now and then? He has a past he wants to escape, and pot can help. If it doesn't help, I'll know, and then it's just an experiment that didn't work. If it helps him," Paul leered, "then it's medicinal use. It's already legal in some places."

I opened my door again and grinned, "It's not legal here, Paul. Not yet. Just be careful, okay? Lee still has to face a judge, and it might go better if he's not stoned."

Paul said, "Ev, I'm not trying to corrupt him, just to help him out, okay?"

I smiled, nodded, thanked Paul, and closed the door.

Paul was right, I decided as I went inside. I was against drug use on general principle, but I drank a whole lot of wine after the attack on me, and it helped a lot. It didn't turn me into an alcoholic, and a little marijuana wouldn't necessarily turn Lee into a pot head.

I went inside thinking that Paul knew what he was doing if anyone did.

My parents were watching something on television when I went in, so I said a hushed hello and went to the kitchen for something to eat. The stew pot was on the stove again, and there was some left, so I heated that up and ate it, then took a few stalks of celery up to my room. I thought I'd read for awhile and go to bed early. I was tired from all the activity out in the cold.

I poked around on the computer for a few minutes, and I started thinking about talking to Lee, so I called him up.

He seemed happily surprised that I'd called, and we fell into a nice conversation, and we covered a lot of ground. Sports, the news, the events in Iraq, music, school, religion, even clothes. We talked about it all. It was superficial, maybe, but we had an easy dialogue with each other, and that was pretty crucial to friendship.

Lee thanked me profusely for calling when it was time to hang up, and I told him he didn't have to thank me, because the call wasn't meant as a favor. It wasn't, either. By then, I viewed Lee as my new friend, and I enjoyed talking to him. We were different people, but we had a fairly broad base of commonality to make a friendship work. That's all I wanted, and I felt as happy as Lee sounded when we said goodbye.

Before going to bed, I wrote an email to Aaron, kind of an electronic love letter, and I used this big, pulsating heart for a signature. I wasn't usually corny like that, but with Aaron I made the exception because I loved him.

Aaron loved me, too, and that was the miracle that I fell asleep thinking about.

Continued ...

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