A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 7

Most days of my life go by without any cause for comment. The class outing was memorable for a lot of reasons. It was my first outing like that for starters, and it took being there to see that the school system would allow for some real, unrestricted fun. Well, minimally restricted fun. It never turned into an orgy, though lots of new couples seemed to pair off. They fed us continuously and with good food, and the entertainments were just about endless.

The news conference came as a jolt to a lot of people, but hardly a bad jolt. Our school was the focus of attention for the time being, but the problem of gambling in school, and gambling by kids in general, would be addressed on a state-wide basis. Our District Attorney had been publicly chastised. The fight some of us put up to gain fair treatment for Ron Mastracchio had succeeded. More likely, saner minds had prevailed somewhere up the line. Ron was still in trouble, but not the kind that would put him behind bars for the rest of his natural life.

I mentioned the food, and I'll mention it again. Not so much for the main courses of steak, salmon, chicken and ham.  They were all fine, but the things they made with the entrees were wonderful. They roasted vegetables like I'd never seen: tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, onions, whole garlic cloves, chunks of other things - oh, God! They marinated them and cooked them right in the flames, charring everything up just like meat, and it was delicious!

After the meal, some people went back out for more boating and games, while about half stayed in the pavilion to talk and dance. I even danced, though only a couple of times because of my arm. I couldn't really use it, and it hurt even dangling there because of my movements.

When it was time to go, I tried to be the last one on the bus to avoid jostling. I did well, finding a seat on the aisle on the right side, and right up front. The bus had just started moving when Chris was at my side saying, "We saved you a seat, Ev. We have the back row!"

I grinned up at him and followed him back. We had a cheerful good time all the way home, too. Even injured like I was, anything other than a good mood was pretty much impossible when Chris and I were together, and lots of people on that bus were struggling to hear us back there.

When we got back to the school, I said, "I'll wait here 'til everyone's off," and Chris nodded his smile. I waited until there were just a few stragglers, then started my way forward.

I was suddenly in agony, my vision so blurred that I could barely make out that it was Richard Brown twisting my bad arm right up behind me, and my natural reaction was to swing with my good one, and that I did. I'd been in fights in my life, but mostly wrestling. I may have punched someone before, but not like I punched Richard. As soon as I hit him, he dropped my arm. At the same time blood started pouring from his nose and mouth, and a girl screamed from my other side. My arm, which had been doing so much better, hurt more than it ever had, and in a few moments Chris was right there.

"What happened?" he cried as he put an arm around my shoulder. Then he saw Richard there in the seat, his face all bloody, and he screamed, "You asshole! I told you man, I warned you! Now you pay!" He started punching Richard almost methodically, each fist landing on a brand new spot. It didn't last long because the bus driver, a teacher, and some of our friends were right there to break it up.

We were all busted. Richard was bloody from me, and teachers had seen Chris pounding on his head, and nobody wanted to listen to anything. My protests that Richard had attacked me unprovoked meant nothing, even when backed up by a girl who had seen it, and by the bus driver. Chris couldn't say he was defending me because Richard was already bleeding when he got there.

Unbelievably, they called an ambulance to take Richard Brown to the hospital, and when I said I thought I should go too they said my parents would have to take me. Before I even had my bearings, the police were there. They talked to other people, then came over and one calmly said, "We're going to have to take you to the station to sort this out."

I groaned, "I need a doctor. My arms's really hurt."

One cop looked at me suspiciously, "What happened to your arm?"

I told him about being hurt in the game, then how it was barely getting better when Richard Brown twisted it right up behind my back.

Both cops winced, and the one who had spoken said, "We can release you to your parents to get that looked after, but you'll have to come to see us once you get patched up. Your part sounds like self-defense if you're being truthful. There's a tape of the incident on the bus, but it may take us a few days to see it." He held out a cell phone and said, "Go ahead and call home. If it's not far, we can drop you there."

I said, "It's not far," as I dialed, in pain just from holding the phone in my left hand while I tapped in the number with my right. I got the answering machine, and left a message that I'd be at the clinic because my arm was hurt again. I looked at the policeman and muttered, "Nobody home."

He looked at me and asked, "How'd you get here, Evan?"

I nodded at Chris, "With him."

The officer nodded, "Well, we still need statements from both of you." He wrote a case number on a card and handed it to me, "It doesn't have to be today, but no later than Sunday, okay? Just check in at the desk and they'll find an officer to talk to you."

I nodded and thanked him, then looked at Chris and said, "This is killing me, man. Just drop me at the clinic, okay?"

Chris said he would, but he parked when we got there, and he came inside with me. I got hassled a little for not having an insurance card with me, but that got straightened out right away, although I still waited about half an hour. Chris sat there with me, and we talked quietly about the impending murder of Richard Brown, and I found morbid gratification in planning some truly sadistic tortures.

I saw the same neurologist as I had a few nights before. He got some new x-rays, poked around gently, and said it was still tissue damage. He asked if I knew anyone with a hot tub, and that someone was waiting right outside. This time I left with my arm in a simpler sling, and it was otherwise unfettered. I had a second prescription, too, that I'd take in addition to the pain pills I already had. This was an anti-inflammatory, and the doctor said it should help a lot.

Unfortunately, the drugstore took the prescription, but an adult had to pick it up for me. That seemed about par for the course that day, anyhow. I made arrangements to visit the Humphrey Hot Tub later on, and Chris dropped me off at home. My car wasn't in the driveway, and I suppose that meant that even if I was gay, Matt found that I was good for something. At that point I didn't care. I just wanted to take a pain pill, drink a big glass of water, and find something soft to sit on.

I had time before Aaron would come.  He had something at school too, and he'd come over when he could, because the end time was indeterminate.

I already liked the sling on my arm. It didn't stop the hurting, but it made me keep it in one place, and reminded me that it didn't work. It was a good thing I had an engineer for a father too, because when he saw me struggling with my pill bottle the first night I'd been injured, he dumped a bunch of them into a little dish and put it near the sink in the kitchen. That way I could take them one-handedly, and that's what I did. Then I drank the rest of the water and leaned back into the sofa in the family room. No television, no nothing. Just me, a sore arm, and a new appointment with the police.

I didn't think I'd personally done anything wrong that day. Moron Brown had hurt me and I struck back. I was a little worried about Chris, because he didn't absolutely, on technical reasons, have to do what he did, and the bus company had it on tape. I probably would have done the same thing for Chris, and I didn't want him to get into real trouble for standing by me. Brown was the avenger that day, grabbing me from behind like he did, and doing what he could to make me hurt. Still, Chris went after him when I already had him down, and I didn't know how much being best friends might count when the officials saw something like that.

Oh well, I thought. What's a little worry when you're already in pain. At least that thought reminded me to call my mother and tell her there was a new prescription for her to pick up. That brought on a flurry of questions that I begged off answering on the basis of extreme pain. I just wanted to relax in silence for a few minutes, so she let me go.

Extreme silence, of course, only belongs to hermits who live deep in caves that are high up in the mountains. I no sooner found a comfortable position than Bruce and Lee came in talking like two magpies. Bruce stopped the moment he saw me, and Lee did too, but he noticed me at a later moment, so I knew they'd been talking about girls. Bruce eyed my new sling and asked, "Now what?"

"I hurt my arm again," I said simply. "I'm kind of trying to rest here." Then Matt was in the doorway behind them, and they'd left it open behind them so I figured he picked them up somewhere. I closed my eyes for a moment, and when I opened them it was just Matt standing there. He wasn't looking at me, but rather sorting through the mail, so I closed my eyes again until I heard him on the stairs.

I didn't open my eyes then either, hoping for a little nap, but it wasn't to be. The phone, which was laying on my lap, started ringing, and that was quite a sensation. I waited for someone else to pick it up, deciding that if I didn't feel better pretty soon I might stick the phone in my pants and call myself up a few times. It would be a new take on phone sex. I classified it as a good vibration, then Bruce yelled down that it was for me.

Aaron! "Hey," I said. "I'm here waiting for you. You're still coming over, aren't you?"

"In about an hour," he said. "I just got home and I have to get my things together. What happened? Bruce said you hurt your arm again?"

"Yeah, right," I groaned. "I had it hurt for me again. I told you about that idiot Brown at school, didn't I?"

Aaron snickered, "Shit Brown? Yeah ... "

I giggled, "Well, after the outing he decided to play tug-of-war using my bad arm instead of a rope."

"Oh God," Aaron cried, "That's not funny."

"Tell me," I said. "Brown's in the hospital and I'm in agony."

"Evan ..." Aaron almost sobbed out, "I'll hurry. I'll be there right away."

"I love you, Aaron, but don't you get in trouble. I'm not going anywhere, believe me. Take it easy and get here in one piece." I snickered, "Then I'll have a piece of you."

I had to tell my story twice more before Aaron showed up. My father beat my mother home and I told him. He went into a dark mood. He wasn't mad at me, but he shared my worry about Chris getting in trouble over it, and he went into his office to call Sgt. Donovan. Then my mother came in, and I made her give me a pill first thing. I was reading the warnings while she got me a glass of water, and it seemed like a potent drug. My concern wasn't the upset stomach it might cause, but that I was to take three a day and there were ninety of them in that bottle. A month's worth; not a good omen. Then she brought my water and I told her what happened. I could tell right away that she thought it was an outfall of me coming out, and I didn't even try to change her mind because she was exactly right. She went in to talk to my father and I thought about it.

I came out at school, and Smelly Richard Brown Shit felt it was his duty to hurt me for being gay. He did, and I hurt him back, but I'd have to see him to see if we were even or not. I hurt and I knew he did. He'd been bleeding, and I could only hope he was in pain somewhere close to mine. Unfortunately, both Chris and I went for his head and I don't think there was much there to get hurt. He was the kind of guy you couldn't really hope to even knock some sense into, and there was little chance of dimming his already missing wit.

I wasn't being myself and I knew it. I was mad as hell at Richard Brown, but I didn't really want him to be hurt seriously. My pain would go away, but I would remember how much what he did hurt me. I wouldn't remember the pain itself, though, because that never seemed to happen. Most physical hurts, once they'd mended, didn't come back to hurt again, not like mental ones. I thought of Lee and how his therapist was asking him to relive those things until that kind of pain went away, and my injured arm seemed to hurt less just on the thought.

My mother had been in with my father for awhile, and hadn't even started dinner when Aaron arrived, and I know that embarrassed her.

"Don't worry about me," I said. "I ate all day anyhow. I'm going to Chris' house for the hot tub, and Aaron can eat something there."

My mother stood there, hands on her hips and tapping her foot, "Does Chris know about this?"

I said, "Yeah, he invited me!" I grinned, "And he said to make sure I brought Aaron over for a rutabaga!"

My mother's tapping foot didn't miss a beat. "That sounds like an odd meal for a Friday night."

I looked down, "Well, yeah it is." I looked back at her, "Don't worry about Aaron, though. He was brought up in a polite family. He'll eat what they put in front of him."

Aaron added hopefully, "And I've been kind of wondering about rutabagas lately."

That did my mother in, and while she laughed we went up to my room to get some things.

I still had on my bathing suit that I'd worn all day, and decided to pull jeans on over it. If the Humphreys were going to be home that hot tub wouldn't be very private, and Aaron assured me that he had trunks with him. After that it was just my toothbrush and comb in case we stayed all night. I planned on that just so I could stay there and avoid my brother for one more night, but I hadn't mentioned it to anyone. Actually, I never bothered to call home if I was staying with Chris when my parents already knew I was there. It was expected, just like him at my house.

Of course, in the privacy of my room Aaron and I kissed, and no two kisses were ever exactly alike. I think I said it before, but I'll mention it again. Since I'd fallen for Aaron, and because we were so in love, I'd developed a whole new sense about kisses. When we were both relaxed and carefree, then our kisses were wet, happy things.

Now I was hurt, and I could feel the wondering right in Aaron's lips while he tested how far he might go. I could feel an involuntary resistance in my own, fearing pain from my injury if I went too far. And with that, I could sense when Aaron's desires subsided a little. When people asked me why I was so sure about being in love, I never came up with that for an answer. I should have, because it was the kisses on top of a lot of other feelings. That's how I knew, because love turned kisses into a whole new form of communication, where nothing else had to be said.

I could feel Aaron sensing that about me right then, and when we broke the kiss his brown eyes searched mine. "I'm okay," I whispered. "Better, now that you're here."

Merriment showed in his eyes, "Rutabagas?"

I said, just as cheerily, "I think I know a new kind of phone sex now. I'll tell you later, but if they don't feed us we can order something."

"Are we talking about the same thing, Ev?"

"I don't know, let me see," I said, then pulled him close for a large, economy-size kiss. I had to take that thought back afterward, because economy wasn't involved at all. No, that was a kiss to remember and it cost me, like all others with Aaron, my heart. Like the rest of me, I liked to believe that I had some control over my feelings about Aaron, but I didn't, and I wouldn't. I was hopelessly, maybe even foolishly, in love with him.

Wrong words. I was neither hopeless nor foolish. I was in love, and being in love advanced my own reasons for living. I could be foolish, like when I touched things that were clearly marked 'hot'. I could be foolish again, and I usually was, when I was anywhere near Chris Humphrey. I wasn't hopeless, though, at least I didn't think I was.

The opposite was true, I think. Aaron was my first love. I loved him to pieces, but that didn't make it hopeless. Nope, that was the opposite, too. I spent free time imagining a hopeful future with Aaron. We were too much in click to ever not love each other, so if something happened it would be the worst kind of thing. I wasn't willing to picture that, so I didn't. Lord, I didn't ever want to imagine anything bad happening to Aaron, or to me.

Mrs. Humphrey opened the door when we knocked, and she invited us right in. "Hello, Evan. Chris said you'd be over," and she beamed at Aaron. "My, look at you, Aaron! You're growing like a weed." She looked back at me, "How's your arm, Evan?"

"It hurts," I said. "Isn't Chris here?"

She smiled and nodded, "He's out back with his father. They're putting the patio furniture out. Have you eaten yet?"

My eyes bugged, "I ate all day long. I can eat a little something, but not a big meal." I smirked, "I can just pick at Aaron's rutabaga."

She shook her head at me and said, "Go on out back. Chris is worried about you, but I can see that your injuries have done nothing to un-addle your mind."

"Come on, Aar," I said as I headed for the stairs. We went down and out through the back, and Chris immediately asked Aaron to help them with the table they were jostling across the patio. I knew that table, and it was awkward and heavy. It was round with a glass top, and it had heavy legs. The glass was just set into a lip and not attached, so you had to get down and lift it by the legs, and that made it top heavy. With Aaron's help they got it right into place, then they greeted each other cheerfully. There were a lot of things to move, and I was happy to watch. It was a first really; Chris and Aaron in the same place, wearing summer clothes that revealed much, and they kept bending over, squatting down, and flexing all over the place while they moved furniture. I watched, and I saw Aaron snitching glances at Chris, but who wouldn't?

Aaron had been strict with himself about getting in shape. He only worked out during his gym class, but he did push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and he ran the track. He was still slender, but he had more shape than when I met him the year before. He was definitely filling out in the chest and shoulders.

Chris was about my size, which was slightly bigger than average for our age. We were the same height and weight, but built a little differently. I had longer legs and a shorter torso, while Chris took up the same airspace with shorter legs and a longer torso, which is exactly why he excelled at catching. Neither of us were freaks, it was a difference of an inch where our belts sat, but that difference was important in baseball, and it would be important if we lifted weights. Neither of us was into bulking up, so we avoided the weight room except for fun once in awhile.

I watched for twenty or so minutes until they were done, then Mr. Humphrey got himself a cold beer and brought cans of Pepsi for us. We relaxed while they all cooled off, and I once again went through my little saga with Brown so Chris' dad could hear it. He'd already talked to my father, who had been assured by Sgt. Donovan that nobody was in police trouble over a schoolyard fight. Not Brown, not me, and not Chris, and I had the feeling that something had been compromised when I wasn't looking. I only smiled, happy enough with the result. One less worry.

There was time, so I got into the hot-tub and set it to this swirly mode that you get with expensive ones. Oh Lord, it felt good on my bad arm, too. Chris and Aaron followed me in, and somehow we got into listening to Chris expound on his upcoming vacation in Poland. He was excited to be going. He'd meet relatives who he'd only heard about, many of them his age or close enough. He'd see the sights; good, bad, and ugly, and eat the food, and he was really wired up about it. We kept talking about the trip when his dad called us to dinner, which was Polish kielbasa and sauerkraut, along with Kelly potatoes and soda bread to satisfy the Irish side.

Aaron and I were on the same wavelength. While Chris and his parents spoke eagerly of their trip, Aaron had the same wistful look that I felt on my own face. Neither of us had been farther than Florida, and the plans we were hearing sounded exotic and exciting. Chris would go to a foreign land, an ancient land, and he'd meet branches of his family who had stayed there and grown up differently than he did. He'd look the part, even though his last name was Humphrey. His Polish genes were the dominant ones affecting his appearance, and I might note that he had some pretty fine genes going for him.

Aaron and I listened, asked questions, and I think we both wished we could be going. Then Mr. Humphrey said, "It's too bad you can't go, Evan."

Chris demanded, "Why can't he?"

"Evan has his own plans, Chris," his mother said, then she looked at me, "You do, don't you?"

I smiled, "Yeah, I do. It just sounds so nice ..."

Aaron added, "Yes, very nice. You know, I have foreign relatives and they always come here. Maybe I should just stow away or something."

I patted his knee, "Not without me, you don't," and that got a quiet laugh.

Mrs. Humphrey changed the subject and said, "Tell us about Matty, Ev." She looked concerned. "It's not going well?"

I sighed and shrugged, "I don't know. I think I make progress, then I don't. He's being a slug, and I don't get it."

She said, "Yes, well it must be upsetting to him. People get their notions, they do. Don't let him get you down, because you've done nothing wrong."

I gulped, "I know." I looked at my bad arm and added, "If this thing gets better, then I'll be out of there anyhow. I don't know what Matt needs to see or hear. It didn't help me when he came home last summer and wasted his leave over me."

Chris was looking at me and his foot was tapping. Aaron looked at me too, and said, "Ev, you said you thought he was more mad about his leave than anything. Do you still think that's true?"

I looked at Aaron and said, "I don't know," kind of petulantly. "He doesn't want a gay brother, that's what it boils down to."

Aaron persisted, "He can't be your brother and be that dense," which made us all laugh. Aaron brightened, "Chris always tells me to give you money, Ev. I know it's a joke, but maybe if you could pay Matt back somehow ..."

My eyes bugged, "For hating me? Why don't I just give Brown my bank account? Why don't I give Matt my car? What am I worth here?"

Aaron recoiled and winced against my sharp tone and words, but he leaned right back forward, an earnest expression on his face. "I'll help, Ev. I have a dollar, my last one. I have my first one too, and all the ones in-between. You made money last summer. Take it. Take it all, and give your brother the summer in Europe that he missed."

I stared at Aaron while that sank in, and I didn't know what to say. I finally asked, "You think that's going to fix things?

Aaron shook his head, "I don't know if it will fix anything with your brother. It's what you always bring up, though, so it should fix you! At least that part!" Aaron caught my eyes with his, and said slowly, "Give him that summer back, Evan. It's only money. Then you live out your life without ever even thinking about it again."

I stared at Aaron, oblivious to the others there, while I wondered about what he said. I thought at first that he meant I could buy Matty off, or buy his affection back, or something like that. That might have been part of his thinking, but what he really meant was that I could buy myself out of an idea that might weigh on me forever. I didn't, for the rest of my life, have to be the guy who'd deprived Matt of a trip to Europe. If he really had a foreign girlfriend, maybe he'd be happy with just a plane ticket.

Mr. Humphrey tapped the table with his beer can and looked at Aaron, then me. He eyed Aaron again and snorted a little. "I think, Evan," he looked directly at Aaron, then back to me, "that your friend here is suggesting we offer to take your brother with us." Aaron started to protest, but he was shushed. Chris' dad continued, "It's a fine idea, really. He'd need airfare and money for food and whatever he might want to buy. We've had to pay for rooms for Chris all along the way, and they're all good for two people." Chris sat up straight as if to protest, and his father gave him a look that made Chris keep his silence.

I stared at Mr. Humphrey and asked, "You'd take him?"

I knew the answer from the look they all gave me, which was piteous at best. "He's your brother," Chris said. "How bad can he be?"

I snortled, "I ... I ... Are you gonna ask him?"

I saw smiles and heads shaking in the 'no' direction. I asked in a groan, "What' it gonna cost?"

Mrs. Humphrey said, "I'll look on the Internet. I know our flights were right around five hundred each, and let me think what else he'd need." She seemed to be thinking appropriately, then said, "Food, of course ... entrance fees, bus fare, taxis. Not a lot once he's there, really. Figure thirty dollars a day."

I think my jaw dropped. "So, you're saying I could do this whole thing for around fifteen hundred?" I didn't like that thought too much, because I had fifteen hundred dollars. If it was a lot more, I could beg off based on personal poverty, but this was within my own reality. Except I was cheap when it came to giving away large sums of money to anyone, much less someone who seemed positioned to hate me. I looked around at eager faces, and landed on Aaron's. As usual, he made me forget that there was a problem and I said, "Okay."

Aaron clapped, "You'll do it?"

I shrugged, "Why not? It's just college money anyhow. I can live on Spam and old bread, and go to Community. I have a car that should last ten or a hundred years. I'm not creative enough to need a tattoo. I can't think of a thing that I need that money for." I looked around, "How's that for a Cossack answer?"

Chris started wheezing. His parents seemed satisfied, and Aaron whispered joyfully in my ear, "Cossack is but one little consonant away ..." and that got me laughing, and I'm sure I turned as red as a tomato.

Mr. Humphrey said, "You know, maybe it's best if I call and get Matt thinking about this. He may have no interest anyhow." He started to stand, saying "I'll be back later. I'll call from upstairs."

When he walked off his wife followed him, and I looked at Chris. "He doesn't want us to hear?"

Chris indicated three empty beer cans on the table we were sitting at, and I understood. Their downstairs was a basement, and had no bathroom.

My arm was feeling good, and I took one more of each of my pills and got back in the hot tub with Chris and Aaron. I wondered if fifteen hundred bucks would buy one of those things. I didn't want to buy my brother off, but at the same time I did feel that I owed him. Aaron was right about that, and I had a chance to at least make the offer. The more I thought about it, the surer I was that Matt would just laugh it off, because a summer in Poland and wherever else they were going was probably not on his agenda.

We were comfortable in the water, and our conversation petered out as our comfort increased. I was next to Aaron and across from Chris. I got lower in the water as I became used to the heat, and after awhile the surface of it was just below my lower lip. We all were, so talk just stopped. We'd have to change position to talk without getting a mouthful of water, and it wasn't worth it. We could talk any time, but a drugged-up soak in a hot tub wasn't an everyday thing, at least not for me or Aaron. Well, I was the only one taking pills, but the combination of hot tub and pills was magical. I felt nothing.

It was Aaron who pulled me up. I was sputtering water and I was confused. Aaron giggled, "Man, you fell right asleep there! I always thought that was supposed to be impossible. Isn't that right, Chris? It's impossible to fall asleep in the water?"

I was still coming to my senses, and Chris laughed, "Evan doesn't fit into 'supposed to', Aar. If he did, his face would already be on money, or maybe pictures in the Post Office. How much difference is there, anyhow?"

Aaron said, his voice laden with humor, "That's funny."

He stroked the back of my head and neck gently, and I felt myself involuntarily dozing again, so I shook my head. "I think I should go to sleep before I drown myself in here. I feel really good right now, but I can't stay awake." I looked hopefully at the two of them, "Help me get out of here?"

Chris asked, "It's that bad?"

I said, "No, that good. I feel like a piece of rubber, but I'm not hurting at all. I have no strength either." I felt a little woozy from being in the hot water, and maybe from the pills and eating so much. They helped me out of the tub and I sat on the edge until I was fairly dry, then I asked Chris, "What's the arrangement? Are we staying down here?"

He said, "I thought we would, but why don't you and Aaron use my bed? That way you can stretch out."

I looked at Aaron and he shrugged, and I thought that was generous of Chris. I wouldn't tell him that, of course, but I did think it. Chris, by nature, was a kind and generous person. He just preferred the persona of a mercenary, and I'd never blow his cover. I said, "I think I'll take you up on that. I don't know if I'll be able to sleep anyhow." I looked at Aaron, "Do you want to go up now? It's early, so I don't mind if you want to stay up."

Aaron smiled at me, then said to Chris, "I'll be back in a little while." He touched my knee and said, "I'll tuck you in, Ev. Where'd you leave your bag?"

* * * * * * * *

I thought I'd have a hard time sleeping, but I slept through the night. I opened my eyes to the daylight, and I was alone in the middle of Chris' bed. I didn't move for the few moments it took me to become alert. Then it bothered me that I was alone, and my position in the bed made it clear that I'd been alone. I wondered where Aaron was, and I shouldn't have because I heard him stir, and I quietly said, "Aaron?"

He asked cheerfully, "You're awake?" then his smiling, sleepy face looked up over the edge of the bed. "Hi. You slept okay?"

I stared at him, "You slept on the floor? Howcum?"

I heard Chris growl from the other side, "I slept here too. We figured you needed the protection."

I giggled, "Protection? Against what? Sleepwalking Cossacks?"

"It could happen," I heard Chris say. "If there's nothing else, wake me up around nine."

I looked at the clock and said, "It's around nine now. Holy cow! I slept like thirteen hours?"

Chris was up like a shot, "Oh man! I have a game at eleven!" He looked at me and smirked, "You, you can go back to sleep. Or just maybe you'll come and watch?"

I mumbled, "Hear that, Aar? Are we going?"

Aaron was suddenly hovering over me, concern on his face. "Are you okay? Your arm is better?"

I didn't know. I tested it, and it hurt with a little wiggle. "It's not better, but I'm alright. I don't want to miss the game. Will this bed fit in your car?"

Aaron laughed, "I don't think so. It's still bad?"

I said, sitting up, "I don't know. Maybe it's better, but not a lot better if it is. I'll make it through the day." I put some force in my voice and said, "Chris is gonna take his shower now, so why don't you jump right in here and see what a little massage does?"

Chris picked up some things and headed for the bathroom, and he snorted over his shoulder, "Just be careful of what you massage. If that arm spits after awhile, it means you missed your mark."

Aaron laughed happily, then climbed in on my good side and snuggled up to me. "Does Chris take long showers?" he asked.

"I guess. I think it depends on how horny he is."

Aaron snickered and kissed my cheek, "And how horny is my patient this morning?"

I kissed him back, then he kissed me back, then we just kissed. "I do believe I'm improving, now that I think about it." I laughed, "If you want to give the devil his due, I won't say don't."

Aaron started to slide down and said, "You'll never change, will you?"

I giggled, "I will if it's important. Just make my arm better, then we'll talk about it."

* * * * * * * *

We lost the game and our chance to advance in the playoffs. It was a wonderful game, though, back and forth all the way, and we lost because the other team caught an unbelievably lucky break in the ninth inning. We were behind seven to six, and we had two guys on with two outs. Chris tapped a sweet looking hit just to the right of second base. The right fielder had to run in for it, and in his zeal he hit the ball with his foot. Right then the sign should have read, 'game over, you lose', but he kicked it practically into the glove of the first baseman, who tagged Chris out easily.

Game over.

We were dead; shot down. A miserable turn of fate did us in, not a noticeably better team. We lost and they won, but they won almost by accident. We all knew that, too. We were out-lucked more than out-played, but we lost anyhow. We weren't cheated, and after our initial thoughts we weren't that upset. Losing is part of every sport, and if you play well in general, it means nothing to lose. We'd succeeded in sixty percent of our games that season, and we managed to lose the playoffs to a team that was at fifty percent.

Numbers are boring. We basically had our big chance and we blew it. For the other team's good luck at the end to mean anything, we had to be close already, not ahead by a bunch like we might have been. They won, and we lost. Wait until next year.

The team was going to stop for pizza, compliments of the coaching staff. I didn't know if that would include Aaron, and we decided not to go just to avoid problems. When I told Chris he was surprised. "What? Why?"

I said, "It's not right. Nobody else is bringing anyone. I don't want to start anything."

Chris looked at me, then shrugged. "I guess you're right. Maybe I should skip it, too. That way I won't get the 'last out' jokes."

I smiled at him and said, "Hey, you lost with class, Chris. There is no way that should have happened. Go eat your free pizza!"

Chris cocked his head, then smiled, "Yeah, you're right. Will you be at your house later?"

"No, yours. At least I hope so."

Chris turned to run after the guys, and Aaron and I started walking to his car. A voice called, and I turned to see Coach Goodwin there. He said, "Come with us, Smiley. You can bring your friend."

My jaw dropped, and I stood there nodding long after Coach had turned and walked off. Aaron was beside me and said, "We can go if you want, Ev. I like pizza, and they might as well get used to it."

"Um, used to what? What do you have in mind?"

Aaron smiled happily, "They can get used to me, Ev. I can talk baseball as well as the next guy, and I saw some of your games. You watch. I'll fit in, whether they think I will or not. I always do if I get a chance."

I smiled once again at Aaron's strength of character, and we soon found ourselves following the team bus. It pulled into a big, gravel parking lot that surrounded a huge pizza restaurant. I normally associated pizza with little hole-in-the wall places, but this one was different. It wasn't pretty, not from the outside. It was a big, squat, square building with white walls, a blue roof, and red trim around the windows and doors. Inside was better. It was all rough-hewn pine wood, with a shiny wooden floor. The tables and booths were pine, too, but coated glossy urethane.

They'd been expecting us, too, for we were shown into a fair-sized room that was all ours. Aaron and I had caught up with Chris in the parking lot, and we sat at a booth that had room for a few more. We sat there, just the three of us, until it seemed it would stay that way. I didn't mind a lot, except I felt bad for Chris. I was just about to suggest that he go off with the others when John Berman sat beside Chris. He said that he'd been all sweaty and dusty, and just spent ten minutes washing up. He'd barely gotten the words out when Jerry and Otis asked if they could sit in the last two seats, and suddenly Aaron was impressed.

"You're Jerry Brin, right? I'm Aaron Castle," he said, reaching over the table to shake. Aaron bubbled over about what a great team we had, compared everyone to somebody in the big leagues, and engaged all of us in one great, hilarious talk about the game of baseball. By the time we shut up to put in our orders, I think John, Jerry and Otis already thought of Aaron as something like a friend. Personality-wise, there wasn't anything to not like about Aaron. He had mannerisms that might put someone off, but his enthusiasm was so great that those mannerisms were usually masked by excitement. He was wired in that pizza place too; pure, undiluted Aaron. He wasn't acting that day, just being himself on a natural high. He had everyone at our table charmed, and I was about bursting with pride that he could do that every time.

Jerry and Otis were a couple of the guys with self-proclaimed problems with gay people, but Aaron had them so wrapped up that they seemed to forget about it. It wasn't all about baseball, either. John and Chris talked about snow skiing and Aaron talked about water skiing. We all talked about summer jobs and other plans, and I think I can say honestly that everyone had a far better time than they would have without Aaron being there.

We only shut up when our pizzas came, and they turned out pretty good. Against my better judgment, I'd agreed to share something called 'Ghostly Garlic' and it turned out to be an interesting choice. Pizza crust with no sauce, just olive oil, about a pound of slivered garlic, and cheese. Woo! It was delicious, but headily potent. We also had a veggie one that didn't come across that well, and one with sausage and mushrooms on it. That was good, but it was the garlic one that none of us would soon forget. Well, neither would our friends, families, and probably our neighbors.

When we were back to talking it was a quieter conversation, but no less friendly. Then coach showed up at our table, like he had at other tables. He was making his rounds. He was still Coach, but he was more cordial than normal. He introduced himself to Aaron first, saying, "I'm Coach Goodwin. And you are?"

Aaron stood and held out his hand, "Aaron Castle. I'm Evan's friend."

Coach actually smiled, and he said, "Pleased to meet you." He looked around, seeming to approve, and said, "This was a lively sounding table before." He grinned at Chris, "I thought you had it for us there, Humph! Who'd a'thunk it, right?" Chris grinned a bit weakly and Coach said, "Don't bring it home with you, Chris. That's one for the books, not for you to worry over." He took a step back, "Thanks, guys. It was a great season."

He walked away, and Otis immediately said, "Man, that guy walks on water."

John said, "Yeah, he's pretty incredible."

I picked up a slice of pizza that I had no need for, just to avoid saying anything. The talk about coach ended with John's comment, so I put the slice down after just a nibble. Then it was time to go, and we all said goodbye. On the way out, Jerry Brin walked beside me and Aaron, and when we stepped out in the light he said, "You know something, Evan?" I stopped, as did Aaron, and looked. "My upbringing ... my head ... tells me there's something wrong with being gay." He smiled a kind and broad smile, "But," he put his hand on his chest, "My heart tells me I'm seeing something better here. And," he smiled at Aaron, "And your friend is a real treat." He pinched my nose and laughed, "Sorry, but I'm the bozo here. You guys are fine, and I think that's the last thing I'll ever say about it."

I grinned, "Thanks, Jerry."

His look became a little serious, "We have your back, Evan." He snickered, "That dude with the brown shit, when he gets off the disabled list, he'll be on notice." He patted my shoulder, "Have a great summer. If anybody gives you grief, you let the Brin know, okay?"

I laughed and said, "I will. Thanks, Jerry, and I mean that."

He waved and ran toward the bus, and that left me alone with Aaron. I said idly, "That was a nice time. Did you have fun?"

"Yes I did," Aaron said. He looked at me when I was getting in his car and asked, "How's your arm?"

"Which one?"

Aaron laughed, "Idiot! The one that hurts."

I had to wiggle it around to decide. "I don't know, not better I guess. It's funny how I deal with hurt when you're around." I snickered and leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Everything's better when there's an Aaron in the air. I love you man. You really had those guys going."

Aaron pulled out and said, "I liked them. They had me going too. I knew I'd fit in with baseball players."

I changed the subject, "Go to my house, Aar. I have to talk to Matt." I grinned at him, "Then we have some unstarted business to attend to."

Aaron eyed me, "I like the sound of that second part. Do you think Matt is mad at me?"

"Why would he be?" I asked automatically, then remembered their meeting and said, "Oh, that. He never said anything, but then again he doesn't talk to me. Assume that he's mad, I guess, and hope that he isn't."

"He has a hard attitude, Evan. I don't know him, so I don't know what that means to you."

"Neither do I," I said. "Let's see if he'll take me up on that trip. I don't even know what that will mean. He could take my money and still hate me, or he could take my money and think nothing, or he could skip the whole thing. Then again, maybe he'll just beat me up, only I don't think he's big enough anymore." I looked at Aaron, "I just didn't expect him to be such a jerk. You heard him, though. He thinks I have some disease."

Poor Aaron was trying to drive in traffic while I was ranting away, and he said, "Shut up, Ev. You'll make me hit something."

"Make it be my brother," I muttered. "I'm sorry."

It took half an hour to get to the house, and once again my car was gone, so once again my confrontation with Matt was delayed. I guess it was good that we didn't see much of each other, because it was becoming important to me to just face him once and for all to see what his problem was. Well, I knew what the problem was; I just wanted to determine what it would be like in the future.

It turned out that nobody was home, which was reasonable on a nice Saturday in May. Aaron and I knew how to spend such an afternoon, too, and that's what we did. My arm was killing me still, so Aaron did all the work, which he didn't think was hard. If I could have done it, I wouldn't have thought it difficult myself. A little of this, and a little of that, then repeat the process. You pause for senselessness, then try again. When you just can't anymore, and it's still a nice day out, you take a break to enjoy that part of it. It's pretty simple when you get right down to it.

I took one of each pill with some water, then I sat with Aaron in our back yard to enjoy the sunshine. It was really nice outside, and after awhile we decided to go out for a cold treat. When we were climbing into the RAV-4 Aaron suddenly looked horrified. "I don't have my wallet," he said nervously. "I hope I dropped it in your room."

"What's in it?" I asked.

"Just everything," he said as we hurried up to my bedroom. "Money, my license, my ID, pictures, notes, addresses and phone numbers ... " He started frantically moving things around, but it was clear that the wallet wasn't there. Unlike some people I knew, I kept my room relatively tidy. Since my arm got hurt it was extra neat, because Mom was picking up after me every day.

Aaron looked lost, "What should I do?"

"Calm down," I said. "Are you sure you had it with you today? Maybe you dropped it last night at Chris' house. Let's look in your truck first, then backtrack."

Aaron said, "I had it this morning. I bought those coffees at the game."

I smiled, "That's why they call it backtracking, I guess. First we look in your truck, then the pizza place, then the ball field. Bleachers are great places to lose things from your back pocket."

Aaron walked downstairs ahead of me, and I suddenly thought to feel in my own back pocket for the wallet. I wasn't a pickpocket, but I had chanced to notice that Aaron was wearing my shorts. Since there had been no clutter in my room, it seemed obvious to me what I had on without even looking. There was a wallet there, too, so I said, "Aaron."

He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned, "What?"

"Look at my pants!"

He looked down and said, "Nice. What about them?"

I pointed at his crotch and said, "Those are my pants, Aar," and I held up the wallet. Aaron's eyes went wide, then he smiled and reached for the wallet, which I pulled back and said, "Not so fast. Finders keepers." I sat down with his wallet on my knee and tried to open it with one hand, saying, "Now I get to know all your secrets."

Aaron laughed and snatched at it, "Don't you dare! Give that to me!"

I still had it, and I leaned way forward to protect it. "I just want to look, Aar. I wanna see if I know any of your other boyfriends."

"Aaaaaah!" he cried. "Not that! Anything but that." His head suddenly showed up almost in my lap, and he again grabbed after the wallet, finding something else when he missed it, and that made me squeal, and just then things brightened up because the door to the back of the house opened.

It was Matty, of course. With my luck I hardly expected the Prize Patrol. I felt myself blush all over, and Aaron was still groping me because he had no clue until I squeaked, "Matt!" Aaron stumbled back from me so quickly that he lost his balance and landed on his butt. He blushed crimson too, when he saw Matt there, and he held up his wallet with every tooth in his head showing.

"I got my wallet back," he said sheepishly. Then he tried to explain, "You see, Evan put my pants on by accident and I thought I lost my wallet somewhere else because I didn't know that I got in his pants." Matt just stared, apparently missing the humor of the situation, so Aaron dug a little deeper hole. "That's all I was doing when you came out, was trying to get my wallet back, because Evan thought it was funny and he was playing keep away with it, so I just got it, um ... back."

Matt rolled his eyes and walked back inside, and I let him go without a word again. I didn't want to embarrass Aaron more than he already was. It seemed like the best idea was to go ahead with our plan go get an ice cream.

It wasn't to be, though. We walked out the door to find my folks walking to the house from my father's car. They both had bags of groceries and were cheerful to the extreme. "Hi boys!" my dad said. "Aaron, there are two little bags in the trunk. Do you mind?"

Aaron smiled and went over to Dad's car, and I followed. When he had the bags of food in hand, I closed the trunk and followed him back into the house. My mother was in the kitchen starting to put things away, and she said, "The Humphreys are coming for dinner, Evan. They've invited Matthew to go with them on their trip to Europe."

"He's going?" I asked, only a little surprised.

"Of course he is," she said while opening the refrigerator. "I think it's brilliant of you to offer to pay his way. I don't know how he'll show it, but I do know that he's very pleased. He thought he'd never get to go."

"It was Aaron's idea," I said, while Aaron stood there and glowed.

My mother stood from what she was doing and smiled at Aaron. "Thank you, Aaron. That was a stroke of genius." She looked at the both of us and said, "You can go now. I need the very space that you're in. Be back by five-thirty."

That gave us an hour and change, and I looked at Aaron. "Hot tub sound good?"

Aaron grinned, "No wonder your mother wants us to go. Two geniuses in the same room! All these brain cells don't leave much room for anything else."

I followed him out laughing, "Bye, Mom. We'll be back on time."

We'd left our swim trunks in Chris' bathroom anyhow, in the certainty that we'd be back to soak in the tub again. Chris seemed glad to see us, and it was just moments before we were doing a slow boil in that very same tub.

It felt good, and probably better to me than them because of my arm.

"Chris," Aaron said. "Did your father say anything to you about Ev's brother going on vacation?"

"Not a lot," Chris said. "I know they talked for a long time, but not what they talked about. Dad said Matt thought it was a joke at first, but jumped right on it when he found it wasn't." He grinned, "This one we'll learn at the Smiley residence." He put on a dumb face and a phony accent and said, "They're English you know. Proper Brits. We're just dumb half-breeds. Well, I'm a half breed. Polish-Irish? What does that tell you? I'm not just  a dumb blond, but an ugly one to boot!"

I laughed. "What? I finally have you convinced? You are absolutely and positively  dumb, Chris. But, the sin is in your face" I grinned, "Tell him what you told me, Aar. You know ... about how even in Braille, Chris' face could make a blind man heave his guts."

Dammit! Using zingers on good friends was like throwing them out the window. Chris thought that was funny, and Aaron laughed with him. I worked to come up with that stuff, and they didn't even have the decency to be properly offended.

Aaron said seriously, "I thought you'd both be more upset about losing the series today. It's not a big deal?"

I looked at Chris, who had played in the morning, and his expression was serious. He shrugged, "What is a big deal, Aaron? It's a game, and we lost it. We lose lots of games. Today was luck.  Ours was bad and theirs pretty was awesome." He snickered, "That foot shot won't happen again in a million years." He looked at us, "You saw it, right? I mean Jesus damn! Right to the guy with the glove!"

Aaron smiled and nodded, "Yeah, weird play. I just thought you'd be more upset, but nobody seems to be."

I chuckled, "We don't get paid, Aar. It's just for fun, and if you haven't noticed, our heads are big enough already. God, if we won the playoffs you'd need a serious ear transplant, and I mean as opposed to the little one you probably need already."

Aaron looked out the window and mumbled, "Chris and Evan: Chrevan?"

"Craven is more like it," Chris corrected, and we laughed until it was time to go.

* * * * * * * *

I was actually nervous when we went back to my house to eat. Matt had me unsettled, to say the least. With company there, I expected his best behavior, but there was no promise that I'd see it.

When we walked in, it was to an empty family room. The television was on and nobody was there, so I turned it off. Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey had left about ten minutes before us, so we followed our ears out to the back patio. That's where everyone was, except Alton, who probably wouldn't give up another lucrative Saturday at work if Thomas Edison himself was coming for dinner. My father, Matty and Mr. Humphrey were standing to one side, beers in hand, and laughing it up. Bruce hurried over to join us, and my mother was talking to Chris' mom over pink drinks in fancy, wide glasses.

"We're here!" I said, then headed over to where the men were. We got smiles from my Dad and  Mr. Humphrey, and Matt shook hands with Chris.

He smiled happily, "We'll be bunk mates, Chris! Don't worry, I don't snore. If you do, I'll just take you out with these deadly weapons they call my hands." He laughed, and Chris laughed with him. Then Matt turned a smile to Aaron and said, "Hi there. I didn't mean anything earlier, I really didn't. I was just ... surprised, that's all." He held his hand out and they shook, then he turned back to the two dads there.

I was stung by the snub, I really was, but I held my anger in check. The last thing I wanted then and there was a scene, but my feelings were seriously hurt. Chris was a friend and neighbor, and not gay, so fine.

But Aaron ... Matt knew he was gay, and that he was my boyfriend, so why would he treat him so cordially, then me like I wasn't even there? I was really fighting back tears, and I admit it.

All that was going on was small talk, and I eventually got caught up in that, but I kept taking looks at Matt. He talked to everyone except me, and he was the engaging talker that he'd always been. I still hurt from being left out, but he was at least being kind to Aaron and including him. I could take it, even though I didn't know why I was taking it.

I was seething underneath, but Evan on the surface. I felt that somehow, anyhow I could make it happen, I was going to get Matt to say something specific to me, and it was going to happen that night, no matter who was there to hear it.

When my mother interrupted the men to tell Dad it was time to start the meat going, that kind of changed the direction of things. He was making what he called his 'speciality' which were shish-ka-bobs made just a little differently. Listen to this, you non-engineers. Things cook differently, and if you treat your food with respect you won't try to cook everything the same.

My father speared meat - beef and lamb - on metal rods and started them first. Then it was skewers of shrimp, then vegetables like peppers, onions and asparagus, then things that hardly had to cook at all, such as tomatoes and mushrooms. Dad timed it so everything came off the grill at the same time, and it met up at the table with what Mom had made

It was Matt who'd originally come up with "Engineered food is good. It's real good, better than most" and that always got a laugh. It was a wisecrack and a truth at the same time, and he culled one more laugh when he said it that night.

Then it was talk about the trip, and it seemed like everyone was excitedly into it except me. I took it for a long time; through the meal, which was wonderful, then through an equally delicious dessert of mixed berries and whipped cream over shortcake.

I finally couldn't take it anymore. Matt had successfully and totally ignored me the whole evening, and when I found myself alone beside him at the coffee pot I said, "Talk to me now, Matt, or all bets are off. Not here!"

He nodded, and we walked away without saying anything.  We ended up in the family room, which was as far away as we could get without going upstairs or into the front yard.

I turned to Matt and said, "Say something! If you hate that I'm gay, say it! If you hate me because I'm gay, say that too! I don't care anymore, Matt. Whatever it is, just please say it! I'm not an apple growing on a tree, but if I was I'd sure as shit land on your head to see if you'd say fucking 'ouch' or something! Say it, Matt! Whatever is on your fucking mind, just say it!"

I saw anger flash in his eyes, and suddenly I was back against the wall, his arm holding me there, and fortunately pushing my good shoulder. "I'll say it, Ev," he hissed. "You want to be gay, then fine! At least show it like your little pal does. Don't go playing macho-man baseball player. I'm in Kuwait bragging on my little brother, the sports hero, then I come home to find out you're sucking dick and getting your asshole reamed by who knows who!" He threw his arms up, "And I'm the problem? Well fuck that. It's you, Evan. You are the problem, not me!"

I stared at him. His anger had surprised me, but it shouldn't have. I had to take time to calm down, because what I wanted to do was punch Matt. I probably would have if I had two arms like he did, but I didn't. "Matt," I finally said. "You are so wrong that it's pathetic. I'm gay because I am. I'm different than Aaron, but he's also gay because he is. Nobody left it up to you to decide what's right and wrong, and this isn't even a matter of right and wrong." I felt tears forming in my eyes, "It's not like short and tall, Matt, not like dark and light. But it's not that much different." I saw how he was staring at me and pleaded, "Don't look at me like that! You're the guy with the shaved fucking head! You're the guy wearing black shoes to a picnic. Don't look at me, Matt. I'm your brother, and I'm not here being gay to embarrass you or something. I am gay, and it's you who has to get over it."

His stare was icy, so I added, "Or not." I looked at him and said, "I don't know, Matt. I'm gay ... queer, however you want to say it. Gay is the word that works most places. You have a gay brother. You should practice saying that, then you'll see it's not the big deal you're making it out to be. You have a gay brother, Matty, and it's me. My name is Evan."

I turned and walked away, fairly certain that I'd had no effect on Matt at all. If I did, it was to steel up his bad feelings about gays, but it was off my chest, and that's what I wanted.

I was the gay brother, the gay son, just like Aaron was. Matt was the odd one out. He alone, out of both families, didn't get it. Still, Matt's refusal to take me for what I was worth hurt way more than someone like Shit Brown, and Brown had caused physical pain. I turned around and  looked at him and shook my head. I said, "You fucking sit here. I'm going for more dessert."

I walked back to the others, willing myself to cheer up, which I did. It was quiet then anyhow, with the parents at a table talking, the kids at another table playing Yahtzee. I loved that game and ran up to see how far they were into it, but I'd have to wait.

That left Matt, who had come back out, and I figured I'd give him another try. Just as a brother. Not as a gay brother, and not as an angry brother. I wasn't willing to let something like me being gay drive that much of a wedge between us. If Jerry Brin and I could come to terms, then I should be able to with my own brother. Jerry has moral issues with homosexuality, and whether the basis of those issues is legitimate or not, his concerns are plenty real to him, and that makes them honest.

Matt, on the other hand, was just breathing what sounded like schoolyard hokum. If he couldn't make one argument stick, he had others in his pocket as backup, and none of them were based on any kind of facts.

He got a cold beer and sat on the railing of the deck. I thought about what I might say, then went and sat beside him, almost falling over backwards when I tried to get up there using one hand. He didn't acknowledge me at first, and we both sat there for several minutes in silence. Then I said, "There's this kid on my team, Jerry Brin. Sports Illustrated says he's one of the top hundred high school players in the country. He's in the top ten when they just look at Juniors. Major league teams are already looking at him."

Matt didn't say anything, but I felt that he was listening anyhow, so I went on. "He's our shortstop. He doesn't have any single skill that's really awesome, but he does everything so well that he's worth three of me. He rarely gets a home run, but he leads the whole state in runs batted in, and he's second for runs scored. Even with our crappy field, it's a rare hit that goes by him, and he can throw a spot-on bullet to any base before you even see him turn around. He's fast, and he steals lots of bases. He's like this all-around awesome player. If he stays halfway healthy, baseball will make him a rich man.”

I looked at Matt, who wasn't looking at me, and I asked, "You know one reason he's so good?" I tapped my forehead with my finger and said, "Because he's smart. If he doesn't actually have the ball or his bat in his hand, he's looking at the other players ... both teams, and he's adding up their strengths and weaknesses. Then he plays to them, and that's what makes him so awesome out there. He's already rewinding the plays before they even happen."

I looked and there was still no response, but Matt happened to look at me as if he was wondering why I stopped. Face to face, I went on. "Jerry's not all baseball, either, not by a long shot. He's an honor student, and he's involved in a lot of things at school. He's involved outside of school, too; in his church and in his neighborhood. He's just one guy you'd have to admire."

Matt nodded, which wasn't much of a reaction, but it was something. I put him on the spot. "I'm telling you about Jerry for a reason. Do you want to hear it?"

He mumbled, "Tell me."

"He doesn't like homosexuality either, but he's not just like you so, don't go thinking that. Unlike you, he has some legitimate reasons. Also unlike you, he looks at his reasons and he finds the cracks in them himself. He has his opinions, and I respect them because they're based on what he's been brought up to believe. We have agreed to get along ... I almost said despite, but a better word is regardless that I'm gay. It's one issue that divides us, and we have ninety-nine others that we've become friends on."

"And the point is?" my brother finally spoke.

"There is a point, Matty. If I can grow a friendship with a black kid from downtown, one who's fundamentally opposed to homosexuality, then I can damn sure still be a brother to a guy who can't even explain his opposition. I'm not giving up on you, Matt. Not ever. You can try to disown me, but it's not possible. We're brothers for eternity: forever. Maybe that's the analogy you need to hear. I am gay and I am your brother, and I had no say in either of those things. I was born to it, and that's how it is."

Matt stood, and for a moment I thought he'd say something, but he walked off, crushing his beer can in one hand. I watched him go, wondering if his lack of anger was a positive thing, then realized it was too early, too soon for things to change. Matt was Matt and I was me. He could play at hating me because I was gay, but he'd never make it stick, not even in his own head. I'd have my brother again.

He went inside and I figured he had to unload the beer. I smiled after him, and a dog barked somewhere. I announced, "Listen! The toads are out!"

Aaron heard me if nobody else did, and he laughed happily, then a new game of Yahtzee started and I was included.

Continued ...