A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 8

After that night, Matt and I fell into an uneasy truce. We completely avoided the subject of homosexuality, which was fine. It wasn't something that the rest of the family said much about either. We had to communicate somehow, if there was any way I'd reasonably be able to help with his trip.

Dad scored well with the plane tickets, getting them for just about what the Humphreys had paid, but in our case it was just a week before the flight. I wasn't sure what to do about the spending money. Matt had money of his own, of course, but I said I'd pay for at least the basics and I intended to. I ended up giving it to him in cash after a lot of discussions with Mr. Humphrey and my father. Matt had a credit card, but he wasn't paying for hotels or anything major, and Mr. Humphrey didn't think credit cards would be widely accepted where they were headed. Matt called the number on his Visa card and told them where he'd be, and they noted it so he wouldn't have any problem using ATMs there. My mother bought Matt a money belt.

School would let out that Wednesday. Graduation had been Monday night in Mt. Harman, and after the ceremonies most of the graduates went partying. Some partied before the ceremonies, too, and Paul Dawson stopped over late in the afternoon. I opened the door when he came, and one look told me he'd partied pretty hard all day. His eyes were as bloodshot as I'd ever seen on anyone.

"Oh my God!" I said. "It looks like you got hit by two red paint balls."

He groaned, "It's not funny, Evan. Help me out here, I can't go home like this."

"You want me to help?" I asked. "Try two days in bed or something."

He said, more emphatically, "I said it's not funny, Ev. Don't you have some Visine or whatever?  Do something!"

I wouldn’t laugh at Paul, and said, "Follow me. We can look."

I led him to the bathroom upstairs that I shared with my brothers. Of course, when I opened the medicine cabinet half the contents fell out into the sink, but that actually made it easier to see what was there. Except for assorted bandages, which we shared, there was basically four of everything else in that cabinet. Different deodorants, different shave creams, different everything, even personal floss dispensers. It took a minute, but I finally produced eye drops that promised to get the red out, and I handed the little bottle to Paul before I started putting things back in the cabinet.

When I turned around, Paul was doing a good job of getting his eyelash wet, but he kept squeezing his eye shut just when he released a drop. I said, "Let me do that while there's still some left. What time do you have to be home?"

"Around six. I don't even know what time it is now."

I said, "Come lay down for awhile. It's just after four, so you can get a nap in if you want."

"I want."

I was glad to be able to do something for Paul, and opportunities were rare. He kicked his shoes off and stretched out on my bed. I got a couple of drops into each of his eyes and left him there to snooze, and I think he was asleep before I closed the door behind me. I actually thought to check his car, because he had a habit of leaving sleeping people in it sometimes.  It was empty that day.

I was in an up mood, and for a lot of reasons. First, my arm was getting better every day, and I took the sling off when I got home from school that day. My wrist, elbow and shoulder were all tender and touchy, but I could do things with the arm again, and it was just sore enough to remind me not to overdo.

School was letting out after another day, and that was always eagerly anticipated, although I hoped for a better day than the year before, when this whole mess started for me. That's not entirely true, but I didn't want to make any more big mistakes like that one.

Still, my slip-up with Chris had set the stage for a lot of things. A year before I'd been a closeted gay kid, and only one other person on Earth knew about me being gay. Now, after a lot of in-between things, I was an out gay kid. Lots of people knew about me being gay, and anyone who didn't could find out in a big hurry. I was glad that I was out. I felt more honest for one thing. To me personally, discovering that I was gay was kind of a big duh. I didn't mind because I didn't know another way to feel, so it seemed natural enough. It didn't take long to learn how other people thought about gays, and I had no real reason to out myself, so I didn't.

I'd had a mostly smooth time since I came out to the world, but enough had happened that I stayed alert to who was around me. There would always be people like Brown and, unfortunately, my oldest brother. My brother would come around one day, I was sure of it. Brown wouldn't, but I didn't expect him to be around a lot longer. When Chris and I remembered our obligation to the police that Sunday, we went in to give our statements about what happened on the bus. That didn't take long. We talked separately to a female officer, and she recorded our accounts without comment. We ran into Sgt. Donovan when we were done, and he said Brown was quitting school. He wouldn't be back in the fall, but would be working for some uncle in a local delivery business. I could have pressed charges, but if I did Donovan said Brown probably had cause to go after Chris, and he wouldn't if I didn't, so I let it go. Chris had pounded him to my satisfaction anyhow.

It made sense to Chris and me that Brown would quit school, too. He was no scholar, and he probably already had everything he could hope to get out of the school system. He could read and write, do basic math. He was something of a slug, and he had a mean streak to him, but I'd never heard that he was dishonest in any way, or a drug user or boozer. In a way, I thought he made the right choice. I could see him driving around in a uniform and delivering things, and from my limited perspective it seemed like a job that would suit him.

I went out and mowed the grass on the side of the house opposite my room, so as not to wake Paul up. I'd told my father that he absolutely and positively had to invest in a new mower that year, but he hadn't yet. I'd been keeping the motor up since I learned how to sling a wrench, and it ran fine. The body casting was shot, though, and there was no fixing that. It was just worn through, and one day soon the motor and blade assembly were going to drop right out of it and try to dig their way to China. It didn't break that day, and it still did a nice job.

I was headed back to work for Harlan for the summer, and I'd be up to my eyeballs in big machines again. I couldn't wait for that, and to be earning money again. I'd come home with a bunch after the last summer, and I wasn't one to toss money around without thinking. Still, there were birthdays and Christmas where I had to spring for gifts; there was the car, of course, and insurance and gas money. I was generally paying my own way, too. I stopped taking lunch money just a few weeks after coming home, and I'd been buying most of what I needed. It wasn't some kind of written deal; my mother would still pick up things for me when she went shopping. By the same token, when she asked me to bring home milk or a loaf of bread, I just bought it myself and brought it home. Now, of course, I'd committed about a third of what I had left to Matt's trip, so a general replenishing of the bank was in order.

I put the mower away, then raked up the clippings and bagged them. That was all my bad arm could take, and I sat inside with a glass of water before waking Paul up. He was out cold, too, when I went up to my room. He was still flat on his back, his chest rising and falling with his breathing, and his lips flapped gently on his exhales. I laughed one more time, and probably the last time, about my infatuation with Paul, but it was still there. At least Aaron thought he was sexy too, so I wasn't alone.

I shook his shoulder gently and he stirred, but went right back to sleep. "Paul!" I said, shoving him more firmly, and he stirred again. "Wake up, Paul. It's Monday! Your graduation starts in about two hours. You want to be there, right?"

An eye cracked open ever so slightly, then it closed again and Paul rolled away from me onto his side, and he emitted a small moan. "Paul!" I said emphatically, shaking his shoulder, "Wake up!"

"No," he mumbled. "Leave me alone."

I sat on the edge of the bed and poked his side, "Paul! It's me, Evan! You said to wake you up, and that's what I'm doing!"

He groaned, then fell silent. Then, "Evan? Jesus! I don't come to your house and poke holes in you! Let me sleep, man, I had a late night. I'll come over when I wake up, I swear it."

I grinned and kept it up, "Oh Paul!" I said in a sing-song voice, "Little Paulie! Wake up now, it's time for your Ovaltine! It's a school day."

He grunted. Then he grunted again and rolled over onto his back, and his eyelids were flickering like he was trying hard to open them, and his hand slapped at the other pillow. He finally grunted a third time and mumbled, "Where's the clock...oh fuck!"

Then an eye opened, and it saw me looking at him, which brought out what might pass for a smile.

Aaron he wasn't, but Paul wasn't exactly a grump when he woke up. "You?" he asked. "Why am I here? What fiendish thing have you done with my family?"

I snickered, "Welcome back, Paul! Let's see them eyeballs!"

He opened the left one, which looked remarkably better, though it was still pretty red. The other one was about the same, so I put more drops in and sat there talking to him while he relaxed his eyes. He could safely stay another fifteen minutes and still make it home on time. Paul managed to stay awake, and when I told him again that he should go home, he sat up, albeit kind of dumbly. He started to rub his eyes, and I grabbed one wrist, "Don't! Use cold water in the bathroom. Let me see."

Darned if he didn't look pretty good. I grinned and said, "You look like Paul again. Not perfect, but not worse than you'd get from chlorine in a pool."

Paul smiled sleepily, "That's it then! I'll say I went swimming. Now wake me up for real, and I'll go graduate."

I pointed at the door and said, "I don't know, try lots of cold water. I can make some coffee if you want. How awake do you have to be?"

Paul smiled sweetly, then his mouth gaped open in a huge yawn. "I don't need coffee. Let me look in the mirror." He got up and lumbered out of the room while I watched him go. I smiled after him, too. Even in crumply clothes that he'd just napped in, his pants turned halfway around on him, Paul looked to me like this giant ice-cream sundae, all ready to eat.

Maybe later in life, I thought, at Golden Acres. Maybe then. In the meantime, Paul would never, ever know what he did to me.

When I talked to Aaron about other guys I could feel a little better, get a sense of perspective. Apart from Aaron himself, I didn't fantasize about many boys. Paul and Chris, Billy ... that was about it. Well, Justin. Oh, and Dan from school. And, of course, John Balls. That was all though, and it wasn't a hopelessly long list like Aaron's. Regardless of how he acted, I didn't usually think that Aaron was really gayer than me. He was, though. He wasn't nearly as discriminating about other guys as I was. With Aaron, a bulge in the pants was enough, or just the fact that pants were involved somehow.  I looked for other things. I liked looks too, but there were plenty of really good looking guys that I wouldn't get gay thoughts about. It wouldn't even matter if they were gay, or if I thought they might be.

I liked John Balls for his nerve and for his looks. I liked Billy because he was Billy, and I had the feeling that I'd live out my life thinking of him as my rescuer. He was cute like a bunny too, and had a great body. Chris was Chris, of course, and I'd always love him, but that was on a whole different plane. Is lovee a word? Of all the people on Earth, Chris was the one I cherished the most, even with Aaron on the same list.

I sat there on that thought waiting for Paul. I loved Aaron like I couldn't believe, yet he didn't have a chance at being my best friend, because that spot belonged to Chris, and he seemed to be welded in place. I could love Aaron until the end of time, and I would, but it was different and the same that Chris would always be my best friend. I can balance this, I think. Chris was my best friend, and he was an unbelievably good best friend. Aaron was my love, though, and probably would be the love of my life. Chris would never be my lover, and he sat there on one side like Aaron did on the other, like the scales of Justice or something. My friend on one side, my mate on the other. Separate but equal? No, I don't like that idea. Not separate. Different but equal, that's how it was.

Paul came back looking better than when he left. He'd combed his hair and straightened out his clothes, and he was more-or-less awake. He waved and said, "I'm gonna go, Ev. Thanks a lot."

"Hold on," I said. "I'll walk out with you," and that's what I did. When we got to his car I looked at him and said, "You know, this is pretty cool, you graduating. It's not cool, too, because you won't be there next year."

Paul's face took on a wistful look and he said, "Yeah, and it's kind of scary." He smiled, "I'll be alright, though. I might already have a job, and I still have more interviews."

"No college for you, huh?"

He snickered, "I'm not the type, Ev. Listen, I should get going."

I held out my hand and grinned, "Congratulations, man! And good luck!"

We shook, then Paul took off up the street for the eight second drive home. I watched him go, feeling good and bad about it. I didn't doubt that Paul would do fine as a grownup, I just wasn't ready for him to be one yet. He was doing something I wasn't used to seeing, which was going directly from high school to the working world. Where I came from, which was about three hundred feet from where Paul came from, there was college or military between high school and the working world. Maybe both. You didn't just jump into the fire with your shoes off. That was something you were supposed to take your time with, and if one degree wasn't enough you could always stay to get a Master's. If you were really afraid of the world, you could hang in there for a PhD, or even multiples. People who were really good at learning, and who could afford it, could put the whole adult thing off until well past their thirtieth birthday. Not Paul, though. There he was, just shy of nineteen, and he was all ready to join the 'real' world.

That's one of the things I liked about Paul; he was setting one more precedent for me. I didn't think I wanted to go off to college either. I wasn't trying to copycat Paul, I just didn't think college was what I wanted. My preference was to stick with Harlan and learn from a master, then branch out on my own somehow. If I needed to learn specific things, like accounting, there were lots of ways to do it, and even college courses.

I'd probably need an MBA to work for someone else, and I thought experience would give me the upper hand over education if I wanted to start something on my own. That's what I really wanted, though I didn't have any purpose or direction for anything yet. Evan, Inc. could be my working title. The rest was a colossal nebula. Maybe I'd manage Aaron's fabulously successful acting or singing career, or maybe I'd invent some little device that would let you wear Reeboks and still be able to kill an ant by stepping on it just once. Or something in-between.

There was a company in Mt. Harman that cleaned septic tanks for the people who lived outside the area serviced by the sewer system. The name on their trucks was 'Mountain Poo', and their slogan was 'We'll do your doo." They had to be making money, because they'd been around since I could remember. Their trucks were always sharp looking, even when you knew what they used them for. That might not be my first choice for a business, but it proved that needed services could be lucrative, even when they weren't too cool.

Being rich would be nice, but it wasn't necessary to me. I'd never been rich, after all, but I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle. We weren't poor, or even close to it by any means, but less wouldn't be good. Maybe it would, I don't know. I spent a summer in Riverton, and I shared an apartment with other guys there. However it started out, over time good things happened to me there. I ended up liking that place I lived in, as plain and worn out as it was. It was a new baseline for me, anyhow. If I could fit in there and be happy, then I truly didn't need a whole lot. My preference, of course, was the whole lot, and I couldn't envision myself gaining that in some big company. My father did, though, and Paul's father, and Aaron's.

There was nothing wrong with either route. Bigger companies had benefits you wouldn't get in a small place, and in general they probably provided better security. Still, most people seem to spend their working lives with a certain risk that things wouldn't always be the same. My father had lost his job once, when the company he worked for put a lot of money into a technology that didn't take off. Lots of people lost their jobs then, and it went from being a big company to a small one overnight, and ended up in bankruptcy soon afterward. Dad found his current job right away, but the economy was good when it all happened. When Paul was graduating, and when my brother Matt would be looking for a job, the economy was recycling itself, so they might not have an easy time finding work, though Paul had just sounded hopeful.

Harlan would be hiring, though. He hired a lot of people in the spring, and only some of them would be back the next spring. Many wouldn't stay even one season. A lot of the people who worked for him were kind of aimless young guys, and they moved on for lots of reasons. Others were laid off from better jobs, and they worked for Harlan to hold their lives together until they found something else.

His 'regulars' were people like the guys I'd stayed with the year before; locals who had to work, and Harlan treated them well. Those were the people he really appreciated. Whatever their lifestyles, he could count on them to be there, even if they were complaining about everything under the sun. He did the best he could to keep them employed year-round, too, so they wouldn't go off and find something else. Every spring he had to go on a hiring spree, though, and a bad economy in general made it easier for him. That's when laid-off people were willing to cut grass just to foot their bills.

Harlan told me that I'd been an eye-opener for him.  Before I came along, he stuck to eighteen and over because they could operate machinery. Now he'd put Billy and several others on, and they were working out fine while reducing his overall costs and doing necessary work. The kids loved having jobs that paid so well, so it had been copasetic all around.

They'd start full-time the next week when I was there, and that's where endurance would become a factor. Endurance and a tolerance for tedium; that's what was required to sling a weed-whacker or leaf-blower all day. I was a born day-dreamer, so it suited me just fine. Once I learned the machines and found a pace, I was left to my own devices mentally, and I went wherever I wanted to in my own mind.

I walked around back and sat on the steps to the deck. I tried testing my left arm to see if I'd be able to drive, and the answer was 'not quite yet'. I really had to be better in a week, and I thought from my progress already that I should be good to go back to work. I was in trouble if I couldn't. I decided on another soak in the hot tub, so I went in and called Chris, who said to come on over.

Chris was in the driveway when I got to his house, drinking from a can of root beer, and he offered me one. "I'll just have a sip of yours, sweetheart," I said, and I drank what was little was left in the can. We started toward the basement and I said, "You must be excited about the trip by now."

He shrugged, "I guess I am. I mean, of course I'm excited, but I've never just gone anywhere for a month before." He looked at me, "Is it paranoid to think everything will change while I'm gone."

"Not paranoid at all," I said. "Everything will change while you're gone. I'll be gone when you come back, and Lee will probably be gone by then too. The people who graduate tonight will be heading out, too. You'll probably have to suffer through the rest of the summer with just Nancy to keep you happy."

We started taking our clothes off, then pulled our swim trunks on. I took an un-self-conscious look at Chris. At sixteen he was as much man as boy, and he had all the characteristics of a fine breeder. I snickered and said, "Um, maybe it's you who'll keep Nancy happy. You two should have some real thoroughbreds."

Chris grunted at the suggestion, tested the water with his toes, then slid into the hot tub. He said, "Ooooh, this feels nice." He watched me climb in and said, "Nancy has strong ideas about not having sex before marriage."

I got in opposite him and looked him in the eye, "So marry her, then."

He laughed, "That's what I was thinking. I mean, what's a ring and a promise cost?"

I sank down to my chin, then laughed and said, "Rings and promises don't cost much at all. If you listen to my parents say it, the bills start to come due shortly after you make that promise, and then they don't stop coming."

Chris said, "I don't know about being good, Ev. I can't not respect Nancy; that's not possible. Still, I want to know what it's like. I mean, I know it must be beautiful ... I don't know what I mean."

"You mean you want to get laid," I said dryly.

"Yeah, that's it," Chris said. "The question is how, if she doesn't?"

"Chris," I said. "You're leaving for Europe on Friday. You'll be there for a month. Put a potato in your pants, wipe the booger off the end of your nose, and you'll be getting laid in the first hour." I grinned, "Um, the potato goes in front if you want that to work."

"I need a potato?" Chris asked in surprise. "I never needed a potato with you."

"No, you didn't," I admitted. "I always imagined you with a good spud, though. We should refine this idea, anyhow. I haven't been to Europe, so I don't know if they even have potatoes there. I do know that European guys don't get circumcised, so you're probably better off with a yam anyhow, if you want to fit in."

Chris started shuddering and sputtered, "Stop it!"

"I'm serious, Chris. I yam! Really I yam!"

Chris was laughing, "What you am is a lunatic! If they don't have potatoes, why do you think they'd have yams anyhow?"

"I said I didn't know if they had potatoes, but that's my bad now that I think of it. I mean there's fish and chips, and the chips are French fries and not real chips, so of course they have potatoes. That's what they make vodka out of too, so even Russia must have potatoes. I mean, why don't you just ask me why fire engines are red?"

Chris was pretty helpless, "Don't, Evan! Don't start on twelve inches and Queen Elizabeth!"

"But," I said, "That leads to the part about the Finns fighting the Reds."

Chris said, "You tell it then, Evan." He pinched his nose, "I'll be under water." He slid off his seat and to the bottom of the tub, so I laughed instead of telling my old, worn-out sixth-grade joke again.

I waited for him to surface and said, "... and that's why fire engines are red."

"No shit," Chris said. "I would have never known. Sometimes Evan, you leave me dumbstruck by your knowledge of things that not another soul on this planet cares about ... at all!"

"Fine, be that way," I pouted. "Someday, though, you'll want to know the real reason the sky is blue, why the oceans are salty, why the sunset is red one day and yellow another. See if I'll be interested in talking about such trivial crap, when I already know that you have zero interest in the things that really shake this earth."

Chris stared at me, "That took a lot of breath to say."

"It did. You know, since you'll have my brother for a month, I'll leave it up to you to either change his thinking about gays, or push him off a train."

Chris snickered, "No preference?"

"No. Whatever seems best."

"I've been avoiding the seven most deadly sins lately, Ev. Maybe I'll engage him in a serious discussion about yams, and when he gets into it I'll tell him that yams are just symbolic of Euro-dicks, so he's probably gay too."

Chris was good, and I laughed. "You better check on what sins he's avoiding first, but that's funny to think about. I can picture it, though; the two of you leaning over a boat rail or something, talking about the kinds of dicks different vegetables remind you of."

"Ev," Chris said. "You're crossing over or something. The only dick I need reminding about is my own, and it has this kind of self-reminding mechanism built right into it." He grinned, "It's true! If I have to pee, it lets me know, and when I'm horny does it ever let me know! There's no outside influence required."

"You get horny without outside influences? Weird!"

Chris blushed, which was always fun to see. "You fuck!"

"Ooh, you swore!" I said chiding him.

Chris took the easy way out and went underwater again, and when he came up he asked, "Can we be serious?"

"Not for long," I said.

He snickered, "Okay. How should I try to handle your brother?"

"I don't know," I said seriously. "It's not your job, Chris, and it's your vacation at the same time. Just have a great time, and while you're at it convince Matt that gay is good."

Chris snorted, "I can try. And if he doesn't convince?"

"No answer, Chris. I don't know. I can wait 'til he gets smart or something. Maybe you could just shove him under a bus after all, but that's probably one of those sins."

Chris made a face, "I don't remember anything about buses in the sin list, but it's probably covered under something else. Why don't I do this? I'll just bring your name up all the time; like about what you'd think and say about the things we see. The normal things, anyhow. Your name comes up with my parents all the time anyhow, so he'll get a month of hearing how normal we think you are. I think now that he knows you're gay, he's got to see that it's only one thing. I'm no shrink, but he probably needs to say the words enough times that they're not so important anymore."

I raised my eyebrows, "You know, that's what I told him. If he can say he has a gay brother a few times and not make it sound like he had to eat shit for breakfast, then maybe it won't sound so bad after awhile. I don't know where he got his ideas from anyhow, but it's not based on religion or anything. He must have listened to the noise that everybody hears."

Chris smiled at me. "I'll try, Ev, that's all I can do. I know Mom and Dad will, too."

"Thanks, Chris. I hear I'm bringing you to the limo pickup point on Friday. Why don't you just drive to the airport?"

Chris eyed me, "Um, for starters it costs ten bucks a day to park there. That's twice what the limo charges, and we don't have to drive the limo. It's not like a real limousine anyhow, pretty much a bus. We're leaving from Newark, too, and that's two hours on a good day."

"I get it," I said. "That's not a bad deal, really."

Chris smiled, "There's a break-even point somewhere, otherwise we'd be driving. Anyhow, this way you get to see us off."

I smiled, "Yeah, and I get to see myself off the very next day. I'm excited too, Chris. I just love that job. I have to be smart and get dirty at the same time. Nobody really tells me what to do, either, at least with most of the day. Once the crews are out in the morning, it's like we have this wall of work to sort out. Then deliveries come in, and guys come in from the field with broken machines." I grinned, "It's a lot, and it's disorganized, but damn, it can be fun!"

Chris smiled sardonically, "Yeah, and you get paid for it. I know you get cranked up when you talk about it, and I hope I'm half as excited when I find a job."

"You will be," I said, and I was sure that Chris would grow up to do something he loved for a living. "As a matter of fact, I've heard that male go-go dancers can make just as much as the girls do, at least in gay bars."

"No lie?" Chris asked, snickering again.

"Would I lie? Don't answer that! Would I lie to you is the question."

* * * * * * * *

Tuesday was a fun but wasted day at school. Every class was like a social function; we all talked and joked around, and signed yearbooks for anyone who asked. The cafeteria people went all out with a fixed-price lunch that included freshly grilled meats cooked over charcoal outdoors. For four dollars, the salad bar was wide open and well stocked. There were pre-made cold sandwiches that not too many people took advantage of. Out at the grill, they had hot dogs, hamburgers and boneless chicken, and that's where the long lines were. All the fixings were right there too, causing a backup of people waiting, but it was pretty festive anyhow.

Outside seating was limited and all used up, so I took my tray back into the cafeteria and found a seat at a nearly empty table. I thought some of my usual friends would see me and join me there, but four others sat at the far end, leaving three seats, so I seasoned my salad, tested the chicken for flavor and put some pepper on it, and was just about to dig in when I heard, "This seat taken?"

I shook my head, then looked up to say, "No." Standing there with a smile was Dan Crumb, and looking better than ever with the beginnings of a tan on his already dark face.

He sat and said, "This picnic is really a great idea. I'll bet money they do it more than once next year. Look at these people!"

Dan was right. The cafeteria was jammed, and it was loud with kids enjoying themselves. The price was right for those of us who paid, and still right for the kids on free or reduced-price lunch. It was good, too. The salad bar rarely had fresh garlic, but there was a lot that day, thin-sliced and yummy. The chicken from the grill was better than good. Boneless breast marinated in something, and cooked just right. After I had eaten a few mouthfuls, Dan said, "I see you enjoy your food."

"I do when I like it," I said, then I laughed at the absurdity of what I just said. Dan grinned, then opened wide to bite from a hamburger that was piled high with sliced tomatoes and onions, which was the way I liked them. "That looks good," I said. "Real good!"

Dan chewed and swallowed, then he said, "It's good! You should get one. These are like Vidalia onions, and they are potent!"

I smiled and said, "Ah, so you like eating, too."

He smiled slyly, "When I like the food," and we both chuckled and turned our attention to finishing lunch.

Two other kids took the last two seats at the table, and one of them was Mike Mastracchio. He seemed surprised that it was me there and said, "Evan! I didn't even look who was here. You know Hippo, don't you?"

I grinned, because everyone knew Hippolito Vargas. He was a crazy man; our official class clown and detention champion. I said, "Hey, Hippo! What's the count at?" meaning the remaining detentions on his list.

He laughed, "Officially, it's until further notice, but probably longer. How's your arm?"

I was surprised that he thought of it, but I said, "Better. Better every day." I turned back to Mike, who I hadn't seen around in a long time. "Good news about your brother, huh?"

He had a mouthful and he nodded, then when he got it down he said, "Very good news." His eyes narrowed a little, "I'm supposed to thank you when I see you, so on behalf of my family, thanks for helping."

"Glad to," I said. "I think you got real help from higher places, though."

Mike thought that over, then looked at Dan and back at me. "In the end, yeah we did. At first there weren't many people, and you were two of them. You guys got others interested, and it grew from there. No matter, I ... we really appreciate it."

I smiled at Mike and asked, "How is Ron, anyhow? I hear things, but what's the official word?"

Mike sighed and shrugged, "He's okay considering what happened. His voice is pretty much back, and there's no breathing problems. Still, when you get shot you get a hole in you, and in his case two, because the bullet went right through. There's so much you can do with surgery, so he'll probably never be a male model."

Dan and I choked at the same time, in my case because that wasn't a joke I expected from Mike. Mike backed up in his seat and put his hands up in surrender, "Kidding! Okay? It was a joke."

I felt like saying it was a joke you didn't tell to a gay guy, then I thought and looked sharply at Dan. His reaction had mirrored mine, and it made me more certain than before that he was gay, too. I looked at Mike and said, "Funny," then started eating again. After a minute, I thought that Mike didn't deserve a sudden cold shoulder, so I started talking to him again, this time about innocuous things like summer plans.

After we ate, which didn't take much longer, we went to the dessert bar, which was special that day too, and got sweets. I was all up for ice cream until I saw this red Jell-o that was loaded with nuts and pieces of fruit, and it came with a mountain of whipped cream on top. Sold to Evan!

Oh, it was good, too, and I think I smiled with every bite. We were quiet with our desserts, which I thought was funny all by itself, because it pointed out certain shared priorities. Mike left first, wishing the rest of us a good summer, then Hippolito went, and I got up when Dan did. We dropped our trays on the conveyer, and I said, "I'll see you, Dan. I'm going outside.”

"I'll go with you," he said, and we headed out through the doors into the sunshine. It was still really busy at the grill, so we avoided the crowd by going the other way, greeting people along the path.

Dan spoke first, "So how goes, Evan? You have a way of staying at the top of the news heap."

I looked at him and said dryly, "You mean the gossip heap?"

"Yeah, I guess I do. I still hear your name more than anybody's in this town, so you're doing something right."

I said, "Tell me you're kidding. I figured there'd be gossip when I came out, but that much."

He said, "It's not so much about that, Evan. People talked about you before, and that hasn't stopped." He patted my shoulder and immediately said, "Oops! I hope that's not the bad one."

I said, "It is, but it's not too bad now. It didn't hurt, anyhow."

"Good. Sorry about that. What I was going to say was that you're an interesting guy, Evan."

"I am?" I asked.

He snickered, "You know you are. People have talked about you since you started here. You just have this mystery man reputation, even though you're friendly with everyone."

I chuckled, "There's no mystery about me, is there? I mean, what you see is what you get."

Dan shrugged, "Okay, maybe that's a bad choice of words, but I think what we get from you is odds opposite of what we see. You're always horsing around, but you still pull down the grades. You're involved in all kinds of things, and yet you're laid back and never in a hurry. For all the words I hear said about you, very few are negative." He smiled at me, "You're just doing it, Evan! And you get away with it because of ... I don't know what."

I snickered, "I like you too, Dan. Between you and me, there's ... well, never mind." I was about to tell him about my exclamation point, but that was kind of self-imposed and I didn't want to seem like I was bragging. Instead I asked, "How about you? Big plans for the summer?"

"Ha! I have a job, at least. I'll be working at the Dairy-Serv on the south end."

"I know that place," I said. "Good milk shakes."

He said, "Yeah, stop by one day, and I'll fix you up with a great one."

"Sounds like a deal to me," I said.

Dan eyed me cautiously, then asked, "Evan, can I ask you something personal? Say no if you want, but it's not really about you, even though it might sound like it is."

I slowed down and looked at him, then said, "Over here," indicating a shady spot on the lawn that was off the path we were on. He followed me there and we sat on the grass. "Shoot," I said. Then I felt bad, because Dan had consternation all over his face, and facing him I realized once again how astounding his looks were. Central casting had overlooked him somehow, but even at seventeen he should have been starring in some Lassie movie.

He hemmed and hawed, then asked nervously, "Um, how old would you say you were when you figured ... um ... when you first thought, or when you knew, or whatever ... that you were, um ... gay?"

"Twelve," I said, thinking it might be mean to leave it at that, but that was the question he asked. I might have volunteered more if I knew Dan better, but I didn't.

"Wow," he said, looking at the ground between us. "That's pretty young. Do you mean you suspected then, or you were pretty sure, or you just knew it?"

I took pity, "I'm sorry, man. I guess twelve is when it all came together. Maybe I felt things at eleven, but I didn't understand sex at all then, so all I really knew about was hardons. When I actually had sexual thoughts about other people, it was always guys. So I don't know, I guess ever since my sexual awakening, it's always been guys, not girls. And I don't want to say I'm going straight, but nowadays I'm more interested in girls than I was before, too, and I could probably fool around." Dan's eyes were wide, and I added, "I won't though. I have a boyfriend and I'm in love, and I'm not that curious." I smirked at Dan, "Now you. Tell me why you're asking all this."

He tried, "I'm a reporter. I ask questions!" When he saw that I wasn't buying it, he looked off and said, "I have questions, actually." He turned back to me, "This is hard to say, you know?"

I shrugged.

Dan eyed me, "Are you telling me that you just signed off on the idea that you're gay when you were twelve?"

I nodded.

Dan smiled helplessly and said, "Help me here, Evan! How could you even tell? I mean, tell for sure?"

I grinned then, and said, "I had help, to tell the truth. My friend ..."


I nodded, "Yeah. He knew more than me. Well, he grew up in a bigger city, so he saw more than I ever did here." I looked at Dan, "Chris helped me, Dan. He helped me figure out the things I was feeling, and he helped me be fine with it. And I am fine with myself. I'm gay because I am, and there's really no alternate me out there running around pretending he's not gay. I mean, look at me! You'll never see me in a pink tutu at a Pride parade, and you'll never see me on my knees with some stranger. I am gay, though, and that's not reflected in how I am, it's just me."

"What about how you're treated, then?" Dan asked, his voice noticeably nervous. "You were attacked with a knife last fall, and I know it was you. Then at the stage party, again in a ball game, and the other day on the bus. How much can you take? Don't answer yet, because how much worse can it get?"

I looked at him, and I closed my eyes for a moment. He was correct, of course, but not completely right. I sighed, then said slowly, "Not everything is like it seems, Dan. The first attack was a lunatic. He didn't know me, and it was only a weird set of circumstances that let him know I was gay. The guy at the party was some old drunk, and his own pals made him get off us, and none of them tried to start anything." I decided not to say anything about Coach Goodwin, so I went on, "In school people have been good, real good. Richard Brown came after me, and he made a bad arm worse. That's it, though. One guy in two months, and out of two thousand kids here." I smiled at Dan, "I can show you a lot of guys who've had more problems than that for no reason at all."

He was looking at me, and he smiled when I said that. "Yeah, some people just get picked on, I guess. Do I ask too many questions?"

I stopped and turned to him, "Not really. I just don't know where you're headed."

Dan stared at me for a moment, and I could see his expression sadden. "I know. I'm being oblique and dancing around here, and it's because I'm trying to learn something. I'm not sure what it is, though."

I waited, and he just sat there, so I asked, "Problem?" I was actually getting impatient, but the view was good and I had nothing special to do.

Dan looked down, then off to both sides, and he finally mumbled, "I think you have me figured out, Evan. Why don't you say it, then maybe I can?"

Oh man, I felt for him, and I tried to think of words that would work. The truth was the best, and it was still an honest question for me. "You think you're gay?"

He looked away, then back, and he nodded almost imperceptibly. "You're not sure?" I asked, and he shook his head. I said, "Let's walk, Dan," and I pulled his wrist until he followed me. "You don't like it, right?"

"No, I don't. I'm looking to you, Evan. I've been dodging this for years now, and it's killing me."

"What's killing you?" I asked. "I don't want to fill in the blanks here; you do it! "

He walked beside me, his head down, and when I looked at his face he seemed terribly sad. I tried to be gentle. "Listen, Dan, if you don't want to talk about it, then we won't. Okay?"

"No," he said, "That's not it. I want to talk about this, but it's hard. I mean, it's really, really, really, really hard."

I suggested, "I can listen and shut up, or I can tell you how it was for me. I don't know how much help I'll be, because I can see that you have a problem where I didn't really."

Dan said bitterly, "I envy you that, Evan, I really do. How can you be gay and not have a problem with it? Can you tell me that?"

I backed off a little, "I didn't say no problem, because of course I had doubts ... doubts and fears. I didn't have a big problem because I had a friend to help me figure it all out."

Dan muttered, "You're lucky if you knew somebody gay already. I never had that."

"Listen," I said. "This wasn't a gay friend. Far from it. He's just a really good friend, and he's been behind me all the way. God, he wanted me to come out a couple of years ago."

Dan looked at me and asked skeptically, "Is that true?"

I rolled my eyes. "Dan, listen to yourself. You just told me you think you're gay, and I'm sure you only did because you know I'm gay. Tell me if I'm wrong, but that means I know your big bad secret, and that tells me you trust me with it. You can trust me, too, and you can also be sure that I won't try to mess with your head, and I won't lie to you. My best friend is Chris Humphrey. He's as straight as a plumb line, but he understood gay before I knew what was going on with myself. He's been there every day making it alright. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. Then it got to be fine, fine, fine, then good, good, good. Now I have a boyfriend, and I'm proud of him, so I came out. Hassles? A few, Dan, but they're not what I'll remember. I'm gay, and so what? Buildings don't come crashing down, the seas don't dry up; the sun still comes out."

He smiled shyly at me, and I continued, "On top of that, I'm still Evan, and if you don't already know it, there's an exclamation point at the end of my name. Well, it's not there really, but it's implied."

Dan was a reporter, and a big grin came across his face. "You just implied it again, Evan, and I like how you did it. I'm not sure what you're saying, though. You're right, we're talking because you're gay. I don't think I can do this with someone else."

"You have to," I said. "I'd help you but I won't be here. I'm moving on Saturday, and I won't be back until fall." Dan's face fell and I added, "You must have at least one friend you can talk to. Who do you trust most in this whole world?"

Dan's eyes filled with fear, "My Dad. Oh God, he won't understand this!"

I sighed, "You have to trust your instincts, but let me tell you they're not always right. I was deathly afraid of my father learning about me, to the point that I took off for months. You know what? Since I came back, since he found out ... he's been my rock more than anyone else. I never ... I never gave him credit, I guess, for being the loving person he is. Anyhow, what I'm saying is that my own instincts were dead wrong about my family. Heh, at least I was wrong about two parents and two out of three brothers." I smiled at Dan, "This is not a stink-free process!"

Dan had a quizzical smile on his face. "The other brother?"

"I think he got locked up in a space helmet with a bad fart for a month. He has this sour look all the time, and if he's not careful it'll make him ugly."

Dan chuckled, "I like your attitude. I wish I had your optimism"

"Dan," I said. "This just occurred to me, but you might consider confiding in your absolute straightest friend." When he did a double-take I said, "Support can come from odd places, and for odd reasons. In your case, I think the straight guys should be really happy to find out you're gay. Don't get a big head now, but if you voluntarily withdraw from the gene pool, they should be buying you lunch! I mean, you are the competition!"

Dan snickered, then looked sad again. "I know what I look like. That's not it, Evan. I have feelings that tell me I should be out, but I don't have one, single good reason to be out. You did it because you have a boyfriend?"

I nodded, "Yeah, and I couldn't think of any honest reasons to keep him a secret." I looked at Dan, "You know, if you don't have any pressing reason, then don't come out. I don't know.  That doesn't sound right when I hear it, even in my own head. Let me think a second."

After a minute I said, "I came out because ... rats. It's complicated, Dan. I was out in another town," I looked at him. "Um, that would be Riverton. That's where I met Aaron, and to keep things short, he's gay like you wouldn't believe. Anyhow, I fell in love, and I mean like right away. I still am in love. People in Riverton saw us all over the place, but when Aaron came here I was hiding him away. That's why I came out ... the one reason. Love is a big thing, like way important. I guess I was impatient, but my parents can love each other in public, girls can love their boyfriends in public, so why shouldn't I love Aaron in public?" I smiled, "I can't do that if I'm not out, so I'll never regret it."

"And me?" Dan asked.

"I don't really know you," I said. "You have to figure it out. If there's no big reason to be out, then don't.  If you’re not really sure about yourself, then you have to figure that out first.  I mean, if you’re not gay to begin with, coming out would be one huge mistake.” 

We both chuckled at that, and I went on,  You really have to start testing it, though, because it is liberating. I love Aaron, and anyone will when they give him a chance. Thoughts like this scare me, but I think we reflect well on each other, and when people see us together that's what they see. Us! Not me, not Aaron, but the both of us, just the way God made us to be."

Dan smiled, then snickered, "You're really glib, Evan. I think you're right too, and on all counts." He looked away and snickered again, without humor this time. "I guess I need to try something with a real, live body before I dive in head first."

"Yeah," I agreed. "You don't want to be wrong about this one.”

He turned a quick grin to me, "You have that right. I guess it's time I made someone really happy."

"You know someone?" I asked in surprise.

He nodded, "My friend, Joey. He's been out for awhile, and as far as I know he's not seeing anyone special. I'm not really attracted to him, but at least I know he won't shoot me for asking."

I said, "Why not someone you are attracted to? It makes it way easier to get turned on. Trust me." I was kind of hoping he'd mention me, and I dreaded it at the same time.

Dan sighed, "There aren't a whole lot of gay people around, Evan. The guys in school here that I know about don't seem my type, except you of course."

"What about me?" I asked, not sure what I was thinking. Dan was about the cutest human being I'd ever met, and if this conversation had happened a year earlier an atom bomb wouldn't have moved me to Riverton.

He eyed me and said, "You're taken, right?"

I said, "Well, yes ... on a permanent basis I am. I thought you just wanted to make sure to yourself that you're gay before you go and act like a real idiot."

His face took on a dopey smile, and he didn't say anything right away. Then, "Are you saying your boyfriend won't mind?"

I said, "I can't say that. I'll ask him if you want to try it, but only if we all know it's just a one-time thing. I don't see where he'll mind. It's not like we'll be fucking or anything."

Dan's eyebrows went up and his cheeks puffed out as he held in air. His dark skin got even darker with his blush, then he blurted out, "I don't believe it! Yes!" He did a little hop on the sidewalk, then went on excitedly, "Oh God, Evan! I guess I have to own up now, but you're one of the guys I fantasize about. Ever since you started here last year, I've been following in your wake. You look great, and you have this ... I guess you'd call it a personality cult around you. I actually stayed out of your way so I could just watch sometimes."

Hm. That explained why I only knew Dan by glimpses, and I thought it was funny. The bell rang and I said, "I'll talk to Aaron later. Is your number in the book?"

He shook his head no, and snickered nervously. "I don't believe this. I don't believe it."

He started writing his number on a piece of paper, and I said, "I don't believe it, either. It's funny. I never once got a real good look at you until that time bowling, and now it's because you were looking at me!" I looked in his eyes with a smile when he handed me his phone number. "I'll call you after I talk to Aaron. Once, and once only." I grinned, "Now you walk away. I never got a chance to watch you."

* * * * * * * *

Aaron could tell I was nervous when I talked to him that night, and at first I was evasive about why. Aaron knew full well that on occasion I took care of Chris, just like he did Billy. Chris and Billy were like old news, boys we knew before we ever met each other. It was like they each had prior dibs on us to begin with. I'd even helped Aaron with Billy one night the year before, though Chris hadn't had that particular pleasure yet.

"Aaron, there's something I have to ask, and I'm not sure how, so here goes: There's this kid at school, Dan Crumb ..."

"Crumb?" Aaron asked with incredulity. "Spelled like bread crumb?"

I snickered, "What's in a name, Aar? You're a Castle, and that sounds all majestic. I'm a Smiley, and that might be happy, or it might be just foolish. Dan is a Crumb, which sounds like a speck on a table, but let me tell you. If you ever see Dan Crumb, then you'll be buying a bigger table just so he can be a speck on it."

"Good looking?" Aaron asked with interest.

"Beyond that," I said. "He's like a grownup version of your cousin Renolfo, only more cute than handsome. Same coloring, though."

"Awesome!" Aaron proclaimed.

"Yeh," I said, "and he thinks he's probably gay. "He's ... um ... ah ..."

"What, Ev?" Aaron sounded worried.

"He wants to know for sure," I said unevenly.

"And you told him you would?" Aaron sounded even more worried.

"I told him I'd ask, Aaron. It's just something that came out of nowhere, and if it goes nowhere, that's okay too."

"You told him you'd ask me?" He was quiet for more than a minute, then he said, "I guess it's okay, Ev. You’re talking what?  Going for a walk and holding hands or something?"

I jumped in, "Are you sure, Aar? This is kind of a weird phone call."

"Yeah, it is," Aaron admitted, then he chuckled, "You're kind of a weird person. And so am I, so go do the dirty with your new friend and call me after."

I asked, "You want the details?"

"Mm hm."

I laughed, "You, Aaron, are something else!"

"I know," he said sweetly.

* * * * * * * *

"You're serious?" Dan asked.

"Yeah I am, but like is now okay?"

"Tell me where you live!" he said excitedly.

* * * * * * * *

Half an hour later, fresh from a quick shower and change of clothes, I was pacing nervously in the street in front of my house. I was very nervous, mind-alteringly nervous, wondering what special neuron firing-order had taken place in my head to trigger my present situation. Pacing wasn't calming me down one bit, either, and I wondered if Dan wasn't twice as nervous; ten times, a thousand times. After all, he was brand new to this, and I couldn't imagine being able to calm someone else down in my present condition.

My fretting turned to a near-panic when Dan showed up. He was driving a big, tan Suburban that looked brand new, and the passenger-side window was sliding down as he pulled up so I'd recognize him. I opened the door and said hi, then got in. I'd been right about Dan. He was as nervous as a cat himself, fumbling everything he touched in the big vehicle.

I decided to cut to the chase, and said, "Nervous? I sure am."

He licked his lips, "Nervous ... uh, that's putting it mildly. I can't believe I made it to your house. I was so ready to bail."  He laughed at his edginess when he stepped on the gas, then remembered to put the transmission in gear.

I said, as gently as I could given my own condition, "Listen, bail when you want, stop any place along the line. We're not committed to any particular thing, and we can just talk if you want."

He breathed deeply, "Talking is good." He had his eyes on the road, then he gulped in some air and said, "I want to do more, though. I'll chicken out somewhere along the line, but maybe we could walk somewhere, and talk then. Maybe we could ... hold hands or something."

I said softly, "I'd like that, Dan." I'd promised myself that I wouldn't go making any references or comparisons to Aaron, but I went ahead and did anyhow. "You know, to me holding hands is pretty sexy all by itself. I love holding hands with Aaron, and he's the same way. Whenever we're close together, our hands just go 'wa-dunk!' and we're stuck together like big-ass electromagnets." I looked at Dan and said, "I'm sorry. I promised myself I wouldn't bring up Aaron."

Dan smiled, calmer by then. "No, no. Talk all you want about him. I liked hearing that."

I sat there for a moment, then asked, "Where are we going, anyhow?"

"The golf course. We can walk there on the cart paths, and I don't think anyone else will be around. Even if someone's there, it's huge. We can get lost easy."

I chuckled, "Aaron's brother takes his girlfriend to a golf course sometimes. They call it going knolling."

Dan said, "I brought a blanket. Knolling sounds good to me if it's okay with you."

I was relaxing too. I didn't say anything, but I leaned against the door and watched Dan drive. God, his looks were heart-breaking. He was mine for the taking, too, for that night anyhow. I just hoped my resolve held, because I'd promised myself that I'd let Dan lead. He could test the waters, so to speak, and learn for himself how real his gay feelings were.

If I led, I could mislead just by knowing the ropes already. I could make Chris feel good, so I was confident that any guy, straight or gay, could enjoy the ministrations of another guy given the right circumstances. The situation with Dan that night could be all in my favor, and I was sure I could show him a great time.

He was there for a larger purpose, though. At least he said he was. I'd coax him along if he needed it, but I didn't plan to do anything myself if Dan hadn't already done with me first.

There was a truck in the golf course parking lot, way off by one of the maintenance buildings. Otherwise the lot was empty, and we got out of the Suburban and met at the back doors. Dan opened one and pulled out a blanket, which he handed to me. Then he picked up a cooler and shut the door, using the key fob to lock the whole vehicle up. The taillights blinked once and a little beep sounded from somewhere: an incongruous sound coming from such a massive car.

I followed a quarter-step behind Dan, and we were soon behind the big clubhouse. The sun was below the hills, but there was plenty of light left. Dan stopped for a second and eyed the options, then pointed and said, "There's a little lake off to the left, and some nice piney woods on the other path."

I shrugged, "It's up to you. They both sound nice." I looked at the cooler he had and asked, "What'd you bring?"

"Um, well, there's wine."

"Nice," I said. "Red?"

"Yeah, Chianti. And a candle." He laughed nervously, "I kind of like romance. It's okay if you don't, but I'm ready just in case."

I shifted the blanket to my other hand and reached for Dan's. He seemed startled when my hand touched his, but he didn't miss the message.

As soon as his hand took mine I knew he'd be no substitute for Aaron. It wasn't that his palm was sweaty, because mine was too. It was the fit that wasn't right. Hard to describe, but like trying on gloves that were the right size, but the wrong shape for your hands. There was no magic for me. That's not to say it wasn't nice, because it was.

We walked easily; not fast and not slow, as the shadows faded around us. We talked idly about the features of the grounds, crossed little, arched wooden bridges, and eventually ended up at what they called a lake. It was a man-made pond in reality, built as a water hazard for three different holes on the course. It was a very pretty spot, and we set up camp on level ground close to the water.

The grass was so nice there that it made the blanket a redundancy, but the grass was already becoming damp with dew, so the blanket kept our butts dry. It was nice, and Dan was a thoughtful guy. The candle he brought was a pyramid shaped thing, and it sat up fine on the grass beside us. It wasn’t dark enough that we needed the candle, but he lit it anyhow.

We sat down, side by side, and he poured Chianti into my glass, which was a regular wine glass and not some paper cup. When he poured his own, he sat beside me, about a foot away.

It was time to coax. I held my glass out and said, "Let's toast!" and he clinked his glass against mine, then we both took sips. "Good!" I said, and he smiled.

I waited for him to move, and when he didn't I said, "You could sit closer, you know. I don't bite."

He slid over until our shoulders were barely touching, and I pushed in a little closer to him, to where I could really feel his warmth on my side. He asked, "Better?"

"Much," I said. "Is this what you want? Just to cuddle up a little."

Dan sighed, "It feels nice. I just don't know what's next."

I kissed his ear and whispered, "Try that for starters." I added apologetically, "I won't make out with you, Dan. That's for Aaron, but we can kiss around if you want."

He giggled, "I want!" and kissed me on the cheek, then the ear, then the neck.

I giggled myself, because it tickled, and it felt nice too. "That's the way! Let me show you what that feels like." I did basically the same to him, and he seemed to melt. He sighed deeply and began to tremble all over again.

I suppose that about here is where I should stop with the details. Dan and I didn’t do much but sit there and cuddle, while we sipped our wine and talked.  We talked into the night, though, and enjoyed the time we spent together.  I don’t know for sure that Dan decided anything, and I didn’t ask.  He did get comfortable before long, and wasn’t shy about touching me or me touching him.  I’d promised not to lead him into thinking something by feeding him ideas.  He didn’t ask, but if he had, I’d have told him that I thought he was gay for sure.

I’d spent evenings just talking like that with lots of straight guys, and I usually enjoyed time spent like that.  The main difference between Dan and the other guys was that exactly zero of the others had put his nose in my ear when I was making a point, nor put their hand under my shirt and stroked my back while they made their own points.

That’s why we went together in the first place, and I thought Dan did things the way a gay guy might, even if we didn’t do a whole lot.  It was up to him to think it out, and I was certain he’d do just that.

Dan seemed kind of excited about it when he dropped me off. We sat in front of my house in the Suburban for a long time, and we talked and talked. Dan had that in common with Aaron, and probably with me. We all talk a lot, and Dan is interesting to listen to. I took his hand for a moment just before I got out of the car, and he didn't jump at my touch then.

The house was dark after Dan drove off.  It was late: almost midnight. I was tired, but I still wanted to call Aaron. I had to wonder about the time, but I called anyhow. Aaron answered before the first ring ended. "Evan?"

"At your service," I said, smiling at his voice. "Before you ask, I didn't do anything. We didn’t do anything, really."


"And what? How was it? Well, Dan was nervous.  I was nervous at first, too.  We ended up at a golf course with a bottle of wine and a candle."

Aaron giggled, "Ooh, romantic, huh?"

"Yeah, it was, actually.  The setting was, anyhow, and I guess I’d say the company was, too.  Dan’s kind of cuddly, and he’s a great talker.  It turned out pretty nice."

Aaron quieted, "Okay, that's cool."

"Aaron? Listen to this. Dan wants me to really, really thank you. He's ... I don't know, I don't want to say something trite, because he didn’t say anything one way or the other.  If he asks me, I still won’t tell him I think he’s gay, but I do.”

I’d been emptying my pockets, and I kicked my sneaks off and stretched out on the bed.  “You know what I think?”

“Tell me.”

“Dan knows he’s gay. I think he’s known it.  He’s afraid of it, but I don’t think he’ll stay that way.  He won’t come out for no good reason, but I’m pretty sure he knows, and tonight was just to cross the tee.”

“Why do you think that?”  Aaron asked.

“I … because there was no retreat, Aar.  None at all.  I held his hand, and he held on.  We got close, and he got closer.  I kissed his ear, and mine’s still wet.  It’s like he's on the road now. He's more ... um, comfortable I guess. You know where that knot is in your head? Well, you probably don't, but most people actually worry about if they're gay or not, and those aren't the right words. When they're not sure like you, they worry about being gay and they hope they're not. I'm messing up here, but you know what I mean."

"That’s sweet," Aaron said evenly, "I guess it's a matter of finding someone special now.  He needs someone, Ev  That’s all."

My eyes were getting heavy, so I turned from the light and said, "We talked about that earlier.  He's kind of on his own now. He said he has a gay friend. Not somebody he's attracted to, but still ..."

"That won't work," Aaron interrupted. "It won't, especially if he's even half as gorgeous as you say. He needs someone closer to home, like you always had Chris, and I have Billy."

"I don't know," I said. "We talked a lot tonight, but not much about people. I'm the only one who thinks he's gay." When Aaron didn't respond immediately, I had another thought. "Maybe not, you know it? Bruce was sweet on his sister for awhile, and she told Bruce he was gay. I never know how to take that, because you know how everything's 'gay'. I guess I could ask Bruce."

Aaron backed up, "So you didn’t do anything … you know, sexual?"

"We kept everything buttoned and zipped, but I can’t really say it wasn’t sexual.  Well, maybe not, but it sure was sexy.”

"You … "

“I what?” I asked.

"Nothing," Aaron said. "Ev, I don't want to go anywhere with this. You did this thing for a friend. I wanted to know how that worked out, not the details of it.”  He yawned loudly, and I remembered how late it was. "Ev," He yawned again, "Let me sleep. It won't matter in the morning."

He was right, and we took our kisses together. I turned out the light and stretched out, thinking I was the winner that night. Dan Crumb, probably the cutest guy I could dream up, even if I was only imagining someone cute, had gone with me to explore his feelings, or possible feelings, and I think things had gone perfectly.  There was no sex, nor any real talk about it, and that seemed right to both of us.

I was comfortable, and most of my nervousness before Dan picked me up had been over how I'd feel afterwards. Dan had a lot going for him, but nothing that would make me even consider leaving Aaron. I had an attraction to Dan, and you'd have to be dead not to. It was just an attraction, though, no special feelings. He was like a nice, warm puppy.

I was tired. The next thing I knew the alarm was urging me to get up for school, and I didn't want to. I did get up of course, after swatting the snooze bar as many times as I dared. Then I sat up and groaned, rubbing my eyes before I got my feet over the side of the bed. I wondered why they even had a last day of school. That thought didn't make sense even to me, but the idea didn't leave me until I was halfway through my shower. After that, shaving and combing my head were mechanical, then I had to choose clothes.

I'd bought a new pair of shorts and decided on those. They were tan cargoes, but not baggy ones like I usually wore. I put those on, and a dark green polo shirt that had thin, beige piping around the collar edge and again at the ends of the sleeves. It had an elasticized bottom, so I didn't have to tuck it in, and therefore didn't need a belt. Pima cotton. I was still tired, but I smiled in spite of myself when I looked in the mirror. Green wasn't my favorite color, and Aaron had talked me into buying that particular shirt. He'd been right, too. That color sure looked good on me, and I became an instant fan of hunter green with beige piping. I thought I looked older, too: taller. It made me smile, and I decided that it was probably time to outgrow the hip-hop look.

I certainly startled my family. I was the last one down to the kitchen, and everyone did a double-take. "Evan!" my mother exclaimed. "You look wonderful! How does your arm feel?"

I wiggled it around for her to see and said, "It's still funky, but not bad anymore. I can tell why they gave me so many pills, though."

Dad asked hopefully, "Is this a new look for you, Evan? If it is, then I approve."

Even though I liked the way I looked that morning, I felt it was my God-given duty to protest. "Come on," I whined. "I look like the poster boy for Land's End!"

Dad didn't buy it. "Well, I like it. I can see that you have a waist after all, and I'm not looking at your underpants for the first time in years. That color looks good, too."

I think I blushed, but my face was already in the refrigerator as I reached in for the orange juice, then noticed real oranges. I looked up, "Are the oranges for anything special?"

"No, Dear," my mother said. "Help yourself."

I took one out, then dropped two pieces of bread into the toaster and peeled the orange while I waited on toast. Al wasn't home, but Bruce and Matty were. There was nothing at all abnormal about their silence in the morning. Of four boys, I was the only one who ever came to breakfast actually awake, and I was more tired than usual that morning. My mother said, "You were out late last night."

I was, at least for me. "Yup," I said, shoving a wedge of orange in my mouth. I bit down and it squirted a surprising amount of juice around my mouth, given that oranges weren't actually in season. I thought of something to say, and watched Bruce when I said it. "I took a ride with this guy, Dan Crumb. He's from school."

Bruce turned his face to me, but it could have been just because I said a name he knew. There was no other reaction. I raised my eyebrows, but that just confused him, so I started eating. Between bites I said, "Dan's a good guy. I met him when I went bowling with Bruce. Bruce is all hot for Dan's sister."

Bruce could be precious sometimes. His sleepy expression didn't change one iota, but his face went from morning-pasty to bright red like a switch had been thrown. I saw my father smile and avert his face, and even Matt suppressed a laugh. I just smiled.

Chris showed up for me before I finished eating, and told me to take my time, which I didn't. I gulped everything down, and I thought Chris would have a heart attack when I stood up. He looked at my middle, then up, then down from there, and the startled look on his face was as good as Bruce's embarrassment.

"Do I know you?" he asked. "I don't get it. It's Evan's head, but it's someone new, and really cubic, between the neck and the floor."

Matt laughed out loud, and my father admonished, "Be kind, Chris. Take a good look, too, because you either won't see this again or it will be the new Evan." He grinned and added, "Only time will tell."

Chris put a hand over his eyes, then looked again. "Hurry up, Ev!'

Suddenly we're in a hurry? I didn't get it, but I was glad to get going. "Bye," I called as I turned to get my things. Then I realized I didn't have things to get, so Chris and I just kept going. He stopped at his house and I followed him in to his room, where he peeled off his shirt and pants.

"Chris," I pleaded. "Can't this wait 'til after school? We're already gonna be late, and they'll probably let us out early anyhow."

Chris laughed, "Nice try, Ev," as he put on a new shirt, this one a snug, brown tee. Then he pulled on jeans I'd never seen before; tight jeans, low cut ones with what looked like embroidery on the back pocket. My eyes bugged. Chris had a great body to begin with, and I was familiar enough with the unclothed version, but he always dressed like I did, so snug-fitting clothes was a first. Well, except for baseball uniforms, but when we wore those we were all about baseball, not looking at each other.

This was outrageous, though. These were the clothes Chris had bought for his trip to Europe, and I was torn between being pissed off and just plain being in awe. Yeah, sure! Go show that shape of yours off to Polish people, for God's sake, but don't let me see it done up like that! It was Chris, so I said, "Wow! Nancy picked those out?"

He was threading a belt between the loops and said absently, "Yeah, she came with me. I kind of like the way they feel, that's really why I bought them." He finished adjusting things and turned to me. He beamed, "My Dad says everybody wore clothes like this when he was a kid." His smile turned evil, "You probably would'a gone nuts!"

I looked at the bulge in the front of those pants, then when he turned and I saw his butt all defined like it was, I had to look away. Gaping at the ceiling I said, "I'd be dead, Chris. I'm gay, so take it from me. Those are definitely the pants you want to be wearing. If everybody did, I'd just give up and have a heart attack. They are ... never mind!"

That embarrassed Chris, and we left promptly for school. I'd thought for a while that the last day would bring an ominous feeling to me, but it didn't. With the Seniors graduated and gone, there was plenty of room in student parking, and there were tons of Sophomores taking advantage of that, so we only managed to find a spot in the farthest corner.

When we got out of the car, I had this almost insane desire to walk about ten feet behind Chris, just so I could behold him in those clothes. I couldn't put a practical reason for doing that into my mind at first, and after a bit I knelt to tie my shoelace.

I had to untie it first, of course, but nobody could prove that. It worked, too. By the time Chris realized I wasn't beside him, he was the perfect distance away, and I was down on one knee admiring him from an ideal perspective.

I don't think he caught on, and I didn't belabor it. I tied my shoe, then trotted over to him and we continued on into the building. I felt a pang of guilt over my perversion, but it was a happy pang. Chris and I were both growing like the proverbial weeds, and that shape probably wouldn't fit into those same pants when summer was over. I took my chance when I had it, and it both woke me up and cheered me up.

We had an extended homeroom period, complete with a cake brought in by the teacher, and little cartons of milk from the cafeteria. Then there was a general assembly, and that would be it for the year. Mr. Kennedy, who was an English teacher and also the head of the drama club, was in charge. The academic awards assembly had already taken place, and the various sports did their own things when the seasons ended.

The principal and a couple of speakers were on the stage, and as soon as people settled into their seats the principal stood at the podium and welcomed us there. He announced that there would actually be a program to introduce the school system's new policies regarding gambling. Then he turned it over to Mr. Kennedy to talk about.

Kennedy was the right guy to talk about things that could be involved or boring, just because he was such a good public speaker. He got right into it too, explaining that a gambling policy for schools was new, and it would evolve as people learned, rather being dropped on us as simply a new pile of rules and regulations.

There was a lot of debate among the staff about what might even be considered gambling, and how certain things like fund raising raffles might still be allowed. Betting on sporting events, card games, craps games and the like was definitely out, as would be the actual playing of games that were usually associated with betting. He didn't talk about possible penalties or punishments, and admitted they hadn't gotten that far along. He did say there was concern that more than one student probably fit the category of compulsive gamblers.

Then he went on to say that compulsive gambling by teens was an emerging problem, but the scope was only being guessed at right then. School systems across the state would have people hard at work over the summer trying to get their arms around the issue. He ended by urging anyone who thought they might have a gambling problem, or have a friend with a problem, to seek private counseling. There were some doctors beginning to work with problem gamblers, and a few state agencies were putting together information. There were handouts at the back of the auditorium.

Then he made a few jokes to loosen us up, and we applauded when he gave the podium back to the principal. The principal apologized for hitting us with the gambling issue, but he explained that it was important for us to think about.  It wouldn't be business as usual when we came back in the fall.

After that, he thanked us for a productive year, wished us a wonderful summer, and we were free. As in FREE! There was a roar of noise as we piled out of that auditorium, and Chris and I did our part to add to it. When we got to the halls, the noise got longer and wider, but it continued as one big, joyous roar until the building emptied out.

We'd cleaned out our lockers two days before, so Chris and I just kept walking, joined by equally happy friends as we headed outside. Lee caught up with us, then Nancy and one of her friends. Carly joined Lee, and when we got outside Dan Crumb was standing there looking good. It turned out he was waiting for someone else, but I stopped to talk to him anyhow, excusing myself for a moment from my friends.

I smiled and Dan smiled. He looked happy, not bothered or guilty, or any of the other ways he might have looked if he was worried about the night before. I mentioned that. "You look happy."

"And why wouldn't I be?" he responded. He gave me a quick once-over and said, "I like the new look, Evan. I liked the old look, too." He took a look the way Chris had done, then back to me. "What's with Humphrey? Is he ... um ..." He held his hand out and made a rocking motion.

I laughed, "No, unfortunately. He's going to Europe, though, and trying to look the part."

Dan looked appreciatively after Chris and smiled, "Europe's a lucky place, huh?" I nodded. Dan eyed me levelly and said, "Thanks for last night, Evan. I can't stop thinking about it. I don't want to sound all corny, but it was my first time with a guy like that, which makes you my first ... um … well, I won’t forget it. You're special, Evan. A very special person, and I won't ever be forgetting you, or last night either."

I grinned and said, "I don't think I'll forget either, Dan. I gotta go, though. Give me a call sometime. I won't be around much, but I'll be here some weekends. You can meet Aaron."

Dan smiled cheerfully. He held out his hand and we shook, then I hurried after Chris.

I shouldn't have rushed. They were on the grass beside the parking lot. Chris and Lee were busy snogging with Nancy and Carly respectively, and I had to make noise so they'd even notice me.

They looked, and just then I saw Mike Mastracchio, so I turned and walked over to him. "Mike?"

He turned his head, then smiled in surprise. "Evan, hey! Is your picture going to be on the phone poles this summer?"

I laughed, "Bastard! I don't think so. I have nowhere to run to, and not much left to hide."

Mike chuckled. "What's up, then? We were talking about you last night at home."

I looked at him, "Good stuff, I hope."

He shrugged, "Not good, not bad. At least not on your part. Ronnie's into this big introspection thing, all busy worrying about who he hurt and who he insulted." His eyebrows lifted, "This is good news. He's off the blame trip and looking at the things he did all on his own, and he's coming up low man." He touched my shoulder, "Can you stop over the house sometime? I know it bugs him ... what he called you, and it bothers him a lot more knowing it's true."

I must have looked confused, and Mike said, "Listen, even Ron wouldn't have called you gay if he knew you really were." He snickered, "He would have called you an asshole or something, but he would have stayed away from queer." He looked suddenly horrified himself and said, "I mean ..."

"Never mind," I laughed. "I don't really need apologizing, Mike. You should be talking to Lee Erasmus. He's the kid Ron really got on."

"I know that," Mike said. "Lee came over yesterday, and he talked to Ron for almost an hour. He seemed happy when he left."

That really surprised me. I hadn't actually talked to Lee, so he couldn't have told me about that even if he intended to. It was the kind of thing Lee was prone to be private with anyhow. If he felt some need to talk about it he would, but he was more apt to look ahead than back. I told Mike that I'd try to stop over before I left, then we ended up talking about summer jobs. He’d already started at the ice cream place, and summer meant more hours. He said he liked his job, and I didn't brag about mine. I turned when I saw Mike looking over my shoulder, and Chris was coming our way.

"Are you coming, Ev? Hey, Mike!"

I said to Mike, "Gotta go. I'll stop over later on today if at all. It's just ..." I heard Chris call again.

Mike said, "I know. I'll see you then.  Otherwise have a great summer!"

I grinned and turned, then trotted after Chris. "Where'd everyone go?" I asked when I caught up.

He laughed, "Don't even ask me about Carly and Lee. They're free spirits if there ever were two of them. Nancy's coming over later and we're going to the beach, and you're supposed to come with us. If you meant the other billions of people on Earth, I have no idea what they're up to."

I laughed, "I thought I told you to keep tabs on them. All of them."

Chris was quick. "I meant to say I've only lost track of a few, and I think they're skiing to the South Pole. I can update you on the rest if you have eighteen thousand years."

We got in his car and he drove out of the lot. I said, "I'm listening."

Chris laughed, "You idiot! Okay, let's start with this guy, Iggy. He's about twenty, and he's fat and ugly, and the girl he calls his girlfriend is seven. He sits on his stoop all day and drools, and when he thinks something is funny he makes this 'heeee heeee heeee' sound, sort of like a pig, but maybe more of a donkey. Anyhow, he's doing alright."

I started laughing, and Chris went on, "Next is a man named, Arthur, and I'm not making this up. I'm not going alphabetically either, in case you didn't notice, just kind of random order. Anyhow, Arthur is older, mid-fifties, I'd say. He sits on a porch in Galveston and propositions men as they walk by his house. He invites them to have a drink if they don't beat him up first, and he gets lucky sometimes."

I laughed at Chris' imagination. "You're totally nuts, you know that? I hope Iggy doesn't get lucky with that little girl."

Chris didn't skip a beat. "Then, back in Brooklyn, there's Madeline, and she'll be a hottie when she grows up. She's probably three months old right now, but Rottweilers get big fast, so no worries. If she doesn't get run over, she'll be having beautiful pups herself next year."

I had tears in my eyes from laughing, and Chris was driving so I didn't want to push him too far. Still, "You're good, Chris. Three down already, andI feel like I know them. What kind of booze does Arthur have? Maybe I'll walk past his house someday."

Chris smiled, "You name it, Ev. Gin, vodka, rum, tequila ... he has it all on hand, and he has a lime tree right in his back yard."

I giggled, "Really, now. A lime tree right in the yard?"

Chris was holding back on his laugh, and he said, "I better shut up. We're getting close to town now, and we're hitting more people."

"That's what all those thumps are?" I laughed.  Chris pulled to the side so he could laugh without actually hitting people, and it took us both a minute to get past it. Then he pulled back on the road.

"So. Does the beach sound good, Ev? I can't stay long, but we can get a couple of hours in."

I said, "Mmmm. We could get some clams, maybe. Yeah, I'll go!"

Chris dropped me at my house saying he'd be right back. Aaron was in school because Riverton didn't let out until the following day. My car was in the driveway and Matt was in the family room when I went through. I said hi, not expecting a response, and I got a muttered greeting from him, which was better than no greeting.

I went to my room and took a bathing suit out of the pile of things I had ready for my move. It was a new one, and I liked it once I had it on. Once again, it was snugger than I was used to, but hardly tight. It was just a plain old bathing suit instead of the big, blousy things I'd been wearing for years. I put on a pair of old, baggy jeans shorts over it, and a blue, sleeveless tee shirt. With a pair of flip-flops and a beach towel from the closet, I was ready.

"I'm going to the beach," I said as I walked past Matt, and he only looked at me. Chris was there soon after I went outside, and he went around the corner to pick up Nancy, so I sat in back. We talked for awhile, but I couldn't hear them that well from the back. The warm car, the comfy seat and the drone from the road put my tiredness from being out late to use for me, and I soon dozed off.

I woke up when Chris got off the highway, and was disappointed to see that it was cloudy at the shore. There was no threat of rain or anything, but clouds made the beach less nice than if it was sunny. The sand would be cool and clammy feeling instead of hot and fluffy, and we'd probably just walk along the water's edge instead of sunning on our comfy towels. Still, my opinion is that bad days at the beach are still better than good days anywhere else.

We parked and walked out to the beach. It wasn't crowded, but it was far from empty. There were other kids there, but mostly older adults who were probably retired. We put our towels down and sat on them, but just to get out of our clothes. Then we stood and started walking, and it was like something of a promenade. There were people embedded in the sand in their beach chairs, and I noticed them until I happened to dawdle behind Nancy.

Let me swear here and say whoops!. My fault, I know, for walking behind them, but it wasn't fair. Chris was fine enough, and he should have been the focus of my attention, but damn!

I don't know how to put this, but when they were pouring Nancy into her skin, somebody forgot to say 'when', and she came out like some Playboy babe. I may be gay, even very gay, but I'm not made of stone. It's girls like Nancy that give most guys a reason to stay straight, and it is most definitely a spiritual reason; one that I suddenly understood.   Following Chris and Nancy along the beach was educational for me.

It was apparent that people liked seeing them together, too. Youth and beauty. Chris and Nancy were the poster children for that at age sixteen. Beautiful and bold. Vibrant yet vulnerable. They were a happy picture of young America at its best, and I liked the way that people looked at them. I liked them from my vantage point, too, because even without seeing their faces, I could see how comfortable their relationship had become.

We walked the length of the beach and back, and the overcast hung in there. It would do that sometimes. The gloom wasn't really from clouds in the sky, but rather it was fog off the ocean, come ashore just to annoy people and show who's boss. We decided not to put up with it, and took off for a clam shack out by the highway. The place was barely a half mile inland, but the sun was bright and warm there. We enjoyed our food at a picnic table outside, right beside a salt marsh. From there we could see the wall of haze at the beach, but with yummy clams, fries, onion rings and cold lemonade in front of us, it no longer seemed to matter.

We lingered over our food, and we stayed and talked long after we'd finished. We wouldn't see much of each other during the summer, at least not until Chris got back from his trip. He was leaving for Europe on Friday. I was leaving for Riverton on Saturday, and Nancy was starting work at a summer camp the week after. The summer before when I was gone, I'd missed Chris something awful, and I hoped that just knowing where we each were would make that better. Now Nancy was a better friend, and I'd miss her too. I think we all felt the same things, but nothing rueful got said that day. We heard each others' hopes for the summer, reminisced a little, gossiped a little, and enjoyed the sunshine where we found it.

We had two more whole days before anyone actually left, but they would be busy days. Chris had to pack and so did I. I had things to buy, too. I needed new work pants and safety shoes, mundane things like razor blades and toothpaste, socks. I needed regular clothes, too. I didn't own much that fit anymore, having grown in every direction over the past year. I was an inch-and-a-half taller, ten pounds heavier, and an inch bigger in the waist than when I took off for Riverton. Most of my old stuff would have to go, save for loose fitting shirts and things with elastic waists. I figured I'd just try things on, and if they didn't fit I'd bring them to Goodwill. I didn't need anything fancy for summer, and I'd have more money when I came back in the fall. At least my shoes seemed pegged at size eleven. That was big enough to suit me. I didn't want my feet any bigger, and I hoped I'd just stop growing. I was sixteen and adult-sized already. I found myself giggling when I wondered if there was a way to concentrate future growth on my dick, where I could still use a little more.

"What are you laughing at?" Chris asked.

Nancy smirked and touched his arm, "Don't ask. I think Evan just had a dirty thought, and I don't want to know what it was."

She had that right.

Continued ...