Jack in the Box

Chapter 30

Michael Waters - Arlington Road - October, 2000

Davy called out a goodbye to his folks. We got in the car and he started driving toward town. At least I was getting familiar with the route. Davy pulled over before we got to the downtown area. We were just up the street from a small building with a neon 'Apizza' sign jutting out from it. There was a fairly steady stream of people coming and going, and most of the ones leaving were carrying boxes of pizza.

I asked Davy about the spelling and he said it's the old Italian way, and it's pronounced 'abeets', and if you don't see the Apizza sign you're getting something other than real pizza.

There were several booths along both walls of the long narrow dining room, most of them occupied with people who were either eating pizzas or waiting for them. A boy with a big bush of black hair was sitting in a booth alone. He smiled at Davy when we walked in.

"Hey, Dave! This is your friend from down south?"

"Davy grinned, "Vinny! I thought you were grounded! Yeah, this is Mike. Mike Waters, this is Vinny Barrano

Vinny stood up and smiled as we shook hands. He was a tall, lanky kid with big hands and a day's worth of stubble on his cheeks and chin. He said, "Hi, Mike, glad to meet you." He smirked at Davy, "I'm grounded big time. No car, no TV. I hafta eat, though, and my dad had to go out, so he gave me twenty bucks and let me go to feed myself. He's gonna call at nine, and if I'm not back by then he says he's gonna skip the trial and go right to the execution."

Davy and I sat opposite Vinny in the booth, which looked big enough for eight people, fewer than that if Juan was one of them. Vinny had a big glass of soda in front of him. He asked Davy, "Who all's coming? I came early just to be out of the house."

Davy said, "Juan, Guy, Pauly and Tom. I thought they'd be here before us."

Vinny grinned and asked, "Tom's driving?"

Davy said, "I don't know, it's either him or Paul." He looked up, "Oops... speak of the devil."

They were just coming through the door, led by a smiling Juan. He and Guy stopped at another table to greet the people sitting there, while Paul and Tom slid in beside Vinny. We were still saying hello when Juan pushed in beside Davy, and Guy squeezed in next to Paul.

A waitress came and took our order for three large pizzas and some pitchers of soda. Then Guy started in on the jokes. He had us all howling with laughter as he knocked off one after another until the pizza came. Vinny and Tom both had tears in their eyes from laughing so hard, and Paul's face was as red as a beet. Juan had to threaten Guy with bodily harm to make him shut up so we could eat.

It was still difficult to eat for a few minutes, as each of us giggled again at the jokes we'd liked best, but the pizza soon had us all silent for awhile as we savored our first delicious slices. Davy hadn't been exaggerating about how good it was. He'd ordered a bacon and onion because that was my favorite, and it was loaded with toppings, all on top of a delicious sauce. The taste, the texture, it was wonderful beyond words. But there was no cheese.

"No cheese?" I asked.

Vinny made a face, "Ugh, if you mean mozzarella. Sprinkle on some Romano if you want more cheese. There's already some there, but it disappears in the sauce."

While that blew a myth, I couldn't fault the logic. Without the goo, the sauce was almost caramelized, and all the flavors competed for attention. I didn't really see how, but pizza without cheese had far more flavor than pizza with a lot of mozzarella

I was well into my third slice, this one with sausage and mushrooms, before any conversation began to pick up. Juan asked, "Is anybody coming to my game tomorrow?"

Vinny was still grounded, Tom and Paul both had to work, and Guy had a game of his own. Davy said, "Whattya say, Mike? Wanna go watch Mr. Macho kick some ass?"

Guy said, "What about me? Nobody ever comes to my games!"

Everyone looked at him, but he didn't seem to really care if anyone came or not.

I still felt kind of bad for him.

Juan said, "That's 'cause you play a pussy sport. Besides, there's no seats. Who wants to stand there and watch a bunch of skinny kids in short pants kick a ball around, when they can," he raised his arm and bent his elbow to make a muscle, "watch real men play a real game."

Davy laughed, "We can go watch both games, they're right across the street from each other."

I shrugged and smiled, "Sounds good to me." I looked at Guy, and he seemed pleased at the prospect of having an audience.

Paul said, "Oh, my Dad wants to leave early on Monday, you guys wanna stay at my house?"

Davy narrowed his eyes, "How early? Don't go sayin' three AM; that's like a criminal offense!"

I laughed, remembering our little fishing trip with my father. I hadn't been any more awake than Davy was, but I found his sluggishness amusing that day. I grinned at Paul, "Davy's a real grouch when he don't have time to change his underpants."

Davy elbowed me, "It was three o'clock in the damn morning! Lack of sleep, Mike, not my damn underwear! Anyhow," he looked back at Paul, "what's early in your book?"

Paul looked at his watch, "You got up at three AM to go fishing? You?" He flashed a quick grin at me, "What's your secret, Mike? This guy's Mr. Late for Everything."

The other guys all appeared to agree with Paul, and that wasn't a side of Davy I'd seen. I said, "Late? He was always wakin' me up, and I don't sleep very late. Must be the water."

Tom said, "Yeah, or the pussy!" He looked at Davy with a big-toothed grin, "Is that what it was - you finally got laid?"

They all laughed, but I could sense some unease from Davy. He took a bite of pizza and chewed, then smiled and said in a heavy, feigned southern accent, "I don't believe that's any of your business, sir. I hope that in the future, you'll refrain from raising such sordid topics at the dinner table."

The other guys stared at Davy in stunned silence while I giggled around the pizza in my mouth. I think it was my laughter more than Davy's remark that got the others going. Guy giggled out, "Don't make fun of the way Mike talks. I like it!"

Davy sat up straight and, still in accent, said, "I was not making fun, young man. When Mr. Waters speaks, people listen!"

Guy grinned and giggled again, "Yeah, they hafta listen to figure out what he's saying!"

Davy feigned being in a huff. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, then flung it on the table. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder in a fatherly sort of way. You could hear the humor in his voice, "Sir! I will not listen to your nonsense about my best friend in the whole world, not for another minute! Either take those words back or prepare to step outside!"

Guy was in hysterics, managing to gasp out, "Oh no! Not a duel! C'mon, Davy, we didn't even finish the pizza yet. I can't kill ya 'til it's paid for!"

Davy tried, but he couldn't keep it up any longer. He burst out laughing, slapping his pizza when he intended to hit the table. That got everyone laughing, and we laughed harder when he got it all over his face trying to lick his hand off.

When it finally died down, Davy still had his arm around me. Vinny said in a humorous tone of voice, "Uh oh, look! Davy's got the queers for Mike!"

Everyone chuckled.

Boy, that was the opening I needed. I wanted to give something to Guy, do something for him, and all I could think of was to out myself so he could see how the people around him reacted. After everyone laughed at Vinny's remark, I said seriously, "It's the other way around, Vinny. Davy's straight."

Davy snickered a little, but everyone else was quiet and staring at me.

Paul asked, "You mean you're not?"

I looked back at him and nodded. I stole a glance at Guy and registered nothing but shock on his face. I was doing this for him, but he had no way to know that.

I'd be gone in a few days. I wanted to come back, but I didn't have to. I hoped I could do this without hurting Davy in any way, but he was smart enough to deal with it.

A hush had certainly settled over our table. There was pizza left, so I picked up a slice and bit into it. Everyone's eyes were on me, so I swallowed what I was eating and looked around at each face. "Something wrong?"

Tom laughed nervously, "You're kidding, right? You're not a faggot."

I scowled, "I hate that word, Tom. I'm not a faggot because nobody's a faggot." I took another bite.

Tom looked wounded, "Why'd you say that, then?"

I said, "Because it's true. I been queerin' after Davy since I set eyes on him. He won't have it"

That got no reaction other than stunned stares. Tom asked, "What about that girl you're with in the pictures?

Vinny said, "He's kiddin', man." He looked at me, "What's the joke, Mike? I don't get it."

I didn't know what to say, so I shrugged my shoulders and, just before I took a bite of pizza, I said, "Don' t get it, then."

Tom, Vinny and Guy all looked confused. Paul was turning red again. He said, "He's gay, dammit!" He looked angrily at Vinny, "Don't yahear him? He's a fuckin' faggot!" He turned a glare to me, "Well listen, faggot, there ain't no room for you on my boat!" He elbowed Guy, "Let me outta here!"

Guy got up and let Paul out, then Paul pointed his finger right in Davy's face. He said in a growl, "You got no right, Loomis! What the fuck made you think we wanted to eat with faggots? You just stay the hell away from me, hear that?"

Juan stood up quickly, "C'mon, Pauly! They're just kiddin' around. Don't go looney on us. He turned to look at me, "Tell him you're kiddin', Mike."

I had a mouthful, so I shook my head slowly but emphatically. Juan stared at me for a long moment, then turned back to Paul. "Well, so what ?"

It was happening fast. Tom was staring at me, as was Guy. Vinny was staring at Davy, who didn't seem to be reacting at all.

Juan had his big hand on Paul's shoulder, and said shakily, "Don't take off, Paul, not yet, anyhow!" He turned to me again, " Talk to him, man!"

Vinny said, "Yeah, talk to all of us! You're ballin' a fine lookin' bitch, don't go tellin' us you're queer."

Vinny's words got me angry, but I stifled it. I leaned toward him, "Look, Vinny. Annie's my girlfriend, but she's also my friend! She ain't no bitch! You think what you want about me, but leave her out of it!"

I looked around, then focused my stare on Paul. "I'm bisexual, okay? I... I loved a boy once, now he's gone. Now I have a girlfriend, is that okay?"

Paul stared at me in apparent horror, then spat out, "No! It's not okay!" He looked at Davy, "I don't believe you, man! I'm outta here!"

Juan started after him, then turned and looked at me with a sad expression. He called, "C'mon, Guy!" and chased after Paul. Guy didn't move.

I was left looking at Guy, Tom and Vinny. Tom was still staring, like he could make me something else by looking at me. Vinny asked, "You're really queer?"

Davy finally spoke up. "Vinny, he said he's bi! Why's that so hard to understand? It means he likes girls and men."

Vinny looked at the table, then back up at me. "Yeah, well that's cool I guess." He said it pretty half-heartedly.

Things got very quiet at our table while the others became very deliberate about eating pizza, each taking glances at me.

Juan came rushing down between the booths. "C'mon, Guy. We gotta go!" He looked at me, "Mike... um, I'm sorry, man. I never seen Pauly like this. You really flipped him out!"


He looked at me while he grabbed Guy by the arm, then he looked at Tom. "You coming?"

Tom looked at Davy, "Can I get a ride from you?" When Davy nodded he glanced back at Juan and said dejectedly, "Somebody's gotta eat this pizza."

Vinny looked at his watch, "I can't stay long, but I'm stayin'!" He looked over at me, "I can't wait to hear the rest of this." Looking back at Juan, he said, "Tell the Polack he's an asshole. He can take that boat and stick it where the sun don't shine!"

Juan glared at him, then smiled sadly at me. "Mike... I don't know. You're what you are, I don't care. You should'a kept your mouth shut." He turned to Davy, "No hard feelings? Pauly's my friend."

Davy nodded and Juan said, "We're cuttin' out then. Let's go, Guy."

I looked at Guy, who was staring a question at me. I know he didn't know what I was doing, maybe I didn't either, so I just smiled at him. I only wanted to give him an idea where he stood, and it had turned out better than I'd expected. One negative reaction... I'd expected a hundred percent. Juan yanked his arm and they were gone without another word.

I never knew what it was about me that made people hate me for my sexuality to begin with. It seemed to be just the idea of it with most people. Paul had been friendly, I'd been friendly, we all had. Then he learned something about me that was no more important than his having a big nose, and he got upset. I was a little proud of myself for not mentioning that I didn't particularly care for big noses. I could have gotten petty, but I didn't.

Paul was like the kids in Morton and my school had been, at least I hoped he was. He hated the idea of something he knew nothing about. He had friends, good ones from what I could see. I didn't really know them, and didn't know who's way of thinking would prevail. The good thing was that Vinny and Tom were still there, and I suspected that Juan would have stayed with Guy if the circumstances were different.

Tom had been staring at me all along. He finally said, "I never knew a bisexual before. You seem normal."

That set Davy off. "Come on, Tom! Of course Mike's normal. Just give it a rest, okay?"

Tom didn't say anything else, so Davy said, "Eat some pizza. I don't wanna bring it home, or we'll be having it for breakfast. My Dad loves this stuff."

Vinny had been eating all along. We all looked at him, I'm not sure why, maybe for some kind of confirmation. He noticed us and asked, "What? What'dI do?" He glanced around, "Oh, I get it. You wanna know what Vinny thinks." He puffed himself up a little, "Well, Vinny, the sage of all time, says 'So what?'. I mean, I gotta spend the rest of my life locked in my room." He got animated, using his hands. "Am I supposed to spend that time worryin' if Mike's queer or not? I don't think so!" He blinked at me, "Matter of fact, if you get bored come on over!"

I thought he was going to say more, but he didn't, then I realized it was a genuine invitation to visit. I said, "Thanks, Vinny. I'll try."

Vinny glanced at Davy, then smiled at me. "I'm sorry about the Polack. I don't know what set him off, but he listens to Juan. I would'a thought that if anybody was gonna flip, it'd be Juan." His smile turned into a wicked grin, "Of course, I'm not bein' grounded for my superior intelligence. You guys come over anytime, I'm the one that's bored."

Davy said, "Um, Vinny... we're not callin' each other names anymore, just our real ones, okay?"

Vinny's eyes opened wide, "No more Dago? Jeez, my Dad's callin' me that now."

Tom grinned and nudged him, "My Dad calls me Spook, too. No more of that, man, Davy was right all along. It don't show no respect, and I do respect my friends." He turned his smile to me, "I respect my friend's friends too, Mike. I don't know anythin' about bein' gay, but you seem like a good guy. Paul don't speak for the rest of us."

I smiled and said, "Thanks."

Davy grinned at both of them, "Thanks, guys. Um, Vinny... how long you grounded for this time?"

Vinny put a forlorn expression on his face. "It's forever this time, or 'til I graduate. I really gotta buckle down anyhow. If I flunk three subjects I'll never graduate. I just been fuckin' around too much." He checked his watch, "Listen, I should head home."

Davy said, "Chill out, I'll give you a ride." He looked around, "Everybody done eatin?"

That question was met with nods and burps, so he said, "Let me pay up and get a box for this." He nudged me, "I hope you like it cold for breakfast," then he thought. "You take it home, Vinny. Maybe it'll cheer up your father."

Vinny shook his head sadly, "Ain't nothin' gonna soften up that man besides passin' grades!"

Davy tugged my arm and we walked over to the counter to pay. While we stood there and waited, he asked, "You okay? Why'd you say that, anyhow? These guys didn't need to know."

I smiled to myself. "I'm fine, I got a lot worse than that last year."

Davy was quiet while he paid the bill, then when we turned back he put his hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry about Paul, really!"

I said, "It's okay. It could'a been worse."

When we got back to the table Davy dropped some tip money on it, and the other two guys stood up. Davy asked, "Where to?"

Vinny moaned, "I gotta go home. Can you believe this? It's Friday night and I gotta go home."

Tom patted him on the back as we grabbed our jackets and headed toward the door. Tom consoled Vinny, saying, "You can make it, man. What you flunkin' in? Let me go get my car, then I'll come over and help you out."

We were at the car, and I climbed in front again with Davy. They were talking in back, but when the car started and the radio came on I couldn't hear them. I kind of wished I could have gone with Guy and Juan, just to see what they were talking about. Instead, we pulled up in front of Vinny's house, which looked like a very nice place. When Vinny climbed out from the back, he opened the door on my side and stuck his head in. "Thanks, Dave," then he looked at me and held his hand out to shake, "Mike... I'm sorry 'bout what I said. I didn't mean... well, I wasn't sayin' your girlfriend is a bitch... oh, shit, you know what I mean, don't you?"

I was strapped in, so I didn't get up. I smiled, "Yeah, I know... don't worry about it. Nice to meet ya."

He grinned, "You, too." He looked in the back at Tom, "You really comin' over?"

Tom said he was, and Vinny opened the back door again and took the pizza box. He smiled, "Sorry, Dave. I got company comin'!" He kneed the door closed, and we took off.

We were all pretty quiet on the ride to Tom's place. I thought for awhile that we were headed back to Davy's, but he took a turn into a different neighborhood that looked a lot like his own.

We said goodbye to Tom and, still sitting in his driveway, Davy said, "Hand me my cell phone. I wanna see if Juan's home, or if they're still out."

I handed him the phone and he punched in some numbers and put it to his ear. I could only hear one side.

"Guy? Is Juan there with you?" Pause, "Lemme talk to him, okay? Oh, you're welcome, no problem." He smiled my way, "Guy says to say hi... Juan! Amigo! Uh huh... uh huh..."

He listened for quite awhile, then said, "Want us to come over?" He looked at me, "Want to go over? Juan's got a lot to say."

I nodded. Davy said, "We're on the way," then hung up and backed out.

Davy shut the radio all the way off and asked, "Why'd you do that, Mike? What's goin' on?"

Boy, I didn't have an answer to give to him. I knew why I did it, but I couldn't say without breaking Guy's trust. I hadn't thought ahead and wasn't prepared. "I... uh, I just wanted to be honest." I got better, "They're your friends, what if they found out later? I don't know what it's like here, Davy. I just wanted to find out."

Davy shrugged, "Fair enough." He looked over when we were at a stop sign, "You really got crap like Paul said for a whole year?"

"Yeah, worse than that. He was nuthin', just one kid."

Davy banged the wheel. I had rarely heard him swear, but he shouted, " Fuck, man! That sucks so bad! Damn it, I hate that!" He shut up for a minute, and went on more calmly. "Mike, you're one of the most decent people I ever met. It makes me crazy to think you took crap like Paul's for a whole year! No wonder kids take guns to school."

I said, "Hold on, it's just words. Paul's your friend, I don't want ya to lose that because of me!"

Davy snickered, "You're amazing, you know that? You're really worried about me, aren't you? That blond prick calls you a faggot and you think I even want him as a friend anymore?"

I thought for a moment and decided that they'd been friends before I came on the scene. "He's your friend, Davy. He doesn't hafta like me for you to keep that goin'."

Davy pulled in just down the street from Juan's house. He shut off the car and turned to me. "I don't know... I guess you're right and you're wrong. I always liked Paulie; I just never saw him turn on somebody like that. If it was someone who did somethin' to him I might understand. You ..." he stared at me with a frustrated expression. "Never mind, let's go in."

We got out of the car, and after Davy locked it, started toward Juan's house. As soon as we were side by side on the walk, Davy took my hand in his. I have to say, that was the most reassuring thing he could have done right then. It felt better than the entire collection of arms that had been put across my shoulders over the years, and it didn't matter one bit that it was all I'd ever get from Davy. It was his way of showing union with me, demonstrating it, and I loved him for the gesture.

When we got to Juan's door Davy pulled me into a hug. "I love you, man, I really do."

I backed off for a moment to look at his mouth, Jack's mouth, then I remembered that it wasn't going to happen, not ever. I could have kissed him right then, wanted to kiss him, but I knew I couldn't, not then and not in an eternity. Not on those lips, anyhow. I did kiss his cheek quickly, and he didn't seem to mind.

I backed away from him and asked, "Ready?"

"Yeah, when you are," then he opened the door and we climbed the stairs. He knocked at the top and the door was answered by a sad looking Juan in about a minute. He looked past Davy at me, then gestured for us to come inside.

As soon as we were seated in the living room, Juan said, "I get it now. That's what you were talking about last night... the grief you got.... it's because you're gay?


"Yeah, whatever. Why you wanna be like that, man? I mean, what's the ..."

He was interrupted by Guy. "Hi, Mike!" He was coming in from the kitchen with a steaming plate in his hands, "I made these! It's fried bananas!"

"Plantains," Juan corrected as he took a bite of one. "Yum! Good job, Guy"

I was stuffed full of pizza, but I took a few of the plantains to be polite. Guy set the plate on the coffee table as he sat down. I looked at Juan and asked, "Can I start?" They all nodded, so I tried to keep it short.

"Juan, you asked why I wanted to be the way I am. I can look at you and see you like to pump your body up for sports, that's right?"

He nodded suspiciously, and I went on. "I can see that you have black hair. I think that's a fine choice."

Juan said, "I didn't ..."

I butted in, "I'm confused on why you decided to be a Puerto Rican. Guy said you get some grief over that."

Juan looked a little flustered. "I was ..."

"Born that way? You didn't get to decide?"

"No, I didn't get to decide!"

I said, "Fine, now take a look at me. I got blue eyes and blonde hair. I didn't get to pick that out, either. I came this way, ready made and right out of the box."

Juan said, "I know that."

"I guess I could dye my hair, get some colored contacts. That's somethin' I can change, but I can't change my height or my fingerprints. I gotta stick with the original equipment there."

Juan eyed me warily, "So?"

"I can't change my sexuality either, Juan. It's the way I'm made, and there ain't a thing I can do about it. Do you honestly think I'dchoose to get grief like I got from Paul from a whole school? For a whole year?" I looked him in the eye, "You know, my parents worried that they did somethin' wrong, but it wasn't them either. Now they know... people aren't manufactured products, we're made up of all different kinds of stuff, and it comes out in a billion different ways."

Juan shook his head slowly, as if he'd just figured something out. I continued, "Listen, it don't bother me that you're Hispanic. I don't care that you're a jock. It has nothing to do with me, not a single thing. I didn't go pickin' on Paul because of his nose or his Polishness, either. That's him, and he's stuck with it. I'm different than you, that's all. I didn't do a single fuckin' thing wrong tonight, now that kid hates me for somethin' I can't change. That's what hurts!"

I glanced at Guy and almost laughed. He looked spellbound! I turned back to Juan and asked, "Am I makin' any sense here?"

He smiled softly, "Yeah... it makes sense." His look steeled, "I'll tell you one thing that can change, and that's attitudes! You're right, you didn't do anything wrong, it was Paul who was off base."

Davy spoke up, "Juan, do you know any gay kids?"

Juan shrugged, "There's some in school, I don't really know them. You know as much as I do."

Davy again, "How are we treating them? One of my uncle's best friends was gonna kill himself when he was a kid." He leaned forward, "Do you have any idea how many gay kids go through with it? It's fuckin' sinful, man! All because of who they are... what they are, and people like Pauly." He smiled at me, then turned his attention back to Juan. "You know, I like Mike! He's the best friend I ever had, and that happened in a week! He's not a scary person, Juan, he's a good person, a real good one."

Juan was studying me, and a little smile started to tug at the corners of his mouth, widening slowly until it became his usual sunbeam, "I'm startin' to see that, Dave. You know, Mike, when Davy came back from Morton he was all excited about the people he met, you especially. He said everybody helped each other, nobody really ever got mad. It didn't seem possible, but I can see he's right. Pauly's my best friend, but he shot off his mouth at you, and you just stood your ground. You might'a been mad, but you didn't show it. You stood up to Vinny, too, and I thought you were very cool."

He started to stand up, "You're welcome in this house, Mike, any day, any time." He gave Guy a questioning look, apparently wondering what his little brother thought of the whole thing. Guy just stared back at him.

Juan walked over to my chair and held out his hand to shake. I stood and took it and was suddenly in a bear hug. For all his mass, Juan was gentle. He pulled away after a moment and smiled warmly, then turned to Davy. "C'mon, let's go find us a Polack and give him an attitude adjustment!"

Davy's eyes opened wide with surprise, "Now?"

Juan said, "No time like the present." He turned back to me with a question on his face. "Um, probably best if you don't come this time. You mind hangin' with Guy for awhile?"

I was surprised, "You're not gonna hurt him, are ya?"

Juan shook his head slowly, "No, we're gonna talk to him, just like you talked to us. That boy's gonna get a little lesson in social graces."

I grinned, "Thanks, Juan. Um, tell him I said hi... ah, that is... if you think it's a good idea."

Juan patted my shoulder, "I think it's a real good idea. You guys have fun, we got work to do."

* * * * * * * *

The door had no sooner closed behind Davy and Juan when Guy caught my eye. His look was accusatory, but not menacing. "You did all that for me, didn't you?"

My smile may have been a bit smug, but it was genuine. "Yeah, I did. At least ya know your brother won't freak out if ya ever tell him."

Guy gaped at me, tears forming in his eyes. Before I knew what happened, he rushed at me and almost knocked me over backwards with a sudden hug. He did start sobbing. "Oh, man, I can't ever tell you how perfect you were!" He pulled back and wiped his eyes with his hand, then he was back into full hug mode. I wrapped my arms around him and patted his back until he settled down to just sniffling.

He finally whispered, "This feels good."

That caused me to pull back for a second, then I decided that it really did feel good, so I hugged him to me again. It was part of my continuing education, I guess. It was going to take a lot of people to make up for Jack. I could get his smiles from Davy, his kisses from Annie, and his hugs from Guy, who felt remarkably like him in my arms. It wasn't exactly one-stop shopping, but at least I was finding things I liked.

After the agonies of the afternoon, first mine, then Guy's, it felt... right, I guess is the word... to be holding onto each other like that.

There was something else going on, too. Guy smelled good. It wasn't anything artificial, it was him, coming from his hair, I think. I knew that scent, I just couldn't place it. It wasn't like Jack, not even close. Not Davy, not Annie, not anyone in my family, yet it seemed so familiar, so masculine.

We had begun to rock back and forth standing on our feet, so we plopped down on the sofa. Guy sat close to me, still not saying anything, and leaned his cheek on my shoulder, while I idly continued to try connecting what my nose was calling familiar territory to where, or who, I knew it from.

Pheromes, that's what Dr. Service called them. He said that while your memories of almost anything else could randomly fade or remain strong, your memories of aromas were almost perfect. Guy had a pherome that I recognized, I just couldn't place it. I wasn't dwelling on it either. I slipped my arm behind his back, and felt that he was as happy as me just sitting like that, not saying anything to mess up the moment.

I wasn't falling asleep or anything, just kind of in a daze. Guy's almost inaudible, "Thanks," stirred me.

I muttered "Welcome."

Guy giggled and moved around some. "I mean it, you didn't hafta do that."

"I know"

He put his head back on my shoulder, "You know, we all thought Davy was full of it, but you're just what he said you was."

"Were." God, I was correcting grammar!

Guy giggled, "Yeah, were!" He sat up straighter and looked into my eyes. "Do you like me?"

"Um, define like! Yeah, I like you, I really do."

Guy looked pensive, "Okay, I'll define like." He smiled shyly, "I like you too, by the way." He put his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand, "Okay, let's see... like." He looked up at me, "Um... do you like the way I look?"

I grinned, "Dump the baggies, then yes."

He smiled shyly, "You don't like the clothes?"

I said, "I just don't like baggies. I get around on my bike, I'd kill myself in those things." I thought for a moment and added, "Nobody knows what ya look like in 'em anyhow."

He said, "Okay, so you don't like my pants. What else?"

"Jeez, Guy, I don't like the pants! I like you just fine." I squiggled around on the sofa, "What about you? You like my pants?"

Guy blushed, he did. "Um, yeah, I guess." He turned to me looking earnest, "I meant... um... could you like me? I don't mean you hafta, I just wanna know if you could."

Uh oh, I knew what he meant. "Um, I'll tell you what. I can tell you what I like about you, but you hafta do the same."

Guy smiled and said, "Okay."

I said, "You first," grinning back at him.

He smirked, "Oh, I get it. Well... okay... let's see. What do I like about Mike?" He shuffled around on the sofa for a second, then said, "First, I think you're about the nicest kid my age I ever met. You're um... sincere... that's the word! I like that." He shifted and gazed right into my eyes, "The other thing is... you're easy to know. Real easy. I just met ya yesterday, and I know all about you."

I was way flattered. I started to respond, but Guy went on. "There's one more thing. Um, I don't know if ya wanna hear this, but you're top-ten good looking."

He blushed as he said that, and I'm sure I did too. I knew what I looked like. I didn't run around town comparing, but I knew I came off pretty good. Jack had said it a million times, but hearing it from somebody new... another boy... flattered and embarrassed me at the same time. I looked at Guy again, and he was in the 'cute ' category. I still liked the way he looked, and wondered again if it was just new people who got me to look, much less made me care.

He said, "Your turn."

I was unprepared, so I said, "Ditto to what you said, I guess. There's one more thing. You're a nice person, Guy, a good person. Don't be afraid of yourself, but be careful and don't be doin' stupid things. You watch; things'll work out okay." He started to smile. "Guy, we're different. When I figured out I was gay I had a built-in boyfriend. You... well, you gotta look around. Another thing, I just told the world about me. I was young, I was stupid then, but that's what I did. I didn't think it was a bad thing. Hell, I didn't think it was a thing at all, not 'til other people made it a thing."

Guy said, "That's what I'm afraid of, Mike."

"Don't do what me and Jack did, then." I put my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. "It was stupid, Guy. We outed ourselves in school to save some other guy's ass. He didn't even stay there. I pounded my forehead with my hand, saying, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" I was trying not to weep, thinking of all that I'd gone through with Jack. One innocently dumb remark had brought the hounds of Hell down all over us.

Guy grabbed my hand to make me stop hitting myself. He giggled, "You're gonna hurt yourself. If it matters, I don't think you're stupid. You figured me out in a big hurry. You got through to Juan, and that's never easy." He smirked, "He can be pretty dense."

I said, "He seems like a good brother."

Guy smiled at that, "Yeah, he's okay. He gets on my case sometimes, but he don't mean anythin' by it. How 'bout you, you got any brothers or sisters?"

"Yeah, one brother... he's older, and two sisters. They're twelve and thirteen."

"Cool, do they all look like you?"

"A little. My brother and one of my sisters are a little chubby, but you can tell we're related."

Guy gave me an odd look. "Um... do you think, um... I mean..." He blushed and turned away. "Never mind."

"What? You can say somethin'."

He shook his head, avoiding my eyes. "No, it was pretty stupid."

"C'mon, don't clam up now!"

He glanced at me, and immediately averted his eyes. He spoke so quietly that I had to strain to hear him. "I um, I... I never did anything with another guy. I was just wonderin'..."

His voice trailed off. I thought I knew what he was trying to ask. I blushed, "You... you wanna do somethin' with me?" He was still looking away, so I put my arm around his shoulder. "Guy, I'm kinda goin' steady. With a girl!"

Guy leaned into me and sighed, "I know. Sorry."

I was thinking, set off by his scent again. Guy was trembling a little, and I was feeling funny knowing that he wanted to try something with me. I was holding the first boy on the planet besides Jack who was interested in me, and it really felt good touching him like that. It wasn't like me, but I found myself wanting Guy, too. Of course, that set my head ringing with guilt bells. I felt guilty for even thinking about it, guilty thinking about Jack and Annie.

They weren't there, though, and Guy was, and he smelled so damned good. I inhaled deeply and slowly, trying to hang on to the guilt, but I started to rationalize at the same time. What would it hurt? More importantly, who would it hurt. I jerked off all the time, I'd even done it with other guys at Pat's house. There was no guilt about that. I got Davy off one night, and I felt bad about that, but only because he was straight and he let me anyhow. That was a real bone-headed move on my part, because I know I embarrassed my best friend.

Guy was willing if I was, and that's what I had to decide. I didn't even know what he had in mind, but I had to make my own mind up before I asked. I wasn't really anguishing, I knew what I wanted to do, I was just worried that I'd feel badly afterwards.

One more deep inhale with my nose right in Guy's hair, and I whispered, "Where?"

His head jerked up so quickly that we had a painful meeting of the noses. He rubbed his with his fingers and said, "Ow!" then looked intently at me. He looked frightened and, frankly, I was too. Guy's expression was precious, though, and it made me smile. He croaked, "Really? You want to?"

I nodded dumbly, because I suddenly recognized who shared Guy's pheromes. I had smelled that scent on a recent hot summer night, after an eventful and trying day, an eye opening day. I'd picked it up during a brief hug with a man who wasn't supposed to hug kids, my neighbor, Dave Devino. Memories of that day and night came flooding through my head all at once. It was like seeing televisions in a department store, all turned to different channels. There I was, scared on one screen, angry on another, fishing, fighting, depressed, in a back-to-back Mexican standoff with Tony, shopping, eating, cooking fish, talking, listening... learning.

That day culminated in a hug that lasted maybe twenty seconds, but I will never, ever forget how much it meant to me, or how good that man smelled to me. I had gone to bed shortly afterwards, and my libido caught up with me, ending four months of self-imposed monkdom. It ended permanently and for good, too. I was a sexual being, as I should have been all along. I wasn't cloaking my needs in my own misery and longing for Jack anymore.

I need to say this. There aren't any really good words that deal with how people appeal to us through our noses. Bad things are easy, like stink, as in after exercise on a hot day, or something like that... bad breath, maybe, pig farms for sure..

Good things? No words. Let's see... smell. Nope, that's hard to associate with good things, and should remain a verb anyhow. Scent brings to mind things that are artificial, like bath soap and candles. Aroma really begs to be reserved for the kitchen, as in bread or pie in the oven, popcorn in the microwave, stew in the pot.

People though? Maybe not enough people are like me to cause new words to happen, but there ought to be something better than calling it olfactory arousal.

I was getting a major case of it, whatever I called it. I was literally clinging to Guy, and I hadn't said a word in a full minute. He had his face turned to me, and I kissed him quickly on the lips, then backed off to see his reaction. It looked like happy surprise, and he leaned in for more.

I pulled back, a question forming in my mind. I hadn't intended to kiss Guy, it just happened, and now he wanted more. If kissing was what he meant by doing something, it felt kind of off-limits, even though I'd started it. I had kissed seriously with Jack, and now I did with Annie. I liked Guy, I really did, but I wasn't ready for a lip concert with him.

Guy got offended, "What? What's wrong?"

I thought, then answered, "Nothing's wrong." I saw his confusion, "Look, If you wanna swap hand jobs, that's one thing. I like you, Guy, but I don't love you. I could maybe, but it's impossible, we're too far apart."

He looked dejected, and said morosely, "Yeah, you're right. Why don't we just forget it?"

I sensed his disappointment, and I felt it too. I just didn't want to go too far; that didn't mean I wanted nothing at all. I wanted something to happen. I whispered, "C'mon, Guy." I let my hand drop to his thigh, which I started stroking almost without touching, "We can have some fun, I just can't go fallin' for ya. It's too far away, that's all."

He stiffened at my touch, then relaxed and dropped his hand on top of mine. "Does Davy have his cell phone?"


"Lemme call... see if they know how long they'll be."

I looked at him in surprise, "You're gonna ask?" wondering how he'd phrase the question. I shouldn't have worried, when he got ahold of Davy he asked if it would be dumb for us to start watching a movie.

He grinned at the response, and when he hung up the phone he said, "We're good for an hour anyway, he's gonna call when they head back."

"Did he say how it's goin'?"

"They just got there."

"Cool, so what movie we watchin'?"

Guy looked around, "Good idea, we should start one up so it'll be at the right part if they come back."

I smiled to myself, getting the idea that Guy was used to covering his tracks. He hadn't lied to Davy, just asked a question.

He popped 'Karate Kid II' into the VCR and waited to make sure it started playing, then he looked at me kind of nervously. I was nervous, too, and it was a weird feeling to be planning something. Every other time I'd done something sexual, it had been strictly spur of the moment.

All the times with Jack, the one time at Pat's house, once with Davy... it just happened when it happened. The same was true with Annie, and that didn't happen often enough. Now I was standing with a kid I'd just met, and we were actively planning whatever it was, and it had me wondering if it was a good idea, if I'd even get into it.

We just looked at each other for a few moments, smiles gradually replacing our jittery expressions. The smiles were soon replaced by quiet giggles, then outright laughter. We'd been afraid of each other, at least I'd been afraid, and it seemed hilarious. We met in a happy hug for a second, then Guy led me down the hall to his bedroom. He said that his grandmother was out gambling at the casino and might not even come home, and that his mother didn't get off work until eleven.

I liked Guy's room. It wasn't fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clean and neat and different. First, the walls were papered in a kind of faded lime green that appealed to me. It had nice hardwood floors, with a rug that was a darker shade of what the walls were. What I liked most were the framed pictures of nice scenery that he had on the walls. I think they were things he'd cut from magazines, but they were really nice to look at, and I found myself doing just that.

"Where'd ya get the pictures? They're really nice."

Guy looked at me smiling, "You like 'em? Some my Dad took, some I just found here and there." He grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward a grouping, "That's Puerto Rico here, just different places." He turned and led me to a different wall, "These are all New Zealand, mostly from magazines. I really want to go there someday!"

As I was admiring them, I asked almost absently, "What happened to your father, anyhow?"

When I saw the look on Guy's face, I went and put my arm around him. He gulped, "He died. He got sick and died. I was little, I don't remember him much." He looked at me, "Wanna see a picture?"

I nodded, and he tugged my arm. "It's in Juan's room."

We went out his door and into the one next to it. Juan's room was much like Guy's, size wise. It was also neat, and I made a silent vow to improve my own housekeeping. I don't know why I lived like a slob, but I did.

The picture was in a frame on Juan's dresser, and I think I saw pretty much what Guy would look like when he got older. Guy had his father's looks way more than Juan did, and I was looking at a picture of a handsome and happy looking man. He looked young in the picture, maybe around twenty five, but he had the same glow in his eyes that his sons shared.

I unconsciously draped my arm around Guy's shoulder and said, "You look just like him. That's sad that he died, man, it really is."

He sighed, "Yeah, I guess. It sucks not having a father." He leaned into me and turned his head, "Do you get along with your parents?"

I was surprised by his question. "Yeah... mostly, anyhow. Why'd ya ask that?"

He slumped, "I don't know. I was little when my Dad died. He'd hate me now. I know he would."

We headed back to Guy's room, but I asked, "Your father would hate you? I don't think so."

As we turned back into his room, he looked at me and said, "You said your father freaked out when you said you were gay. My father would have killed me, I just know it.

I stopped short, spinning Guy until I was looking in his eyes. I raised my voice, "No, you do not know that!" I hugged Guy to me, "Oh, man .... that's so sad that you'd think that. It's not fair to your dad that you'd think he'd ever hate you." I shook my head, "Why do you think like that, anyhow?"

Guy hugged close to me. "You don't know, Mike. You can't! I'm s'posed to be macho man. If I was a father already, nobody would think anything of it. It's just the way things are!"

I held him close, "That's bullshit, and you know it. You're not supposed to be anything! If there's anythin' I learned since Jack got killed, it's that I'm supposed to be me!" I took his shoulders, "My Dad's payin' for a shrink, I can save ya some money." I gave him a squeeze, "Oh, Guy, the big thing I learned is that I can't decide what other people think... what they could think, what they might think. It's up to them." I squeezed him closer, close to tears, "Please, please don't get the idea that your own father would ever hate you."

Guy was very sad, that I could tell. I toned down my voice, "Listen, Guy, you're trying to make something happen that can't. I... um... do you think your father loved you?"

Guy looked at me with a horrified look in his eyes, "I ..." he shook his head, "How should I know. I mean... I think he did, God, I hope he did."

I hated seeing his confusion. I had no knowledge, but to console him I said, "Guy, from what I can see fathers love their sons, least all the ones I've seen do."

He smiled a little, "Yeah, I know I would if I had a kid. He must have; Juan used to talk about him all the time."

I patted his shoulder, "See? Don't waste your time worryin' about what ya can't know."

We sat on the edge of his bed and gradually ended up with our arms around each other. Just being there like that, quiet and looking at his pictures, felt really nice to me. Guy must have liked it too, because we stayed like that for quite awhile, just feeling the presence of the other.

The phone ringing jolted us both, and Guy raced out of the room to answer it. I trailed after him, and found him just hanging up. "That was Juan, they're on their way home."

So much for doing something with Guy. I said, "Um, guess we talk too much, huh?"

He smiled, "Yeah, I guess we do. I um, I'm glad we talked instead. I was nervous as a cat."

"Heh, me too. It seemed kinda weird just decidin' to do that. It was weird to me, anyhow."

Guy moved closer to me, and we hugged briefly. Then I found myself not wanting to let go, and pulled him back into it. God, he felt like Jack... and that scent. My dick chose that moment to announce its re-kindled interest, and when Guy felt it poking him he giggled, then reached down and gave it a gentle stroke, whispering, "Next time, maybe."

I sighed, "Yeah, maybe." We sat on the couch side by side, arms around each other, and we picked up plantains with our free hands. They had gotten cold, but they were still tasty.

It wasn't long before we heard Davy and Juan on the stairs, at which time we moved apart a little, then Guy leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, whispering, "Thanks."

When Juan and Davy came in, Juan looked at the television and said, "Geez, Guy! Haven't you seen that a million times already?"

Guy smiled up at him, "Yeah, probably. One more won't hurt. So, how'd it go?"

Davy and Juan had shed their jackets, and they both reached for plantains at the same time. Juan smirked before biting into one, and waited to finish it before saying, "You gotta give Paul credit, he's the most stubborn idiot I ever met. He listened to us, but he didn't change his mind, not yet, Nunca pensé ..." he smiled sheepishly, "I mean, I never thought he could be so one-sided about something." He grinned at Davy, "He knows where we're comin' from, don't he amigo?"

Juan and Davy both seemed to be delighted about something, so either more had happened than they were letting on, or they had a lot of fun trying. Davy beamed, "Yeah, he got the message." He smiled at Juan, "Pauly has a real thick skull, but he heard our piece tonight." He looked at me, still smiling, "Juan pointed out that Paul was the only one there tonight who had problem with you, also that you were being cool about it."

I asked, "So, that's it?"

Davy grinned his best and said, "Well, I learned one thing."

I asked, "What's that?"

He started laughing. "Pauly's the most ticklish person I ever saw! I mean, Jesus! Juan had him screaming and laughing so loud I thought the windows would break!"

Juan snorted, "I knew he was ticklish, just never how bad." He smiled broadly, "Anyhow, he can't hate anybody when he's laughing himself to death, 'cept maybe me for doin' it. You should'a seen, though. I got fifty pounds on him, and he still bounced me up a foot!"

I laughed picturing the scene, then thought about it. "You can't tickle somebody into changin' their minds."

Davy said, "No, but you can tickle them 'til they promise to think about things. Pauly's thinking, believe me, he's thinking hard."

Juan snickered, "Yeah, he promised!" then he burst out laughing. When he calmed down he looked at me with a serious expression. "Why'd you do that tonight, Mike? Why'd ya bring up that you're gay, or bi, or whatever?"

Davy chimed in, "Yeah, Mike. Why?"

I said, "I didn't bring it up. Somebody said Davy was queer for me, and that ain't the truth. I was just settin' the record straight on that."

"Come on, Mike. That ain't the reason; you knew Vinny was just kiddin' around," Juan said, "you could'a just laughed and it'd be over."

I stared at him for a moment, "I didn't think it was funny. I know what it's like when word gets around that you're gay." I glanced at Davy, then briefly at Guy, "Davy's not queer, that much I can promise you. I was just tryin' to make a point."

Juan looked at Davy, then Guy, then back at me, kind of a curious expression on his face. Then he shrugged and said, "Point taken." His eyes softened, crinkling back into his usual smile. "You're a nice guy, Mike. I'm glad I met you, and I learned somethin' tonight. Don't you worry about Paul. He might not like gays, but he's gonna learn to keep his mouth shut." His gaze lifted to meet mine, "Is that enough? It's all I can do."

I smiled at Juan, "Yeah, and ya didn't hafta do anything. I'm glad I met you, too... and Guy," I said, turning to spread my smile to him. "I didn't think Davy'd hang around with jerks anyhow, but you guys are really great."

Davy gave me a smile that I somehow knew was just for me. "Yeah," he said, "real Morton men, right here where I live."

He shined his absolute best smile. "Is this cool or what?"


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