Jack in the Box

Chapter 42

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

After Tim left with Dwayne, we were supposed to clean up the mess. That had to wait until we got our little charade out of our systems. James was the only one who had spent the whole time with Dwayne, and we peppered him with questions about Dwayne's reactions to things.

It was Clay's idea to make what was happening seem as normal as apple pie, just another day with a bunch of twisted Morton kids. He came up with the idea for James to say that my mother had dropped off my dildos, and that was still funny to think about. It was sort of a continuation of the idea that my mother would bring James and me to Bruce's, dressed the way we'd been.

Annie's own idea about insisting that she wash Dwayne's dick was the one that shocked him the most. Then Paulina forgot about her lines and just started hollering at Dwayne, but I think she was the one that got through.

We laughed over and over about things, and James asked Tony, "You came out with a boner, didn't you? Nice touch."

I looked at Tony in surprise, "You did?" I mussed up his hair, "You got turned on?"

He looked ready to answer, but Paulina clapped her hand over his mouth. She answered for him, "Of course he did! Who wouldn't be turned on by the idea of watching studly Michael Waters getting porked?" She whispered in Tony's ear, loud enough for us to hear, "You say one word, and I'll break that thing in half!"

Tony couldn't say anything with her hand over his mouth, but you could tell that he was laughing underneath it. I think the rest of us realized that she had gotten him 'up' for his appearance, and it was really funny.

We laughed. Even when we were cleaning the house we laughed. Poor Dwayne. He didn't have a chance in hell when he showed up at the door that morning. He really started to go to pieces when Buddy showed up with a giant camera, and asked him if he'd screwed me yet. Then things just went faster and faster. When Dwayne finally tossed his tape, it was like he was trying to get rid of it once and for all.

We finished cleaning up, which didn't take very long, then we all had our own things to do. We made a vague plan to go out for pizza later, then everyone left, and I pedaled down to Pat's house to make birdhouses. It was just starting to spit rain when I arrived.

I hadn't been there all week. Pat had completed three houses on his own, and was close to finishing a fourth. He looked at me when I came in, relief on his face. "Jeez, finally! I thought you quit or somethin'."

I looked at what he was working on, saying, "I'm really sorry. It's been, um, well...it's been a busy week. I'm ready now, though. How ya been?"

Pat said proudly, "I've been working. Look at these things!"

I looked in amazement. The houses that I'd worked on last weekend were five copies of the same thing. These were all different from one another, all beautifully done. Pat had taken to taping the photos of the real houses to the roof, and what Tony and Richard were doing to replicate them had to be pleasing the customers.

I watched Pat for a few minutes, then got started on one myself.

A week away from it hadn't cost me anything except money, and I found that I remembered everything. Well, not everything. I hadn't even noticed the absence of aroma, but we were using Richard's glue instead of Tony's, and it didn't smell at all.

Pat had a little fire going in the wood stove, too, and I felt really good working beside him in the warmth.

A lot of things felt better. Just working on separate things, being at different stages of completion, was somehow more fun, more like we were working side by side than looking over each other's shoulder to compare the same things.

We kept up an easy banter, although I couldn't say too much about my own week. Pat was cautiously hopeful, but he thought he was making some friends on his own, at least getting friendly with some new people. He really liked my sister; that was clear. Her name popped up often and, through Pat, I learned something about her own week. I sure hadn't been around enough to know anything about it.

He also thought that his brother, Kevin, would have hated doing what we were doing, because he had no patience at all. That comment got us talking about Kevin and Jack. Pat was easy to talk to, and we kept up a more or less idle conversation for the hour that it took him to finish the house he was working on.

It was the neatest one yet, kind of like the house Guy lived in, which I had learned was called Victorian style. This one had a lot of colors, and a kind of rounded tower at one end. From the pictures, I could see that it would end up with an elaborate front porch when Tony got through with it...

Pat was proud of it, that much was obvious. I was still working on a frame, and he was going to take a break to eat something. He offered to bring me back a sandwich, which I accepted, and he took off to get it.

When he came back, he had food and sodas for both of us, so we ate at the workbench facing each other while we sat on the stools. The flourescent overhead lights were nice for working, but seemed like too much for just eating, so Pat turned them off, leaving just a round, hanging fixture lit. That made it seem kind of like a restaurant, and I felt even more comfortable.

I smiled at Pat and said, "This is nice," before taking a bite from a very fat tuna fish sandwich. It was thick enough that tuna squished out everywhere, and I had to hurry to get it back over the paper plate. I looked at Pat and asked, "What did you use, a whole can?"

He was having the same problem, but managed to say, "Yeah," before chasing his own dangling tuna back to the plate.

It seemed funny, like being little kids again, with sloppy food all over our faces and hands, but it tasted good, and the mess seemed to make it better. I guess it was the tension of the week, but being there with Pat, just goofing on simple things, seemed to relax me more than it normally would have.

It was warm and dry, we had something worthwhile to do, and we really got along with each other. It seemed like the perfect way to spend a crummy afternoon, though I would have been there even if it was nice out. Money talks, and Patty was way ahead of me. He'd earned himself two hundred bucks while I was out dealing with Dwayne!

It was too late to do anything about. I couldn't work faster to catch up. Tony's creations had to be worried together, as much as just put together. I had to take my time. Either that or break something, or just generally mess up.

I was making progress, as was Pat on the new one he'd started. It was mid afternoon when there was a knock at the door. Pat yelled out, "Come on in!" and we both stopped what we were doing to see who'd bother to knock on a barn door.

Dwayne Masterson would. I stammered, "D-D-Dwayne?" I don't think I'd have been more surprised if it was the Devil himself.

Dwayne looked terrible; tired, and like he'd spent the day with the aforementioned Devil. He tried to smile, but it was a failed attempt. I asked, "Do you know Pat?"

He said, "Just from the halls. Hi, Pat. I'm Dwayne Masterson."

Dwayne took a few steps toward Pat as Pat approached him. They shook, and Pat said, "You're the paper guy. Nice story!"

"Thanks." Dwayne looked at me, seeming like he was ready to crumble, "Can I talk to you, Mike?" He glanced at Pat, then back at me. "Somewhere alone?"

Give Pat marks for tact and understanding. He took a long look at Dwayne, recognized the condition he was in, and wiped his hands on his pants. "I'm done anyhow. I've been out here all day." He turned to me, "If you don't care, that is."

I said, "It's fine, Pat."

He looked up at the fluorescent lights, "Want me to turn those off?"

I nodded and Pat headed for the door, switching the bright lights off, then turning, "Come in the house when you're done. I got Lissie's book you can bring back."

I glanced at Dwayne, then smiled at Pat. "I will. Thanks, Pat."

I wondered what I was thanking Pat for. He was leaving me alone with the person I had dreaded being alone with for a week. I looked at Dwayne, and I wasn't afraid anymore. If he got wise, I could glue him to the bench. This was barn boy territory!

It was really comfy looking in there with just the one overhead bulb casting a glow that was almost orange, the wood stove burning. I motioned Dwayne to a stool, then decided that I really had to pee. I excused myself, and hurried to the side of the barn, where I relieved myself.

When I went back inside, Dwayne was looking at the finished birdhouses, touching them as I'd expect Clay to, ever so gently. When he noticed me, he asked, "You made these?"

I said, "Patty made those, but we work on the same things." I picked up the frame I was working on and held it out. "Tony and Richard Phelps make the parts. We just put 'em together." I looked, and Dwayne seemed fascinated, but I said a little angrily, "Pat's way ahead of me. I spent the whole week worryin' about you!"

Dwayne dropped onto one of the stools and looked at me, a sad face all that I saw. I took another stool, and waited for him to say something.

He finally did, after a long, staring silence. Tears started to leak from his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Mike," the floodgates opened up, and his face distorted, "Oh, God! What am I?" He brought his hands up over his eyes and started sobbing. I just watched, refusing to be sympathetic. Dwayne had ruined a whole week, scared the hell out of me, made me sick, cost me earnings, put me behind on my schoolwork…

When he began to calm down, he wiped his face with his sleeves. Still sniffling, he looked down and mumbled, "I should probably go now."

I asked, "Why'd you come here, anyhow?"

He looked up at me, "Dave and Tim thought I should talk to you. I just left their place."

I was surprised, "Just now?" It was approaching four o'clock, and Tim had spirited Dwayne away from us before ten. It was a different story if they wanted Dwayne to talk to me. I thought he'd come on his own. "What should we talk about?"

Dwayne said sadly, "I was wrong, Mike. I'm sure you know that. It's something that never should have happened, and I knew I was doing wrong. I just couldn't help it."

I stared at him, "Why, though. Why me?"

He shrugged, "I guess it's an obsession I have over you. I've had it for a long time, kind of from afar. I noticed you the first day you started at high school last year, then it came out that you were gay, and some idiot was always drawing my attention to you. I felt awful about what was going on, but all I did was watch. You had this...this look. I don't know how to describe it, it was like a strength." He sniffed, "I so much wanted to protect you, but I just couldn't get myself to do it. I'm such a coward. Then...when Jack got killed...after you came back to school, you seemed so...I don't know, vacant, I guess, like it wasn't you anymore."

I mumbled, "It wasn't me. There was nothin' left."

Dwayne started crying softly again, "Oh God, Mike. If you only knew how much I wanted to try and comfort you, just hold on to you and make the bad go away." He sobbed, "It was too late then, other people were looking after you, and I was still on the outside." He raised his tear streaked face, "Then school let out. I spent the summer trying to forget about you, then when it started this year, there you were again. You were different, though...bigger, happier looking," he smiled ruefully, "Cleaner looking. You had your own friends, too, and the word was out that nobody picked on Mike anymore, or they'd answer to more than one person."

I smiled to myself, "Yeah, I grew up some over the summer."

God, what Dwayne was saying was intriguing to me. He was sounding more like a secret admirer than a stalker.

Dwayne hesitated before going on. "I...I guess I thought you were like some butterfly that just got it's wings. Last year it was like...I don't know, like you were this poor kid who nobody'd leave alone, and I had all these protective feelings that I was too cowardly to act on. Then, when school started back up, you were just normal. I guess what got to me is that everybody knew you were queer, and they liked you anyhow."

I started to say something, but Dwayne went on, "I think I got jealous at first." His face contorted, "Oh God, Mike! I'm eighteen years old. I know what I am, but until this week only four other people knew I was gay. Do you know how much I hate that? Hate living like this?"

I said, almost to myself, "When I first thought I was gay it never mattered, not 'til I started high school. It only mattered to other people, not to me, and they were bein' stupid about it." I looked at Dwayne's distressed face, "I still don't get it, Dwayne. What's the big deal?"

He slumped, "For me, it's my father. Honest, after I saw you at the beginning of the year, I was totally jealous. Everybody could know about you, and treat being gay like it's nothing, like there's other parts there that're more important. I know that's true, and I want so bad for it to be true for me, but I still have to worry about my father."

I said, "You told me your mother knows. Can't she help?"

He shook his head, "She only knows because she figured it out. I never went and told her, but when we talked, I didn't deny it." He smiled helplessly, "There's no lying to that woman."

"Is she on your side?"

"Do you mean, does she accept it? Not really, but at least she understands me. My father doesn't even know where I came from. He's this big drag racing, hunting and fishing, macho man. I used to pretend to like that stuff just to be with him, but I can't do it anymore."

I showed some interest, "He races dragsters? Real ones?"

Dwayne rolled his eyes, "Yeah, him and his friend. Jesus, Mike, do you know what they have painted on their car?"


"It's a donkey fuckin' a nun!"

I had to picture that, then I couldn't help it. I had a fit of giggles that wouldn't quit, and Dwayne started to snicker, too. I finally managed to get out, "Your dad don't sound like that bad of a guy!"

Dwayne stopped laughing and said, "No, I suppose he's not. I just know he's disappointed that I'm not like him."

I asked, "No brothers or sisters?"

"Oh, I have two sisters. They're no comfort to him, either." Dwayne's look softened, "Dad doesn't understand his own kids, Mike. I think he expected at least me to be a clone or something, but we all take after my mother...all readers, all thinkers." He smiled a little, "Give him credit, he's a good provider and everything, but he feels like an outsider in his own house!"

"And you have to push him farther away so he won't figure you out?"

Dwayne stared for a moment, then his eyes jerked into line with my own. The tears were back. "I guess that's what I'm doing. I don't want my father to hate me."

I felt compelled to tell Dwayne what had happened when I told my own father I was gay, how he'd flipped out and scared me half to death, then come around. I wasn't expecting any reaction at all, just coming home with news. I was naive, only twelve at the time, and I didn't think it was any more of a revelation than when I had pulled down my pants to ask him why I was getting hairs around my dick. Dad had laughed that time, made me pull my clothes back on, and explained puberty to me. He knew all about it that time, so when I decided that I was gay, I was waiting for another explanation.

Well, big news, and news that didn't go over well at all.

Dwayne thought my story was funny and sad at the same time, and promised never to write about it when I got worried about that.

It was sad for me to hear, but he didn't have any idea what his father really thought about him. Hearing his side, I wondered if he knew his father at all, or had just distanced himself so much, tried to hide so much, that his father had given up on him.

Our talk had managed to head off in a different direction, so I asked about the recent stuff, the harassment, the blackmail.

Dwayne seemed startled, and he rubbed his forehead and eyes with the palm of his hand. He seemed to become wary, and looked away from me. "Sorry. I...um… I don't know, Mike. I used to feel sorry for you, wished I could be like a big brother and protect you from...from what I feared myself, I guess. Now you're like...desirable." He shook his head, "It's not even that, really. That night at the dance, I was...um, I wanted to tell somebody...tell them I was gay. I thought I could with your friends, and Clay Nettleton got all in my face."

Dwayne got real fidgety, "I chickened out again, and I was so sure I could do it that night. I ran away, like I always do. Then I saw Buddy, and he told me to try again, but I was afraid, and I just argued with him. After that...I don't know, I didn't know what to do. It's like one side of me says I'm gay and so what, then the other side says it's all wrong and I'm gonna die for it if I ever tell." Dwayne turned a confused look to me. "What's the difference, can you tell me that? I'm queer, and if that's really a sin, God will do me in. Can you tell me why that will only happen if somebody else knows? God already knows. If He didn't know automatically, I've told Him enough times, and I'm still here. Am I not dead already because it's a secret, or is it because it's okay?"

I looked at Dwayne, stripped of his confidence, his leer. I started to get tears in my eyes when I realized that he wasn't just some big senior, not only the hotshot reporter. He was another kid like me, all confused about what life was all about. I had it together better than he did! I said, so softly that I could barely hear my own voice, "I think it's okay, Dwayne." I choked, "If it was a sin to be different, why would we be born to begin with?"

Dwayne just stared at me, so I went on. "Think about it. I live in Morton. It's mostly a black town. Am I that different 'cause I'm white? You live in Arlington, that's mostly white. Should a kid like James be in trouble there because he's black? I was just up north a few weeks ago, and people joked about how I talked. Do I get freaked out on 'cause of my accent? How about my friend, Davy? He's a Yankee. That's fine where he lives; does he hafta take crap if he comes back here to visit?"

Dwayne cracked a smile, and I continued. "Dwayne, if bein' different was a sin, we'd all be dead." I thought of something and grinned, "Just picture those little hot dog things...dachshunds! I mean, they're way too short in the legs, and a lot too long in the body. Should we go around stomping out freakin' dachshunds?"

Dwayne was smiling for real, and I said, "I need a better word. It's not just different it's...it's..."

He asked, "Variety?"

Bingo! "Yes! Variety! Like when you go in the drugstore for an ice cream. You can order chocolate, you can order strawberry, you can get whatever you want! Even the cigarette display! They got like a hundred different ways to kill yourself." Putting the thought together had been an up for me, but it was still Dwayne there, and I wanted to know what was really in his head.

I softened, "Yeah, that's what we are, parts of a wide variety." I smiled, "Good word, Dwayne. Um, how did all this lead to you doin' blackmail?"

Dwayne blushed, "I...I'm not sure where it came from." He smiled, "You're beautiful, Mike. Both to look at, and as a person to know, so I guess that's where it started. I mean, last year you're this little kid. I knew you were scared all the time, I could see it. You held your head up, though. You just took it, and I could see your strength then, and I wished...really wanted… I don't know what, to make a connection, I guess." He hung his head, "I'm sick, Mike. I know that now. I'm trying to make me into you, and that's not going to happen."

I gasped, "You wanna be me?"

"Let me finish. Then you come back this year, all looking like a new person, a real man." He looked into my eyes for the first time that afternoon, "This is the sick part, Mike. I liked the way you looked, but I like the way lots of guys look. But you were like me, something that was possible."

"You mean queer?"

He sighed, "Yes, at first. Then you talked to me, we started the story. I began to learn all about you, how special you are as a person."

I said "I'm not special."

Dwayne said, "Oh, yes you are. I could tell the second you started talking to me. You don't just talk to people, you give yourself at the same time. I don't know how to explain it. When I went home that first night, I couldn't get you out of my head. Your face, your words, it was like I remembered everything about you."

I just looked at Dwayne, wondering when the punch line came. When I didn't say anything, he went on. "I don't know where it changed, Mike, I really don't. I had the feeling that you liked me, but I think everybody gets that from you." He looked down, "I think I wanted to be special, not just another person you liked."

I got up to toss a few more sticks into the stove, then when I turned back around, I was thinking back to that first night. I didn't mean to say it, but it kind of came out. "Dwayne, you should have left it alone. Things might'a come about different."

He seemed to be confused, "What? What do you mean?"

I sat back on my stool, "I mean I kinda felt the same way that night. I thought we were gonna be great friends. I guess I was worked up that you were gonna write about Jack, and you seemed to smart. I was all excited that you thought the story would come out good, then, when I went to bed, you...I guess you were in my head." I saw the shock on Dwayne's face, and I felt bad. "I don't know, Dwayne. I'm not tryin' to make you feel bad, but I had all this respect for you. Here's Dwayne Masterson, writer...editor, it was like a thrill that you'd even talk to me. Then you started askin' all kinds of private stuff, then...then..."

Dwayne started leaking tears again, "I know what I did," he said quietly. "I don't know why, really. I just couldn't stop myself." He lifted his eyes, "You really liked me?"

I looked Dwayne over, trying to decide how I felt. "Let me tell you how I feel, Dwayne. Nobody ever treated me like you did, not even last year when I was bein' called every name in the book. I've been tryin' real hard to get over Jack, and I'm gettin' somewhere. I don't know. How would you like it if I said I was going to call your house and tell your dad you're queer?" I was having a hard time talking, "You got me all strung out again, just when I was gettin' better. You got Tony all upset with lies. You threatened to do even worse with Annie and Clay. That ain't stuff you can just apologize for!"

Dwayne sobbed out. "I know!"

I glared at him, "What the hell went wrong?"

"If I knew, it wouldn't have happened. I just...something was too strong, I couldn't control it."

I stared at him for a moment. "You never did somethin' like that before?"

He shook his head no as he wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

"Dammit! Where do we go from here, Dwayne? What're you gonna do? What'd you talk about all day?"

He wiped his eyes again and sighed, "I never knew people like Tim and Dave. They chewed my head off at first, and then said they'd help me if I'd let them."

I smiled, because that was exactly what I thought they'd do. "That took six hours?"

"No, setting things up took some time, too. I called that help line for school and talked to some guy there. They don't really do anything; just make recommendations about where you can get help. They told me I should either get a private shrink, or join a program for...forsex offenders." He really choked that last bit out. "Oh God, Mike!Sex offenders! Do you know how scary it is to hear yourself called that?"

"You were on your way, Dwayne."

"I know. I know, I know, I know! Fuck!" His voice quieted down, "I didn't have any choice; at least I thought I didn't. If my dad had to pay for a doctor, he'd know all about it, then save the money by just kicking me out."

"Damn, Dwayne! What're ya gonna do?"

He looked at me, then straightened up a little, "Right now, I'm going to say what I came to say, which is thank you."


"Tim and Dave told me how you could have had me hung out to dry, let me ruin my life, but you wouldn't. I was...kinda whining about how you had friends who'd do something like they did this morning for you. They said it wasn't for you, it was for me, so I wouldn't get in trouble." Dwayne's tear factory started up again, on overtime. "God, Mike, after all I did, the worst you could come up with was to make me think that you guys were all crazy? I...I...I..."

I suddenly got the picture from Dwayne's point of view. It was kind of funny, but I wanted him to specifically know a few things. "Um, Dwayne? I hope you know it was all put on. We gotta get this part straight. My mother doesn't deliver me dildos, or buy me girl's pants. Buddy don't run around makin' porn videos, and Clay definitely don't sleep with Annie. Nobody smokes, and Annie wouldn't clean your dick with a pressure washer, not from across the state line. You know Tony and Paulina ain't like that, and James, um... " I grinned, "Does he look good in hot pants, or what?"

Dwayne was gaping at me, and I started to giggle. I knew he felt bad, and that didn't make me feel good, but winning sure did. It was a neat feeling to be so hopeful about something and have it work out pretty much the way you wanted it to.

Dwayne was right about one thing. I had great good friends, real friends who'd go to the wire for me. I only wished that Davy could have been there that morning. He would have loved it.

I noticed that Dwayne was smiling through his tears, and it turned into a bright one. "You guys got me, that's for sure. I didn't know what I walked into." He coughed out a laugh, "I thought I was in another dimension or something." He paused, "You were right about another thing, too. I didn't really get you when you said a black kid was the best looking one in school. I should slap myself, but I never thought to look. James is friggin' gorgeous! Oh man, those eyes!"

I suddenly felt foolish. "Yeah, but you ain't done nuthin' 'till you rubbed potatoes with Annie!"

"Heh, potatoes?"

I was giggling pretty helplessly, "Oh yeah. When I forget to bring the dildo, we just find a big ol' spud to drop in her pants so I can get turned on." I wheezed, "The potato goes in front, Dwayne!"

Dwayne started giggling himself. "You're too much, all of you. You sure know how to make a crazy boy crazier."

I looked at Dwayne and caught his eyes. Our giggles stopped, but we were both smiling, like we'd found our way back to square one. Dwayne could apologize until the last lemming went over the cliff, but it wouldn't mean anything. He had to change, get some brain cells rearranged, before we could ever be real friends, but he understood that, and it was enough for the moment.

I stood up and stretched, eyeing the unfinished frame on the bench. I wasn't going to earn much that day either, but that wasn't too important. I felt in control of myself again, and that's what mattered.

I asked Dwayne, "So what's next?"

He shrugged, "I either face my dad or I don't. If I don't, Tim said he'd find a way so I could see a doctor. If I do tell Dad, then it depends on what happens." Dwayne dropped his head, "He'll freak, I know he will."

I said, "I don't know why you're so sure of that, Dwayne. It sounds like you been hidin' from your dad for a long time. Isn't there an off chance that he'll be glad to have you back?"

Dwayne shook his head. "I doubt it. If I do tell him, Tim and Dave offered to be there so he can't kill me outright. If he does go nuts," he smiled, "I'll be your neighbor." He grinned and pulled at an imaginary moustache, "How's that for a prospect, my little chickadee?"

I should have been surprised, but I only was at the words. Dave and Tim had Dwayne figured out already, and they were going to do what it took to get him out of this mess. Now I was more curious about Dwayne's day than my own.

I asked, "They said you could live with them? How'd that get in the picture?"

Dwayne looked at me, and the tears came back. "That's only if it's a last resort. I have to make an effort with my family first...a real effort. I get the feeling that you think things will be okay, and I think that Dave and Tim think the same way."

I said, "I don't know. I guess you'll never know 'til you try. They'll go with you? How would that work?"

Dwayne shrugged, "It's all vague right now. Dave said that, if it comes to it, there's got to be plenty of reasons for a teacher to visit the editor of the school paper." He looked at my eyes and smiled, "You're a lucky boy, Mike. With those guys next door, I bet you can never do wrong!"

I blinked, "I don't wanna do wrong, Dwayne."

He smiled, "I was just kidding." He looked at his watch, "Oh, man, this took some time. I have to go see the others, I hope you can steer me to where they live."

I looked at my watch, and it was almost six! I said, "Hang on, Dwayne. I was supposed to call an hour ago. We might go out for pizza. Why don't you come with us?"

Dwayne looked shocked, but I left him standing there so I could call Annie. I ran out of the barn, only to find that it had gotten totally nasty outside. I stopped short, right outside the door, then focused on the nearest door to the house, and bolted through the rain to get there. There was no overhang, so I just went inside, knocking on the door after I closed it behind me, and announcing my presence.

Pat came out after a second, and asked what had taken so long. I responded, as vaguely as I could, that Dwayne had a problem, and asked to use the phone.

I called Annie, and her mother called her to the phone. "Mike?"

"Hi, Annie."

"Are you still working? I thought you'd call an hour ago."

"I was working. Dwayne came by."


I was in the kitchen with Pat and his parents coming and going. "Yeah, Dave and Tim told him to come see me."

"Oh. Can you talk?"

"Not a lot."

Annie said, "Alright, I won't ask anything about it. It's pouring out, but Paulina still wants to go. Do you? Will your parents let you?"

"They won't mind if I'm with you guys." I decided not to break stride, "Is it okay if Dwayne comes?"

Talk about a deafening silence. Finally, "Mike, are you sure? What's the point?"

I had to think before I could answer. Was there a point? "Annie...I think it's worth it. Don't forget where I am, and Dwayne's waitin' in the barn."

She paused, then sighed, then giggled, "Don't tell me ..."

I interrupted in a whisper, "Dwayne's got things to say, Annie. If you let him come tonight, you all can hear it at once. You should know that he spent six hours with Tim and Dave."

Silence. "Annie?"

"I'm thinking. Is he...is he...alright?"

I thought for a second, then said, "No, but he's gonna work on it. I know you think I'm nuts, but we have to stay with him on this. He's ..." I noticed that Pat was listening, "I'll tell you later, okay?"

Annie said, "Alright" She giggled, "I've known all along that you have a soft heart, but I'm beginning to believe that softness is migrating to your head." There was a sigh, followed by a smiling voice, "That's part of why I love you. You're so...hopeful for everyone."

I asked, "It's okay then?"

She said, "I suppose. I'll call the others. Are you going to ride with Dwayne? We're going to Donato's over in Arlington."

God, that thought made me cringe. "Dwayne lives in Arlington, he can go on his own. I don't even know who all's going."

"Just your special friends, Mike, those of us who have been blessed by witnessing your feminine side. I'm sure James will want to know this, so will you be wearing long or short tights?"

I giggled, "You're nasty, you know that? What time?"

"We'll pick you up in about an hour. Are you staying there at Pat's?"

I said, "Yeah, I'll be here."

"I'll see you then. I'm just now getting your makeup kit together."


I could feel her smirk, even though I couldn't see it. "Yes?"

"If you bring it, you may end up wearin' all of it."

She laughed, "Ooh, threats! One hour, loverboy, and don't forget to call home."

I giggled, "I will, Annie. Um, don't do anything I wouldn't do."

She laughed out loud, "That is one list that I'd love to see, Mike. Please promise to write it down for me." She laughed again, "Oh Lord, the things Michael wouldn't do!" Still laughing, "You wouldn't even have to sharpen your pencil."

I waited out her laugh, then said, "Um, Annie?"


"Never mind. I love you, Annie."

She gasped, "Michael!"

"What? What'd I do?"

"Are there people there?"


Her entire tone of voice changed, and she whispered, "You said you loved me in front of them? Oh, my. Oh, my!"

"What, Annie?"

Her voice was smaller, "It's true, then? You really love me?"

"I've been tellin' ya."

She was quiet for a moment, "Mike?"

"I'm here."

"I love you, too." Her voice perked up, "We'll be there in an hour."

When I hung up I was smiling, then I blushed when I saw Pat and his father staring at me. Mr. A. quickly turned his head away, but Pat didn't. His dad turned back to me with a smile, but he didn't say anything.

Pat asked, "You're goin' for pizza? Can me and Lissie go?"

I started to say "Not this time," but his father piped in. "It's bad out, Pat. You call Melissa and invite her down here. I'll take you to pick her up." He smiled at his son, "Don't worry, we'll leave you alone."

Pat seemed hesitant while he thought it over, and then said softly. "Okay, that sounds good." He looked at me, "Have a good time!"

I called my house and told my father the plan, and he said to be careful. I ran back out to the barn. Dwayne was back to looking at birdhouses, but when he heard me come in, he spun around.

"What's up?"

I said, "We're goin' to Donato's. They're pickin' me up in an hour, so maybe you should be there in an hour and a half."

Dwayne smiled sadly at me, then made like he was going to put a hand on my shoulder, but I think I cringed, and he hesitated before dropping his arm. He said, "You are special, Mike. Don't ever let anyone tell you any different."

I didn't say anything, just looked at his face, wondering how one person could have two sides that were so different. I liked Dwayne, at least I wanted to. I didn't really feel any scorn for him, just what I guess was pity.

Dwayne was the guy with the problem, not me, and I really hoped he would work it out. He also had to deal with his father, a man I didn't know. I think that part of his story bothered me the most, that a kid as smart as Dwayne felt that he couldn't tell his own dad about his feelings, and he'd pushed him so far away to hide those feelings that they barely knew each other anymore.

Dwayne was ready to go, standing at the door like he was waiting for me. I walked over and said, "I'll see you there, man. Good luck."

He didn't respond. He looked like he was judging how best to get to his car without getting soaked, then he tore off out of there. I watched, and when his headlights came on, he tooted the horn and backed out.

I watched him drive away, feeling all disappointed. I'm not sure why. Dwayne had done me wrong for sure, and I'd suffered for it. Still, there was something about him. I don't know, maybe it was just because he was gay and close to my age. I didn't have a lot of that available. Just Dwayne, and I think Buddy had been right when he said we should get to know each other.

I didn't really agree with Dwayne's version of gay. He seemed to think that it should lead directly to bed, and I didn't follow that. I thought that love or, at the bare minimum, affection should come first.

It's weird, but I guess I was too young at the time. I had loved Jack fiercely, but shrugged off most of his advances. In relative terms, I didn't know Davy nearly that well, but with him I had to keep my lust in check. Then, with Guy, who I barely knew at all, I just went for it. God, I didn't know what I wanted. Sex with Guy was fun. With Davy it was almost scary, because it was so pleasurable, even though I knew he wasn't in his natural element.

Annie, though, with her sex was fun and serious, and important. She was slowly but surely filling in the holes, the ones left in me when Jack died, and nobody else was doing that.

We hadn't made any long term commitment, me and Annie; we were fifteen. Still, she did for me what nobody else could right then. Just seeing her could make me feel better, smiling back and forth better yet, and when we touched...God, when we touched...it was...I don't know. It wasn't electric, not like with Jack, but it was still magical. I couldn't even tell anymore if the electricity with Jack was real, but it must have been because I remembered it.

Annie was different, but not much. Where Jack was kind of cosmic, Annie had her feet on the ground.

Otherwise, they were a lot alike, both with a nose for foolishness, both able to tickle me by just being there. I felt weird right then. I loved Jack, and I always would. I loved Annie, too, and I sensed that would always be the case. I had feelings for Davy, but I knew they'd never be realized. For Guy, too, but I felt that he was just a passing cloud.

Dwayne, though. He was a different matter, a more immediate one.

Oh Lord, what was I thinking? I don't know what it was with him. Any possibility of an attraction had been turned into revulsion by his recent behavior. Still, my special interest radar was locked onto him. Maybe it was just curiosity; I couldn't put my finger on it. It may have been a certain fascination.

I felt bad for him, and that was a certainty. When Jack and I decided, through some piss-poor science, that I was probably gay, I felt no reason to hide it. I ran right in the house and told my brother, then my father in front of my sisters. My dad went off the deep end, but that's just a story now. I couldn't picture going through life pretending, like Dwayne was. God, all those feelings bottled up inside for who knows how long.

When my dad smoked his cork, I didn't expect it, and it scared the hell out of me, made me feel awful. Dwayne did expect that from his own father, and that was a big difference. He'd already pretty much severed relations with his dad, and that had to hurt both of them, whether Dwayne's fears were based in reality or not.

From my point of view, it had to be better for Dwayne to just tell his father about his feelings. It would be bad if his father kicked him out or beat him up, though I really doubted he'd kill his own son. Dwayne was at the point where, if he just got kicked out, it probably wouldn't be any worse than keeping up a relationship that had become so distant. At least he'd know once and for all, and now he had a safety net with Dave and Tim.

I was about to go back to the house when Patty ran into the barn, all wet from the short run. He took his glasses off and wiped them on his shirt tail, then grinned at me. "Daddy says you can ride with us if ya wanna go home to change or sumthin'."

I took a quick look at what I had on, and decided that it would be a good idea to change. My clothes weren't dirty, but they were old and didn't fit very well.

We made a mad dash back to the house, then another one to the truck when his father got his hat on. It was really pouring, hard to even see out the window. Mr. A. was going slow, and it was because the headlights reflecting off the rain made it really hard to see anything.

When we got to my house, I ran in, followed by Pat. I called out to Lissie that Pat was there, then quickly called Paulina to say where I was now.

My sister sauntered into the kitchen, and I felt bad for Pat. Liss was a bit overweight, but those extra pounds were in the right places, and she was wearing clothes that let you know exactly where those places were. Part of Pat's standard greeting had become lifting his glasses up so you could tell that it was still him, but he pulled them back down quickly, both eyes looking huge for once.

My parents walked in behind Lissie and greeted Pat. I chuckled at the way Pat and Liss were crushing on each other, then said goodbye and hurried to my room to change. I had money, and took all of it with me, figuring that it would be my treat for once...for the first time ever, actually, but I wanted to do it. Somebody else was always taking the bill, and they seemed to enjoy doing it. It was my turn to have fun and pay.

Paulina's horn honked while I was still buttoning my shirt. I hurried, taking just enough time to get it right, then I was in the van next to Annie, wet already.

We kissed while I heard Clay ask, "Why the hell'd you invite Dwayne?"

I broke the kiss and shrugged. "He was gonna talk to everyone anyhow, I thought it'd be better all together."

Tony peered around his seat and stared at me for a second, then grinned, "You got no bad bones at all, do you? You're just gonna let him get away with all that?"

I grinned right back, "I got at least one evil bone, wanna see it?" Everyone laughed, then I said, more seriously, "Don't hate Dwayne, guys. Please? He's got bigger problems than what we saw." I looked around, and saw for the first time that it was just the five of us, "Is James coming with Buddy or something?"

Paulina, without taking her eyes off the road, said, "They're probably already there, Mike. They're in Buddy's car."

Clay reached behind Annie and tapped my shoulder. When I looked, he was leaning around Annie and smiling. "If you think I'm giving Dwayne a pass after what he tried to do, you can think again." He licked his lips, like he was thinking, "You're really something else, you know that? You dress up in a fairy costume so he won't get in trouble..."

Annie hissed, "Leave him alone, Clay. Mike thinks it's right to invite Dwayne, so give it a chance."

Clay made a fake choking move at his sister's neck and grinned. "Hear me out, Annie. I like Dwayne, I always did. I was just trying to say how much I think Mike's cool for how he handles things."

Annie's smile reappeared. She kissed at me and said, "Me, too."

Tony said, "Me three," and we all laughed.

Paulina said, "Me four. We're here!"

Good. It was still raining, but not nearly as hard. We made a run for the door after Paulina parked, not thinking about anything more serious than getting indoors and eating.

When we got inside, we didn't see James and Buddy, but Dwayne was standing there. He was nervous looking, but we each gave him friendly enough greetings. He relaxed a little, and when another look around told us that Buddy and James weren't there yet, we took a booth and pulled a smaller table up next to it.

The place wasn't crowded, probably because of the weather, and a waitress was there as soon as we sat down. We ordered sodas, telling her we were waiting for others.

I looked at Tony and said, "That house Patty just finished is somethin' else."

Tony seemed pleased, "The one with the tower? It really came out good? I never saw what Richard did with the round part."

I shrugged, "He did good. It looks just like the picture."

Just then Buddy and James came in and spotted us. They were smiling at first, then both of their expressions became cautious when they saw Dwayne there. They greeted us and sat down, and Dwayne made a point of saying hello to them individually. He was nervous, but Buddy and James said hello cordially enough.

I felt that I should take charge. "Guys, Dwayne and I talked all afternoon. I'll let him say it, but I need to say things first." I looked directly at Dwayne, who had a hard time staying with my eyes. "I'm not happy with what Dwayne tried to do to me, and y'all know that." I smiled around, "You guys kept it from happenin', and I'm grateful more than you know." I smiled, "I'm payin' tonight, by the way." I looked back at Dwayne, "Dwayne's gettin' help. I think we should back him up."

The waitress came, and we ordered salads and pizzas, then I sat back and added, "It's not the same for people like me and Dwayne. I never hid what I was, but y'all saw what that got me last year. Dwayne's got it all bottled up inside, and it's hard for him." I looked around, "I don't think I'm not normal, I mean, I think I am normal. It's different, though, not like you guys. People see us as not normal, that's where the trouble comes in."

Buddy butted in, "I used to think like that." He looked at Clay and pointed, "You did, too, Clay." He looked at Dwayne, kind of sadly, "I've known Dwayne for a long time. It wasn't 'til after the accident that I knew he was gay, and that only came about because everyone was feelin' bad."

He looked around the table, "You know what? I know it took a lot for Dwayne to tell me that, and I was surprised for sure, but it didn't make any difference." He kept his gaze on Dwayne for a moment, then looked around again. "Dwayne does things for people; he has since I've known him." He looked right at Dwayne, who now had tears in his eyes, "Dwayne, buddy, I don't know what got in your head with Mike, but you've been a good friend." He reached over and touched Dwayne's hand, "Count me in your corner, okay?"

Dwayne's tears were flowing freely, and he just nodded at Buddy, before wiping his eyes with a napkin.

The waitress brought our salads and we dug in, Dwayne kind of listlessly.

When I looked around, I saw everyone stealing glances at Dwayne, probably deciding their own feelings. The only one who worried me was Paulina, because I had a feeling that she already disliked Dwayne before all this started.

People were eating, and the conversation kind of disappeared. The pizzas came while we still had our salads. That caused minor confusion when some of us tried to wolf down the remaining salad, while others pushed their dishes out of the way.

When things were finally sorted out, and we had pizza instead of salad, Dwayne started talking. He was clearly nervous and embarrassed, and had no way to explain what had taken over him. He didn't talk for a long time, just long enough to impart what he was going to do about it. Even that was still up in the air, but he was prepared to do whatever Dave and Tim told him to, and was going to settle things one way or the other with his family.

At least everyone was listening intently to his words, James especially so. I watched James watch Dwayne, and he seemed fascinated with him. I didn't even see him blink.

When Dwayne finished, he did it by apologizing to us as a group, then individually. Tony quietly offered forgiveness for being lied to.

I don't think any of us really knew what to make of it, and the pizza wasn't disappearing very rapidly, so I finally said, "Okay, Dwayne. Tell us what you think of your friends from Morton now."

I swear, he turned purple, but it broke the somber mood. Dwayne just nodded, and managed to mumble out, "Friends, yeah."

I looked at Paulina, "Paulina?"

She glared at Dwayne for a moment, then her look softened and she nodded. She put a hand on top of Dwayne's and said softly, "Okay, I'm in." Her voice hardened, "Last chance, Dwayne. If you screw up again, I'm going to personally remove your sorry heart from your chest with my bare hands." Then she smiled brightly and looked at all the food. "This is a waste, guys! Dig in!" She looked to her left, "You too, Dwayne." She picked up a slice and took a big bite, chewed it, then asked Dwayne, "So, Dwayne. Do you still think the kids from Morton are a bunch of backwater barn babies?"

Dwayne blushed royally, and said, "No. After today, I know that you're real party animals and ..." he hesitated, "and you're really demented," he paused, "And very funny!"

That did it. The pizza vanished while everybody asked Dwayne what he thought of their part in our morning charade. He'd had all day to think on things, and we were soon all lost in mirth, Dwayne included.

When we were laughed out, Dwayne asked Paulina, "Was your part really true?"

She asked, "What do you mean?" then remembered and said, "Yeah, it's true. I guess I forgot my lines."

"You really live with gay men?"

Paulina shook her head, "No, Dwayne. I don't just live with them. They're my father." I saw a high horse coming, and boy, did it ever. "You'll notice, Mr. Writer, that I used the singular, and I did it on purpose. They're both my father, and yes I was adopted.

"It's also true that they're gay men, but they're real men. Adopted doesn't really cut it, either. If I have to use the term, our first father took my mother down big time, until she wasn't a mother anymore. You don't need details, but it was all about drugs for them. Then we ended up with our grandmother, who was a real class act, until she got too old. We were on the edge, going to get split up, where we might not even know where the others were, when our real father showed up."

It was a first for me to witness Paulina's eyes becoming glassy with emotion. "Our real father has two names, Dwayne...two faces, two bodies, but they share a soul."

She quieted, "It's a beautiful soul, Dwayne, one to behold...all full of love, caring, humor...even nuttiness, but especially generosity, and I'm not talking about the money kind." She looked up proudly, "My father, my real father, is two gay men, and you know them, Dwayne. I'm sure you do, and I know they've touched you in some way."

She looked around, almost sheepishly, "I'll shut up, now." She smirked, "Well, soon anyhow."

We all giggled, and she looked back at Dwayne. "Listen, there's nothing wrong with being gay, that's just something that happens. It's like being short or tall; it's a characteristic." She put her hand back on Dwayne's, "You, though, you have it twisted. We can stand behind you, but it's you who has to untwist yourself."

Dwayne put his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hands, looked up and around, then focused on me, sadness in his eyes. "I don't say stuff like this, but I feel blessed right now." He sniffled, then sat up straight. "I've been so afraid...most of my life, really. I guess...if I knew people like you existed, I might not be so twisted." He giggled, "Sorry about the rhyme, I didn't mean it." He looked around again, "I don't know what else to say."

Buddy said, dryly, "So, shut up, already," and we all laughed.

Clay took the opportunity to plead with me and Tony about joining the baseball team, which Buddy was already on, then they both got on the cases of all the guys there. James said that he and Aaron already talked about joining the team, and Dwayne said he'd like to play. With Paulina and Annie also goading us to play, Tony and I finally agreed to give it a try, but only if the others spent time with us so we could learn the game.

We spent another few minutes bantering, then the bill came and I grabbed it. Holy...fill in your own curses here. A hundred and two bucks for pizza? I started reading line items, then noticed that there was tax and tip added at the bottom, and it said the tip was automatic for parties of six or more. I was actually sweating when I counted out the bills. Everyone offered to chip in, but I told them this one was mine, as my wallet bled its contents. Next time they could contribute, I said, and I really meant it. I mean, OUCH!

When the bill was paid, we got up to leave. I shared a long look with Dwayne, maybe reading a 'thank you' in his eyes, but there wasn't anything left to say except goodnight.

When I was back beside Annie in the van, I whispered, "You were awful quiet tonight."

She snuggled against me, "I suppose. I was just listening." Her head dropped onto my shoulder, and she whispered, "Mike?"

I kissed her forehead. "I know. I'm crazy, right?"

She murmured, "I think you're nice."

I giggled, "Nice? What happened to Studly Dooright?"

"He just got taller, more gallant, in my estimation."

I squeaked, "Me?"

Annie whispered, "Listen to you." She shifted a little, just to get more comfortable. "Mike, nobody...and I mean nobody, but nobody would have stuck up for Dwayne after what he did to you." She got a little louder, but it still felt private, what with the car noises and the radio, "If you blew his brains out, nobody would have blamed you. You didn't, and I'm sure the thought never crossed your mind. You could have outed him to the whole school, and you didn't, and I'm sure you never considered even that." If a hug could get warmer than warm, Annie's just did. "You could have beat the stuffing out of him, Mike, and most people would have, but you ...I don't know how to put it...tonight was beautiful. Brilliant!"

I almost jumped out of my socks when Clay said, "I agree."

Then Tony, "Me, too."

Paulina. "Me three. We're here!"

So much for privacy. The rain had stopped by then, so after I said my goodbyes to the others, I stood outside the van with Annie for awhile, so we could kiss goodnight in private.

When she had to leave, I stood there and watched Paulina pull away, then stayed for a little while longer just enjoying the fresh air. When I went inside, there was a large note by the coat hook that said I should call Davy whenever I got in, it was important.

It wasn't quite ten thirty, so I got out Davy's cell phone number and started to dial, then thought better of it. I could reimburse Dave and Tim as easily as my parents, and I'd have privacy if I called from the barn, so I trotted out there.

When Davy answered and we said hello, the first question out of his mouth was an anxious, "Are you alright?"

That surprised me, "I'm fine. Why?"

"You're sure? Tim told me what's going on with that guy Dwayne. Why didn't you tell me, man?"

Now I understood his concern. "I never got a chance to tell you. I wished you were here, I really did. Dwayne's not a problem anymore," I giggled, "we did him in this morning."

Davy laughed, "Tim told me. You people are nuts!"

"Hey, you ain't seen me in hot pants yet! Maybe next time you're down I'll put on a little show, see if I can wake up the hidden queer in you."

Davy snorted a laugh, "Don't count on it. Anyhow, I have news. It's not good, but it's not bad either."


He chuckled, "No, that's all good news. I'll tell you in a minute. Um...they took Bob away from his mother while they investigate the situation there."

I gasped, "Oh no! That poor kid."

"Don't say that yet. I can see why they'd do it. I mean, how could she have no clue all that time? Even she understands that. Here's the good part. Guess where he's staying?"

I blinked, "Your house?"

"No! With Ken and Mary. He's there now. They're taking his sister in, too, right after the baby's born. The baby's already adopted, so pretty soon they should be all back together."

I was stunned. "Wow! What's Bob think? Have you seen him?"

"I saw him the other day, Tuesday, I think. He's kinda feeling hung out to dry, but at least he's hopeful." Davy giggled, "Ken scares him, but he loves Mary. He's learning the ins and outs of firecrackers, that's for sure."

I laughed, "I heard about the fireworks. How long is this for?"

"Not long, maybe only a few weeks. Bob's all excited about seeing his sister again, having her back."

I smiled, "That's nice. I'm glad it's workin' out."

Davy said, "I'm starting to like the kid. He's not so rough when you talk to him."

I chuckled, "You're as bad as me. We just got back from takin' Dwayne out for pizza."

I heard Davy inhale, and after a pause he said, "Tell me you're kidding!"

I said, "Nope, serious. Heh, this way we get to keep an eye on him."

"Okay, who's we?"

"Paulina, Tony. Annie and Clay. I don't know if you remember James Green and Buddy Early, but them too. Oh, and your uncles. You ain't seen nuthin' 'til you see me and James in tights!"

Davy laughed, the way you do when you're astonished. "I'm shaking my head, Mike. I'm smiling too, because I can picture it. You guys find a real creep, and instead of giving him cement shoes, you buy him lunch!" He laughed, "Don't ever ask me what I like about Morton again, because that's exactly what it is." He paused, "What the hell are you gonna do there when something doesn't work out?"

I laughed, "Move to Connecticut. Then you could have me all day, every day."

"Um, define have."

I started goofing. "Er, did your uncles mention exactly what Dwayne came here for?"

Davy cracked up, and it was a while before he could speak. He was still giggling, "It's not going to happen, Mike. Oh, let me slap myself before I go too far. If there's a nuclear war or something, and you're the only other person left on earth...well, I guess there's always a possibility."



"Fuck you, okay?"

He wheezed, "Not in your lifetime, mister."

"Cheapskate! So tell me, what's goin' on? How's Guy? What's all the good news with Melanie?"

Davy sighed, "I think I'm in love."

"With Guy?"

"Who else?" He snickered, "You've either been up too long, or you've been raiding your father's liquor cabinet!"

I said, "Sorry. Tell me about Melanie."

"I saw Guy today. He's doing good."

"I'm glad. What's up with Melanie?"

"Heh, Guy joined a gay-straight alliance thing at school. Now Juan's trying to support him, so he joined, and brought half the athletes in school with him. Poor Guy doesn't know who's gay and who's not, or if anybody else is."

I chuckled at the thought, and Davy went on, "It's you, Mike. You were only here for a few days, but people heard you."

"Don't start, Davy. I wanna hear about Melanie."

"How's Annie?"

I didn't understand the evasion. "Annie's fine. She's great, wonderful! How's Melanie?"

"Why are you asking that?"

"Jesus! Because I wanna know, okay?"

Davy paused, then spoke softly, "She's beautiful, Mike. I mean a beautiful person. I mean, not just looks wise. She's really shy, but when you get her talking, I don't know...she's got all this intelligence inside her, this wisdom. I'm all shook up, Mike. I don't want to mess up."

I smiled to myself, "So don't, then."

"Don't what?"

"Don't mess up."

He snorted, "I'm already trying not to fuck up. Now I can't mess up either?"



"I'm not exactly a pro at this. If you like her, just keep likin' her. Do what you're doin' now. If it's gonna go somewhere else, it will"

Davy was silent for a moment, then, "I guess you're right. Is that what happened with Annie?"

I said, "Yeah," then choked up, whispering, "Jack, too. None of us...ever...tried to make love happen. It just gets you," I snickered, "and I think you're got!"

Davy giggled, "Is that good English? I'm got?"

I laughed, "It's good if you understand it."

He laughed, too. "I understood. Okay, so I'm got. What's my next move?"

I giggled, "You're asking me? Try tellin' her how you feel."

"I...um...I don't know how."

I said, "You told me...how you feel, that is. Tell Melanie. How hard is that?"

Silence, then, "I...I can't." Davy's voice quieted, "I'm not like you, Mike. The words just don't come out sometimes, even though I know what you're saying. Heh, I guess I'm more bashful than I thought."

I thought, then said, "Tell her what you feel, Davy, what you feel ! She's gotta say somethin' back!" I quieted, "Don't be afraid of it, man. Melanie's openin' up to you, there must be somethin' there on her side, too."

Another pause, "I think so, Mike. Thanks. There is some kind of feeling coming from her, too. I mean, you and me told each other how we felt, I can tell Melanie. How hard can it be?" More hesitation, then, "It wasn't that hard with you once we got started, just kind of tough to say the first words."

"Yeah, it was."

Davy said, "Listen, it's late. Go see my uncles in the morning, they want to catch you up on what's happening with Dwayne."

I yawned, "Okay. I love you, man."

"I love you, too, Mike."

After we hung up, I went to my room and started to get undressed. Before I even had my shirt unbuttoned, I started picking things up off the floor. A lot of it was clothes, and I put those things in the hamper, including what I was wearing. Then, in my underwear, I picked up everything else and found homes for things. I straightened out the stuff on my desk, dresser and bedside table, then evened up the books on the shelf.

The clock told me that had taken all of twenty minutes. Being able to walk right to Jack's picture in bare feet without hurting myself told me it was worth more than that. I'd get to the closet another day, but I'd get to it, my dresser drawers, too.

I picked up the picture and showed Jack the room, saying, "Not too shabby, huh?" then I hugged the image to my chest, still able to find comfort in that act. I gave him kisses and climbed into bed, finally able once again to conjure up a Jack moment to drift off with.

Things were a lot different now, but I still had all those memories.

Just me and Jack, happy together.

I slept like a baby.


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