Jack in the Box

Chapter 45

When my eyes opened the next morning, the first thing I saw was Tony's face, his mouth open as he slept. Oh, Tony! What did we do? What happened?

I knew, I already knew, and I sniffed my hand for confirmation. No doubt about it. We did it, and we'd hugged and kissed each other while we did.

I knew what Tony wanted… just to try it. To see what it'd be like with another guy. Not just any other guy, but me!

Tony's fingers were inexperienced, but the artist in him showed through. I'd had lots or practice with Jack, a little more with Davy and Guy. It was an explosive combination with Tony, but we'd managed to hold off the explosions for a long, wonderful time.

It was wonderful, as in full of wonder, full of some kind of needful happiness.

We wiped ourselves up afterwards in the bathroom, then went to sleep hugging each other, no words exchanged.

Now, it was morning, and I had questions about what it meant. What it meant to me, to Tony, to our friendship. What it meant to Annie and me, to me alone.

Was I as much a sexual weakling as Dwayne? Could I ever say no? Did I ever want to say no?

I left Tony sleeping, and went to take a shower. I went into my room first, and Ray was sprawled on his bed, still clothed. It was early, before seven. I got my robe, clean underwear and socks, and entered the bathroom.

I wondered while I showered, then tried to read my own face while I brushed my teeth. That wasn't really possible, I just ended up making faces, so I finished and combed my hair.

All I could do was stare at myself and wonder some more. I was weak, and this might cost me big time. I was sure I'd lose Annie if I told her about it, and I was conflicted about that, more for Tony's sake than mine. Maybe Paulina would be more tolerant, but I doubted it, and if I told Annie I was sure that it would get back to Paulina.

Impossible. I'd gotten myself into an impossible position, all for an hour of… bliss. Grr.

I fussed cleaning up the bathroom, needing something normal and mindless to help my head clear. When I got dressed, Ray stirred, but I left him there and went to wake up Tony.

He hadn't budged, and I shook his shoulder until he opened his eyes. He was still dreaming, so I shook harder, "Wake up, Tony. We need to talk!"

He rolled his head and looked at me, suddenly going wide-eyed. My expression must have been intense, because he was wide awake in another instant. He smiled, damn him! "Mike?"

I growled, "Get up, man, we gotta talk."

Tony's bright eyes clouded, "You're pissed?"

I shook my head, "Not pissed, not at you, anyhow. Get up, take a shower. I'll make some breakfast."

For emphasis, I pulled back the top sleeping bag, exposing his naked form.

He yelped, "Hey!" and tried to cover himself.

"Come on, Tony. It's important!"

He gathered the sleeping bag around him and got to his knees, then his feet. He gave me a confused look, almost said something, and instead headed down the hall. I rolled up the other sleeping bag, and carried it and the pillows to my room. I heard the shower across the hall, and went to the kitchen.

I didn't feel like cooking, so I got out a box of Total and a couple of bananas, set milk and juice on the table, then sat and waited.

I felt empty. Not hungry-empty, but emotionally empty. I wasn't angry with Tony, I could never be. I wasn't even angry with myself, just afraid that I was hopelessly weak when it came to my dick. And boys.

By the time Tony showed up, wearing what he'd worn the day before, I was a nervous wreck. I tried to smile at him, but he must have just seen the intensity in my face. He got nervous, too.

"Uh, what? We did a bad thing?"

I smiled for real, trying to calm him. I whispered, "Not hardly bad, Tony. But… but wrong! Not wrong exactly…"

His face twisted up. "If it's wrong, why is it? I got ears; I know lotsa guys jerk off with each other. We did it before."

I stalled, filled my bowl with cereal and sliced a banana into it while I thought. Tony fixed his own bowl, and before I started to eat, I said, "We did more than that, Tony." I caught his eyes, "We made out! We jerked each other off, but it was more than that." I had to smile, "If it's possible to make love with your hands, that's more like what we did."

I took a mouthful of cereal, watching Tony's face, which was remarkably unconcerned. He ate some, too, and looked over at me. "I just wanted to know, Mike." He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin, "You used to love Jack, and have sex. I…" his look softened, "I wondered if I could, what it'd be like." He looked into his bowl and mumbled, "Pretty profound, I think."

I stared at him in disbelief, "What about Paulina? What about Annie?"

He looked at me, big eyes going wide, and just then we heard noises from the other end of the house. I said, "Eat up," then we both wolfed down our cereal and guzzled our juice.

I didn't even clean up the table, just ran, grabbed our jackets, and rushed outside, aimed toward the woods out back. We walked quickly at first, getting away. When we got to Dave's little bridge, we slowed down, and I felt Tony's hand fishing for mine. It was then that I noticed how frigid the weather had become. I took Tony's hand and looked for a spot in the sun where we could sit.

That wasn't hard to find, we sat on a little bank in direct sunlight.

We were still holding hands. Tony said, "You're upset."

I groaned, "I'm upset for sure. I think I just fucked up my life… big time!"

Tony leaned against me, "Why, Mike?

I sighed. It boiled down to one thing, one person. "Annie." I looked at Tony, "It's Annie. She's not gonna forgive me again."

Tony seemed startled, "Again?"

I nodded, resigned to my fate.

Tony asked, "Who? I mean, when… where?"

I felt awful, and decided to come clean to Tony. "A kid I met up north. Jesus, I hardly knew him."

Tony went soft against me, "What'd you do?"

I mumbled, "Same as we did. Not as intense as that."

"That's it?"

"No, that's not it. There was somebody else, too. One I didn't tell Annie about."

Tony asked, "Davy? It had to be Davy, right?"

I grumbled, "You're pretty smart, you know that?"

We were silent for a long moment before Tony asked, "So, why tell?"

"I can't not tell Annie, Tony. I didn't about Davy yet, but that's all I can keep inside me."

Tony let out a single soft sob, which surprised me. "I'm sorry, Mike. I didn't wanna get you in trouble with Annie. I didn't know…"

I pulled Tony to me, leaking tears myself. "It's not your fault, man." I lost it for a few minutes, sobbing, afraid of my weakness. I was so sad. I loved Annie, I really did, but hard dicks made me cheat her. Not just once, but over and over again.

Tony was comforting me, but without words. I cried, "I don't deserve her, Tony. Annie's too good to be with a fuck-up like me."

Tony whispered, "Don't say that, Mike. It was my fault, let me talk to her. You tried to back off."

I dropped back, prone against the bank, trying to think it out. Tony stayed quiet,so I asked him, "You're not gay, are you?"


"I got you off, though?"

"I'll say."

I snickered, "You did good, too." I sighed, "What're we gonna do here, Tony? Will you tell Paulina?"

He breathed, "She knows."

I sat bolt upright, "She knows?"

Tony sat up and put his arm across my back, "She doesn't know yet. I mean, she knows I wanted to."

I was aghast. "You told Paulina you wanted to get queer with me?"

Tony giggled, "Yeah, she told me to go for it."

I dropped back to the ground, and I couldn't help laughing. Oh, Lord, what I life I lived! I was scared to death that Annie was going to dump me after shooting me, and Paulina was setting me up with poor Tony.

It was suddenly funnier, weirder. Tony had been encouraged by his own girlfriend, my girlfriend's best friend.

It wasn't that funny. I still had to think about what I'd tell Annie, but I hoped we could somehow work it out, especially since she knew the other face involved.

We weren't little boys anymore, jerking each other off for a guilty thrill. It was a lot more than that. Innocent? Maybe. Fun? More than fun. Tony's long, thin fingers had brought me off better than Guy, better than Davy, even.

I had to think. Maybe my dick was the only thing that mattered. Maybe the rest of my life was a big lie. I sure hadn't pushed Tony away when I knew what he wanted to do. I'd gone after Davy myself the first time, complied happily the second. Guy and I had simply fallen together, just to do it.

I was guilty every time, but more guilty now. I'd told Annie that I loved her, which I did, and she'd reciprocated. We loved each other now, right out in the open, so I felt guiltier about Tony. It was like real cheating, and I was angry with myself. Annie probably wouldn't get mad at me, at least I didn't think she would, but I could foresee her disappointment. Oh God, no matter how this worked out, the damage was already done.

My shoulders sagged, and I sighed. "You could'a told me first. How long you had that idea?"

Tony picked at the grass between his legs, "Since that night you stayed at my house." He watched his hands, "I don't know, nobody ever slept with me before, and it felt nice. Before, when you were knocked out, you were all bare-assed, and... I don't know," he looked up at me, sheepishly, "it just felt kinda sexy."

I raised my eyebrows, "You didn't..."

Tony shoved my arm, "No, man!" He snickered, "I'm nuts, but not that nuts."

I smiled out into space, "No cheap thrills?"

Tony became serious, "It's not cheap if Annie gets hurt." He searched my face, "I'm sorry, Mike. I truly am."

I sighed, "It takes two to play like that, Tony. I could'a said no."

He was silent for a moment, "Why didn't you?"

I didn't have an answer, not one that explained anything. I didn't say no to Tony because I wanted to say yes, plain and simple. I looked into Tony's eyes, "I don't know, Tony. I didn't want to say no. I... I guess it's 'cause it was you, at least that's what I hope it was."

He just stared, and I tried to smile, "I guess I still like dicks."

Tony's gaze didn't tell me a thing, until he giggled. "How was mine?"

I looked at him and laughed, "You tell me, before I answer that!"

He grinned, "I like it!"

I gave him a shove, "I meant you tell me how mine was first!"

He burst out in a fit of giggles, ending up clutching his stomach and gasping out, "You kin keep it."

I jumped on him. I overpowered him and stared down into his face. I tried to look all enraged, and it worked for a second, then Tony took up giggling again. I growled, "I intend to keep it!" I couldn't help smiling, then I snickered, "You can keep yours, too. Just when I was gettin' fond of it, it spit all over the place."

Tony started laughing so hard he bucked me right off of him. I ended up beside him, our backs on the bank, and both of us a little breathless from laughter. When I calmed down, I said softly, "It was nice, Tony. Last night, I mean."

He sighed, "Yeah, for me, too." Tony leaned up on an elbow and stared at me, his shy smile on his face again, "I don't know why, Mike. It's like you're my first friend." His smile broadened into the friend one, the one I'd gotten used to. "I like you, Mike. Heck, I love you, and last night was fun! Profound fun!"

I giggled, "You like that word, don't you?"

"Which one?"

"Profound. You keep usin' it."

He laughed, "I learned it in English a few months back. It's a good word."

I giggled, "I guessed that." I smiled at him, "I like words too, Tony, and I really like profound." I smiled, "I looked it up. I agree, you and me have a profound friendship. That's what it is, right, a friendship?" Before he could respond, I added, "Where'd you learn to kiss like that, anyhow?"

Tony took that seriously, "From Paulina. I swear it, Mike, I'm not queer, but..."

"But what?"

He relaxed, squinting up at the bright sky, "I don't know. It was just nice, that's all."

I asked, "Was what we did what you had in mind?"

Tony said, "I don't know, I guess so. I'm glad it's all we did."

I considered Tony's reply, and decided that I was glad, too. I didn't know what to do, what to say. I could be dead meat, but maybe not. I honestly didn't know what Annie would think about it, but I had to tell her, and I dreaded her reaction.

I mumbled, "Wanna go somewhere, Tony?"

"Huh? Where?"

"I don't know, just somewhere. Maybe we could go stay with Davy for a while."

His face was all surprise, "What?"

I groaned, "I can't tell Annie. It'll hurt her."

Tony sighed sadly, pulling away from me this time. He got in front of me, his eyes watery again, "Oh God, Mike." His eyes pleaded with mine, " That's not what I wanted! Now I feel awful!"

I pulled him close and patted his shoulder, "It's me, Tony, not you. I'm the fuck-up here, the weakling." I looked in Tony's eyes, trying to calm him, "It's not your fault. It's me." I shook my head, like it might make me feel better, but it didn't. I softened my voice, "I love you, Tony. Don't go blaming yourself, I could have said no. I'll tell Annie, but I won't say who, okay?"

Tony leaned into me, sighing, "I'm sorry, Mike."

"Shh. It's not you, Tony. I love Annie, and still I screw things up." I started to feel bad again, "I can't keep hurting her, Tony, I just can't."

We held onto each other for a long time, a real long time. I finally coughed out, "I should go see her."

Tony just shook his head, looking as defeated as I'd ever seen him. I pulled his chin until he was looking at me, "It was coming, Tony. I was gonna screw up one time or another." I wrapped my arms around him, "I'm kinda glad it was you." I dropped my chin on his shoulder and whispered, "I love you, Tony. At least you're explainable."

We were quiet for another long time before then Tony giggled, "Explainable?"

I snickered, "Yeah, at least you're not just some guy I met. You're Tony, Annie knows you, and she knows what we think of each other, too."

Tony smiled, kind of shyly, "Who was the guy?"


Tony looked at me curiously, "Yeah, who was he?"

I didn't know what he was getting after. "It was Guy, that's all."

Tony looked at me, stupidly, "Who was he?

"Guy? He was just Guy. I think you'd like him."

Tony looked totally bewildered, and it made me laugh. "His name is Guy, Tony. Is that what's confusin' you?"

Tony muttered, "Oh," then his eyes lit up, "Oh! Now I remember, the kid in the pictures!"

I sighed, "Yeah, the kid in the pictures. I told Annie about him, and it sounded like my last chance."

Tony smiled, and said softly, "Annie won't dump you."

I looked at the toes of my sneaks, "You think? Why wouldn't she?"

He kind of growled out, "She's nuts about ya, Mike. She won't get mad 'cause ya played with my pee pee."

Oh no! I laid back and laughed. "Your pee pee?"

I looked up and Tony was blushing, "Yeah, my pee pee," before he started laughing. He stopped suddenly, "Not again, Mike. I mean, it was nice, but that's your thing."

I stopped laughing, "You think it's my thing?" I dove on Tony and dug my fingers into his ribs, "You started it, art man! My thing?" Tony screeched at the tickling, and I didn't let up until he screamed that he was gonna piss himself. I looked at his face, laughing myself. "That was your dick, Tony. Haha, I haven't had a pee pee since I was six!"

Tony's laughter petered out, and we were just looking at each other, while I had him pinned to the ground. It would probably have been an embarrassing moment for most guys, but it wasn't for us. I grinned, smooched Tony wetly on the lips, and rolled off, laughing.

We laid back side by side, both giggling, then Tony put his hand on my chest, "Mike... maybe last night ended strange, but today is startin' out really strange."

I snickered, "We're two strange guys, Tony," I snuggled closer, "where's it all end?"

Tony smiled at the sky, "Right here, right now would be nice."

One month later...

I was anxious, looking at my watch... anticipating. I'd been worthless at school that day, uncommunicative, a nervous wreck since I'd gotten home. All those hours with nothing to do but wait. Now I was sitting with Tim and Dave, in the kitchen of Jack's old house, and they were nervous too. Waiting. Fidgeting. Not much talk, and all of what there was had been stilted.

Finally. We saw the lights before we heard the car, then all tried rushed to the doors at the same time.

We were all excited, and when we got outside into the cold night air, we could see them in the car, undoing seatbelts, getting their things. The driver's door opened first, and Ken climbed out. He smiled and looked around, and asked nobody in particular, "Could you live any farther from the airport?"

Dave reached him first, and they hugged as Davy and his parents got out of the back. I was at Davy before he had both feet out, holding my hand out to help him up, grinning like I'd discovered gold. He was a little wobbly from being confined in the car, and I took that as an excuse to hold him up in a giant squeeze of a hug. We were nose to nose, and he grinned, too. "Hey, Mike."

I could barely talk through my grin, "Hey."

We relaxed the embrace, but held it. I was beside myself with happiness. Davy was here for nine whole days! Other people were coming, too; this was just the first wave. The rest of Davy's family, his other uncle and their kids, My aunt and uncle, my cousins, who I hadn't seen in forever.

This was going to be a Thanksgiving to remember, and my excitement button had been pushed to the max. Anticipation was turning into reality, and I still had more to anticipate.

The trunk of the car was opened, and I rushed to help, getting hugs and hellos from Ken and Mary, and Davy's parents. Davy told the others to go in the house and he and I would bring everything in. When they were gone, I looked at Davy's smile and hugged him again, whispering, "I missed you, man. I can't believe you're here!"

Oh, did it ever feel good to have Davy with me again. Email and phones are great things, and they did a lot to lessen feelings of separation, but there was nothing like a real human body, especially Davy's, right there with me. A moment conjured up in heaven somewhere, maybe by an angel, maybe by someone higher up than that. I knew by then that we all had our connections.

Every time I tried to let go of Davy, my arms didn't know what to do with themselves. I waved them futilely, scratched my hair, then hugged him again.

His actual presence eventually became real, and I asked, "Do you know which house you're stayin' in?"

"The barn, I think, at least the old people. Me, I'm stayin' wherever you are."

I smiled, "We better ask, before we put this stuff in the wrong place."

Davy agreed, and we went inside to ask. I got a bunch of questions about how things were going, just chit chat, and Mary said, "Thank you for Bobby, Mike." She gave me a warm smile, "He's going to be a real, human person. You showed up at just the right time."

I know I blushed, but Ken picked it up, "Bob's gonna be fine, Mike. He might'a been cranky when you found him, but you should see him now."

Davy pounded my shoulder, "Yeah. I never liked the kid, but you must do murder in a good way!"

I stammered, "H... He's okay now? What about his sister?"

Mary smiled, "Some horrible things happened in that home." She turned the smile into a frown, "There's been a lot of pain and it will take some time, but I think they'll be fine. The truth is out, and nobody's hiding from it. That's what counts, Mike."

Everyone was silent for a minute before Dave snickered, looking at me with a wicked grin, "It's always the truth, isn't it? Lies can't win out, can they, Mike?"

I blushed again, knowing what he was getting at. I wasn't a good liar; I'd never make my living in an electronics store. Tony and I had decided that day to just not tell, not Annie, not Paulina, and not anyone else, about what we'd done, and it took both of us exactly two days to change our minds.

Not telling was just like lying, and not telling Annie, making believe, had torn me apart. It felt like I was toying with her, and I hated it. I hated telling her, too. What had been a loving thing between friends when it happened, sounded gross when the words came out.

Tony had predicted Annie pretty well. She certainly wasn't pleased, and she seemed to be angry for a few minutes, then she said I was seriously deficient in the commitment department, but we'd made no commitments.

The worst of it was, I didn't think we ever would, and that rankled. I loved Annie, and she loved me, but I was giving her a lot of good reasons to not trust me. There was a little distance showing, a little disconnect, and it was coming from me, not from her. It was my own guilt making me take a step back, so it wouldn't hurt her any worse if there was a next time.

Davy and I carried luggage out to the barn, making two trips. He could have just asked for the car keys, but walking let us get used to the other's presence. Davy wanted to stretch, anyhow. He'd been in planes and airports for four hours, and in car for another hour.

We got the luggage in, then swiped two beers and sat at the kitchen table at Tim and Dave's place. I couldn't stop smiling, looking at Davy right there, and he had the same problem. It was several minutes before I managed to ask, "How was the trip?"

He beamed, "Knowing where I was headed, how could it be bad? Honest to God, Mike, when I saw the sign that said 'Morton' I got totally excited. I was pointin' out everything on the way, and I think I broke Ken's ear when we got to the driveway. I feel like a little kid."

He put his hand on the table, and I took it in mine, just smiling away. I felt like a little kid, too, almost like Christmas morning. I asked, "So, tell me, how's Melanie?"

"Great, Mike. Really, really great. You know, this is the longest I ever went with a girl, and I don't see it ending anytime soon." His smile weakened, "How's Annie? Are things back on track?"

I frowned, "I don't know, Davy. It's not the same. I don't know why I say that. It's not Annie, it's me. I can't expect her to trust me if I don't trust myself. She says she's okay with it, and I think she is, butI'm not. It's like I got these two parts that'll never be happy."

Davy smiled, "You were happy with Jack."

I looked down, "I know, but that was then, and I only knew about one part. Don't you get it? If he was still here, if things were different, I might be messin' around on him."

Davy stared blankly for a moment, then coughed out a laugh, "That's it! You're getting a dog for Christmas!"

As if on cue, Buster hurried in and, seeing Davy, tilted his head the way he does, then jumped up on him and licked his face. I should note that, if you've never had your face licked by a dog with a ten inch tongue, you haven't been licked at all.

Davy finally pushed Buster down, grinning all the while, and I asked, "Which? Male or female?"

"Which what? Oh, the dog? Your choice man," He looked at me and smiled, "Or in your case, maybe one of each?"

We both laughed, but I really did want one of each. In a lot of ways, Annie was the perfect girl for me. She was always supportive, loving, and strong. She was also pretty, warm, and humorous, the ideal catch. She was perfect, and I loved her. She could keep my interest going, my heat up, for the next ninety years, I was sure of it. I still had this penchant for guys, though, especially the one sitting with me, even though I knew it wasn't going to happen with Davy.

I'd already decided that I needed more time with Dr. Service, and had asked my dad about it. He didn't mind, but now that he was back on days there was the problem of getting me there. I told him that I knew enough kids with cars now, I could get dropped off after school and Dad could pick me up on his way home. I hadn't called for an appointment yet, but that was because Davy was coming, and I didn't want to dwell on my thoughts because he was right there.

I smiled, "As long as you're one of 'em." I sighed, "Honest, Davy. I don't know all of what I want. Annie, for sure, but I keep screwin' it up." I felt pathetic, "If you'd say yes, I'd screw it up right now."

Davy grinned, making me feel better. "Okay, try this: No." He was smiling, "Hands off, okay?" His smile waned, "I know I'm not helping, Mike. I hope you know I'm not teasing, not leading you on when we do things. I'm your brother, and I love you, but I'm not gay, not bi. "His grin came back, "I'll keep you honest, though." His eyes steeled, "Never again, Mike. Okay?"

I stared at his eyes for a moment, not sure what he was saying, but then it came to me. As Davy's smile morphed once again into Jack's, I knew that he was saying the right thing, promising the right thing, trying to keep me honest.

That's what I needed, was honest. I wasn't good at lying to other people, but I had a lot of lies in my own head, about myself. I still had things to figure out, and I had the people to help me: Annie, Davy, Dr. Service. Me too, of course. If, between us, we couldn't come up with a useful description of me, then I didn't know what I'd do. Maybe move to some Asian place and become a monk or, more fittingly, a monklet.

It was important that Davy was there, and we finished our beers, then two more of them as we yakked about everything under the sun. Soon enough, the toilet became our focus.

When the adults came in to see the house and find their sleeping places, Davy and I worked our way out. My house, my clean bedroom, which Davy remarked on right away. He went to take a shower, claiming he felt crusty from traveling. I kissed Jack, then got undressed and climbed into bed.

Davy didn't take that long, and when he was getting into my brother's bed, he asked, "Is it bad?"

I lifted my head a little, so I could see him. "Bad for me, I guess. Annie's been so good, but I always feel like I'm screwin' up. And I am."

I rolled so I was on my shoulder, "She don't need this crap, Davy, but I keep feedin' it to her. Annie loves me, man, and I love her, but I keep doin' things with guys, and I know it hurts her to hear it. She's good about it. I mean, she says she understands and all, but it's still bullshit. I mean I'm bullshit, a piece of shit."

Davy was smiling when I looked at him. "You're not bullshit, Mike, not in any way. I don't know what you do with Annie, and I'm not asking, but what you did with me, what you did with Tony... that's no more than you would'a done if you were home alone."

I sulked, "Maybe, but I wasn't alone." I flopped onto my pillow, staring at the ceiling. What if I just became a Mormon or something? They had multiple partners, didn't they? Maybe a rock star... even a Mormon rock star. That way nobody would think twice if I came home to a houseful of people that I loved. Wishful thinking, I knew, but that way I could keep Annie and still have Davy. With any luck at all, James would be there, and Tony. Heck, fill the place up. I knew I'd love others in the future. That's the nice thing about wishful thinking, it can be about anything nice, so of course Jack would be the head of the household.

Too much beer, and for Davy, too. He was already snoring softly, and I looked over at him, whispering, "I love you, and I love that you're back," before I switched the light off.

I must have fallen asleep quickly. I awoke to a tapping at the door, then it opened and Dad popped his head in, smiling. Davy was just sitting up, looking more awake than I felt. He smiled, "Hi, Mr. Waters."

"Hello, Davy. How was your trip?"

Davy stretched, "The trip was fine. Mike told me about your new job. Congratulations!"

Dad smiled, "Thanks," then looked at me. "I'm going out for breakfast if you two want to join me."

I smiled myself awake, looked at Davy for his nod, and said, "Cool. Give us a few minutes, and we'll be ready."

Dad's new job had brought a lot of happiness into our house, and it wasn't really just the extra money. Working nights had pretty much taken him away from us, to the point that we'd started calling the times we actually saw him 'Dad sightings', though it wasn't funny. His hours had taken their toll on all of us, but now he was back. He was there when we left for school every day with his words of encouragement, there at the dinner table every night, and we'd gone back to using the dining room.

One or more of us was usually home when he got back from work, and the words "Daddy's home!" was again a familiar cry when we heard his car pull in.

He liked the job, too. He loved it, and he was doing well. After a month of his stories, I think each of us felt that we knew enough to march into that plant and print bibles all day.

When Dad went on nights, it was like we slowly lost him. He wasn't gone... he came home every day, but we rarely saw him, and it wasn't the kind of thing that slapped you in the face. Rather, him being gone all the time became a fact that crept up on you, a thing that hurt when you didn't realize what it was, sort of a background problem. Now it was over, and we were all visibly happier.

Saturday breakfasts at the restaurant with Dad had been an all-boy thing in the family ever since I could remember. It wasn't every week, but often enough. He'd started doing it when Ray was little, then I got added in around age four. For a while, Jack was included, then when Ray left for college it was back to three of us. Dad changed shifts just after Jack died, and this would be the second time we'd done it since he got the new job.

That alone had me excited, and having Davy there doubled the thrill. Davy had charmed both of my parents, but Dad had spent more time with him, and knew my own feelings.

Dad and I both grinned when Davy added biscuits and gravy to his order. A true convert! Yankees did great things with fish and pizza. Their breakfasts, though, while tasty enough, lacked some essential elements.

His order set the tone for the whole meal, and we had a talkative good time, lingering over second and third cups of coffee. I was just getting used to drinking coffee at all, and the additional cups had an effect.

By the time we left I was wired up, far too much caffeine in me. I was on edge, couldn't keep my mouth shut, and my hands were shaking.

When we were getting in the car, Davy said, "You're rambling." He laughed and held the door. "Just shut up for a minute, okay?"

I grinned, "I'm yammerin'?"

Dad said, "Yes, you're yammering. Save that energy, we have a hutch to move."

I was surprised, "It's finished?"

Dad started the car, "Yup. Finished. It came out nice, if I do say so myself." He sounded pleased.

"Yay, Dad!"

He said, "It was kind of fun. At least it gave me something to do during the day. Wait'll you see it. It looks brand new!"

When we got back to the house, we cleaned up the area in the dining room where the hutch belonged, then went out to the barn to get it. I was fairly well amazed at how good the wood looked, even though it wasn't together yet. I ran my fingers over the polished surfaces, marveling that something that had been so ordinary could turn out so perfect.

We made several trips, carrying the base unit, then the top, then doors and drawers and shelves. When it was all back together, I hate to say, it made the rest of the room look kind of shabby. I knew with fair certainty that, whether Davy was there or not, I'd be either painting walls or polishing floors before the holiday.

My mother and sisters cooed over dad's performance while Davy and I excused ourselves to go next door. Dave was there with Davy's parents. Tim had taken Ken and Mary to the store with him, and on a tour of the area. We sat and talked with them for a happy hour, then Dave held out the keys to the Explorer, telling Davy to take me and go renew his friendships.

We were out of there in a flash. I made Davy stop at Pat's house so I could show him what we were working on. Patty was glad to see Davy, and Davy was knocked out by the birdhouses we were making. We had been working every available minute to keep up with demand. For every one that Tony sold, he seemed to get two more orders, and we were way behind. We were also flush with cash. I'd started out just keeping the money in my room, but when my folks found out they made me put it in the bank. I got a credit card in my own name, which I hadn't used yet, and also a checking account. Not bad for a barn boy.

I was going to spend a bunch pretty soon. Richard's father had a sixteen foot wooden Old Town canoe that he wanted to sell fairly cheaply. It was solid, but a little crappy looking, and I decided to buy it for Dad for Christmas. I figured he could refinish it if he wanted to, and have it ready for fishing season. I'd told my mother about it, just in case Dad got the idea to buy me one.

Knowing that I could do something like that kept me pretty happy. We'd both always wanted a canoe, but Dad wasn't quite able to swing getting one. Now that he could, I beat him to the punch.

Pat had news, too. After the holidays, he was going to Boston to get his head looked at in a different way, to see if there was a better way to hurry his recovery along. One of his doctors had been reading, and found that Pat's inability to focus was also common with abused children and so-called 'shaken babies'. There was a whole body of research going on, and there were new things that might be done for him.

Pat was pretty wired up. If they could just obtain stability he'd be happy. Then he could get contacts and be rid of the hated glasses. That was hopeful news, and we wished him well.

It was too bad. Those glasses let Patty function, but they did give him a freakish look, and he'd sunk pretty much to the bottom of the social order at school. Nobody outright teased him, at least not to his face. He had friends who stuck with him, and I honestly don't think he knew anything was going on. The incident at the dance protected him in a way. After that everyone knew Pat had a temper, and they knew they could seriously hurt him if they provoked a fight. That didn't stop the background noise, but Pat seemed content with my sister and his job.

When we left there, we made a beeline for Annie's. She was tickled to see Davy again, as were her parents. I was always welcome, and I got a happy kiss from Annie, then we all sat in the living room. I asked if Clay had left for Rome yet.

Annie said, "Yesterday. They flew to New York in the morning, and left for Rome last night."

Her mother beamed, "Clay is so thrilled. He'll see all of those beautiful things he loves so much, and in real-life instead of on the pages of a book."

Mr. Nettleton smiled at his wife, "He'll be painting some ceilings of his own if he keeps hanging from 'em when he gets back."

His wife slapped his leg, "Oh, stop it. An appreciation for the fine arts is a wonderful thing, and I'm pleased that one of our children has learned that at an early age."

We talked for a little while, then took Annie with us as we made a beeline for Tony's house. We didn't get very far when Mr. Wolfe passed us going the other way, with Tony in the passenger seat.

I cried, "Stop!" and Davy put the brakes on. Tony and his dad hadn't noticed us, because they kept going the other way. Davy turned around and we chased after them, only catching up when they turned onto Arlington road. Davy honked the horn after them, and Mr. Wolfe pulled over as if to let us pass. We stopped beside them and I rolled down the window.

Mr. Wolfe said, "Hey, Mikey. What's up, an emergency?"

I said, "Look who's driving", then ducked so they could see Davy sitting there.

Tony yelled, "Davy!" then looked at his father, "Um, Daddy?"

"Go on, boy. I kin get yer little houses just fine. Just let yer ma know if yer goin' somewhere."

Tony climbed out, and his father pulled away. I got out of the front seat to let Tony have it, and joined Annie in the back. I asked Annie, "Do you know if Paulina's home?"

She shrugged, 'She might be. They're not leaving for up north until Tuesday."

We gave directions, and when we pulled in we were surprised to see both Paulina and Maria walking down the driveway. Davy stopped ahead of them, asking, "Who's that?"

Paulina and Maria had stopped and were staring at the car, apparently unable to see us because of a reflection or something, so I hopped out the back door, a happy smile on my face. Paulina never said much about it, but I knew full well that she had sorely missed her sister. I hurried to where they were standing, and I think it took Maria a moment to recognize me.

Her gaze took on a smile, then she held her arms wide, "Michael Waters!" She looked me up and down, her smile widening, "You look wonderful, Mike, just like Paulina said you would."

By then, Davy, Tony and Annie were out of the car. Paulina introduced Davy, then Tony. Annie stood beside me and took hold of my hand. Maria gave Davy a gracious moment of welcome, said hello to Annie, then turned her bright eyes on Tony, exclaiming, "Oh, Anton. We finally meet." She looked at Paulina, "Mind if I borrow this boy for a few minutes?"

She didn't wait for an answer, and took Tony by the hand and started walking into the yard. We looked after them, then at each other. Paulina said, "Lets go up."

The three of us walked while Davy pulled the car up. We followed Paulina into one of the many rooms and took seats. Paulina was really excited that Davy had come to visit. It didn't take long for the rest of the house to figure it out, either. Scott and Nick hurried in, Nydia close behind them. Scott grinned and held out his hand as Davy stood, "Welcome back, Davy! I thought for sure we scared you off for good."

Nick reached around Scott to shake before Davy could say anything. "Hey Davy!" He said to nobody in particular, "This calls for a party!"

Little Nydia sat on my leg, clapping her hands, "Party time! Party, party!"

Davy looked at her and giggled, while Hector and Jose ran in, trailed by Scotty Goldman. "Who's having a party?" Scotty demanded.

Davy backed up a step, looking embarrassed. "I... I really can't. I have to be back at my uncles' place, more people are coming."

I spoke up, "I can't, either. My relatives are coming, too."

That broke the excitement, until Scott grinned and said, "Then the party's at your house," looking at Davy. "You have that great big barn. Call your uncle and tell him everyone's coming over." Nick poked him in the ribs, causing Scott to look at him. They exchanged a look, and Scott smiled even more brightly. "Never mind, Nick will call your uncles, and I'll call a caterer." He beamed, "See you there!" and they both walked out.

Davy gaped after them, looking at Paulina. "They're serious?"

Paulina shrugged, "Hey, it's the best place." She smiled at Davy, "You're back, that's worth a party. Who cares where it is?"

I looked at Annie's wry smile and kept my mouth shut while everyone else agreed loudly with Paulina.

Davy laughed in embarrassment and sat down right when Maria walked in with a smiling Tony. She propelled him toward Paulina and smiled broadly. "Okay, where's this barn with the party?" She knelt by Davy, putting her hand on a knee, "Will you do me the honor? I don't have a date, since I didn't know you were having a party."

Davy flushed and mumbled, "I... I, um... didn't know either," then he laughed. "Is it always like this?"

Hector growled, "Only when you come callin," then he smiled brightly. "Since when do we need a reason to party?" He looked at Scotty and Jose, "C'mon, guys. Let's go set up!"

Nydia cried, "Can I come?" which caught Jose up short. He turned, smiled, and held his hand out to her. She leapt off my lap and chased after them.

I looked at Davy and said, "Welcome back!"

He just smiled and shrugged. Maria stood up and grabbed Paulina's wrist, "Let's call people!"

Paulina smooched Tony's cheek, then left with her sister, leaving the four of us who had come together alone. Annie got right on Tony, "What did Maria say? You were gone for a while there."

Tony blushed a little, "Um, only that she thinks I'm good for Paulina." He displayed his shy grin to all of us, "She loves me."

I was stunned, "Paulina never told you?"

Tony's blush increased, "Yeah, lots of times." His look became more serious, but the smile never disappeared, "I just thought she felt bad for me, but I was wrong." Tony's eyes went from big to bigger, then back, and he shook his head, "She loves me!" He looked up in awe, "She really does!"

I looked at Annie, and she turned her smile to Tony, saying softly, "You need to think more of yourself, Tony. Don't sell yourself short. Your first kiss with Paulina may have started as a joke, but it ended as something very serious indeed. Now you're her sunrise in the morning and her moonrise at night." She blew him a kiss, "You're special, Tony, and we all know that."

I looked at Annie, trying to see where she was with this, and a tear formed in her eye, "I..." She shook her head and let the tear fall, gasping out, "I'm so sorry, Tony... we all are." She choked back her tears, "You didn't just become special, it took a whole town full of idiots to not realize it before. You've always been special, and we've always been jerks."

There was a stunned silence, where Tony and Annie just looked at each other, then they each cracked the beginnings of smiles at the same time. I suddenly felt better myself. Annie was Tony's friend, he was her friend. I loved them both, and the guilt I'd felt for a month just kind of vanished. Annie was real with her lack of anger about me and Tony. It was my own mistrust, mistrust of myself, that was in the way.

I leaned into her, and she turned to give me a quick kiss, as we looked at Tony, who just seemed to be happy.

It took Davy saying, "Um..." to break us out of our locked-on friendship, and remind us all that it included Davy.

I smiled in embarrassment."Um, we should go. Seems like there's a party brewin'."

Annie shoved me gently, "Seems there's a party?" She looked at Davy, "Take me home. I have to get ready."

Davy just shook his head in happy bewilderment. We waited while Annie found Paulina to make sure she called certain friends, then we were on our way back to her house, leaving Tony with Paulina.

We dropped Annie off, and took the chance that James would be home. He wasn't, but his family already knew about the party, and they were all coming.

When we got back home, both driveways had other cars in them, the one in our driveway wearing Virginia plates. I was excited, because that meant my own relatives were there. I dragged Davy in to meet them. It was important. It had been four years since we'd last gotten together, which seemed to be entirely too long of a time.

We barged into the kitchen, Davy first, and heads turned. My aunt Widget was the closest, and I stopped while she stared at me, a smile spreading across both our faces. "Michael? Oh my, look at you," she said as we fell into a hug. Widget, of course, isn't her real name, and I should have known what it was, but I'd long forgotten.

"Hi Widget. I missed you."

She pushed me back with her beefy arms, a hand on each shoulder. She made a sexy sound, "Oooh, you look good enough to eat!"

By then, my uncle Mike, my namesake, was there, grinning to beat the band, and with his hand out. I took it and beamed, "Hi, Unc." I hugged him, then thought to introduce Davy. "Everybody, this is my friend, Davy. He's down from Connecticut." I started to point people out, "That's Aunt Widget, my uncle Mike, my cousin Joey, and my cousin Sally. You remember my sisters and my mother."

When Joey stood up, I was surprised at how tall he was. He was a half a year younger than me, and quite thin, but he already had me by a few inches. We'd always gotten along well, but with that many years since I'd seen him, it was like looking at a stranger. He smiled shyly and said, in a cracking voice, "Hi, Mike. Hi, Davy."

Sandy was smiling, too, and what a smile! She was seventeen now, but the last time I'd seen her she was wearing braces, and was a somewhat pimply thirteen. She was a knockout now, very pretty wirh a good figure, which had Davy paying close attention.

I announced, "There's a party next door later, out in the barn."

Davy added, "I don't know if my uncles know that yet, but I hope you all come."

I started making an excited 'come here' gesture to Joey, and he hurried over. I said, "Let's go to my room," looking at him sidelong. "Man, it's been a long time!"

He smiled, "Sure has. I'm, um, sorry that we couldn't come for the funeral. It was about over before we heard about it."

We walked down the hall and turned into my room, "It's okay," I said, as he sat on the desk chair while Davy and I each sat on the end of a bed. "There were a lot of people, and I was out of it, anyhow."

He looked sad, "Still... you're my favorite cousin. He looked around the room, fixing on Tony's drawing of Jack. He pointed and asked, "Is that Jack?"

I nodded, and he stood for a closer look, turning around after a moment. "I'm really sorry, Mike. I never lost a friend like that."

I mumbled, "I hope ya never do. It sucks," then tried to brighten things up. "How ya been, anyhow? You're growin' like a weed!" He smiled, and I went on, "How tall now?"


I said, "Wow! I hope you're playin' basketball!"

He loosened up and smiled, "Oh, yeah. Basketball, tennis, cross-country, roller-blading," He looked in my eyes, "I still love my bike the best. I always remember cruisin' around with you."

I laughed, "Yeah, we had some fun, huh?" Trying not to leave Davy out, I turned to him, "You should'a seen us, Davy. We used to scare our mothers to death, gone from dark to dark! They'd be callin' all over town tryin' to catch up with us."

Davy snickered, "Heh, you didn't leave a note or anything?"

Joey said, "We left notes! Said we'd gone riding."

We all chuckled, and Davy asked, "You didn't eat?"

I said, "Yeah, we ate. Somebody was always feedin' us. Same when I went to visit Joey. We'd take off, stop somewhere to visit, get a sandwich or a cookie or somethin'." It suddenly sounded funny to me, "We were little boys then. I think people like feedin' little boys."

That seemed to touch a memory in Davy, and he chuckled, "Yeah, I think you're right." He looked at Joey and me in turn, "Um, my own cousins are probably here now. You can come over if you want, or we'll hook up later."

I looked at Joey, and he shrugged, but I sensed that he wanted to stay, so I stood up and smiled at Davy. "Go ahead. Give us a few, and we'll be over, okay?"

He smiled back, "Goin' for a bike ride?"

I grinned and nodded, then when he left I asked Joey, "Want to?"

He smiled eagerly and stood up, "Yeah, lets!"

There were snacks out when we got to the kitchen, so we shoved our faces full for awhile, everyone talking at once. When I announced our intention to go for a little bike ride, Widget looked at the both of us and asked dryly, "Are you coming back today?"

That got the adults laughing, and we headed out.

Joey had always been my equal on a bike, and his growth had done nothing to change that. We raced out toward Arlington, putting the first three miles behind us in a frenzy of heavy pedaling. It was when we were coasting past the Denson's house that I asked, "Remember this place?"

He grinned, "Oatmeal cookies, right?"

I grinned back, "Yeah, and they have those apple trees! Wanna stop?"

Joey nodded eagerly, so we turned around. Mrs. Denson opened the door, smiling at me, then staring at Joey until she recognized him. "Well, I declare! Joey Waters!" She gave him a hug, dragging him into the house and calling, "Henry! Come see who's here!"

She was radiant, "You boys must be hungry. Sit down here, I have some nice raisin cookies."

Her husband walked in and smiled when he saw me, then puzzled over Joey for a second. "Holy wow! You came back!" He took a more studied look, "Ain't anyone feedin' you, boy?" He winked, "You're not one of them anorexics, are you?"

Joey laughed, "No."

"Lyposuction, then?"

"No! I'm just all... vertically enhanced right now."

Mr. Denson wheezed out a laugh, and kept laughing. That was just a more grown up version of the Joey I remembered, though. He always had a quick wit and a wicked way with words.

Mrs. Denson came up behind us and said, "I told you boys to sit. Now sit!

We obeyed, and she put a big plate of cookies in front of us, and came back with two humongous glasses of milk.

She came back again with cups of coffee for herself and her husband, and when she sat down she harrumphed, "Vertically enhanced! Wherever do you come up with these things, Joey? Eat those cookies, they're full of enhancements, too. The horizontal variety!"

We stayed for probably a half hour, laughing and eating the whole time. I was really happy, and I could see that Joey was, too. We had never lived in the same town together, never saw each other more than once or twice a year, never stayed in contact in-between times, but there had always been this thing we had when we were together, like a sudden elevation in both our energy levels. It was still there after a four-year separation, and I suspected it always would be there. Being together was a big thing for both of us, and it hadn't gone away after all that time.

We laughed our way back to our bikes, arms across shoulders, like it had been yesterday that we'd last seen each other. Joey snickered, "Still the same old Mike."

"Yeah, and you're the same old Joey. I really love you, man."

Joey stammered,, "Y-you mean that?"

I felt confident, "Yeah, I mean it. Why else would I say it?"

He smiled, "I don't know. I'm not used to hearing that... not from my friends, anyhow."

Joey didn't seem uncomfortable at all, so I let it drop. We mounted our bikes and started back toward home at a leisurely pace. That didn't last long. The second one of us got an inch ahead of the other, keeping pace made us go faster. We were flying again before we got halfway home, going as fast as the bikes would take us. When we hit the long downhill that would take us to my house, I raised my fist straight up and whooped with glee. The air was frigid and biting on my face, but all I felt was warm and happy.

When we were putting the bikes away, barely able to speak with our frozen faces, Joey managed, "I love you too, Mike."

I looked at his attempt at a smile, but his cheeks wouldn't really let him. "Thanks, Joey." I shrugged, "I tell people now, if I mean it." I put my hand on his shoulder and we walked toward the house.

A little cheer went up when we walked into the warmth of the house, and my eyes started the watering they had tried to do out in the cold. Just the adults were in the kitchen now, and they teased us about our short ride. We took the ribbing for a few minutes, Joey got in some good digs of his own before we went to my room. We talked for quite awhile as we changed into clothes for the party, then took turns in the bathroom.

I was sitting on the bed when Joey came back in, and he sat right beside me. He didn't hesitate, asking happily if he'd meet Annie, who he'd heard about from my mother and sisters. I grinned, "Yeah, she'll be here." I put my hand on his shoulder, "You'll like her, I guarantee it."

"I thought you were..."

"Gay?" I offered.

"Yeah, I guess."

I smiled sadly at the carpet, "Half, I think." I squeezed his shoulder, "I'm just me... just Mike. People can call me what they want, but I can't change who I am, no more than you can."

Joey leaned into me and sighed, saying nothing for a long moment, then he giggled, "Yeah, just Mike. I like that." He pulled back, "I should confess. When I heard about you and Jack, I freaked out, thought all kinds of bad things about you. I, um... I had a long time to think, and I wasn't really sure what I thought, but when you came home before... you were still Mike. I mean, I don't know what I expected. I knew you'd be bigger and older and all that, I just didn't know what you'd be like anymore." He looked at me and smiled, "You still have that same old grin, and I guess that did it. I..."


He paused, "I just never had a friend like you. It's like when we're together, the fun is on auto-pilot or something, like guaranteed to happen."

I chuckled, "Yeah, that's the way I feel. I don't even know if you have a computer. We could stay in touch more."

Joey smiled, "I have a computer. I practically live on it."

I said, "Cool! We can email and IM. I think you're gonna like my friends. Let's go next door."

Joey hesitated, "We can talk later, right?"

I reassured, "Sure, we have all week."

We both stood up smiling. Cousins. Old friends, destined to remain friends. I had always left Joey off my list of friends because he was a relative, but I'd been kind of wrong about that. He'd been a friend all my life, and the relationship thing had made me think of him as a just a cousin. No more.

When we stepped outside, I could see people in Jack's old house, so that's where we went first. I couldn't help but notice the line of cars in the driveway and out in the road, and wondered just how many people they'd invited down.

As soon as we walked inside, I knew it was a whole bunch. Dave's mother noticed us first, and hurried over, a happy gleam in her eye. "Michael! It's so nice to see you again."

She smiled questioningly at Joey, and I said, "This is my cousin, Joey. This is Mrs. Devino, and her son owns this place."

We threaded our way in, me being recognized along the way, and getting introduced to people I'd never met before. Some I had met, the people who had been at Ken and Mary's house that day in Connecticut, but others were more Tim's and Dave's age. Barry and Jack took charge of introducing us around, and I kept checking Joey to see that he was okay with gay men, and he ended up shoving my arm to say that I didn't have to worry.

So many people, then there was one. I stopped dead in my tracks, knowing that I was staring, but I couldn't help it. He had to be the hands-down, drop-dead, handsomest man on the planet. He was probably thirty-five or forty, but I didn't care about that, I'd never seen anything like him. Barry noticed me looking, and put a hand on my shoulder, whispering, "Calm down, Mike. Adam does that to straight guys, too, even dead guys."

I thought to myself that he could give a cigar-store Indian wood, while Barry motioned to Adam, and he came over smiling, accompanied by another good looking guy his age, who seemed to act kind of like a girl. I was embarrassed.

Barry said, "Adam, Ron, this is Mike Waters and his cousin Joey. Mike lives next door, and Joey's visiting from..."

"Virginia," Joey piped in.

Oh Lord. Adam smiled, and it was like the heat from the sun on me. I timidly held out my hand to shake, and Adam said, in a perfectly ordinary voice, "Hi, Mike. I've been hearing about you, and it's nice to finally meet."

I had this uninvited little thought in my head, which was 'Jesus, Damn'! Sexuality sucks, because I was once again one hundred percent, make that two hundred percent, queer again. What a beautiful person! I squeaked, "Hi."

Adam stood there smiling while we shook hands with Ron, who preferred to be called Ronnie. That they were a gay couple was more than obvious, and it didn't bother me, but when I turned to check on Joey he was gone.

Once my heart rate returned to normal, I liked those guys. Adam owned a modeling agency, and Ronnie managed it. After a close and funny scrutiny, Ronnie announced that I could make some money modeling jeans, and "Where's that other boy? He'd be perfect! Skinny is absolutely in these days!"

I laughed, half embarrassed, and two other guys came over. They were introduced as Bax and Eddie, and I never determined that they were another gay couple until they held hands. They were both rugged looking men, with no particular mannerisms. Eddie had played minor league baseball for a few years, and now ran the maintenance department at a motorcycle dealer. Bax owned a contracting company that did heating and cooling.

I liked all four of them, and we bantered for about ten minutes. I found myself wondering if I liked them because they were gay, but decided that wasn't it. They were just likeable people, though I think I did like Ronnie more for his mannerisms and sense of humor. I knew somewhere inside that I'd never be like that, but I silently applauded him for it. He was who he was, take it or leave it, but he was so funny you'd have to have cheese for brains to not like him.

He was intelligent, that was obvious, quick to notice things, and just as quick to come up with something funny to say about them.

We were yakking away when Joey came back, stuck a plateful of fruit, crackers and cheese right in front of my nose, and pulled cans of soda from each of his front pockets.

Yay! He hadn't deserted, just gone for some food. We ate and yakked some more, meeting other people as they came by. I wouldn't have expected anything different, but Dave and Tim knew some very nice people. There was no baloney in their crowd, not a shred of it, and it was fun meeting the people they considered friends.

Davy hadn't shown up, though, and after that much time I guessed he was in the other house. Joey and I broke away politely, and when we were walking toward the barn, he stopped me. He gave me a questioning look and asked, "You really get along with grown-ups, don't you?"

I shrugged, "I guess. Why, you don't?"

He smiled, "I don't really know many, not as friends." He bopped my shoulder and we continued walking, "Now that I think of it, you always did." Suddenly he was in front of me with a wide grin, "You got a problem bein' a kid or something?" He shoved me, then he ran away laughing, and I chased after him. The only possible destination was the barn, and the big doors were wide open.

Music was playing somewhere inside, and there were a lot of people there, mostly kids, though there were plenty of adults. I spotted Davy and headed toward him, running into Annie on the way.

She was smiling, happy to see me, and I bent her over into an exaggerated smooch, doing an 'mmmm' at the end. We came up grinning, and I started to introduce her to Joey.

I lost my concentration when I saw Dwayne walk in. I smiled weakly at Dwayne while Joey and Annie talked. "Dwayne, I didn't expect you here."

He looked hurt, and I regretted my words, so I added, "How'd you hear about it?"

He looked at the floor, "I came to see Dave. He said I should stay."

I smiled, though not right at him. "I'm glad."

He looked up hopefully, "Really?"

I didn't know. I was glad and I wasn't. Dwayne had finished the story about Jack, and in a spectacular way. The whole last chapter was about the abuse we got, and why. It was followed up by Dwayne's own analysis, which was spot on and incisive. He went way past just gay kids, to include everyone who was less than what people perceived as perfect. Then he said he was gay too, right in the school paper, and he ended the article explaining his own fears, and related a lot of them to what he saw happening to me and Jack.

You had to give him marks for cojones. We'd talked since the story came out, and he said most people were supportive, though he got looks from some kids. There had been plenty of buzz when that article came out, but it was more surprise than anything negative. Dwayne wasn't ever especially popular, nor was he unpopular. He had friends, and he'd told them before the story came out. He hadn't lost any of them because of it, and he kept thanking me for that.

For all that, I still always felt uncomfortable around Dwayne. It wasn't so much about what he'd tried to do anymore, more like there was some unfinished business between us. I owed him a punch in the nose, I knew that much. I couldn't just hit him, though.

I guess I was happy that he was there, I only wished I hadn't actually seen him. Dwayne was getting help, seeing a shrink. He was spending lots of time with his father, other time with Dave and Tim. I wasn't asking for progress reports, so I could only hope things were getting better. Dwayne's problem was his own, not mine, and as long as I didn't see it come back I was fine with him.

I was forever in the same position with Dwayne, though. He was always happier to see me than I was to see him. He was working hard to get over his obsession with me, and I should have been working to get over my revulsion about it. In my own head, I was trying, and that was another reason I wanted to go back to see Dr. Service. We had dealt with Dwayne okay when his little foray into weirdness was going on, and I thought I had a kind of peace treaty with him. Actually, we did, and it was working okay.

My problem was that I still had this desire thing going on in my head. There was even a pecking order to it: Jack, Annie, Davy, Tony, Guy.



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