Jack in the Box

Chapter 48

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : November, 2000

I have no idea what time it was when the other guys stumbled into the room, but they were feeling no pain and made no secret of their arrival. Ray was the loudest, but Davy and Matt were giving him a run for his money. They were all stumbling and crashing around trying to get out of their clothes, and to someone who had been awakened so rudely, it seemed like an endless process. I gave them no indication that I was awake, and eventually the light went out and the last of them found his sleeping bag. They fell asleep quickly enough, and Ray's gentle snoring soon put me back out.

It was still dark when I woke back up, but I sensed that it was morning. I got to my feet with the sleeping bag still around me, and let it drop to the floor, which was a lot easier than trying to get it unzipped with Davy pressed up against one side of me, and Joey against the other. I found my sneaks and pulled them on, then knelt down to roll up the bag. That's when I smelled it. I sniffed around for a few seconds, then determined that it was Joey who'd pissed the bed.

Oh, man, I felt so bad for him. I put my face close to his ear and tried to whisper him awake, to no avail, so I pinched his cheek, which only caused him to pull away. I kept whispering in his ear to wake up, tugging on his earlobe at the same time. His eyes finally cracked open a slit. When he saw me, he opened his mouth to say something, but I put my hand over it before he could make a sound. That got him to open his eyes, and I whispered, "Get up, Joey. You pissed the bed."

He closed his eyes again, then nodded a little to let me know he understood. When he opened them again, the plea on his face was priceless. I whispered, "Get up. We'll take care of it before anybody knows."

He struggled out of the sleeping bag and got unsteadily to his feet. I folded the bag in half and picked it up, then pointed toward the door. As soon as it closed behind us and we were in the lit hallway, I could see the extent of the damage. Joey was soaked from his crotch to the middle of his chest. I led him to the bathroom, and when we were in there we could speak. Joey was mortified, so I tried to be matter-of-fact. I got a big towel, "Take a shower and wait for me. Wrap those clothes in the towel, and I'll go get clean ones. We can wash this stuff later, and nobody'll know."

His lip was quivering like he was going to cry, so I said,. "Just do it, Joey. Hurry!"

I left him to face his embarrassment alone, waiting outside the door until he passed the towel with his wet clothes out to me. When I stepped outside, I was met with a blast of icy air that made me wish I'd put my coat on. I ran behind our house and dropped the clothes and sleeping bag on the far side of the deck where nobody would see them, then hurried inside.

My dad and uncle were already having breakfast. Dad had to work that Monday and Tuesday, and my mother also had to work a half day on Wednesday. My aunt and uncle were going to spend time visiting their own friends in the area. Dad offered me breakfast, and I said I'd eat later when the other guys woke up. I hurried to my room saying over my shoulder that I had to get something, and for them to have good days.

I pushed my window up and tossed Joey's suitcase out onto the lawn, then left through the front door. I snagged the suitcase, and hurried back next door. I wasn't worried about being seen, although the sky was just beginning to lighten up. I was hurrying because it was freezing out.

I was quiet going into Jack's house, and I waited outside the bathroom door until I heard the shower turn off, then I tapped lightly on the door. It opened in a few seconds and Joey's wet head popped out, relief showing when he saw it was me. I slipped the suitcase in, and went to sit in the living room. I figured I'd wait for Joey before I got cleaned up, just so he'd be able to find me.

He was out soon enough, and even after a shower Joey looked like hell, like death warmed over. I sat back on the sofa, and he just about fell on me, groaning, "My head hurts...oh, man...I feel awful."

I held on to him for a moment, then said, "Go back to bed for awhile. Sleep it off, man."

"But...my sleeping bag!"

I pushed him up, "Use mine, Joey. Go and sleep 'til the other guys get up."

He looked so helpless that I had to laugh. He asked weakly, "Can't I sleep here?" as he leaned more into me.

I pulled out from under him and said, "Go ahead, Joey. Stretch out, I'll get a blanket."

He didn't stretch out, just pulled his feet onto the sofa and curled up. I found a blanket in a hall closet and covered him with it, then went to check out the bathroom. Put simply, my cousin was either a genuine slob, or he was too hung over to do anything right. The floor had a lot of water on it, and he'd dumped his suitcase to find the clothes he put on, so the rest were wet. The water wasn't shut off all the way in the tub, and he'd used three different towels. I sighed and picked up the mess, then wondered if I could just wash everything there instead of waiting for my house to empty out.

I checked out the laundry room, and the washer and dryer were still there, and there was something left in a box of soap, probably enough to wash everything. I put the stuff from Joey's suitcase in the dryer and started it up, then snuck over to my back yard to get the sleeping bag and his pissed-in clothes. Those I put into the washer with the soap, and cranked it up.

I felt pretty gross myself, and washed up in the bathroom. I didn't want to go home for a shower and change right then, just to avoid questions. Instead, I poked around the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. Tim and Dave hadn't figured on people eating in that house, but there was juice, a loaf of bread, milk and cereals, some fruit.

I was hungry and kind of bored by myself, so I put some bread in the toaster and fixed a bowl of cereal. I sat and ate, wondering who-all was sleeping there. If I had the nerve, I would have grabbed a pot lid and a spoon and made some noise, just like my dad did when we all slept too late. That was a clanking you couldn't sleep through no matter how late you stayed up the night before.

I finished my little meal and put things away, and then took Joey's clothes out of the dryer and moved the stuff from the washer to the dryer. Talk about being bored. Joey's clothes were all wrinkled up, and there was an ironing board and iron there, so I set it up, waiting for the iron to get hot. I turned to go into the kitchen to see what time it was, and caught the cord with my foot, causing the iron to crash to the floor. While I was picking it up, Joey called from the living room, "Will you cut that out? I have a headache!"

I went to see if he was alright, "What? I'm ironing too loud?"

"You don't hafta yell."

Joey was a blanket covered lump on the couch. I said, "You get up and iron your own clothes, then."

The blanket moved a little, revealing half of Joey's face. "You're mad?" he asked.

I shook my head, "I ain't mad, Joey. You're the one that promised not to wet the bed, now I'm bored enough to iron your clothes, and you gotta bitch about it?"

Joey's eye that I could see closed, then opened, then closed again. Suddenly, he was sitting up, the blanket across his lap, his eyes unfocused somewhere on the room. "Fine! I'm up! Are you happy now?"

I started giggling, didn't say a word.

Joey leaned back into the sofa cushions, his hands over his eyes, and groaned. His voice got small, "Oh, God. What did I do?"

I smiled, not happy that he felt bad, "I think you had too much beer."

He groaned, "Tell me. Never again."

I thought of the other guys, how late it must have been when they came in. "You can sleep, Joe." I toned down my voice to a whisper, "Sleep all day if you want. You won't be alone."

He looked at me, sleepy-eyed, like he was considering it, but sat up and shook his head. "I'll be okay. My mouth's dry, is there anything to drink?"

I nodded, "Yeah, there's plenty to drink."

I didn't know anything about hangovers, other than as a witness, but I had the feeling I'd be seeing more than Joey's when the others got up.. While Joey tried to get himself together, I poured myself a coffee and him a glass of juice. I watched the kitchen clock until it ticked eight, then called Dave and Tim's number.

Dave answered, "Heh rho?"

Oh, No. "Um, hi, Dave. It's Mike."


"Sorry, I thought you'd be up."

"Mmm up."

"I need to know what to do for a hangover."

It sounded like, "Roo rot runk?"

I laughed, "Never mind. I...just never mind."

He suddenly sounded more awake, "Mike?"

I giggled.

"Who's hung over? Besides everybody, I mean."

I said, "I don't know. Joey for sure."

Dave grumbled, "Oh," sounding kind of fuzzy. "Give me a second to wake up." I could hear a sound like he was shaking his head while he cleared his throat. "Mike?"

"I'm here."

He mumbled, "Okay, here's what you do. You listening?"

"I'm listening."

"Okay, you go find Joey a nice Tim. Put them in a bed together somewhere, then presto! After a day or two, no more hangover! You'll be lucky if you ever even see Joey again!"

I wheezed out a laugh, "Um, thanks."

"Thank you for calling, and you can return the favor"


"Call back when it's Thursday. We have a shitload of people to feed." He hung up, or maybe dropped the phone.

I gave up. I picked up my coffee and drank it down, then went and ironed all of Joey's clothes and put them back in his bag. When I was done, it was almost nine, so I called Annie. Jimmy answered and said Annie had just left for a run.

Fine. Finally, Barry wandered into the kitchen. He didn't look all that awake, and when I asked him if he wanted coffee or juice or something, he said, "Yes." He croaked, "All of the above." He smiled up at me, "I won nine hundred and sixty six million dollars last night, just playing cutthroat Hearts. I think everybody hates me."

I crooked my head to get a look at his eyes, and asked, "You, too?"

His chin was on the table, and he had to lift it to ask, "Where's all that stuff you promised me?"

"Coming up."

I foresaw a lonely day, with everyone but me whacked out from a long night and drinking. I poured Barry a cup of coffee, a glass of juice, and another glass full of water. He drank them in the reverse order of that, and shoved the empty coffee cup toward me. "Any left?"

I got him another cup, one for myself and sat at the table with him. I asked, "Did everybody get drunk last night?"

Barry seemed surprised, "Nah, just some kids. We all stayed up too late, though." He smiled sadly, "I really need to remind myself that I'm not a kid anymore."

Jack wandered in just then. He said hello, then asked, "Is someone in the bathroom? The door's locked, but nobody answered my knock."

I jumped up, "Joey!" and ran down the hall. I banged on the door, "Joey? Are you in there?"

Silence. Barry had followed me, and he said, "Hold on, let me find something to open the door with."

He headed back toward the kitchen, and soon came back with a long, thin screw. He messed with the doorknob for a minute, then it opened. He looked inside, then at me with a look that said he had to laugh, like real hard, but he didn't want to do it right then. He backed away, and held the door for me to go in.

I took one look and didn't want to be there. Joey was sitting on the throne, his pants down around his ankles, his arms crossed over his knees, his face on his arms, and he was sound asleep. I knew exactly how Barry felt. I wanted to laugh out loud, but not there. I'd save it for later too, when I wouldn't scare him, because who knows what might happen if he woke up too fast.

I approached calling his name, then ruffled his hair. "Joey, man. You're scarin' me!" I kept wiggling his head until he stirred, "C'mon, Joey! You fell asleep on the shitter!"


"Wake up! I told ya to go back to bed, not sleep in the damn toilet."

He lifted his head a few inches and, discoved where he was. He grumbled, "I'm not in the toilet, not floatin' around like some lonely turd. I'm on the toilet."

He was funny, and I started giggling, "Well, get off the toilet. Other people need to use it." I looked a little closer, "Are you awake?"

"I guess so."

"Good. I'll just leave the door open so you don't forget. Remember to wipe your ass!"

Joey groaned, "Don't you dare!" as I walked back to the kitchen, leaving him there for anybody to see.

Barry and Jack were at the table with toast and coffee. When I came in, Barry asked, "Is he alright?"

It was time to laugh, even though I tried not to. Barry and I got ourselves pretty helpless for a few minutes. When we finally settled down, Jack said, "I didn't even notice you guys there last night." He smiled at me, "You must hold your liquor pretty well."

I gasped, "Me? I had like two beers!"

Jack shrunk back, "Calm down, Mike. I wasn't accusing you. The kids who were there certainly did a good job on that keg." He smiled, "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something. Your cousin there, Sally...she's an interesting person." He looked down for a moment and decided to take a bite of jelly toast, and when he looked back up he had a wistful smile. "You'll never know how much I regret that I didn't know someone like her when I was a kid. Barry'll say the same thing." He sighed, "It was a different world then. Gay only meant happy, but for a gay kid it was anything but happy. There wasn't any such thing as a queer kid then, at least not out in public. You couldn't even think about it."

I grimaced, and he went on, "Young adults chose to be queer because of some mental deviation, that was the perception. I guess a relatively few people got away with being openly gay, but they were mostly rich kids whose families paid their way, as long as they stayed away from their families. I suppose there was something like a gay scene in the big cities, but it sure wasn't visible where I grew up." He raised his eyebrows, "It was lonely, Mike. Ninety nine point nine percent of gay boys grew up as straight. It was only partly hiding it, too, because we had no point of reference, nobody we could point to and say, 'Gee, he's just like me'. There was no common knowledge, just rumor...hints...innuendo."

I mumbled, "That must have really sucked."

Barry laughed softly, "Mind your words there."

I giggled, and Jack went on. "It was worse than that, Mike. You knew where your attractions were, but there was no way to even know how to act on them, no way to know what you'd do if you had the nerve to. It was a lonely existence, and most guys just found a girl and did the normal routine." He smiled at me, "I know a whole lot of gay grandfathers. Some are coming out now, but it's way too late for them to go back and lead the lives they really wanted."

I said, "That's sad."

Jack and Barry both smiled sadly, nodded and said nothing. Barry finally leaned forward, "Things are getting better, Mike, and it's people like Sally making it happen. The gay rights movement started in our day, and it had to happen. Now...I don't know, the way the news treats it you'd think every gay person wears pink feathers. It turns a lot of people who might understand right off. If there's a gay pride event, the cameras just see the flamboyant few, not the quiet people, the many who only want a fair shake in society. In a way, the gay community is defeating its own purpose by letting that happen."

Jack said, "That's not totally fair, Barry. Well, maybe it's fair. I'd like to see just one event where the flamers stay home, see if the news crews even cover who's left there." He looked over at me, "That's where the multitude is, Mike, the majority. Plain people, just like everyone else, people trying to earn a living and be part of regular society. That's all anyone wants, really, just to be treated the same as everyone else."

Barry tapped my wrist, "Sally told us what you said, and we agree. Tolerance is fine, but it's not enough," he grinned, "and I don't think you smell bad. I think tolerance, acceptance...those are the big things, but it's the little things that will matter in the end. You go into any place of work and people have pictures of their husbands or wives on the desk. When a gay person can have a picture of his or her lover on the desk, then maybe we'll be there."

I smiled at that thought. My picture of Jack was my most important possession. Everyone who came into my room knew that, and it was no kind of embarrassment for me, even if it was for them.

Jack said, "People like Sally are the important ones, the ones trying to understand. She doesn't have any hangups about gays, and she's trying to get over thinking that there's some fundamental difference." He thought for a moment, "I guess the difference is fundamental if you're out on the make, but in everyday life there's nothing there." He smiled at Barry, "I could run a project as well as Kenny could, and the only difference was when we went home, and it didn't matter anymore. I was pretty much closeted until I met this guy," he patted Barry's hand, "but I could still run with the big dogs at work."

Barry looked at me, then smiled at Jack. "I think you're pretty much preaching to the choir here. Mike's been out since day one." He looked at me and chuckled, "He's backed off a bit, but with good reason." He reached over and ruffled my hair, smiling right at me, "Now he has a girlfriend and the horn's playing a different tune." He smiled at Jack, then at me. "You know, every time I meet someone like Sally I, feel a little bit healed myself. Good things are starting to happen. With enough kids like Sally around, things are bound to change." He smiled brightly, "She's a cute girl and popular in school. Last night she decided that she won't even consider dating a guy who won't join her club. Heh, that should drive up the membership."

I was surprised. "She said that?"

"Yup, that's what she said. She's quite a girl."

I breathed, "I'll say."

Jack added, "Gays aren't the only ones looked down on, Barry. What about the fat kids, the pimply kids, the short kids? They all get picked on, too."

I looked back and forth between them.

Barry said, "I know, and they probably always will be. There's a difference, though. They can go home and know they're loved; they have a place where it doesn't matter. I went through years without that. For a long time, I would have rather died than let my father know. I knew, I knew, I knew, I just didn't know what!" He glanced at me, trouble in his eyes, "It was awful, Mike. I told my dad when I was seventeen. He told me to keep it under my hat, that I even had him fooled, and to keep on fooling people. My own father told me to live a lie, and he was never the same to me after that."

I asked, "What happened?"

"Nothing happened. I just felt I wasn't his son anymore, not the one he wanted, anyhow. There wasn't any anger, just this big freakin' chill. We never once talked about it again before he died, and that was ten years later."

I was thinking about that when Joey wandered in, his hair all wet again. I asked, "Take another shower?"

He didn't look too happy, didn't say a word, just opened the refrigerator and stuck his head in it. I teased, "Cat got your tongue? What food there is, is on the counter."

He backed out and closed the door, leaning back against it. "Can't you see I'm sick?" He looked like hell. "I can't think, I got a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like shit!"

Barry turned to me, "Hangover?"

"I'll say."

Barry smiled at Joey, "Drink a little milk, I'll be right back." He looked at me, "Give him some toast. No butter, but some jam is fine."

Barry strode out of the room and Joey sat down, cradling his face in his hands. I got up and put two pieces of bread in the toaster, then filled a little juice glass half full of milk. By the time Joey drank it, Barry was back. He put three pills by the glass, one regular sized white one, a tiny little green one, and a big flat white one. He smiled at Joey, "Okay, there's an Alka-Seltzer for your stomach, an aspirin for your head, and a caffein tablet to wake you up."

Barry took the juice glass and rinsed it out, then filled it halfway with water and dropped the Alka-Seltzer in it. When it was all fizzed up, Joey drank it. Barry got him some more water, and Joey took the aspirin and the caffein pill. Barry was poking around in the cupboards. He came up with a big water glass, which he filled and put in front of Joey. "Drink this, then another one, and go lay down. Eat your toast; you'll be okay in an hour."

Joey groaned and did what he was told, and then he disappeared into the living room. I looked at Barry and smiled, "Ain't you the voice of experience?"

Barry looked away, "Well, yeah...you know…always had to get up the next day."

We heard the front door open and turned our heads that way. Davy's dad walked in, smiling when he saw us. "Hi, guys. Is Davy up yet?"

I jumped up, "I'll go look, I don't think so."

I hurried down the hall to Jack's room. The guys were still zonked out on the floor, so this time I made some noise. I shoved Davy's and Ray's shoulders at the same time, "Time to get up, guys. Your father's here, Davy." All I got were groans, so I shoved harder, "C'mon, wake up !"

This time, Davy rolled over and opened his eyes into an impossibly blank stare, and Matt sat up, asking, "What time is it?"

"Almost ten. Ya can't sleep all day."

Ray moaned, "Try me."

Him, he could sleep all day if he wanted to. Davy had to go with his folks, and maybe Matt was going, too. I concentrated on Davy, sounding like a drill sergeant. "Move it, Davy, your dad's waitin' on ya. You have obligations. Nobody made ya stay out half the night."

Davy struggled to a sitting position, then turned a pained face to me before he smiled. "For your information, Dad, we were out all night. Yes, I drank. No, I didn't get drunk."

I stared at him, and he grinned, "You've never played cards 'til you play with a bunch of cheatin' queers! I don't think I ever laughed so hard in my life."

I looked at his face and grinned, "You're okay then? Your dad's in the kitchen, and the bathroom's open."

Matt was already pulling on his pants, "I got dibs. I gotta go, man."

I left them there, shaking my head as I walked back down the hall. I checked Joey in the living room, and he was face down on the couch, the blanket pulled over him. I turned to go, and heard a muffled, "Mike?"


"Tell Barry thanks. I feel a little better."

I said, "Okay, I'll tell him."

"And Mike?" Joey turned his face to me and opened his eyes, "You didn't tell ..."

"No, Joey. Not a word."

He didn't say anything, so I headed back to the kitchen, which was now empty. There was a note on the table that said only, 'Breakfast out back'.

Hm. I could eat, but I wasn't starving. I picked up the phone and called Annie, and she picked up, which made me feel better instantly. "Hi," I said.

"Oh, hi! I just called your house, and the line was busy."

"I'm not there anyhow. How was your visit yesterday?"

"Hmm, kind of long. Paulina just called."

"Really? How's Tony's mom?"

"She'll be alright. They're staying another day, because she has some tests tomorrow." Her voice suddenly got animated, "Did you know she's seventy-one?"

"Um, not exactly. I figured something around there."

Annie laughed, "Tony shouldn't be. Do you know how impossible that is? They're really amazing people."

I smiled, "I know. I got a bunch of drunks on my hands here. Everybody's wiped out 'cept me. I feel like a freakin' babysitter!"

Annie laughed, "Oh, poor Mike. Changing diapers, are you?"

All alone in the kitchen, I blushed thinking about Joey. "No, they know how to change themselves. Can I see you later?"

"How later? I told my mother I'd go shopping with her."

"I mean later-later. I promised Joey some time. We need to catch up."

Annie asked brightly, "Why don't you come here for dinner? I'll make fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, maybe some corn or carrots."

I smiled, "Gee, Annie. Don't do all that for me."

She giggled, "That's what we're having. It's everybody's favorite. If you come over, I'll just make more."

I grinned, "Make lots more. What time?"

"Shoot for eating at six. You can come earlier if you want. Way earlier, if you don't mind."

I was smiling, "I don't mind at all. Can I stay late, too?"

She put on an air, "Why, you can just stay forever. Bring everything you own, and move right in here. We'll give you Clay's room, and just install a tunnel between his and mine."

I giggled, "What about Clay?"

"Give Clay some credit, Michael. He's a resourceful boy. He probably won't come back from Italy anyhow, and in the unlikely event that Joe forces him to, it will just be for a brief visit before he's off again."

I was laughing, "You think? You're funny, Annie."

Haughty: "I'm pleased that I've managed to amuse you." Her voice softened, "You'll come for dinner, won't you?"

I was still chuckling, picturing Annie's pretty face, her bright eyes. I said softly, "I'll be there. I can't say just when, but as soon as I can, okay?"

"I love you, Mike. I hope you know that. Yesterday, being away all day...well, it wasn't right. I do miss you, Mike."

I choked up a little, "I...I miss you, too. I talked about you yesterday. I...I guess...I don't know what to say. You hold me together, Annie, more than anybody does. It's like...like..." I couldn't come up with the right words. "Never mind, I don't want to just say it on the phone. I want to be holding you, looking at you."

"That is so sweet."

I giggled, "You wouldn't say that if you could smell me now. I ain't even had a shower yet!"

"Eww. I thought you were the early riser."

"I got up early, Annie! I just feel like I'm stuck here, and that's gotta change right now. I'll see you later, okay?"

We talked a little longer before I hung up. I got up and checked on Joey, who was staring at the ceiling even though the television was on. "You okay?" I asked.

He smiled wanly, not looking at me, "I'll live, I think."

I said, "Good. I'm goin' home to get cleaned up. They're makin' breakfast out back, so if you're hungry I'll see you out there." I turned to leave.


I looked back at Joey's earnest face. "Thanks, okay?"

I smiled, "Welcome," and finally got out of there, and this time I remembered my coat. I hurried to my own house and noticed Jed's car in the driveway. I smiled when I walked into the kitchen, Jed and Sally were just pulling away from each other at the sudden intrusion.

I said happily, "Caught ya!" I grinned at their embarrassment, and as I hung up my coat I said, "Last time I heard, smoochin' was legal around here." I giggled, "I'll be in the shower if you need any tips."

I heard them chuckling behind me as I hurried down the hall. I had a nice shower and took my time shaving, because for once I really needed it. That gave me a lot of mirror time, and I was starting to like what I saw. Clear was the word that came to mind, and I knew what I was thinking. I'd cleared up all the messes that were behind me, cleared my mind of a lot of troubling thoughts, cleared a wide path for future things, so I could see them coming. That time shaving was probably the first time ever that I was truly happy with me as me, with who I was. I felt so free right then. Free to learn, to love, to laugh. Free to let my emotions show, to laugh, to cry, to yell even.

The mirror told me that I was nearly as much man as boy now, and my mind finally agreed with the image in the mirror.

I was holding my own on every front, by myself when I could, seeking help when I needed it. Knowing the difference was the adult part of that, and I'm not sure where it came from or when things changed, but I could see it. I was getting along with people, engaging them; adults, kids my own age, little kids. I had forever sought the knowledge that other people held, their answers to my endless questions. Now people looked to me as often, wanting to know my own views on things. If there was anything particularly satisfying about that, it was that I had views, and they didn't always line up with other people's.

I suppose we're all just filters for what goes on around us. Our situations are all unique, starting with our status within our own families. Somebody has to be the mother, somebody the father. Somebody has to be the oldest child, the youngest, and anything in between. In our family there were both girls and boys. Even with our parents as constants, we all learned to view things in our own way, based on our separate experiences away from home. We all expressed ourselves differently, all had our own hot buttons.

I smiled at my reflection, deciding there couldn't be a better way.

I went and got dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a new flannel shirt that my mother had picked up. I didn't usually like plaid, but I liked this one...all dark red, blue and gray. I checked it out in my parent's full-length mirror and decided I liked the look: Me as Mr. Rugged. Heh.

When I got back to the kitchen, Jed, Sally and my sisters were getting ready to leave. They were picking up Pat and going to a mall in Bowling Green to do some Christmas shopping. When they left, I put on my coat and stepped outside. It had warmed up some, and the coat was too much, so I went back and put on my down vest instead. I thought to look in the mirror again, and yes! I ran back to my room for the cowboy hat Davy had bought me, then checked the mirror again thinking it might work, but nope, not then and not ever.

I was laughing at myself as I trotted out to the barn. I wasn't any fashion plate, but I'd just spent more time in front of mirrors than I usually did in a month, and it was only to please myself.

When I got to Dave and Tim's, it was a different scene from the night before. There weren't a lot of people there, and most of those who were up looked pretty tired. Mary and Davy's aunt had laid out a cold buffet for breakfast, and they were the only ones who seemed chipper in the least. Davy had already left with his folks, as had a lot of other people, if they'd even shown up to start with. The guys there, Ken, Barry, Jack, Bax and Ron, were sprawled out on the living room furniture, just kind of vegetating. Barry and Jack were at least communicative, and we kept up a little chat about nothing much while I ate my cold-cuts, cheese and croissant.

When Joey showed up with Matt, he looked a bit more alive. He got some food while Matt crashed into a chair.

The whole scene was getting me tired, so I hurried Joey along, reminding him that we were supposed to go off on our own somewhere. When we stood up, Ron took notice. Joey was dressed similarly to me, jeans and flannel, and Ron's eyes got wide. "I love that look!" He was framing us with his hands, "Mountain man chic: it's so...so...so here. Oh, I wish I had a camera. Who needs the hood when you can have the hills?"

Bax suggested, "Shut up, Ron. The altitude's affecting your brain."

Ron giggled, "Oops," and we excused ourselves.

On the way to my garage for the bikes, I asked Joey, "You okay now?"

He groaned, "Better. I need to get a lighter jacket, it's warmer than I thought."

He ran into Jack's house for a second to change, and we were on our way, pedaling lazily down the road, keeping up a minimal conversation. Joey was being pretty quiet, and I figured it was the hangover. I was about to ask him if anything else was wrong, when a car screeched to a stop beside us.

It was Andy Stark, and he jumped out of the car and hurried over to me, something I can't describe on his face. "Mike, you have to do some things for us."

"Sure, Andy."

"Jennifer's brother and his wife were in a bad wreck." Jennifer was Andy's daughter in law, Jason's wife. "They're hurt bad, and we're headed to Georgia to meet Jason and Jen there." He put his hands on my shoulders and looked in my eyes, his own full of pain. "There's no other family on that side, and they may not make it." I could see that he was struggling with words, wanted to be on the way. "Tell your folks to forget about us for Thanksgiving." He looked a plea, "Check out our house, take care of the dog...whatever. I'll call when I know something, okay?"

I gulped, "Okay." I didn't know what to say, so I put my hands on top of his, crossing my arms to do so. "I'm sorry, Andy, but don't worry 'bout anythin' here."

He sort of smiled, looked at me for a second, and hurried back to the car and took off.

I sat there straddling my bike and watched them drive off. Oh, Lord. I'd only met Jen's family at her and Jason's wedding. I was only ten then, but I remember it being weird. Jason had all his family and friends there, and she only had a few. I remembered playing with their kids, who were about my age, when things got boring for us, but not much else.

I turned a grim look to Joey and said, "Let's check the house right now, make sure they didn't leave somethin' on, okay?"

He nodded, and we pedaled the short distance back to Andy's house, then up their long driveway. The garage door was open, so we went in through there, closing it after us. Their little Springer was inside, and I let her out, filling her food and water dishes. Joey looked around to make sure the appliances were all off, then thought to check the bathrooms. Everything looked okay, so we left after letting the dog back in.

We went back outside, and I just plopped down on the stoop, wondering why every up in my life was followed by such a hard down. I didn't really know Jen's relatives, but I sure knew her and Jason, and I felt awful for them. Joey seemed to understand, and he was quiet for a long time, finally putting a gentle hand on my shoulder, "Maybe they'll be okay."

I sighed, "Yeah, maybe."

After awhile, Joey said, "We don't have to go anywhere, we can stay here if you want."

I did want. We went back inside, and I fished around in the kitchen desk until I found an address book, then called my mother at work to tell her what happened and where I was. She was broken up, of course, and said she'd leave work early, as soon as she called my dad. She told me to check the house again, then take Speck to our house. She'd pick up some dog food on the way home.

That was easier said than done. Andy had trained Speck to never leave the yard except in a car, and trying to drag her past the end of the driveway proved near impossible. She wasn't a big dog, but she was strong enough to resist so much I thought she'd choke, so I went back to the house and called Dave's for someone to pick us up, saying we'd be by the road.

In a few minutes, Eddie showed up in his rental car, and the dog jumped right in, ready for a ride. We had our bikes, so we rode them back. Eddie had waited at the car for us, and it wasn't fun trying to get Speck to get out after such a short ride, but she finally did, and she followed us into my house. Joey sat on the floor and played with her while I called a few people who I thought should know what had happened.

After that, there wasn't much to do but wait, so we moved into the living room and sat on the sofa, having picked up a tennis ball on the way. We idly tossed it for the dog, who was excited to play, and we eventually began to talk.

Joey said quietly, "I owe you, Mike."

I mumbled, "For what?"

He leaned against me, "For not makin' me an idiot. I don't know...if you pissed the bed, I might'a brought it to the attention of others. If you fell asleep on the john, I for sure would of."

I didn't say anything. Joey whispered, "Thanks. You even cleaned up after me."

I smiled to myself, "It's okay, Joe, no big deal." We were both quiet for awhile, then I snickered and asked, "So, how'd you like all the gay guys?"

I think the question surprised him. He waited before saying anything, "They were all nice. I don't know...they're older, and it didn't bother me. It's not like they were tryin' to get in my pants."

I giggled, "They liked your pants, though, at least Ronnie did."

Joey elbowed me, "Please don't tell me that crap." He set off in a sea of giggles, "Oh, no!" He laughed, "I always wanted to be a sex symbol."

I elbowed him back, "So, now you are," I snorted.

Joey elbowed me harder, "For girls, jerk-off! I don't want a bunch of guys lookin' at my ass!"

I laughed, "You ain't got an ass!"

He socked me pretty hard, "Right, and it'd take you to notice that!"

I punched right back, "I didn't pay your lack of ass no attention, it was Ronnie." I laughed out loud, "He thinks you could make money with that particular deficit."

Joey was protesting when the phone rang. I jumped up and answered, "Hello?"


"Jason! Is everything okay?"

"You know?"

"I saw Andy. I mean your father."

I could hear car noise, Jennifer sobbing. Jason said, "They're hurt bad, Mike." He choked back a sob.

I asked, incredulously, "Bad? Like they could die?"

He said softly, "Yes. From the sound of it. When did you see my folks?"

"Around eleven, I think. They were hell-bent to get there."

I heard him comforting Jen for awhile, then he asked, "Did you tell your parents yet?"

I said, "I called Mom. She was gonna call Dad, then come home." I wanted to give comfort, "I have the dog here...me and Joey."

"Joey your cousin?"

"Mm hm."

Jason sighed into the phone. "Thanks, Mike. We're almost there, we have to pick up the kids. Oh, man, not a good day. Can you stick near the phone so I have someplace to call?"

I felt awful for them. "I'll be right here. Wait, what's your cell number?"

He gave it to me, and I scribbled it down. We hung up, and I hugged Joey, crying, "They're hurt bad!" I started weeping for a woman I'd only met once in my life, but she meant a lot to people I loved, so I was crying for them.

Poor Jennifer. She and Phil were brother and sister, him ten years older than her, and they'd been brought up separately in foster homes, only finding each other when they were already adults. I knew that Jason really treasured Phil, because Phil was the one who knew he had a sister somewhere, and had pestered the state for years before he learned anything about her.

His story pissed everyone who heard it off to the max. Jennifer didn't know she had a brother, but he remembered his sister. One state agency after another denied him, until he was well-off enough to hire a lawyer to crack through the official bullshit. When they finally met, it was instant brother and sister.

Now Phil and his wife were hurt, and it sounded like it was really bad. It was the sound of Jason's voice that got to me, though. The flatness where there should have been joy, the dead tone.

I cried, and Joey comforted. His turn I guessed, as I wept. I sensed that he was leaking tears, too as I clutched his thin body, which felt as solid as a rock to me. Our plans for the day had been shot to hell since I woke up, but that didn't matter anymore. Hangovers and grumpy cousins were the least thing on my mind, only there wasn't a thing I could do about the most thing on my mind.

Joey was good, stroking my shoulder until I calmed down. I finally washed my face in the kitchen sink and wiped it with a paper towel. Joey looked at me, "Now what?"

"I don't know. We wait, I guess. Wanna watch TV?"

He shrugged, "I don't care. We could still talk, you know."

I said, "Okay. Let's go in the other room." I stood and headed for the living room, only then noticing a note saying Tony had called. I backtracked to the phone and called Paulina's cell phone number, which she answered quickly.

"Hi Paulina. I know Tony called, but there's bad news."

She sighed, "Not more."

"Jen Stark's brother and sister-in-law...they were in a bad crash."

She gasped, "Oh, no! When did it happen?"

"This mornin', I guess. I saw Andy when he was headin' out."

"Where did it happen?"

"In Georgia somewhere. Near Atlanta, I think."

"Oh God, Mike. I'm so sorry." There was a pause, "Here, talk to Anton."

Another pause, "Mike? What happened?"

I repeated what I knew, then asked after his mother. He giggled, "She's grouchy, but she's okay. There' some test tomorrow, but just to see what medicine's best."

I smiled, "You just tell her I love her, okay?"

There was a long pause, "You mean that, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do," I said softly. "Listen, I don't wanna tie up the phone. I'll call from out back when somebody gets home."

"Oh, okay. Um, Mike?"


"You're doin' it, arent' ya? Bein' a doctor, I mean."

I grinned, "Yeah, I am. Who told you?"

"Hector told Paulina. I...I...just...I don't know. I...you'll make it, I know you will."

"Thanks, Tony...thanks."

He said, "Git goin'. Call back when ya know somethin', okay?"

"I will."

We hung up, and I joined Joey in the living room. He had the television on softly, and was sitting with his legs spread wide on the sofa. I sat on the floor in front of him, up against his right leg. He asked, "You alright?"

I shrugged, "I guess. I mean, I feel bad, but I don't really know those people. I feel bad for Jason and Jen, for Andy and Lin. Andy's my Godfather, ya know, and Jason's the first one who ever treated me like a person."

Joey asked, "What's that mean?"

I smiled, "I was a little kid, maybe five or six. That's how I got treated, by everyone 'cept Jason. He'd listen to me and talk back just like I was a man, like my ideas were important." I leaned back, "I guess I'll never forget how good that felt." I sighed, "Now he's got trouble, and there's not a damn thing I can do."

Joey's hand stroked my shoulder, "Mike, just do what they ask. Do what they don't ask, too, just like you did at Andy's house." He leaned forward so he could put his other hand on me, "They're gonna be all messed up, they'll forget things, need things at the store. You can help, just do what other people don't."

I put my hand on Joey's knee. "Where'd you learn that?"

"When my grandmother died I kept gettin' pushed out of the way, but I still helped. Nobody knows it, but I did."

I thought about what Joey said, and it made sense. Andy's family would have a lot to do, adult things, but I could stay out of that and make sure that little things happened when they had to, make sure that folks had what they needed, and that things got cleaned up. I could do that for Andy and Jason, Linda and Jennifer.

I didn't say anything for awhile, then, "Joey?"


"Thanks. Now we're even."

I heard his giggle and looked back at him. "What?" he asked, "even for what?"

I still had my hand on his knee, so I dug my fingers in just north of there, making him squeal. "For what? I rescue you from a life of total humiliation, and you ask for what? You ingrate."

He was laughing, "What humiliation?"

"Okay, let me count. First, I keep you from barfing on Eddie, then I get you cleaned up. Then I gotta get you outta your pissy clothes ..."

"Oh God, stop!" he interrupted. "Okay, we're even then." He giggled, "I almost puked on somebody?"

I was laughing, "Yeah, you almost did. And you fell asleep takin' a crap."

We both laughed, then Joey slid over so I was between his legs. He leaned forward and I felt his chin on my head. "What?"

He wrapped his arms around me, "What, nothing. I'm just glad it was you and not my sister. She'd never let it go."

I mumbled, "I like Sally. Everybody does."

Joey didn't respond, and we were quiet for a minute. "Mike?"


"What's it like? Bein' in love, I mean. I mean, with another boy, with Jack."


"I don't know. I met all those gay guys, and I could deal with that, they seemed cool. I don't know what I'd do if it was somebody my age. I still think I'd freak out."

I thought, then said, "I'm your age."

"Yeah, you are. So, what's it like?"

I sighed, thinking of Jack. "It was beautiful, Joey, that's all. Beautiful, like nothin' else matters. You have this person that only cares about you, and you only care about him, like screw the rest of the world. It's like me doin' for Jack made both of us happy, him doin' for me made both of us happy. When we were together, it was like the world disappeared and it was just us. No problems, no noise, no pollution, no nothin'...just us. I don't know how to say it better, it was just this perfect little...us."

I could feel Joey's breath in my hair, "And Annie?"

I relaxed, "It's the same, kind of. I mean, she's a girl, so that part's different, and she's stronger than Jack was, so that's different, too." I giggled, "I don't mean she could beat him up, she just has this...I dunno...this even way about her. She's like steady, and I need that."

Joey snickered, "You're not steady? You seem like a rock to me."

I paused, thinking. "I'm not, Joey, not a rock. I'm more like a feather. I'd just blow away if all these people weren't holdin' on to me, keepin' me here."

Joey was quiet for a moment, then asked, "How do they all fit in? I mean, I don't get it. So many people, how do you keep them straight?"

I snickered at his choice of words, "A lot of them I don't have to keep straight. I mean, that opportunity was lost!"

Joey laughed outright and bopped my head hard. "C'mon, Mike. What's with you and Davy...and Tony? I see the way you guys are with each other, and it's more than just friends. Be honest, now."

I leaned back and laughed. What a question. "When did you get so smart, Joey?"

He giggled, "I got a brain transplant just for this trip. Come on, answer up!"

"It's simple, then. They're my best friends. I love them."

Joey pushed, "Do you have sex with them? Are they gay?"

I warned, "Joey ..."

"I'm just askin. I mean, are you aware of their dicks or somethin'?"

That was it! I lined my elbow up with Joey's crotch and growled, "Shut up, Joey, or I'll make you aware of your dick like you've never been aware before."

He pulled his hands back and covered his balls, laughing. "Can't a guy ask a question?

I giggled and got up on my knees, looking at Joey. "Ask all you want; just don't go makin' it somethin' that isn't."

Joey looked contrite, "Okay, sorry."

We spent the next half hour talking about our friends. Joey seemed to have some good ones, too, and talking about them made him realize just what good friends a few of them were. He had a girlfriend of sorts, but she wasn't allowed to date yet, so it was just making out at school and long hours on the phone, with closely watched visits when he went to her house..

Talking about her made me think about parents. Annie's folks were great. They gave us space to be alone, even in their own house. We kissed when they were there and it was fine. If the kiss turned remotely passionate, they suddenly remembered things they had to do in other parts of the house, or somebody they owed a visit to.

Joey's girlfriend had parents who were the polar opposites. I told Joey this stuff, and wondered aloud if that girl's parents weren't doing her damage by being like that. She wasn't allowed to even kiss Joey. Love is love, and a kiss is the simplest, prettiest expression of love.

Joey was in a hard place, but he seemed happy enough there. I leaned forward and kissed his forehead, and didn't get any protest. I bopped his knee, "You're okay, Joey."

He smiled warmly, "So are you, Mikey. I'm hungry."

I was, too. We made our way to the kitchen, and decided on Beef-a-Roni, so I dumped a couple of cans into a pot on the stove. My mother came in while it was heating up, asking, "Are you alright? Any news?" as she set the mail on the counter and took off her coat.

I grimaced, and turned my eyes to her, "Jason called, I guess it's real bad."

My mother braced her back against the wall, mumbling, "Jesus!" She turned her eyes to me and said, "Tell me what you know, Mike."

I sighed, "Not a lot. They were in a crash. Everybody's on their way there now. I...they won't be here for Thanksgiving."

"Who have you told?"

"I called the Surdiaks, Mrs. Anderson. I didn't know who else."

Mom smiled sadly, "I suppose everyone knows by now, then." She looked at the pot, "Don't burn your lunch. I'm going to get changed."

She left and I tore up a few slices of American cheese, adding them to the pot. I told Joey to set the table. He put out a loaf of bread and the butter dish, then some plates and two glasses of milk.

He was sitting there when I carried the pot over. I smiled, "Ready for some fine dining a la Mike?" as I dumped something like half on each plate.

When I was rinsing the pot in the sink, Joey said, "All we need is some candles and wine," he giggled, "then we could have a nice, romantic meal."

I filled the pot with water to soak, "Yeah, like I need romance with my cousin."

Joey made goo-goo eyes at me as I sat down. "I thought you liked the boys."

I growled, "Eat your food."

He giggled, "Some romantic you are."

I laughed, "Eat me then! Just shut up before this gets cold."

Ha! He shut up and started eating, so I did, too. There's nothing much better for lunch than Beef-a-Roni with cheese melted in, and bread-and-butter to sop up the sauce. By the time we were finished, we'd eaten the whole loaf of bread, including ends, a stick and a half of butter, and drank darn near a gallon of milk. My mother had come back when we were half-done, and just rolled her eyes at the carnage.

Joey and I had kept up a banter after the initial hunger was gone, and we listened in when my mother answered the phone. It was Andy; that much we could make out, and she kept writing things down, like the address of the hospital, different phone numbers. When she hung up, she slumped down into a chair, and I asked what was going on.

"Phil and Andrea are both having surgery." She had her elbow on the table and banged her head into her hand, mumbling, "They're both in critical condition." She looked up at nobody, "It was a big pileup on the Interstate, and they were in the middle. Fog, you know." She looked at me, tears forming in her eyes, "Oh, Michael. I know you're itching to get your license, but please realize that the roads are dangerous places."

I got cross at first, and then took a breath. "I know, Ma. I'll be careful. I know what happened today, and I know what happened to Jack. I want to drive to get places, anyhow, not to fool around."

Joey looked at me like I was nuts, but kept his mouth shut.

My mother calmed down and smiled, "That's not what I meant. I don't doubt that you'll be a careful driver. That still doesn't stop roads from being dangerous places." She sagged, "End of lecture." She looked up at me, "Are you staying here?"

I looked at Joey, who shrugged, "For awhile, anyhow. I'm, uh, goin' to Annie's later for dinner, so don't count me in."

My mother just looked at me, then she smiled. "Have a good time, and be sure to say thank you."

I rolled my eyes, "Mom! I think I know how to be polite!"

She smiled again, warmer, "I should hope so!" She went to the counter and started opening the mail, suddenly saying, "Ooh! Mike, you have a letter from Jack's father."

That got me excited. We hadn't heard a thing from them since they left, other than a postcard with their new address. I'd sent them copies of all the articles that Dwayne wrote, with a short letter saying that I missed them and I really missed Jack, because I still loved him.

I tore the envelope open and started reading. The first part thanked me for the articles, and went on a little about how good they were. They had both laughed and cried while reading them, but more than that, reading them had helped them organize their own thoughts about their son. Until now, their memories of Jack had been more random, thoughts triggered by other things. Now Mr. Murphy was writing his own journal about Jack, which he offered to send me if I wanted it. Did I ever.

He went on to say how they were settling into their new life in the mountains. Jack's mother was writing stories for a local magazine, and his father was struggling with two novels, a struggle he enjoyed.

He asked a lot of questions about me and my family, and ended with this:

Mike, losing Jack was the most unimaginably sad thing that ever happened to us. We moved to Morton because Jack got himself into trouble, and we hoped it was behind us. Then he lost himself in a self-imposed exile for two years, which we never really understood. When you came into the picture, and Jack finally had a real friend, the change in him was almost earth-shattering. The sullen, morose boy, who spent most of his time in his room, was now not to be found anywhere without you attached to him, and the excitement that radiated from him about his every waking moment brought real joy to our hearts.

We read the articles, as told by you, and now it's clear that you shared Jack's happiness, his love. I don't know that I can find the words to express the gratitude we feel toward you. It's the memories we have now that sustain us, and those memories are of a very happy young son. We owe those memories to you, Michael. Your very special friendship put the light back in Jack's eyes, and we're now able to remember him as the delightful child he was always meant to be.

Wherever life brings you, whatever you choose to do, please know that you'll always have our total support.

Thank you, Mike.

Thank you.

With all our love,

Jeanine and Gerry Murphy

I had tears in my eyes, and my mother was looking at me doubtfully. I just held the pages out to her so she could read them herself, and went to lie down in my room. Joey started to follow me, but I asked him to leave me alone for a minute.

I closed the door behind me and picked up Jack's picture, flopped down on the bed and held it just over my face. I normally ended up crying when I did that, but this time I didn't. I searched instead, searched for a crack in it, but I didn't find one. Jack was happy in that picture, and so was I. His father's letter was the first confirmation from anyone other than Jack that he was happy because of me, just as much as my happy face was the result of being with Jack. In every way that meant anything, I was still happy because of Jack, because of the time we had.

We shared love, the kind that goes to the root of your being, and that was the wellspring of our happiness. Like the nurse root of a fallen tree, Jack's love, the idea that I knew how to love, had me sprouting saplings all over the place.

They were loving sprouts that pointed in every direction, each striving for dominance. I giggled at Jack, asking which he thought would win. I didn't get a response, but I didn't expect one. I felt better just knowing that Jack's own parents felt the light in his eyes came from me, that I'd made him happy, even for such a short time, even as Jack's light brought on my own.

I gave his image a huge smooch, then put the picture back and went to find Joey. He'd gone back into the kitchen, and he was reading the letter while my mother sat there with a pensive look on her face.

I said, happily, "I'm glad the Murphy's are doin' good."

My mother searched my face, then smiled at me looking a little surprised, "Michael, I ..." she looked down, then smiled back up at me, "I thought you'd mope for hours after reading that."

I just stared at her. She was exactly right, but that wasn't what happened, "I know, I thought I was gonna, but now I know for sure I made Jack happy, too. I ..." I plopped down in a chair, "You know how Jack made me feel, and I knew he loved me." I pointed at the letter Joey was reading, "Those words...Jack's dad says I made him happy. Not just loved, but happy. Did you see it? He says I put the light back in his eyes." I searched my mother's face, "That's what he meant, isn't it?"

My mother nodded tearily, and I went on. "We...we always talked about love, like too deep. Damn. There was this glad part there all along, and we never once talked about it. The regular smiles, the stuff we did, the things we laughed about, that was the best part." I had to correct myself, feeling my face flush, "Well, almost. Do you see what I'm saying? I just never thought to look at it like that."

Mom said gently, "Yes you did, Mike, when you started the stories. That's when you really reached out, and I've read them all fifty times now." She rested the side of her face against one hand, which was her way, "I read about two youngsters discovering the world around them, doing it on their own terms, in their own way. There was no mention of sex, and sexuality only came up at the very end." She sighed, "It's still a love story, and a beautiful one. The love shines through, even though it's not once mentioned. That's what Gerry said so well in his letter. You boys were good for each other, and nothing can take that away."

I just smiled at her. Mom understood, probably better than me. It wasn't her way to take the lead with things like that, she'd wait until I figured something out myself, then just confirm it.

Just then, the phone rang at the same time Joey finished reading. My mother got the phone while Joey grinned at me. I was trying to listen to two things at once, but the phone was my dad calling for news, so I paid attention to Joey. He looked serious for once, and said, "That's deep stuff. I mean, I see how you are." His face took on a quizzical look, and he leaned in close, whispering, "You had sex?"

I rolled my eyes, "Other room," and he followed me to my room. I closed the door, and we sat on opposite beds. "Okay, Joe. Where'd you get sex from that letter?"

He was coy, "Oh, I don't know. Your very special friendship, maybe?"

"So how do you read sex into that?"

He smirked, "Okay, so I don't. I don't read it, I...what's that word? Infer! That's what I'm doing, I'm inferring it."

I gave him the finger, "Infer this!"

He laughed, "That's not an inference, that's a suggestion, or m aybe just a rude gesture." He kept laughing.

I shrugged my shoulders, "Okay, explain infer as opposed to a rude gesture."

Joey looked semi-serious, "When you infer something, it means you think something means something, like it's your view based on what you saw. It's like an educated guess. When you do something like this," he extended his long middle finger and leaned forward until it was right in front of my nose, "that's pretty obvious."


He grinned, "So, I've inferred that you had sex with Jack. Now I wanna hear about it."

I said, "You're a pervert."

"So what if I am? Come on, Mike. What'd you do?"

"Joey, I'm trying to cut out swearing, but fuck you."

He leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest, "Oh, I'm wounded. What's so bad about telling me? I mean, did you hold hands?"

I just glowered at him.

"Did you kiss?" and he made a stupid smoochy face and sounds. "Ooh, I bet you played with each other's penises!"

I warned, "Joey ..."

He wouldn't let up. "Did you do a little sucky on each other?"

I was laughing inside, trying to look stern. "Is that whatcha want, Joey? You want a blow job?"

He grinned, "I always wanted one."

I motioned with my finger, "Come over here, then. I'll blow ya."

Joey looked shocked, "Uh...really?" and that came out in a tiny voice.

I smiled, "Sure, Joey, whatever you want. Come on over, and I'll blow some nice warm air in your hair while you suck my dick!"

Joey stared at me for a second, then burst out laughing. I didn't let up, "Come on! You got everythin' a gay boy could want...a wide mouth, thick lips, a slack jaw!"

Joey was holding his sides and howling with laughter. He gasped, "Prick." and I said, "Coming up."

I jumped up and grabbed him, digging my fingers into his sides. I'd forgotten how ticklish he was. His body straightened out like a board and he screeched loud enough to break the windows. I only kept it up for a second, then let him collapse against the bed. We were both panting, Joey worse than me.

He gasped out, "Truce?"

I bopped his shoulder, "Okay, calm down."

We slumped, side by side against Ray's bed, quiet until Joey got his breath back, and it was another while again before he asked, "Is it too much to tell me? I won't tell anyone else."

"Tell you what?"

"What you did. What I asked before." He was serious, "I just wanna know, Mike. I won't make fun."

I elbowed him, "Sure, unless it's funny to you."

Joey sighed, "I know. I'm sorry."

"It wasn't a big deal, Joe. We didn't do a lot, anyhow. Ask your questions."

Joe smiled, "Now I feel like a jerk. You don't hafta say, I just wondered what guys do, if it's like I heard."

I sighed, "I don't know what you heard, Joey. I loved Jack. We held hands more than we kissed, kissed more than we did anything else. You can take that anything else and make it what you want, because I ain't sayin'."

Joey said, "That's cool. I don't need details."

I asked, "You like girls, right?"


Wait'll you see Tony's cousin. Well, maybe wait behind James, I don't know. She's really pretty, though, and she's friendly."

That got his interest, and I did my best to describe Christa to him. We were talking quietly when Ray walked in. He looked pissed off. "Thanks for waking me up, Mike. Like I really came home so I could sleep all day."

I groaned, "I woke you up once; you said you wanted to sleep!"

He grunted, "I guess I did." He smiled, "So, what's on for tonight?"

I shrugged, "I'm goin' to Annie's. Mom told you what happened?"

"No. I saw her car, I was wondering why she's home early. What did happen? She didn't get laid off or something, did she?"

"No." I told him about the accident, what I knew so far. Ray took it like bad news that really didn't affect him, and headed to the bathroom for a shower.

I decided that, since I was apparently going to have to ride my bike, I should leave for Annie's house. I called first to make sure she was home, and holding the phone to my ear made me discover that a nervous day had made me smell kind of ripe. I waited for Ray, then took another shower, going heavy on the deodorant this time.

When I was ready, my father was home, and he offered to drive me. I thought that was a good deal for a second, then decided to ride my bike anyhow, so I could come home when I was ready. I talked to him about Andy and the accident, then handed him the letter from Jack's folks, and I left as soon as he got into it. Ray and Joey were going to do something, so I didn't feel bad about leaving.

It was just sunset when I headed down the road. When I got to Andy's, I picked up their mail and brought it up to the house, lingering on their hill to enjoy the sky for a few minutes.

Even bad days had good parts, and the radiant colors above me put me in a better mood, thinking the world wasn't such a bad place, and that a beautiful person was waiting on me.

I rode fast out of there, eager for normal.

Eager for Annie.

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