Plan A: A Kiss at Night

by Driver

Chapter 5

If you do the right thing, even with the wrong attitude, you've still done the right thing

When I awoke the next morning, I stayed in bed thinking about Aaron and how much he was coming to mean to me. A lot of what I thought of as firsts for me were firsts for Aaron as well, and he seemed as happy as me that it was each other that we shared them with.

It seemed kind of incongruous that we'd both sucked other guys before, and lots of times, but when we held hands, when we felt each other, when we kissed, those were all firsts for both of us. We'd also given each other our first blow jobs as recipients.

I was laying there, one happy and satisfied landscape technician, when I suddenly bolted straight upright in bed. Seven? Harlan had said seven was when regular hours started, and it was already ten past six. I was used to going in at eight.

I was in the bathroom in a flash, urging everything out of me, then I brushed my teeth and splashed water on my face, not bothering with my hair. I didn't even have a ride!

I skipped coffee, remembered the sandwiches in the fridge and took them with me, then I started out at a run. It was just over a mile to work, and the gate wasn't even open when I got there, so I caught my breath and ate a sandwich for breakfast.

I was just finishing it when Hookie, the mechanic, pulled up in a company truck. He gave me a look and said hi, then opened the gate and pulled the truck in. I followed him to the shop entrance, then inside.

He turned on some lights, then looked at me. "You be Evan?"

"I'm Evan," I said. "What should I do?"

Hookie was this wiry little guy, probably of Asian descent, or maybe Middle-Eastern. He led me to a row of clipboards and said, "Okay. First you check trailers. I show you in a minute, but each trailer got a clipboard here, and what should be on it. Mostly gas, but if it say sometink broken, you replace. I show you."

He moved to a computer, which was already booted up, and said, "See here? Push 'Maintenance', it show you what need service." He pointed at the screen, "See? It show you what trailer it be on. It also tell you if good one ready. If no good one, you forget it. If good one, you trade, then come back here and I show you how to update."

He turned and went back to the clipboards. "Okay, you start trailer one and I start trailer 32, only today I go with you to show." He picked up a clipboard and showed the paper on it to me, "See? If need maintenance it be on here, too. None for this one."

He headed out into the yard at a fast clip, and we went to the first trailer in line. Hookie said, "Okay, you watch me," and showed me the paper again. "See? Not too hard. Three sixty-one inch mower." He pointed at the company numbers on the mowers, "Number here." He checked off the list, going, "dum dum dum," as he made each mark.

I got it easily enough. I didn't know where everything was, but Hookie was a pretty good teacher, and it didn't really take long to check out a trailer. Aside from the big mowers, there were the trimmers and blowers, a hedge trimmer, an edger, and various shovels, rakes and brooms, each and every one of them numbered with a system that made some sense. There were big gas cans that the crews were responsible for filling, but we had to check those too, in case they forgot.

The only time it got complicated was if a mower had to come off, which meant you had to drop the gate, move everything out of the way, then drive it off and drive another one on.

When we started, I never thought we'd check out all those trailers in such a short amount of time, but even with me being new it didn't take that long. Back in the shop, Hookie showed me how to enter the changes into the computer, then we printed out updated checklists for the crews and replaced the ones on the clipboards.

I had a new appreciation for Harlan when Hookie told me that Harlan designed the whole system himself. My dad always told me that the simpler things were, the more likely it was they'd work, and Harlan had simplicity down pat.

When the crews showed up, they'd pick up their clipboards, do their own check, then hook up the trailer and go to work.

When Kevin came in for his checklist he greeted me, then asked "How'd you get here?"

"I ran. I forgot about seven. I'll get up a little earlier from now on."

He looked at me and said, "If it's raining or something wake me up. I don't mind."

I smiled, "Thanks. Are you going to see Shane today?"

He shook his head, "Naw, they're moving him today, and it's pretty far. I'll go see him Sunday."

"Can I come?" I asked.

"Sure." He looked around quickly, "I gotta run. Good luck, Evan."

With that, he was gone, and I got the checklist for the next guy in line.

After the maintenance crews were gone, Hookie made some coffee, and I was glad to join him with a cup.

I had a lot to learn, and I knew that. It was interesting and fun, though, and with some coffee in me I came to and got with it. During the coffee break I learned that Hookie's real name was Hokay, which sounded the same, and that he was born in Pakistan, had lived in Saudi Arabia and Cuba as a child, and had come to the United States with a wave of boat people.

Hokay fascinated me. He wasn't half as old as he looked, and he was intensity personified when he had work to do. When he took a break, it was like a switch was thrown, and he laid back and relaxed, joked around, talked freely about himself and his family.

The things you can learn! I would have guessed he was sixty at least, but he was forty-one, with one kid in high school and two in Jr. high.

He'd really traveled the world, too. I loved geography, and I was fascinated by the glimpses he could give me into those places in ten minutes. Suddenly Mr. Mechanical was very human to me, and I looked forward to our next break. God, Cuba!

Harlan showed up not long after that, and after going over business with Hokay, he came up to me while I was washing a bulldozer. He grinned, "Ready?"

Was I ever!

I spent one of the most fun days in my life learning to move those big machines around, and that was my job. This was expensive stuff, and not often left at jobsites, so I had to unload when someone brought something in, load another trailer when someone else needed it.

Bulldozers, bucket loaders, Bobcats, cherry pickers, I got to play with them all, and I loved it!

Harlan was fun to learn from, too. As much as he had a business to run, I could tell that he really loved the toys that came with it. He could show me in a few minutes what my dad would have spent hours just reading the manual on, and I had no problem following his instructions.

At the end of the day, Hokay offered me a ride when he learned I didn't have one, and I was home just after four!

I actually didn't know what to do with myself! Before washing up, I ran around the apartment cleaning up things, even vacuuming the floors. Then I took a shower and got dressed in shorts and a jersey. I wanted to see two people, and see them separately.

I needed to see Billy, who I was pretty sure would already know about me and Aaron. I wanted to see where that left us, see if there was still a friendship there. I knew he was cool with Aaron, but that didn't tell me how he'd be with me. After all, I was new on the scene, and I wasn't the best colorer in the world, and we had no history together. I didn't want a problem with Billy, but I didn't want one to sneak up on me either.

Mostly I wanted to see Aaron. There should be a bunch of exclamation points after that last sentence ... like this!!!!!!!! I wanted to see Aaron! I had to see Aaron! Damn! It was happening to me, and I loved, loved, loved, loved loved it! Aaron and Evan, up in a tree - I wanted to hear little kids singing that.

Aaron and Evan, that had such a ring to it. At fifteen I was over five-nine and a hundred fifty-eight pounds - a big kid for my age. On that particular Friday afternoon, though, I was absolutely weightless, and if it was my legs that brought me towards Billy's house I wasn't aware of them.

I didn't have to go that far. I found Billy, Aaron and Huck walking towards me as soon as I turned the first corner, all on the way to my place.

I stopped, hesitant because Huck was there, but he was looking friendly. I smiled, "Hi, guys."

Aaron looked at me, smiling a bit guiltily I thought. Billy just looked, and Huck smiled, "Hey, Evan! How's it hanging?"

God, I disdn't know what was going on. I looked at Huck and said, "It's hanging fine. How about you?"

I studied the three faces, and couldn't determine a thing. I was totally confused, thinking Huck didn't like Aaron, but here he was with him, and he was the only one who greeted me.

"What's going on, you're wondering?" Billy asked with a smirk. "I'll tell you what's going on."

I think my jaw dropped, because that was my question. I nodded, and Billy talked.

He smiled, "I fixed it, Evan. Huck and Aaron are now very cool with each other." He said that with some exuberance, then his voice softened. "You take Aaron now, go do what you want. We'll find you later, okay?"

I stared, going from face to face; Aaron's all hopeful, Billy's kind of stern, and Huck's still smiling.

I stammered out, "W-w-w-wha?"

Billy said, "Don't question it, just go." He grinned happily, "Go on, gay boy, take Aaron's hand and flitter away."

I stared, all agape, and he smiled, saying, "Go on now, flit, flit flit." He was making this motion with his hand that gave some sense to the word 'flit'.

I was just totally astonished, and I stared until Billy touched Huck's shoulder and said, "He's speechless, man. I think it's time for us to walk away from this." Huck grinned, and they left, headed towards Huck's house, just like that.

That left me standing there with Aaron, feeling really out of touch with anything I ever thought was real. I can't even imagine the expression I must have had on my face, and when I turned it to Aaron he laughed.

"Look at you!" he said. Then he grinned, "Feel like flitting? Anybody home at your house?"

I started laughing, and managed to say, "I could flit! I'm learning all these new words!"

Well, it was a new word for me, and it turned out to have ancient meaning, and Aaron and I explored the text of that for the next hour, and the text was written in a previously undiscovered type of braille that could only be read with the tongue. I got nervous about getting caught after awhile, and also hungry.

Also in love. Yes! I hadn't said it ... didn't know how to, but I was in love with Aaron Castle, and kind of in love with Billy O'Shea for getting me there. Aaron was so sweet and gentle ... so vulnerable, yet so loving and caring. Billy came across as quite the opposite, but he had to share a lot of the same qualities to do what he'd just done for me and Aaron.

I was a mess mentally, my confidence shaken. I always knew where I stood with school work, with sports, but I'd never stood in the light of love before, and it was too new to understand. My feelings started to frighten me, both for Aaron and Billy, and even Huck.

I'd loved my friend Chris for a long time, but now it seemed like that love came from afar.

Aaron hadn't said anything about love, and I didn't know how much he really cared about me yet.

I cared, and hoped it wasn't one-way like a downtown street, but I didn't know that yet, and held my own words back. That was the dilemma I was in. Aaron was gay and lots of people knew it, so he had some kind of comfort factor that I didn't. I didn't know if people were the way they seemed, or just playing with my head.

Gay boy, Billy had called me right in front of Huck. I had figured that he would learn that, and pretty soon, but I'd hoped to be the one to tell him so.

I wasn't really uncomfortable with them knowing, and Billy said he fixed things with Huck, but it was Aaron who I cared about. I shouldn't have been worrying because Aaron was there with me, and I hoped I wasn't showing my concerns. We were laying on our backs on my mattress, just a sheet pulled over us.

I said, kind of absently, "We should move it, Aaron. The guys I live with will be home anytime now."

Aaron kissed my ear and whispered, "Those bastards!" and he giggled. "What right ... what possible right do they have to come home when we're ..."

I didn't let him finish, because he was playing Shakespeare when I was getting nervous. I tickled him gently, and when he laughed I said, "Let's get dressed." Then I hugged him to me, reveling in the feel of him.

We got dressed quickly enough, and were walking down the back stairs when we heard the front door open. At the bottom, I asked Aaron, "Where to?"

"Somewhere with food," he said, then grinned at me. "We can eat at my house, or there's a pizza place down on the corner."

I thought about that, and remembered that particular pizza place. "I've had their pizza," I said with some distaste. "I hate to be a freeloader, but what's at your house?"

Aaron snickered, "After the other night, I'm not sure what's left." I elbowed him, and he said, "I'm sure there's something."

We walked there side by side, not saying a lot. Justin's car was outside, but when we went in nobody was home.

Aaron foraged around, making suggestions, and we decided to make some spaghetti.

I don't know what it was, probably my own hesitance, but I felt this disjointedness right then, like I wasn't doing the right things to advance my relationship with Aaron. We were really hot and cold with one another, and it bothered me. We'd be talking like magpies one minute, kissing and loving the next, then we'd fall silent. Awkward moments those were, at least for me, and we were in the middle of one while we waited for the water to boil.

Aaron was standing at the stove, paying attention to things, and I just sat there watching him. I was enjoying the view to be sure, because he was wearing white shorts and a tight tee shirt that had been cut short. That gave me a fine view of his legs, his butt, and it showed off his torso in a good light.

I finally stood up and got right behind him, wrapping my arms around his tummy and pressing into him. I breathed, "You know something, Aaron?"

He relaxed into me, giggled, and said, "I'm in your way?"

I laughed a little, then got it out. "No. I think I'm falling in love."

Well, Aaron Castle had more than a little strength in his slim body. He whirled around, knocking me out of the way and knocking over the pot of sauce he was cooking. He glanced quickly at the mess, then focused on me, his eyes boring into my own startled ones. "You mean that, Evan? Oh, God! Tell me you mean that!"

I meant it. Oh, how I meant it. I smiled, "I mean it, Aaron."

Then I got nervous, like really nervous, and instead of a smile I came up with tears in my eyes. "I love you, Aaron," I said in a wavering voice.

Aaron was on me all at once, literally jumping onto me, his arms clutched around my neck and his knees up around my waist.

I stumbled backwards until I was up against a counter, then, while I watched smoke rise from the sauce on the burner, Aaron started kissing me. I tightened my arms around him while he landed one quick, wet smooch after another all over my face.

I finally caught his mouth with my own, and we kissed and kissed, then we kissed some more, and the heat of the moment soon had us surrounded with smoke. Thick, rancid smoke that finally penetrated my brain. I turned around and plunked a still-clinging Aaron on the countertop, then turned off the burner. When I turned around again to look at Aaron, I could barely see him across the room.

I opened a window to let some air in, or the smoke out - whichever happened first, then the doorbell rang. We both went to get it, coughing now, and found Billy standing there. We ran out past him, smoke following us, then turned to look at Billy's stunned face, framed in tomato smoke and looking very surprised.

It was funny, and I started laughing when I had some fresh air in my lungs, and Aaron soon followed my lead. Billy smiled and said, "Jesus! I've heard of hot couples, but if this is what hot, gay sex smells like, I think I'll pass."

Billy could be a bastard when he wanted to, but he got me laughing with that, and I couldn't stop for a long time because the smoke kept coming out. Billy went in to see if something was still burning, and of course I'd never turned off the spaghetti pot itself, so it was smoldering on the stove when we followed him in.

Aaron saw the mess and said, kind of happily and fatalistically at the same time, "I'm gonna get killed!"

Billy turned on the exhaust hood, opened some more windows, then surveyed the damage. "Listen, Castle. I don't know what you were doing here, but if you think I'm gonna clean this mess up for you, you can think again."

Oh, it was a mess, but it was cleanable, and no real damage was done.

Aaron and I still hadn't eaten, but we tackled the mess. The stove cleaned up pretty easily, as did the sauce pot. Burnt spaghetti was a different kind of problem, and we ended up chipping away at the bottom of that pot until Aaron decided it was clean enough.

Billy had been merrily supervising us, of course, and when we were finished he said, "Heh, I've heard of the ravages of war. The ravages of love aren't a lot different, are they?" His eyes twinkled, "You guys okay?"

I grunted, "Hungry."

Billy jumped up, "Don't cook! Want some Chinese? They'll be here in ten minutes."

I looked at Aaron, and he nodded, so I nodded to Billy. He picked up the phone and dialed, without looking up a number, and asked, "What?"

I said, "Shrimp in lobster sauce for me."

Aaron said, "That sounds good."

Billy put in the order, then hung up and said, "Twenty-two-seventy-five," as he reached into his pocket for his share.

I said, "I'll get it," and took out a twenty and a five.

I didn't get any argument, and within fifteen minutes we were at the picnic table out back stuffing our faces.

I was hungry first, but my head was tied up with one big question. I told Aaron that I loved him, and that really seemed to send him off into a happy state, one that almost burned the house down, but he hadn't said it back yet. I was anxious, but with Billy there I didn't know if I should expect a response.

When our feeding frenzy slowed down, I wondered about other things, and voiced the primary one. "Billy, can you tell me what you figured out today that led you to call me 'gay boy'?"

He almost choked on some rice, then looked at me grinning, a white nerdle on his lower lip. "I asked," he smirked. "You should try it, Evan. Asking is a great way to gain information."

I laughed, "Oh, so you just happened to be walking down the street, then you decided to ask some stranger if Evan Smiley was gay?"

Billy's face was full of merriment, "Yup."

I said, "Come on, you bastard, tell me!"

Aaron was clearly staying out of it. He was admiring the night sky when I looked at him.

Billy leaned towards me, still smiling. "Listen, Evan. You don't come to town on a high horse, disturbing the natural order of things, without questions getting asked. When I met you, the last question in my mind was if you were gay." His look turned serious, "The first one was who is this guy? You're there all of a sudden, and you can throw a ball, and you can take a hit, and then you ask a million intelligent questions in one sentence."

I giggled, "I'm known for that."

Billy laughed, "I can see that. Anyhow, that's what interested me at first, then I see you're on your own like you are. You still haven't told anyone about that, and I guess I can appreciate a good personal secret. Long story short, I liked you, Evan, right from the start. You're more like me than most people, and that made a good beginning. Then you liked Huck and Aaron, and too many people have problems with that, and I liked you even more."

I smiled and said, "Flattery will get you everywhere."

Billy chortled, "I'm not flattering you, believe me. I like real people, and I like honesty, and I like intelligence and personal honesty." He leaned even closer, "You're honest, Evan, even if you're not open." He sat back a little, "Can I tell you a story?"

I relaxed and nodded. Billy started, "I'm short, and I don't like being short. People don't respect short people, and I've always had that. In my case, it made me tough. When I was little, I always got teased and pushed around. I used to come home crying all the time, and I think my dad got fed up with me, so he started to show me how to fight back, not let the shortness matter so much. By the time I was in second grade, I didn't get picked on anymore, but I didn't have any friends either, and that sent me home crying again because I was lonely."

I was staring at Billy, and my eyes were getting wet. He went on, "That's when my mother took over. She told me to try and make friends with the other lonely kids, because we were in the same boat no matter how we got there. That's when I first paid attention to Aaron, because he got picked on all the time too, but for being a sissy."

Billy seemed to choke, then continued, "He lived right here, so one day I saw him on his front step and stopped to talk. He was coloring in a book, and honest-to-God, what he was doing amazed me. My coloring ... everybody's coloring, was just crayon marks on paper, but not Aaron." He smiled at Aaron, "No, his was making full use of the crayons, deep friggin' colors, and the right colors, and even at six years old. I was impressed."

I smiled, "That's cute."

Billy smirked, "Yeah, cute. Anyhow, we made friends, and that made me notice how Aaron got treated, even by Justin. Everybody liked making Aaron cry, and one day I just had it. I smashed Justin so hard in the face that my hand was bleeding, and he went home crying." Billy's eyes leveled, "I had the power, Evan, and that day I knew it. I kept an eye on Justin, and every time he hurt Aaron, I hurt him, and his parents finally complained to mine about it."

I giggled, "Justin told me."

Billy smiled, "Okay, so you know the outcome of that. Justin got chastised, and he took another look at his brother. My mother wasn't happy about the tack I was on, and she suggested that I rein in the fists. She told me about other ways of dealing with things, like just making them funny, or being creative about making them better, without fighting."

Right then, Aaron leaned into me, an 'I want to be close' look on his face. I put an arm around him and smiled meekly at Billy, who just took it in, continuing his story.

I snuggled up to Aaron while Billy said, "The next year, Huck showed up. Clarence Henry Onwauzer!" Billy smiled, remembering. "He was the first black kid I knew. He got picked on something awful, too. He was a tiny little thing with a funny name, and he was scared shitless of all the white kids. He had this determination, though, and we got to be friends. When I was his friend, people left him alone because they thought I'd cream them, then I thought to give him a nickname." Billy looked up and smiled, "I came up with Huck, and it took. Huck sounded big, and it worked."

"Worked?" I asked.

Billy looked at me, "Yeah, it worked. Huck was a friendly little guy, and he was good at sports, so once people got past the name, the black thing kind of disappeared on it's own."

I was in a mysterious position right then. I was holding on to Aaron, who had remained silent throughout Billy's whole discourse, and his body felt wonderful to me, full of promise. Still, I was so intrigued with Billy that my attention was still on him. He was sitting there, waiting expectantly for me to respond, and I was still churning it around in my mind, only tossing out a smile to let him know I was thinking.

I finally stammered out, "S-s-so, you've always been like this? What was with the blowjob thing the other day, then? Why would you want to embarrass Aaron like that?"

Billy flashed a smile, and it immediately turned to a frown. "I'm sorry, okay?" then the smile came back. "I was just trying to brighten two lives."

Suddenly, Aaron was giggling, and he said, "You're a pisser, Billy. Brighten two lives? Whose? Yours and yours?"

We all laughed, and I had a new appreciation for Billy O'Shea. He liked to laugh, tease and fool around, get his digs in. Underneath that laid a kind person, kind beyond his age, and I really appreciated him. I was still missing one piece of information, so I said, "You need to say something else here, Billy. What about me? What about me and Aaron? You called me gay boy before, where did that come from?"

Billy smirked, "Hey, I call them as I see them." When that didn't work, he tried again, lowering his eyes a bit. "Okay, Evan." He smiled at me, "You're not that hard to figure out, you know. Don't get me wrong, you don't give off gay signals or anything, but just you liking Aaron was a clue. Then, the next day Aaron was all flipped out because you were so nice to him, and the day after that you're coming over to eat, and I'm off limits."

Billy looked at me, seriously, "Give me a break, Smiley, or at least give me some credit. What was I supposed to think?"

I was taken aback, but not a lot. I looked at Billy, the final question still in my head, "And?"

Billy sat back and looked at me, kind of a blank on his face, then he leaned in a bit. "And nothing, Evan. I like you. I want you to be my friend. I want to be your friend. Is there something in the middle of this that I don't see?"

I was close to tears, and suggested weakly, "Gay?"

Billy's own eyes got wet, and he said, "Yeah, so?"

I knew what I meant, and I knew what Billy meant, and I knew what Aaron meant to me. I clutched Aaron to me, tried to smile at Billy, and felt a tear leak out. In a second, Aaron was on my lap and Billy was there with one hand on my shoulder and one hand on Aaron's.

Billy smiled, "I'll bow out now. We're getting up a game of hardball on Sunday if you're interested, Evan."

I said, excited to hear that, "Really? I don't have any equipment, but I'd love to play!"

Aaron moved, "I'll watch! I love watching baseball."

Billy looked at me, his eyes narrowing, "You can really play, right, Evan?"

I relaxed, laughing, "Yeah, I can play! Baseball is my life!" I felt Aaron clutching me, and laughed, "My life 'til now, I mean. Now I have me an Aaron to think about!"

Aaron tightened his grip on me while Billy laughed. I turned my attention to Aaron, saying, "That didn't come out right."

Aaron leaned closer and whispered, "It sounded good to me."

I smiled, "Yeah, but kind of impersonal, like you're a third party or something." I forgot about Billy and kissed Aaron's nose, "I love you, Aaron. You're the neatest person I ever met," then I giggled, "and I don't mean your room is neat."

Aaron smiled happily and kissed me. I looked quickly at Billy, but he was gone, and I wondered about that, but not a lot. I looked back at Aaron, wondering.

His eyes were big, his face expressive. "Do you really mean that, Evan?"

I said, "No, Aaron. I always run around saying things I don't mean ten times." I smiled, "Of course I mean it."

Aaron smiled so happily that I watched his face instead of kissing him. He bit his lower lip, then leaned in and kissed me. He said, so softly that I barely heard it, "I love you too, Evan. I've never been so happy in my life."

Hearing his words put me on the verge of tears. The sweetest boy I'd ever met had just told me that he loved me, and a sudden rush of brand new emotions surged through me. New, as in never felt before, never even imagined before.

As analytical as I usually was, I just let it happen this time. I loved a real, live person who loved me back, and that was the extent of what I could think about. I wanted to do something special, so I whispered, "Let's dance."

Aaron smiled, "Really? There's no music."

I grinned, "I hear music, Aaron. I'll hum along."

We stood and embraced, then started dancing slowly to my tuneless humming. Oh Lord, Aaron felt so good to me, and we kept on dancing until we were interrupted by his father's voice at the door.

"Aaron? Oh, sorry."

We were both startled, and we turned to see his father studying us. "Aaron, what happened in the kitchen? What's that smell?"

"Um, I knocked over spaghetti sauce on the stove."

His father rolled his eyes, then winked, "Hi Evan. Dancing lessons?"

I mumbled, embarrassed, "Something like that."

He said, "Well, I hate to break this up, but the house reeks. Aaron, come inside and figure out how to clean it up."

I was stricken. I said, "I was responsible. I'll clean it up, sir."

"That's nice of you, Evan, but you're Aaron's guest, and that makes him responsible. Come on, Aaron. Good night, Evan."

He stood aside, holding the door, so Aaron and I only got to say a quick goodbye before he went inside. The door closed behind them, and I was alone staring at vacant space.

I started shuffling my way home, feeling dejected, and not a little rejected by Aaron's father. He could have at least let me help Aaron. But no, I had to go and, Aaron had to deodorize a kitchen on the very night we'd declared our love for each other.

All I could think of is that he'd seen us dancing, and dancing very close. Maybe he wasn't as cool with Aaron being gay as I thought. Maybe he thought I wasn't a suitable friend. Maybe a lot of things, none of them good.

By the time I got home, I wondered if I'd even see Aaron again. For the first time all week, I cried when I tried to get to sleep. I couldn't sleep, either, and I couldn't stop crying. My life was jinxed, I was sure of it. I'd always tried so hard to do things right, and it got me nowhere. I tried to be a good son and a good friend, worked hard at school, played hard at sports, and look where it got me. One mistake, witnessed by my brother, and I lost all that. Now, just when I thought my new life wouldn't be so bad after all, I was once again crying at the end of the day.

I was beyond despair when my door creaked, and a voice whispered, "Evan?"

I almost jumped out of my skin. "Who's there?" I croaked out.

"Me, Aaron," he said as he came towards me. "Are you awake?"

He sat down, and looked at me. "You're crying," he said in surprise. "What's wrong?"

I pulled him to me and sobbed, "Oh God, I thought I wouldn't see you again."

Aaron kissed me, "Why'd you think that?" He cuddled up close to me, "Why, Evan? I said I love you, don't you believe me?"

I started crying harder hearing those words again. Aaron whispered, "That's why I came over. We never kissed goodnight, and I want to always kiss goodnight."

Those words brought me back, and I engaged Aaron fully in a hug, and he started kissing my face. I managed to gulp out my fears about his father.

Aaron kissed me once more, then said, "Oh, Evan. He was mad at me for messing up the kitchen, not you! I thought we cleaned up better than we did, but I guess we were just used to the smell. It's still pretty bad." He rubbed my shoulder gently, "Dad likes you, Evan, he really does. You're adding up apples and oranges here, and coming up with horse patooties. They were angry with me, that's all."

I felt foolish, and choked out, "Really?"

Aaron smiled and nodded, then he reached in his pocket, saying "I brought you a present," and held out something shiny. When I took it, I could see that it was a Hershey's kiss. Aaron said, "Save this, Evan, for the day we really can't kiss goodnight." He held out another to show me, "I have one, too. This way we can always have a kiss at night."

I got new tears in my eyes, this time for such a wonderful, beautiful thought. I pulled Aaron close and smiled, "You're a beautiful person, Aaron. I really do love you."

It was his turn for tears, and he whispered, "I can't stay long, Justin's waiting."

Then we kissed, and all the chocolate in the world couldn't have made it any sweeter. Aaron couldn't stay, and he didn't, but there was promise for the next day, and every day after that, and if a day couldn't happen for whatever reason, we could still end it with a kiss at night

I was happy again, and I slept well.

Working for two hours on Saturday seemed almost like a joke. I was on my way home almost before I got there, and I was looking at the single largest block of free time that I'd had since I started working for Harlan.

I had things to do, too. Things I had to do and things I wanted to do. First up was a long, slow shower, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I went downstairs for a coffee with Nan, who was in a non-inquisitive mood, so I enjoyed that too. I had hoped Ron would be there so he could tell me where there was a good place to get a haircut, but Nan knew, and it wasn't far.

I had to wait for three other people to get their hair cut, and the barber wasn't exactly fast. He had a good supply of magazines, though, and I raced through as many as I could before it was my turn. Reading was something I sorely missed. The only things in the apartment were Eli's T.V. Guides and Arnie's Hustler magazines, and they weren't exactly mind expanding. Nan had an old encyclopedia, and I was up to 'B' with that.

The barber was a talker, and a native Italian, so I had an okay time there. He treated me like a regular, and he was pretty funny. He did a good job on my head, too, so I was pleased when I started the walk home. It was a nice day; less humid than it had been, and there was plenty of warm sunshine.

I didn't go too far. I'd noticed a coffee shop with a little deck out front on the way to the barber, and I stopped for a coffee and a bagel, sitting alone at a little outside table. Someone else had left a newspaper, and I scanned through it, then read the sports section.

It was like my old life for that half hour, for that was something I loved to do. Good coffee, a good bagel, and something to read. The nice weather added to it, and I really relaxed for awhile. Then, thinking about Aaron, I got itchy.

We had no plans for the day, and I didn't even know if he'd be around, but I made a beeline for his house anyhow, and got nervous as soon as I set foot on his doorstep.

His mother answered, all smiles when she saw me. "Hi, Evan! If you're looking for Aaron, he should be right back. I just sent him to the store for a bottle of vinegar. He used up all we had cleaning the kitchen last night." She opened the door wider, "Come on in."

I did, and she offered me something to drink. My problem wasn't thirst, but the opposite. I squirmed, "May I use the bathroom, please?"

"Help yourself. Do you know where it is?"

"I think so," I said, and hurried down the hallway. After I peed, I looked in the mirror to see my haircut. It was fine, but I kept looking, trying to see myself. I'd seen myself in the mirror a million times, of course, but it was always to brush my hair or shave. This time I was trying to see what I really looked like, how I came across to others.

It's hard to tell that, really. I looked okay to me, kind of average. I liked the way I looked in pictures better than the mirror, because in pictures I was doing things. In the mirror I was just looking. I was zit free that day, anyhow, and the haircut looked good. I've said that I don't look like my parents, and that's true. What I do look like is sort of a cross between my grandfathers, my eyes and mouth coming from my mother's side, and my nose and the overall shape of my head coming from my father's side. I didn't come out too bad.

I went back to the kitchen and sat with Aaron's mother. She asked, "Are you sure you don't want anything?"

I smiled, "No thanks, I'm fine. I'm really sorry we smelled up your house last night, and it was kind of my fault."

She said, "Nonsense, it was no big deal, so don't worry about it." She smiled, "Aaron is really taken with you, Evan. Last night he said the feeling is ... mutual?"

Oh, please! I tried to smile, "Ahh ... yeah, it is." Let's please not talk about this! I could tell Aaron all day how I felt, but telling his mother was way different, and I was embarrassed.

She sensed that, I think, and asked, "Will we meet your family soon?"

Oh, no! Don't ask that, either! My body groaned as I smiled nervously and said, "Yeah, sure."

She looked at me, "Oh Evan, forgive me! They don't know yet, do they?"

That wasn't true, but it was good enough to hide behind, and I shook my head no.

She leaned in, "Evan, I'm sorry if I've embarrassed you. I make assumptions sometimes, and ... well, I shouldn't do that." She stroked my wrist with her fingers, "You'll come out in time, on your own terms. I'm sorry that I thought you were already ... um ... out."

I was bewildered, to be honest, and I asked, "How can you be so okay with this? I mean, I love your son, and I'm not exactly Avril Lavigne!"

Mrs. Castle looked at me, then she snickered, "I have no idea who Avril Lavigne is, but I surmise it's a she." She giggled for a moment, then her eyes softened on mine. "Evan, we love Aaron, and he's never been your typical boy. He's a wonderful son, though, and I think you're lucky that you found him." She smiled brightly, "Aaron can be a complete ditz sometimes, but he's a sweet ditz, an honest ditz, and a loving ditz. You could do worse."

I heard those words, absorbed them, then I grinned, "No, you're wrong. I couldn't do better, not if I tried for a million years!"

We talked more, and it became fun for me. That wouldn't have happened at my house, not in the million years I would have spent looking for somebody I could love more than Aaron. We didn't talk about ditziness to begin with, because it wasn't allowed. No, we were practical people, sensible people. Fun was allowed, but just being a nut? Not possible.

I was talking when Aaron came in, and he stopped in his tracks. "Evan?"

His mother jumped up and grabbed the bag he was carrying, and all I saw was Aaron. I stood up, aware that his mother was in the room with us, but still felt the gravitational pull. We got into a tight hug, and his mother said, "Take it outside, boys" seeming no more concerned than if we'd been wrestling in the living room.

We sat on the font step, talking happily, then Huck came into view, carrying a grocery bag. Aaron and I stood up and went out to the sidewalk.

Huck smiled and we said our hellos, then he said, "Get your bathing suits, lover boys, it's time to christen Billy's pool!"

I looked eagerly at Aaron, and he grinned and nodded, so we agreed to head right over as soon as we changed.

Huck left and we ran back in the house, where Aaron called to his mother that we'd be at Billy's. I got Justin's red bathing suit again, and Aaron put on a baggy, blindingly yellow one. We took our time changing, of course, and some familiarity with Aaron's body let me appreciate it even more. He was slim for sure, but you didn't see ribs poking out, and he actually had reasonably broad shoulders. With his dark tan and smooth skin, he was just about perfect.

I got equal scrutiny, and we both seemed to be smiling a lot. I had other things on my mind than swimming, to tell the truth, but swimming won out. We pulled on tee shirts and sneakers, Aaron got us towels, and we headed out. Aaron told his mother to tell Justin to come over to Billy's if he came home.

It was just Billy and Huck who we found waiting for us, and they both smiled when we walked in. Billy said, "About time! Watch this!"

He pulled off his shirt, then got up on the pool deck and did a double-backflip into the water. When he came up, he was grinning, "Come on, guys, this water's nice!"

He wasn't kidding, either. We all jumped in and started fooling around, then first with one, then a few more at a time, some of Billy and Huck's friends joined us.

Most of them seemed pretty athletic, and we ended up with nine of us. Everyone was having fun, and I couldn't help thinking that Billy seemed to surround himself with pretty nice people. It was a pretty good mix, too. Three white boys, two black ones, two Puerto Ricans, and one Cambodian. The ninth was a girl named Charlene, and I got the feeling that she was sweet on Billy. No matter, we had some disorganized fun in the water for awhile, then were in and out of it for the rest of the morning.

People introduced themselves to me, and I talked a little with each of them. My inkling that Billy had nice friends only got reinforced by that, and a few of the guys would be playing baseball with us the next day.

The only dark spot was when Dean stormed out of the house with a cordless phone and handed it to Billy, practically shoving it in his face. "It's for you. Keep the phone out here, I'm not your fuckin' answering service!"

That put a momentary damper on things, and I saw a look of hurt and embarrassment on Billy's face before he put the phone to his ear. Things picked back up almost immediately, but I really had a mind to just go and hit Dean in the eye. I had no stomach for hateful people like that.

Billy called, "Hey Evan! What size shoes you wear?"

"Huh? Eleven." I looked, and Billy was still on the phone, back to looking happy.

When he put it down on the deck, he looked at me, "That was my friend Dana. He'll find you some cleats for tomorrow."

"Find me some?" I asked.

"Yup! He's the team mascot ... I mean manager!" He smiled, "He keeps a little collection of spare parts." The smile turned into a funny leer, "I think he just likes to sniff them."

I laughed, "You're a sick puppy."

Billy gave me a huge smile, "I know. Ain't it grand?"

Billy turned out to be a pretty good host. He had snacks when we got hungry, mostly chips and dips, but he also fired up the grill and started making hot dogs. The bag Huck brought turned out to have about a ton of his mother's chicken wings, and they were outrageously good. Lemony, garlicky, peppery, but not especially hot, they were the best wings I ever had. Soul food, Huck called them, yet added that his mother had found the recipe on the Internet.

What they really were was gone fast, and we each soon had our own little graveyard of picked-clean bones.

After we ate, people started to trickle away, and I took it on myself to clean up the table and around it. That didn't take long, and I went back in the pool to just idle around. Aaron and I hadn't planned it, but we'd half-deliberately stayed apart most of the time. We were both doing that for me, which seemed selfish, but I was still being protective of myself, and Aaron must have sensed that.

It worked out, anyhow. People were accustomed to Aaron, and nobody even looked twice at me, so I was well into my comfort zone.

That was me. I started to feel bad for Charlene, because she seemed to have it bad for Billy and it was obvious that it wasn't mutual. She was cute enough, very bright and friendly, but apparently a click or two away from what would interest Billy. It was kind of funny to notice, because Billy was being really nice to her, she was being really nice to him, but it wasn't working at all.

I was bemused by it, and took the opportunity to get close to Aaron, who was leaning peacefully against the edge of the pool. I sidled up to him, looked around, and slipped my hand down inside the back of his bathing suit to feel his butt. It felt good, all firm and wet like it was, and I idly considered not doing that anymore, because I sprang major league underwater wood from the feel of him.

Aaron whispered, "You're a pervert, you know that?"

"Like it?"

"Oh, yeah," he sighed.

"Want to leave?"

"Swim first?" he asked.

That's what we did. We swam ten languid, happy laps of the pool, then climbed out and dried ourselves off, then sunned for awhile to finish the job.

Dry and toasty, I said to Billy, "We're going to go. Will you be around later?"

Billy said, "More than likely. Was it fun?"

I'm a shit sometimes. I touched Billy's shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, man. Yeah, I had a really good time. I like your friends. The food was good, and the pool's perfect. Thanks a lot."

Billy leaned in really close and said, "How about we switch sides, and you take Charlene with you. I've heard that she's good for some fun."

I pushed him away laughing, "Your kind of fun, Billy! Don't start with me!"

Billy grinned, "Just testing." He bopped my shoulder, "Get lost. Maybe I will try to get laid."

I smiled, and said lightly, "Good luck, and have fun."

I told Huck to tell his mother that I loved the wings she made, then Aaron and I left, and we'd barely turned down the street when he groaned, "Oh, no."

"What?" I asked.

He pointed at a big Mercury in front of their house, "That's my Aunt Lilac's car!" He actually sounded worried, "She's the prime bitch of the East Coast, Evan. Unless you want to hear a sermon about the evils of being gay, it would be my preference to go back to Billy's, or just keep walking ... maybe disappear into a black hole."

I giggled, "We could do something in front of her, maybe she'd die."

Aaron laughed, really wheezed one out. "Maybe she would, but I doubt it. If it was that easy, she'd have been dead long ago with me around. Who's home at your place?"

I looked at my watch and grinned, "Exactly nobody."

"Let's swish our tails over there, then."

I laughed, "You swish, Aaron, and I'll appreciate."

"Really?" asked a little voice beside me. "You don't mind how I am?"

I said softly, "I love how you are, Aaron. If I didn't like being beside you so much, it would be my preference to be ten steps back, watching you swish!"

"You think I swish?" he giggled.

"Yeah, but just a little, just the right amount of swish."

Aaron giggled, "You're a bad boy, Evan. I love bad boys."

Well, if it's bad, if it's evil, then Aaron and I were very bad boys for the next few hours.

I didn't see the bad in it, just the good. In those few hours, there was sex play, there was laughter, and there were important words exchanged. By the time we were getting hungry and knew it wouldn't be long before the other guys came home, we'd graduated to the next stage of love.

I can't say when feelings really go from one level to another. At first it had been mostly looks, little feelings, some words exchanged, that drew me to Aaron. He was more whole to me now, and my love went deeper into both of us. A ditz, his mother had called Aaron, and I guess I could see that. He was a beautiful ditz, though, with a loving touch and a gentle sense of humor, and intelligence that ran deep.

And he felt so good to me that I might have been able to get off yet again, but we had to hurry when we heard the guys coming up the front stairs. We came with little to put back on, just bathing suits and tees, and hurried down the back stairs with our sneakers still untied, giggling all the way.

We kind of slinked away, back towards his house, and his aunt's car was gone. We went in, said hi to his parents, then went to his room to put our pants and socks on. We watched each other again, but not much. Instead, we smiled a lot, eye to eye, loving the other being in the same room more than what dangled between his legs.

I was a mess, because now I was really falling in love, rather than just loving the person who Aaron was. He was a beautiful person in every measure that my mind could devise to define one, and in just a few days my feelings had moved from my dick to my heart. My love for Chris felt far removed, the love of one little boy for another one.

Chris was every bit the athlete that I was, and almost the scholar, but he suddenly seemed like the boy I first knew, and Aaron was the man that I felt like I was becoming.

Oh, it complicated my thoughts for some time. I had loved Chris for a long time, and I'd always known that my love wouldn't be returned in any real way, but I also knew that Chris did love me. He'd been my best pal for almost a third of my life, and he'd been the only one who knew I was gay.

Now there was Aaron, though, and Billy and Huck and Justin. They made Chris seem almost like a figment, and I didn't want that to happen. Even with Aaron in my life, even with Billy, I clung to my memories of Chris like he was my lifeline.

My world was new: scary and exciting at the same time. I could be out as gay with more than one person, and actively queer with a boy I was coming to love.

I was resilient, though. When Aaron asked, "Ever have soft-shell crab sandwich?"

I said, "I don't think so."

He asked, "Do you like fish?"

I smiled, "If it's good."

"It's good," Aaron said. "Come on, then."

We walked through the kitchen, where Aaron told his mom we were going out for crab sandwiches, then headed down the hill.

I asked, "Where are we going?"

Aaron giggled, "It's a real dump, but the food's pretty good."

We got to the bottom of the hill, where the laundromat and all that was, then turned right and walked another half mile, and we ended up at a place called, 'Bill's Snack Bar'.

Aaron had been right about it being a dumpy place, but there were cars in the lot. The inside was clean, I suppose, but it sure wasn't very attractive. There was a lunch counter on the left side, some booths along the right wall, and a juke box in the middle of the floor, which was covered in ancient looking red vinyl tile.

The wall behind the counter was plastered with hand-written 'specials' that looked like they'd been hanging there for many years. Aaron told me to get a booth, then went and ordered for both of us, coming to the booth with two bottles of lemonade.

He grinned, "I hope you're hungry, because I am."

"I'm hungry," I said. "You weren't kidding about this place being a dump."

He smiled, "I know. It's old, but they do a good job." His eyes narrowed, "Can I ask you something?"

I took a sip of lemonade and said, "Sure."

Aaron looked around, then back at me, biting his lip. "Um ... I don't know how to ask this ..."

"Just ask," I said, sensing that it was something touchy.

"Well," Aaron said nervously, "should I ... I mean, I don't know how you feel about it ..."

I leaned closer and whispered, "How I feel about what, Aaron?"

He swallowed hard, "Billy."


"Yeah, well ... um, yesterday I told him I couldn't do him anymore, because I thought I was with you now."

My eyes were locked on Aaron's, and they began to cloud with tears. Tears of mirth. I started snickering, then laughed out loud. "Oh God, Aaron! What are you thinking?"

He suddenly looked heartbroken, and I immediately felt bad. I said, "I take that back, okay?" Suddenly, what he'd told Billy sounded like the most loving thing anyone had ever done for me, and I regretted taking it the wrong way. I leaned even closer, "Aaron, I'm sorry. I just didn't expect that." God, I wanted to touch him, but there were people around, so I had to make it right with words alone. "Listen, I don't know how I feel about that, I never thought about it." I lowered my voice, "I love you, Aaron. I didn't see that coming, and I can see that it's real, and you'll never know how much I appreciate that you'd do that."

Aaron looked away sadly, then came right back with a tentative smile. He said, "Okay. I'm new at this, too."

The smile brightened, "Let's both think it over, okay?"

"Okay," I smiled, then the counter guy said our order was ready, and we went to get it.

Aaron wasn't kidding when he said he ordered a lot. We each had two big, fat sandwiches and colossal baskets of fries. I had kind of expected a crabmeat sandwich, but these had the whole crab on them, with legs dangling out here and there, and tartar sauce oozing down them. I was kind of tentative at first, eating some fries while Aaron took a big bite from his first sandwich. Then, when his face took on this totally pleasurable look, I picked up one of sandwiches and took a bite.

Delicious! I knew I was eating whole crabs with the shell still on, but the shell part was paper thin and only a bit chewy. I was done with both sandwiches and a third of my fries before I had another coherent thought, and said, "Delicious, Aaron. Whatever made you think to eat a whole crab in the first place?"

He smiled, then he sucked a french fry into his mouth the long way, and batted his eyelids. He chewed the fry slowly, his tongue showing up to lick his lips every so often, then he smiled at me with his eyes wide. "I'm glad you liked it, Evan. I think I like feeding you."

I started giggling, and finally managed to say, "I kind of like being fed by you." I looked at the small mountain of cold fries still left and added, "If I eat anymore of these you'll have to roll me home."

Aaron smiled, "I'm full, too. Let's get out of here." He started to stand, and said, "Get the tip, I'll pay."

I looked after him as he walked back to the counter, then dropped a few dollars on the table and followed him.

When we got outside it was almost dark. Headlights were on, streetlights were on. The sun was down, but it was that time of year where the sky wouldn't be fully black for another few hours. I really wanted to hold Aaron's hand, but it seemed like a bad idea, so I was really happy to feel his hand land on my shoulder, and he stroked it with his fingers while we walked.

We barely spoke on the way back. We were both full, both happy on a nice night, and words might have spoiled the mood.

When we got to Aaron's house, we hesitated, then continued on to Billy's. Walking around back, I heard the sound of a guitar being played pretty well, and it became clearer when we turned the last corner into the back yard.

We'd come in quietly, and I was surprised to see that it was Dean sitting on the picnic table, his back to us, hunched over the guitar and playing a hauntingly beautiful tune on it. Aaron and I both stopped, and I took his hand in mine, and we stood there and listened for awhile.

Both of my encounters with Dean had pissed me off, but at the moment he had me mesmerized with his music. Not Aaron, apparently, because he started tugging at me to leave. I stood my ground for another minute, pulling Aaron to me and holding him there, but his discomfort finally won out, and we walked back out as noiselessly as we had come.

When we got to the street, I asked, "Why wouldn't you stay, Aaron?"

I was faced with a pout, and said, "I don't like him, either, but I never heard music like that before."

Aaron kind of slumped a bit, and said, "Okay, I'll go listen."

I didn't know what it was all about, and when we crept back behind the house Dean was gone. Aaron put his arm around my back and we walked back to the street. "What is it, Aaron?" I asked. "I mean, I don't like Dean, but I never heard anything like that before. I just wanted to listen."

Aaron seemed to lose strength, and sat down on the grass, his feet on the sidewalk. I sat beside him. "He killed the boy who wrote that song."

Aaron pulled his knees up and dropped his head between them, and choked out, "He's alive and Devon's dead, and that's one of Devon's songs he was playing."

I got my arm around Aaron too late. He started crying wetly, the kind of crying I knew didn't end easily, and all I could do was hold on until he got it out. I was saying moronic things like, 'take it easy', and still Aaron cried. I started trying to really comfort him, kissing his hair, kissing his shoulder, but it was no use, so I just held onto him.

He finally calmed, and we were quiet for a long time before I whispered, "What happened?"

Aaron coughed, then shuddered. "Later, okay?"

I pulled Aaron up into a full hug, and his chin landed on my shoulder. At that moment I didn't care who saw us like that.

I loved him.

"Later's fine," I whispered in his ear.

Continued ...

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