Plan A: A Kiss at Night

by Driver

Chapter 7

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

A lot of good things happened during the next few weeks.

I absolutely loved my new job, and I was doing really well at it. I took on new duties happily, just for the variety, and I was making a name for myself. Working in the shop with Hokay, I actually made better friends with the various field crews than I did when I was on jobs working with them.

Harlan put me on a salary, kind of reverse-engineering the gross so I took home three hundred and five bucks a week.

I was checking trailers, moving equipment around, repairing machines with an excellent set of Snap On tools the company got for me. I'd learned to use a cutting torch, and Hokay was teaching me to weld. I'd always had an affinity for things mechanical, for working with tools, and I was putting that to good use.

Harlan always had specialists with manufacturer training come in to do repairs to the big machines, but I was fixing and rebuilding small engines all the time. Trimmers and blowers, the big, liquid-cooled mower engines, I could tear them all down and make them right even faster than Hokay could.

I even learned to like the record keeping. As long as Hokay and I kept the computer up to date with what we'd used, it kept track of every single thing we had on hand. From gaskets and screws to spare carbs, belts and pulleys, wheels and tires, the machine knew it all, and it would electronically order more when we hit certain inventory thresholds.

I was always ready to drop whatever I was doing when a crew pulled in on an unscheduled stop, because that almost always meant something critical had broken. If it was something that could be fixed on the spot, I'd do it right on the trailer. If it was more serious, we'd find a replacement and swap whatever it was out, and they'd be on their way.

Harlan liked me because I was doing things quickly and carefully, taking on more and more. Hokay liked me because I took a lot of the burden off him, and I could think for myself. The field crews liked me because I tried not to hold them up, so they didn't lose too much time and have to work really late.

I was Evan now, not 'kid' or 'whitey' or anything else.

Working on jobs in the field, it was impossible for me to gain more than grudging respect from the other guys, because I was doing exactly what they were doing, and they'd done it for a long time. Now I was perceived as doing things for them, and that was appreciated. Hokay joked that I should take up drinking, because I'd be getting about a hundred bottles of booze for Christmas.

I loved it. I was making a name for myself in a man's world, and doing it by working intelligently and eagerly. It would have been interesting if anyone even suggested I was gay, because I don't believe a single one of those roughnecks would have believed it. The suggester would be the one to take the beating.

If there was a downside, it was my hands. My knuckles were perpetually skinless from working in tight spots, and I began to doubt whether I'd ever see clean fingernails again.

Another really great thing was my hours, because I got to see Aaron every day. He had rehearsals for his play on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks, then the play itself would open on the following Thursday, with another performance on Friday and two on Saturday.

Even so, on rehearsal days Aaron would be waiting for me when I got home, and we'd have an hour together, then I'd see him after he came home.

There was always at least an hour between when I got home and when we had to worry about the other guys showing up, so we actually got more privacy during the work week than on the weekends.

Our love grew and solidified. There was sex, but being together was more important. We could talk and talk and never bore each other. Not at all. We could also not talk, just be close and think our own thoughts, and the closeness was enough to keep us connected.

Aaron was the core of my happiness of course, but there were other things. Billy, Huck and Justin had become great friends to me, especially Billy. He was like Chris in a lot of ways, and we were forming the same kind of connection. I liked Billy when he was zany, I liked him when he played hard in a game, and I liked that we could kick back and have intelligent discussions. I mostly liked him because he was, underneath it all, a very thoughtful person.

He and Aaron had been chipping away at the wall Dean had built around himself, and they were getting somewhere. There was a long way to go, but Dean had become less remote, friendlier, and was at least considering going back for counseling. I couldn't help much, except to be friendly, but Billy's love for his brother and Aaron's admiration of him were starting to get through.

I was beginning to like Dean, but I didn't have much in common with him. I could admire his creativity, enjoy his guitar work, and I liked his sardonic humor when it showed through. We just didn't have enough talking points that would connect us as good friends. At least we weren't enemies. I'd like him more if he ever got back to the way Billy said he used to be, so I kept hoping.

Another thing I'd done was to get a copy of the bus schedule, and sometimes when Aaron was at rehearsal I'd take the bus downtown and spend time poking around the shops, then get a coffee at the University Book Shop and Attic Café.

The first time I went there, I got the scare of my life. I'd been poking around downstairs in the bookshop, checking out titles and reading jacket blurbs and the like, then I went up to the third floor for a coffee. While I was trying to find the entrance, I saw my face looking back at me.


Name: Evan Davison Smiley

DOB: 1/8/87 age 15

Hair: Lt Brown

Eyes: Brown

Ht: 5' 9"

Wt: 160

Wearing: Unknown

Complexion: White

Distinguishing marks: None

Circumstances: Runaway 6/4/02

REWARD for information leading to this child's return.

Contact: Mt. Harmon Police, Det. R. Swenson. (800) 555-2985

I stared for the longest time, then tore the thing down and ran into the men's room to hide. I went into a stall and shut the door, then I sat on the toilet to think things out, staring at the piece of paper that I held in shaking hands.

I couldn't believe they were actually looking for me! For what? To put me in a gay rehab place? I stared and stared, and they had it all wrong. I analyzed that paper from top to bottom about fifty times. The picture was old, me at fourteen, and I'd changed a lot since then, gotten bigger and heavier. The numbers were close enough, but I could have added 'dirty fingernails' as a distinguishing mark.

Runaway, though? No, not! I hadn't run, I'd been chased away by my own brother! He couldn't explain me even to himself, so he was going to pass the buck to my father and I had no choice. Leave or get kicked out, or whatever was worse than getting kicked out. I was no runaway!

And a reward? Imagine that! If there really was one, I bet Chris got his own father to put it up.

In the end, I was really shaken that such a poster existed, and I wondered if they were in every bookstore on the East Coast. Whoever put it up knew that much about me, at least. That I'd seek out a place like the Attic was as much a given as that I'd have to pee in the morning.

The paper I held in my hands was a sure sign that Chris was looking for me, and I knew I'd have to find a safe way to contact him. He'd be the one to know of my love of the combination of books and coffee. My family rarely knew where I went when I wasn't home, so they wouldn't think to put up a poster in a place like this.

Chris. But how could I contact him without giving myself away? Did I even have to worry about it?

Yes, I did! If I called Chris, caller-id or some other thing would find me. If I wrote to him there'd be a postmark. Jesus, if I sent him smoke signals they'd know where I was.

I looked at the picture again, and decided they couldn't have chosen a worse one to identify me from. It was a school picture, head-on, and almost everything was different about me. It was taken in winter, for one thing, and my skin looked really pale, where now I had a really dark tan. I'd had a mop of hair back then, and now I kept it cut close. Actually, if I didn't know it was me, I'd never put that picture together with my face.

At work I'd worn sunglasses in the field, now I wore safety glasses in the shop, and I usually just kept them on instead of misplacing them all the time.

No, I decided, nobody would recognize me from that picture. I crumpled it up and dropped it in the toilet, and flushed it before I left.

I didn't stay for a coffee, though, because I was really shaken. I walked the main street looking for other bookshops, other posters, but there were none in evidence.

When it was time, I walked north to the theater, where I found Aaron's mother waiting for him to come out from rehearsal. She was sitting in her Buick with the window open, just listening to some talk show on the radio.

When she saw me, she smiled. "Evan, hi! Where did you come from?"

I said, "The book shop. Can I get a ride home with you?"

She looked indignant, "You know better than to ask! Get in here!"

I laughed and opened the back door, saying, "This is really nice of you."

"Nice, shmice! How are you? Like I need to ask." She looked over the seat, "You're about the most cheerful boy I've met. How do you keep it up?"

Boy, what a loaded question that was! I said, "I don't know, I guess I think good things most of the time," which was your basic ton of crap. When it was up, it was because of Aaron, sometimes even Billy. I felt like telling her that was no question to ask a gay boy.

Mrs. Castle had turned back forward, and I could see her face in the mirror. Aaron's mother had smiling eyes, just like his. I guess that's where he caught them, even though it was really the only feature they shared. Well, maybe the voice, too. She had that rich, multi-toned voice like Aaron's, where Mr. Castle really didn't.

I didn't say anything, just smiled at her reflection, then suddenly Aaron was there, and when he saw me I got his usual greeting, "Evan!"

God, I loved that! Aaron, seeing me there, always put an exclamation point after my name. Seeing him filled my whole head with exclamation points every time, but all I said was, "Hi. How was rehearsal?"

"Good," he said as he buckled the seat belt and his mother pulled out. He peeked at me between the front seats, and I leaned forward to kiss those lips of his.

I loved the very idea that we could do that in front of Aaron's mother, and I leaned in for a second kiss. These were happy little kisses, not romantic ones, and they actually made me glad that I was gay and could love a boy like Aaron. That's pushing it. I don't know that I'd ever be glad that I was gay, but I was glad to have Aaron to love.

While his mother drove us home, we mostly made eyes at each other, both thinking of the possibilities that existed at the end of the ride. Aaron had a family who understood him, and that understanding transferred automatically to me. I loved it. They let us be just like most parents would let their kids be boy and girl, only we were boy and boy. We could touch a lot, hold hands, even give smoochy kisses.

We weren't jerks, either. Anything else, even heavy kisses, was reserved for private. We had our spots now. My porchy bedroom, Aaron's swing late at night. We could find private places. We could love each other the way we wanted to ... the way we needed to.

That night, I came clean to Aaron. We were on my mattress on the porch, and I was still all shook up about the poster.

"I'm in trouble, Aaron," I whispered. "They're looking for me."

He shot bolt upright, "Who?"

"They ... them ... I don't know." I looked at his confused, hurt face and melted. "They say I ran away, Aaron. Before you get mad, let me tell you about it."

He whispered, "I won't get mad, I promise."

I smiled, got a sweet kiss in return, then I told Aaron everything.

It came out easier than I thought it would, because the end result had been mostly positive for me. I had Aaron, a job I loved, and I'd made new friends, and felt well on the way to a new life.

My telling of it upset Aaron, though. I could see it at almost every turn of phrase, and I probably should have let him interrupt me. It was a trait of mine that annoyed just about everybody. Once I got talking I barely stopped to breathe, much less let anyone else get a word in.

Aaron had been laying on his side looking at me the whole time. When I finished, he rolled onto his back, his hands beneath his head, and he stared up at the ceiling. He finally said, "I'm going to lose you, aren't I?"

I was shocked, "Lose me?"

"Yes, lose you, Evan!" he said almost angrily. "If they're looking for you, they'll find you, then you'll just go home and ... and forget about me."

I stroked his cheek, saying softly, "Aaron, there's two things I want to say. First, if there's one person on this earth who I'll never forget, it's you." His lip started quivering, and I went on, "Second, I don't think they'll find me. They can't know where I am. That poster being where it was ... that's just Chris. If you saw the picture on it, even you wouldn't know it was me, I swear it."

Aaron whispered, "It can't be just Chris, Evan. You should call home and tell them you're okay. They must be scared out of their minds." He rolled up on his side and looked in my eyes, saying emphatically, "It's your family, Evan! You can't just leave like you did."

Aaron didn't understand. "Aaron, didn't you listen to what I just said? I was dead meat at home if I stayed. My family's not like yours, not anything like yours. My brother already hates me, and I know my dad does now that he knows I'm gay. I can't go back there, I can't!"

Aaron's eyes searched mine, and he implored, "What about your mother then, huh? What about her, Evan?" He got tears in his eyes, "Maybe you're right about your brother and your father, but somebody gave you an example somewhere along the line. You're too ... nice to have grown up in a hateful home."

I just looked at Aaron, so he went on, "I love you, Evan. I really do, but you have to do something here. Do the right thing, promise me?"

I put my arm over Aaron and leaned close, "I can't lose you, Aaron. Not now. Not ever, for that matter. I did do the right thing by coming here. You're right, too. My home was never hateful, and I hope it's still that way because I'm not there anymore. My father never had to look at his gay son, so the one he'll remember is the son from before."

Aaron said, "That's twisted logic, Evan. You don't know that for sure, do you?"

I smiled, "You're challenging me, aren't you."

Aaron didn't smile back. "Yes, I'm challenging you, if that's how you want to put it. I'd hate for you to be ... uh ... " He grimaced, "I want to say throwing everything away here, but that's not what I mean. I mean you deserve a family. You should have at least stayed to see how your father took the news instead of taking off like that." His eyes bored into mine, "You jumped the gun, you know that? You left everything behind just because you imagined the worst instead of hoping for the best. If it really was bad, that would have been the time to leave."

I looked at Aaron, tears forming in my eyes because he was probably right. Not probably, he was exactly right. I pulled him right on top of me and looked into those intelligent eyes, then my own eyes flooded with tears. I was so ashamed of myself.

I squeezed Aaron's slim body tight to me and thought about what a fool I'd been. Fear, deep-rooted fear, was what had driven me from home. It hadn't been my logical mind like I'd thought all along, but fear of being discovered as something I wasn't ready to be.

Aaron started kissing my tear-streaked face, and there was a new problem, a bigger one. I didn't want to go back home. I was happy now, happier than I'd ever been. I had friends who I liked, and who cared about me. I had a job that I absolutely loved, and I had Aaron. I had Aaron!

He was what I needed more than fancy gizmos, more than having my laundry done by Mom, more than I needed dents in the ceiling commemorating my little milestones in life. Aaron was what I'd needed all along, all of my conscious life.

A boy to love, and one who could love me back. That's what had always been missing, and I felt more like a whole person because of him. "I can't go back, Aaron," I whispered. "I won't go back!" I kissed him, "Because of you. I can't leave now, Aaron, I just can't."

It was Aaron's turn to drop a tear, and he kissed my lips. "Evan," he whispered, "thanks for that." He was silent for a long time, then he said, "You have to at least get word to them that you're okay, that you're happy."

He was right, and I groaned, "How, though? They'll find me no matter what I do."

Aaron melted into me, "We'll find a way, Evan. We'll find a way."

Later that night, after Aaron went home, I thought of ways to contact Chris without being found out. I could set up an Internet email account and write to him. I could find someone who was going on vacation and give them a letter to drop in a mailbox. Everything left tracks, and I knew that, but some tracks were less deep than others.

I was going to do it. I'd get a message to Chris, and through him to home, that I was fine and they could call off their search. Even if they somehow found me, they wouldn't find who they were looking for.

* * * * * * * *

"Evan," Hokay said a few days later, "You be on your own for awhile here. My mother, she very ill. I go Pakistan tomorrow."

"That's sad, Hokay. I hope she'll be alright." In a sudden panic, I asked, "Am I supposed to run this whole place?"

Hokay smiled, "Not whole place. Harlan find you some bull for the heavy stuff, you do head things."

I snickered, knowing what he intended me to hear. "I'll be in charge?" I asked, probably too hopefully.

Hokay grinned, "Harlan in charge. You just do good, then someday you in charge."

I smiled, and we got to work. About halfway through the morning I had an idea, and on our next break I asked Hokay, "Hey, Hokay. I have a friend who loves stamps. If I give you an envelope and money for postage, would you mail it from Pakistan?"

Hokay grinned, "For you, anyting. Go in office, get envelope. I don't be here tomorrow."

I ran to the office and asked for an envelope without the company name on it, then I sat in a private corner and wrote:

Dear Chris,

It's Evan. This first page is for you and you alone. The next page you can share.

Chris, I really miss you, and I'm sorry we never got to follow our summer plans, but you know what happened. I had to leave man, before the you-know-what hit the fan.

I'm happy now. Nobody else will appreciate this, but you will. (I hope).

I'M IN LOVE! Yes, dingle, and with a boy!

You know I love you, and I know you love me, but this boy loves me the way I love you, so you can take the book out of your pants now. You're safe, Chris! No more lechy Evie to worry about! No more bj's either, so sorry about that.

I love you Chris, and I know you know that. I'm sorry if I disappointed you, and I'm sure I did, but I was too chicken to face my family after Bruce saw us.

It's not forever, Chris. We can do what we want when we're 18, and I'll find you wherever you are, I swear it. For now, just know that I'm happy and I'm just fine, okay?



ps - the next page is for my parents. Bye, I'll write again.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Chris,

I want you to share this with my family. I know I left kind of suddenly, but I want everyone to know that I'm doing fine and having a good time.

I stay clean, I'm eating well and all that. Nobody is molesting me or anything like that.

The main thing is that I'm happy. I miss you all, and I'm sorry to have been such a disappointment to you.

I hope you're all fine and getting on with things without me there. It's better this way.

I'll be in touch.



There! It was done, and they'd think I was doing fine in a foreign country. I folded the papers into the envelope, addressed it to Chris, and licked the flap.

I hurried back to the shop, where Hokay was already working, and got him to swear that he'd remember to mail it. He promised, and wouldn't even take money for the postage.

Hokay helped me pull a mower engine, and I was actually whistling while I took it apart. Aaron had pushed me into doing something that I should have thought of on my own, and now I'd done it. I felt good, too, because they'd all know I was alright. It might have been a cheap shot to let them think I was in Asia, but when Hokay dropped me off he had the envelope with him, and promised again that he'd mail it.

I hadn't doubted him to begin with. Hokay's English wasn't the best, but his memory and attention to detail were phenomenal.

I wished him a good trip, and that his mother would get well, then watched him drive off.

I turned around to see Aaron, Billy, Huck and Dean all seated on the railing of the porch. I was accustomed to seeing the other guys there, but Dean surprised me.

Something else was different, and I couldn't put my finger on it at first, then I noticed there weren't any steps up to the porch anymore. They'd been replaced with a plywood ramp!

I got excited enough to run right past Aaron to look at the stairs inside, and yes! There was a stair lift there, with a fold-down platform, up and down arrows on the wall, and a big red stop button. I started laughing, and pressed the 'up' button, and the thing headed away from me, then I pressed 'down' and it came back.

That meant Shane was coming home, if he wasn't there already, and that made me really happy. I flipped the wheelchair platform down and turned around grinning. "Check this out!" I stepped on the platform and pressed the up button, then disappeared up the stairs to the sound of a little whirr, while four amazed-looking boys watched me.

"Awesome!" Billy said. "Send that thing back down, I want to try it."

I stood at the top looking down as the platform descended, and the four of them fought over space on it. I yelled, "Don't break it!" so just Billy and Aaron came up together, grinning all the way. We sent it back for Huck and Dean, and they grinned just as much.

I ran through the apartment looking, and there was no Shane yet, but now he had the means to come and go. I was happy for him. He'd be back soon.

I took a shower while the guys played with the lift, and when I got back to the top of the stairs Billy was going down while he stood on his head. Such a nut! I looked at the buttons at the top, then pressed 'up', thinking Billy could take the fall. Damn! He just wobbled a little, so I pressed 'down', then 'up' again repeatedly until he toppled and tumbled down the stairs.

From the bottom, he looked at me and asked, "How are you getting down, Evan?"

I grinned, then started walking down the stairs, across the platform when Billy sent it up my way, then I hopped off. When he sent it back down in an attempt to cut off my legs, I just hurried down the last few steps. I pushed past Billy and ran right down the ramp, yelling "I am the king! The king of the stairs!" Then I turned around laughing.

Aaron, Huck and Dean were laughing too, and Billy just glared at me, holding his finger on the down button until the thing stopped behind him. Then he walked up to me, the picture of dignity, and attacked my ribs with his fingers. "You're going down, Grins, and I mean right now!"

With that he tackled me, and we tussled in the grass, laughing ourselves silly. We didn't stop until we were all grass stained and out of breath, then we laid there side by side, our chests heaving from the exertion. The other guys weren't even paying attention, because Billy and I were always doing things like that. Then we could become serious on a moment's notice.

Billy reached into his pocket and handed me a folded piece of paper. I opened it only to see another 'wanted poster' and my heart rate went right back up. "Where did you get this?" I gasped.

Billy bit his lip before saying, "The co-op. We need to talk about this, Evan. Aaron told me a little, but if you want any help we have to know for what. And why. What's it all about, Evan? You're from Mt. Harmon? That's only what ... twenty-five miles from here, isn't it?" He leaned on his side and touched my arm, "You have to say something, man." He picked up the poster, "If you already found one of these and I just found another one, they're on your ass."

I looked at Billy, seeing only a friend. "Okay," I said. "Later, though, right now I'm hungry." I smiled, "I hated hiding it, Bill. I was just trying to cover my own butt."

Billy smiled, "Okay, I understand. Are you going to eat here?"

I said, "I can, but there's not enough for everyone. How about we go to that place with the crab sandwiches and I'll buy for everyone?"

Billy said, "We have to eat with Dad. You go ahead, and we'll catch up later, okay?"

I said, "Fine," then looked him in the eye, "I didn't really lie, Billy." I started to get up, "I didn't know you, that's all."

When we'd brushed ourselves off, Billy laid his arm across my shoulder and pulled me close. He said quietly, "I never had you pegged as a liar, but I knew you were holding back. You still can if you want, but if you want help, I have to know what we're up against."

"Thanks, Billy," I said, then I thought and asked, "Did you show that thing to Aaron?"

Billy had just shoved the poster back in his pocket, "No, I didn't show it to anyone."

I smirked and held out my hand. "Give it to me. I want to cut out that picture and see if he knows who's in it."

Bill chuckled and reached back in his pocket, "You're evil. I mean, I could see it after I read the name, but it didn't exactly catch my eye"

"That's what I'm counting on for now."

Billy and Dean took off for home after that, and Huck only walked with us as far as his house because he was expected for dinner, too. Aaron went in with Huck to call home, then we walked to the restaurant. The sky was getting really dark, and the wind kicked up. A thunderstorm was imminent, so we walked with intent, not saying much.

The rain hit before we got there, just some big drops at first, and we started running. We couldn't beat it out, and we were pretty well sopped when we burst through the front door, then the thunder and lightning started outside.

We went directly to the men's room to dry off with paper towels, then I told Aaron to go get a table because I had to sit on the toilet. While I was in the stall, I pulled the poster out and started folding everything back away from the picture, then I put it back in my pocket.

When I came out, Aaron was sitting there sipping a Sprite, and there was a bottle of lemonade across from him. I sat down and asked, "Did you order?"

He shook his head, "We missed the sign outside. They're out of soft-shell crabs." He smiled, "I guess the next best thing is the lobster roll, but I don't know what you like."

I grinned, "I like you! Think they have a roll big enough?"

Aaron started giggling, and I pulled my picture out and held it in front of him. "Know this guy?" I asked.

Aaron looked for a moment, then smiled at me. "Oh, Evan! You were cute! Can I have this?"

I blinked, "You think that's me?"

Aaron licked his lips, "Oh, it's you alright. Nobody else has those eyes, those lips, those dimples." He went back to looking at the picture, then his eyes went back and forth between it and me until I thought he'd go crosseyed.

I finally touched his hand and said, "Look at it later, okay. You can keep it. I'm hungry here."

Aaron said softly, "You're handsome now, not cute. I like it better, but if you think people won't know you from this picture, you're nuts."

I protested, "Billy didn't know me from it!"

Aaron rolled his eyes, "I thought you were hungry. Come on, you're babbling. Let's order something."

I walked up to the counter with Aaron, lobster rolls on my mind, then I saw foot-long hotdogs on the grill and ordered two of those instead. Aaron looked at me like I was from Jupiter, then ordered a lobster roll, a small salad and fries.

When our food came, I had to go and put my own condiments on the hot dogs, which already looked pretty good plain.

I loaded them up with chopped onions, relish, ketchup and mustard.

When I got back to the booth I looked at Aaron's lobster roll and immediately regretted my choice. The lobster rolls I was used to were cold things, lobster salad on a bun. What Aaron had was lobster meat on a big hot dog bun that had been grilled just like mine, and it was cooked, literally drooling in butter.

I was jealous. "Can I have a taste?" I asked meekly.

Aaron just smiled and raised his eyebrows, so I picked up his sandwich and took a bite. There was a new rule right then: Always listen to Aaron! Oh, God, that thing was so succulently good that I was halfway through it, just taking nibbles, when Aaron grabbed my wrist and said, "Whoa, Hercules! Get your own!"

I did. I ran up to the counter and ordered a lobster roll, then went and ate the hot dogs. I did offer one of them to Aaron, but he declined because of the relish, saying it gave him heartburn.

When my lobster roll was ready I wasn't that hungry anymore, and I let Aaron pick at it when I couldn't finish it. We ended up leaving a third of it when we left.

The electrical part of the storm had subsided, but it was still raining when we went outside. I didn't mind, but Aaron got chilled, so we hurried back to my place, going up the back stairs.

Aaron stripped off while I got him a towel, noticing in the process that the drinking party had moved into the kitchen. The guys greeted me, but I only grunted a response, then ran back to my porch.

I liked it out there when it rained. I suppose it was lack of insulation, but you could really hear it on the roof, and with the jalousie windows it seemed to be amplified on its way down.

Once Aaron was dried off and under the covers, I put a second blanket down, then climbed in with him. I was surprised to find Aaron still cold, both to the touch, and his teeth were chattering.

I snuggled up to him and said, "Pull the blanket over your head," while I started rubbing his arm. I pulled my side of the blanket over my own head, and soon our breath had us nice and toasty warm.

We cuddled until Aaron lost his chill, then the situation changed. Well fed, warm, a rainstorm happening outside, we loved each other. It was still early enough, and we'd stop when the rain stopped. If the rain stopped. Until it did, I couldn't begin to imagine a cozier way to spend an evening than being snuggled up with Aaron, the rain loud on the roof, only the night light on for illumination.

It was such a nice hour for both of us. Kissing, talking, doing nothing special, but we shared a solid comfort level by then, and that comfort was what we enjoyed. I told Aaron that I'd written a letter, and that it would be delivered to Chris via Karachi, Pakistan. That got some laughs, because Aaron thought it was a little extreme. I told him it wasn't as extreme as Cuba, then I had to explain a little about Hokay.

That's what we talked about. Easy stuff, with the rain loud on the roof.

When the rain quieted we got up, and it was full dark out by then. I lent Aaron some too-big and very unfashionable clothes, and we went out down the back stairs, headed to find Billy.

It was still raining, but just a little. Hurry as we did, we were both wet again when we got to Aaron's house, though not soaked like before.

Aaron changed into his own clothes and offered me some of Justin's for me to wear, but I wasn't all that wet. We headed up the street to Billy's house. We were prepared finally, protected from the elements by his father's golf umbrella. That thing was big enough to keep the rain off a small town, and we encountered Billy on his front porch when we got there.

He grinned when we walked up, "Hey, girls! What took so long?"

Aaron said, "You shouldn't ask things like that, Bill, I might decide to tell you," then he grinned and slapped five with Billy.

Billy smiled, then laid back and stretched out on the divan he'd been sitting on. He said, "I'm privileged. This is my house, and I ask what I want." He smiled, "Sit down, guys. Come on, Evan, it's time to talk." He grinned, "Your secret life is over, landscaper guy!"

I rolled my eyes and sat on the arm of Aaron's chair.

Billy looked at me, "Does being gay have everything to do with it, Evan?"

He'd caught my eyes, and he'd asked me the question that didn't need answering, so I nodded intently. Then I talked, telling Billy why I was where I was, how I got there, and what led me to leave home.

Billy and Aaron both listened. Aaron had heard it before, and he heard it again. The first time he'd basically called me a fool, and that was the point of view I was working from when I told Billy my story. Aaron thought I'd left before I knew enough, and he was right about that, but I couldn't exactly go back and try again.

Billy just absorbed it, then looked away for long enough that Aaron and I started fooling around with each other. When Billy finally spoke, we both jumped to attention.

Billy didn't smile, he just looked up at the ceiling. "The way I see it, you did the right thing, Evan. Your parents have their vision of you ... their version of you, all fully formed in their heads." He sighed and appeared to relax, stretching out his legs. "I see your side, I really do. You were afraid, and I've spent time being afraid." He turned his face to Aaron and me, seriousness all over it. "With me, it was first that my brother was in that accident." The sadness in his eyes said a lot., "Then my mother got sick, and we knew she was going to die."

God, the sadness in Billy's face right then had me near tears, but I held them back and listened.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I would have run too, Evan, if I thought I could get away from it. It's not much different, man. I had all these things happening around me .. these bad things, and I couldn't just leave. You ..." he pointed at me, "you anticipated and got out of the way of it, and I can't fault that, not even a little bit."

Aaron started to protest and Billy shushed him. He looked at me, "I'm not saying you did the right thing, and I'm not saying you did the wrong thing. You did your own thing, though, and that's what matters here." Billy smiled weakly at Aaron, "See if you follow this logic, Aaron. My brother was in a car crash that was his own fault. He killed his own best friend. Do you think I wanted to know that? I mean, if I could have just not been here ... I don't know, it would still have happened, I could just hear about it later, not get scared out of bed in the middle of the night."

I could see that Aaron was confused, and I pulled him a little closer. I was confused myself, but I let Billy explain himself without interfering.

He grimaced, "Then Mom got sick. This is back-to-back stuff, almost. Nobody saw it coming, it was just a routine test, but this one came back showing a dot." Billy looked exasperated, "A fucking dot, guys, like a pencil point on an x-ray."

Billy looked away, back at the ceiling, "I'm getting off track." He looked back at us, "Aaron, all I'm trying to say here is that if I knew those things would happen, I would have tried to distance myself from all of it. Evan saw it coming, and he got out of the way before the shit hit the fan. I would have done the exact same thing if I had the chance."

I stared at Billy, who pulled himself up into a sitting position. I clutched Aaron, wondering how right Billy was. I could see what he was saying, but applying it to me begged some more questions. If Billy had somehow sensed trouble and run away before Dean got in the accident, that wouldn't have prevented the accident, just Billy's knowledge of it. If he'd left before he knew his mother was sick, that wouldn't have changed the outcome either, just his perception.

I had to smile at Billy's astuteness. He had me pegged. I'd taken off in anticipation of a problem, and I still didn't doubt the problem was a real one. I'd favored myself over my family and friends, and not wrongly so.

"It's self preservation," Bill explained kindly to Aaron, "Evan's not trying to self-destruct, it's just the opposite."

Aaron studied Billy for a moment, "I never said 'self destruct'. I just think he should have tried it out first. If gay couldn't work, then leave, just don't go away without really knowing."

I squeezed Aaron a little, saying, "I'm not a third party here, Aaron."

Aaron snickered and pulled his attention from Billy to me. "Sorry. This is really different to talk about." He smiled and kissed my lips, "If I'm spending too much time with Billy, just pinch me or something." "Ow! Not that hard!"

I laughed, thinking we'd taken this far enough. I said, "Let's stop, okay? I don't think I'm wrong or right. I just did what felt right and safe at the time." I looked at Billy, "My situation doesn't even compare to yours, but you're right. I just got out of the way, and I don't know what happened after I left."

Billy looked back at me, then he stretched back out, taking his time to get comfortable. His voice dropped, both in tone and volume, "I'm glad we're talking about all this. I think we all have too much inside us. It's good to let it out."

Aaron said shyly, "Among friends?"

I smiled, hugged him and kissed his cheek. Billy smiled at us and said, "Yeah."

I think that made a bookmark in my life. I was in love with Aaron, but at that moment I also loved Billy as a friend. My brother Bruce would have liked Billy, because he had such a logical way of looking at things. To Billy, good was what worked to make people happy. He didn't apply morality to it, nor religion. Happy was good and unhappy was bad. How simple could things be?

Simple enough, sometimes. I was comfortable with Aaron by then, out as gay in his neighborhood. Billy knew, and he was cool with it. Hell, Billy was the very reason I knew Aaron to start with.

Together, the three of us just sat there on the porch, the rain still falling lightly just a few inches away. I couldn't think of a place I could have gone to that felt safer and dryer right then. I don't know where I could have gone to feel happier either, because being together with Aaron and Billy was about as good as things could get.

The rainy night formed a comfortable environment for all of us, I think. I sure liked it, because being idle and slightly bored was a welcome change. The past few weeks had been filled with new for me, and I loved the chance to let some of that settle in. I was cuddled up with Aaron and kidding around with Billy, thinking my new world was pretty good after all.

I really felt comfortable, and a few weeks earlier I wouldn't have thought that possible. Billy had his gaze on Aaron and me, but it wasn't like he was checking us out. I was looking at him too, even as I cuddled with Aaron.

I had the damndest feeling right then, like I was seeing part of my future. Me and Aaron all gay together, and Billy hanging in there as a real friend.

He cracked a smile when he noticed me looking, and I smiled back. I even chuckled, because I didn't know what it was all about with Billy, and I had the feeling I might never figure it out.

I guess you run across a few people who you just plain like, no explanation needed. That was the way I felt about Billy. Yeah, there were reasons I liked him, but if I closed my eyes and forgot the reasons I'd like him anyhow. Billy was Billy and I was Evan, and it seemed almost fated that we'd meet and become friends. We were too much alike to not meet, to just exist in separate spheres.

That's how we spent the time until I had to get some sleep, just lazy on Billy's porch, all of us fairly quiet for a long time.

When it got time for me to go, Aaron stayed there with Billy and I walked home alone. I didn't mind, because Billy went inside to give us time to kiss. Billy could come up with hopelessly lurid things sometimes when he wanted to tease, but he really had a kind soul, and knew when we needed a little space.

It never stopped raining that night, and the sound of it falling around my porch knocked me right out when I went to bed.

The thunderstorm started almost exactly when my alarm went off the next morning, and I could tell that it was really pouring out. My first day in charge of the shop, the first time without Hokay, suddenly seemed less scary. If it kept raining like that, the maintenance crews would know to stay home, and I'd just do repairs and maintain tools. I wouldn't have to deal with everyone on my own.

I made my sandwiches, ate some breakfast, and considered waking Kevin up for a ride. I had time, though, and I decided against it. I had Aaron's umbrella and just walked the mile, kind of enjoying the wet morning.

There was a wee problem when I got to work.

With all the details and plans that had been discussed between Hokay, me and Harlan the day before, I managed to come away without the remote that would open the gate into the yard. I didn't even know who else had one, and there was nothing to do except wait and get wet.

I had the umbrella, but the rain came down sometimes hard, and the big drops splashing back up from the sidewalk soon had my pant legs all wet.

Finally, finally a company truck hove into view, and I was honestly ready to celebrate. It was one of the construction crews, and they didn't have a key to the gate either, but they did have a cherry picker on the trailer. Soon enough, I was on the other side of the chain-link, and pressing the button for the gate from the side of the building.

Those guys wanted to pick up the little excavator, thinking they could at least dig holes in the rain, but they were the only ones to show up. I made a pot of coffee and straightened things up in the shop, then I pulled maintenance on a lot of things, interrupted only when UPS showed up.

I guess I could call it an Evan Smiley day. I answered the phone a few times, talked on the radio once, but mostly I worked by myself, and I got a lot done. There was no more queue of unfixed machines when I closed up at the end of the day. Harlan didn't actually earn any money on a day like that, but what he paid me went to good use, and I really felt proud of myself when I locked that gate behind me.

I could do things all by myself, do them right, and do them without a lot of doubts. That felt really great to know, and I walked home happily under a still-dark sky.

When I got home, it was starting to rain again, but I was used to it. When I got upstairs Shane was back. I grinned when I saw him, because I'd used his lift to come up the stairs just because it was there. The guys were all drinking beer, and obviously had been most of the day. Shane seemed pretty clear-headed, and we had a little talk before I disappeared into the bathroom.

After my shower, I went back out to talk to those guys, but they had this threshold they crossed sometimes, and they were pretty drunk. Shane was okay, but he was one of them in spirit, so I disappeared.

I didn't know what to do with myself, really. It was a rehearsal day for Aaron, and the rain had kept him away. I could walk up to Billy's, but I didn't want to get all wet again.

Cooking was the thing to do, and it seemed right to celebrate Shane's return, so that's what I did. There were veal patties in the freezer, and I made some version of veal Parmesan, even though it was really veal and mozzarella. Whatever, it came out okay, and it helped sober up the other guys, and by the time I was done cleaning up it was time for Aaron to be home.

The rain had stopped, but barely. It was threatening again while I hurried to Aaron's house, and just starting to drizzle while I waited for him to open the door.

I couldn't stay long on those work nights, but Aaron found some photo albums when I asked, and we spent the evening watching him and Justin grow up. It was fascinating for me. When they were younger, Aaron at any given age had looked just like Justin had at the same age. The divergence had started around puberty I guess, or at least the right age for it. Justin as a twelve year old was way bigger and more muscular looking than he'd been a year earlier. Aaron at twelve was just taller, kind of gangly there for a few years.

There were pictures of Billy and Huck there, too, and it was kind of mind boggling to see what a little twig Huck had been when he was nine and ten. Dean was there, too, and Aaron pointed Devon out to me. In the first picture I saw, he was probably nine, playing in the yard with Justin and Dean.

Then there was one of their band, and at fourteen Devon was really good looking. It was no wonder he was Aaron's first crush, he would have been mine, too. Devon had that spark that most people lacked, and you could see it in the picture, which was professional looking to start with. Aaron said that Devon's mother had taken it, and she was a photographer for a living.

It was a cool picture; Dean and Devon holding guitars and sharing a microphone, a drummer clear behind them, and a keyboard player on the other side.

It was a different view of Dean, too. In the picture, he seemed beyond happy, like he was in a state of bliss. All the guys in the picture looked like that, so maybe it was just a pose. I don't know, I can't really look any happier than I am, and the expressions in the photo seemed so genuinely happy.

I commented on that to Aaron, and he took a closer look at the picture. "I think it's real, Evan. Those guys had lots of reasons to be happy. I mean, they were all good looking, all popular, and they could make that music. They were having fun right up until the last moment."

I grimaced, "That's a great way to put it," then I thought about it. It was probably true enough for Devon. It doesn't take a car a long time to crash, so he probably was having fun until the last moment. The aftermath couldn't have been any fun, but Devon didn't have to be involved in that part.

No, it was the 'lucky' ones who got to bear the cross. One of life's ironies.

It was raining again when I had to leave, and I didn't ask Aaron to walk home with me. We kissed goodnight on his front step, then I walked home alone, kind of distracted by thinking about death and loss. I was as good as dead to my family and my old friends. Until Chris got the letter I'd given to Hokay, and if it ever even got there, I was just as gone as if I'd died.

It felt like a cruel thing for me to do, but I hadn't had any choice. I cheered myself up by thinking everything would get better once the letter arrived. It was probably getting mailed right at that moment from some mailbox in Pakistan.

I actually started to worry about Hokay, because he had to put himself into a difficult part of the world to go see his mother. He was as apolitical a man as I'd ever met, so he'd probably be fine. Still, Pakistan was on the President's shit list, I think, and I hoped he'd be okay there.

I ended up helping Shane into bed when I got upstairs. The other guys were toast, and he couldn't quite make the transition from wheelchair to bed, so I helped him out.

My life was happily weird. I loved Aaron, and I cared about a lot of people. Still, Shane, who was ten years older than me, suddenly seemed vulnerable, smaller than me, kind of helpless when he got confused. I helped him into bed, and saw that it was the direction he slept in that caused the problem from the wheelchair, so we joked about that for a minute, then I went to bed.

* * * * * * * *

That was my life for the next several weeks. I loved Aaron, hung around with kids my age, looked after Shane, played baseball on Sundays. I got into it. Things went well at work, especially after Hokay came back.

Aaron's play got staged, and I saw all but one performance. In the end, I didn't like the play, but I loved seeing Aaron on stage. There are people who can do that and people who can't, and Aaron was in the first column. He could make his eyes shine on stage, and that ended up being the big thing with me. Aaron had a stage presence, and he really could act. He was playing a bad seed in the show, a character with a personality one hundred and eighty degrees divergent from Aaron's own demeanor, but he was totally believable, and everyone in the audience left the theater hating him.

I guess that was a horrible thing to wish for from a personal point of view, but as an actor Aaron loved it. I went with Billy and Huck and Dean for the Thursday show. On Friday, I went with Aaron's parents, Justin, and his girlfriend's parents, and we all went out to a neat restaurant afterwards.

After the Saturday night show, the whole cast and crew went out, and I was there as Aaron's date, his boyfriend, right out in public like that. The neat thing is that was just the way it was. I guess those people had celebrations like that as a matter of course, and I didn't have a lot of choice. They had come straight off the stage, and the performers were still in costume and wearing makeup. I didn't worry it, but my first public date as a gay guy was with Aaron wearing makeup.

And nobody cared.

Justin was there with Cindy, and we mostly hung around with them because everyone else was older, but we all mingled pretty well. It was a neat time, and I liked seeing how much Aaron was appreciated for his part in things. I didn't really think I fit in that well, but I was made to feel welcome, even with scuffed knuckles and black nails.

It was a fun party, and there was good food. We hoped, but the place wouldn't give us any booze without ID, so we just munched down whatever they put in front of us and sipped soft drinks. It wasn't a sit-down meal, just tray after tray of yummy little things to chew on. The people from the play were all wired up, so it was pretty much fun.

When we left, it was because we wanted to. I thought it was neat, because Justin wanted some time with Cindy just when I wanted time with Aaron, and that somehow didn't figure out as weird. We joked about going parking somewhere, but that would have been weird, so Justin left us off at my place, and all was quiet when we got there.

We took the back stairs only because we usually did, and they led right to my porch. I was proud of Aaron, and he was happy with himself, and there was no tomorrow, because it was Sunday. There would be a baseball game sometime in the afternoon, and even that wasn't mandatory.

In the meantime it was pushing midnight, and we had this huge block of time and privacy available to us.

Aaron was tired, though, and after we kissed a few times he zonked out, and I was right behind him.

The next day, Sunday, I kind of crept into consciousness. Aaron was there beside me, and I was kind of frustrated with myself that we'd just slept. Then again, it was pretty cool that we could sleep like that. It was the first time I'd actually watched Aaron wake up, and he was incredibly cute. He started mumbling in his sleep, just unintelligible sounds, then he smiled. He smiled before his eyes twitched, then blinked open.

I was grinning, wondering how well I woke up. I just loved that Aaron's disposition was there ahead of him in the morning, the smile coming before consciousness. I'd never imagined such a thing, knowing that drool was usually involved when I came into awareness of a morning.

There were possibilities, too, alternatives to consider. Did Aaron's smile come from a recollected dream? Was it from anticipation about the day ahead? I liked both answers in advance, and turned my happy attention to Aaron's gathering awareness, and the genuine smile he turned my way.

"Hi, there," I whispered when I thought he was awake enough. "Sleep okay?"


God, I loved that greeting. Aaron told me he loved me every time he did that! I told him I felt the same way by kissing him. Aaron was more expressive than I was verbally, but when we shut up we were on equal footing.

He was cuddly that morning, we both were. The pressure of the show, if he ever felt it, was off him, and I was as relaxed as I ever remembered being.

It was early, so we took a chance and showered together. Another first, and a major league one. It was fun and funny at the same time, and hopelessly erotic given our feelings for each other.

It wasn't too good to be true either. Everyone else was still asleep when we were done, so we hurried back to the porch and got dressed, then I started cooking up some bacon for breakfast. Aaron was sitting at the table, and Shane shuffled in on his crutches.

He only nodded at Aaron, then said, "Little Dude, take a look at my ankle. It feels like it's bleeding, or oozing, or something."

I cried, "Watch the bacon, Aaron!' and led Shane into the bathroom. He straddled the side of the tub and I pulled the bandage off. I'd done it before, but the sight of that gash always made me wince. There was enough flesh gone that you could see what had happened, and also what had been tried to correct it.

Wincing, I took a damp washcloth and cleaned the wound. I wasn't positive, but I think what Shane felt as wet was okay stuff, just junk forced out while things healed. He wasn't in any special pain or discomfort, so I said, "I think you're okay. It's looking good."

Shane touched my shoulder, "Thanks, Evan." Then he touched my shoulder again, "You gonna be around later? My ex is coming over with the kid."

I gaped, "I ..."

Shane, true to form, shrugged and said, "My fault, dude. I never told you." He snickered, "Yeah, I was married just long enough to make a kid. Picture that, huh? And she looks just like me"

I was automatically annoyed. I saw how Kevin ignored the presence of his daughter in the same house. Arnie had children somewhere and I didn't know a thing about them. Now Shane had a kid who I'd never heard a thing about, and I honestly considered stroking his stitches with a toothbrush!

I didn't, of course, but I did leave him there to figure out how to get back on his feet by himself. I was still a bit angry when I went back to Aaron, but he was well on his way to a full breakfast. The bacon was done, and he was making French toast.

Nobody else was there, so I hugged him from behind, "Looks good, man." I was suddenly hungry, "Can I eat?"

Aaron turned his head and smiled, "It's almost ready."

We ate, and Shane joined us, and I could see him putting things together in his head about Aaron and me.

I could picture him saying, "Cool, dude," but he didn't, even though I was pretty sure he had us figured out.

Shane was cool.

Continued ...

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