Plan D:Lake Effect

by Driver

Chapter 1

Mike Mastracchio was back in school the following Monday. I knew that because of gossip, not because I saw him anywhere. There had been news updates throughout the weekend, none of them very informative. The local newspaper had a lot of articles. They weren't really about the crime, which made it obvious that not much new had been discovered. There was a long article about Mr. Throckmorton. It was basically his biography at first, then it went on to include interviews with his friends and co-workers. Not one of them ever had any indication that there was anything wrong, much less that he could do something like he did.

His background sounded normal enough. He was forty-one years old, from a local family, and had attended local schools. He went to college at State, then pulled his Master's at Brown. He'd been athletic; on both track and swim teams throughout high school and college.

He was married and had two daughters, ages eleven and fourteen, and a son, sixteen. He owned a home in the next town (and some of the video I'd seen on the television news made it look like the cops were practically dismantling the place). He was active in community affairs, active in his church, and volunteered in a youth mentoring program in the town he lived in.

The shooting had left everyone who knew the guy in shock. They all thought of him as a solid citizen. He had lots of friends and no known enemies. He played golf religiously, liked deep-sea fishing, and he still enjoyed running.

I read that long article, and several side articles.

I wondered.

I never spent time in the Guidance office. You went there when you needed direction with curriculum, and you went there when you got in trouble. I was a Sophomore that year, so I wouldn't need much guidance until I started planning for the next year. I hadn't been in any official trouble yet, either.

As a Junior you were finally allowed to select courses. As a Freshman and Sophomore, there weren't many electives, just broad plans. Those were fondly called, 'college', 'business', and 'general' courses, and you chose one of them. Within them, there were mostly mandatory classes, with things like a foreign language where you got a choice.

What I'm saying is that I knew who Mr. Throckmorton was because he was there. He often spoke during general school assemblies, mostly to explain rules and policies. He was good at that; calm and professional while he spoke, and reasonably interesting to an auditorium of restless teenagers.

I was like his friends in that I never suspected there was anything unusual about him at all. I didn't know him like they did, of course, but I'd been developing an appreciation for him since I started high school. He seemed like one of the good guys on staff.

Then he called Ron Mastracchio into his office and shot him. Right after that, he put a bullet in his own head, ending his life.

Like everyone else, I felt awful about it. Time to dwell on it, to read about his life, made it all seem worse. In my mind at least, there were all these parallels to Lee's father. I knew that it wasn't a normal thing for middle-age men to suddenly become murderous. Yet now two in my own experience had done just that, and they'd both killed themselves afterwards.

It had led to a pretty somber weekend, even though Aaron did stay at my house. He was his usual sweet self, but he would have needed much bigger shoulders to carry enough cheer to go around. It wasn't just me. The whole town was feeling whatever was bothering me. It wasn't guilt, really, but a deep-rooted sadness.

All school events had been canceled, which made sense. A lot of other things in town had been canceled or postponed, too; things that would have been fun seemed suddenly inappropriate.

People had put together a candlelight vigil outside the school on Friday night. I didn't want to go, but Paul talked me into it, and Aaron and I were both glad that I changed my mind. It was sad, to be sure, but it was also big. Alton was working, but the rest of my family came, as did almost everyone I knew. Paul had called Lee, and he was already planning to go with his mother and his aunt.

It was a chilly night, and we should have walked there. Paul finally dropped us off and brought his car back home, because there wasn't a prayer of finding a place to park.

We told him where we'd be, but when we stood there away from the gathering crowd, we were recruited by some people to help hand out candles. That was really the only amusing part of the evening to me, because we all had candles in our pockets, and I hadn't thought that somebody might provide them.

That certainly kept us busy until Paul found us. We still had boxes of candles and there were still people coming, so we handed them out until the boxes were empty, then joined the quiet crowd gathered there. When the school chorus started to sing, the candles lit up. People with matches or lighters lit their own, then lit the candles around them from their own flames, and it went remarkably fast.

I hadn't wanted to go to the event because I thought it would be hokey. Was I ever wrong!

There were almost five thousand people gathered there, each with a lit candle, and just the sight of it was awesome and beautiful. It was a chilly night, and the candlelight was illuminating the rising, frosty breath of everyone there. The scene had an ethereal, almost mystical appearance to it. There was more than that, too. There were no speakers, no public prayers, just the soft voices of the chorus, and from where we stood their songs could have just been humming.

Still, it was very special. All of us had come there just to be there, to be together and to try and find some good in all the bad. It's more accurate to say that what we were doing was creating a temporary core of goodness, hoping that it would stave off any more bad.

It only lasted as long as the candles did, then a little longer. When they got too short to hold, they were blown out, and when they were all out people just started leaving. That's when everyone started talking, too. It wasn't a rush of conversation, just people greeting one another. What astounded me was who greeted who. Gangsta dudes were solemnly and gently high-fiving goths and preps alike, while athletes hugged geeks, and failures hugged their teachers.

I hugged and got hugged myself, and for a brief time I felt like I knew how life should be. People could get along, and there was no effort involved. It's sad that it took such bleak events to bring on something like that; sadder yet that it only feels good while you're there.

When we finally started the walk home, we were quiet. Then Aaron said, "That was nice," and Paul and I agreed with him.

Aaron asked, "Did they do something like this for Lee's family, too?"

We both looked at Paul, and he said, "This was for them, too. I told Lee that."

I had to think about that, then I asked, "Do you think it really was?"

Paul looked at me and nodded his head almost imperceptibly, a hint of a smile on his face. He was serious, and he was right. The vigil was people standing up, not just for Mr. Throckmorton and Ron Mastracchio, but for all the hurt and lost people.

I took Aaron's hand in mine when we turned into our neighborhood. We only semiconsciously didn't hold hands in public in Mt. Harman. It wasn't something we talked about, it was just the way things were. It was after Paul left off at his house that I mentioned it to Aaron.

"I like your hand," I said. "I like holding it."

Aaron sounded amused, "You are holding it!"

I snickered, "I know I are, but that's now. I want to hold hands when I feel like it, not depending on where we are!"

Aaron giggled, "You have my permission, mister! Any time, any place. Just latch on whenever you like!"

I squeezed his fingers so he'd notice and said, "You know what I mean. What I want is to not care ... no, scratch that. What I want is for it not to matter where we are or who's around. I'm not talking about getting you naked, I'm talking about holding hands!"

Aaron laughed again, "Man, you're all adamant about this, aren't you?" We kept walking, "Tell you what," he said when we were directly in the light of a street lamp. He pulled me to him and laid a hot kiss on my lips. I resisted for exactly a millisecond, then got into the kiss. When Aaron pulled back, he said, "There! Our first public kiss in this town!" He smirked, "Now, if you don't jump my bones, does it mean it's my job to jump yours?"

I hesitated while I thought of an answer, and I came up with a weak, "It's too cold out."

Aaron grinned, and pulled me to him for an even hotter kiss, still under the street light. "Still cold?" he asked when we finally broke it, and by then my knees were weak.

I smiled the best I could and gasped, "Hurry home, Dearie! I need the air conditioning!"

Aaron laughed, and we hurried into the house and up the stairs, both of us giggling like crazy. I shoved my door closed behind us, and we fell onto the bed as soon as our coats were off. We both kicked our shoes off, then got into some serious kissing. We were barely warmed up when there was a tap at the door, and Bruce asked, "Evan? Can I come in?"

Aaron and I sat up quickly, and I said, "Door's open."

Bruce took a step into the room, a somber expression on his face, and when he saw me and Aaron he looked away quickly, a blush rising. He snickered, "It doesn't take you long, does it?"

Aaron giggled, and I replied, "Should it?" I thought his reaction was pretty funny myself. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to ask," he said as he took a few steps toward us, "if you feel like I do? I mean about that vigil. I just ... I don't know ... I got all these feelings there, like if I could stay there, then everything would be okay."

I stared at my little brother, noting the mixed feelings of confusion and hope on his face. I swung my feet off the bed and said, "Sit down, Bruce. Did you talk to Mom or Dad?" I asked as he sat beside me.

"No. I wanted to, but I didn't know how to put it."

I smiled, "Yeah, it's a tough question I guess." Aaron leaned up against me and put his hand on my thigh. For a second I thought he was trying to hurry me up, but that wasn't the case. He just wanted a better look at Bruce.

"Help me with words here, Aaron," I said. I looked at Bruce, "I had that feeling too, Bruce. It's like ... spiritual I guess is a good word. You probably don't remember, but for a while I really got into going to church. I got that same feeling there sometimes, especially when everyone stood up to sing together. You'd have the pipe organ rattling the walls, and all these people singing, and I just felt so ... part of it. That's the way it was tonight ... at least for me. Is that what you're thinking?"

Bruce was staring past me, a little smile forming on his face. "Yeah," he whispered. "That's what I felt. Like I belonged there. It was so nice! It was just being there that was nice. Just the cold and the candles..."

I waited, then suggested, "And the people, Bruce? There were people there, thousands of people. I think they're the reason you had a good feeling."

Aaron leaned out so he could face Bruce, and he said softly, "We were all there for the same purpose, Bruce. The town ... Evan's school ... they've been hurt lately. What you felt was the power of many to fight off that hurt. That's why nobody made speeches or anything, because they wouldn't have made any difference. Being there was the important thing. It was the only thing."

I gave Aaron an admiring look because he'd summed up my feelings exactly. Then I looked back at Bruce quickly, because he wasn't me, but he was nodding thoughtfully.

He asked of nobody in particular, "Is there really a God, then?" He turned to face me, "I think there must be, you know. This whole world is all too random to be an accident of nature."

It's hard to describe how I felt when I heard that. I knew I was about to laugh and laugh hard, but I tried to absorb that statement first. There was only one person on Earth who could utter that combination of words, and I happened to be related to him. The last thing I noticed was Bruce's face going white as mine turned blue with the rush of blood to my head, then I was flat on my back wheezing out the best laugh of my life. I had thoughts while I bucked, kicked and blew snot, but they just made it funnier. Too random to be an accident! I loved it!

I raised a finger and tried to speak, but I could not. I could feel my face contorting, the tears coming from my eyes, and I gave up trying to say anything altogether. I wanted to ask things of Bruce, too, but it would have to wait.

He ... my little brother ... once he learned what constituted a prime number, had calculated them until he was well into the millions. Then he decided it would be more efficient if he predicted them, and when he came up with one in the trillions, then he'd try to prove it. Bruce thought prime numbers were not random at all, but rather some sort of progression that nobody else had bothered to solve, so he would do it.

That's why I thought that his idea about randomness proving the existence of God was so funny! Too random meant there was a being involved!

As I finally wired down, that thought made more and more sense. If the universe was laid out on strictly the principles of science, there would be more order to it. But no. There really was a God, and He had more fun than that. He added things He liked, whether they agreed with science or not, and I could picture the passage that was omitted from the Bible: And on the Eighth Day He tosseth the sketch pad and sayeth, "This is getting boring! I want one of these and I want two of those..."

Only Bruce! And you know what? He had it down right. The idea of Creation was hard to shove aside as a philosophy. Evolution happened afterwards, but there was some initial spark, and Genesis was close enough to the probable truth to believe.

Bruce left us alone after awhile, and Aaron and I continued trying to sort out our feelings about religion. We both found it hateful that so many modern so-called religious leaders, who called themselves Christians, based much of their teachings on Leviticus, a pile of ancient Hebrew translations that seemed to be in favor of murder, rape and slavery, and so full of contradictions that it was pointless reading. Then these so-called Christians turned around and led their own lives and congregations in direct conflict with the preaching of Jesus himself.

My father was named Matthew because his own father so loved the teachings of Matthew in the Bible, and because Matthew recorded Jesus' Sermon on the Mount for posterity. To me, and Aaron agreed with me, that one sermon is the bedrock foundation of Christianity as a spiritual way of living your life. In it, Jesus himself states that he wouldn't want to see anyone profiting from his word, for they would be hypocrites, just like those who prayed in public rather than in private. It's really unbelievable how much of common language usage is derived from that one small text.

"Turn the other cheek." "Beware false prophets." "Judge not, that you be not judged."

The people who ignore the teachings of Jesus himself, and who rely on the venom written in Leviticus to make their millions, would do well to read Matthew from time to time. That's where they can read all about their own fates, which aren't pretty, and they'll have earned them thousands of times over when the time comes.

Aaron said, "Jesus never said a lot of the things people give him credit for, did he?"

I kissed his cheek, "That's an astute observation. I've looked, and I can't find one place where he says 'hate the sin and love the sinner' or anything like that. He does say 'love your enemies' all over the place, but he does not say to hate anything, just to love the people no matter what."

Aaron grinned, because he liked it when I got agitated. "We get lied to a lot, don't we?"

I sighed, "Yeah, we do." I looked at him and grinned, "Do you lie?"

The question surprised Aaron, and he gulped, "Um, well I have lied. Sometimes it's my natural first reaction to something I didn't expect. I don't go around dreaming up lies, but like if my mother asks me who did something, I tell her I don't know."

I snickered, "You can't lie to parents anyhow, Aar. Not mine anyhow. When we were smaller, if something happened Dad would have a lineup, just like the cops. Try lying to four people who know you're lying! After awhile you don't even try any more."

Aaron snickered, "That's funny, kind of. So now you run away instead?"

I chuckled because I knew Aaron meant that in jest, but my answer was serious. "You know," I said, "Running away like I did is kind of like a lie. I hurt my own family, and I don't know if I can ever make up for that, and I cost them, too."

Aaron asked, "How was it like a lie?"

I had to think that over before I answered. "I did it for the same reason as if I'd stayed and lied. I did it to protect my butt. If I stayed here and lied, then I'd have to do it by saying Bruce was the liar, and I don't know who would have been believed. Well, now I know that I probably would have, because I practically got called a liar when I said I was gay. I guess either way somebody was going to get hurt."

Aaron eyed me, "Yeah, except you were wrong."

I smiled and kissed his cheek, "Well, yeah ... there's that. I don't know, Aaron. I'll regret forever that I hurt my family, but I'll never, ever regret meeting you because of it."

Aaron smiled coyly and said, "Ooh! Wanna lay on top of me?"

I grinned. A question like that needed no answer, so I won't even record one here.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning we slept in a little. We'd talked and played until late, then ended up on the computer until after two finding sites that talked about gays and religion. We were only trying to learn, and there are plenty out there. There are many points of view of course, but for the most part it was harder to find people who had thoughtful reasons why a religion might be intolerant of gays. On the other hand, a few of the sites that had pro-gay messages seemed well thought out, especially a Catholic one that presented the reasoning of St. Thomas Aquinas, who recognized gay behavior as perfectly natural to those who engaged in it. He achieved sainthood for his observations, but from what I could tell his church went against many of those writings.

There were two basic viewpoints about gays; for and against. The people against went from 'I don't agree' to the most hateful stuff we'd ever seen. The pros went from intellectual arguments to vitriolic arguments against the antis. There were hateful people on both sides, while intelligence and reason was largely lacking on either side. Being gay ourselves, Aaron and I naturally chose the pro-gay side. We had inside information, of course, and couldn't be easily swayed anyhow.

In the morning, Aaron was up first, and he woke me after he'd taken his shower. After mine, I looked out the window before getting dressed. It was clear and nice looking outside, but the wind was still kicking up, so I decided to actually go out there before I chose what to wear for the day. I pulled on sweats, and we went downstairs for breakfast, passing my Dad in the family room.

We were lucky, because somebody had been to the bakery and there were fresh bagels. When I looked in the refrigerator, there were oranges, too, and yogurt. Heaven on Earth!

I sliced oranges into wedges, then got juice all over me eating mine while I warmed up the bagels and got things ready. Our kitchen had a little booth that had been made for four little boys. It was perfect for two big boys, and there was a warm ray of sunshine aimed right at us through the window. We each had our bagels the way we liked them best; Aaron's was slathered a quarter inch deep with cream cheese and chives, mine with just a little cream cheese and lots of raspberry jam. Then we had our yogurt; vanilla for Aaron, while I had strawberry-banana, and we lingered forever over coffee and the newspaper.

There are times in your life that become your favorites only when you look back on them. I think Aaron knew as well as I did that we'd be hard pressed to ever repeat such a happy little breakfast as that one. The food wasn't anything special, but it was yummy and good. We ended up sipping on coffee, my moosie feet stretched over to Aaron's bench, and his tiger paws on my thighs. Our conversation was mumbled comments on what the paper said about events at my school, but the articles were just recaps of what we already knew. Still, it was wonderful to be together like that. We had nothing planned, nowhere to go, and it was nice to just laze around like that.

After emptying a twelve-cup carafe of coffee, which translates into about six real-world cups, it was our bladders that made us break the mood.

That kitchen was usually a pretty busy place, but not a soul had bothered us, and we didn't even notice that until we were all finished.

When the crumbs were wiped up and things looked pretty good, I stood with my arm loosely around Aaron's back and asked, "Now what?"

Aaron looked around. The kitchen was clean, but the sunbeam had moved along. He shrugged, "I don't know, you tell me."

I giggled, "That's no help." There was nobody was in sight, so I reached gently for his privates and said, "You, um?"

"I um?" he asked. "Ahh ... ugh?"

"Ugh?" I asked in surprise. "Do you mean ugh like in ugh, or more like ug like a movie Indian would say."

Aaron laughed, "Movie Indian, of course! Why would I say ugh when I mean ug? Are you alright?"

I started to laugh, my hand still where it had been, and happily so, when my Dad's way-too-loud voice startled me from behind. "Evan?"

Well! My hand shot up fast enough that I clipped Aaron's nose with it while I spun around. "Dad!"

Dad smiled, "Calm down! I didn't mean to startle you. I'm going to Home Depot, I just wanted to see if you were interested."

I looked at Aaron, who was fingering the tip of his nose, and he gave me a fishy look, so I started to say, "I don't ..."

Then Aaron got all excited. "We'll go! I want to go!"

I looked at Aaron, wondering if he'd lost his mind, then at my Dad, who said, "Get ready, then. I'll wait."

We hurried up to my room, and when we got there I looked at Aaron and asked, "Home Depot?" I felt his forehead, "Tell me why, Aaron. This is like a contradiction in terms."

Aaron stood his ground. "For you maybe! I've never been to a Home Depot. We don't have a Home Depot!" He put this totally childish expression on his puss and asked, "How am I supposed to buy hardware?"

I looked at him, then started laughing because I could have said a lot of things. I finally managed, "Get dressed."

I suddenly wanted to be in a hardware store with Aaron. I knew him. He'd get all hung up on shiny things like brass drawer pulls, and totally bypass the good stuff like engine repair kits. Still, I wanted to see it. I also wanted to someday bring him to the first real hardware store I'd ever been in; Fox Hardware in Riverton. That was where Harlan got things for his company, and it was a different experience from a Home Depot.

At Fox, you didn't wander the aisles with a cart, you went up to a counter and asked whoever was available for what you needed. If you weren't sure what you wanted, you could describe it, or the desired effect of it, and they'd know what it was, and they'd know where it was, and they'd get it for you. If it was something they didn't carry, or something they were out of, they'd call you when it came in. If you couldn't wait, they'd send a driver to pick one up.

I liked Home Depot, too. We had two of them in Mt. Harman, and a Lowes, but no Fox. It was a shame in a way, because I knew that before the first Home Depot showed up, Mt. Harman had places like Fox, too, but they'd all gone under.

Aaron surprised me, because he sure liked Home Depot. Not just for the shiny things, either, though he truly appreciated that those things were there. But no, he liked the batteries, the vast display of light bulbs, the plumbing, the wiring ... everything! Aaron wasn't really a swearer, but almost every aisle we turned into found him saying, "Holy shit!" And when I tried to look at the place through his eyes, I could see it. They certainly sold everything you'd need for a house except for the land itself, and I wouldn't have been a bit surprised if they had some of that in the back.

My father was amused by Aaron, too, and he let us wander the whole building while he picked up the grout he wanted.

We roamed those aisles for over an hour, and at checkout Dad's box of grout was lost in a cart full of things.

After we had everything stashed in the trunk, Dad asked, "Hungry? Feel like having some oysters?"

I looked at Aaron and he nodded eagerly. He really liked seafood, so we headed up the highway to Hooters, of all places. Aaron laughed happily as soon as he realized where we were going. "Hooters? I've never been to a Hooter's. I never thought I'd go to a Hooters."

My father smiled happily, like he thought he'd pulled a good one, but he said kindly enough, "Focus on the fish, Aaron. You too, Ev." He grinned, "That'll leave me free to look around." His expression turned to one of pure innocence, and it made me laugh. My Dad was really learning to be pretty cool.

I'd been to that Hooters several times, always because they had oysters, and they gave you a lot of them for cheap. I'd even been there with my mother.

Aaron was impressed. We got a little, tall table, the top of which looked like it had been sliced from a tree trunk and dipped in urethane.

The women who worked there astounded me if nothing else. They were usually twenty-somethings who were both pretty and shapely. They wore shiny, loose little shorts and tee shirts up top. They wore those tee shirts way tight, too.

"Hi," this black girl with beautiful skin said. "I'm Faizah. How're you all doing?"

We all muttered things, because we were all fixated on her boobs, which had to be medically enhanced! Faizah had this phenomenal sense of balance, because I know that if I had that much weight, all on top and ahead of my centerline, I'd be flat on my face. I'd tip over just like that.

"Can I get you something to drink?" she continued.

"Sam Adams Golden Ale," my father said, his eyes pulling involuntarily toward her tits. "Large, very large." He jerked his eyes away to look at me and Aaron, "Boys?"

I ordered a lemonade and Aaron asked for a root beer, then we looked over the menu. Aaron and I did, that is. My father was checking out Faizah and the other waitresses, but he was already familiar with the menu.

When Faizah brought our drinks, we ended up ordering two dozen raw oysters and two dozen fried ones. I ordered a salad while Dad and Aaron chose to share what turned out to be a basin full of spicy fries.

Everything tasted great, and it was enough to really fill us up.

There's something about a Hooters, too. People have the impression that it's a joint for guys only, and that's not strictly true. Aaron and I may have been the only gay kids there right then, but we were far from being the only kids. On a Saturday afternoon is was mostly families. Fathers and teenage boys ogled the waitresses. Everyone else just enjoyed their food.

Our food was good enough that when Faizah asked if she could take our plates, Dad looked at them and said, "I think you can put them right back up on the shelf!" which got a laugh from all of us.

When we walked out, Dad handed me his keys and said, "You drive."

I was surprised because me driving that Chrysler wasn't a normal thing. Then again, my father had two big draft beers in Hooters, though he seemed fine.

I wasn't arguing. I strapped into the driver's seat while Aaron sat beside me, and Dad sat right behind me. He didn't say anything, and I kind of wondered if I was being tested in some way. We were on a turnpike, a divided road, and there were lots of ways home from there. I could head north until the next light, then turn around and head home that way, or I could just turn off the highway and take any number of back roads to our house.

I decided on the direct route, and pulled out, then over to the left, so I could do a U-turn at the next light.

I stopped there, and when I waited for the light to change, it dawned on me that I didn't feel right. It was non-specific at first, but before I'd driven another mile I realized that I was sick to my stomach. I started to pull over, then turned into a Pep Boys lot, where I stopped the car as soon as I was off the road, and jumped out. It was two steps to a traffic island, and I made it there and bent over, my guts heaving. Then everything in me came up. Wave after wave of nausea rolled up in me, and I was still heaving long after I was dry.

It was then that I became aware of Aaron, then my father. I couldn't quite decipher what they were saying, but Aaron's voice sounded frightened, and my father was reassuring me. I won't try to describe the taste of puke other than to say it's awful, and my tummy wouldn't stop bucking for the longest time.

There wasn't anything Dad or Aaron could do for me, either, except to get me home. Dad drove, and he literally flew. When we got to the house, Aaron hurried me inside. Dad left the car in the driveway and followed right behind us.

I thought I'd be alright, then I felt this sudden contraction in my bowel and knew I wasn't. I bolted out of Aaron's grasp and just barely made it into the half-bathroom next to our family room.

Oh God! The lid was down, and it was all I could do to get it up and my pants down. I let go before I'd sat down completely, and it was horrible. I squirted and squirted until I thought my insides must have come out, then it started all over again. I reached around to flush several times.

I was weak. I felt cold and sweaty at the same time. When I stopped shitting, I had to puke again.

All along, my mind was saying 'something you ate', and it had to be.

It didn't stop there. After I shat, I puked again, then the runs were back, or maybe it was the other way around. All I remember is the most miserable hour of my life. I was shivering with cold and sweating bullets at the same time. I felt awful.

Aaron, little trooper that he was, came in to do what he could to help me. I felt too sick to even want him there, and I finally chased him away.

It took an hour for the major symptoms to pass, but I wasn't right yet. Even in bed I was still cold, and yet I kept on sweating. I fell asleep for awhile, and when I woke up it was to my mother mopping my face with a washcloth.

I had to pee really badly, but I felt almost too weak to get up. My mother smiled when she noticed my eyes open, and asked, "Feeling better?"

I felt like a damp rag, in truth, but my stomach had calmed down, and I was actually hungry. "I have to get up," is what I said. "I Gotta go!" Then I felt a sudden fear, "Did Aaron go home?"

My mother smiled and said, "Of course not. He's right beside you."

I looked, and there he was, sound asleep. I smiled my content, then looked at my mother and said, "He's cute, isn't he?"

She smiled warmly and started to get up. "Yes he is, Evan, and so are you. I haven't said this before, but together you make a very handsome couple."

I smiled and started to climb out from under the covers, causing my mother to beat a hasty retreat.

I still had the chills, so I put my bathrobe on and hurried to the bathroom. My mouth had a really raunchy taste in it, and my throat hurt from heaving so much. I brushed my teeth for a long time, then gargled for another long time.

That made my mouth and throat feel better. I was still cold, though, so I hurried back to bed and under the covers. My activity woke Aaron up, and for the first time ever I didn't see him smile before his eyes opened. Instead, they shot open, and then he smiled nervously. "Evan! Are you feeling better?"

I nodded, teeth chattering, "Yeah ... just cold!"

Aaron was flat against me before I knew it, and he was giving me the warmth from his own body. He had heat to spare, too, and I was soon back asleep, warm and safe in his grasp.

It was still light out when I woke up again, and Aaron was still cuddled up to me. I was hungry this time, ravished really, even though a few hours earlier I'd sworn off eating forever. Aaron was awake already, and when he felt me stir he whispered, "You're awake?"

"I'm hungry."

I felt Aaron's laugh as a little bounce, even though he made no sound until he said, "I'm surprised. Hungry? You?"

I giggled, "Yes, me. In case you didn't notice, I kind of barfed up anything I ate in the last few days."

Aaron said flatly, "I won't get you a pizza. How about some saltines? Just until you're sure they'll stay down."

"Yes, mommy."

Aaron sounded indignant, "I ain't your Mommy! If you want pizza, I'll get you pizza. I would think crackers might be a better idea."

"Yeah," I said. "And a soda ... something bubbly."

Aaron pulled really close and kissed my neck, "That's smart." Then he giggled, "You were great, you know. You can puke like four feet."

"I didn't know that," I said dryly. "Are you gonna feed me or what?"

"Coming up," he said, and he felt me up while he climbed out the other side of the bed. "Saltines and ginger ale?"

"Whatever," I grumbled, knowing he was right. I'd eat real food another day, but it wasn't the time for it right then.

Aaron left as if he was going to get something and bring it back, but I wanted to be up. I pulled on my bathrobe and hurried after him. I was weak all over and my stomach muscles actually hurt, but at least I didn't feel sick anymore.

When I got to the kitchen, Aaron and my mother were getting something ready for me, so I sat at the table. Saltines it was, and my mother advised me to just nibble a few of them to see if they'd stay down. I did, but it was like water torture, though the effect of the first few bites was kind of neat. The amount of saliva that formed around those little nibbles to wash them down was incredible. I paused after two crackers, and when my stomach still only felt empty after a minute I started eating faster. I doubt that the entire history of saltines had ever produced any that tasted finer than those first few tasted to me. I wasn't nuts for salty things to begin with, but that didn't matter right then. I did wonder if they made unsalted ones. I guessed they probably didn't because people wouldn't know what to call them.

Aaron and I had made vague plans to go to a movie or something that night, and we stayed in instead. I wasn't sick anymore, but I didn't have much strength either. We curled up on a sofa in the family room and watched television with my folks. When I got hungry again, my mother made us some tomato soup with milk, and we had that with goldfish crackers in it. I was having a hard time staying awake, so we wandered up to my room to go to bed sometime just after nine.

That gave us time to do things, and we went slowly under Aaron's guidance. I didn't want to do anything at first, but he coaxed me and loved me so gently beyond my own will, that I was able to satisfy and be satisfied by his lust alone. I entered dreamland with an Aaron-sized smile on my face, and I slept beautifully beside him.

We played lazy again on Sunday morning, too. We didn't get up until almost nine, then we had a goofy shower together before breakfast.

Mom had made French toast, and it was staying warm in the oven, so all we needed was milk, butter and syrup before we stuffed ourselves. Lord, did it feel good to eat again, too. I don't know what went wrong in that restaurant. I either got a bad salad or it came in a dirty dish, but it had done me in for sure.

I felt great on Sunday, though, and kept going back to the oven for more. Dad sat with us for awhile, and left when he had to go pick Bruce up at church.

"He went to church?" I asked incredulously.

Dad nodded, "That's where he is. It seems that he viewed the vigil on Friday as a religious experience, or you told him it was one." Dad shrugged, "At any rate, he wants that feeling back."

I just watched while my father left, feeling that I might start going to church again. I had liked it at one time, but I stopped going when I realized that it was the ceremony and the ritual I liked. I didn't think I had the kind of real belief that I needed to justify being there. Now I wasn't sure. I was older, and I really did believe in God, and I liked the words that Jesus said. I even liked his style.

It was the worship bit that eventually did me in. That part sounded man made, not God made. I know it says it in the Bible, but a lot of things get said in that book, especially in the Old Testament, and they do not agree with the words of Jesus, the man.

Here's my take: The Old Testament was written by fearful and superstitious men, men who heard what they wanted to hear, and they got it many times removed from the supposed source, which was either God himself, or his Angels. Angels sound suspiciously like trial attorneys to me. Give me a break! If God created everything, and if he's omnipresent, then why would he be jealous? I mean, of who? And how could it be? God is perfect and all knowing. Jealousy is a Cardinal sin, and it goes against one of God's own commandments. That means it can't be true, and it's a huge flaw that the Bible says otherwise, because it lowers God Himself to just a man.

When Bruce came home, my thoughts had to change again. He was happy that he went. "You were right, Ev. Science kind of proves there's a God, and religion confirms it." He grinned, "I'm going back. Why'd you stop going?"

I didn't want to get into it, so I grunted out, "Takes too much time."

It was amusing. Bruce looked really fine in a tie and a dress shirt for starters. All he needed was a pocket protector to be the best looking scientist in the history of scientists.

I didn't say anything before Bruce went on excitedly, "There's a service for kids later. Did you know they have a YPF? A Young People's Fellowship? It's like a club, and they meet Sunday nights."

I said, "I know it's there. What do they do?"

Bruce smiled, "I'll tell you tomorrow. So far, it sounds kind of like a sex club."

"Right up your alley, then," I muttered, which made Aaron snicker.

Bruce looked at me oddly and said, "Yeah, I guess," then he opened the refrigerator and disappeared from view.

I indicated to Aaron that we should leave in a hurry, and we brought our coffees into the family room. It was there that we read the articles in the paper about the shooting at school. We ended up knowing a whole lot about Mr. Throckmorton. We also learned quite a bit about school emergency procedures and police policies, but nothing new about what had gone on. Another thing we learned was that 'not life threatening' didn't tell the whole story either. Ron had been on the critical list until the day before. They didn't expect him to die, but he lost a lot of blood so he might not be right, either.

My mother made a fantastic corned beef dinner that day, and there wasn't a crumb of anything left after we ate. The only one disappointed was my Dad, because he'd picked up rye bread anticipating sandwiches later.

I took it easy eating, but my stomach felt fine, and I could only wonder about whatever had made me so sick the day before. It made no difference to me, but my Dad had called the restaurant to let them know how sick I got, and they said they'd look into it. Dad said they were very apologetic, but kind of defensive, too. Like I said, it didn't matter to me.

After dinner, Aaron and I excused ourselves to go to my room while we waited for his brother to pick him up. We made the lame excuse that he had to pack, and while I'm sure everyone knew that was true in a strict sense, they also knew it wouldn't take an hour.

It did take an hour, though. It always did, and when Justin showed up Aaron was packed and ready to stay. He was ready to stay, too, but that didn't go anywhere.

I wished him well with his driver's test, and kissed him before he got into the car with Justin, then I watched them drive off. We had lives to live, but I always had a hollow feeling when we parted. We needed a block of time together, and soon. I had a car, and Aaron soon would, but even that only allowed us to drive to visit each other. The stupid, stupid new laws made it illegal for us to actually ride together with one of us driving.

I stood there long after Justin's car was out of sight, then I paid attention and realized that it was a pretty nice day. I went in the house and got my skateboard, which I hadn't used much at all since I broke for Riverton the past summer. I pulled some army-drab board shorts on over my sweats, then went outside to play. It was chilly and breezy, and there was a lot of sand in the street, but the only snow left was in blotches on the shady sides of things.

I could get a good, long ride from our house, because the street was on a slight grade. At the bottom, where it teed into another road, I could keep heading downhill for another quarter mile if I went right, and even to the left it was at least level.

I decided on the cruise, and I was quickly into my rhythm. I loved my board, and I played with all the tricks on it, but I also loved just cruising. There just weren't any really long downhills in the area. There was a skateboard park, though, and Chris and I had been regulars there since it opened. We both had in-line skates, too, and Chris was much better on those than I was. He was more daring, too, and he'd been doing three-sixty back flips for a few years. That was a stunt that was too scary for me to even attempt. I cringed every time Chris did one, although he always came out of it laughing. He was my best friend, and I feared for him whenever I saw him upside down, ten feet over the pavement, with his feet straight up in the air. The science that I knew explained the mechanics that made it possible, but he really needed a perfect world to pull it off in. He checked the area and picked up debris before he ever tried, but that didn't prevent the wind from blowing something in at the worst possible moment, and if that happened, then the hard concrete or the steel of the ramps would surely cause real harm.

I alternately carried and scooted my board to Chris' house, but nobody was home when I got there, so I took advantage of the downhill back to my own house. I decided to keep my board in the trunk of the car, and after I put it there, I thought about other things. I went to my room and rummaged through the closet for some things. I had three baseball gloves; one for first base, and a catcher's mitt, both Rawlings. My pride and joy was a real Vinci fielder's mitt that my grandparents bought me for my thirteenth birthday. I used it at third base, and had never yet made a catching error with it.

The gloves all felt fine. My problem, and I should have known it, was going to be my feet. My size ten in-line skates and my size ten cleats just wouldn't fit my size eleven feet. The skates were cheapies anyhow, but you couldn't mess much with cleats. They didn't cost a fortune, but it piled up when you had to buy more than one pair in a year. When I was eleven and twelve, I was getting new ones almost once a month. That was little league, though, and they weren't brand new, just shoes that bigger kids had grown out of. It was this big-ass exchange program that the league ran. Somebody, somewhere of course had to buy new shoes, but the majority of us went to the swaps, tried things on until something felt right, then we paid ten bucks or whatever for them. That gave us the privilege of adding a little more wear and tear before they were too small again.

I decided that I could do without new in-lines for awhile, and that I'd hold off on new cleats until just before the season started.

Before I started the car to go for a ride, I had secured my mitts in the back, along with a couple of baseballs and my bat, the skateboard, knee and elbow pads, my helmet and my hiking boots.

I drove downtown, where I very rarely ventured because there was little of interest left there. Most stores had been vacant since I could remember, so I never really knew what had been in them. My mother had pictures from her youth that showed a vibrant city, much like Riverton still was. There were still some stores hanging on, mostly small time things. There was a barber shop and a hairdresser, a jeweler, a paint store, various other things. They kept their storefronts looking nice, but they were spread out too much to do anything to camouflage the fact that most buildings were vacant. There were far more windows that were either soaped or boarded up than windows with things on display. Late on a Sunday afternoon, there were very few people out and about either; a grandfather with two little kids, a Hispanic couple hanging onto each other like lovers will, a lady walking her dog.

Out where we lived was nice enough, and the town had lots of prosperous people, they just earned their livings elsewhere. I went along the main street and just kept going. Ironically, once I got away from downtown proper, things picked up a little. On the far side of town from where I lived, the main street was a commercial strip, and the places along there seemed to be busy. I turned and drove out past the mall, but I didn't pull in there. That parking lot was packed like it always is, and it made me think about Riverton and what a real town could be compared to a mall town.

Mt. Harman wasn't a bad place to live, not by any stretch. It just wasn't self-sufficient. For the most part, the people who lived in town worked in different towns, and they had to commute every day. Riverton was its own place, surviving and thriving on its own energy. I don't know why I thought about it so much, but spending just one summer there had me feeling more involved in that town than fifteen years in Mt. Harman ever got me involved.

I drove back to my neighborhood, and Chris' house still looked vacant, so I headed home. Paul was in front of his house, and I tooted the horn and stopped, lowering the window. He looked up and smiled. I asked, "Go for a ride?" Paul, at eighteen and with his own license, was legal for me to have in the car.

He just smiled and hurried across the street, saying, "Nice," as he climbed in. "Where's Aaron, gone already?"

"Yup," I said. "Where to?"

Paul grinned, "Go to the industrial park. You can show me what you got out there."

I snickered, "I can show you what I got right here, but you hafta show me yours, too."

He punched my arm and muttered, "Asshole! I meant the car, and you know I meant the car."

"Au contraire," I said as I turned out of the neighborhood. "When you ask a gay boy to show you what he has, believe me, the first thought that goes through his head is not about a car!"

Paul glowered at me and said, "You know, it's too bad that touché doesn't rhyme with douche, because I would have just now written my first poem."

That made me laugh enough to jerk the wheel a little, which in turn made me put my attention back on my driving.

We were silent for a minute, then Paul said, "I saw Lee yesterday."

"Really?" I asked, interested.

"Yeah. He said how you told him you'd go to court for him."

I waited, and Paul added, "You turned out okay, Evan. I told him if I could help, I'd be there, too."

I glanced at Paul, "You really like him, don't you?"

Paul said, "Yeah, I guess I do." He laughed softly, "He's just like you, Ev. I guess we all can admire what we're not."

I looked a question at Paul, but by then I was turning into the industrial park, wondering why we'd come there. "We're here," I said.

Paul said, "Just keep going 'til you come to a stop sign, then turn."

"Which way?"

He smirked, "Doesn't matter. That's Future Boulevard, and you'll have four lanes in either direction, maybe a mile long."

I grinned, "And nobody here on a Sunday?"

Paul chuckled, "You've always been quick to catch on."

For the next twenty minutes or so we forgot about everything except the car and what it would do.

Future Boulevard was this perfect little street. Like Paul said, it was four lanes in each direction with no center divider, and it was about a mile long. Alone on it, even a catastrophic car failure would probably only involve car parts and not people parts. The buildings were set far back, as were the few young trees in front of them. This was our industrial park, though I didn't know of any real industry there. It was an office park in reality, and a great way to use up a lot of land.

And whoo! The road we came in on had pleasant curves, but when I got to the end of Future, I just stuck my foot in it. That little four-banger Honda VTEC was positively scary at rev, and even my yet-to-be-perfect shifting still let me believe I'd bought a real screamer of a car.

Paul insisted on driving a few runs, promising me a crack at his V-8 Mustang in return, and the experience was a thrill even from the passenger seat. What my car lacked in torque, it made up for in high revs, and the sound was almost like a motorcycle. There was no burble at idle, but silence instead. At town speeds, you felt rather than heard the motor. Open it up though, push that eight thousand redline, and it wailed like a banshee, and it pushed you righteously into the seatback.

Paul let out the air from his lungs when he stopped the car, and he gasped happily, "Good car! Great car. Holy ..." He looked up, "Uh, oh."

I looked, and over a building I could see the flash from a light, like one on a police car. Paul fumbled in his wallet, then pulled out a piece of paper and asked, "Got a pen in here?"

I did, in the glove compartment, and when I got it out he told me to hold it, and the paper too. I looked at the paper and it was a list of company names. A moment later, a cruiser came into view, first heading the other way on Future, then coming straight back toward us. When it was almost to where we were, the siren went off for just a half second, making this brrrp sound.

The cop stopped beside us, facing the other way, and he came across to our car. Paul had the window down by then, and the cop held his hand out, "License and registration, please."

Paul fumbled for his wallet while I got the registration papers out of the glove box. Paul held them out and asked, "What's this about? I'm just stopped here."

The cop looked up from the documents and asked, "Who's Matthew Smiley? Why are you in his car?"

I leaned over and looked up. "That's my father. This is my car."

The cop looked at me, then at Paul's license, then at the new registration. He asked, "Why are you out here? Is there a race tonight?"

Paul said innocently, "Oh no, officer. I'm graduating this year. We just came out to get the names of the companies so I could look for work." He took his paper from me and handed it to the cop.

The cop looked at it, then around at some of the signs, and handed it back. "Why are you driving, then?"

Paul pointed his thumb over his shoulder at me, "He writes neater."

That was it. The cop handed back the other papers, and said, "Good luck." Then he chuckled, "Try not to look so suspicious next time."

"Thank you, sir," Paul said, then we waited until the cruiser pulled out.

God, I had been mortified the whole time! I was still shaking when Paul snickered, "Evan, you were great."

"I was?" I asked. I started laughing about the whole thing, but really from the release of tension I felt. "You were great! Why do you have that paper?"

Paul sat back, a superior smirk on his face. "I am looking for work, Ev." He patted my knee, "And don't get so nervous next time." He seemed totally relaxed, while my blood was still pumping. He laughed, "Ev, I know how you feel ... exactly how you feel. The first time I got stopped was the first time I drove on the road in my own car." He laughed again, "You remember that old truck I had? My Dad called it the 'crop duster' because so much crap fell off it." He was shaking with giggles, "The first time I was out in it with a girl, we headed up the turnpike. I didn't know it, but my signal didn't turn off, so I was driving up there with the right-side blinker on." I was staring at him, and when he noticed he gave me a bright smile. "Suddenly there's this cop behind me, then his lights and siren come on."

He didn't say anything for a moment, so I said, "And?"

Paul said, "This is kind of embarrassing, now that I think about it."

I poked his arm, "Don't give me that! Not now, anyhow! You started, you gotta finish!"

"Tell me you won't say!"

"I won't say, I promise!"

He wheezed out a laugh, "Okay. Here I am being chased by my first cop, and I was scared shitless. It was on the turnpike, so I pulled into some lot to be off the road. He did the usual, came up to the truck and asked for license and registration. Then he asked if I knew why he pulled me over, and I told him I did not. Well, the minute he said it was because my turn signal was on, I grabbed the lever to turn it off. Only I grabbed the wrong lever, and I gave him a full facial bath with the windshield washer."

I was incredulous. "It pointed that way? Did you know that?"

"Well, yes I did, and it was one of the first things I was gonna fix on that truck." He smirked, "Anyhow, that's not the story. This girl I was with, Bonnie, the next thing I know she looks out my side and screams! Then she got out her side and started running behind a building, and I didn't know what to do. I turned back to the cop, and he's just wiping his face off, and he looked as surprised as me."

I was laughing, "You're kidding! What was she screaming about?"

"I'm getting to that. The cop takes off after her, and I take off after him."

I was squirming, because Paul was an animated story teller to begin with, and this was a good one.

"So, we get behind this building, and it's just a parking lot back there, so the cop goes looking around. When he goes behind the dumpster, there's this other big scream, so I go running over there, and there's Bonnie all crouched down and crying. She's going 'DON'T SHOOT ME!' I mean, she was totally terrified!"

"Jesus! What scared her?" I asked.

Paul was shaking his head and cackling out a laugh, "Okay, here's the punch line. When I got the cop in the face with the washer, she thought he was going to shoot me. He was getting a handkerchief out of his pocket, but she couldn't see his hand, so she thought he was going for his gun. Heh, I couldn't laugh right then because she was all in hysterics, so I got her calmed down and took her home. Then I went back up on the highway and found that cop, and we both laughed 'til I thought we'd piss ourselves!"

Paul was cackling away, and I laughed with him. He put the car in gear and we drove slowly toward home. We drove right to my house and Paul walked home from there.

When I talked to Aaron that night, I told him my cop story, then Paul's, and we had a good laugh. I was proud of my self for even having a decent police story so early into having my license. I didn't even have to crack up the car or get a ticket, either. He was excited that he'd get his license that week, and Chris would, too. Now there would be three of us with licenses, and if we wanted to go somewhere together, we'd have to take separate cars. The thought process that had gone into the new law became harder for me to grasp every time I wondered about it, and the intellect behind it was only evident in its absence.

Chris wasn't going to school on Monday because his driver's test was in the morning. Paul's car was gone when I went past his house, then I saw Nancy Johnson about a hundred feet in front of me, and she was alone, too. "Nancy!" I called, "Wait up!"

She turned and waited while I ran to catch up with her. She was smiling when I got there, and she said, "Hi, Evan. You're still walking?"

I smiled sadly, "Yeah. I got a car, but I can't get a parking spot until somebody self-destructs or something."

She took my hand and swung it cheerfully, singing, "La-da-da-da-da-da-dada-dee."

I looked at her, "You're in a good mood."

She shrugged and tossed her hair. "And why shouldn't I be? Chris did tell you that he asked me out, didn't he?"

He did not! Well, then again, I hadn't talked to him. I didn't want to let on that I didn't know, so I said, "I think it's great! You and Chris ... Chris and you ... that's stylin', to use Carly's term!"

Nancy chuckled, "Yeah, stylin'. I like that. I ... I've always kind of liked Chris, you know."

I smiled at her and said, "I didn't know."

She blushed a little, "After you, of course, but now I know that wasn't meant to be."

"I guess not, huh?" I mumbled.

She said brightly, "I still love you, Ev. I don't mean that Chris is second best or anything."

I felt wicked, "Well, he is too!"

She gave me a startled look, then realized I was kidding and stuck out her tongue. She said, "It was bound to happen, I guess. We've gone a long time without really pairing up, but some things must be inevitable." She squeezed my hand, "I'm not one bit surprised that you took that leap first, only that it was with another boy."

I snickered, "Didn't fit with your picture of me?"

She hummed some tune for a second, then said, "You know, it didn't at all at first. Now that I've seen you with Aaron, I don't know. What sounded freaky at first, when you just hear it, isn't odd at all when you see how it works. I like the way you guys play off each other. I was thinking the other day that when people are in love, it comes from somewhere old. Like way old, the kind of old that started before time." She tossed her hair and looked at me, "Do you get what I'm saying? Love ... real love is something you can see. I think it's pretty rare, too, but I do see it sometimes, and you definitely have it with Aaron."

I mulled that over most of the way to school, and finally said, "You know, Nancy, I always liked you, and it's the way you think sometimes. Not ... um, not to mention you're sexy enough to give a gay boy second thoughts. You do have deep thoughts, though, and you make me think. Hell, you make all of us think." I coughed, "You be careful around Chris, though. He can be a thief of hearts."

Nancy snickered, "He said this was his first date."

I grinned, "Oh, it is, it is. It's not the first heart he stole, though. That's what I meant."

We were just outside the school and Nancy stopped. "I understand, Evan." People were swirling around us, and she caught my eyes with her pretty ones, and she asked, "Evan, will you kiss me?"

"I ..."

"Just once."

I nodded, and we embraced, which we'd done many times. My lips found hers, and I'm tempted to stop talking about it right now. That wouldn't be fair though, so I'll add that there was a gigantic WOW involved, and I will add further that Nancy Johnson was every bit as sexy as I always thought she was.

I walked into that school building all weak-kneed and stupefied, and with two big concavities on the front of my down jacket. Nancy knew how to make an impression in more ways than one.


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