Warning: This is a fictional story, describing erotic relations between
consenting adult men. If this makes you uncomfortable, or if it is illegal for you to read
something like this, then go find something else to do.
The following story is entirely a work of fiction, and is not intended to imply anything about any real people. All of the characters in the story are fictional, and must not be confused with any real people. The characters in this story may have the same names as some real people, but the characters are in no way supposed to actually represent any real people.
Permission is hereby granted for this story to be distributed solely by the Nifty Archive: http://www.nifty.org/. You may of course keep a copy for your own use, but you may not redistribute it.
Well, it's been a very long time since I wrote anything here. So much has happened. But this isn't about me after all.
First, if you haven't read the story recently, I'd really urge you to review the story to this point. I'm sure there's much you've forgotten. If you don't want to read it again from the beginning, please read the "News" entry I posted on Nifty. It has a quick synopsis of the outstanding issues in the story.
I'd like to say again that I really do appreciate your emails. Much to my surprise, even months after chapter 22 was posted, I still continued to get email asking me to finish the story. Well, here you go.
On with the story!
Suddenly, it was frigid. The cold came from nowhere. He had been warm, safe...
But that was a faint memory now. The air was still, quiet, frozen. The night was dark. Unnaturally so. Wherever he looked, everything was dark. He was standing somewhere, in the cold dark night.
Slowly, a faint light appeared. Or, maybe his eyes were just adjusting to the dark. The too familiar alleyway slowly became apparent to his eyes.
Sound brushed against him, bringing with it another chill. The sounds of the crowd surrounded him. Indistinct voices, the whisper of movement, the sound of breathing. The noises were hushed, muted, waiting. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. Something was about to happen.
He knew what was going to happen. He didn't want to go through that again! He fought to control his body. Run! Run away! The urge to flee was overwhelming, yet he couldn't even lift one foot. He was trapped.
He'd known he was trapped. It was futile. Hopeless.
A cry of pain suddenly split the night. It sounded louder, more urgent than ever before.
In response, the crowd cheered. There was movement as the crowd started to push past him. They were moving in closer, to get a better view. Or, maybe, so they were within reach. Within striking distance.
Someone pushed against his back, and he was shoved forward. He stumbled, and somehow the spell was broken. He could move! His feet obeyed his commands!
The urge for flight was gone. Now, he wanted to protect Brad and Jason. He had to protect them. They were his friends! Howie's feet obeyed as he thrust his way through the crowd. The crush of the crowd around him was oppressive, but he pushed on. He had to get to the front. He had to protect them!
Suddenly, there was no one in front of him. He could clearly see...
No! It couldn't be!
His foot connected with Nick's knee, and Nick screamed in pain. Nick collapsed onto the ground. Without Nick's support, Matt fell beside him.
The image as he'd first seen them was seared onto his mind. Nick had been holding Matt up protectively, as Matt nursed his groin. That first blow he'd heard before must have been someone kicking Matt.
His arms and legs refused his control, as he laid blow after blow on Nick and Matt. Their cries of pain mingled with the awful sounds of fists and boots meeting flesh. He felt each kick jar him. Each time his fist hit, the force reverberated up his arm. The sound of their moans and cries became quieter, as they slowly grew weaker and weaker. Limbs were grasped and pulled into unnatural positions. The sound of bones breaking was loudly cheered.
He fought continually to control his arms and legs. Each blow or kick seemed to originate from someone else, yet only he struck them. He couldn't control himself at all. He felt the tears as they streaked down his face, but that was the only sign he felt any of the pain.
A cry of relief almost escaped when he first heard the sound of the sirens. Louder and louder they came, and the crowd started to slowly drift away. His blows became weaker and weaker as the crowd dispersed. He was forced to watch each blow as it landed. His fists and boots were covered in blood. A final weak kick, and Matt's head rested at an impossible angle.
Wake up! The crowd was gone. He could clearly see the bodies, as they lay there in the dirt. They were both twisted and bloody. Both were still. Too still perhaps.
Wake up damn it!
Yet, still he didn't wake! But, it was time to wake. The nightmare had always ended here before!
He stood there, staring at the bodies. The sound of the sirens suddenly cut off, and flashing lights lit the scene. He stood limply there, covered in blood, as two paramedics ran over to Matt. A quick look, and they abandoned him for Nick. Swiftly, they worked as he stood and watched.
Then another siren cut off abruptly as more flashing lights lit the alley. There was a rush of movement, and he was suddenly knocked onto the ground. Numbly, his face was pressed into the dirt, as his bloody hands were gripped from behind, and tied together. Indistinct voices could be heard.
"What about the other one?"
"Too late. He's gone."
Someone suddenly pulled his arms back and up. He doubled over in agony as a knee
connected with his stomach. He fought for breath as he screamed...
AJ fumbled in his pocket for his keys. It was a good thing he'd remembered to take his keys with him. He'd been expecting to go back to the apartment with Howie. He didn't know why he'd picked up his key before he left, but he was sure glad he had. Normally, he counted on Howie to have his keys.
He was sharing one apartment with Howie, while Kevin, Brian and Nick were in another. Since they were going to be here in New York city for a few weeks, they'd rented apartments rather than a hotel. It was actually quite nice. It was something they tried to do if they were in a city for more than a couple of days. Hotels were just so boring all the time.
He opened the door, and walked into the apartment. As he continued toward his bedroom, he saw that the door to Howie's bedroom was closed. Howie must have come back here when he'd left the other apartment. AJ sighed. It would be so much nicer if Howie would just get over it. Nick and Matt were going to be together--that was obvious. Why couldn't Howie just accept that, and just move on?
He turned toward his own bedroom, when there was a sudden scream. It was an eerie sound. AJ froze for a moment, and he felt his heart suddenly racing. What was that? Howie?
His hands flew to open the door to Howie's bedroom. From the hallway light, he could see a figure on the floor, twisted up in the sheets. He flipped the light switch, and entered the room. He looked around quickly, but couldn't see anyone except the person on the floor.
There was another scream--this one louder than before. He rushed over, and tried to untangle Howie from the sheets. Howie fought back for a moment, then his eyes suddenly flew open. He gasped and then his eyes lost focus. His body suddenly went limp.
AJ's heart was pounding. Was Howie dead? He was still--too still. No, he was still breathing. Just passed out. His body was cold and pale. What was that smell? Had he thrown up?
AJ fought back the sudden surge of panic. He needed help. Howie needed help. Instinctively, he ran for the phone. Shit--what was the number? He fumbled for a moment, found the number where it was marked beside the phone, and dialed. The phone rang once. Twice. Then someone said hello.
"Brian! Something's wrong with Howie! He was having a fit or something and I think he's passed out now. Get Kevin!"
Without waiting for a response, AJ hung up the phone and ran back to his friend.
The world was white, indistinct, and featureless. The air was cold, frigid, and numbing. Everywhere he looked, all he saw was white. He lifted his hand, tentatively, and reached out. As he extended his arm, he gasped as his hand disappeared in the whiteness before him. He quickly pulled his arm back, and his hand returned. He studied it carefully for a moment. Yes, it seemed okay.
Where was he? The last he remembered, he was in the alleyway. The mangled, twisted bodies were at his feet. He’d been there as Nick and Matt...
No! Had it really happened?
The urge to break out, to find Matt and Nick was overwhelming. He had to know. He had to see them. He had to make sure they were okay.
He took a tentative step forward, into the white. His arms were stretched out before him, yet he couldn’t touch anything. Another step and suddenly he was in a room.
What? Where was he? He looked around for a moment, before he saw them. There, over by the hospital bed were Kevin, Brian, AJ and Joey. The sight of them filled him with relief. Here at last were friendly faces. His friends.
He took another step and then suddenly froze. No! It couldn’t be!
But it was. There, lying in the bed was Nick. It was hard to make him out for all of the machinery, bandages, tubes and wires running into his body. But, that hair was unmistakable. It had to be Nick.
He tore his eyes away from Nick and looked at AJ. Tears were streaming down his face. Kevin was crying as well. Brian looked terrible as he clung to Nick’s bedside. His face was red and blotchy. He couldn't bear to look at Joey. He knew the sorrow he'd see there.
He tried to scream. He tried to run over and see Nick, but he was frozen in place. He couldn’t make a sound. He was helpless.
"Nick...Nick..." Brian whispered. The sound was loud in the silent room. The faint hum of machinery could be heard, but it was amazingly quiet.
"We’ll miss you Nick" Kevin said softly. "We love you."
Kevin’s gentle words caused Brian and AJ to start sobbing again. Joey collapsed into Kevin's arms. They stood beside Nick’s bed, sobbing their hearts out.
He wanted to join them. He wanted to show them how much he would miss Nick. And Matt. How much he loved them. He realized he really did love them. How could he go on? How would they all go on?
The noise in the room suddenly changed when a high pitched electronic squeal sounded. There was a sudden flurry of activity as a group of doctors and nurses ran into the room. The guys were forced back from the edge of the bed.
There was a suddenly bright white light, behind the bed. A figure stepped out from the light, then as abruptly as it had appeared, the light was gone. Strangely, nobody else in the room seemed to notice. Nobody else noticed the new person in the room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust before he could see the figure’s face.
No! It couldn’t be! He was...
He wanted run, to hide in shame as he saw Matt looking at him. Somehow, he was forced to meet Matt's calm gaze. Nobody else could see him but Matt could. He was released quickly as Matt turned and moved toward Nick. Somehow, he moved through the crowd of medical people huddling around Nick. Matt slowly reached out and touched Nick’s face.
Nick suddenly sat up in the bed, and smiled at Matt. He reached out and they joined hands. With a little tug from Matt, Nick stood on the floor beside the bed. They hugged. A glow started to show around them as they hugged, becoming brighter and brighter.
He watched in horror as Nick and Matt walked away from the cluster of medical people around Nick’s body. They moved over to Kevin, Joey, Brian and AJ. One by one, Nick touched each of his friend's faces as if saying goodbye. Matt held his other hand the whole time, and gently smiled as he watched. When Nick was done, Matt touched each of the guys too, one at a time. His hand lingered on Joey's face, as if he were trying to sooth away the tears.
A long moment passed, before they turned for a moment and looked directly at him.
He wanted to tell them how sorry he was. He wanted to tell them how much he’d miss them. How much he loved them. How sorry he was that he'd left them down. How much he wished he were dead instead of them.
But he couldn’t. No words would form. He couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t look away as they stood watching him.
Then their glow seemed to grow too bright to look at. He had to shade his eyes for a moment. The light had appeared again. Howie watched through tear filled eyes as they turned, and without a backward glance, walked into the light, arm in arm.
When the light went out, all strength seemed to abruptly drain from the guys. They made no attempt now to hide their pain as they collapsed into each other's arms.
First Brad and Jason. Now, Nick and Matt. How could he go on? How could his friends
ever forgive him? How could they?
Joey sat back and sighed. Well, what now?
Brian had just called Kevin. Apparently, there was a problem with Howie. Kevin had left immediately, of course. The guys needed him.
Joey had offered to come with him, but Kevin had insisted that he stay. They didn't know what the problem was right now. If they needed to get Matt or Nick, Joey would be able to do that quickly if he were at the hotel. Nobody really wanted to bother Matt or Nick unless they really had to.
It had been such an eventful day. He'd broken down on the plane and told Matt about his first experience. That had been such a surprise--he'd never expected to tell Matt about that. He still wasn't sure he agreed with Matt--rape seemed like such a harsh word for it. But it hadn't been a nice experience either. Still, it was a huge relief to have told Matt about it all.
Then they'd arrived in New York, and met the guys for dinner at their apartment. And, much to his surprise, Nick had asked Matt to marry him! That would be so nice. They were such a perfect couple. Matt was so lucky.
He sure hoped Matt's first time when better than his. Still, Nick wouldn't hurt him. Matt seemed to be eager. Joey wasn't sure he'd ever be able to understand that, but he really hoped they were okay.
After Nick and Matt had left, they'd talked for hours. Then, when he'd been walking back here with Kevin, he'd told Kevin how he felt. He couldn't help but wish that had turned out differently. Kevin was so perfect for him. If only he'd been gay.
Now, there was trouble with Howie. There always seemed to be trouble with him. He'd been strange all night. He'd just disappeared before they could toast the happy couple.
Joey just couldn't help but worry. It was frustrating not to be able to do something. Still, he knew Kevin was right. It was best if he stayed here.
He answered his cell phone, interrupting it as it rang for the first time. It had to be Kevin.
"Joey?" Kevin's voice was filled with stress. "Find Nick and Matt, and bring them here as quickly as you can. Howie is hysterical. He wants to see them. I don't think we'll be able to calm him down until they're here."
"Will do" Joey said. It was hard to tell whether Kevin had heard him, as Kevin had already hung up. Joey didn't bother to think about that though. He knew Kevin was counting on him to bring the guys. He was already on his way out of the room.
The ride in the elevator was thankfully short. Their room was only two floors above his. He was glad he'd insisted on getting their room number earlier. It didn't take long before he found the room.
As he raised his fist to knock on the door, he suddenly froze in place. Was that a scream? What? He listened carefully, uncertain of what he'd heard. Then he heard a faint gasp.
He knocked loudly on the door. "Matt? Nick? Are you guys okay?"
He waited for a moment, listening intently. Silence. He couldn't hear anything. So, he pounded on the door again. Then he waited again. Just as he was going to pound on the door again, he heard a faint "Hold on!" from someone inside.
It seemed like forever before the door opened a crack. Joey could see Nick standing there, wrapped in a towel. Nick looked very annoyed.
"Is everything all right?" Joey said.
"Yeah, we're busy Joey."
"I know Nick. I'm sorry to bother you. There's a problem with Howie. Kevin called and he wants us all to go over to see him."
"Kevin says Howie is hysterical. We've got to go."
"Er, okay. Go and get a cab or something. We'll meet you downstairs."
"A cab? It's only a couple of blocks."
"Matt is, well, he's tired."
"Oh." Joey said.
"Just get a cab." Nick closed the door. He went over to he bed to check on Matt. As he'd been expecting, Matt seemed to be just falling asleep. He was still flushed, and a bit sweaty. And he had a rather large amount of cum on his chest. Nick smiled at that. After all of the times Matt had cum tonight, he still seemed to produce lots of it. At least Matt wasn't fully hard anymore.
Nick went into the bathroom and quickly cleaned himself off. He got a wet facecloth, and another hand towel, and went back into the bedroom. Matt hadn't moved at all. He leaned down and gently kissed him. Matt moaned, and slowly opened his eyes.
"Hey sexy" Nick said. "Let me clean you up a bit." He started to wipe Matt with the face cloth.
Matt reached up and touched Nick's face. "Come to bed."
Nick smiled. "I wish I could. Joey was just here."
"Joey?" Matt suddenly seemed to wake up.
"Apparently Howie is asking for us. They want us to go back to the apartment."
"I don't know. He's apparently hysterical or something. Joey is waiting for us downstairs."
Matt sighed. "I guess we better go. But, I want you to promise me something."
"Promise me that we'll never stop doing that. Even after we get married. Even after we're old, gray and ugly."
Nick giggled, and kissed him.
It took them a few minutes to get dressed, cleaned up and looking mostly presentable. If they'd had more time, a shower would have been a good idea. At least, that's what Joey thought.
When they'd finally come down to the lobby, they'd all gone over to the door where the cab was waiting. That was when Joey got a good whiff.
"Er, guys." Joey said. "You smell like..."
Nick blushed. They probably did smell.
Matt laughed. "Well, what do you expect Joey? Interrupting us like that, then not giving us enough time to have a shower."
"I guess" Joey smiled. He looked at Matt for a moment, wondering if he should ask.
Matt put his hand on Joey's shoulder. "It was wonderful!" His voice was only
loud enough for the three of them to hear. Nick giggled. Joey was quick to get into the
Where the hell were they? What was taking them so long? Kevin sighed. Pacing wasn't accomplishing anything. But, they should have been here already!
He stopped, and turned to look at Howie. Now that AJ had gotten him showered and dressed, he looked a lot better. He was a lot calmer now, although they still didn't know what the problem was. All they'd been able to get out of him were pleas to see Nick and Matt.
He was curled up in the chair now, holding something protectively. He wouldn't look up, and he seemed to be hiding his face as much as he could. Kevin hadn't been able to see what Howie was holding so protectively, but it didn't seem to be worth the effort to press him right now. If it calmed him down, then that was great. Maybe when Joey brought Matt and Nick here, they'd finally get a coherent explanation from Howie.
By the time Kevin had been able to get here, AJ had Howie somewhat under control. From what he'd been able to figure out, Howie had had some sort of nightmare. AJ had managed to get Howie into the shower, and cleaned up. Somehow, he'd vomited all over the bedroom. Brian had cleaned that mess up.
Kevin smiled to himself. That was just like Brian. As distasteful as it was to clean up Howie's bedroom, Brian didn't even hesitate. He was just like that. He never said anything, he just pitched in and did whatever he could. Like now--he could hear Brian in the kitchen. He was probably preparing some coffee or something for everyone. Brian's instincts were right--somehow, he was certain they'd be up for a while, and refreshments would be needed. Maybe that bit of normalcy would help Howie too.
AJ walked into the room, and collapsed on the couch. He'd obviously just gotten out of the shower. He'd probably been a mess from dealing with Howie. As AJ reached out and touched Howie's arm, Kevin was disturbed to see Howie flinch. Damn it--what was the problem? AJ sighed, and withdrew his hand.
Just as Kevin thought he couldn't stand it any longer, the apartment door opened and Nick entered. Matt was close behind, and Joey brought up the rear.
Nick rushed over to Howie. Howie just sat there, until Nick knelt down and called Howie's name softly. Howie obviously heard him, because his reaction was instantaneous. He took one quick look at Nick and then he jumped off the chair. He grabbed Nick roughly and started to sob as Nick gathered him into a hug.
Nick looked embarrassed by Howie's reaction. He kept looking at Matt, trying to make sure Matt was okay. Matt just smiled at them, and came over to stand beside Nick.
Somehow Howie must have seen Matt's approach or something, because when Matt got close enough, Howie grabbed him too. The three of them joined in a big hug.
Kevin was startled when Joey touched his arm, and said, "Are you okay?" Joey looked concerned.
"Yeah." Kevin smiled. "I'm glad you're finally here." Was his worry that plain?
"Hey, what's that?" Joey was pointing to a book that was lying on the floor near to the chair Howie had been sitting on.
"Good question" Kevin said. He walked over and picked up the book. It looked like a journal or diary of some sort. It was one of those books you can buy that contains just empty pages inside. It had a nice green cover. Peeking out of the top was what looked like a newspaper clipping. Curious, Kevin pulled the clipping out of the book and scanned it quickly.
"What's that?" AJ said. He'd walked over to where Kevin and Joey were standing.
Kevin handed him the clipping. He hadn't been able to make much sense out of it. It was about a couple of guys who'd been killed a few years ago, but Kevin had no idea who they were, or why Howie would have it.
"Oh, wow" AJ said. He shook his head. "Oh, Howie. I'm sorry--I didn't know."
Howie looked at AJ. He backed away from Nick and Matt and his face went white when he saw what AJ and Kevin were holding.
"Kevin, AJ--can I have those?" Nick said. When they handed the clipping and book to him, he handed them to Howie. Nick didn't say anything, he just smiled gently at him.
Howie seemed to be confused. He just stood there, staring at the book and newspaper clipping. Or, maybe he was just thinking. After a long moment, he seemed to make up his mind. He offered them back to Nick. Quietly, in a bare whisper, he said "Will you read them to us?"
Nick sensed that this was difficult for Howie. Apparently the book and clipping were very important to him. Even AJ didn't seem to know what they were. So, Nick hesitated before he accepted them back. "Are you sure?"
Howie's reluctant nod was the only answer he seemed able to give. Matt said, "Let's sit down then." He guided Howie toward the couch, but Howie sat in a chair. Nick and Matt settled on the couch next to him. Matt snuggled up beside Nick.
Nick waited for everyone else to find a place to sit. They watched while Brian brought in a tray of snacks and drinks from the kitchen. It was pretty much what Kevin had expected. There was even a pot of coffee.
When everyone had settled down, gotten whatever they wanted in the way of food and drink, Nick started by looking at the newspaper clipping. He read it silently and then looked at Howie, to make sure he wanted him to read it.
The story told in the clipping was a sad one. It described how two teenage boys had been beaten in an alley. One of them had been killed on the spot, while the other had been in a coma for a couple of days before he died.
However, the story didn't mean much to anyone in the group. Howie had started crying again, this time curling up in his chair. Nick was not sure what to do, when AJ suddenly spoke up.
"Brad and Jason were Howie's best friends before the band took off." AJ's voice was quiet, but it carried in the nearly silent room.
"I met them a few times when Howie and I kept bumping into each other at auditions. They seemed like nice guys. When we all started traveling, Howie stopped talking about them. I always wondered what happened to them, but I never knew they'd been killed."
The room was strangely quiet for a moment, as they all considered this. Matt broke the silence, when he said, "Are you okay Howie?"
Howie had quieted down now it seemed. He smiled at Matt, and wiped his eyes. "Yeah, thanks Matt."
Howie sat up a bit, and looked at Nick. "Can you read Brad's journal now?"
"Okay." Nick said. They all listened, as Nick began to read from the journal.
Nick paused, and looked at Howie. Why were Howie's lips moving? "Are you sure we should be hearing this Howie?"
Howie hesitated, before he said "I need you to Nick."
"Have you got it memorized Howie?" Matt asked. When he saw the puzzled look on Howie's face, Matt said, "You were repeating the words as Nick read."
"Oh." Howie blushed. "Yeah, I've read it a few times. Not all the way through though." He paused for a moment and looked around the room. Then he sighed. "I've kept this to myself for too long now. I've never been able to get all the way through Brad's journal. I thought, maybe if you all were here, I could. Maybe then the dreams will leave me alone."
Nick waited, just to see if Howie was going to explain that, but when it was clear he
was done, Nick returned to the journal.
Nick paused for a moment and looked up. "Is there anything left to drink?" His voice sounded tired.
As Nick checked the table for fluids, Brian started a parade to the bathroom. The other guys stood up, stretched, and talked quietly. Kevin made a trip into the kitchen and returned with some more drinks. When everyone had settled again, Nick picked up the journal, and continued to read.
The journal entry stopped at that point, thankfully. Nick stopped. That last sentence was just too much. It was hard to say Brad's words to Howie. How had Brad ever gotten to that point?
Howie was sobbing opening now. Clearly, he really felt the impact of Brad's words. Nick looked around the room. Everyone seemed to be stunned by Brad's words. Nick wrapped his arm around Matt as he snuggled in close to him.
AJ got up, and walked over to Howie's chair. He did his best to wrap his arms around Howie, as he sobbed. This time, Howie seemed eager for the support, and gladly hugged AJ back.
It was a while before anyone said anything. When Howie had calmed down a bit, he managed to say, "I let Brad down. If I'd been there when he needed me..."
AJ interrupted him and said, "It's not your fault Howie. You can't always be there for your friends. Nobody can. There are just times..."
"It's all my fault! If I'd been there..."
AJ hugged him again, and comforted him. Everyone else felt embarrassed by Howie's reaction. He clearly needed to let go of his guilt, but how were they going to help him understand that?
Nick and Matt glanced quickly at the next few pages of the journal, while Howie struggled to regain his control.
"Maybe we should quit there for the night," Kevin said.
"Actually, I think we should finish this Kevin" Nick said. "Howie needs to see it all through. I think he needs to understand what was really going on with Brad and Jason."
Kevin looked like he was going to object, before Howie said, "Please."
They all waited while Howie tried to make himself heard. "Finish it Nick. Please." They all settled back as Nick started reading the next part of the journal.
There was a stunned silence in the room, as Nick closed the journal.
"That's it?" AJ asked.
"So, Brad and Jason went out to a rough neighborhood, and..."
"Brad killed Jason!" Howie yelled. He sprang up out of the chair, and started to pace. He was clearly angry.
"We don't know that Howie" AJ said. "It could have been..."
"You heard it! Jason was nice to Brad, and all Brad could do was treat him like shit! Jason really loved Brad. I know. He told me, when we woke up and found Brad had run away."
They watched as Howie paced for a few minutes. They all had lots to think about. Before tonight, nobody except AJ had ever heard of Brad or Jason, and yet, now they knew the intimate details of their lives.
Kevin was trying to piece it all together. So, Brad and Jason were killed. Well, why did Howie reject Nick and Matt, when he'd had other gay friends? And what was it with these dreams. What exactly had happened tonight? Where to start?
"What did you dream tonight Howie?" Kevin asked.
The question stunned Howie. The anger seemed to drain out of him, and his frantic pacing slowed to a stop.
"It was just a dream Howie" Matt said. He'd risen so he was standing beside Howie.
Howie looked at Matt and quickly averted his eyes. He looked ashamed.
Matt put his hand on Howie's shoulder, and said, "It's okay. We're here."
"Oh Matt, I'm sorry."
"It's okay Howie. It was just a dream. You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't hurt Nick or me. We're still here. We're still your friends."
Howie started crying openly again, and AJ gathered him into a hug.
"I don't understand Matt" Kevin said. "What happened?"
"Well, I'm guessing, but it all makes sense from all the hints."
"It does?" Brian asked. He looked totally confused.
"Okay, let me see if I've got it all. Howie had only read part of the journal. He knew that Brad felt abandoned by him, and he felt alone. He knew that Brad didn't like Jason being gay, and couldn't deal with it. He felt it was sinful. Right?"
"Yeah" Kevin said. "But..."
"Let me finish." Matt smiled. "So, when Howie left, Brad started hanging out with Jason again. Jason introduced him to his gay friends, and they went to parties together. So, Howie thought that Brad got killed because he was out somewhere with Jason."
"Oh" Brian said.
"So, when Howie found out about Nick, he blamed me," Matt said. "He thought I had made Nick gay--that if we didn't see each other, Nick wouldn't get killed somewhere. Like Brad and Jason."
"But, when we stayed together, it really bothered him" Nick said. He'd risen so he was standing beside Matt. "He probably thought we'd get killed in some dark alley like Brad and Jason."
"Yeah." Matt wrapped his arm around Nick. "So, I'm guessing that in Howie's dream, he saw Brad and Jason get killed, or maybe Nick and I."
"But, that's not the whole story" Nick said. "Howie didn't know that Brad was actually gay. He didn't know it was him that brought Jason to the alley that night."
Howie suddenly made an effort to unwrap himself from AJ. He turned to look at Matt. "I'm so sorry Matt. I..."
Matt smiled. "It's okay Howie."
Howie looked at Nick, and Nick said, "There's nothing to be sorry for Howie."
Howie managed a weak smile. "Um, one other thing. Congratulations. I'm glad you're getting married."