This is the fourth chapter of `Learning with a Man'. A new chapter will come out every week. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit-at-hotmail-dot-com

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.

Learning with a Man
Chapter 4

    Dad dragged me to the sofa in the living room and we talked. Well, mostly he talked. I was feeling too much all at once to really be able to pay attention to what he was saying. Just remembering the way Ray had treated me not an hour ago was enough to start me crying all over again. I couldn't help it. And there was the fading shock that now Dad knew about the bullying at school, the fact he was angry, but not at me; the confusion I felt, mixed with guilt at having lied to my dad about how bad it was at school... it was all too much. I couldn't have said anything that explained exactly how I felt even if I'd wanted to. So instead I stared at my feet while Dad droned on and on and on.
    "What happened today?" he asked eventually. He sounded concerned.
    I looked up, and wiped a tear from my cheek, mind racing. What should I say? "I, uh..."
    "You don't have to make stuff up anymore, Jeff. Just tell me the truth."
    I almost did, I swear. I even opened my mouth to tell him all about the incident at the mall, those three jerks bothering me, and Ray's betrayal. But I didn't. It was too recent, and way too embarrassing. So instead I said, "I was walking home when I saw some kids at the park. They started saying things. One of them chased me, but I ran away. That's... that's why I was crying when I got here. Sorry."
    Dad shook his head. "I already told you that you don't have to be sorry, Jeff. It's okay. Was that all that happened, though? I've never seen you cry like this, not since you were little."
    "Yeah," I lied. "I mean, it wasn't that bad, but it's just been going on for so long. I guess I just had a breakdown or something."
    I was surprised. The lie came out so smoothly.
    Dad frowned. "Weren't you supposed to be with Ray, though? Why didn't he drive you home?"
    "He had a dentist's appointment after," I said, not even hesitating. "He was sorry he couldn't drive me but I told him I could walk. It's not that far."
    "Okay," Dad said, although he didn't sound very convinced.
    I felt bad that I was lying about Ray, and I knew I shouldn't but I did. It was too personal, I guess. I just couldn't bring myself to tell him that part. If I told Dad about the way Ray had acted he'd get all angry and march right over to his house to talk to Ray's parents. No way.
    "Anyway," Dad continued, "about this school business; we have the summer to think it over, Jeff. If you don't want to go back to that school I can transfer you. Or you can stay with your friends if you don't want to move, it's up to you. Your counselor, Ms. Peters, said that we could arrange a meeting with the principal to discuss your case, too, so the teachers know about the situation and are able to help out if it happens again. Either way, we'll back you up, son."
    "Thanks, Dad. I'll, um, I'll think about it."
     I wanted to leave, but Dad wasn't done.
     "There's something else, Jeff. Maybe now is not really the time, but... well, I guess we should have talked about it earlier. But what with all the information on the Internet and the classes at school, I guess I figured they'd got you covered. Now, though, I guess I should..."
     He hesitated, like it was an uncomfortable subject. Alarm bells went off in my head right away. This was the dreaded Talk. Oh, man, not now, not right out of the blue.
     "That's okay, Dad," I said hastily.
     "No, it's not okay. Listen, I want you to know that it's fine if you think you like other—"
     "I'm fine, Dad!" I interrupted. "Really. Can I just go to my room?"
     He seemed a bit hurt I didn't want to listen to him, but he also looked a bit relieved. "Okay. We'll talk about it later."
     I escaped to my room.
     Once I'd shut the door securely behind me, I relaxed a little. Apparently Dad had decided to dump a year's worth of father-son talks on this one session. I guessed it was nice he should care and all, but I had too much on my mind right then. The Talk would have to wait.
    I wandered over to my desk and sat down. I stayed there for a while, doing nothing really except stare out the window and at the bright summer day outside. I supposed I should go out and enjoy the day, but I didn't have it in me right then. The talk with my dad had actually helped a bit, surprisingly, in that I didn't feel like the world was falling down on me anymore, but it left me free to feel awful about Ray. And I did.
     Why hadn't I told Dad? Why was I protecting Ray if he'd been such a jerk? And why had Ray pretended I was following him around, like I was some sort of unbalanced teen stalker? I balled my hands into fists. I wanted to hit something, but Dad would hear.
    Maybe Dad was right, maybe I should just transfer to some other school. I remembered what he'd said about staying with my friends and laughed bitterly under my breath. I had no friends. Changing schools would be no problem. Nobody wanted to talk to me anymore. Not even Ray.
    But why had he come, then? That night, when he'd slept over. It had been just like old times, and he had come because he'd wanted to; nobody had made him. And today, at the mall, we'd been having so much fun. It was only when the others came that he'd turned into a different person. Why?
    I didn't want to start crying again, but I did anyway. A little. It hurt, and my emotions were a mess, and at one point I wasn't even sure if I was crying for myself or for Ray or for what. I just let it come out, muffling my sobs with my arm in case Dad was around listening or whatever. By the time I was done, I felt spent, and really depressed. The bright summer day to me now looked gray.
    I turned on my computer with no particular plan. I checked my empty inbox and empty wall. No surprises there.
    "Hey Jeff!" my dad's voice called from the other side of the door.
    "What?" I said, my voice a bit croaky. I tried again. "What?"
    "Can I come in?"
    Right. "I want to be alone now, Dad."
    He paused, then said, "Well, okay. Listen, I was thinking, maybe today I can take you out to the movies or something. If you want to."
    "Don't you have to work today?" I said. "Deliveries and stuff?"
    "Yeah, but I canceled most of it. I'm free until eight."
    "Um..." I paused. I really didn't feel like going, but saying no now that he'd made the effort to have the time for me didn't feel right. And that made me feel worse. And right now I didn't need anymore stuff on my plate.
    "Come on, Jeff," he insisted.
    I sighed. "Whatever."
    "Great. I'll go change. We can have lunch on the way and then head on over to the movies. Okay?"
    "Yeah," I said, not very enthusiastically. "Sure."
    I wasn't even hungry, but whatever. As long as Dad didn't attempt another Talk, I guessed I could stand going to the movies. For a while.
    Dad was ready a little while afterwards and he practically dragged me out of the house. We went out for tacos, which he knew I liked, but I didn't feel like eating and only poked at my one overstuffed taco the entire time. Dad tried to talk about my plans for the summer and once or twice tried asking me about how I felt about staying in the same school or transferring, but I answered mostly with noncommittal grunts and eventually he gave up.
    He drove us to the movies next, and I picked one randomly based on which one started soonest. Turned out to be an action flick, which Dad enjoyed. I didn't even pay attention to it. I kept thinking about Ray, and the things he'd said to me. Get lost. The words rang in my head. Get lost. I was grateful for the darkness of the theater then, because I couldn't have hidden the hurt in my face if Dad had looked.
    Two hours later we were driving home. It was almost seven, and Dad was going on and on about this or that cool explosion in the movie. I went along with it when required, but didn't offer any comments of my own. I wanted to be alone in my room again, and even though I kept telling myself that Dad meant well, I honestly didn't want to talk to anyone right then. The one time I looked anywhere but straight ahead at the road was when we were pulling into our driveway. I looked back to Ray's house and saw his car was there. Dad saw me look, but didn't say anything about it. Thankfully.
    By the time Dad had left for the thing he had at eight, I was feeling the consequences of not having eaten anything but tiny bites out of a taco since breakfast. I found a frozen pizza in the fridge and put it in the microwave. Then I carried it up to my room.
    I checked my phone, but there were no messages from Ray. Of course there wouldn't be; what was I thinking? I ate my pizza. I watched random stuff on my computer until I was bored, and then watched some more. At one point I found myself looking at the status update box on my Facebook page. Without really meaning to, I started typing.
    Hi. I don't think anyone will read this but whatever. Today I found out what jerks friends can be. They say they're your friends but they don't mean it. They'll stab you in the back the second there's something in it for them by doing it. Now I don't have any friends anymore and I don't care. That's right. No friends. Laugh all you want. I don't care anymore.
    Oh, and like my status if you're a stupid jerk too.
    I published it and felt a bit better. I stretched in my chair; it was only nine but I was tired. I didn't want to go to sleep feeling this depressed, though. I needed something to make me feel better, if only for a little while.
    I clicked on a porn site without really thinking about it. It was a good idea, though, and I needed to let off some steam. Screw the stupid threesomes, though, what I really wanted to see was a guy doing another guy. I found a site listing many different videos, and I got hard just by browsing among the different thumbnails. Man on man action. I clicked on one vid that looked hot and waited for it to load. I stuck my hand under my pants and grabbed by hard dick. I couldn't really jack off without taking off my clothes, but I wanted to watch first.
    The vid was this guy lying on his back, legs spread wide. He was ripped and hot, eyes shut tight. This other guy standing over him was lubing up a dildo, and as I watched he aimed it at the first guy's hole. The guy moaned as the dildo pushed against his asshole, and then the thing went inside him, all the way. The two guys went right at it, one pumping the dildo in and out and the other moaning and begging for more.
    My underwear was wet with precum by then. That was really hot. I took off my clothes, even my T-shirt, and stroked my dick slowly, enjoying the pleasure it gave me. I was focusing on the guy getting fucked by the dildo. It made me horny to watch him being penetrated by the dildo in the other guy's hand, and I wondered what that would feel like. It looked like fun.
    Something occurred to me. I'd never tried it, but...
    Before I could think myself out of doing it, I opened the door to my room. Dad wasn't home, and the house was quiet. I went straight to my dad's room and into the bathroom adjoining it. It was a bit smaller than the hallway bathroom I used most of the time, but Dad's had a bathtub. Which I wanted for what I was about to try.
    I turned on the faucet to hot water and plugged the drain so the tub would start to fill up. My cock was still hard, and as I waited I watched myself in Dad's much bigger bathroom mirror. A thin, blond teenager looked back at me. I was a bit on the pale side from spending so much time inside, but that actually made my nipples stand out against my smooth chest. I caressed my soft skin with one hand, pinching my nipples a bit until I made each one hard. Then I went lower, my hand going further down past my stomach and below my bellybutton until I found the patch of soft pubic hair around my hard boy cock. The pubes were a bit darker than my hair, but still blond, framing my dick nicely.
    Watching myself as I touched the base of my dick was strangely arousing. I watched as I caressed my balls, cupped them in one hand and rubbed them, while I used my other hand to stroke my cock. I couldn't help remembering what Ray had told me when he'd seen my hard dick that night when he'd slept over. He'd said I grown a lot... and he meant my dick. I wondered if I was big for my age. Ray had been surprised at the size of my shaft.
    I remembered the bathtub then, and saw it was almost full. Nice. I slipped a foot inside—it was really hot. I had to turn on the cold water for a bit until it was bearable. Then I stepped inside and slid down into the water.
    It felt good, and it was very relaxing. Perfect place for a nap. Just then, though, a nap was the last thing I was going for. I was way too horny. I wanted to try and find out what it would feel like to finger my ass.
    I'd read on a site somewhere that being in a hot tub helped if it was the first time you tried, and now I was all ready. The site had also said I should have some lube lying around to help out, but I didn't have any and I doubted I could just go buy some at the nearest drugstore. So I'd be trying the natural approach.
    I spread my legs in the tub and slid forward so my head was resting against the rim, sloshing water around. My knees were sticking out of the water, and I could see my hard dick between my legs, begging for me to grab it and milk it. But not yet. First things first.
    I kind of noticed I hadn't closed the bathroom door and the brief thought occurred to me that if my dad came back earlier than expected I would be screwed. But I was too horny to really care about it. Besides, he'd just gone out. No reason for him to come back so soon. I hoped.
    Experimentally, I brought my right hand down between my legs. I touched my balls briefly and explored further down sliding my fingers hesitantly. I spread my legs a bit wider to make it easier to reach, and stopped my hand suddenly when I felt the rim of my asshole.
    I hesitated. I'd never done anything like this and I felt a bit awkward. What if it hurt? Nobody was watching, though. And that guy in the video had seemed to enjoy it a lot.
    I kept going. Using my index finger, I touched the perimeter of my asshole gently, feeling it, learning its shape. It already felt great; that area was very sensitive and my dick throbbed in response to the soft touch of my finger. I began rubbing my asshole in circles with my index, slowly at first, then a bit quicker when I found it felt good to do so. I sighed in the hot water and found myself relaxing a bit. I remembered the site had mentioned you had to be relaxed so it wouldn't hurt. Okay, then.
    Experimentally, I pressed down over my asshole. Just a bit. I could feel the puckered ridge where my finger was supposed to go, but it was shut tight. Nothing happened when I pressed, so I increased the pressure. Then a bit more. I felt it give way then, suddenly, and my finger went inside a tiny fraction, maybe up to the fingernail.
    I panicked and backed out, pulling my finger away. I did it so fast it kind of smarted, and I almost gave up right then. Too much work. I didn't even known what I was doing. Also, the water was going lukewarm. I thought about leaving, but I was already in the tub, so... okay. One more time.
    As I got ready, I turned the hot faucet on again so the water would remain hot. Then I remembered about the lube part—I hadn't used any! Duh. No wonder it hurt. I spread my legs again. Then I brought my middle finger up and put in my mouth. I licked it well, until it was slick with spit. Then I brought my hand back down and I put that finger over my hole.
    I pressed again, slightly more confident now, and I didn't panic when I felt my finger slide in a little. I left my finger in there, getting used to how it felt, and then pressed inside some more. The little spit left on my finger helped even in spite of the water, and I felt the resistance around my finger loosen up. My finger went inside even further as I loosened up, almost up to the first joint. It felt weird, all tight and a bit uncomfortable. I tried to press in deeper but it hurt, so I took my finger out. I waited for a few seconds, now determined to get it all in. If that guy had been able to fit an entire dildo up his ass, I could get one finger up mine.
    I lubed up again and pressed my finger against my asshole firmly. This time it went inside much easier. The resistance was still there, but I kept at it, pressing down, feeling as my finger inched forward slowly, a bit painfully, vaguely aware that my dick was as rock-hard as ever. The pain increased, but I gritted my teeth, shut my eyes and kept going. I pushed... pushed... and then, suddenly, I was through.
    I gasped. I opened my eyes and felt an unexpected surge of pleasure as I felt my finger sliding inside me, past the resistance of my hole and into my ass. Wow. It hurt a bit still, but my finger had slid inside almost up to the knuckle. It was a sensation unlike any I'd ever experienced. And it felt way better than I'd even imagined.
    Slowly, I slid my finger out of my hole and then back in. It felt the tightness and the warmth all around my finger, and over the slight pain there was a new pleasurable sensation that intensified as I got more confident and began to finger myself harder, and faster. Once my finger slid out all the way, and I plunged it back in. I was easier than the first time, it felt great, and I moaned involuntarily. Then I imagined that my finger was a big, hard dick sliding all the way inside me, and I almost came right then and there.
    I finger-fucked myself hard, then slow, and then hard again, plunging my finger all the way up to the knuckle and then out, in and out, in and out, finding a rhythm and sticking with it as the water sloshed all around me. I didn't care. I was totally focused in the pleasure I felt, surpassing anything I'd ever imagined I could feel my having something inside me, fucking me, fucking me deep.
    After some more incredible finger-fucking, I decided to explore the inside of my hole with my finger when it was all the way in. I was curious, and twisted my finger around, exploring, legs spread wide. And when I pressed forward with my finger, I felt something... and when I pressed against it, only slightly—
    "Ah!" I cried out. "Oh, wow!"
    I barely got my left hand to my dick in time. I pumped my shaft once, twice, and suddenly I was spurting into the water, dumping my load with rocking, explosive motions in the most intense orgasm I had ever had in my life. I felt my hole clench around my finger as I came, in time to the intense, pumping motions of my hips and the fire-hot pleasure I felt shivering up my dick, and my asshole, and running all through my body. I emptied my balls as if I hadn't cum in a week. And when I last finished, I went limp, sliding my finger out of my hole.
    "Wow," I whispered again. Then I grinned.
    As I got out of the tub, I vaguely felt my asshole hurt a bit from the eager way in which I'd fingered it. I didn't care. I'd never come like that in my life, and never so fast either. I'd barely even touched my dick. I must have found my prostate or something back there near the end. I'd read about it, but... wow. I couldn't believe I'd never tried it before.
    I toweled dry and let the water in the tub run down the drain. I felt a bit guilty about having done all of that in my dad's tub, but he knew I used the tub from time to time. He'd find it wet but he'd assume I'd just taken a bath for a while. I hoped.
    I returned to my room, yawning. I'd been feeling like crap, but the entire tub thing had made me forget about Ray being a jerk, if only for a bit. I felt much better, actually. Much better.
    I turned off my computer, put some clothes on. Then I went downstairs and got some milk from the fridge. I drank a glass and put the carton back inside. I went back upstairs and got ready for bed, even though it was still kind of early. I was tired and ready to sleep.
    I flicked the lights off. As I lay down in bed I thought about the entire day as if I were someone else, with a strange clarity I hadn't had in a long while. I realized Dad was right—I shouldn't feel bad, it was the other way around; they should feel bad about being such small-minded idiots and bullying jerks. Most of them I didn't even care about. Ray was another story, of course. I still felt kind of bad about the way he'd treated me, but... there was something else now. I blinked in the dark, surprised, when I realized what it was, strong and unexpected: I was angry. I was angry at him for turning his back on me when, supposedly, we were friends. I was angry that he'd been such a coward.
    I'd been a good friend, even forgiving him after months of not talking to me and pretending he didn't know me. The minute he'd come to my room I'd forgiven him and acted as though everything was fine. It wasn't right.
    The anger was good. It gave me something to focus on, and, as I began to drift off into sleep, a plan began to take shape in my mind. It involved Ray, and also shoving his face into what he'd done. I smiled. Tomorrow suddenly didn't seem that bad.
    The next day I woke up late. Dad was already up, and he'd made breakfast. I was hungry, and I scarfed down my pancakes faster than Dad could produce them.
    "Whoa, slow down there, Jeff," he said, pouring some more pancake mix on the pan. "There's plenty more where those came from."
    "Thanks, Dad," I said, pouring some more syrup over my third half-eaten pancake. "These are really good." They were. All fluffy and sweet, just like I liked them.
    Dad grinned and turned back to the stove. "I'm glad you're feeling better today, Jeff."
    "Yeah," I said. "I'm better. Thanks for yesterday, Dad."
    "No problem. Just remember you can talk to me, okay?"
    "I will."
    More pancakes followed.
    I finished breakfast soon after and excused myself. All that sugar had me feeling kind of wound-up, in a good way. I told Dad I was going riding around for a bit, and I didn't wait for an answer. I went out and got onto my bike. Dad seemed surprised at my change of mood as I sped off, but he didn't say anything. Which was good. I didn't want to have to explain that I'd had a revelation regarding Ray and the way he'd treated me. And today, I was going to do something about it. Even if it made me nervous as hell to think about what I was going to do.
    As I rode past Ray's house, I was glad to see his car was not around. Good. That meant he was probably out with his friends somewhere, probably hanging around downtown. Now it was just a matter of finding them.
    The day was another perfect warm summer morning. I rode past our neighborhood quickly, saying hi a couple times, and after maybe fifteen minutes of riding my bike I was downtown, riding through the streets and looking around all over the place. I was looking for Ray's car.
    I passed by the mall, but I didn't go in. Too early for many of the stores to be open. Ray was probably somewhere else. I rode around the park a few times, but didn't see anything there either. After a while, I considered going home since I had no way of knowing where Ray was, but I really had nothing else to do and if I didn't carry out my plan now, I'd talk myself out of it later. Might as well continue. So I kept going, riding around the place like I was lost. No luck. Then I thought about riding past the streets with the trendy shops and cafés downtown, and after a few tries I finally spotted Ray's car parked half a block ahead.
    I rode up to it and stopped on the sidewalk. I looked around. There was a Starbucks right across the street from Ray's car, and it was open. He had to be there.
    I went inside and spotted Ray right away. He was sitting at a table with two guys and a girl, by the window, his back to me, so he didn't see me come in. So far, so good. I went up to the register and casually ordered a latte. By the time the beverage was ready, I had spotted a good place to sit down where I'd be right in Ray's field of view.
    Taking a deep breath and gripping my cup firmly so it wouldn't shake, I strode over to my selected table. It was also by the window, a little to the left of Ray's table. I walked confidently over to my seat and sat down. I chose the spot in such a way that Ray would be looking right at me.
    Ray and the girl were sitting on one side of the table, and the two guys were on the other. I recognized the guys from school, and the girl too. She was pretty, but still your standard airhead. Ray had an arm draped around her shoulder.
    I determinedly sipped my latte, eyes fixed on Ray. He was laughing about something, but when he looked around next he saw me. He practically choked on his laugh.
    We stared at each other for maybe two seconds. My legs felt like rubber, but I kept my scowl firm. I didn't look away. I saw Ray's surprise, slight shame, and then something like anger. In the end, it was Ray who had to look somewhere else. He didn't talk to me, or acknowledge my presence there at all, but I hadn't expected him to. I wanted to see what he'd do when he saw that, this time, I wouldn't be the one to leave.
    I drank my coffee calmly, half-listening to some dumb anecdote one of the guys was telling. Ray pretended to listen, but when they all laughed, his own laugh sounded fake. He hadn't really been listening. I could tell he was uncomfortable now that he knew I was there, but he couldn't do anything about it. Not unless he talked to me.
    Eventually the airhead felt my eyes boring holes into Ray's forehead and she glanced my way. I saw the friendly glint of recognition in her eyes die right away when she saw who I was. She stared for an instant, and I stared right back. She had to look away. Then she leaned sideways to whisper something in Ray's ear and she nodded my way. Ray had to look at me then, and when they were both looking, I smiled. And waved.
    Ray was horrified, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything. It was the girl who finally kind of whispered, but not really, that you-know-who was on the table next to them and doing the creepy stalker thing with Ray.
    The idiotic guys on the other side of the table turned around, craning their necks to have a good look at me. My heart was going about a mile a second, but I managed to keep on sipping my latte like nothing was the matter, and I kept on looking at Ray and no one else. He still hadn't remembered he actually had a tongue. When the other guys asked him about me and made some snide remarks about the way I was looking at him, Ray only shook his head. He'd gone pale.
    It was strangely empowering to watch him squirm like that. This was the guy who'd happily jacked off with me not a week ago, then shoved me and told me to get lost, now pretending with all his might that he really had no idea why I was looking at him like that. He couldn't do anything but hedge his friends' questions. Also, he refused to look at me again.
    I was halfway through my coffee when Ray found his tongue again and began answering with angry retorts to the two guys' increasingly offensive suggestions of why I was looking at him so intensely. I didn't care about the idiots, or the stupid girl who joined in after a while. I paid attention to Ray's feeble comebacks, the tone of his voice as he got angrier and angrier. When he finally chanced to look my way again, I smiled at him. And he lost it.
    He slammed his cup down on the table so hard that several other customers turned around to look at Ray's table. He glared at me angrily for one chilling moment, then looked away. Without another word, he stood up, shook the girl's arm off and stomped out of the building. The girl called after him, but he ignored her. Eventually, all three of Ray's friends stood up and left to catch up with him. They were too late, though; they were just crossing the street by the time Ray had climbed into his car. He sped off with an angry screech of tire wheels.
    Still enjoying my latte, I smiled to myself. I felt... different. Powerful. After months and months and months of enduring similar crap at school, I now realized with sudden, brutal clarity that I wasn't the problem here. All that stuff Dad had told me yesterday about being proud to be who I was and all the stuff my counselor had said... it suddenly clicked into place. I didn't have to go running around all sad and depressed, hiding and crying just because my turncloak friend had chickened out on me again. It was the other way around.
    Ray had been angry with me, though, a little voice in my head said. Really angry. Like I'd crossed a line. It kind of made me scared. I didn't know what Ray would do. So I told the little voice to shut up, and by the time I was riding my bike again, I'd managed to put aside the worry I'd pissed Ray off big time. I hadn't done anything wrong, after all. So screw it.
    It felt good to have finally sort of stood up to all those jerks instead of hiding, and I was relieved. I felt lighter. Weird. I rode around town feeling awesome, and the good feeling lasted me all through the day. I did some chores around the house, watched TV, and even made some money by offering to walk an elderly neighbor's dog like I'd used to do last summer. She told me she was glad I'd come by, and offered to pay me per week if I'd walk her dog every weekday around five. I accepted right away.
    By the time it was late afternoon, I was tired but happy. I came back home after walking the frisky, overactive retriever to the park and back, and went right into the kitchen to get something to eat. I was hungry, but it didn't look like Dad had made anything for dinner.
    "Jeff?" he asked from upstairs.
    "Hey Dad, I'm back!" I answered.
    "Good," he said. I heard his footsteps coming down. He was buttoning up a recently-ironed shirt when he came into the kitchen. "We're going out for dinner."
    "Again?" I asked.
    "Yeah, we're going to Friday's with Ray and his dad. You guys' trip is this Saturday and I called him so we could get together and get everything set up. I'm kind of nervous about letting you two boys go there alone, but Rick says he knows the guide. I told him we'd meet him and Ray at six-thirty."
    "Uh... right."
    "So hurry up and shower. We don't want to be late."
    "Yeah. Okay."
    I did as Dad asked, but I was in automatic mode. The trip! I'd forgotten all about the stupid trip to Mount Adams! Ray and I were supposed to go there together, that's what he'd come to my house to ask in the first place last week... but now he wasn't talking to me anymore. Again. And he'd looked so angry back at the Starbucks, too. Oh, man.
    I hadn't considered confronting Ray so soon after my little act of defiance today. What would I say? What should I do? What would he say? What if he told Dad all about the mall, and about today? Dad would know I'd lied to him. And I'd know Ray hated me for sure.
    My earlier confidence evaporated just like that. I was just finishing putting on a clean shirt when Dad called from downstairs.
    "Jeff! Come on or we'll be late!"
    "Coming!" I yelled.
    I went downstairs slowly. I didn't want to go, but I had to way to escape. And as Dad drove us to the restaurant, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was really afraid to have to face the guy who'd been my best friend all my life.

Chapter 5 will come out next Tuesday!