The following story is about the development of a fully consensual and loving relationship between a man and a pre-adolescent boy. At some point through the story's progression, there will be a graphic display of sexual acts between the man and the boy meant to show the natural progression and development of an intimate and caring relationship. If the topic of man/boy sex offends you, or if this material is illegal in your place or residence, or if you are under legal age, please leave now.
Any similarities between the characters in this story and any persons living and/or dead is purely a coincidence.
This story is protected under the nifty archives license agreement, and the author (me!) releases the right for nifty and nifty alone to post it on the internet. Please do not post this story anywhere else without my consent or knowledge.
I realize how much of a cliff-hanger I left you all in with the release of chapter 9, and in anticipation of that, I have tried to create this chapter as quickly as I could. I know I definitely got some of you thinking that this was the end between Josh and Steven, but I hope this chapter proves out Josh and Steven's strength of character. The relationship between Steven and Josh is, and will continue to be bumpy, and both of them will have to fight for it if they truly want it.
Please let me know how you feel about the resolution in the chapter, and if you believe it is handled well or not. As always, I greatly appreciate feedback at email@example.com.
Josh's feet dragged down the hallway. No matter how hard he tried, he simply could not motivate himself to move any faster. He knew he was going to be late to class if he didn't hurry, but what did it matter? He had been late to all of his previous classes anyways.
His mother had to force him out of bed, insisting that he could not stay locked in his room like he had been most of the weekend. The only time he had come out of his room after they had gotten home Saturday afternoon, was when she made him. She had tried to feed him dinner that night, but he had simply stared at it, not even picking up a utensil. He hadn't even bothered to change out of his clothes that night. After his mother cleared away his uneaten food, he trudged back to his room and buried his face in his pillow again.
The only way Josh could describe how he had felt then was that he had wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Steven had rejected him. He hadn't been good enough. He had failed. He had worked so hard, but he had still let Steven down. There was just no other explanation for it. He had seen that sad look on Steven's face. He could only describe that look as disappointment. Why did he have to be such a screw up? Why couldn't he have played as good as Cody had? Maybe if he had...
Josh wasn't going to come out Sunday morning either, even when his mother sternly reminded him with repeated knocks on the door that it was time for church. "Josh, I know you're mad from yesterday, but that doesn't mean you can shirk your responsibilities. You have an obligation to church, and to god."
I don't care about god, Josh wanted to say. He obviously doesn't give a damn about me.
He had gone to church though, and his mother didn't say a word the whole service. Josh had done his duty, without thought, and without care. The words of the sermon fell lost on his ears, his mind still replaying the day before over and over. No matter how hard he tried, the image of Steven turning to leave, running directly away from him, would not leave his mind. I can't teach you anymore... I can no longer be your teacher... Several times, Josh had nearly burned himself with the candle, pulling it back too far, or not far enough during the lighting ceremony. Maybe burning to a cinder wouldn't have been so bad. Maybe it would replace the horrible pain in the center of his chest and the waves of nausea rolling though his stomach.
His mother had talked to him on their way back home. "Josh, you can't let this bother you so much. It's Mr. McNealy's choice to teach you or not. If he believes he has done all he can for you, then I'm sure he's right. You played very well, and I'm sure he recognized that. I'm sure he believes that you are now quite capable of doing well on your own."
A part of him wanted to believe what his mother was saying, but the look in Steven's eyes... there was just no way he could have really believed he was fine on his own. He just couldn't explain it. Steven had said he would do fine on his own, but if he truly believed that, why would he have looked so disappointed? Why would he want to stop teaching him, all of a sudden, especially after all the time they had both put into it. No, it was clear. Josh had let down the one person whom he wanted to let down least of all. He didn't even really care what his mother thought anymore.
To make it worse, his mother hadn't stopped at that point. She had gone on and on. "Its better that he's done teaching you anyways. Personally, I think he was spending more time with you than was appropriate. Was it really necessary for you to be over there so often, even if it was only to practice? And you were there almost every Saturday as well. Honestly, doesn't a grown man have better things to do than hang around his house all the time babysitting you, not to mention feeding you? Yes..." she had said, "I think it's best if you didn't go over there again. You had absolutely no business imposing on him like you did. Now that that is all over, you can finally spend the necessary time at church. You have a lot of community service hours to catch up on."
Part of him just wanted to scream at his mother. How could she say those things? How could she know how Steven felt? On numerous occasions, he had asked Steven if he was bothering him by coming over too frequently, and every time he responded with the same answer. "Josh, you are welcome in my home any time you wish, and your company is always appreciated." Steven wouldn't have said that if he hadn't meant it. Now though, he was questioning everything.
His mother, as usual, continued to disregard his feelings entirely. Like she had yesterday, she put him though the motions of getting ready again this morning, and had driven him to school. Normally it was Josh's own responsibility to pack himself lunch, but he hadn't. He had bought his lunch instead, and even though he was beginning to get really hungry, he still hadn't eaten much. Now he was on his way back to class. Steven's class.
The closer he came to the room, the slower his feet dragged. Indecision weighed him down heavily. Part of him wanted, needed to see Steven again, and ask him why he no longer wanted to be his teacher. Josh wanted to tell Steven that he would keep trying hard, and that he would not let him down again. He desperately wanted to ask for a second chance.
The other part of him was scared to death. He was scared that Steven would only say the same thing again, and maybe even say something worse. He imagined Steven saying "I'm not teaching you any longer because I just don't see how you can get better. You're just not good enough, and I don't see what else I can teach you." He was so scared he would say that because deep down, he knew it was true. It had to be true.
When Josh entered the room, everyone had already found their seat, and had quieted down for the lecture. Before going to his seat, he looked over at Steven's desk, where he was always preparing for lecture. The person behind the desk this time though, was not Steven. It wasn't even a man. A rather portly looking older woman sat in Steven's chair, thumbing through papers with her rather long, painted finger nails.
For several moments, Josh could only stand there. Where was Steven? Why wasn't he there? Automatically, his brain worked out over a thousand possible explanations, each of them becoming more and more unlikely. Is he sick? Did he have a doctor's appointment? Or was it possible his absence was related to Josh himself? Did that mean that he was abandoning him as his piano teacher, and as his school teacher as well? Josh forced himself to move before he became swallowed in feelings of anguish, remorse, and despair.
Josh looked back to the substitute teacher. Was it possible she knew? If she did, then he had to find out. He just had to, and he couldn't wait even a minute longer. Though she had gotten up and was walking to the board, Josh stepped right in front of her. She almost tripped over herself, surprised with Josh's sudden presence.
"Excuse me miss, where is Mr. McNealy?" Josh asked, still attempting to be polite despite his inner turmoil.
The substitute fumbled over her words before formulating a response. "Well... If you had waited a few more seconds, I would have made an announcement to the class. I will be filling in for Mr. McNealy today."
"But, do you know where he is?" Josh asked, not budging an inch, even when she tried to go around him.
"No, I do not. I was simply called in by the office to fill in for the day, now if you will excuse-"
Again, Josh cut her off. "Well, if you don't know, can you tell me who would?"
"I..." she began again, but then an angry look flashed across here face. "Now look here. I have a class to teach, so if you'd kindly go back to your seat, we can begin."
Josh would have stepped in her way again, but he stopped himself, realizing that she was probably telling the truth. He began his trek back to his desk, his mind cranking. Who would know? There had to be someone who knew. About halfway there, the answer hit him. Not wasting a moment longer, he did a complete turn and walked straight toward the door.
He was stopped, however, dead in his tracks, right before he crossed the threshold into the hallway. "Where do you think your going? I said, please be seated."
Josh gritted his teeth. He should have known that she would stop him, and not just let him walk out of the room. But what was he going to say? He knew that he would not be able to sit through class. Not anymore. Not when Steven's whereabouts were so uncertain. He couldn't just sit around and do nothing. He had to think something, something to say to the substitute that would let him out, and he had to think of it quick.
Fortunately, the solution to his problem was staring at him right in the face. When Josh glanced to his side, inspiration seized him. As deftly and unobtrusively as he could, he grabbed the small wooden plaque with the words "Hall Pass" carved into the front as he passed by the chalkboard, and stepped closer to the teacher.
"No miss. I'm not in this class. I only had a message for Mr. McNealy, and if he's not here, I can go back to my other class," Josh said, trying his best to make his expression authentic, hoping to make the lie believable.
The substitute paused for a moment and her expression softened. "Not in this class you say?" She seemed to think for a moment, as if devising a way to catch him in a lie. "Do you have your hall pass then?"
Josh brought the pass around from behind his back. "Its right here," he said, handing it to her.
She checked it out, examining its back and front, then handed it back. "Alright. You may go."
Josh couldn't help but breath out a little. Fortunately, she had already turned around. As quickly as he could, he made his way out of the room. His heart pounded in his chest as he took large strides down the hall. He couldn't believe what he had just done. He had actually lied to a teacher. There might have been times where he didn't behave as well as he should have in class, but he didn't think he had ever outright lied, especially to skip class. What would happen when the substitute took role and found that he wasn't there? He just knew, that at some point, he was going to get in trouble.
At this point through, getting in trouble with school didn't seem to matter. Not nearly as much as finding out what happened to Steven. He would fail all of his classes, even risk expulsion. Steven was what mattered most now; he didn't care about anything else. When he got to the main office, he didn't hesitate a second going straight to the secretary's desk.
"May I help you with something young man?" She asked, peering down at him though her glasses.
"Do you know where Mr. McNealy is?" Josh asked bluntly and directly.
For what seemed like several very long moments, the secretary stared at him blankly, as if he had asked the question in a foreign language. "Mr. McNealy? I don't know. He's not in his classroom?"
Josh shook his head vigorously. "No, there is a substitute teacher, and she didn't know where he was either."
The secretary frowned a bit before shaking her head. "I see. Well, the only one who would know for sure is Mrs. Chenoweth, the principal."
Josh didn't hesitate a second. "Well, can I ask her then?"
She seemed to contemplate this for a moment. Again, time seemed to drag on as the secretary seemed to take her sweet time banging around the idea of a kid just walking in to see the principle unannounced. "I'll see if she is free. Wait here a moment."
Josh waited, as patiently as he could, for the secretary to walk into the principal's office and exchange a few muffled words before coming back out again. Mrs. Chenoweth, whom he had only seen a handful of times during the whole year, walked out to stand behind the secretary's desk.
"What is it I can help you with?" She asked. Any other time, Josh would have taken note that she actually seemed much kinder and less intimidating up close than she did when making announcements in the cafeteria, or over the intercom.
Trying to keep his voice as even as possible, Josh asked his question again. "Could you please tell me where Mr. McNealy is?"
She seemed to look at Josh for a little while, as if attempting to recognize him. Then realization crossed her face. "Ah, you must be Josh Chambers. Mr. McNealy has told me so much about you. Usually, I wouldn't allow one of my staff members to give a student private lessons, but when he told me about how gifted you were, and how much you wanted and needed a teacher, I conceded." Mrs. Chenoweth paused for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. "You know, Mr. McNealy speaks very highly of you. He thinks that you will truly be a great musician someday, and it was his hope to help see you though it." She breathed out a little. "You must truly be something special, for a musician with such an accomplished background to hold you in such high esteem."
Josh put a clenched fist to his mouth. "You mean, he actually said that about me?" He tried very hard to keep tears from welling up.
Mrs. Chenoweth smiled down at him. "Of course he did, and not just once, but on numerous occasions. It fills me with pride having such a talented student attending."
Her eyes having glazed over for a moment gave Josh's mind a chance to truly digest the meaning of her words. A part of him simply could not believe what she was saying. Did Steven truly think that? And he had told the principal about him as well? If Steven really was telling her those things, then why... why would he do what he did? Josh could feel his insides begin to tie up again, and a gut-wrenching pain settle in.
"Oh, but to answer your question. Yes... I got a call from him this morning. He said he was not feeling well. It sounded like he had a bad cough, so it's probably just the bug that's going around," Mrs. Chenoweth explained.
It was then that she seemed to notice Josh's distraught state. "I wouldn't worry about it. I'm sure he will get better soon," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Josh wanted to yell at her, scream at her that he wasn't sad because Steven was sick, but because Steven had abandoned him, even if he had told her about how good he was. Why would he tell her things like that if he didn't truly mean it? Josh was so completely torn. He didn't know what to do. Steven had called in sick... but was he really sick? Could he really be sick like this right after the music festival?
Josh shook his head slightly. No. It couldn't just be coincidence. Something was going on. It was like, everything was normal before the performance, and then, when he had lost, everything had fallen apart. Could he really have disappointed him that much, or was it something else? If it was something else, Josh couldn't even imagine what it could be. Thinking about it more, it was so unlike how Steven normally acted.
Usually, if Steven did not like the way Josh played, he would point it out to him right then and there, and work with him to make it better. Steven was so patient with him. He would keep pushing and helping, even when Josh began to tire from the effort. He never yelled at him when he screwed up... in fact, Steven really never got mad at him at all, even when Josh threw his hands up in frustration. Steven had always been there, to help him in any way he could. With the piano, and so many other things too, Steven was just about the nicest person he had even known.
Josh couldn't help but let a few tears escape. Luckily, the principal was talking with the secretary, and Josh had time to wipe his eyes before they looked his way. "Well... I'm sorry I can't help you further. I'm sure you have his number, right? So I'm sure if you wanted to know he was okay, you could always call. Though, I honestly wouldn't recommend it. It would probably be best if you let him get the rest he needs to get better."
Josh nodded his head and cleared out his eyes. "Okay. Thanks for your help."
"Do you need a pass getting back?" the principal asked.
"No, I have this," he said, holding up the wooden pass.
She nodded her head. "Take care then. Keep doing well with your lessons."
Josh shook his head. He could only pray that would keep doing well with lessons, and right know, he knew there was only one real way to find out. There was only one way to get the answers he desperately needed. For the second time that day he used the pass, Steven's own unique hall pass, to go somewhere he shouldn't go, and tell yet another lie. Without hesitation, Josh walked straight out the main doors of the school.
Only when Steven's house came into sight as he came around the street corner did Josh's steps slow. Even though it had been over two miles of walking, and sometimes running, he didn't let distance get in the way. He knew he would have done the same thing if it was five miles, ten miles, or fifty miles even. Nothing was going to stop him from getting there.
Now that it was in sight, he decided to pause. He didn't want to be out of breath when he knocked on Steven's door, even though he knew it was going to seem odd for him to be there in the middle of the day. As he drew closer, all his doubts began to resurface again. What if Steven told him to go away, what if he told him that he still was not going to give him any more lessons or let him come over any more? What if he told him that he never wanted to see him again? What if he wasn't even there... and he had left for good? What if, what if, what if...
Josh shook his head and forced himself to stop. There were a thousand things Steven could say, each worse than the last, and the more he thought about them, the harder it was to take steps toward Steven's house. But, even if the answer was the worst thing Josh could think of, he knew he couldn't just keep going on with life like he was without it. He hadn't eaten much in days, hadn't slept well, and most certainly hadn't felt well. It was almost as bad as when his dad had left. He NEVER wanted to go though that again, even if his dad had explained the reasons why.
With his heart thumping madly in his chest, a sheen of sweat caked on his forehead, his palms, his whole body practically perspiring, Josh walked across Steven's lawn and up to his door. Trying his best to straighten his shirt and his shorts from all the running, he tried to make himself as presentable as possible before ringing the bell. The simple act of ringing that doorbell was the hardest thing Josh had ever done. His fingers, his whole body was shaking. It took every ounce of his willpower to keep his feet planted there, on Steven's welcome mat, and not take off running.
Josh stood there; staring at the door for what seemed like ages, willing, pleading for that door to open. Trying to gather up the courage to ring the doorbell a second time, before his hand could make it halfway there, the deadbolt to the wooden door clicked and it swung open. Through the screen, Steven himself stood there on the other side. Josh stood there, paralyzed, as Steven looked down at him.
"Josh... what are you doing... why are you here?"
Josh could not bring himself to meet Steven's eyes. "I..." Every bone in his body, every instinct he possessed was telling him to run, to avoid the intense pain that he knew would come. Yet he didn't. His feet remained planted there, as he tried his best to summon up the courage to answer Steven's question. "I... have to know. Why don't you want to teach me anymore?"
Josh seemed to wait forever for a response. Even though he so badly needed one, he still could not bring himself to meet Steven's eyes, or look at his face to decipher the answer that might be there. Yet he waited. He waited because he knew no place to go after this. He would rather crawl into a hole and die than not get the answer.
Time passed, and still not a word was said. Though Josh was not looking at Steven's face, he knew that he was still standing there, at the doorway. Again, he tried his hardest to summon up every little bit of courage he had left, and asked the hardest question he thought he ever had in his life. "Is it because I lost? Is it because you don't think I'm good enough?"
This time, Steven did say something. "Oh Josh... is that what you really think?"
Josh could only nod his head slightly, keeping his eyes locked on the ground.
"Josh... that's not what I think at all. I think you are one of the greatest young pianists I have ever heard. I think you have such incredible talent, and have the capability to one day play as well as any of the best professional musicians that have ever lived."
Josh fought it hard, but he still couldn't prevent a tear from streaming down his face. "Then why... Why did you say that you don't want to teach me anymore? Is it because you would rather teach Cody, since he's better?"
Josh could hear the deep pain etched in Steven's voice. "No Josh. I don't want to teach Cody. Besides, I'm sure Cody already has a good teacher."
Josh waited for Steven to say more, but finally he had to ask again. "Then why?"
"Josh... It's not because I don't want to teach you, because I do. More than anything. But I... I can't because... because I..."
When Josh did look up, what he saw shocked him to his very core. Steven was crying. There were tears streaming down his face. That's when he really noticed how disheveled Steven looked. His hair was a mess, and his eyes looked bloodshot. He was in a pair of pajamas Josh had never seen before. In fact, he had never thought he had seen Steven in a pair of pajamas. Staring at the man in front of him, behind the screen door, he looked like a shadow of the normally confidant, all-knowing Steven he had always known. Maybe it's because he really is sick, was one thought that went though Josh's mind. But he knew that that wasn't the answer.
"Josh, I'm sorry, but you need to go. You can't be here. You can't see me right now. You need to leave. You just can't be around me."
With that, the door slammed shut, and Josh heard the sound of footsteps landing heavily on the stairs, and finally another door slamming loudly inside the house. Josh stood there, his expression as shocked as it had been when he had seen Steven's face. Finally what had happened registered on him. Steven had run away from him, again. Josh felt all the strength in his legs simply melt from underneath him as he collapsed on Steven's porch, pulling himself into a tight little ball and crying for all he was worth.
Josh didn't know how long he stayed there like that, curled into a little ball, rocking back and fourth, crying... moaning into his legs. Why did Steven keep running away? It flew in the face of everything he had just said.
Not knowing what else to do, he stayed there, all curled up, and unmoving. Time passed, and eventually it began to get dark outside, until it was well past dusk. Every now and then, Josh would let out a little whimper, and then sniffle his nose. Eventually, he had leaned himself up against a side wall. He knew that he would eventually have to go back home, that his mother would be there, and be angry if he wasn't. But right now, he didn't care if his mom got angry at him. She was already angry with him. She was always angry with him, it seemed. Besides, Josh had gotten so used to being here almost every day after school. He hardly even ate dinner at home anymore, and his mother didn't seem to mind that she no longer needed to cook for him late at night. Steven's had become almost like a second home to him. The door was always open, and Steven let him come over any time he wanted. Now, the door was closed, and Josh did not have the strength to knock on it again.
Another thing kept Josh there as well. Before Steven had closed the door on him... he had seen the look on his face. That face did not speak of disappointment, not like it had seemed to before. More like, it spoke of intense sadness, and... longing. It was almost like Steven wanted to tell him something, and he just couldn't. And, since Steven had seemed so worked up over it, to the point where he had been crying himself, Josh knew it had to be important. There was something Steven wasn't telling him, and the more he thought about it, the more he needed to know. He could only hope that, if Steven did tell him, that it was something he would be able to help with.
Stuck there, with his mind torn between complete and utter despair, intense confusion, and a sense that that there was still something that needed to be resolved, Josh remained on the porch. Then, almost frightening him half to death, the door cracked open, emitting light onto the porch.
"Josh, please come in," Steven said, opening the door further.
Josh tried his hardest to clear out his eyes so he could see well enough to stumble onto his feet. His whole body felt numb. Even his mind seemed numb. He managed to make it to the door, however, and Steven held the screen open for him. Steven led him to his living room and invited him to sit. After having sat on the cement porch for so long, the soft, cushy couch was a very welcome comfort. Without a word, Steven left and came back with a glass of milk. Josh took it with shaky hands, though he managed to sip from it without spilling any. Once there was something in his system, his body seemed to loosen up a little. Steven had taken his customary seat in the chair across from him.
"Oh Josh... where do I begin?" Steven started, running his fingers through his hair. It was then Josh noticed that Steven must have changed. He was wearing his customary dressy clothing now, and his hair was well combed. "I'm sure by now you have to be wondering what on earth you have done to deserve this. Either that, or you think that I have completely lost it. In either case, you would be perfectly right to question. Josh... what I have done to you was wrong. I shouldn't have just walked out on you, and I shouldn't have slammed the door on you a while ago. I was completely wrong to do so. Josh... please do not blame yourself for my behavior, it was nothing you did wrong. You did exceptionally well at the festival, even if you did not win." Then, Steven said in a quieter voice, "If anything, it's me who let you down, for not being able to help you reach your goal, and for leaving you when you needed me."
Josh was still at a loss. Had Steven left because he felt like he let him down? Did Steven think that he would be angry at him because he hadn't helped him win first place? Was that truly it?
"There are some more reasons though, reasons that are really hard for me to say," Steven said, with his gaze now on the floor like Josh's had been.
"Like what?" Josh had to ask.
"Josh... this is really hard for me to say, but I just have to. It's been driving me crazy for so long not being able to say it, and I have wanted to tell you so many times. The problem is... I just didn't know how you would react, and I didn't want to lose you as a student, or as a friend," Steven continued, scratching his head, keeping his eyes averted.
"What is it?" Josh asked. Now Josh's curiosity was beginning to burn though any other remaining feelings.
"Josh... I... I love you," Steven said softly.
Josh's first reaction was one of shock, though that familiar tingly sensation he felt whenever Steven was near quickly swept through his whole body. "You do?" Josh asked, his voice almost an octave higher than it normally was.
"Yes," Steven said. Now Steven was looking directly into Josh's eyes, and Josh could clearly see how serious he was, simply by the welling tears. "I love you so much it hurts. And whenever you are not around, I feel so empty."
If anything, Josh knew exactly what he meant by that. When Josh was home alone, there was noting more he wanted than to be over at Steven's. Even if he had just gotten back from his place, he still wanted to go back. The feelings he felt whenever Steven was near, and the feeling he felt now, though it wasn't painful, it almost felt like an aching. It was in that moment he realized that he loved Steven as well, despite how hurt he had been the past few days. If anything, the fact that he felt that way proved how much Steven meant to him, and Josh knew that right now, Steven meant more to him than anyone else in the world.
Tears began welling up in his eyes as well, and he felt his legs work of their own volition, propelling him straight into Steven's lap. "I... I love you too!" Josh said, crying into Steven's shirt.
Josh felt Steven hug him back, scooping him up in his grasp. Before he knew it, they were off the chair, Steven propping him up with one arm under his butt and another holding his lower back. Josh threw his arms and legs around his back, and clasped him just as tightly.
"Oh Josh, I'm so sorry for what I did. I'm sorry for not telling you sooner. It's just that I was scared that you might get angry or freaked out," Steven said, rocking Josh back and fourth.
"Why would I be angry?" Josh asked.
Josh could identify it now. That look in Steven's eyes when they were playing the piano, eating dinner together, or times when they were just sitting and talking. Steven had the exact same expression as he had that night after the nutcracker, when he had offered him the cherry. There was still something else though, as Steven began moving some of the blond locks draped across his forehead. Steven's touch was so gentle, and what Josh could only now describe as loving. Steven's fingers traced down his face, wiping away the tears that had drawn down his cheeks.
"I was afraid you would be. It's usually not okay for a teacher to fall in love with his student. Others would say so at least."
Josh could feel Steven's heart pounding rapidly, almost as quickly as he knew his own was beating. He could feel the smooth rhythm of Steven's breathing, his own small body moving as Steven's chest rose and fell. He could actually feel the warmth radiating from Steven's body though his clothes, seeping into his front and in his arms now clenched tightly across Steven's back. They stayed there like that for quite some time, with Steven clearing away all of his tears until his face was dry. Eventually, Steven's hand began to explore more, moving down the nape of his neck, and across to his back. He rubbed the bumps that were his spine and the small mounds that were his shoulder blades through his shirt. He moved his hand up and traced around his collar line, only letting his fingers touch the surrounding skin underneath. Steven lingered there for quite some time, making small circles around the small of his back. When he finally did bring his hand back up, he began using his fingers to comb through Josh's hair. It was then when Steven closed his eyes and used his hand to press across the back of Josh's head. Josh felt his face being drawn closer to Steven's, until their noses were touching. Then, ever so softly, Josh felt Steven's lips press onto his in a gentle kiss.
The only time Josh had ever remembered being kissed was by his mother, and it was never on the lips. There had been times, either when she was dropping him off at school, or at daycare when he was younger. But those had been quick little pecks on the cheeks, only a formality it had seemed, as she had told him goodbye. Now she didn't even do that, and it was becoming more and more rare that she would even give him a hug.
This kiss however, was far different. Josh could feel Steven's hand gently stroking his hair. As their lips remained pressed together, he again felt that tingly feeling shoot all across his body. Every stroke of Steven's hand seemed electrifying, only further stimulating the energy racing along his insides. And the kiss itself... Josh had never been kissed on the lips before, and had never known how another's could feel on his. Steven's lips were soft, even if his chin was a little stubbly. He had even become aware of the breath coming from Steven's nose. It was pleasantly warm as it washed across his own skin. All of these things only seemed to amplify the feelings swirling though him, and at its focal point were where his lips met Steven's.
Josh could not say for certain how long the kiss lingered. The only thing he knew for sure was that he would not break it. Never in his life had he felt so... loved as he did in this moment. He clung to Steven tightly, hoping, praying that he would not leave him again. When the kiss ended, he felt strangely empty, like some part of his soul was missing.
Steven looked into his eyes. His face again looked worried. "I... I'm sorry."
The warmth and electricity he had felt during the kiss quickly became replaced by the confusion that had haunted him earlier. Was what they had done wrong? What was it Steven had said about not being able to fall in love? Did he mean that Steven shouldn't love him? But why?
Now Josh's confusion swirled every bit as intensely as the good feelings that had been there a moment before. Steven somehow seemed to sense this, and quickly set him down and backed away. The look on his face was identical to when he had left before. This really was it, wasn't it? Steven felt like he couldn't love him. Before Steven could move another inch, Josh shot back into his arms again.
"No, don't go!" Josh almost screamed. Josh was not going to let Steven run again, no matter what. "I don't care if you love me!" Josh held onto Steven tightly.
Steven stayed there, unmoving, until he eventually slid back down to his chair, taking a deep breath. "Oh Josh, I'm so sorry."
Josh shook his head violently. "No, don't be sorry. You can love me, I don't care what other people think," then Josh said in a much quieter voice, "I want you to love me."
Steven stared at Josh for a long time, his eyes searching. Finally, he simply shook his head. "You must think I've lost my mind, haven't you?" Steven asked, his face slowing forming a smile.
Seeing Steven happy again seemed to lift that heavy weight of uncertainty off his shoulders. The only thing Josh could do at that point was smile back at him. "No. Well... I still don't really get it. I mean... why is it so bad that you love me?"
Steven breathed out another long sigh. "It's... it's really hard to explain. I mean, its okay for me to care for you as a student, and even as your mentor, but... I feel for you much more than I should. The more time I spend with you, and see how deeply you feel things... you're just like me in so many ways. Or, at least you're like how I remember myself when I was a boy. I feel that way about you and so much more..." Steven said, averting his eyes.
"I guess I felt like my love for you would get in the way of being able to teach you well. And at the festival, a part of me felt that I had driven you too hard, and that's why you had failed. I wanted you to win every bit as much as you did, and when you only came in second, I felt like I had let you down, and it was possible I let my feelings for you get in the way," Steven explained.
"Really? You really thought it was your fault I lost?" Josh asked.
Steven nodded his head. "It was a big part of it. I felt like I had let you down, and no longer deserved to be your teacher."
Josh shook his head. "I thought it was because you were disappointed in me, and didn't want to teach me anymore because I wasn't good enough."
Steven took Josh's hand in his. "Josh, I'm so sorry I made you feel that way. All of this as been because of me. Please accept my apology."
Josh wanted to say he did, and that everything was okay now. Even though Steven's answers didn't make complete sense to him, he had tried to explain them. At the very least, it was obvious that Steven hadn't left for the reasons he thought he had. And now, with Steven telling him he loved him... that single thought filled him with such joy and elation...
"Josh... I'm going to make you a promise, okay?"
Josh nodded his head and waited.
"I promise that I will not repeat what happened at the festival. I will not leave you without explanation, and I'll try my hardest to be with you and help you as best I can. I love you so much, and I can't stand the thought of hurting you like that again. I will try my best to put your needs ahead of my own, and realize how my actions might affect you." Steven lightened his grip on Josh's hand, and began massaging it a little. "I could never do anything to hurt you, either physically or emotionally, and it pains me greatly to realize how much I have already."
Steven sat there silently, gently running his thumb over Josh's palm. Josh could see that Steven was waiting, waiting for him to say something. He could tell how much Steven meant what he was saying. Only a little while ago, Josh didn't believe Steven needed to be forgiven, rather he needed Steven's forgiveness. But he could see that Steven thought it was the other way around, and maybe it was. Even if it was Steven's fault, Josh knew he couldn't remain mad at him. Josh threw himself around Steven again, hugging him just as tightly as he had before.
"It's okay Steven, I forgive you. And it's really okay if you love me, because I love you too," Josh said. "Just don't run away again."
Steven nodded his head. "I give you my word that I won't." Then Steven smiled slightly. "And even if I do, you always know where I live, so it's not like I can run far."
Both Josh and Steven laughed, and everything felt right again. And yet, with Josh now sitting there in Steven's lap, hugging him tightly, he knew that things wouldn't quite be the same again either.