"I need to tell you more about Rafael, Kenny and me." Evan paused. "Actually, maybe it'll all make more sense after you meet them."
"So you're gonna leave me hangin' till then?"
"Yeah, sorry. I want you to be around them a little before I try to explain our relationship."
I pulled back and looked at him for a second, then shrugged. "Whatever."
I was slightly irked at being teased like that, but I figured he had his reasons. I slid further down the bed and started shoving the pillow around under my head, trying to take out my irritation on it rather than on Evan. He let me thrash in silence, then settled in next to me like nothing was wrong.
And there really wasn't anything wrong. I was just wound up over meeting these guys who were already such an integral part of his life. They were in solid and I wasn't quite yet, and it made me jealous, and that made me feel like a jerk. I lay there staring at the ceiling until Evan fell asleep, then eased out of bed, and went and sat in the living room for a while, just gazing out the window at the dark street. The house was quiet as I mulled over the fact that Evan had people in his life who he was closer to than me. In the abstract, that had been fine, but now that I was about to meet them, it was bugging me. I knew it was mostly due to him not yet telling me that he loved me. I was pretty sure he did, but until he said it...
After an hour or so, I had calmed down enough to sleep, and went back to bed. As I slid in beside him, Evan laid a hand on my chest.
"You ok?" he asked softly.
"Yeah. Sorry to wake you up."
"You didn't. I was about to come find you, but I figured maybe you just needed some time to yourself."
I didn't understand a lot of what I was feeling these days, but Evan seemed to. I hugged him to me for a moment, then pushed him away to his other side so I could curl up around him. Sleep came easily this time, and before I knew it, Evan was waving coffee under my nose as he squeezed my morning hard-on.
Saturday we took a drive around Patterson with Evan playing tour guide. There was a pick-up basketball game going at the high school, so we stopped and played for a couple hours. I can't jump for shit, but I'm quick and fearless, so I'm good at defense, and I held my own against guys 10 years younger than me. Evan was a shooter, sinking ball after ball from all over the court. He got knocked on his ass at one point, grimacing as I gave him a hand up, and then I twisted my ankle when I stepped on another guy's foot. Luckily, the game ended shortly after that, so we limped back to the car with no further damage.
In the late afternoon, he suggested we go home to get cleaned up, then go for burgers and pool at the bar I'd seen that first time I'd visited him. I eyed him, wondering if that's where we were meeting Rafael and Kenny, but he clammed up. We climbed in the shower when we got to his place, washing off the basketball sweat. By coincidence, we both put on black jeans and black Harley t-shirts from our local shops; we looked like the fucking Bobsey Twins, but we didn't give enough of a shit to change.
I started to grab my keys, but Evan said, "I usually walk. It's not quite a mile."
"Fine by me. Then we can both have a few and no one has to drive home." I have to admit, driving after a few beers was on my mind a lot more since I'd learned about Luke and the accident.
"This place gay?" I asked him as we walked.
"Nah, but it's the closest thing around here. I went to school with a lot of the guys who hang out there, and they're cool with it."
By the time we got there, I was starving again; being with Evan was wearing my ass out. Peetie's was a little place with a few pool tables up front, and a handful of booths and tables in back. The décor ran heavily to John Deere posters and framed high school football jerseys. The bar took up one side wall, ending in a jukebox that was thumping out Bob Seeger.
There were several guys there, playing pool or sitting around. A couple of them were better than average looking, but no one gave us more than a casual glance. Evan was right, this wasn't a gay bar.
Evan headed for one of the pool tables and as we got close, the guy lining up to shoot glanced at us, then smiled and stepped back from the table. Evan walked up to him, put one hand up to his face briefly, and then hugged him. From behind him a guy in a wheelchair rolled over; Evan leaned down, and they hugged.
These were the guys who'd been in the car the night Luke died. Evan hadn't actually told me they'd be here, so it was a bit of a surprise to see them in the flesh. I stood a few feet away, waiting until they finished greeting each other before stepping closer. Evan turned to me, drawing me forward with a hand on my shoulder.
"These lame excuses for pool players are my friends Rafael," he poked the shooter in the gut, "and Kenny." Then he gestured to me. "Jeff."
Rafael was standing with his left side to me. The beautiful boy in the graduation picture had matured into a striking man, all black hair and flashing dark eyes. But then he turned fully toward me, and my eyes went immediately to the right side of his face, slick and twisted with dark pink burn scars from his temple to his chin. I jerked my eyes back to his flinty gaze and felt like a total shit for not being able to control my knee-jerk stare. There was more scarring on the back of his hand and up his forearm when he held out his hand to me. We shook tensely, and I turned to greet Kenny in the wheelchair. We bumped knuckles and nodded at each other.
They were almost finished with their game, so Evan and I went to the bar for beers. "These are the guys from the accident, huh?" I don't like being ambushed and couldn't keep the irritation entirely out of my voice.
He glanced at me. "Yeah. We've been pretty tight since then. Shared tragedy and all." He said it lightly, but I could tell from the way he greeted them that these two were very close to him. That touch of jealous turmoil was stirring in my gut again.
I turned to watch them jostling each other to get to the table; Kenny won with a well-placed cue jab in Rafael's ribs. He reached out and squeezed Kenny's neck as he rolled by, letting his fingers trail along Kenny's shoulder, and I realized that they were, or had been, lovers.
My experience with people in wheelchairs was somewhere between slim and none, and I watched with guilty fascination as Kenny hoisted himself partly out of his chair on an elbow to shoot, dropping his ball neatly into a corner pocket. Evan was looking at me, and I flushed a little.
"Never seen a guy in a chair shoot pool." Or do any other damn thing, I thought to myself. It was going to be an interesting night.
"Yeah, he gets around pretty good." He smiled as Rafael hot-dogged a shot behind his back, pumping his fist when the ball clattered in. "They've got a house out past my place. They were just good friends before the accident, but afterward, when we knew Kenny would never walk again, we all got closer. After I went off to school, they got together."
Rafael was about my height, but slender and wiry, with a tight build that was about 3% body fat. The dark skin, hair and eyes gave him a strong Hispanic look that stood out in this white bread, middle-American pool bar. I've always had a thing for Latin guys anyway, and Rafael was seriously hot. Well - except for the ruined side of his face.
Kenny's brown hair was cut real short, and in person, his eyes had a dark ring around the green, giving them an intense look that caught your eye. He looked like he might have been maybe 6'2" before the accident. His shoulders were broad and muscular, and there was a serious bulge in his lap that got me wondering what a guy in a wheelchair could do in bed. I know, I know - it's terribly shallow of me, but I was curious. There was an obvious affection between the two of them, and I wondered what their physical relationship was like.
Rafael won, and we racked up for a new game. Kenny picked me, reaching up and pulling me down by my sleeve to whisper, "Evan can't sink a ball in a side pocket to save his ass."
I nodded, watching Rafael break, banging balls all over the place, and knocking a solid in. We worked our way around the table, Kenny and I staying a ball or two up on Evan and Rafael. Evan touched Rafael and Kenny often, with the easy familiarity that spoke of long acquaintance and close friendship. I watched them a little uneasily, trying to remember that he'd known these guys practically his whole life.
At one point, Evan was stretched out across the table lining up an awkward shot. His jeans were tight across his ass as he lifted a foot off the floor, and I felt my dick start to fill as I enjoyed the view. When I looked away, I caught Rafael staring at me, his face expressionless, his dark eyes cold and hard. I held his gaze for a second, wondering what the hell his problem was.
After he sank the ball, Evan straightened up and threw me a look over his shoulder that hardened me the rest of the way. I totally blew the next shot, and got a glare from Kenny that pulled my mind out of Evan's pants and put it back on the pool game.
Kenny's advice worked, and we won by virtue of Evan missing two side pocket shots I'd set up for him. I saw him eyeing me as Kenny and I celebrated our win with a high-five, and I gave him an innocent look, batting my eyes at him a few times.
"I'll get you later," he muttered as he walked past me, pinching my ass hard enough to make me wince. As we all headed for a booth, Evan put both hands on Kenny's shoulders from behind and rubbed them as he rolled along. Kenny stopped at the end of the table, Evan slid into the booth and when Rafael sat down next to him, I sat across from them.
We shot the shit for a few minutes, then Rafael gave me an up and down look and said, "So... what are your intentions?"
I blinked as Evan rolled his eyes and Kenny sighed. "My what?"
"Your intentions... with Evan."
His tone was belligerent, and it pissed me off.
"We're eloping to New York to be drag queens. What the fuck business is it of yours?"
Kenny snorted, but Evan flapped a hand in the air between us. "Ok, ok. Put away the pistols. Raf, back off. Jeff, these guys are just looking out for me. We got a lotta history together."
I was feeling a little out-numbered and pushed my way roughly past Kenny, accidentally kicking his chair in the process, to go to the bar and try to get my temper under control. After a few minutes, Evan sat down on the stool next to me, his back to the bar, leaning on his elbows so he could see my face.
"Jeff," he said quietly. I ignored him, staring childishly into my beer. He tipped his head into my space. "Jeff, please." I lifted my eyes to him sullenly, already feeling like a jerk. "They care about me. Rafael is just a little heavy-handed about it."
"Ya think?" I huffed.
He ran a knuckle down my upper arm, giving me a little shiver.
"I've never brought anyone home. You're the first man - in ten years - that I've brought here and introduced to them, so they know it's serious. They just wanna make sure you're a decent guy. They don't want me to get hurt."
That made me feel about as low as ant shit, and I blew out a long, disgusted breath. "Fffuck."
I glanced at Evan. The way he was sitting pulled his t-shirt snug across the contours of his chest, and I ran my eyes down to his belt, taking in the outline of the body I knew so well. When I brought my eyes back to his, he was smiling at me. I simply couldn't refuse him when he was being so sweet, so I shoved my fingers through my hair in frustration, pushed up from the stool, and stalked back to the booth. I lightly squeezed Kenny's shoulder as I sat down. I kept my eyes on Evan, who was in conversation with the bartender.
"Look - I didn't know you guys were gonna be here tonight, and I wasn't ready to answer questions about us." I scrubbed a hand over my face. "I got screwed over pretty good years ago, and Evan told me about Luke and you guys, so we're both walking around the edges of this thing." I paused for a second. "I'm serious about him. We've only been together a few months, but I'm already makin' plans for the future." I dragged my gaze away from Evan to lock eyes with Rafael. "My Goddamn intentions are good. I'm in love with him, and I'm in it for the long haul, so for Christ sake, get used to havin' me around."
He stared back at me for a tense moment, and I thought maybe he was gonna come across the table, but he finally gave me a lop-sided smile, the scarred side of his face barely moving, and said, "All right. Ok."
I narrowed my eyes at him, and the smile faded slightly. I could tell he wasn't ready to welcome me with open arms, but he didn't still wanna pound the crap outta me either.
Evan came ambling back from the bar with four baskets of burgers and fries on a big tray, along with three beers and a ginger ale for Kenny, who said he was their designated driver, and we all gave it a rest while we ate.
We shot a couple more rounds of pool, and then called it a night. Out in the parking lot, Kenny and I reached his van ahead of Raf and Evan, and Kenny pulled me down for a quick hug. I felt awkward around him, bumping my knees against his chair when I bent over, but he ignored it.
"Sorry about kickin' you earlier. I'm a real asshole sometimes."
"No problem." He smiled up at me, and squeezed the side of my leg with his big hand. "Don't worry about Raf. He could give you a run for your money in the asshole department. He's just real protective of Evan; we both are." He was watching Evan as he spoke, and the look on his face gave me another indication of how close the three of them were.
In parting, Rafael gave me what probably appeared to be a good-natured whack on the shoulder, but it had some muscle behind it, and his smile was a little too toothy to be friendly. Evan kissed both of them briefly on the mouth, which I barely noticed, and we watched while they got into Kenny's van. It was equipped for him to drive by hand, and had a lift gate that came out the side door. Evan and I turned away to walk home as they left the parking lot. The night had cooled off, so I shoved my hands in my pockets and strolled along next to Evan, trying to decide what to say.
"That some kinda test back there? Springin' those two on me like that?"
He glanced at me quickly before looking away up the street with a shrug. "I don't know... Yeah, sorta." He was silent for several steps, and then spoke in a quiet voice. "Havin' you here, on my turf, is..." He hesitated. "It's harder than I thought it would be. Those guys are kind of my safety net, I guess." He glanced at me again. "And I didn't tell them you'd be there either, so it was sort of a test for them, too."
I mulled that over in silence for half a block.
"You pissed?" he finally asked me.
"No." I sighed, and slid a hand into the back pocket of his jeans to give his butt a squeeze. "How'd I do?"
"Great, although I thought you were gonna have to kick Rafael's ass for a minute there." He smiled at me and draped his arm over my shoulders, hugging me to him. "They really are good guys. They've been through a lot. Kenny was starting point guard all three years of high school, and had a full boat scholarship to State. He ended up going to the local college here. Graphic arts and web sites... that kind of stuff. He works from the house doing free-lance stuff for companies all over the place. Raf was All State first base and gettin' looks from the big schools. By the time he could play again, they didn't want him. Can't have a guy who looks like that runnin' around your Big Ten diamond." His voice was sad and a little bitter. "Now he runs his dad's machine shop."
I was silent for the rest of the walk home, thinking about the three of them. Evan still had what seemed to me to be a lot of emotional issues from the accident, even though he wasn't physically scarred. Rafael and Kenny had to live with the obvious reminders of the accident every day of their lives.
It was pretty late by the time we got home, so we headed for bed. As we were settling in, Evan rolled onto his side and backed into me, pulling my arm tight around his chest. "Ok if we just go to sleep?"
Well, not really, but I figured he had some kind of emotional thing going on after having me and his old buddies in the same room together, so I slid up close behind him and nuzzled into the back of his neck. I was quiet for a bit, brushing my mouth over the smooth skin of his shoulder. "You wanna talk about it?" I asked softly.
He was silent for so long that I thought he'd fallen asleep. "Yeah, but not tonight, ok?"
"Sure. Sleep good."
He dozed off, and I lay there for a while longer enjoying my beer buzz, and thinking about three guys who'd survived a tragedy the likes of which most people never experience; wondering if there was room for a fourth person in their tight friendship, or if the ghost of the one who died had too firm a hold on them.
It was Sunday morning, and we'd been awake long enough to suck each other off. Now we were lazing in bed with Evan sitting up against the headboard and me on my side next to him, tucked under his arm. I got more comfortable, and then prompted him.
"Ok, talk to me."
Evan was quiet for a few moments, getting his thoughts together, I guess, and then he started to speak, slowly feeling his way through what he wanted to say.
"I met Kenny and Rafael in 1st grade, long before Luke moved to town. We'd done the circle jerk thing, and jacked each other off a few times, but that was it. And then once Luke showed up, no one else interested me." He paused, and I felt him lower his face to the top of my head for a moment. His short, quick breaths ruffled my hair, and I knew it was difficult for him to talk about it, even after all this time.
He took a deep breath before he started speaking again. "After the accident, we were all in the hospital for a while. I was released in a few weeks, but Raf was in for three months at first, then in and out for skin grafts for a couple years. I wish you could have met him before. God, he was the hottest guy in school..."
He sighed heavily, and I began to ache for him. I sat up a little so I could see his face. His eyes were the dark gray of storm clouds, and held more sorrow than any person's should ever have to. "You don't need to tell me this, Evan."
"Yeah, I do. I need you to really understand what's between the three of us because it's a big part of who I am, and some of it's gonna affect you. And our relationship, I guess." He pulled me back down next to him, and I realized it was easier for him to talk when we weren't face to face. "It was months before Rafael'd leave the house, and even then he'd wear a hat and sunglasses. The scars were a lot worse then. Hard to imagine, huh? When Kenny was able to use a chair, they let him come home for a day or two at a time. Rafael'd go out with us, and he gradually got better about it, but he was touchy when people stared. Still is."
Rafael was so gorgeous if you came at him from the left. I thought about going through life with a disfigurement like that, and began to admire the strength it took just to face the mirror every morning, to stand there and shave the one side of your face that still grew a beard.
"I didn't go to school that fall; Rafael and I got an apartment and tried to get our shit together, but it was tough. We were only 18 and our lives were a mess. We all went to a shrink for a while, but we really only felt right when we were together, like only the three of us who'd been there, really understood."
He paused. "Maybe this explains it better. With Raf, I didn't have to pretend to be ok. I could cry all day if I needed to, and he'd just be there to hold me. When he had nightmares, I was there for him. We spent a lot of time hanging onto each other. And everyone was weird about touching his burns, but it didn't bother me. I still usually touch that side of his face when I greet him. Kenny does it, too; watch them together. It's like we're telling him it doesn't matter to us, that he's still the hottest guy in school."
"Fuck, this all sounds kinda weird when I put it into words, but it worked for us. I finally quit crying half the day and Rafael started sleeping through the night more often than not, but we still weren't 'cured,' as the doctor put it. None of us had sex for months. Raf wouldn't leave the house, so he wasn't gettin' any, and Kenny hadn't figured out yet if his dick still worked for more than takin' a leak."
"It was about six months before they turned Kenny loose permanently. He was really depressed. We were all pretty fucked up emotionally, and they both had the permanent physical stuff to deal with. A couple weeks before Kenny got out for good, Raf and I were laying there talking one night, and he leaned over and kissed me... really kissed me, lots of tongue... and for whatever reason, we both responded to it. We just grabbed each other's dicks and started jerking for all we were worth. When we shot, we both started crying, and by the time it was over, we were a mess, covered in tears and snot and cum, but it got us past the mental block, or whatever the hell it was. We started blowing each other pretty regularly after that. He wanted to fuck, but I couldn't even think about it yet. I just couldn't get it up if I thought there was gonna be fucking involved." Evan stopped and shook his head slowly. "It's amazing what your mind can do to your body."
"Anyway, Kenny moved in with us, and could barely function. Raf and I were getting better by then, so we were able to concentrate on him. Kenny's doctor had told him to just forget about sex, that that part of his life was over." He paused again. "Can you imagine someone telling you that on top of one of your best friends being dead and you never walking again? Fuck." He sighed deeply, and hugged me tighter for a moment. "So, anyway, not only did Kenny think he couldn't do anything, why did it even matter cause who would want to be with a guy in a chair? We put Kenny in the middle of the bed every night, and it turned out what he really needed was to know that someone still wanted to hold him and touch him that way."
He barked out a hard laugh. "God, that's all any of us needed at that point. We still touch each other a lot - you probably noticed. It's just... comforting, I guess."
I sniffed hard before pushing up to hug him tight. "Christ, I wish I could make it better for you, somehow."
He grabbed my shoulders, gave me a shake, and held me out in front of him, looking me hard in the eye. "You already have, don't you know that?" He gave a quick laugh. "Jesus, I'm Mr. Fuckin' Cheerful since I met you. I mean it, Jeff," he added when I shot him a look. "I get up every single morning either knowing I'm gonna spend the day with you, or crossing out another day closer to being with you. It feels wonderful." Evan pulled me back to him, nuzzling into my neck. "You're making me better," he whispered.
After a few moments, we settled back down, and he continued. "Kenny's injury is real low in his back, so he had sensation from his hips up, more or less. We'd give him massages for the muscle spasms, and it turned out he was more sensitive than the doctors had thought. He couldn't get totally hard, but he could climax and ejaculate. Shit, I remember the first time we got him off, Rafael and I high-fived each other, all excited, and Kenny just lay there grinning with cum all over his belly." He stopped for a moment, smiling at the memory.
He looked at me then, trying to gauge my reaction, I suppose. "Please remember that all this was a long time ago, and we were very young and very fucked up. We had no one but each other to hang on to, and we all had survivor's guilt that Luke had died and not us. So... we felt responsible for each other, especially for Kenny, who was the most badly injured."
I couldn't think of a thing to say, so I just nodded. Evan watched me for a minute before continuing.
"We kept messing around with him, and found out that his nipples were real sensitive and that he still had a lot of sensation in his prostate, so a finger up his ass felt good and made it easier for him to shoot. He can't get hard enough to fuck, and I guess it's uncomfortable for him to get fucked, so he's just oral."
Well, that answered my curiosity over what Raf and Kenny did together. Evan slid down the bed a little so that we were face to face on our sides.
"I think he's probably the most well-adjusted of the three of us. Once he got good in the chair, he started going back to the re-hab center a couple times a week and helping other guys figure it out. I'm sure you noticed his chair isn't the conventional type. It's a sports chair; he still plays basketball a couple nights a week. We'll go the next time you're here that he has a game. It's pretty cool. Those guys are really competitive, and half of them end up on their ass on the floor every game."
He tipped my chin up so that we were looking at each other. "Just so you know, I never fucked around with Rafael. Somehow, he was just too close to the whole thing in my mind, and I could never get around that. I don't know if we ever would have anyway. Once I got back out into the world, I fucked around a few times early on, but always with someone I didn't know, and I could never get off that way. Pretty soon I just gave it up and stuck to blow jobs... until I met you."
He kissed me tentatively, as if he wasn't sure of his welcome. I returned the kiss, and he melted into me for a few minutes, then pushed back and looked at me again, knowing we weren't quite done with this.
"You still messin' around with them?" I asked, not knowing what the hell I was gonna do if he said yes.
He shook his head. "After I came back from that first year away at school, they'd become a couple, and we just didn't get back into it. But..." He hesitated. Fuck! There's always a 'but.' "When one of them is out of town, I usually spend the night with whoever's home. We don't do anything, we just sleep together. Again, it's a comfort thing."
"You kissed them last night. On the mouth."
He turned to face me, his gray eyes steady on mine. "Yeah, we usually kiss hello and goodbye. Kinda depends on where we are."
I looked at him for a long moment, not sure how I felt about that; then I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, thinking hard. On the one hand, I didn't want anyone else within twenty feet of him. He was mine, and I could be a little territorial myself.
On the other hand, Rafael and Kenny were partnered and looked pretty fuckin' happy to me. Evan had known these guys forever, and if something was going to happen between him and one of them, it would have happened by now, right? Plus, I hadn't even been surprised when he kissed them goodbye; it had just seemed natural, now that I thought about it.
I rolled back to face him. "Ok."
He blinked at me. "'Ok' what?"
"It's ok if you sleep with whoever's home, as long as you're just sleepin'. And as long as you're not leavin' our bed to do it."
He looked at me for a moment, and then nodded. "Ok. Good."
We looked at each other warily, both of us feeling like there was something more we should say about all this, but I was done talking for a while. When I pulled away to get up, Evan let me go, rolling out of bed himself when I walked into the bathroom. After a shower and Evan's French toast, we took the Sunday paper to a café for coffee, lounging around for a couple hours.
But we were a bit too careful with each other, our smiles a little too quick and bright, our hands flinching back when they bumped accidentally. I hated it, but I was feeling defensive again, although I couldn't figure out why - I wasn't the one havin' pajama parties. Fuck, this relationship stuff was complicated and difficult; it seemed like some new pitfall waited around every corner, ready to suck us in and fuck us up.
I was tired of it.
The next time Evan and I reached for the same section of the paper, I didn't graciously let go of it; instead, I snatched it out of his hands. His eyes shot up to mine, narrowed with irritated surprise.
"I love you," I said, my voice soft but intense, saying it with my eyes, as well. The anger melted from his face to be replaced with confused affection, and I smiled at him then. He smiled back, and we gazed at each other for a minute before he blew out a breath.
"So you're sure you don't mind?"
I'd been thinking about it since I'd gotten out of bed, so I was able to answer him truthfully. "Yes, I'm sure. I don't mind you just sleepin' with them. I'm just... a little envious, I guess. That's what pissed me off. I don't have friends like that, never have."
He was quiet for a moment. "It's not too late. If you and I... After we're together for a while, they'll be your friends, too."
I gave him an A for effort, but, "Never like that, though."
I tore little strips off the edge of the Sports section, trying to work up the balls to admit something else to him. "This is gonna sound really lame, but it's the truth, and I gotta tell you so I can work at gettin' past it." I licked my dry lips, and looked up at him. "I'm jealous of you, of your Leave It To Beaver parents, and your fancy education, and your life-long friends... all the shit I didn't have." I looked away from him then, too raw and exposed to meet his eyes and the sympathy softening his face. "Is that pathetic, or what?"
Evan reached across the table to still my busy fingers, gripping my hand hard and leaning forward to talk into my face. "I can't change any of that, and I wouldn't if I could. But I was lucky, Jeff. That's all it was... luck of the draw. You weren't as lucky, but you've got nothing to be ashamed of. You own a house, you own a successful business. Fuck, you're doin' great, man." He held my eyes, trying to get me to buy into his logic. "Please don't make it an issue. Don't let something that I had no control over mess this up."
Well, he had a point, but there was one more thing.
"What about money?"
He raised his eyebrows and sat back in his chair. "What about it?"
"I'm pretty sure that poundin' out computer code doesn't pay what you ambulance chasers make." The eyebrows came down into a frown. "And I'm not gonna spend every cent I have trying to keep up with you."
"You've been to my place. I don't live any differently than you do." He was shaking his head. "Maybe I make more, although I'm still pretty low on the totem pole, so maybe not." He shrugged. "So what do you wanna do... compare W2s and pay whatever percentage of the dinner bill equals our respective incomes? Shall we get our calculators out and divvy up how much each of us owes for coffee? Let's see..." He picked up the bill the waitress had left and studied it carefully, making a big show of squinting at it and doing calculations in the air with his finger.
"Fuck you," I laughed, grabbing it from him and throwing a ten on the table as I pushed my chair back. "Let's get outta here."
When we climbed into the Jeep, he leaned over to check the gas gauge, and then whipped out his cell phone with a flourish, brought up the calculator feature and punched in some numbers. When he was finished, he counted out a few bills and some change, grabbed my wrist and plunked it into my hand with a smirk. "Here's my share for the next tank of gas. Eleven dollars and thirty-seven cents."
I was sitting there staring at the money in my palm, debating whether to laugh or punch him when he put a hand on my shoulder, shaking me gently. "See how silly that is? It's just not that big a deal, ok? Let's not sweat the small stuff. If something big comes along, we'll talk it out until we're both comfortable with it. We've been doing all right so far, haven't we?"
I nodded slowly. Self esteem, Jeff, you have self esteem issues. Knowing it didn't make it go away. "Yeah, we have. I'm cool with that." I shoved his $11.37 into my pocket and fired up the Jeep.
"You're keepin' my money?"
"Fuckin' A, dude," I laughed, and headed off to pick up Kenny for Raf's ball game.
Their place was a big, single-story brick house on a fenced acre at the edge of town. There was the glimmer of a pool in back as we pulled in the drive. Evan reached over to toot the horn as I came to a stop. Kenny came through the door, locked it behind him, and zoomed down the long ramp from the porch. Evan hopped out of the Jeep as Kenny coasted to a stop by the passenger door. Or where the door would be; since the weather was nice, I had the top and doors off.
"How you wanna do this?" Evan asked him.
Kenny looked up at the roll cage, reaching a long arm up to see if he could get a good grip on it. He wrapped his right hand around it, braced the other on the seat, and said, "Just get my legs."
Just get my legs.
Last night I'd thought that Rafael's scars were a pretty awful way to go through life. Kenny's chair had just seemed sort of fascinating. But now, watching Kenny figure out how to get up in the Jeep, something I did several times a day totally without thinking, I knew that I would take Raf's scars any day over never being able to walk again. I tried to imagine not being able to just get up and walk across the room whenever I felt like it. All those walks in the woods with Evan never would have happened. Hell, we wouldn't even have met, cause I couldn't have taken that fateful motorcycle ride in the mountains.
Evan slid an arm behind his knees and the other behind his ankles, and when he said, "Hut!" Kenny lifted himself clear of the chair and onto the edge of the seat. He repositioned his hands and twisted his body as Evan swung his legs in. It didn't take five seconds; I was impressed. Evan folded up the chair and stashed it behind me, then climbed in behind Kenny. I made sure Kenny had his seatbelt on before backing out - didn't wanna lose him around a corner.
We were on the west edge of Patterson, and the ball game was at a rec center due north. As I zipped along the two lane road, Kenny tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and laughed.
"This is great!" he yelled over the wind noise. "Makes me want a convertible."
I grinned back at him, absurdly pleased that a little thing like a ride in my Jeep could make him laugh. He'd gotten through the past ten years without me around to cheer him up, but now that I knew him, I found myself looking for ways to make it more bearable somehow. We bombed along until the park came into sight, then I slowed down and pulled into the lot. They reversed the procedure to get Kenny back into his chair, except that he used the seat and Evan's shoulder, and we headed for the bleachers. As we got close, I saw Maggie wave an arm at us from the top row. She was sitting with a good looking Hispanic woman, who smiled and lifted a hand when Kenny waved. "Raf's mom, Elena," he said to me.
We sat in the second row to be near Kenny, close enough to our dugout to get a good look at the players as they warmed up. Raf played for the Santiago Saints, a team sponsored by his dad's shop, Santiago Tool & Die. I liked baseball for the same reason I liked football - the pants. Nothing like tight pants on athletic guys. The Saints wore snug, medium gray pants with black pinstripes and black t-shirts emblazoned with Santiago Saints. Their last name and number was on the back in brilliant red, and their black caps had a big red script S on the front.
The Saints were batting first. A tall blond guy was in the box, crouched and shifting his weight from foot to foot, waiting for the pitcher to wind up. This was fast pitch softball, and when the pitcher snapped the ball loose, it covered the forty-six feet to the plate so fast I could barely see it. I quit trying to watch the game and concentrated on the guys instead. Rafael was on deck, holding three bats in his hands, swinging loosely as he watched the pitcher. The blond walloped the ball just over the shortstop's glove and made it to first.
Raf stalked up to the plate, all stony-faced, bad-ass attitude, his cap pulled low over his eyes. The sun was over his left shoulder, putting the burned side of his face in shadow. The tight pants and snug t-shirt showed off his tight, hard body, emphasizing every bunch and swell of his muscles as he held the bat high and put his weight on his back foot. He let the count get to 3 and 2, ignoring the heckling of the other team, before connecting solidly, blasting a grounder into the outfield between 1st and 2nd. The blond was running before Raf even hit, just missing the ball as it shot behind him, rounded 2nd at full speed, and made it to 3rd standing up. Raf slid in to 2nd safely, dusting himself off with a grin for the 2nd baseman, who was shaking his head.
The blond guy was tagged out at the plate on the third batter, but Raf and the third guy up came home safely when the fourth guy, a skinny, pale dude with glasses, who looked like he oughta stick to being the bat boy, slugged it out of the park. I checked out all the players' asses when they came up to bat, bumped my leg into Evan's now and then, laughed with Kenny over a stupid baseball joke he told, and had a great time.
The other team was good, but between Raf and a couple other guys, the Saints won 7-6. We hung around talking to Maggie and Elena while Raf gathered up his equipment and came around the fence. He sat his gear bag in Kenny's lap, ruffling his hair with a smile, gave his mom and Maggie a hug, did some complicated hand thing with Evan, and gave me a curt nod. We all headed for the parking lot with Maggie and me bringing up the rear. Elena had a lilt to her voice, but it wasn't the Hispanic accent I was used to, so I asked Maggie about it.
"They're from Puerto Rico. Elena and Javier came here right after they were married. Rafael was born a few months later."
I filed that away as interesting, and followed Raf's car to the pizza joint for the after-game festivities. The other team was already there, ordering up pitchers and pizzas. We hung out until most of the food was gone, and then went back to the condo. I'd had enough of Rafael ignoring me for one day, and was ready for some one-on-one with Evan. We were still a little off with each other, just enough to make us slightly awkward together. We kicked off our shoes and settled down on the couch with about a foot of cushion between us. Evan turned the TV on, more for something to do, I think, and I sat there wondering how to get us back to the easy familiarity that was one of the best things about us.
When I got up, I could feel Evan's eyes on my back as I left the room. I returned a few minutes later wearing only a well-used jock I'd brought along because you just never know when you might need such a thing. I'd played with my dick in the bedroom, cramming it back into the jock full and fat.
Gas to drive to Evan's - $7.
Pizza and beer - $20.
The expression on Evan's face when I came around the corner - priceless.
He put the remote down on the table by feel, staring at me as I walked up to stand in front of him. My crotch was about level with his face, but his eyes were glued to mine.
"Did you wanna watch TV?" I asked him innocently - or as innocently as I could wearing only a scruffy jock and a big old hard-on. "I'll move, if you want."
Evan began to speak, but only a guttural noise came out, so he cleared his throat and tried again. "No, no. Right there's... good."
Many thanks to David of Hope. We had to work at this one.