THE STUDIO IN THE COUNTRY, Part 17
or, for the Deutschsprächenede among you, I call this part "Na, endlich!"
DISCLAIMER: The story that follows is a work of fiction. Some characters may be based on real people, but this story should not be considered accurate or truthful representations of any actual person. This story is not intended to reflect the behavior, work habits, personal hygiene, sexual proclivities, or lure preference of any real person, living or dead.
WARNING: This story deals with homosexual themes. If accessing this story causes you break any laws applicable in your area, read no further. If you are under 18 years of age, read no further. If this offends you, read no further. If you can remember when Saturday Night Live was still funny, you're gettin' up there in years, huh?
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NOW, I've made you wait long enough. Let's get on with it.
Since it's been so long, here's the ending of
Part 16 - Saturday Night
"Let's call it a night then," Robby said. "Let's get these amps turned off and..."
"Nick and I will do it," Mike volunteered.
I thought Robby might not want to leave them alone, but I guess he was really tired too. "Thanks, bro," was all he said.
Leaving Mike and Nick to straighten the studio, the rest of us headed up the hall. When we got to the workroom, I looked at Stacey and said, "We should walk you out so I can turn the alarm back on."
"Well...," AJ began, but Stacey finished it for him.
"I'm sleeping here tonight," she said. I'm not sure why AJ was hesitant to say anything. None of us had any kind of problem with it.
At the elevator, the doors opened immediately. AJ and Stacey stepped right in, and Howie and Kevin followed them, looking dead on their feet. "Robby," Kevin said, "can you come up for a minute or two? We should make plans for church in the morning."
"Sure," my brother said before stepping into the elevator.
Brian grabbed me in quick hugjust long enough to whisper "G'night, Benji" into my earbefore he got on the elevator too. As the doors closed, Ethan and I said our goodnights and got some in reply.
I turned to head toward our rooms, but Ethan was standing in the way, looking at me. "Bbrian's nnot spending the nnight?"
"No," I said. "I told you: we're just friends, and we don't want to go too fast. He's sleeping in his own bed tonight."
"And you're okay with that?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said, "I don't want to go too fast either."
Ethan just looked at me for a couple of seconds. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," I said, "why do you ask like that?"
"Bbecause I know you," he said, "and Bbrian's just the ttype you ffall in love with."
I shook my head. "Not this time. We're just friendsnothing moreand he's not gonna be here long enough for that to change." I was trying to convince Ethan of what I was saying, but at the same time I was beginning to have some annoying doubts of my own.
"Well, I hope you gget a ggood nnight's sleep."
"You have to bbe up in seven hours to mmake bbreakfast," he grinned.
Part 17 - Sunday Morning
Ethan needn't have worried about his breakfast. I was up early the next morning. To tell the truth, I'd slept badly and was lying there awake for a while before I climbed out of bed. Even then, I was up in plenty of time for breakfast. Early enough, in fact, that I found my parents making out in the kitchen.
"Uh, good morning," I said, deliberately letting them know I was there. Mom was sitting on the kitchen island, and Dad was standing in front of her, leaning in with his hands on the countertop on either side of her.
At the sound of my voice, he pulled back a couple of inches and they looked at me. "Good morning," they said in something approximating unison before they went back to kissing. I ignored them and made a mug of chocolate milk to warm in the microwave.
"What are you doing up so early?" Mom asked a second or two later. I shrugged as an answer; there wasn't a really good reason, except that I'd been awake so I got up.
"I didn't expect to see you before we left, so I wrote you a note," she added. I glanced at her then at her clipboard on the wall next to the telephone. "With most of us going to the lake, you won't need a big breakfast or lunch. I just wanted to warn you before you fixed a lot of food."
"And you don't have to worry about dinner either," Dad said. "We'll grill the fish we catch today." His grin was big. He always acted like a big kid whenever he got to go hunting or fishing.
Mom just smiled wanly in his direction. "Just in case," she said, "you'd better thaw the steaks this morning and marinate them this afternoon." Just as Dad gave her a disbelieving look, the microwave dinged.
"So, when are you leaving?" I asked them, glancing at the clock: 7:20 in the morning, on a Sunday. There should be some kind of law against it.
"Well, Ed and Dave wanted to leave about 8," Dad replied, "so Ethan and I are gonna load the van and hook up the boat so we can be ready to go."
"You might want to call Ethan's room," I told him over my cup of hot chocolate. "He was still snoring when I came down."
Instead of calling, Dad went upstairs himself to get my brother while Mom went out to pull the van around to the front door. I started another pot of coffee brewing and glanced at Mom's note while the coffee maker was dripping away. Breakfast on Sundays usually started closer to nine than seven, so I was in no hurry. But I started in on the pancake batter anyway so it would be ready in case the engineers wanted to eat before they left.
It turned out to have been a good idea, because Ed, Dave and Phyllis all ate pancakes and sausages and drank ungodly amounts of coffee. It was closer to 8:30 when the van pulled away, dragging the boat trailer behind it. I rinsed their dishes and put them into the dishwasher before I sat down in the dining room to wait for the others to get up.
While I waited, I thought about Brian. I was really worried about him. I knew how it'd felt for me when I'd come to terms with being gay. On the one hand, I knew that it had been men that I was attracted to, that I'd lusted after. But at the same time, I'd felt dirty and unnatural. I'd worried about hurting my parents. I'd worried about how people would react to me, how many friends and relatives might shun me, how many jobs would suddenly become unavailable.
Brian was feeling that kind of push and pull right now, plus the added feeling of going against a religion that meant a lot to him, the added guilt of committing a sin everytime he touched a man. Or even thought about touching him.
He'd been so preoccupied yesterday that I regretted kissing him. Maybe I'd rushed him, pushed him before he was ready. If he was feeling guilty right now, it was my fault. I hadn't wanted to pressure Brian, but that was exactly what I'd done. I'd said that we were just friends: well, what kind of friend was I if I had done that to him?
I sat at the table, looking out the window over the pool and holding a second cup of chocolate in front of me, and wallowed my own feelings of guilt. But then I heard Robby's voice in my head, telling me to stop being so full of shit. I hadn't pressured Brian, I found myself thinking. I hadn't forced him to do anything. Brian was a big boy and could have said "no" anytime he wanted.
I was still worried about Brian, but I didn't neet to feel guilty for how he felt. That realization helped me some. Enough to finally raise the mug to my mouth, discover how cold and thick the liquid had become, and head to the kitchen for warm it a bit.
Not feeling guilty myself helped my state of mind, but it wouldn't help Brian much, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to find the perfect things to say, the right things to do to make him feel better. To make all this guilt and confusion and doubt go away. To turn him back into happy, smiling Brian again. I wanted to make it all better for him, and I was frustrated because I knew I couldn't. No one could settle all these feelings he was having except him, and even then it would take a long time. But realizing that didn't keep me from wanting to make it all better for him.
I kept imagining his smiling face, that huge grin of his that made his eyes bright and made those cheekbones stand out more than they normally did. But this smiling face would always turn into the face I'd seen last night: worried and withdrawn, so shy and scared when he'd asked me if I minded if he slept in his own room. Like he needed my permission!
But I understood: he'd needed some time alone, but he hadn't wanted my feelings to be hurt. It wasn't right that someone so thoughtful, so sweet should feel the way he did. That's when the big realization hit me. As I set my mug down on the countertop, the sound was loud in the empty kitchen.
"I'm falling in love with him," I said aloud. "Damn!"
But as soon as I said it, I knew it was true. My mind started fighting with itself. The rational, logical side began to list all the reasons that Brian and I couldn't work: he was confused about a lot of things right now, and he didn't need me making life any more complicated for him; he was leaving and about to be very busy traveling across the country so we'd never have time to be together; he was a celebrity and it would ruin his career if this got to be public; if we were together, we'd have to sneak around and lie, and I'd hate thaton and on the litany went, cataloguing a long list of reasons why this was a bad idea.
But the catalogue kept getting interrupted, sabotaged by the other side of my brain as it through up memories of Brian: how comfortable it had felt talking to him on Monday; the grin on his face as we traded jokes at the dinner table; the way he'd cried on my shoulder as we talked Wednesday night; how warm he'd felt lying next to me. The warm, smooth feel of his skin. The excitement of his warm, moist breath against my neck. The taste and feel of his kisshis lips pressed into mine; his tongue alive and searching, exploring, tasting me; the urgent sucking of his mouth as it took my tongue into him, took my breath.
I leaned heavily against the counter, feeling a little weak. Right then, I wanted him, to be with him. My arms ached to hold him, to feel his firm, strong body against me. I missed him.
But then, his face came to mindthe worried expression he'd worn all day yesterday. He'd been hurting, and I couldn't hurt him more. I couldn't complicate things, make his situation harder than it already was.
I heard a loud stomping sound as someone came down the stairs next to the kitchen, taking them two at a time. Seconds later, the door swung open and Robby came in, hair still wet from the shower and a towel around his shirtless shoulders. "Hey, bro!" he said, being uncharacteristically cheerful this morning. "Where is everybody?" he continued as he crossed the kitchen and grabbed a coffee mug.
I was standing behind him as he poured the coffee, and I forced myself to sound cheerful. "Everyone who went fishing is already gone," I told him, "and no one else has come down."
He furrowed his brow in confusion as he looked at me across his coffee. After taking a tentative sip, he said, "Not even Kevin and Brian. We're gonna be late for church!"
"It's only nine o'clock!" I said.
"No, it's...." His voice trailed off as he read the time on the microwave oven. "My clock said it was eleven!"
I smiled. "Is that a fact?"
"ARGH! I'm gonna kill Nick!" he said.
"I don't think Nick did it," I suggested. "He got you good enough with that cockroach last night."
"Then who?" Robby was still mad.
And I was still smiling. "Well, we have a whole house full of suspects. Maybe Mike did it: he just lives in the next room. Or maybe Ethan did it, thinking you would blame it on Mike. Of maybe one of the other Boys did it, so you would blame it on Nick."
"Or maybe you did it," he said, "so I'd help you with breakfast."
"Oh, not me," I protested. "Besides, I don't need your help. Breakfast is ready to go whenever anyone gets up, and six of us are on their way to Lake Fork anyway."
"Well, you could have done it anyway."
"I could have," I smiled, "but I didn't. But since you're so mad, I kinda wish I had."
"Well, I'm going back to bed," he said as he poured his coffee down the drain. "See you in two hours," he added as he headed toward the door.
I don't know what expression I had, but Robbyaided by the caffeine, no doubthad seem something in my face. He had his hand on the door when he stopped and turned to look at me. I could almost see some realization sinking in for him. He came back across the room and stood next to me. "What's wrong?" he asked.
I'd learned a long time ago to not try to hide things from Robby. He was always too perceptive, and I was too bad a liar to get away with it. The best I'd ever been able to manage was to convince him that I really didn't want to talk about whatever it was and hope he'd go away. I could probably get away with that this time, but I didn't really want to: I wanted to talk about this, and I could trust Robby not to say anything to anyone: unlike me, he was a really good liar and could keep things from people pretty easily.
"I think I'm falling in love with Brian," I said quietly.
There were a few seconds of silence before I looked up at Robby, only to see him grinning at me. "Just now figuring that out, huh?"
For some reason, that made me a little mad. "Oh, I suppose you've known all week."
"No, just since yesterday."
"Because you slept with him," he said, "in your own bed. Your bed is like your own little kingdom. You'd never have done that if he hadn't meant a lot to you."
"It could have been just cheap, meaningless sex," I said.
Robby just smiled. "Even if that's all it was, you wouldn't have done it in your bed: you'd have gone back to his room, or done it on a couch or a floor or on your pianoanywhere but your bed. You're really particular about who you let in your bed." He threw his arm over my shoulders and grinned at me. "You don't even let me near your bed, and I'm your favourite brother."
"I don't let you near my bed because I don't trust you not to put snakes in it," I said. My mouth was arguing just out of habit now: all the real fight had gone out of what I had to say, and both Robby and I knew it. "And what makes you think you're my favourite?"
His grin returned. "I'm everybody's favourite."
I turned my head to look down toward the floor. My shoulders slumped under his arm as I sighed loudly. We stood that way for a full minute before I whispered, "What am I going to do?"
"Tell Brian you love him," he said simply.
I turned to look at him and saw his blue eyes looking back at me. Then I shook my head gently and said, "I can't do that."
"Why not?" Robby's voice had just a little bit of a laugh in it.
"Because..." I paused. "Because Brian's going through a lot right now," I said, "and I don't want to make his life any more complicated."
Robby paused this time, probably considering what he knew about Brian and what I'd just said, trying to figure out what was going on with Brian: Robby hates mysteries. "But don't you think Brian would want to know?" he finally asked quietly. "Knowing you love him might help him get through whatever it is."
"Or it might just make things worse," I said. "I can't tell him. And you can't either." The words were like an order, but my tone make a plea out of it.
Robby just looked at me. "Okay," he said after a while, "I won't tell him."
"Or anyone else," I added.
"Or anyone else. But I still think you should." His hand tightened a bit on my shoulder and he leaned his head toward mine. "If you love him, then you shouldn't keep it to yourself. You're gonna end up hurting yourself."
"Better that than hurting him," I said, a little loudly. "I don't have the right to do that."
Robby looked confused. "If you love him, you have the right to tell him."
"No, I don't," I exclaimed. "Jesus! I get so tired of people who think that love means getting what they want. If you love somebody, then you can about them and not just yourself. You do what's best for them, and if that means you get hurt sometimes, then you get hurt. But you can't just do what's best for yourself. That's not love. That's selfishness."
"Are you calling me selfish?"
"No!" My voice was still loud. Looking at my little brother, I wrapped my arm around his shoulders; the towel was damp against my arm. "No," I repeated, more softly this time. "I'm not. But I have to consider what telling Brian might do to him. And if I have to choose between hurting him and maybe hurting myself, I'm gonna pick myself."
Robby shook his head slightly. "You're not even sure that it would hurt him. I still think you should tell him..."
"Robbo!" I whined a little.
"Okay, okay! I'll let it go." He removed his arm and picked up his coffee mug to refill it. "What did Mike say when you told him?"
"I haven't told Mike," I said.
Robby looked at me with a surprised expression on his face. "You mean you told me before Mike! But you always talk to Mike about everything."
"I talk to you too!"
"Yeah, but not first. Since he was fourteen, you've always confided in Mike before the rest of us."
He was really surprising me now. I knew what he was saying was true, but I'd had no idea that my closeness with Mike had mattered so much to him. "Well, if it means that much to you," I said, "maybe I should go up and tell Mike right now."
"That could be hard," Robby said as he carried his cup toward the door. "Mike didn't sleep in his room last night." He grinned big as he left the room.
I wasn't alone for very long. It was maybe fifteen minutes later when Kevin came in from the hotel, with Brian a few steps behind him. Kevin was smiling when he said "good morning," but Brian still looked sleepy and distracted. I wanted to put my arms around him, but I couldn't.
"Where's Robby?" Kevin asked. "I thought he'd be getting up really early this morning."
"Well, he did get up," I said. "Someone moved his clock ahead two hours so he got up thinking he was already late."
Kevin's grin got bigger. "Ethan did it," he said simply.
"How do you know?"
"'Cause it was my idea," Kevin said, a huge grin across his handsome face. "I don't really pull practical jokes myself, but I can suggest them to other people."
"I thought Kevin was behind some of Nick's jokes on me," Brian said, looking at Kevin a little sideways, "but I never could prove anything."
I just laughed. "You guys get comfortable. I'll start bringing in the food."
"I'll help you," Kevin said. He followed me into the kitchen. I turned on the griddle to make more pancakes then turned to pour coffee into the carafe. Kevin stood unnaturally close to me while I did, then I felt his hand on my back. "How are you this morning?"
"I'm fine," I said. "A little sleepy, maybe, but...."
"Last night you didn't have Brian to hold on to."
I looked at him, and he looked right back, unblinking and with not expression on his face. Where was he going with this, I wondered. Is he consoling me, or am I still suspected of using Brian? I knew that I had to be really careful about what I said. "I've slept without Brian most of my life. I can handle it."
Kevin registered a little disapointment. "I think you two are cute together. I was kinda hoping you'd missed him."
I just kept looking for a couple of minutes before he broke into a smile, which I returned. "We are cute together," I said, "but we're also cute separately." I glanced toward the dining room door, then added, "And, yes, I missed him. How is he?"
Kevin made a little shrug. I finally began to pour the coffee as he said, "He worried. He's torn between two things that he thinks are incompatible."
"'He thinks'!" I repeated. "You don't think so?"
"Not really," he said. "I think that if being gay is part of who Brian is, then Jesus will still love him. Brian's always been a little more strict about religion than me."
"I'm sorry I made his life more complicated." My voice was very quiet when I said it.
"No, don't feel like that." Kevin's hand began to rub my back. "He was worried about this before we even got here, and you've been good for him. You've helped him to deal with this."
"But he just looks so unhappy...." I let my voice trail off.
"That's Brian," Kevin said, reassuringly. "That's the way he is. Most of the time, he's silly and happy. But when something gets to him, it hits hard."
I looked at Kevin for a few seconds, not really knowing what to say. "He'll be okay?"
He nodded, never taking his eyes from mine. "He'll be okay. We'll make sure of it. But we should get some food into him," he added with a grin.
"Here," I said, smiling back, "take the coffee. I'll start some pancakes."
It was just a few minutes before the first batch of pancakes were ready, but they were all gone before the second batch and the sausages were ready. Robby showed up pretty soon after thatwearing a shirt this timeand the three of them talked while I kept making trips to and from the kitchen with food.
Right after, Brian leaned back and announced that he couldn't eat anymore, AJ and Stacey appeared from the hotel and asked what there was to eat. They sat with the others as I headed into the kitchen to start more pancakes. The pancakes were just beginning to brown when Robby stuck his head in to tell me that Howie was up now too.
"No sign of Nick?" I asked him.
Robby shook his head. "Or of Mike either. I guess the lovebirds are sleeping in."
I just looked at him. "You don't know anything happened."
"And you don't know that it didn't," he replied with a grin as he let the door close.
I was about to bring out the food when AJ came into the kitchen, walking like Frankenstein's monster and heading straight for the coffee maker. I laughed. "I guess the carafe is empty again."
"Yes," he said pouring coffee into his mug, "and it's damned cruel thing to do."
"If you want cruel," I said as I backed out through the swinging door, platters in either hand, "ask Robby about his alarm clock." AJ just laughed, so I guessed that he'd heard about it already.
In the dining room, Kevin and Robby were discussing their visit to church. "Are you sure we won't be mobbed afterward?" Kevin was asking. "We can't exactly wear hats and sunglasses to church."
"We'll be okay," Robby reassured him. "Melissa's gonna get there early and save us seats in the front by the side entrance. If we get there early, most people won't even see your faces until it's time to leave..."
"Unless you guys volunteer to sing again," Howie said with a grin, evidentally alluding to some past experience.
"I don't think I'll be doing that," Brian said.
"When it's time to go," Robby went on, "we'll just step out the side door and be in the van before most people get out of the church."
"Just in case, why don't you get Sheriff Jones to sit behind you," I suggested. "She goes to that church, doesn't she?"
"Yeah, she does," Robby said, "but I don't know if she's going to the eleven o'clock service or the evening"
I shrugged. "Call her and ask. Dad has her home number in his office."
"Good idea," he replied, getting up. "I'll go call her now." He stepped out of the door and headed toward the studio offices. He was just out of sight around the corner of the laundry room when we heard him say an exaggerated, high pitch "Well, good mornin', sunshine."
The Boys and I all grinned at each other, thinking the same thing. "Sounds like Nick and Mike are awake," AJ said.
And they were. The two of them came stumbling around the corner, both yawning and disheveled. Nick was wearing a pair of shorts and a faded T-shirt that was way too big for him but looked really comfortable. Mike was wearing the same jeans he'd had on in the studio last night and some T-shirt I'd never seen before. It was deja vu all over again.
Howie must have been remembering yesterday's breakfast too, because he said, "Hey, Mike. I really like that shirt. Y'know, Nick has a shirt just like that one. Ben, don't you think that's a great shirt?"
"Yeah," I played along. "I like your jeans too. In fact, I liked 'em when you wore them last night."
"All right, all right," Mike said, sitting down in Mom's usual chair instead of his own. "Stop with the jokes and make with the food." He reached toward the platter of pancakes, while Nick grabbed the sausages.
Since we'd heard Robby greet them in the hallway, I'd been vaguely aware of Stacey looking around the room at each of our faces. I was about to go into the kitchen when she finally said something. "Okay, I'm sick of all these games," she announced, very matter-of-factly. She said up straighter and laid her hands ceremoniously on the table in front of her, fingers intertwined, like she was about to make some big announcement. "I slept with AJ last night," she stated, emphasizing every word. "Now, is there something you'd like to tell us, Mike?"
Mike had known Stacey for about three years, but even he was surprised at how blunt she was. Around the table, the Boys gasped or laughed or did something else to register their surprise. Howie managed to blow a little of the orange juice he'd been about to swallow before choking down the rest.
"Well..." Mike began, before Nick saved him.
"Mike slept in my room last night," Nick said. "We stayed up late talking and just fell asleep."
"Just slept?" Stacey cross-examined. I was starting to be a little angry: Stacey was asking questions that really weren't any of her business.
"Yes, we just slept!" Nick said.
Stacey smiled. "Calm down, Nick. I'm sorry. I believed you the first time, but I couldn't pass up the chance to tease Mike. Especially after the way you two teased Ben and Brian yesterday morning." Stacey gave Mike an ingenuious smile, to which Mike stuck out his tongue before casting a glance at Nick. He had a look of mischief on his face that made me curious.
Robby re-entered the room and announced, "It's all set. The sheriff is going to show up early for the eleven o'clock service and sit one pew behind us. But she said we all have to vote for her when she runs for re-election next summer."
There were lots of pancakes and sausages, still warm on the platter, so Mike and Nick started eating immediately. I headed into the kitchen to start cleaning, but it was just a couple of minutes before Howie, then Brian came in. Howie flopped onto one of the stools that face the other side of the kitchen island and talked to me about going horse-back riding that afternoon. When Brian came in, he had the empty coffee carafe which he refilled, but he didn't leave afterward.
"What are you two talking about?" he asked.
"This afternoon," I told him. "Kevin and I talked about going horseback riding after lunch, and Howie says he wants to go."
"D? You? On a horse?" Brian exaggerated the surprise. "Did Hell freeze over and no one told me?"
Howie gave him a fake grin. "Love you, too, Bri," he said a little sarcastically before a real smile hit his face. "I've been on a horse before. I just don't ride as often as Kevin does."
"Hey," I interrupted, "if you can get me to play basketball, we can get Howie on a horse."
"Just make sure it's a gentle horse," Howie said.
"And a slow horse," Brian added, grinning.
I grinned too. "We have a really old horse that has to use a walker. Would that be slow and gentle enough?"
"That's too much," Howie said, pretending to take me seriously. "Save that one for AJ."
"Speaking of AJ," Brian said, "I should get this coffee to the dining room before AJ kills someone."
He reached for the carafe, but I got it first and slid it over to Howie. "Howie, would you mind taking it," I asked, "so I can talk to Brian for a minute?"
"Sure," he said, standing. Then he and the coffee were gone from the room.
"I'm okay, if that's what you're going to ask," Brian said immediately. His voice was soft, and he sounded like he really appreciated the concern. "Are you okay? I didn't hurt your feelings last night, did I?"
"No, no, don't worry about me." I told him. "You needed time; I understand that. And I'm glad you're okay, but that's not what I was going to ask."
His very cute confused expression returned. "Then what?"
I sighed, resigned to getting this over with. "Yesterday, my dad got me alone in the library and wanted to know what was going on between you and me."
Brian's face fell. His expression became a mixture of surprise and fear that broke my heart. I stepped around the corner of the island and put my arm around his shoulders. "What exactly did he say?" Brian asked.
"He asked what was going on between you and me," I reported. "I told him that I felt like you guys had become my friends, but I felt really close to you." I paused here, not really wanting to go on but knowing I had to. "Then he asked me if you were gay."
He looked at me and his blue eyes were a little watery. "Oh, God!" he said. "If your dad can see it after only a week, then how many other people...."
"Brian," I interrupted him, "my dad didn't see anything. There's nothing about you that seems gay. But he knows about me, and that's why he asked: he just wanted to know what I meant by 'close'."
"What did you tell him?"
Great, I thought, here we go. "I told him that you were pretty confused but you thought you were."
"YOU TOLD HIM!"
"Brian, he asked me straight out. I had to choose between telling your secret or lying to my father," I explained, desperate to make him understand. "And I've never lied to my father. But you can trust him. He won't tell anyone."
"I can't believe you told him!" Brian said again.
"I didn't want to," I said, "but I didn't want to lie to him either. Brian, please don't be mad."
Before Brian could say anything in reply, the door opened and Kevin came in, brushing past Howie who was saying, "Kevin, wait!" to no avail.
"What's going on in here?" Kevin demanded as soon as the door closed behind Howie, who'd followed Kevin into the room. "Howie's been standing in front of the door ever since he came out with the coffee, and then I hear Brian yelling at you."
"Kevin..." I started, but I didn't know how to continue, what to say. Brian said it instead.
"Kevin, it's okay," he told his cousing quietly. "Ben was just telling me about a talk he had with his father and it surprised me."
"Surprised you? What was this talk about?"
"He wanted to know if there was anything going on between Ben and me," Brian went on, "and he asked Ben if I was gay."
Kevin and Howie looked at me. "You didn't tell him, did you?" Kevin asked. I just held my breath for a second or two, then nodded.
"Ben!" Howie let out, just as Kevin said, "How could you?"
"Kevin," Brian answered for me, "it's okay. He couldn't lie to his father for some guy he barely knows. But we can trust his dad to keep the secret."
I looked at Brian, surprised to see him making the same argument I'd been making to him. "Are you sure you're okay with this, Brian?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I have to be. It's done. He knows. But you're right: he won't tell anyone.You trust him, and I trust you."
"Besides," Kevin said, "he's a businessman. It wouldn't be smart for him to make trouble for us." It was a calculated, business-like response, but it was essentially true: Dad had little to gain from hurting Brian and a lot to lose. I'd never looked at it like that because I knew he could be trusted, but Kevin was right.
The door hit Howie in the back as it swung in again. Howie stepped to one side to let Robby into the kitchen. "Okay," he said, "the others went back upstairs. What are you doing to my brother?"
We smiled. "Nothing," Brian said after a second. "We're not killing him or beating him up. Do you think we should?"
"That depends," Robby said, deadpan. "Is he the one who set my clock ahead two hours?" We all smiled, glad to have the tension gone.
Then I noticed a different kind of tension: Robby looked like he wanted to say something, but instead he glanced at Howie. He was probably wondering how much Howie knew, how much he dare say in front of him. Then I realized that Howie probably felt the same way toward Robby. Then I remembered what I knew about Nick and what Mike had told me about him and Nick. This business of keeping track of who knew how much about whom was getting tricky. And frustrating.
Robby must have been thinking the same thing and decided to face the problem with his usual bluntness. "Howie," he asked, "did you know Ben was gay?"
Well, that's a good beginning, I thought. A secret that's not really a secret.
"Yes, I did," Howie said.
"And he knows that Ben and I slept together two nights ago," Brian said. "Just sleptno sex except kissing." To Howie, he added, "Robby's known about me since Friday night."
Howie grinned. "But does Robby know I'm gay too?"
"You are?" Robby asked him. Howie just nodded. Robby glanced at me and said, "You owe me five bucks!"
I smiled at his joke. "We never shook on it."
Then Robby looked at Kevin. "Are you gay too?"
"No, I'm not gay," Kevin said, smiling.
"But now ask him who set your clock ahead last night," Brian added, grinning big at Kevin.
Robby's mouth fell open and he looked at Kevin again. Kevin just grinned. We all started laughing, and eventually Robby laughed too. Then he crossed to the island, stood beside Brian and put his left arm around his shoulders. "But, I bet," Robby began, staring straight at me, "that Ben didn't tell you the big secret."
My eyebrows shot up. What was he doing?
"No," Brian said, sounding a little confused. "I didn't know there was a 'big secret'."
"The big secret is...," Robby said slowly, drawing each word out as he closed his arm to pull Brian toward him a little, all the time his eyes never leaving mine."...is that I'm gay too and I want you for myself." Then, very quickly, he clamped his right hand over Brian's mouth and kissed the back of his hand, pretending to be kissing Brian.
Kevin, Howie and I laughed, and Brian was laughing when Robby pulled his hand away.
"Oooo, Robby," Brian said, still laughing. "Take me, big boy!"
"At least, take us to church," Kevin laughed. "We should be going."
"Yeah, I need church after that kiss," Brian joked.
"Let's head out the front door," Robby suggested. "It's closer to the garage." While the three of them were filing out, Howie said something about grabbing a shower and headed up to his room.
I was still standing there, leaning on the counter and laughing, when I realized that I still had to clean the kitchen.
A half hour later, the steaks for dinner were thawed and marinating in the refrigerator and most of the dishes were clean. The dishwasher was taking care of the last few pans. I had wiped down the kitchen and was heading out to do the same to the dining room. I pushed the door open and was about to step out when I saw Mike. He put his hand in the middle of my chest and pushed me back into the kitchen. The door swung shut behind him.
"Uh, gee, Mike, do you want something?" I asked.
He had his chin down and was staring straight into my eyes. His lips were twitching like they wanted to smile and he was struggling not to let them.
"What?" I asked, laughing a little. "What is it?"
"I had sex with Nick last night," he said, giving up the struggle and letting the smile take his face.
"I had sex with Nick last night." This time he said it cooly, like it was no big deal. He hopped up onto one of the stools and looked at me across the corner of the kitchen island. The smile was still there. I remembered that smile: sometimes after sex, I'd walk around for three days looking like that.
"So,"I hated asking the stereotypical question, but I did"how was it?"
"It was great! Well, it was mostly great. I'm glad I did it, but I'm not sure I'd want to do it again and I'm sure as Hell not going to give up women, but it was great." He was talking really fast, like he always did when he was excited; it always irritated Ethan to have to listen to him like this.
"Did you... I mean, were you two..."
"We were careful," Mike anticipated my question. "Nick was, uh, well supplied, and we were very careful."
"So, what did you do?" That question just popped out, before I realized how it sounded. It was pretty personal, and it sounded way too much like a gossipy seventeen-year-old girl talking to her best friend.
"How much detail do you want?" Mike countered, trying to embarrass me with his directness.
"Just tell me as much as you want to," I said, both curious and hoping I wasn't gonna be grossed out by too much detail.
"Well, me made out," Mike said. He made it sound like the beginning of a grocery list. "He went down on me. I went down on him..."
"Yeah, and I fucked him."
"Well, that's what it was. It wasn't any of this 'making love' crap. It was just sex. That was the best part: we both knew it was just one night, so there was no pressure to have a relationship or care about him or call him the next day, like with a girl. It was just sex." He tilted his head a bit and thought for a second or two. "It was kinda like playing a pick-up game of basketball compared to joining a team, going to practice and playing all season. Except I got to cum during the game. Twice." His grin was huge.
"But you're not going to give up women and join the pink team?" I asked him.
"Oh, no. Nick's a good friend and it was fun, but I'm just not that into guys. I'll probably never do this again, but I did it once."
"And Nick's okay with this?"
"Sure. He knew it was just an experiment for me. In fact, he said he was flattered that I trusted him that much."
I just looked at my baby brother for a few seconds before I shook my head and laughed a little. "I can't believe how cool you're being about this."
"Well, it's no big deal," he countered. "But I don't want the others to know yet. I'll tell 'em when I'm ready, but not yet, not while the Boys are still here."
"Then why did you tell me?"
"'Cause I had to tell somebody before I exploded!" he exclaimed. "I had sex last night!"
"Twice!" I laughed.
DOES ANYONE ELSE THINK that there's a lot of food in this story?
MY APOLOGIES to all of you whom I made wait so long for this installment. The truth is that it stopped being fun a long time ago and I've had no interest in finishing it. But my interest is somewhat restored lately, and I'm determined to go on.
MY THANKS to those of you who sent suggestions for a potential band name for the Corbyn boys: Gretchen Y, Kris D, Samantha McG, and Jay P (among others, whose names I've rudely forgotten to write down). I appreciate the suggestions, but I'm still looking for good ideas if anybody has one.
THANKS ALSO to those of you who triedand failed, in my opinonto send me pics of Kevin Richardson with a smile on his face. But it did inspire "His Sweet Smile," so I thank you for that.
our moment of Zen: this little bit of dialogue from "Brian and
Me" by the lovely and talented DLS:
As Ben Grimm would say, "'nuff said."