Chapter 11
Strange Days

©Copyright 2005 Julien Gregg
Edited By Bruce

"Just hold me, Dustin," said Phillip, putting his head on my shoulder.

I wrapped my arms around him and held him against me. We were silent for a while, and I really wished that there was something that I could do or say to make him feel better. My own experience with my parents hadn't taught me anything that would help him. All I knew was that parents don't always love their children unconditionally, and they are sometimes very quick to judge their children and cut them out of their lives. Saying any of that wasn't going to help Phillip at all, so I remained silent.

I held him tighter when I felt his body shake slightly with a sob. I hated to see him this way, but all I could do was hold him. I kissed the top of his head, and he held on to me tighter. All I could do was show him all of the emotion I could stuff into that embrace. I hoped that I was succeeding, but affection wasn't one of my strong points, either. He was the one who had taught me to be affectionate with his warmth and his closeness. I tried to let that guide me as I held him in my arms.

I must have succeeded at least a little, because the next thing I knew, Phillip was asleep in my arms. I carefully laid him back on the bed and crawled in on the other side. Forgetting about undressing either of us, I just wrapped my arms around him again. He mumbled something incoherent and snuggled closer to me. Somehow, I drifted off to sleep with him in my arms.

The next day, Phillip was quiet as we got ready to mow our lawns. Charlie commented on it while Phillip was in the bathroom, and I didn't know if I should tell him what was going on or not. Phillip hadn't said that he wanted it kept secret, but he hadn't said anything to anyone other than me, either. I didn't know if he wanted me to talk to anyone about what was going on with his parents, so I just told Charlie that Phillip was having a hard time, and we should just let him think.

Throughout the day, I worried about him, though. He didn't come to find me for lunch, so I didn't know if he was finished with his lawns or not. I met Charlie at home after I ran a few errands. Phillip wasn't there, and Charlie said that he hadn't seen him since we all left the apartment that morning. I wondered where he was.

"Did he say that he needed to do anything after?" asked Charlie.

"No," I replied. He didn't say more than two words this morning.

"He'll come back," said Charlie after a moment. "His stuff is still here."

I went and took my shower, washing off the dirt, sweat and grime of the day, and then I settled in on the couch to watch a little television. I couldn't concentrate on that, though. I was still worried about Phillip. I figured he was probably at Tom and Shirley, but that didn't mean that he was in a better mood than he been the night before. If he was talking to either of his parents, he could have been in a worse mood.

After sitting there for a while, I decided to start supper. Vince and Maria were still coming over to discuss their wedding, and Charlie had invited them to supper. If they came, and there was nothing to eat, it wouldn't look good. Besides, I needed something to help take my mind off of Phillip. I thought of him the entire time I made the spaghetti, though. I just couldn't get his sad eyes out of my mind.

Charlie asked me why I was being quiet three times, but I just kept telling him that I was thinking. He was helping me with supper, and he kept looking at me out of the corner of his eye. I knew that eventually I'd have to tell him something, but I wanted to keep Phillip's confidence and not say anything about his parents. It was hard, though. I really wanted to talk about how worried I was about him.

Vince and Maria arrived just as I was mixing the sauce with the noodles. Charlie had finished the salad, and the garlic bread was already warm. Charlie let them in while I put everything on the table. Maria smiled warmly at me and told me that it smelled wonderful. I had only met Maria a few times, but she was always very nice. Vince smiled a lot whenever she was with him, and that was enough to make me think she was a great person. Vince was always so moody before he and Maria had gotten serious.

"Can I help with anything?" she asked as she came into the little kitchen.

"Nope," I said with a smile. "Everything is ready, and I've got it all on the table. You and Vince can just sit down and let me get you both something to drink. I have juice, water and soda."

"Juice for me," she replied, smiling as she sat down.

"Same for me," said Vince as he sat down beside her. "How's your lawn business going, Dustin?"

"Very well," I said as I brought their glasses out to the table. "Shirley has agreed to become my business partner, so she'll be bringing a lot of things in for us to offer to our customers. I'm even thinking of hiring more people once we get the greenhouse."

"Well, you might want to talk to Steve," he said. "He just lost his job, and I know he's needing another. He and Tommy had a little argument about money last night."

"Tommy's heart is in the right place," said Maria. "Steve just doesn't want to depend on anyone."

"It comes from out parents," Vince said sadly. "He'll understand one day that he and Tommy are a couple, and couples share problems."

"Just give him time, Vince," she said. "He'll come to that understanding on his own."

"I haven't said anything to him about it," said Vince. "I'm not planning to, either. Nick is doing a fine job of telling him how silly he's being."

"Nick?" I asked. "I thought that Nick and Tommy were no longer friends."

"Well, that's a strange pair," said Maria. "Nick said some pretty hurtful things to Tommy a while back, and Tommy said that he would never forgive him for it. Now, Tommy and Nick are coming to some sort of understanding. They're spending a little time together every day to try and salvage their friendship."

"On Tommy's side," said Vince, "I think he's doing it to keep Steve happy."

"Tommy and Steve are having more than money problems?" asked Charlie as he sat down at the table.

"Well, Nick is a sore spot for both of them," explained Vince. "Nick is Steve's best friend, and Steve is Tommy's lover. The fact that his lover and best friend don't exactly get along isn't exactly making him happy."

"But Tommy is trying," said Maria. "I have to say that with everything that was going on at the time, Nick should have thought before he said the things that he said to Tommy."

"Oh, I agree with that," said Vince. "Nick was very insensitive, and Tommy's reaction was probably exactly what mine would have been. Tommy was just in a bad place emotionally at the time."

"This is the guy that was running himself to death after his mom died, right?" Asked Charlie, looking from me to Vince and back.

"Yeah," said Vince. "Tommy took his mother's death very hard, and instead of dealing with it, he pushed himself in everything he was doing."

"He seems pretty balanced now," said Charlie. "When D and I were staying with them, Tommy seemed to really have it together."

"Oh, he does now," said Maria. "He nearly ran himself to death, and then Tom and Shirley stepped in and made him talk to his therapist."

"So, tell us about the wedding," said Charlie, changing the subject. We'd all gotten a little quiet after Maria's statement. Remembering the Hell that Tommy went through after his mother's death wasn't pleasant.

"Well, we're getting married in August," said Maria, beaming a smile at Vince. "We wanted to talk to you guys about being in the wedding."

"Steve is my best man," said Vince. "Wendy will be Maria's maid of honor, but we need groomsmen."

"Mark said he'd rather sit and watch the wedding than be in it," explained Maria. "Rick won't be here, so we need groomsmen. My three cousins are bride's maids."

"You won't have to rent your tuxedos or anything," said Vince.

"My father is paying for all of that," added Maria.

"Well, I don't care if I have to rent my own tux or not," I said. "I'd love to stand with you, Vince."

"Same goes for me," said Charlie. "I'd just be happy to see you get married. The fact that you considered me for one of your groomsmen means a lot."

We talked about the wedding for a while, and Maria told us that she and her aunt were still planning the affair. Vince talked about the reception. It was going to be held at the country club, and the wedding was being held in Merriment Park. They told us about rehearsals and a rehearsal dinner. Maria said that she wasn't sure exactly when they would hold all of that. It was only the middle of July, so the wedding was still weeks away.

Maria wanted to help with the dishes, but I wouldn't let her. We congratulated them on their engagement again before they left, and then I stood in the kitchen to do the dishes. Phillip was still heavily on my mind, but I knew that sitting around thinking about him wasn't the best thing to do. As Charlie had said, his stuff was still in the apartment, so he had to come back sooner or later. If he needed time alone to think, I didn't want to deprive him of it. When I finished the dishes, I cleaned the rest of the kitchen. I started with the stove and then worked my way up to sweeping and mopping the floor. Then I started on the living/dining room. Charlie watched me, but he knew how I was when something was on my mind. He didn't say anything to me as I cleaned, and he was even silent when I crossed in front of the television. I thought he'd say something when I got the vacuum, but he didn't.

Once I was done with all of that, I went into the bedroom and collected all of the mine and Phillip's dirty clothes. I took the basket of clothes down to the laundry room to put them in the washing machines, and there was Keith. He smiled awkwardly at me as I came into the room, and I tried to smile back at him. I wasn't sure that we were exactly friends again, but I didn't want a war with him or anything. He was sitting on one of the washers, eating cookies. I could see from the bag of cookies beside him that his mother had baked them for him. I thought about all of the times that she had baked cookies for us when we were younger, and I wished that things were as simple as they had been when all I had to worry about was if she had put raisins in the cookies or not.

"Mom's oatmeal cookies," he said, holding up the bag. "No raisins. Want one?"

"Sure," I said, sitting the basket down and taking a cookie from the bag. "Thanks."

"She asks about you a lot," he said as I turned back to my basket of clothes to start sorting them. "I guess she hopes that we'll be friends again."

"Tell her I said hello," I replied without turning to face him.

I walked over to the vending machine to get soap and fabric softener once I had the whites separated from the colors. I could feel Keith's eyes on me the entire time, but I wasn't ready to really have a conversation with him. I was still thinking about Phillip, and having him there to distract me wasn't the kind of distraction that I was ready to welcome. I certainly wasn't going to sit and discuss Phillip with him. That would have felt like slapping Phillip in the face.

I was determined not to let him make me uncomfortable, though. Sure, the laundry could have waited, but I wasn't going to leave just because Keith was in the laundry room. I loaded two washing machines with the two piles of clothes and sat down in one of the chairs at the long table across the room from where Keith was perched on a washing machine. I'd even chosen machines as far from him as possible.

"Hey," said Charlie as he came into the room. I turned to look at him and found him standing there, staring at Keith. "What are you doing in here with him?"

"He was here when I got here, Charlie," I informed him. "He isn't bothering me."

"Phillip is on the phone upstairs," said Charlie when he finally looked at me. "I'll stay with your clothes."

"Thanks," I said. I didn't tell him to be nice to Keith, and I tried not to think about what he might say to him. I only hoped that Keith wouldn't say anything to Charlie.

I took the stairs two at a time, and a woman who was coming out of her apartment glared at me. I guess I was a little loud on the stairs, but I just smiled at her and watched her expression soften before she shook her head and walked down the hall. I'd been worried about Phillip since we'd left the apartment that morning. The fact that he was on the telephone made me happy.

"Hey, Phillip," I said when I got inside the apartment and picked up the phone.

"Dustin," he said. "I didn't want you to worry about me or anything. My dad is here, so I'll be staying at Tom and Shirley's tonight. I'll do my lawns tomorrow, though."

"I wasn't worried about that," I said. "Things are going all right over there?"

"Not perfect, but not horrible," he replied. "I'll talk to you about it all tomorrow."

"All right," I said, wondering what wasn't perfect but not horrible.

"I have to get off of the phone before my dad comes back in the room," he said quickly. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

He was off the phone before I could even say anything. I wondered if his dad being there was really a good thing. He'd said it wasn't horrible, but he'd also said it wasn't perfect. I had no idea how to take that, but at least he sounded all right. He didn't sound like he was upset or anything. In the end, there was nothing that I could do but wait for him to talk to me about it the following day. I went back downstairs to the laundry room.

"I know it was a shitty thing to do, Charlie," I heard Keith saying as I got closer to the laundry room. I decided to stop and listen for a bit. I wanted to hear what they were saying.

"You know you could have really ruined D's life," said Charlie, and I winced at the hateful tone of his voice. The last thing we needed was another fight between Keith and Charlie. The first one had been completely one sided, but I didn't expect Keith to just let Charlie hurt him if it happened again.

"I know that, too," said Keith. "I've tried to apologize several time, Charlie. I even told everyone that it wasn't the truth. No one believed it anyway."

"How do you think you're going to apologize to Dustin for what happened to him at home, Keith?" demanded Charlie. "Our mom and dad believed it. Our dad died believing the lies that you told. Because of that, he threw Dustin out of the house. Did you even tell your own mother that you were the one that instigated the sex between you and Dustin?"

"I didn't tell my mother anything," replied Keith. "I just told her that Dustin and I weren't getting along very well. She didn't need to know the rest of it."

"But our parents did, right?" asked Charlie. "I can't believe you, Keith. You were his best friend."

"I know that, Charlie," he said. "If I could make it up to him somehow, I'd do it. I don't know how to make it up to him. I don't even know if its possible. I know that I caused a lot of bad things to happen to my best friend, and he didn't do anything to deserve it."

"Then why did you do it?" Charlie yelled. "Why did you brand him a rapist, Keith? If you were the one that started the whole thing that day, why didn't you just not say anything to anyone?"

"I don't know," replied Keith. "I hate myself for it, but I can't answer that question."

"You hate yourself for it," laughed Charlie. "Well, just think how much my brother hates you for what happened between him and my parents."

"I don't know," sighed Keith. "If there was something that I could do, I'd do it."

I chose that moment to walk into the laundry room. They're shocked faces told me that they knew that I'd heard at least some of what they'd been saying. I didn't say anything to either of them about it, though. I just walked over and sat back down in the chair I'd been sitting in before Charlie came to get me to answer Phillip's call. I wasn't even sure of what to say to either of them about what they'd been talking about.

"So what did Phillip say?" Asked Charlie when I was silent for a while.

"His dad is in town, so he won't be back tonight," I replied. "He said he'd do his lawns tomorrow, and he'll talk to me then."

"D, is everything all right with him?" Charlie asked, walking over to where I was sitting. I noticed that Keith was paying attention, too.

"I think so," I replied slowly. I still didn't want to say anything about his parents getting a divorce. "He's just having some problems with his parents. He'll talk to us about it tomorrow."

After Charlie went back upstairs, I sat there pretending to read a magazine. What he and Keith had been saying was running through my head, though. Yes, Keith had instigated what had happened between me and my parents, but he wasn't the one who made them reject me. He didn't have to tell them that I tried to rape him, but even if he hadn't told them that, they would have rejected me when I came out to them anyway. I wasn't planning to come out to them until I was already in college, though. Keith had only sped up my plan.

Charlie was right about the fact that he could have ruined my life in Storyville over what he'd said about me, though. I wasn't really ready to forgive Keith for trying to brand me as a rapist, but I didn't hate him. I wasn't happy about it, but I couldn't hate him. Instead, I kind of felt sorry for him. If what had happened between us was some sort of pent up sexual fantasy gone wrong, then Keith had more problems than I did. If he was dealing with his own sexuality, then he was already getting what he deserved. I guessed that he still hadn't told his mother the truth about what had happened, and I wondered just what she'd say to him if he did.

"Who is Phillip?" he asked, breaking the silence between us.

"Phillip is Ben's cousin," I replied. "You remember Tommy's best friend, Ben. He came for the summer, and he's been working with me and Charlie. He stays with us off and on."

"Is he your boyfriend?" he asked quietly.

"That really isn't any of your business," I told him quickly. "Keith, you and I aren't friends anymore. You have to know that. I don't hate you, but I don't think I can ever be your friend again."

"I deserve that," he said, looking down at the bag of cookies that was still in his lap.

I didn't say anything to that. I wanted to ask him a million questions, but I didn't really expect him to tell me the truth. Instead, I put my clothes in the dryer. When they were done, I even folded them in the laundry room before packing them back in the basket and going back upstairs. I was putting them away when the phone started to ring again.

"Dustin, could you bring my stuff over here?" asked Phillip when I answered the phone. "My dad is making me leave with him tomorrow night."

"You're leaving tomorrow night?" I asked. My mind refused to process that information. He couldn't leave. The summer wasn't over yet.

"He's making me, Dustin," he said, and I could hear the pain in his voice. "Right now, he's still in charge. I have to go with him."

"I'll be right over," I said.

Charlie was in his room when I walked out of the bedroom with Phillip's bag of clean clothes. I didn't want to tell him what I was doing, so I was glad that he wasn't out in the living room to question me. I was still trying not to get upset over Phillip leaving the next evening. How could his father make him leave with him? I knew that Phillip was still a minor, and without a divorce and custody agreement, both of his parents could control his actions to a certain extent, but why was he making him leave?

I thought about all of that as I drove across town to Tom and Shirley's. I was half way there when I figured out that I couldn't see him for a while after tomorrow. That thought made my stomach turn. I didn't want to lose Phillip, but I didn't know what to do about it. I couldn't just walk into that house and tell his father that he couldn't have his own son. I could only hope that Phillip chose his mother when the time came. After all, she wanted to move to Storyville. At least then I could see Phillip.

"Hey," he said when I pulled up and got out of my truck.

"Hey," I replied, handing his bag of clothes. "I washed them."

"Thanks," he said. "Dustin, I'm sorry about this."

Just then the front door of the house opened and a man stepped onto the front porch. He was at least in his late forties with light brown hair that was thinning and a little excess weight around his middle. He glared at me when I looked at him, and my stomach tried to lurch again. Phillip looked very uncomfortable as he looked from me back to his father.

"So you're the fag that's been fucking my boy," his father said hatefully, and I nearly fell over from shock.

Feedback is always appreciated, and I try to respond to everyone that emails me about a story.  Flames are always ignored, though.  Sorry for the way that I left this chapter.  Chapter 12 won't be long in coming, though.  I'm nearly finished with it.  For a list of my other stories, please visit my site.