Chapter 2
Being An Adult
Copyright 2005 Julien Gregg
Edited by Bruce

This story is about homosexual teenagers.  If you are offended by this kind of story, then you shouldn't read mine.  If it is not legal for you to read erotic fiction where you live, then you should not read this story.  If you have questions or comments, email me.  You can also visit my webpage.  There is exclusive story there, and you can join my mailing list to be notified when I post to a story.  This story is copyrighted, so please do not duplicate it in whole or in part without permission.

I thought that after the call from Keith, things couldn't get any worse but then I would have been dead wrong. Very early the next morning (the official first day of summer vacation) Steve woke me to tell me that Charlie was standing in the living room demanding to see me. I had no time to think about how fucked up that wake up call was. Oblivious that I was naked, I got out of bed as Steve watched and threw on my sweat pants and t-shirt so I could follow Steve upstairs.

"D, what the fuck is going on?" Demanded my older brother as soon as I stepped into the living room.

Aside from the fact that the look on his face was pure menace, Charlie looked really good. He'd cut his hair shorter than I'd ever seen it before, leaving a flat top on the top of his head that reminded me of a marine cut. He was dressed in a t-shirt with the arms cut out and a pair of running shorts, black high-top sneakers and the gold watch that he'd gotten for Christmas from our father. He had bulked up quite a bit since I'd seen him at Christmas, too.

"What have you heard?" I asked, sitting down beside Andy on the couch. He didn't look completely awake either, so I guessed that while Steve came to get me, Tommy went to get Andy in case there was trouble.

"I haven't heard anything," he said. "I get in this morning, and Mom's crying in the kitchen. When I asked where you were, Dad nearly took my damned head off and told me never to mention your name again in his house. Dustin, what happened?"

"I'm pretty sure that Dad thinks I tried to rape Keith, and he said I wasn't welcome in his house anymore, because I'm gay," I said in a rush not even thinking about what his reaction to the last part of my statement would be.

"All of this just because you're gay?" He asked with wide eyes. "Raped Keith? What is that about?"

"Keith and I had consensual sex, and then he punched me in the face and started a rumor that I tried to rape him in the pool," I said just as fast as I'd blurted that I was gay. I wouldn't be winning any awards for calm discussions any time soon it seemed.

"Wait," he said, "you and Keith had sex?"

"He started it," I said like a child being accused of something bad. "I was really more shocked than into it."

"What the fuck are you saying?" he demanded, and I could see the veins in his temples flaring, so I knew he was pissed off.

"Look, if you want to hate me for being gay, like dad does, that's fine," I sighed. "I'm not going to go into detail about my sexual experience with Keith. All I will say is that he started it, and he finished it. We're no longer friends. He's spreading a lie about me all over town, so now everyone thinks I'm some kind of sexual pervert."

"Dad threw you out of the house?" He asked with shock in his voice. He was skipping back and forth between me being gay and Dad's reaction. It was confusing the Hell out of me.

"Yeah," I said, looking at my bare feet. "He said no son of his was a fag, so I'm not his son anymore, or something like that."

"Jesus," he sighed. "Mom told me that things were bad at home when I called last week, but she didn't even hint at anything like this."

"I was going to call you and tell you this two weeks ago, but I was just too chicken to do it."

"First of all, D, I don't give a rat's ass that you're gay," he said. "I've known that for a year."

"What?" I asked, snapping my head back up to look at him.

"You need to learn to make sure that no one is in ear shot when you talk to Wendy, Pal," he said. "But I've had a year to digest that little bit of information."

"Is that why you haven't had much to do with me?" I asked.

"What? No," he gasped. "God, Dustin, didn't Mom and Dad tell you anything at Christmas?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Dad's mad at me for joining the reserves, and Mom just refuses to talk about it," he said. "I haven't been coming home much or calling, because I figured you were upset about it, too. I knew your reaction to the war, and I just figured that you were pissed at me."

"I'm not thrilled about it, but it's your life, Charlie," I said more confused than ever.

"It's just the reserves D," he said. "As long as I'm in school, they won't take me, and it helps to pay for college."

"But I thought Dad paid for your tuition?"

"The first year," he said. "Then he gave me this speech about how I'm a man now and should start taking on responsibility for myself."

"God," I moaned. "He isn't even going to do that much for me now."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, when I talked to Mom yesterday, she told me that Dad took the money out of my college fund right after I moved in here, and she also said that he wants the rest of my stuff out of the house soon."

"Yeah, he told me the same thing," said Charlie. "He said if I wanted to live in Carbondale, then I should move everything down there."

"Wow," I sighed. "So you don't hate me, then?"

"God, D," he said. "You're my little brother. How could I hate you? So you're gay. Big deal. It could be worse."

"Oh really?" I asked. "How's that?"

"I don't know, but everything can always get worse, Dustin," he said. My brother, the optimist.

Being that today was Sunday, I had no lawns to take care of. Charlie and I spent the better part of the day cruising around town and talking about everything. He didn't agree with our father's decision to disown me, and he was very happy that I wasn't upset with him for joining the reserves. I still didn't understand why he thought I'd be upset about something like that. Sure, I didn't want to see him shipped off to Iraq, but as long as he stayed in school, he was in no danger of that. He only had to give up one weekend a month and an additional two weeks a year as long as he wasn't called to active duty for the war. In truth, I'd thought about joining the reserve to help with college, too. I just didn't think I had it in me to actually be a soldier for any given amount of time. That was partly due to the fact that I didn't agree with the war. Soldiers have always had my respect for the role that they play in our nation's defense.

Charlie promised to spend more time with me over the summer, and he promised not to be so distant with me when he returned to Carbondale. I was happy for that, because I'd missed my big brother very much. We had always been pretty close, so not having him around was hard enough, but being completely alienated from him was awful.

He ate supper with me at Tommy's house, and he talked to everyone like they were part of our family. He wasn't phased by Tommy and Steve's or Andy's sexuality, either. He treated them just like he treated everyone else, and my respect for him grew by the minute. They really did seem to enjoy his company. Vince and Charlie were the same age and had gone to high school together. They had always been pretty good friends, so it wasn't a shock that they were getting along.

I was sad to see him go after supper, but he said that he really needed to sit down and talk to Dad. I wasn't sure if that was such a good idea if he was going to discuss me with him. Charlie knew what he was doing though. I didn't say anything about it. I just hoped that Dad wouldn't throw Charlie out of the house for defending me if that's what he had in mind when he said he needed to talk to Dad.

I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher while Tommy wiped down the table. We all sat in the living room to watch a DVD that Steve had rented on his way home from work that morning. It was a good movie, but I was worried about what Charlie was talking to our father about. I found myself glancing across the street through the window now and then. By the time the movie was over, I was ready to go across the street and pound on the door. I knew that wasn't a good idea, so I just sat there. The suspense was killing me.

He finally called and told me what had happened around nine that night. He said that dad wouldn't budge on his decision about letting me live there. I wasn't shocked about that. Dad hated me now. I was learning to accept that fact now. Charlie refused to accept it, and he said he would continue to try and talk some sense into our father. I didn't think that was such a good idea.

The next day it rained almost the entire day which meant that my lawn work was canceled for the day. I made the proper calls to all four of the people I was supposed to be working for that day and rescheduled for the following Sunday. None of them were really happy about waiting six more days since it had already been seven days since their lawns had been done. I just couldn't add another lawn to each of the next four days. Doing four a day was taking its toll on me as it was. It was time to start thinking about taking on help. I wondered if Charlie would be interested in helping me.

When I called across the street to talk to him, my father answered the phone. He hung up as soon as he knew who it was. Not getting to talk to Charlie really did make me angry though. It was one thing to not want to talk to me, but to keep me from talking to someone in the house that did want to talk to me was just wrong.

I was still having trouble coming to terms with the fact that my father hated me. I had accepted it, but that didn't mean that it didn't still hurt like crazy. In the middle of thinking about all of this, I started to wonder what my father was doing at home so early in the day on Monday. He should have been at work. I wondered why he wasn't. It wasn't like I could call him back to ask him. He would just hang up on me again. That wouldn't solve anything. I'd just have to hope that Charlie would come across the street. I would ask him why Dad wasn't at work.

Being alone in the house, I didn't really have anything to do. I watched television for a while, but there was nothing good on. There never is during the day on Monday. There were sappy soaps and talk shows, but I wasn't interested in any of those. It looked like it was going to be a DVD day, so I perused the DVD cabinet beside the entertainment center. There were no titles that interested me, and I'd seen more than ninety percent of them, so I was at a loss.

I went downstairs to log onto my computer. Tommy and Steve ran a cable from my machine to a router in their room on the second floor, so I had the Internet. I usually never chatted on any sites, but there seemed to be nothing for me to do. I decided to check out a few of the gay chat sites and found that most of them were dead. It was Monday after all. There was one site that had about twenty Chatters on it, but most of them were far too old for my taste. I was about to log off when I spotted a nickname that peeked my interest. Phil16 wasn't chatting with anyone in the main room, and there was an icon for a picture under his name, so I clicked on it.

After taking one look at the picture, I was convinced that it was either fake, or the kid had stolen it from a website and was just claiming that it was Him. The boy in the picture looked around sixteen years old with light brown hair, brown eyes and a killer body. He was dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans with no shirt on. His upper body was quite developed, and for a split second he reminded me of Keith. The two didn't have any characteristics in common other than their muscular physic though. I decided to send him a message and see if he would chat with me. I wanted to find out if the picture was for real.

'Hey there,' I typed to get his attention.

'Hey,' he replied. It was pretty standard.

'I like your picture.'

'Thanks. You don't have one?' He replied.

'I do, but not on this site.' I clicked on my picture folder to get a picture ready to send him.

'Can you send me one, so I can see who I'm chatting with?' He asked.

'Working on it now,' I replied. I clicked the 'send file' tab on the message box and selected the picture I wanted to send him and hit send. Then I just had to wait for the transfer to be complete and for him to view the picture.

'Hot,' he said.

'Thank you. You're pretty hot yourself,' I replied.

'What are you into?' He asked.

'I'm not sure,' I replied honestly. 'I've only had sex once, and it didn't go very well.'

'I'm a total top,' he said. 'I like oral, though.'

I wasn't completely stupid. I knew what top meant. I'd been fucked once by Keith, and the experience wasn't the greatest. That didn't necessarily mean that I couldn't like it. Maybe it was just the way he did it or something. I didn't know. Besides, it wasn't as if Phil16 was actually going to fuck me. He could be in another country for all I knew.

'Where you from?' I asked to find out.

'Maine,' he replied. 'You?'

'Midwest,' I said. ' A city named Storyville.'

'I have family in Storyville,' he said. 'How old are you?'

'17,' I typed.

'You might know my cousin, Ben,' he said. 'Ben Meyers.'

'I do, actually,' I typed amazed that it was such a small world.

'You go to school with him?' He asked.

'Did. I graduated this year,' I replied.

'No more school for you,' he said. 'I was supposed to spend the summer in Storyville, but I got into trouble.'

'So you are Phillip?' I asked.

'That's me' he said. 'I'm still trying to talk my mom and dad into letting me come to Storyville.'

'Think they'll let you?' I asked.

'They might. I think I almost have them talked into it.'

'That'd be cool,' I said. 'Then we could meet IRL.'

'I'm supposed to stay with my cousin Andy at Tommy's house,' he said. 'You know Tommy?'

'I live with them,' I said.

'Cool, so if I get to come there, I'll be staying with you, too!' He said.

'Looks that way,' I said, smiling at the thought.

'Listen, I have to run for a while,' he said. 'I'll talk to my parents and see if they'll let me come. Is that your email address under your nick?'

'Yeah,' I said.

'I will email you,' he said.

Then he signed off and so did I. I went upstairs to get something to eat and found Andy sitting in the kitchen. I hadn't realized that so much time had passed, but it was after two. He smiled at me when I came through the basement door, and I returned the smile. I didn't know him very well, and I thought that this might be my chance to get to know him a little better. Plus I wanted to ask him about Phillip. I made myself a sandwich, grabbed some chips and a soda and sat down across from him at the table.

"You'll never guess who I was just chatting with," I said.

"Who?" He asked. "Hot Guy?"

"Well, yes, actually," I said, smiling at him. "I was chatting with your cousin, Phillip."

"You met little Phil in cyber land?" He asked, smiling back at me.

"Yeah," I said. "I was bored, so I decided to check out a few chat sites, and there he was. I didn't know who he was at first, though."

"So he's ungrounded then?" He asked.

"He didn't say anything about being grounded," I replied. "He said he's trying to talk his parents into letting him come to Storyville for the summer."

"Aunt Meg wasn't really happy with him," he said. "I don't know if he can pull this off or not."

"What did he get in trouble about?" I asked, being nosey.

"Well, I think that's something that he should tell you," said Andy. "I don't want to tell his personal stuff."

"No problem," I said.

"What kind of chat site did you meet him on?" He asked.

"It was a gay one, why?" I asked, then I freaked. What if Andy didn't know that Phillip was gay? "You knew about him, right?"

"Yes," he said, smiling. "I'm sure he'll tell you about the trouble he got into if you ask him."

"I saw the picture on his chat account," I said, wondering if I could get Andy to tell me if it was really Him.

"Is he using the jeans, no shirt picture from last summer?" He asked. "It makes him look like a model."

"That's the one," I said amazed that it was really Him.

"That's his favorite picture of himself," laughed Andy. "He thinks it makes him look so much better than he really does. Fact is, though, he looks that good anyway."

"He's a sexy one," I agreed. "Do you think your aunt and uncle will let him come for the summer?"

"In lust?" He teased, smiling at me. "I don't know if they will or not. My dad has been trying to talk uncle Paul into it, though. We'll see."

"Hey guys," said Steve as he came into the kitchen with Charlie right on his heels. "Look Who I found on the front porch."

"Hey Charlie," I said.

"How was your day, Steve?" Asked Andy.

"Usual," he replied.

"D, remind me to give you my new cell number before I go back to the rents' place," said Charlie, sitting next to Andy across the table from me.

"Will do," I replied. "Dad already hung up on me today. That reminds me, why was he home today?"

"He took the day off for some reason," said Charlie, shrugging his shoulders. "He didn't say why."

"I wanted to ask you something," I said. "What are you doing for work while you're in town?"

"Nothing, yet," he said. "I was going to hunt for a job today, but the rain kept me home."

"Well, what would you say to helping me with my lawns?" I asked. "I do four a day having Sundays off, and its really starting to kill me."

"You really need help, bro?" He asked. "I'd love to help out. What do you do now?"

"Well, on some of them its completely landscaping from grass to trees and bushes," I said. "I'm planning to take a few botany classes at Washington this summer, so I can get into flowers and stuff like that."

"Sounds cool," he said. "You're really into this landscaping thing, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," I replied, smiling. "You wouldn't believe how much money is in it."

"Enlighten me, Bro," he said.

"Well, I've got close to ten thousand dollars in my savings account," I said. "I put half of what I make each month in my savings."

"And you were worried about how to pay for college?" He gasped. "That's a lot of money, D."

"I know," I agreed, smiling. "I'm not really interested in a four year College. I just need some botany classes and maybe some business classes for what I plan to do. I want to open my own landscaping business. A real one."

"You already have a real one," said Steve. "I've seen some of the lawns you work on. They're awesome."

"Thanks," I replied. "I work my butt off on those lawns."

"I'm game, Bro," said Charlie. "I'll help out."

"Cool," I said. "Be over here around ten tomorrow morning, if it isn't raining."

"What time do you think we'll be done?" He asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I usually get done around four, but with you helping out I should be able to knock some time off of that."

"Cool," he said. "When do I get paid?"

"I collect the money on Fridays," I said. "I'll give you your cut the same day."

"Sounds like a plan," he said. "You've got yourself an employee."

"Cool," I said, smiling.

"Are you filing a tax return every year and paying your taxes, Dustin?" Asked Andy.

"I haven't, why?" I asked.

"Well, with the amount of money you're making, you might have to," he said. "I'll do some checking for you, OK?"

"Please," I said. "If I should be filing, I'll start at the end of the year."

"So what are you doing tonight, D?" Asked Charlie.

"Nothing special," I said. "Its not my night to cook, why?"

"Well, I thought we'd go catch a movie or something," he said. "Do some spending time together."

"Sounds good to me," I replied. "Which movie?"

"Oh, I thought we'd head to the mall and pick one when we got there," he said.

It was set. I went to change clothes and left Charlie to talk with Steve and Andy. When I came back, Vince and Tommy were in the kitchen as well. They'd come home while I was downstairs. I said hello and goodbye to them, and Charlie and I headed for the mall in his Jeep. We talked about the lawns on the way to the mall, and he admitted that he knew little about landscaping. I reminded him that he'd mowed our lawn for years.

"Well, that's just mowing," he said. "I don't know much about trees and flowers and stuff."

"Well, I'm not doing flowers, yet," I reminded. "Right now it's just cutting low limbs from trees and trimming hedges."

"I can probably do that if you show me what to do on the hedges," he said.

We ran into Wendy and Ben at the mall, and the four of us stopped for something to eat together before Charlie and I headed upstairs to the movie theater. I told Ben about chatting with Phillip, and he said that he really hoped his aunt and uncle would let Phillip come to visit. I hoped they would, too. He was a hot guy, and I was curious about what would happen between us.

"I hope he gets to come and visit," said Wendy. "I hear so much about him all of the time. I'd actually like to meet the guy."

"I'm kind of hoping that he comes to visit, too," I said.

"Well, he's begging his mom and dad," said Ben. "I just don't know if it will do any good. They're pretty mad at him."

"What did he do to make his parents so mad at him?" Asked Charlie, voicing the very question that was still floating in the front of my mind.

"Well, it's personal," said Ben. "I don't think it would be right for me to talk about it. If he comes to town, you can ask him about it."

"That's almost exactly what Andy said," I laughed.

"It must be something really bad," said Wendy to Ben. "You usually tell me everything."

"I tell you everything about me," he corrected. "This is something about someone you really don't know."

We let the subject drop after that. Wendy told me and Charlie about her annual school's out party and invited both of us. She said that it would be on Friday night. She was leaving with her mom and dad on Saturday for Arizona. Ben was going with them, and they would be gone for a little over two weeks.

After we'd all eaten, I invited Ben and Wendy to the movies. They had just come from seeing The Grudge when we met up with them. Charlie and I decided that we would also watch The Grudge, because Ben said that he hated the movie. We wanted to see why he hated it so much. It turned out that Ben's opinion of the film was right on, though. Both Charlie and I hated it, too.

Charlie went back to the rents' house after dropping me off in Tommy's driveway. I went inside after watching him park in the driveway across the street beside my father's car. I hated the fact that Keith had destroyed my family. It was another reason for the rapidly growing hatred that I felt for my former best friend and sexual fantasy.

"Looks like your wish is about to be granted," said Andy, smiling from ear to ear when I came into the living room.

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Phillip called just a little while ago," he said. "Meg and Paul have decided to let him spend the summer here in Storyville. We were just discussing where he'll sleep."

"Well, we can always move into my mother's room," said Tommy. "Then he can sleep in our room for the summer."

"Are you sure you want to do that, Tommy?" Asked Vince with a lot of concern in his voice.

"Well, the door hasn't been opened more than four times since she died," he said, looking down at his hands in his lap. "Its time I face the room."

"Facing it is one thing," said Andy. "Sleeping in it is another."

"We have a few days to decide on this," said Tommy. "He won't be here until Saturday."

"He'll miss Wendy's party," I said stupidly.

"Yeah," said Steve. "There's just nothing we can do about it."

"Wendy's going to be bummed," I said. "She and Ben are leaving for Arizona Saturday morning."

"Oh, that's right!" Cried Andy. "I forgot to tell Phil that."

"We'll keep him company as much as we can," said Steve. "He won't be too bored."

"What about when we're all at work?" Asked Tommy. "Then what is he supposed to do?"

"He can help me and Charlie with the lawns," I offered. "I'd pay him."

"You'll have to talk to him about that," said Andy. "We can't make that decision for him."

We talked about Phillip for a little while longer, and then Steve and Tommy went upstairs for some alone time. I stayed downstairs with Vince and Andy for a while, watching television and chatting about nothing in particular. After Vince went to bed, I started getting sleepy, too. I excused myself while Andy was on the phone with Gage and went downstairs to bed.

The next morning, Charlie showed up just as I was finishing my breakfast. This was one of those Tuesdays when everyone had to work, so I was the only one in the house. I offered him something to eat, but he'd already eaten, so we rolled out about a half an hour early. Mrs. Franks was very happy to see us when we pulled into her driveway a little before ten.

"Oh, Dustin," she said, smiling at me as she came out of her house. "That rain did a number on my new bushes. Do you think you could fill in the dirt around them? I don't want the roots to dry in the sun."

She was in her late fifties, widowed and had a bad hip. She was also one of my very first customers, so I did a few extra things for her now and then without charging for them. I told her I would fill in the holes left by the heavy rainfall, and then I introduced Charlie explaining that he would be helping me while he was in town for the summer.

He helped me fill in the holes, and then I showed him how to trim the new hedges. He got started on that while I started mowing the grass. I'd been a little worried about the grass still being too wet, but the sun had burned hot all morning, and even the dirt was dry. I made short work of the mowing, and then Charlie helped me rake all of the clippings and stuff them into the yard bags. We loaded the truck, said goodbye to Mrs. Franks and headed off to Mr. Sallinger's house.

Mr. Sallinger wasn't home. I'd known he wouldn't be. This wasn't a problem, though. He'd just pay me on Saturday when I made the rounds to the houses where I couldn't collect money on Friday. I again had Charlie trim hedges while I mowed grass and pulled weeds from around the fence line of the property. There weren't many weeds to pull, because I made sure to pull them ever Tuesday. When we were done at the Sallinger house, we drove through McDonald's drive-through and got lunch. We ate in the truck, and we talked about the other two lawns that I had to do that day.

The Peterson lawn was one of my largest and most difficult. For one thing, even though it had rained very hard just the day before, Mrs. Peterson would demand that I run the hoses across her lawn and make sure that the knob on her outdoor faucet was turned to the half way mark. She watered her lawn every single day. I told Charlie that I would hate to see her water bill. He just laughed.

The Brinkman lawn was the easiest of the bunch for the day. There were no tree limbs to cut, no hedges to trim or anything like that. There was just a moderately sized lawn to mow and rake. Charlie and I traded-off on the mowing. I mowed the front yard, and he mowed the back yard. I raked up the grass clippings while he was mowing, and we were done with that yard in record time. Mr. Brinkman, a sixty-something man with very bad knees, was very happy but the loud sound of the mower irritated him.

As soon as we got back to Tommy's, Charlie headed back across the street, and I went straight upstairs to shower. By the time I came back downstairs, Tommy was home. He asked about my day, and I told him how much easier it had all been with Charlie helping me. He said that he was still reeling over how much money I had made. I reminded him that I was making less with Charlie helping, and even less once Phillip got to town. That was only if he decided to help. I had already lined up four new lawns to take care of starting the following week, and I would really need all the help I could get.

"That means even more money for you, though," he said when I told him about the new lawns.

"Exactly," I said. "It's just that I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to do the extra four every week."

"Well, you'll have Charlie for the summer," he said.

"Winter is going to be even worse," I admitted. "Grass is easier to mow than snow is to shovel. Then there's ice to think about, too."

"That would be hard," he said. "Maybe you'll find others to help this winter."

"I hope so," I replied.

"What are you going to do when you start college?" He asked.

"Well, I've been thinking about that a lot," I said. "I can't sign up for any classes until I turn eighteen, because I need parental consent to do it now. My dad isn't speaking to me, so I know I wouldn't get his signature on any of the paperwork."

"You turn eighteen in December, right?" He asked.

"That's right," I said. "That's when I'll really have to worry about what to do with the lawns and school again."

"Will you be going to Storyville University or Washington Community?" He asked.

"Well, I talked with an advisor at Washington on the phone yesterday about what I want to do and the classes I'd need for it," I said. "She told me that all I really need to take are a few botany classes along with some horticulture, agriculture and business classes like Accounting. I can do all of that at Washington, and it will be a lot cheaper than SU."

"That sounds like a heavy load," he stated.

"I wouldn't be taking all of those classes at the same time," I said quickly. "I'd take maybe two or three in a semester. It will take about two years to get all of the classes I need under my belt."

"You're still planning to open a landscaping business, right?" he asked.

"Oh definitely," I said. "It's what I've wanted for so long."

"I wish you luck, Dustin," he said.

"Thanks," I said. "It isn't going to be easy, and I'll need all the luck I can get."

The rest of the week was nice and sunny. The temperature was usually in the upper eighties, and Charlie and I got to work on our tans while we worked on the lawns. I had to remind him to use some sort of sun screen, though. I'd made the mistake of working raw, and by the time I'd finished for the day, I was a red as a boiled lobster.

By the time we'd finished the Wheaton lawn on Friday, I was so tired that I didn't think I'd be able to stand up at Wendy's party. Charlie was really excited about it, though. He said that it would be nice to see everyone again, and his excitement rubbed off on me a little. I was also a little nervous about Phillip arriving the next day. Andy's parents would be driving to the airport to pick him up while Charlie and I were working, so I was sure I'd be nervous all day.

I was in the shower when I started thinking about everyone who would be at Wendy's party. These would be the same kids that I'd left school early and missed my graduation to avoid. Then I wasn't so sure that I still wanted to go to the party. I didn't want to see any of them again. One could argue that they had only reacted to what they'd heard, but a lot of those people were supposed to be my friends. My friends should have had the tact to ask me about it before forming an opinion based solely on something that was said to them. The fact that they didn't even give me a chance to defend myself before they decided that Keith had told the truth hurt me. They were supposed to be my friends. Some friends they turned out to be.

While I was getting dressed, I thought of reasons why I shouldn't go to the party. I knew that Charlie wasn't taking no for an answer. He was excited about going. If I told him the truth, then he'd cause a scene. I was sure of that. It wasn't something that I was in the mood for, so I figured I'd just have to go to the party and deal with whatever was said to or about me.

Charlie was waiting in the living room with Vince when I came back downstairs from taking my shower. It was only five o'clock, and the party wasn't supposed to start until seven. We sat down for a quick bite to eat together before the party. Vine and Andy weren't going to the party, but they had dates with their significant others lined up.

I was surprised to see Nick sitting at the table with us. He and Tommy had sort of patched things up with each other, but neither of them had seemed completely comfortable in the other's company the last several times I'd seen them together. I was further surprised to hear that Tommy and Steve were going to the party in Steve's car, and Nick would be riding with them. I wondered why he wasn't riding with Jeremy this time as he had almost everywhere else. Jeremy had bought himself a car a few months after getting a job at Oshgood's Grocery. He'd been driving Nick around almost constantly after that.

"Have you guys decided what you're going to be doing for your birthdays?" Andy asked Tommy and Steve. The two of them had birthdays just days away. Steve would be turning eighteen, and Tommy would be turning seventeen.

"We've both got a few days off just after Tommy's birthday," said Steve. "We're thinking about a camping trip."

"Going to the lake?" Asked Vince. "Maria and I were talking about a little camping trip there later this summer."

"The lake is one of our options," said Tommy. "There are a few others."

"The lake is my favorite of the options, though," added Steve.

"We used to go camping at the lake every year when we were kids," said Charlie. "We always had a good time."

"Yeah," I offered. "That was before Dad sold the boat."

"I miss that old boat," he said wistfully.

"I'm sure you do," I laughed.

"Hey, it isn't my fault that you can't use it for the same things that I did," he chuckled.

"What are you two talking about?" Asked Vince. "The boat was nice, but I don't remember it being spectacular."

"Charlie lost his virginity on that boat," I blurted, shooting a glance at my brother. "He nearly cried when Dad told us he was selling it."

"Hey!" Cried Charlie. "That was private!"

"Right," I laughed. "It was so private that you told just about everyone that would listen right after it happened, and Karen Clowers dumped you for spreading it around school."

"I was excited," he protested. "Sue me."

"I remember hearing about that," Laughed Vince. "Karen was so pissed!"

"Yeah," he said. "I guess telling my friends that I'd made it past third base wasn't such a good idea."

"You never were the most level headed guy," laughed Vince.

"Oh, stop!" Cried Charlie. "Do you want me to tell everyone about your little mishap in the locker room?"

"Oh my God!" Cried Vince. "Keep your mouth shut! I thought that would never go away."

"You were just lucky it was me and Danny that caught you!" Charlie laughed harder. "If it had been old Mr. Bishop, you'd have been a dead boy!"

"What is he talking about?" Asked Steve, scrutinizing Vince with a hard glance.

"Now see what you did?" Cried Vince. "He'll never let up until I tell him!"

"So tell him," said Charlie. "It isn't like he hasn't done something embarrassing in his life, I'm sure."

"Not like this," said Vince. "Steve was always a bit smarter than I was where sex was concerned."

"You had sex in the locker room?" Cried Steve, making Charlie howl with laughter.

"No, I did not have sex in the locker room," said Vince with scarlet cheeks.

"Not with another person, you mean," laughed Charlie.

"Oh my God!" Cried Steve. "You masturbated in the locker room and got caught?"

"There," said Vince. "Now you know the secret. Laugh your ass off and get it over with."

"It isn't funny!" Cried Steve. "I thought about that once. I'm just glad I wasn't stupid enough to actually do it!"

"Thankfully, he had someone at home to take care of that for him," said Tommy.

"No, this was before you even moved here," replied Steve. "I had the hots for Gary Long, then."

"Gary Long!" Cried Tommy. "He's like two hundred pounds!"

"He wasn't then," insisted Steve.

"Gary changed a lot very quickly," said Nick. "He used to have a cut body."

"Right," scoffed Tommy.

"He did," insisted Steve. "That was before we found out how he got that body."

"It's a long story," said Nick. "It isn't something we should talk about, though. Just know that at one time, Gary Long was even more muscular than Doug, and then he lost his body and got fat really fast."

"Yeah, let's leave it at that," agreed Steve. "The rest of the story is depressing, anyway."

"What time are we all leaving for the party?" Requested Charlie.

"Well, its still only six," said Tommy. "The party doesn't start for another hour, but we can leave any time, I guess. Wendy won't mind if we're early."

"Do you have any idea who is going to be there?" I asked, thinking about the stares and whispers from school.

"I don't know the guest list," said Tommy. "I know what you're thinking, though. Wendy and I have discussed it, and she said that her dad will be watching everyone closely."

"Cool," I said. I was actually quite relieved.

"If you start to get uncomfortable, you and Charlie can always just leave the party," said Nick.

"That isn't fair," said Tommy. "Why should he leave the party if anyone starts something? It isn't like he's going to the party to start anything."

"What are you all talking about?" Asked Charlie, looking directly at me. "Why would anyone start anything with you at the party?"

"Over what Keith told everyone," I replied.

"You mean people actually believed him?" He cried. "What the Hell is wrong with these people?"

"Well, it isn't like there were a million reasons for them not to believe what he told them," I said.

"There weren't a million reasons for them to believe it, either," he insisted.

"It doesn't matter now, Charlie," I said. "Let them believe whatever they want. I know who my real friends are."

That was all we said about it, but I could see that Charlie was still thinking about it. I hoped that he wouldn't cause a scene if anyone said anything about it. The last thing I needed was even more attention. I just wished that the whole thing would go away. Wishes don't always come true, though. The fact was that everyone believed that I had tried to assault Keith.

When we got to the party, I got the shock of my life. There were a lot of people already there, but no one really stared at me. A few people said hello to me, and they were some of the people who had whispered at school. Now, though, they seemed to have forgotten about it. Wendy found us, and I commented on it to her.

"Dustin, that whole thing blew over really quickly," she said. "No one really believed that you tried to do anything to Keith. Most of the whispers were just people trying to figure out if the two of you were going to fight."

"Keith isn't here, is he?" I asked, looking around at all of the other kids at the party.

"No!" She gasped. "I would never invite him. Besides, he isn't even in Storyville."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"He left town the day after graduation," she said. "I found out tonight. Supposedly, he got a job at some factory in a city across the state."

"That's why he called me the day after graduation," I mumbled.

"He called you?" she asked. "You never said anything about him calling you."

"I wasn't going to, either," I assured her. "He didn't say much. All he said was my name, and then the call was terminated."

"Well, you don't have anything to worry about, now," she said. "Keith is gone, and no one believes that you tried to do anything to him to begin with."

"Thank God for that," I said.

We all settled down at one of the picnic tables as Mitch and Ben started passing out food. Charlie was having a great time, holding court over by the grill. He was talking to a bunch of boys about the reserves. I was glad that he was having a good time. I was really happy that no one was causing any kind of scene. It appeared that I had worried about nothing.

Doug came over to sit with us, and I wondered where Frank was. The two of them were usually inseparable, but I didn't see Frank anywhere at the party. When I heard Doug telling Tommy something about Frank I listened close. He said that Frank had enlisted in the Army just days after graduation. He was now stationed in Texas. I don't know why that shocked me, but it did. I'd thought that Frank was attending Storyville University with Doug and playing football.

"I get letters from him from time to time," said Doug. "He's just happy that they didn't send him to Iraq."

"We got a letter from him after Christmas," said Steve. "We knew he was in Texas, but he didn't say anything in the letter about being in the Army. The return address was a post office box in Corpus Christi."

"I don't know what that was about," said Doug. "He really wasn't going to tell anyone he was in the Army for some strange reason, but now he seems ok with people knowing."

"I knew he was going to do it," said Tommy. "We talked about it a little before he enlisted. This was what his father wanted him to do."

"Yeah," agreed Doug. "He took it hard when his dad died. I just didn't think he'd actually enlist."

"He thought he was honoring his father's last request of him," replied Tommy.

"I just didn't think he'd actually be able to be in the Army," said Doug. "He's not one that does well with strict authority."

"Well it has been a year," said Steve. "He seems to be doing all right."

"We'll see," said Doug.

After the party, Charlie and I sat in my room in Tommy's basement. We talked more about what had happened with Keith, and he was very angry with Keith by the time the conversation was over. He told me that he hoped that I found someone to be with and that really cared about me. We had a very good conversation, and our relationship was getting better and better.

The next morning, Charlie was at the house bright and early. I'd decided the day before that we needed to buy another lawn mower. Having only one meant that we had to trade off using it, and that really wasn't saving any time. Having two of them would mean that we could both mow at the same time, getting the front and back yards done simultaneously. That would save a lot of time. After the mowing, we'd still have hedges and weeds to deal with, but with both of us working it would go faster, too.

We went to Sears to look around, getting there just as they opened their doors. I let Charlie choose the mower, because he would be using it the most during the summer. When we got closer to fall and winter, I'd have to start looking for more shovels and rakes. That was a few months off, though.

He chose a green Lawn Boy mower. It was a good mower, and for a little more money it could be fitted with a bag to catch the grass as it was cut. That would eliminate the raking almost entirely, and I thought about buying two of them. With a little more thought, I decided that the second mower could wait for a while. The mower I was currently using was still in very good shape, so replacing it wasn't really an economically sound decision.

We put the mower together and filled it with gas and oil at the first lawn of the day. Mrs. Hall watched us from her living room window while Mr. Hall came out to inspect the new mower. They were a middle-aged couple, and theirs was one of my newer lawns to take care of. Along with mowing, there were weeds and hedges to trim. Occasionally, tree limbs had to be cut, but this wasn't one of those days.

Having the second mower really did cut the time it took to finish the mowing in half, and we were done with raking, weeding and trimming long before I would have usually left their yard. By the time Charlie was done with the back yard, I was really starting to rethink buying a matching mower. I'd think about that for a while longer before I actually did anything.

The Garr family was on vacation, so they'd paid for four weeks of lawn treatment when I collected the money the day before. Their yard was quite large, and there were a lot of hedges to trim. Mrs. Garr had also asked that I turn the sprinklers on three days a week. She'd paid me double what I usually charged her for the extra treatment. It seemed a lot of money to just drive by and turn her sprinklers on for two hours three days a week, but I didn't say anything.

"So this Phillip guy that's coming to stay for the summer," said Charlie when we were eating out lunch in my truck. "He's gay, right?"

"Yeah," I replied. "Why?"

"Are you two going to hook up?" he asked.

"I really don't know," I said. "I've chatted with him online four times, so I don't really know him that well, and I've never actually seen him in person. I guess I will later today, though."

"Yeah," he said. "What time did Andy say he'd be here?"

"Well, it's one o'clock now," I said glancing at my watch. "His flight will be landing in about twenty minutes if its on time."

"You said you saw his picture, though, right?" asked Charlie.

"Yeah," I replied. "He's very attractive."

"You can say hot, D," he said, smiling at me. "I'm not going to freak."

"Ok, he's hot," I laughed.

"Maybe he's your guy, then," he said.

"I'm not counting my chickens," I mumbled.

We cleaned up our lunch mess and headed for the Neal residence. Mr. and Mrs. Neal teach at Compton High School on the other side of Storyville. They are rarely ever home, and they always leave my payment in an envelope in the mail box. I'd collected it along with all the other payments on Friday, so I wasn't expecting them to be home.

When we pulled into their driveway, I was surprised to see both cars in the open garage. They both came out to greet me and Charlie, and I explained that Charlie was home from college for the summer, and he'd be helping me while he was in town. I also told them about the new jobs I had lined up, and I was thinking of finding a third helper. They thought it was a great idea, and we discussed the payment arrangements. I explained to them that Charlie, and anyone else helping me would be my employee, and I would take care of paying them. They both asked if I was planning to keep doing their lawn now that I had graduated, so I explained what my plans were, and they were delighted.

We finished up their lawn and made it to the house just as Tommy and Steve were getting home. They had come from work, so there was a wait for the shower. During that time, I went downstairs to grab clothes for my shower. I found a roll-away bed in the party room. The bed was made, and there was a small dresser sitting beside it. It was on the other side of the room from the rest of the tables and bar, so I knew that it was for Phillip. I felt a tingle in my spine as I thought about him being in Storyville.

When I got back upstairs, Phillip was just coming through the front door after Andy. He was carrying a large suitcase and a duffle bag. When he saw me, he smiled, and I got that tingly feeling in my spine again. He dropped the duffle bag and reached to shake my hand. His grip was firm, and his smile was like dynamite.

"Good to meet you in person, Dustin," he said.

"Nice to meet you, too," I said. "I'm all sweaty, so you'll have to excuse me. I just got home from work."

"No problem," he said. "I'm kind of grimy from the plane and car ride, too."

"Well, I'm next in the shower," I laughed. "You can have it after, though."

"Hope there's still hot water," he said.

"No worries," said Andy. "Our water heater is awesome."

Andy helped him take his stuff downstairs, and I went upstairs to see if the shower was free. There were two showers in the house, but we never used the one in Donna's bedroom. Tommy still hadn't declared her room a safe zone, and we all respected that. He and Steve were just coming out of the bathroom as I came upstairs, so I went straight in after them.

After my shower, I met Phillip again in the hall. He was carrying his clothes, and I showed him where the towels were. He kept smiling at me, and that tingly feeling continued to assault my spine. Having him here was going to be very interesting.