I got back to school around two in the afternoon. The dorm still had a holiday-emptiness feel to it, as most people wouldn't be returning until the following day, or later in the week depending on class schedule. All the cocoons in my stomach that had been threatening to burst open on my drive did so as I walked up the steps to the sixth floor. 'This is it,' I thought as I opened my door.

I noticed immediately that the bathroom light was on, which meant Rich was already back. I walked over and threw my suitcase on the bed, calling across the suite, "Anybody home?"

I heard him coming through our bathroom. I turned just as he stepped into my room. I think I might have gasped, but that might be overstating my reaction. I know what I thought, though. 'My god, I have never seen anyone so goddamn beautiful in my life.' He was tan, and a couple of days unshaven. He was wearing a white mock turtle, which accented both his darker skin and his jawline. He had either exaggerated his drinking or had spent an equal portion of his vacation at the gym as at the bar. He looked fit and rested. He looked like Ganymede in the bloom of adulthood.

"Hey," I said, practically choking on the word, "how was your break?"

"Great. Yours?"

"Pretty good, actually. All things considered."

He nodded and came over to me. I stuck out my hand, which he used to pull me into an embrace. "Sorry about you and Stacy," he half-whispered in my ear.

His lips brushed my ear incidentally when he spoke, and I had to do something to conceal the involuntary shudder that went through me. I gave him a quick after-hug, a manly, wordless 'thanks for the support' brace. I thought it was an adequate cover.

"What do you feel like doing?" he asked, falling comfortably into the chair behind him as I sat down on the bed.

"Wide open," I said. "What do you feel like?"

"Let's go grab a beer."

"We ain't waitin' on me," I said, quoting one of my favorite movies.

Half an hour later we were in Red's, nursing a couple of longnecks, shooting some pool and playing the juke box. Seemed like old times. He had still not given me any indication of what was on his mind, and I was in no hurry to spill my guts, so we talked superficially.

After an hour or so, I decided to give him a little nudge. "Before we left for break, you seemed like you had wanted to tell me something. Then when we talked while you were in Florida, you said so directly." I had been lining up a shot while I spoke and never looked up. I made the shot and continued talking, still not looking at him. "Are you just trying to cultivate an air of mystery, or do you actually have something on your mind?" I took another shot and finally glanced at him.

He was staring across the bar as if he was remembering something and hadn't heard a word I had said. I shrugged as if to say, 'If you won't talk, you won't talk,' when he turned to me.

"Let's head back," was all he said.

We rode back to the dorm in silence, while he stewed over whatever it was that was bothering him. We got back to our suite, entering through my door as usual, and he went immediately to his room, again without a word. I had had just about enough of his bizarre behavior, when he came back into my room holding the picture of his ex-girlfriend and her twin.

He handed me the picture, and I regarded the two beautiful people with the mocking, ironic smiles that seemed to say 'we really can't believe we're this attractive, either.' Rich was staring at me as I looked at the picture.

"Okay, mystery man, is this a piece of the puzzle? You're probably going to have to talk, though, because I always sucked at charades."

He looked like he didn't feel well. He cleared his throat. "That's not Stacy," he said finally. "Well, it is, but not how you think."

"All right," I said, "at least we've got you talking. Now if we can just move beyond this gibberish phase, we might actually start to communicate."

He looked absolutely miserable, almost as if he was going to cry. He sat down across from me and rubbed his temples. I was fascinated and worried at the same time.

"That's...she's, um...I don't know quite how to say this."

"Just say it, goddamn it, you're starting to scare me."

"All right, all right. Her name is Stacy, but it's her last name, not her first. His, too. They are twins, but their names are James and Laura. It's not Rick and Stacy James, it's James and Laura Stacy." It came out in a rush, and I kept quiet sensing that the dam had burst. Sure enough, it had, but I was completely unprepared for the deluge to follow. "The thing is, I wasn't exactly telling the truth when I said that I had a girlfriend named Stacy. If I had just said that I had a lover named Stacy and left it at that, I would have been telling the truth."

My heart was pounding and my eyes wide as I waited for him to continue. I knew what he was saying, but I wouldn't allow myself to process it. I think I may have even started to shake my head.

"Let me finish," he said, wrongly thinking that I was about to interrupt. "I have to get this over with once and for all. I'm sorry that I lied to you. It started out kind of like a joke, and then we got to be such good friends and I didn't want to risk ruining our friendship." He paused and looked at me. "I was going out with a Stacy, only it was James Stacy that I was seeing," he said, nodding to the picture that I was still holding, "not Laura."

"Hold on a second," I said. "I talked to her. She sounded..."

"James is in the closet, too. Laura kind of covers for us both, when she can."

I leaned back because my head had started to swim and I felt faint. "But...but that means...I mean, you're telling me...oh, Jesus...are you telling me you're gay?"

He rolled his eyes at that. "As a general rule, if a guy tells you that he has a boyfriend you can pretty much assume he's gay," he said, dryly, shaking his head slightly.

"But, Jeff, you can't be..." I started, feeling a smile start to play at my lips.

He stared at me with tears welling in his eyes. In that moment, I felt terrible for not comforting him immediately, but he had taken me so completely by surprise that I had lost the power of speech. I sat shaking my head in disbelief, which he took as reproof. He eventually forgave me for those few minutes of misery, but he never let me forget about them. Just like I never let him forget how he made me feel when I left for Christmas break.

Finally, I recovered enough to talk. "You better sit down," I said to him, still sitting directly across from me. He arched an eyebrow and rolled his palms upward from his lap. I then proceeded to tell him what had been happening in my life for the preceding three months. I told him about the night I had spent alone in the hotel and how I had come to the conclusion about breaking up with my girlfriend Stacy, and I teased him about that being her true name and sex. I told him how I had wanted to tell him about me, but that like him, I was afraid of losing our friendship. I told him everything, and smiled as his eyes and disbelief widened. When I finished, we sat staring at one another.

"So, you broke up with Stacy because of me?" he finally asked, standing up smiling, then sitting back down immediately.

"Well, yeah. I guess you could say that. It was my feelings for you that led me to the realization that I'm gay. I didn't break up with her thinking that you and I would end up together, though," I hastened to add, holding on to an absurd shred of doubt that he might be offended.

He laughed. "Remember the first time you looked at that picture?" he asked, again nodding at the photo of the twins. "And I told you that his name was Rick? That was so Freudian that I couldn't believe it. You asked me my boyfriend's name, and without thinking, I used your name. I had already started to think about what it would be like if you were gay. That's when I knew I had to break up with him. It's too ironic. We're each other's reason for breaking up with our Stacys."

We both laughed at that, and then proceeded to talk excitedly over each other, playing out the previous months' happenings and conversations in the light of new understanding.

"Remember when we went to..."

"And the time you said..."

"That day you told me..."

"Remember how I acted..."

We spent twenty minutes confessing to all sorts of ulterior motives, laughing and shouting "No way!" back and forth. When the energy of our mutual discoveries had worn down, we sat wordlessly looking at each other.

After an eternally long moment, I said, "Now what?"

"I'm not sure," Rich said, looking directly into my eyes, "but I think we're about to kiss."

"Before we do," I said, "there's something I have to say."

"Go on," he said.

I held his gaze. "I don't know if this will make any difference at all, but I have wanted to say this for a long time. You are so devastatingly beautiful to me that my throat gets tight when I look at you. I was so afraid that you would find out about me and reject me that I would start to get sick with the thought that I might never get to see your face again."

He got up and sat down next to me. He took one of my hands into both of his. We had touched before. We had wrestled, punched, even hugged. This touch was startling in its warmth and its electricity.

"That day in the caf when I asked you how I ended up in your bed? I was so paranoid that I had tried to sleep with you and you had gotten angry and slept on the couch that I couldn't look at you. I thought, 'Great, not only did you tell him the wrong way, you tried to hit on him.' I felt totally despondent.

"I was so embarrassed that I was actually hoping you had changed your mind about coming to Florida. When you jumped at the excuse not to come, I knew I must have said something to you. That's when I decided to leave right away. At that point, I felt so paranoid that I figured you would even make up an excuse not to take me to the airport. That's why I got Tort to take me.

"Then I even made a deal with God. I said, 'If You give me the opportunity to do this..." he said, reaching up and brushing my hair behind my ear, " the context that I want to, I'll never deny Your existence again.' Looks like I'm going to have to join the ranks of the believers." He smiled at me, still running his fingers gently behind my ear.

"If such a small gesture cost you such a monumental shift in your belief system," I told him, bringing his hand to my lips, "by the time I get through with you, you're going to have to take holy orders." My words were light, but my heart was beating like I had run up three flights of stairs.

"At least then I'll have a pool of altar boys to choose from."

"You are a sick bastard," I said. "That must be why I'm in love with you." The words came out sounding natural and easy. I must have thought them subconsciously dozens of times.

"Do you mean that?" he asked quietly, moving his face very close to mine.

"Absolutely. As a matter of fact, you are the sickest..." I couldn't finish teasing him because his lips were on mine. The thick fullness and silken smoothness of his lips made it difficult to kiss him; it felt so good that I couldn't keep from smiling.

"What in the world is so funny?" he asked, smiling himself, as we leaned back into a more comfortable position.

"I am so outrageously happy right now that I think I'm delirious. I hope my compliments don't get too cloying, but not only are you the most gorgeous creature I have ever seen in my life, you are also the world's best kisser."

He smiled and brought his mouth back to mine. We lay together holding each other, kissing passionately, till he leaned back from me.

"I should probably tell you something," he said, somewhat melancholy.

My heart jumped. 'Please, God, don't let him be...'

"I've had a crush on you since you walked into the dorm that day for your freshman orientation."

I smacked his chest. "Goddamn it, don't do that. I thought you were going to tell me that you were HIV positive or had syphilis or were actually a woman, or some shit like that."

He chuckled. "No, I'm healthy as a horse. And as for being a women, I'm not just as healthy as a horse..." He guided my hand to the enormous bulge in the front of his jeans.

I sat up, anxious. He quickly joined me, looking concerned.

"What happened?" he asked. "Are we going too fast?"

"Not really. I mean, I was going to ask you if we could take it slow, but after kissing you there isn't anything I wouldn't do right now. The thing is, now I'm worried that...well, I don't have any experience with this. What if I, you know, disappoint you?"

"That wouldn't be possible. For one thing, in ten seconds you became the best kisser I've ever kissed, so that means you're a natural. For another, I have such strong feelings for you that I'll enjoy anything we do together. And finally, a lot of the fun that we'll have is teaching each other what we like. It's pretty much a can't-lose proposition that we've got going here."

Reassured, I smiled and leaned back with him again. I let my reservations go, and felt that delicious tingling sensation that I had begun to feel on the dance floor of Aderezo that night. Only this time it was so much better.

This wasn't some stranger in a bar. This was my best friend, someone I knew intimately...and loved. I thought of the night in the hotel when my feelings first became clear to me, and that little voice inside my head: ...and you want to kiss him. And here I was, holding him and feeling his lips on mine. It was dreamlike.

We lay together for a long time, only kissing and caressing one another's faces. Since it was all so new to me, I wanted every phase of our lovemaking to last as long as possible. He seemed to sense what I wanted, and seemed also to be enjoying drawing out our pleasure. It wasn't until at least a half-hour had passed that he even moved to untucking my shirt and running his hand up and down over my stomach and chest.

"I can't tell you how many times I wanted to touch you like this when you stepped out of the shower," he whispered in my ear. "You used to drive me wild without even knowing it."

"Now that you mention it, I seem to remember thinking it was odd how you were always brushing your teeth when I got out of the shower."

"I used to fantasize about getting into the shower with you," he confessed.

"And now you can, anytime you want."

Our kissing became even more insistent then, and reaching down to untuck his shirt, I continued lifting until I had it up over his head. His bare chest and stomach were always extraordinary to me; the exotic addition of bronzed skin was almost too much. My breath short, I was aware of a slight whimpering sound that I was somewhat surprised to realize was coming from me. Kissing down from his lips, I moved first to his neck, sliding my body down slightly as I did so. I was then in a position to begin exploring his smooth chest with my tongue and lips.

I reflected for a moment on the different experience I had with women. Kissing a woman's breasts and nipples was something I did to give her pleasure, and I neither enjoyed it nor disliked it. I did it because it was part of the sex ritual. It never occurred to me that it was odd that I didn't take any particular pleasure from it; after all, a great part of sex is pleasing your partner. But now, the same experience with a man felt so much more significant. I wasn't just kissing and licking his chest and nipples to give him pleasure, though I could tell I was doing that, but I was actually getting even more aroused by the taste and scent filling my mouth and nostrils. It was positively intoxicating. I had envisioned this moment and had thought that my fantasy had captured the essence of what I might experience. What my fantasy and this experience shared was something akin to the memory of an excellent meal versus the actual enjoyment of it. This was a feast that I never wanted to end.

After I had drunk in every stimulating inch of his chest and stomach, he lifted me back towards his face and ripped my shirt over my head. He kissed me hard, rubbing his tacky skin against mine. He then treated me to the same tongue-lashing I had just given him. Again, I was struck by the incredible difference between this encounter and similar ones I had with a woman. I always enjoyed the feeling of lips on bare skin, but this was in the realm of literally electrifying: every touch of his lips to my skin sent tiny sparks and jolts of pleasure through me. My neck was even getting a little sore from the involuntary clenching and unclenching of muscles that accompanied his delicious enjoyment of me. I was writhing and moaning in ecstasy by the time he kissed his way back to my lips.

"You taste so good," he murmured, as our stomachs, now wet from each other's mouths, slid and smacked together.

The pungent smell from our moist chests made me even hungrier for him. The intense ache in my stomach and groin fueled a feeling of desperation. I felt completely out of control, and loved the feeling. 'Truly,' I thought, 'this is passion.'

Kissing and licking his lips, I sucked his tongue into mine. I reached down and cupped his crotch, gently squeezing in time to his own throbbing. "Please, Rich," was all I could whisper.

Continuing to kiss me, he reached down, undid my belt, and unzipped my pants. I felt a momentary release that quickly reverted to an aching pang. I felt him undo his own pants; then, interrupting our kiss for the first time, he pushed me all the way onto my back and hooked his fingers into the waistband of my boxers and slid my jeans and shorts off at the same time. Rolling on to his back, his swung his hips up and stripped his remaining clothes off with the same single gesture.

Wordlessly, we repositioned ourselves to be fully on the bed. We lay side by side, in each other's arms, our naked bodies drawn together and touching the full length of lips to toes.

The connection between our thighs was unimaginable to me. We seemed to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. I wondered if it felt the same to him. I thought I might ask him later, but now I couldn't speak. I was so happy and in such ecstasy that I thought I would burst into tears if I tried to talk.

As we continued to kiss, and press our bodies together, he whispered, "I won't ever say this with a preface again, but I want you to know that this isn't just the sex talking right now...I love you."

That did it for me. I closed my eyes and felt the tears run down the outside corners. I pulled his mouth to mine and told him how I felt with my lips and tongue.

After a few moments he pulled back and said, "I want to try something with you."

I smiled back at him. "Only anything and everything," I said.

"I kind of thought you might feel that way. I'm going to take you into my mouth and get you as wet as I possibly can, then I want you to do the same for me. Don't worry about technique or anything like that," he paused, smiling. "We'll have plenty of time to explore that. It's just the way our bodies seem to fit together gives me an idea to try something, okay?"

I nodded, still smiling, and he kissed his way down my chest, past my belly, kissing the length of my shaft before licking his way back up it. Then he took me in his mouth with such loving gentleness and obvious enjoyment that I doubted I would be able to last long enough to make it to whatever idea had occurred to him. As he slowly moved his head up and down, I felt more warm wetness streaming between my legs. The sensations had me trembling, and I was about to beg him not to stop, when he suddenly pulled his head up and returned to my mouth.

The taste of my sex in his mouth was nearly enough to bring me to climax, but he gently urged my head into his lap, and I was happy to comply. Knowing that he wasn't looking for a great deal of stimulation yet also took some pressure off me. I went down on him thinking that this first time could be for me. His wasn't the first blowjob I had ever received, although it was the by far the best, and he wasn't even trying. But this would be a monumental first for me, and I wanted to savor the experience.

The instant his velvety smooth head pushed through my lips, I knew I had come home. Whatever infinitesimal doubts had remained with me exploded in that instant. The taste, the smell, the feel...I was like a junkie with his first fix of heroin. 'This is who I was meant to be,' I thought, 'this is who I am. And to get this much pleasure from giving this much pleasure!' I was in awe.

Remembering then what my lover wanted from me, I proceeded to drench his shaft the way he had done mine. After a few minutes, he was as wet as I was, and I felt him tugging me back to join him face to face. Reluctantly, I gave up my oral ministrations and brought my lips back to his.

"That was incredible," I breathed. "The way you taste and feel in my mouth makes me high. I want to do it some more."

"Oh, we will. Don't worry about that. I'll even do my best to try to make you sick of it. But right now..." Then he was kissing me again, urgently, and pulling our bodies together tightly. He began rocking his hips gently.

In an instant, I joined his movements, as I realized we had had the same thought about the way our bodies fit together. The slavered wetness acted both as lubricant and created suction, our engorged organs sliding and slapping together. As we kissed deeply, our thrusting hips recreated the sounds and scent of our previous oral sex.

It was beyond any and every sexual experience I had ever had. I felt my eyes roll back into my head, and heard low, guttural noises gurgling from my throat and from my lover's.

Our movements grew increasingly frenzied. I felt his nails dig into my back as I dug mine into his. Now our sweat-drenched chests, too, smacked and sucked, alternately gliding smoothly and pulling wetly apart.

My tension reached its peak, and in a choked voice I grunted, "Oh, god, yes, I'm..."

And his, "Yes, oh yes, oh yeah..."

I felt him swell and burst, just as I did. Volcanic juices spewed over our stomachs and chests, up to our necks and even into our hair.

I rolled onto my back, panting. He laid his head on my chest, matching the heavy rising and falling with his own. Then he threw himself back and we lay with our heads still touching, one arm behind each other's backs. We were as wordless as collapsed runners for a long few minutes, my mind still racing in a dozen different directions.

He spoke first. "Beyond incredible," he breathed, almost having caught his breath.

"Only one problem," I said.

He leaned up on his elbow, and regarded me seriously. "Encore?" he asked, ready to smile.

"Exactly," I said, laughing. "Nothing will ever touch that." I leaned up and kissed him. "I'm so in love with you I can't stand it."

He lay back down, nestling his face against my cheek. "Good," he said, "because we might never top what we just did, but man are we gonna have fun trying."

* * *

An hour or two later, we woke up in each other's arms. My body was still buzzing from the intensity of our encounter, and I was still in more than a little disbelief that I lay with a man whom I loved and lusted after, and who loved and lusted after me. Somewhat tentatively, as if I was afraid I would pinprick the dream and burst it, I leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek.

Sensing my hesitation, and perhaps even the reasons behind it, he responded with his typical élan and kissed me fully and passionately. In an instant our bodies were again entwined, and in the darkness that had fallen while we had slept we made love again; this time, though no less passionately, with greater tenderness.

"Do you believe in too much of a good thing?" I asked, when we again laid quietly nestled together.

"Yeah," he murmured, lazily caressing the wetness on his chest and stomach. I could just see his small smile, his eyes closed. "We definitely need to take a shower."

"Bastard," I laughed softly. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"I'll be honest with you," he said, sitting up and suddenly getting serious. "We are going to have a whole lot of reality roaring down on us, probably sooner than either of us expects, and more than likely, with a lot more force than either one of us is prepared to deal with. I'm not saying that to scare you, I'm saying that because I don't want you to get carried away with the idea that somehow an ideal love can overcome all the forces that can be arrayed against it."

The prophetic tenor of his words did scare me, though. "Wow," I responded, "that was a sobering change in tone. Are you having regrets already?"

"Not at all." He manner softened again. "But this is new to you and not to me. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come crashing at you like that. We have a chance to build something great, but I don't want you to go in with blinders on."

"I can appreciate that, but let me walk on air for a little while. I have enough experience to know that gravity will bring me back down soon enough."

"Okay," he agreed, smiling and kissing me. "You're right, we can enjoy what we have right now and worry about the rest of it when the time comes. Look at that, you're already good for me. Usually it takes me days to recover when I start to get into one of my serious moods."

"How long were..." I started to say, suffering a stream-of-consciousness intrusion. I cut myself off and remained silent.

After a few seconds, he started to tease me. "...the summers of my childhood? ...the reeds on the riverbank? ...the hours of my sorrow? What? How long were what?"

"For some reason, I was going to ask how long you and your...James were together."

"You don't have to be bashful. You can ask me anything. We were together for almost three years."

"How did you meet?" I rested my head on his shoulder, as if expecting a story. I wasn't disappointed.

"His sister Laura and I went to high school together. Laura and I knew each other the whole time, but we didn't become friends until our senior year. In high school, I knew I was gay, but no one else did. I was the captain of the football and baseball teams, class president, voted most popular, you know, the whole deal. I never felt like a fraud, though, or ashamed or anything like that. I had this fantasy that I was like a double agent, leading a secret life that no one suspected. To me, it was kind of fun.

"Then one day, Laura and I went out to lunch together. It was strange because we never really socialized together, beyond a friendly 'hello' at parties. She was by far the most beautiful girl at school and really popular also, but she was dating this asshole named Carl Reemes, who was like my rival in everything. I used to call him 'N.Q.' which stood for 'Not Quite,' as in 'Not Quite Good Enough,' or 'Not Quite Me.' It used to drive him nuts, but he was always coming in second to me.

"The one thing he had going for him, though, was Laura. I seriously think he was only dating her because he thought I was in love with her, and that was the one thing he had going for him over me. He used to call me 'N.F.L.' as a return insult, for me calling him 'N.Q.'"

"Let me guess," I interjected. "Not Fucking Laura?"

"And that's one of the reasons why I love you," he said, kissing me and laughing. "Because you're so goddamn smart. Exactly. 'Not Fucking Laura.' Can you believe that?"

"Breeders," I sniffed, dismissively. "How predictable." We shared a good laugh over my irony. "Go on," I said.

"So one day, senior year, Laura comes up to me out of the blue and says, 'I think we should go to lunch.' And of course, conceited bastard that I am, I immediately think, 'Cool, she wants to dump Reemes for me.' Since that would have been the ultimate 'N.Q.' in-your-face, I agreed to lunch right away.

"Well, we go to lunch, and it turns out not only is she beautiful, but she has a great personality, to boot. We really hit it off, which only made me wonder what she was doing with that Neanderthal Reemes. Finally, I just had to ask."

"And what did she say?"

"Get this. I fell in love with her immediately for this. She says to me, 'He's not very bright and his cock's as thick as my wrist. I like that in a man.' I practically fell off my chair, laughing. So I told her, I guess that meant we could never be together, since I only met fifty percent of her criteria.

"And she told me that unfortunately, that was probably true, but she knew someone with higher standards that might be perfect for me. Her twin. I told her I didn't know she had a twin sister. She just smiles, without saying anything, reaches in her purse and slides a picture across the table to me. A picture of James.

"All of a sudden, I smell a rat. I think this is some set-up that her idiot boyfriend put her up to. But then she looked at me so sweetly and sadly, that I knew it wasn't a joke.

"For the first time in my life, I let my guard down. I asked her how she knew, and she told me that she didn't know, really, and don't worry no one at school would even suspect, but that living with a gay twin brother her whole life gave her a certain discernment.

"She told me that James was away at a boarding school, but that the two of them were very close. She told me how James had seen my picture in one of her yearbooks and always asked about me. I was flattered. And taking a second look at the picture of her twin, I was interested. From his picture, he was incredibly good-looking.

"We ended up meeting when he came home for Christmas break. The rest, as they say..."

"Why did you two break up?"

He punched my arm. "I ended up living with someone I loved more."

That one filled me up, but I couldn't let it go. "Would you have still..."

He sighed. "Yes, dear, James and my time was over, no matter what. It was probably over last summer, but we let it drift a few months. James is the kind of guy who needs a lot of attention, and is capable of getting it no matter who is around. I didn't expect monogamy, but I did expect honesty."

"And you and Laura are still friends?"

"We are, but less so. I hurt her brother, and that's not easy for any sibling to forgive, twice as hard for a twin. Plus she heard a lot more of his side of things than mine. I'm sure her take is colored accordingly."

"Whatever became of that Reemes guy?"

He laughed hard at the memory. "That's the best part of the story. Later that year, Laura got tired of him, which of course would be inevitable. But she used me to break up with him, and I'll always love her for that."

"How'd she do that?"

"I had told her about the 'N.F.L.' thing, which pissed her off, but didn't surprise her. So, on the day she decided to dump his ass she told him that he should stop calling me 'N.F.L.' and start calling me 'F.O.A.B.'"

"F.O.A.B." I repeated. "That only makes me think of that band, 'Figures On A Beach."

"If you can't figure it out, it's no surprise that it stumped that troglodyte Reemes. I can picture him scratching his head and her finally telling him, 'Fucked Once And Better.' She told him that she had always wanted to have sex with me, and when we finally did, it was so much better than sex with him that she was breaking up with him. After that, I felt so bad for him that I quit calling him 'N.Q.'"

"So you do have a heart, after all."

"Not really. I started calling him 'N.E.C.'"

"Hmm, 'N.E.C.' Not Enough Cock?"

He laughed loudly. "No, but that's pretty good. Actually, it stood for, 'Not Even Close.' As in, he had gone from 'Not Quite' to 'Not Even Close.'"

"You really are a bastard."

"Of course," he said. "The best part...or maybe it's the worst part, I'm not that the reason I was so hard on him was that I was totally in lust with him. He was such an idiot that I would get pissed at myself for being attracted to him. The more I lusted after him, the harder I would be on him. It was one of those vicious cycles. That would have really blown him away, to know that his archrival secretly fantasized about him. I'll have to tell him some day, if I ever run into him."

"Sounds like you tortured the poor guy enough. Let that sleeping dog lie."

"Yeah, you're probably right."

We stopped talking and lay quietly again, I with my head now resting on his chest, lulled by the even rhythm of his breathing. I drifted off, feeling a contentment that I had never known before.