Catcher and Pitcher: Part Four/Final Inning

Daniel Bradford

copyright 2009 all rights reserved


After years of friendship with Nick, we finally had sex, though I kept insisting that we couldn't be boyfriends. I don't know if Nick was wiser than me or just willing to play it by my rules, but we got even closer after blowing each other just before Christmas. My family still hadn't come around regarding my gayness, so I wouldn't have been surprised if "Santa" left me a lump of coal and frankly I didn't care if I had friends like Nick around.

When final grades where posted at the end of January, I screamed longer and harder than I had when coach called me last spring: I had earned a perfect 4.0! What had started out as a personal goal, became something of a vendetta after coming out put me at odds with my family, particularly my dad.

A couple weeks before the baseball season started, I made an appointment with Coach Harlan. I told him I was gay and had come out to my family and some people at school. I emphasized that I wanted him to know that I was fully committed to the team, and the sport but didn't want any surprises, nor did I expect special treatment when practice got underway. I also requested that I be allowed to make an announcement to the team. Coach was silent for several moments and with every passing second I grew increasingly nervous. WTF?

"Dave, personally I don't like the sounds of this; it's not that I'm prejudiced or anything, but I'm not so sure how it will fly with the team." He paused and I considered interrupting him but remained quiet. "However school policy dictates non-discrimination and quite frankly, seeing the way you performed when we pulled you in at the end of the season...well I was impressed. You're a top-notch player, still...I hope you know what you're doing. It's not like this is French Club; even at the high school level, athletics are pretty testosterone driven... You sure you wanna make an announcement like that?" We looked at each other for several moments. "I'll stand behind you if you do, but you gotta know that it goes both ways," he continued. "If you harass any of the guys, you'll be out of here quicker that any fastball you've ever seen. Got that?"

"Yes sir!"

"You're a stubborn son of a bitch," he said with a smile. "But maybe that's what it takes for someone like you to succeed." (Someone like me? He's not prejudiced in the least. Yeah, right!) I nodded my head. "Okay, here's the deal. By Wednesday tryouts will be over; varsity and j.v. players will be in place. If you make the cut, you can say what you want to the team. I can't make any promises about the reception but at the same time, if you're on the team, it's my job to make it work and I won't take shit from you or anyone else. Got it?"

"Got it!" I affirmed and rose while extending my hand. I never looked away from his gaze as we shook hands.

Just before I opened the door he said, "Good luck Dave."

"Thanks," I replied.

As the door was closing behind me I thought I heard him mutter, "I wish I had balls like that when I was 17," but the clunk of the door obliterated most of his utterance, so I couldn't be sure. Regardless, I had said what I had to say. I guess tryouts would be my next hurdle.

Two weeks later I was standing in front of a group of guys, mostly juniors and seniors that comprised the varsity baseball team. "Ah, some of you already know this, and I've talked to coach but I want everyone to know, just so there's no confusion... or misunderstanding, ah... what I'm trying to that I'm...I'm gay." There were some nervous giggles but mostly the locker room was quiet. "I'm serious. This is not a prank. I'm not here to perv on you. I'm here to play baseball like all of you. And...thanks for letting me speak."

The room was deathly silent until Michael shouted. "This year we're going to state! Ain't that right guys?"

"Damn straight," I responded along with several other teammates and then laughed at my unintended pun.

"All right then!" Kevin piped up. "Get your asses on the field and show coach what you can do!"

Our first game of the season was an away game. We managed to win with a narrow two-point margin. The team hadn't coalesced and without Chuck we definitely needed to work together. Even without considering the sex-appeal factor, I thought Kevin would have made an excellent team captain. Apparently my teammates agreed as he was voted in as captain, but he declined the position, citing the fact that it was his first year at the school. Coach appointed Barry Seward and Pete Jablonski as co-captains, since they had the most votes after Kevin; they were two outstanding players but lacked in leadership skills. Our second game was at home and both Nick and my dad promised to be in the stands. Once coach released us, I found a quiet spot and prayed to Chuck to help us win. (I guess I still think of him as a god.) The tough game ended in a tie. I had played well, but worried about facing dad when I got home. I should have worried about Coach Harlan, he wasn't pleased and tacked a half hour on to daily practice.

The following week we lost! It had been a close game and at the bottom of the ninth we were again tied, our opponents had two outs and two runners on base. But from the moment the batter connected, a blind man could see the game's conclusion. He hit one of those high fly balls that seem to defy gravity. Our second baseman could have nabbed it but Kevin, in center field called it while waiting for it to return to earth. The ball kissed his glove moments before the batter touched first base, but the runner on third was already getting his back and ass patted my cheering teammates. Kevin hurled the ball towards home plate where I tagged the second runner but the damage had already been done. A record of 1-1-1 wasn't bad for a team that was trying to find it's way after losing several strong senior players but the coach was livid; he tacked on another half hour to daily practice. It was brutal!

The added hour was taking its toll and I wondered if coach realized what he was doing. Everyone was dragging tail: the locker room was somber when we suited up and almost sullen when we showered and changed. Thursday night should have been different since we had a game the next night but the only difference I noticed was that Steve Peungraska approached me as I was almost dressed. In hushed tones he told me how much he hated fags, how it was all my fault that the team wasn't winning and that the coach was punishing him and the team because of me! I took a quick look around and found myself basically alone with a homophobe with arms as big as my thighs! Steve was our star batter and made a habit of hitting balls over the fence. However he was almost as dumb as dirt and not a whole lot better looking. (Still I was stuck. If I so much as yelped, he would assume that I was a sissy fag and the rest of the season would be pure hell.) I didn't respond while trying to get my shoes and socks on, but I was so flustered I was having difficulty with that simple task. I kept hoping he'd run out of nasty things to say and leave, but he showed no signs of slowing down as I struggled with my shoes; meanwhile, several more players left the room.

Apparently Steve's hushed voice was overheard as a large hand grasped his crotch, he gasped. I looked up to see Kevin completely naked and still dripping from his shower. His right hand squeezed Steve's nuts while his left casually held his towel. (Under most any other circumstance I would have: a.) wondered why Kevin was just getting out of the shower, when half the team had already showered, dressed and left the locker room and b.) thrown a huge boner with his naked body within arm's reach.) Not knowing where to look, my eyes mostly stared at the floor but I couldn't stop them from looking at the spectacle before me.

"If you want anything to come out of your tiny dick when you jerk off tomorrow morning or any time between now and...let's say 2012..." I looked up to see Steve's eyes bulging as Kevin's hand applied more pressure. "You better shut your trap and leave Dave alone cuz he plays with me! Got that Mr. Peungraska?" His face was turning white with pain so he could barely nod. "Ex-cel-lent," he said drawing out the word. "Come up with two or three homers tomorrow and we can forget we ever had this conversation." Steve's eyes started to tear before Kevin released him. Steve made a hurried retreat and I buried my face in my locker.

Worried that Steve might be lurking outside the locker room, I kept myself busy at my locker long after my shoes were in place. (I hated feeling scared but didn't want to have my face remodeled just because Steve didn't like queers.) As I approached the door Kevin and Michael showed up. "We gotta win tomorrow, Dave," Kevin said slinging an arm over my shoulder. "Coach is friggin' wearin' me out, man. You gotta help me!"

"Ditto," replied Michael. "But it's late. Let me give you a ride." I nodded but remained silent as we walked to the parking lot.

We listened to the radio as Michael drove. Just as I was getting out of the car, Michael spoke. "Hey Kevin told me about the thing with Steve; I'm sorry. He's really not a bad guy, just not very bright. I hope you don't take it personally. I mean, Kevin was right, we really do need you tomorrow."

"Thanks," I managed to get out. "I hope we all do well tomorrow. And thanks for the ride." He just nodded.

Just before I closed the door Michael again spoke. "You know Emily talks about you all the time. I'm not jealous ‘ know." I nodded so he wouldn't have to say it. "She thinks you're pretty's gotta be hard doing what you're doing...I mean coming out and all, and still you're like the same cool guy." He paused with a shy smile.

"Thanks." I said with a smile. "See ya tomorrow." Michael just nodded as I closed the door.

After eating some dinner, I called Nick to tell him about my close call with Steve. Once he ascertained that I was fine he proceeded to tease me about Steve ‘wanting' me (totally gross) and what sexual favors I would offer to Kevin for ‘saving' me, things like that. Eventually we were both laughing so hard that I could hardly hold onto the phone. When we finally settled down, I mentioned that I had some studying to do. Nick responded with another wiseass remark.

"You're a freak." I replied.

"I know," he said sounding almost proud. "You've told me that before. It makes me think you really like me."

I wasn't quite sure how to respond; he'd done that reversal thing yet again. "I do like you fucktard, but wish me luck on tomorrow's game. If we lose, coach will kill us!"

"He better not or he'll have to deal with me!" Nick said with a snicker. "Seriously I hope you guys do well tomorrow." We said our goodbyes and I tackled my homework.

About 40 minutes into it the phone rang. Chuck was calling me! We hadn't talked since his visit home during the winter break. (I continued to send occasional emails though he seldom responded.) Chuck didn't waste time with niceties but launched into telling me his tale of woe: baseball was not going well, really, not going well; he was worried he'd be dropped from the team and lose his scholarship, etc., etc., etc. I'd never heard Chuck so down or so unsure of himself, usually he remained optimistic even when things were bad. This was definitely not good! Of course I wasn't there to see the situation first hand, so I was difficult for me to assess Chuck's dilemma. But I listened and occasionally mentioned the obvious, though not making it sound like it was obvious: Chuck was no longer the big fish in a little pond; he was not pitching for the Vikings, but was training at a Big Ten school that had selected him over possibly dozens of other talented high school seniors, etc. (Hoosier alum were regularly drafted into the major leagues.) Thinking it might help, I mentioned how the home team was floundering without him and even went so far as to remind him that I was sitting on "incentives" if he could make it back home to collect them. He actually laughed at that point.

"Dave, thanks for listening to me whine. I didn't mean to dump on you but you sure made me feel better!"

I didn't expect Chuck to get sentimental, just knowing he felt better was all that really mattered to me. "No prob." I said. We talked a few minutes longer, mostly Chuck asking about coach and the team.

Ending the conversation, Chuck said. "Thanks again, Dave. You gotta be one of the coolest guys on the planet! Good luck tomorrow" His compliment did surprise me but I managed to say good night and wish him well in return. I said a prayer for Chuck and one for the team and me before I fell asleep that night.

Friday night we came from behind to win by two points. (Yes, Steve did hit one out of the park and slammed the fence during another turn at bat; he was responsible for three RBIs in addition to his two home runs.) Coach Harlan seemed to take this as a sign that the extra practice was working so cut us back one half hour. My dad had been at the game and I had to agree with him, that as a team we were (finally) playing better than last year. He also made a couple encouraging comments about my performance, which suggested that he and I had begun to heal the rift caused by my coming out.

The next week, we slaughtered Grant 18-5 on their home field! It was something of a vindication for their having spoiled our homecoming, and it sure made coach happy. With the exception of another tied score, we won all of our remaining games, which advanced us to Regionals. We eventually tanked but most everyone, even Coach Harlan thought we had performed very well.

*     *     *     *     *


Graduation consumed practically every spare moment of almost every senior during the last weeks of school. (The slackers never got worked up over much of anything.) One of the things that was actually fun was senior assembly. It was held during school hours and attendance was mandatory, but it was after finals were over, so we had the worst part of senior year already behind us. There were skits and other entertainment, including Nick and some of his buddies performing an instrumental medley of Incubus tunes. But mostly the event revolved around the announcement of the winners of the senior class poll: "Cutest Couple", "Best Smile", "Over-Achiever" and "Under-Achiever", that kind of thing. Mr. Hazeltine, English and drama teacher really got it to it like he was MC of American Idol or something. It came as no surprise that Heather Lundsgaard was named "Most Beautiful Girl" and Kevin Wilson "Most Handsome Guy". And though I had cast my vote for him, I was surprised that Nick nabbed the honor of "Best Smile." I couldn't wait to congratulate him with a few kisses. As the class made its way to the exit, I heard someone call my name. I looked around to discover Michael, pushing through the throng of seniors.

"Hey Dave. Got a moment? There's somethin' you got to see!"

"Sure," I replied, unable to resist smiling back at his kid-with-a-secret smile. He pulled me through the crowd and around a corner, where all the seniors from varsity baseball were gathered. Even Steve was present, smiling like everyone else, though I couldn't be sure his was sincere.

"Glad you could make it," Kevin said. "We've got something for you. Actually it's from the whole team but the young ones"...there were a few chuckles, "are busy with finals. We wanted to do this at the school awards but coach said no, so I talked to Mrs. Pedretti and she said we could do it at the assembly if the principal gave us an okay. He was cool with it but Mike thought maybe we shouldn't do it in front of the whole class."

Barry loudly interrupted. "Kevin, shut the fuck up and get to it!" The group noisily agreed, jostling him, but Kevin just turned to Barry and smiled.

"Right, Barry," he said turning back to me. "We all thought you deserved some recognition for the way came out to the team and then played balls-to-the-wall all season. So..." Chris, Michael and Pete simulated a drum roll until Kevin raised his hand. "I'm pleased to present you with the first-ever Brass Balls Award!" He handed me the trophy, which was a pair of spray-painted baseballs mounted on a piece of varnished wood; with a printed foil label that read: Dave Fitzsimmons, Brass Balls - 2007. Everyone was clapping, cheering and laughing as I accepted my prize.

My face was a little red though it was the good kind of embarrassment. "What's my dad going to say?" was the first thing to come out of my mouth, which sent the group into hysterics. "This is so awesome! Thanks guys." There were handshakes and a couple hugs before the group dispersed; everyone wanted to eat before we were herded into a dull but necessary rehearsal for our graduation ceremony.

Outside I hooked up with Nick. "Better brass balls than blue balls, I guess," he quipped after I showed him my trophy. I was still laughing when he placed a kiss on my cheek even though students were milling around.

Corey had been correct about our class's two top students but I was surprised to learn that I had again achieved a 4.0 during the second semester. Calculus almost killed me and I certainly didn't expect Mr. Diehl to give me an A. He must have graded on a generous curve and then nudged my B/B+ over to an A. (I think he liked me, a lot! Mr. Diehl wasn't bad looking but he was over 30, at least!) I also knew that Lance Mallory had played a big part in that final grade. I'm pretty sure he's totally straight though I don't think he's ever been on a date. He's more like the stereotypical nerd, sort of shy, kinda skinny, but really nice, with a very dry sense of humor too. It took me a while to figure out when he was joking but he was super helpful, even when I'd make him explain a problem twice! American Poetry was the other class I had struggled with, despite the fact that I chose the one-semester elective thinking it would be easy. Whenever I felt I didn't understand I wasn't embarrassed to ask questions that seemingly provoked the class into animated and sometimes lengthy discussions. Apparently Mrs. Borgese appreciated my contribution to class discussion. She went so far as to write on one of my papers: "Your classroom inquiries and your writing suggest quite clearly that you understand the material, perhaps the problem is the abstract quality of poetry compared to the "assumed" concrete nature of prose. Continue to question, to struggle; eventually you'll discover answers that are yours alone." (Wasn't my coming out mostly questions and struggle?) Whatever! She gave me an A.

When the final stats were posted, I ranked 6th, just below Emily. Corey and I were separated by Megan Pilkington who I hated, simply because she was a bitch! She was okay looking and pretty smart but she had a really bad attitude, like it was a sin to do anything other than study, like have fun sometimes! Sports, dances, theater, even Chess Club received her distain! (Honestly, I probably agreed with her when it came to chess club but those guys probably felt the same way about baseball, so I wasn't in a position to diss anyone.) It's no wonder nobody liked her, not even the teachers she habitually brown-nosed. Nick ended up at lucky #13 while a couple of my friends were scattered between and him and that dancing hunk, Gregg Ronson to round out the top 20. And that is how we were arranged in the front row on Sunday afternoon, except the two top students sat on stage with the principal, president of the school board and various assorted dignitaries.

Susan Rachel Quinlan, or Suze, to those that knew her, approached the podium after the principal introduced her. She had been in my poetry class but still I was surprised to hear her quote from Emily Dickenson shortly after she began her speech. She turned the introspective, somewhat melancholy, oft bittersweet musings of Dickenson into a call for every senior to look to him or herself for fulfillment rather than parents, college, society or even friends. It was a moving speech and surprisingly brief. After her thank you and just before she left the podium, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and unleashed an ear-piercing whistle into the microphone. "Class of oh seven; you guys totally rock!!!" Almost in unison most of the students were on their feet laughing, clapping and cheering, including Lance up on stage! I noticed some parents and guests had joined in and wondered if Principal Johnston was pissing himself. Eventually we got to the good part: our diplomas. After crossing the stage I paused long enough to see Nick receive his before returning to my seat, while ignoring Megan's annoying push from behind. I was happy for every friend that crossed the stage, but it did get tedious until I heard the principal announce, "Kevin Thomas Wilson." My ears perked up and my eyes focused as he crossed the stage. In my mind I imagined him wet and naked like that night in the locker room; I smiled and clapped a little louder.

There was a crush to get photos with family and friends before surrendering our caps and gowns. I didn't even mind posing with my family now that dad and Germ had decided it was sort of okay for me to be gay. (I don't know what they'll do if I ever bring home a boyfriend, but that's a matter for another day.) Kids kept yelling at me to be photographed together; I guess at graduation, everyone is suddenly your friend, still it felt good.

Tables had been set up in the cafeteria to collect the caps and gowns. The diplomas we had received on stage were actually empty jackets; the actual signed piece of paper was a commodity to be traded: the price was a cap and gown. There was tons of energy and commotion in that room when Corey tapped me on the shoulder. "Congratulations, Dave!"

"Thanks, but why. ‘Cause my GPA was point oh, oh, one percent higher than yours?!?"

"No not that," he said with a smile just like the one he wore at the Halloween party, when he threatened to walk across stage ahead of me. "I mean the way you...came out at school and everything." Then more quietly he added, "I wish I could have done that."

"You mean you're..."

"Corey, c'mon. Hurry up! We're all waiting!" I turned to see a smaller version of my classmate.

"Okay, bro. I'll be there in a minute. Tell mom and dad I'm almost done; okay dude?" The kid rolled his eyes and gave Corey an exasperated look before he turned to leave. He turned back to me. "My kid brother Kyle," he said to explain, though I had pretty much figured that out.

"So have you told anyone?"

"Nope, just you."

I don't know why I was getting all excited about this buff guy, looking totally killer dressed in shirt and tie, telling me he was gay, I mean I had Nick for a friend. "Cool," was all I said.

"A...through...F! NEXT!" a voice called out.

"Oh, that's me!" I said. "But give me a call if you wanna hang out or something. I can introduce you to some of my buds."

"For real?"

"Sure! I'm going on vacation with my family in a couple of days, but there's a whole summer after that. So call me."

"I will," he answered with a smile, which caused his dimples appear. Too cute.

The ‘rents organized a small party at home, mostly for neighbors and family friends. The only relatives close enough to attend were my mom's parents. After the party ended the family and grandparents went out to eat. The food was great, but during a lull my dad presented a package, which turned out to contain a cell phone.

"We thought it might come in handy," he said.

"Dave, that's also a hint that you'll call us from time to time," my mom added.

"Yeah, but we put you on our plan with Jeremy so you better use it the first three days of the month before Jeremy has burned up all the minutes!" Dad admonished before the two of them chuckled while Germ looked hurt, for about two seconds.

"Okay, okay! I get it. I'll try to keep it down"

"Don't worry bro!" I said teasingly. "There's always e-mail, snail mail and smoke signals, if you use up all the minutes." He punched me in the arm, hard. "Ouch!" I said only half teasing this time though seriously I didn't mind at all; it was the first time we had touched since my announcement last fall.

When the teasing and laughter died down, I noticed another envelope had mysteriously appeared on the table in front of me. Inside was a card from my maternal grandparents and a check for $2500.00. No way! "Gram and Grandpa B, you can't do this. It's too much!" I practically cried.

Grandpa Bailey replied, "Well, Jeremy and Angela might get short changed, but you're the first and it seems like you deserve it. It's not much, but we hope it will help."

"Your mom tells us you've had a tough year but still managed to get good grades. That's quite an accomplishment!" My grandma added. I just smiled and nodded my head. I didn't know whether or not I had been outed to my grandparents; if they were in the know, they seemed to be cool with it.

Eventually we had dessert and were headed home. I worried that Germ and I would have to share the sofa bed so that our grandparents could sleep in our room, so was relieved to learn that they had booked a room in a nearby motel. The Baileys stayed on for a couple of days. When they left they took Germ and Angie with them as the plan was for the ‘rents and I to drive up on Friday after dad got off work and eventually hook up with my aunt, [dad's oldest sister] uncle and cousin for a week-long vacation in the South Dakota Badlands.

Tuesday night I was at a graduation party in the same neighborhood as the Halloween party. (Obviously a step or two, or maybe even three above where Nick and I lived; this place had a pool!) Nick drove us to the party and stayed for a couple hours before he had to leave for some family thing; he gave me a kiss before he left. I had hoped that Corey would be there but, I didn't see him; maybe he wasn't invited. (I still hadn't figured out the whole social structure: in vs. out/cool vs. nerd/gay vs. straight crowd thing.) Regardless, it was a fun party and apparently lots of kids had read the invitation thoroughly as plenty of girls and guys had arrived with swimwear under their street clothes; shorts and tees came off to reveal plenty of gorgeous flesh. Even I had to admit that some of the girls were hot, though I couldn't help but stare at Sean in square-cut lycra trunks; Gregg's, Kevin's and several other male asses looked pretty delectable in board shorts or trunks.

Regardless, after a couple sodas, I really needed to take a piss. I'd made a couple forays inside to find the john but there was always a group of girls huddled around the door of both bathrooms as if to fend off any and all guys. I jumped in the pool hoping to distract my bladder's needs but to no avail. I stuck my head in the door yet again and saw another group of girls gathered outside that coveted space. I was dripping wet and wasn't willing to get dried off only to encounter a similar group of girls at the second bathroom, so I set off in search of a discrete place to take a leak. Arriving at a relatively obscure place hidden by greenery, I lowered my trunks and let loose. I was so grateful for the release that I didn't notice that someone had walked up behind me.

"Need a hand?" Before I could even respond, Sean's left hand slid down the back of my trunks and his right hand encircled my cock, mid-piss.

"No...I'm....good," I managed to utter before Sean's hand short-circuited my brain.

"Dude, you've been holding out on me." He said as the hand job caused my cock to stiffen, slowing and then stopping the flow of piss. " Holy shit!" Sean whispered excitedly and immediately dropped to his knees and engulfed my cock like a starving man. I was helpless against his talented mouth; no one had ever done me the way Sean was doing me. Wa-a-a-a-y too soon the natural conclusion of Sean's talent overwhelmed me and I shot repeatedly into his warm mouth. As I gasped for breath, his mouth clamped onto mine, forcing part of my load into my own mouth. Sean's now-bare cock rubbed against my belly as we kissed and quickly he dumped a load on our touching bellies. While using our fingers to squeegee the slime from our smooth skin, I noticed that Sean had a tattoo just to the left of his trimmed pubes. It was sort of a Jolly Roger type image except that a heart replaced the traditional skull above the crossed bones. I don't know what it meant to Sean, but in the moment all I could imagine was that it meant heartbreaker. Once we were reasonably clean, we pulled up our trunks and dashed for the pool. We hung out together for the rest of the evening, so when I couldn't find Michael and Emily, naturally I asked Sean to give me a lift home. He agreed though I doubt he was quite ready to leave.

Once we got to the street, Sean placed an arm around my waist and led me to his car, a silver Scion tC with Florida plates. The stereo blasted as soon as the ignition switch engaged. "Oops!" Sean said and turned down the volume.

"It's okay," I said, thinking I might get some clues about Sean from his choice of music. It was eclectic but not exactly informative. Sean spent more time looking at me that at the road, and yet somehow I wasn't bothered by that. When he wasn't shifting, his right hand wandered over to my thigh. Except for giving him directions neither of us spoke until he parked the car in front of my house.

"Dave, may I kiss you?" His formality was novel but I just leaned toward him before we locked lips. The kiss lasted for nearly a minute until Sean pulled away. "Man, oh man," he said breathlessly and licked his lips. "Where did do you?" He paused. "Dave I know I tease you and all that but you're something altogether different!" I half wanted to believe what he was saying. "I sure wish you could come with us to Hawaii. We're gonna be there three weeks and my little sister is bringing a friend for a week so I'm sure it would be cool with my folks. Please say you'll come."

A travelogue of blue water snorkeling, white sand beaches, hot guys in shorts, surfing, spectacular sunsets, etc., played in my mind, but the reality of the situation was that I had a job waiting for me after returning from a brief family vacation. Plus I hardly knew Sean well enough to travel 3,000 miles from home with his family with nothing more that the promise of hot sex. "Sorry, my family is going on vacation starting Friday and I have to start a job as soon as we get back."

"Well can I call you when I get back?"

If I didn't know better, or at least think I knew better, I'd have thought Sean sounded desperate. "Sure, call anytime."

"Great. Cool. Can I kiss you again?" He didn't wait for my response but pulled us together for a brief, yet delicious good night kiss.

"I had a good time tonight; it was a good party, huh? Thanks for the ride and the kiss... Sean, you're full of surprises!"

"Sure thing," Sean replied. "Thanks for hangin' with me tonight. It really was fun...I hope we can get together again." I just nodded and waved before Sean put the car in gear and peeled away from the curb.

*     *     *     *     *

Friday evening dad had a chance to wind down over dinner before we headed out to my grandparents' place; it took us only two or three hours. Germ seemed unusually happy to see me after staying with our grandparents, though he had managed to hook up with some of the locals in those three short days. The next morning we were up early and on the road before 9:00. Angie and mom talked about her visit, while Germ kept nagging to borrow my iPod. I handed it off to him before dozing off. When we stopped for gas, dad offered me the keys and he settled into the backseat with my sibs. I drove until we stopped for lunch; mom drove the remaining miles as dad sat dead-to-the-world in the shotgun position. (It was one of those moments when I actually thought about how hard my dad worked to provide for the family.)

Late that afternoon we arrived at Aunt Carrie and Uncle John's house. Our cousin Dylan was there too, though I hardly recognized him since I hadn't seen him since grandpa Fitzsimmons' funeral almost seven years ago. Now, he was a bit taller than me though kinda skinny but looked very glad to see us arrive. Dylan took us over to their neighbors' house, where we played in the pool for an hour before returning home to get cleaned up for dinner, which we ate out so no one had to wash dishes. It wasn't fancy but the food was good. I don't know where he put it, but Dylan ate even more than Germ.

The next day we were again up early and loaded everything into a humongous RV. It was almost as big as a school bus and I was glad dad didn't make us kids pitch in for gas, but once inside I couldn't help but smile: the place had everything! The other good thing was that we took it easy, unlike the trip to Carrie and Bill's place; we occasionally stopped at a historical monument or some stupid tourist trap, which certainly relieved the monotony of driving down the highway to our destination.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of Mount Rushmore; flies could have settled in my open mouth and I probably wouldn't have noticed. I was awestruck! The group, except Dylan actually abandoned me to explore the area while I soaked in the visceral magnitude of the moment! Eventually I had the presence of mind to take some pictures and snapped hundreds of pics, though probably none of them did the monument justice.

Like I had some kind of heightened awareness, that night's dinner cooked over charcoal tasted better than anything I'd ever eaten. And later lying in a tent, the breeze, chirping crickets and night sounds were like some magical surround-sound loop that lulled me to sleep.

The following days were less ethereal, though still pretty amazing. Uncle Bill treated us to a helicopter ride over the Badlands; I think Angie was a bit scared but Germ, Dylan and I agreed that it was truly awesome.

After four days on the road, I was really starting to miss Nick, so the next afternoon I convinced Germ to let me borrow his phone. Of course he gave me shit about not bringing my phone, but I think he liked having something to hold over me. It took awhile to find a signal but eventually I was connected to his voicemail. "Hey Nick," I began. "It's a great trip and I'm having fun but it would be great if you were here. I'm kinda missing you... a lot!" The landscape seemed to underscore my feelings, so I added, "I think you know, or at least I hope you know that I love you Nick." Suddenly I had run out of things to say. "Um, hope you're, okay. See you soon, buddy." I felt like I might start crying so I just said bye and ended the call.

The following night Dylan asked to share the tent with me. (There was adequate room for all of us inside the RV once the various seats and benches were converted but I was a bit creeped out by sleeping so close to all those people.) We had gotten somewhat reacquainted during the trip so we were comfortable talking or not as we lay on top of our sleeping bags. I think I dozed off before Dylan that first night but the next morning, Dylan's slender body was quite literally wrapped around mine. My movements must have stirred him, as he roused and quickly started to apologize.

"Sorry Dave, but it got so cold last night. I...I..."

"No prob Dylan but I gotta take a piss." I ruffled his sleep-matted hair as I crawled over him.

Another day of travel ended with a drawn-out but hilarious game of Trivial Pursuit: Aunt Cassie, mom, Dylan and I were outscored by dad, Uncle Bill, Germ and Angie. We retired to the tent and were just talking about nothing in particular when Dylan mentioned that he thought Jeremy was hot.

"You mean like he's all buff or like, you like...guys?" I asked, both curious and surprised.

"I'm gay," Dylan replied rather matter of factly.

"Oh yeah?" I let it hang in the air for just a moment. "Me too!" Dylan's face showed relief, before a tiny, almost sinister smile appeared. "And even though he is my brother, I hear what you're saying. But don't even think of going there! Jeremy's super straight and not too keen on the idea of a having homo in the family." Dylan looked disappointed but listened as I told him just enough about Jeremy's response to my coming out; I didn't want to scare him or anything, I just wanted to make sure he understood. With our new bond, we talked for a long time, mostly about coming out, guys at school, hot actors, that kind of stuff. Dylan was starting to doze off when I stepped outside the tent to piss. Though I was tired, our earlier conversation had my mind working overtime and I couldn't sleep; at one point a chuckle escaped my mouth.

"What's so funny?" Dylan asked.

In the dark I replied. "Well a couple years ago when I was still figuring out about myself, I thought I was the only guy in the world to feel the way I did...about guys, that is. I know it doesn't make sense but that's what I thought. Then, when my friend came out to me, I was like, oh goodie, there's two of us. Eventually he got a boyfriend and after that he introduced me to this really hot guy that transferred to our school; then at graduation this guy came out, now's like everyone is gay! I...I don't get it but it's kinda funny or strange or something, don't you think?"

"I think you're kinda funny," Dylan said with a giggle, followed by a long period of silence interrupted only by the sound of crickets.

I smiled to myself and told Dylan we could sleep together if he wanted to. "Just sleeping, no other stuff..."

"Yeah?" Dylan asked excitedly.

"Yeah, but we need to rearrange our sleeping bags so we're not smashed together like last night." I wasn't attracted to my cousin, but from the sounds of things he wasn't getting much loving from the boys at his school and I'll admit it was nice to snuggle close to a body as I drifted off to sleep. We repeated that arrangement for our last night on the road. Saturday evening we arrived back at our relatives' house and everyone helped clean out the RV before we sat down to some of the best take out pizza ever! The adults all had a couple beers each and mostly ignored us. I was glad they were having a good time. The next day was the long and very tedious drive across Iowa. It was a straight shot on Highway 20 to Waterloo before heading south on I-380 en route to the Mississippi River and on to west-central Illinois and home. Dad, mom and I shared the driving, so that part wasn't too bad. Like Angie, I had books to read and also my iPod, but Germ had conned a friend into borrowing a portable dvd player, so we also had movies in the backseat of the car. I wasn't bored so much as I was tired of sitting by the time we arrived home. We made quick work of emptying the car and I changed into running clothes; Germ asked to join me and I agreed. We ran an easy mile and a half and I teased that he better get used to it since football practice would soon get underway.

I made the mistake of letting Germ shower first, because when I got to the computer, he was already on-line and would probably remain so until he went to bed. I checked my phone messages; everyone knew I was going away, so I wasn't surprised to find only three. Two were from Corey: one to thank me, the other said he might have good news so I should call as soon as possible. The third message was from Chuck who had called to "check in" even though we knew we would miss each other. (Can you believe it? Chuck was going to be paid to play baseball! Actually he was going to be helping to head up a summer baseball camp for inner-city kids but still, he loves baseball and I'm sure he'll be good at it. He's going to stay with some relatives that live in one of the swanky suburbs, so he'll probably have a pool in his own back yard!)

*     *     *     *     *

Corey sounded really excited to hear from me but I told him I couldn't talk too long. He was going on about the stuff I'd sent and we laughed that the blog material was our favorite. (I'd forwarded a bunch of the articles Brent had sent me during my crisis, including my favorite, which were collected entries from a blog titled, "My Dick Loves His Dick... Now What?" It had a cartoon of two guys facing each other with their brightly colored boxers pointed at each other, while their faces looked at the reader with goofy smiles. The entries were always fun to read even when he talked about yucky stuff like herpes and condoms.) Then he told me that there was a job opening at his uncle's hardware store and that he had already recommended me.

"Do you have a job yet?"

"Now you ask," I teased. "I do and I start tomorrow, but it's only part time."

"That's perfect! ‘Cause this job is part time too. So call my Uncle Bob tomorrow; it'll be great for us to work together!" Corey gave me the necessary information and practically made me promise that I'd call.

"Not a problem Corey, that $100,000 check hasn't arrived in the mail and Michigan hasn't waived my tuition. I'll definitely give Uncle Bob a call." Corey snickered. "What?"

"You called him Uncle Bob." I laughed at myself and eventually got off the phone so I could call Nick.

Nicked wanted to come over or have me go over there but I said I was too tired. Still, we talked for more than half an hour, when suddenly it was as though someone had hit the "off" switch. "Oh...sorry Nick but I'm fading fast. I'll call tomorrow. ‘K?" We said our goodbyes and I passed out on my bed.

Normally Germ would have slept in but for some reason he was up and pestering me about my phone. "Bro, you gotta start acting like an adult; you've got a job and everything and it's not like this is 1977! Where's your phone?" (Boy, could I have given him some shit about acting like an adult!) While I got dressed he hovered nearby instructing me how to use my new phone; he even followed me to breakfast to continue the lesson.

"Thanks bro. I think I got it." I said as I grabbed it from him and stuck it I my pocket.

Just like last year, dad dropped me off at work, though this time Bernice was waiting for me in the lobby. "Look at you David. You've gotten so tall and even more handsome!" She proclaimed before she hugged me, though actually I didn't' think I had grown much at all. She chatted as she led me to meet my new boss, Ms. Iverson, a small woman, late 20s or early30s. She was polite, yet professional almost to the point of being curt, but perhaps that was only by comparison with Bernice. I was introduced to my immediate coworkers and led to a large room filled with rolling shelf units. She explained the filing process and the slightly redundant computer log that was a requisite part of it. Perhaps she saw my eyes bulge when I saw what appeared to be a mountain of papers and file folders, all apparently in complete chaos, as she quietly announced.

"We're a little behind. Your predecessor left nearly two weeks early without so much as a goodbye."

"I'm available to work more hours if you need."

"Thanks, David; that's good to know. But the folks upstairs keep squeezing us down here, so I don't think that's a viable option. At the same time, I don't expect you to work miracles, just do the best you can and we'll see how it goes. I'll try to get you some help. Please let me know if you need anything." And with that she turned on her heels and left.

Wow! Was all I could think as I retraced our steps to find the beginning of it all.

During lunch break I called the hardware store and after a brief wait was connected with Corey's uncle. Not being sure what Corey might have told him, I admitted that I had no retail experience but referenced my previous experience as a way to assure him that neither the math nor the machines should pose a problem. I almost laughed when he suggested, though he worded it differently, that the only criteria were that I was saving money for college, Corey had recommended me and that I was a star baseball player. He told me to come in after I got off work and talk to Pam. I returned to the file room and worked while I ate.

Corey was not in sight when I arrived at the store, so I approached one of the cashiers and told her I was to meet with Pam. The woman told me Pam had been called away unexpectedly but she'd call for Bob Henderson, who I assumed was "Uncle" Bob. A large man with a few gray hairs dusting his otherwise dark hair, emerged and extended his hand.

"I'm Bob, you must be Dave." He greeted as our hands joined. He smiled and I noticed he had faint dimples and eyes similar to Corey's. We talked very briefly before he led me to another cashier. "Normally Pam handles this but she's out at the moment so Cheryl will give you the lowdown and then I'll get Corey to give you the grand tour. Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I'll see you here Friday afternoon. And welcome aboard!"

Cheryl appeared to be just a bit older than Ms. Iverson, but seemingly more personable. She had dark blonde hair pulled into a ponytail and a trim figure under the navy blue polo shirt that each cashier wore. "Welcome Dave. It's actually all pretty simple, the register does most of the work. And even if it didn't, it would be easy for a guy like you to figure out," she said with a smile. "Oh, I guess I didn't introduce myself; I'm Cheryl Ronson, Gregg's mother. I noticed you were one of the first to cross the stage during graduation. Congratulations!"

"Well, thanks," I said a bit unnerved by the coincidence.

"You're quite welcome. But as I was saying, it's really easy. You have to enter your ID before each sale. You scan the items and take the money. Honesty, your most important job is to put a smiling face on the place, as Bob says. The other thing is a bit like school, you can not ever not know the answer. If the customer has a question or a request and you don't know the answer, you just use this and call for help." Perhaps I looked confused as she added. "Don't worry, it'll all make sense after you do it a few times. Step over here while I ring up this order." I watched as she handled two transactions and listened to how she addressed the customers. I think I can do that! I thought to myself. "Don't worry, Rosemary will be with you to get you started on Friday; she's sort of anxious about leaving Bob in the lurch, so there's no way she won't make you a pro before she goes on vacation. She and her husband are going to Figi for their 25th wedding anniversary! But let me get Corey for you. She paged Corey and he appeared wearing a navy blue t-shirt with the store logo and a big smile.

Corey walked me around the store and introduced me along the way. I admitted that I was sort of nervous, because everything seemed so casual: no application, no interview to speak of and like ten minutes of training!

"Dude, don't worry. You're super smart. All you have to do is smile and make change. Hell the register tells you the amount, all you have to do is count. How hard is that? But I'm really glad you're in." I was still dubious, but then he smiled and I figured it would be okay. "Did Uncle Bob tell you about softball?" I shook my head. "Well that's one of the reasons you got the job," Corey said laughing. He went on to explain that Uncle Bob sponsored a team for the Jaycees summer league. "We really need you... but I gotta get back to work," he said. "Call me tonight if you have questions, or I'll call you. You cool with everything?"

"Sure. Thanks for getting me the least I think I should be thanking you..."

"No need to thank me; Uncle Bob will take good care of you. It's almost like family here and that's the way he likes it." Corey wrapped an arm around my shoulder and gave me a quick squeeze. "Later dude." And like the cherry on a sundae he topped that with a smile.

At home I changed in to shorts and a tee and checked my email while waiting for Nick to return home from work. I sent one to Brent to let him know that I had recycled his materials to an appreciative Corey, thanking him yet again for being such a good guy and friend. Before leaving for Nick's house I told mom I wouldn't be home for dinner. I was sitting on his front porch when Nick arrived and like a lost puppy followed him to his room while he changed into shorts and a tee. I was so absorbed in my tale that I didn't even notice that sexy moment when Nick was naked except for a pair of the low-rise briefs he always wears. After about five minutes of relating the disaster of my first day of work, Nick interrupted. "Excuse me." He gently waved his hand. "Sorry to interrupt, but may I ask a tiny favor?"

"Sure...but I..."

"Shhhhh," Nick sounded and placed his forefinger over my lips. He removed the finger and replaced it with a kiss, a very long, sweet, tender kiss. He stepped back and I could feel myself smiling. "See? All better. You're happy and smiling, and though it hardly seems possible, you're even cuter when you smile." I picked him up and tossed him onto his bed. He giggled as the mattress slowly rocked. "You sure you shouldn't be a theater major?" I gave him a puzzled look. "'Cause you certainly love drama!" I jumped onto the bed, being careful not to crush him, before I started kissing him. We were practically making out when his mother called us to dinner.

I don't know why, but I'd never felt uncomfortable around Nick's parents. Whether we shared dinner three nights in a row or not for months, I was always included like another of their kids. Back in his room Nick and I were just hanging out. "Do they know about us?" I asked.

"Know what about us? Like that we've been best friends, like forever? I think that's pretty much common knowledge." Nick had a sly smile on his face but I was a bit frustrated. "Or do you mean that we're not boyfriends?" I gave him a sour look. "But how could they unless you said something to them? They know I'm gay, but I've never said anything about you. I would never do that unless you said it was okay... Of course, even though they are my parents; they're not dumb!"


"But Dave, is the curtain about to go up on the next D. F. Drama?"

"Noooo!" I said, hoping I didn't sound offended as Nick giggled. "What?"

"I never thought of it before but your initials, D. F. could stand for Dumb Fuck! It' perfect!" He spoke between laughs. Then I pounced on him and started tickling him relentlessly, which is something I almost never do since I once made him piss himself back in seventh grade. Nick was squealing with laughter and his eyes were watering when I finally released him. I sat there watching him recover, he wiped his eyes while his chest heaved. Finally he asked, "Dave, what am I gonna do with you?"

"How should I know? I'm just a dumb fuck," I said with a smile.

"You wanna go tell my folks about our plan to run away to Canada and get married?"


"Yeah! I got the car; you're supposed to come up with the cash, remember?" It was totally preposterous but Nick seemed so sincere that I bought into the farce for the brief moment until Nick burst out laughing. "See! At least you've thought about it," he said through more laughs.

All laughter had ended when I closed the distance between us and we kissed and cuddled on his bed. "You're pretty silly sometimes, but I really missed you Nick."

"I missed you too. You are the best friend ever and you know I love you."

The room was quiet except for our breathing and a light breeze through the open windows, until Nick's phone announced an in coming call. "It can't be important," he said without moving. However moments later the phone reminded us that a new voice message was waiting for Nick's attention. I took that as my cue to leave, though Nick protested.

*     *     *     *     *

"This is Pam Kaiser," a voice announced when I answered the phone the next afternoon. "Bob Stoughton informs me you're going to be our temporary cashier and I need to get some information from you before you report for work on Friday." She was hardly the friendly family-member Bob and Corey had suggested worked at the store, and although I hadn't been in either situation I imagined being interrogated by police or defending a graduate thesis as she popped off question after question. I was told to report no later than 4:00 and to have identification for I-9 available; she reinterated what my rate would be, that I would be responsible for reconciling my cash drawer and that no benefits other that those mandated by the state/federal government would be paid. She stated that I was entitled to a 10% employee discount but would be docked an hour's pay if I was more than 10 minutes late. She rambled on a while longer but the only other thing I remembered was that $10 for each of the two shirts I was required to wear while on the job, would be deducted from my first pay check. I'm not sure if I even said "thank you" when the conversation finally ended.

Knowing I wouldn't get any sympathy from Nick, I called Corey and probably gave him an earful before he stopped me in my tracks much the same way Nick had done the day before.

"Yeah, sometimes Pam's a bitch, but she really knows her stuff. Maybe she's just nervous ‘cause you're the only cashier with real balls." He said with a laugh.


"All the other cashiers are women."


"So would you be up for some catch one of these days? Since you were on the varsity team and all, you can probably teach me a few things and you gotta stay in shape for softball."

"Ah sure, I can't see why not. Wednesday, after dinner, good for you?"

"Perfect! I can swing by and pick you up."

As a member of the track and field team, Corey didn't have my experience on the ball field, still, as a trained athlete he kept me on my toes and he was easy to look at in a cropped mesh football jersey. We'd been at it for awhile when Nick arrived as I requested and Corey gave me a sly smile when he saw our classmate watching from the sidelines. We exchanged greetings but continued the game of catch for another 10 or 15 minutes before we called it quits. We all knew why we were there but Nick and I had agreed to let Corey handle it in his own way; that was until Nick got tired of waiting.

"Dude, I guess I should have gone to some of your wrestling matches; you look awesome!" He actually ran his hand up Corey's arm while he said this. Corey blushed a bit but also flexed his bicep for Nick's benefit. "But Dave says you have some really great news you want to share!" Corey looked at Nick and I, who were both smiling and then down at the hand still admiring his arm.

"Yeah...I do. guys. I'm gay. And I can hardly believe I just told another person!" He said with a nervous chuckle. "You're the only one besides Dave." Nick's a lot smaller than Corey but he hugged the guy like he was going to take him down. Corey smiled and returned the hug. For a split second I was afraid they were going to get it on right there in the park. (Honestly I was a little nervous about losing Nick to Corey even though we're technically not boyfriends.)

"Whew!" Corey exclaimed as the hug ended. "Thanks Nick, thanks Dave; that was great but I need something to drink!" We all laughed.

"That wasn't so bad was it Corey?" I teased as we walked to his truck.

"No, you guys were cool, though I was sweating bullets for a moment."

"You did great, Corey! It took Dave a year to come out to me after I told him."

We again laughed as Corey replied. "Better late than never, I guess. But Dave's the one that sort of motivated me to finally say something. Thanks Dave."

"Yeah, thanks Dave. You're a great guy." It sounded flip, but Nick's smile told me he was sincere.

We squeezed into Corey's truck and stopped at a local 7-Eleven for liquids before finding a shady spot to just kick back and talk. We learned a bit about Corey's family, learned he was considering medical school and even talked about guys.

Corey offered to give Nick a ride and we crammed into the small cab. My arm was draped over the seat back and Nick's shoulder as we squeezed together on the right side of the floor-mount shift stick. "I wonder if I'll get a reputation by riding around with a couple of hot jocks?" Nick quipped.

"I hope so!" Corey teased. I couldn't see Nick's face but I could see that Corey was giving him the full treatment, complete with dimples and sparkling eyes.

Nick and I shared a quick hug when we dropped him off. As we continued toward my house, Corey asked. "So are you"

"No, not exactly," I said.

"Oh....that's cool."

Friday, my first day at the hardware store was pretty painless. Pam wasn't mean though she certainly had a military sensibility: all serious and businesslike. But she knew her stuff and guided me through the paperwork, explained timecards and the time clock, scheduling board, cash register, credit card reader, etc., etc., etc. (I wouldn't have been surprised if she had every SKU number committed to memory!) She eventually introduced me to Rosemary, who was wearing a simple corsage with a silver foil 25 nestled among the flowers. Rosemary wasn't much older than my mother, but she felt almost grandmotherly after my time with Pam, and I settled into my training. Corey was just getting off work (Fridays I had the 5 to 9 evening shift) and ended up being my first customer. He was all smiles as he set a single chilled soda on the counter.

"Corey gets the employee discount," Rosemary said as she told me what code to use and how to enter it. The transaction was completed and I attempted to give Corey his change.

"Keep it," he said still smiling.

"Corey, you know cashiers aren't allowed to accept tips. Why are you making things difficult for this young man?"

"Sorry, Rosemary, I guess I forgot. But I know he's new and I just wanted to encourage him." He faced me just as he said "him" and gave me a wink.

Business was brisk and with Rosemary nearby, I had a chance to handle most types of transactions. After 90 minutes she felt comfortable that I had mastered the job and reminded me to ask one of the "girls" if I had a problem. I wished her a happy anniversary and a good trip and I thought she was going to burst into tears. Instead she gave me a hug and a kiss, thanked me repeatedly and wished me luck before she said good night to her co-workers. By quitting time Sunday, I felt like I'd worked there for years already.

Nick and I hadn't been bowling since his break up with Aaron, for no other reason that that's how it was, but we agreed that it might be a good place to introduce Corey to more guys. Aaron and Nick were still on good terms so Nick agreed to contact him if I'd try to involve Rene. Sean was still on vacation with his family and not counting Corey, they were all the gay guys I knew. And since they both played sports, I figured there would be some common ground between them. I only knew Rene through Sean and he didn't sound the least bit interested until I mentioned Corey's name: suddenly he was all over it.

Rene claimed never to have bowled in his life, but he was much better than Aaron, though by comparison, he was lousy compared to the other virgin, Corey. Nick and I happily served as the recipients of their scorn and butt of their jokes. Everyone was having a good time, almost like we'd been friends all along. (Rene and Aaron were practically drooling over Corey, which made me smile. I wasn't trying to play matchmaker, but thought it would be nice if Corey could hook up with someone.)

At my office job, I continued to put in extra time, usually during lunch or before heading home, even though I wasn't being paid to do so, mostly because the mess made me crazy and it was hell to find a file that wasn't on the shelves. Ms. Iverson did come up with a body for two or three hours to help me, but the situation didn't seem to concern her too much since I was making such "excellent progress." I ran into Kristin and learned that she was engaged! Knowing that I was headed off to college, she teased that her job would be available for me in less than a year; her fiancé works in Peoria and she would be relocating there. At the hardware store, I fell in with the rest of the crowd and it did sort of feel like family; I even got in the habit of calling my boss Uncle Bob, to is face. He smiled every time. Saturday was the only day that Corey and I worked together but once softball season got underway there was a game and two practice sessions most weeks. Without the fierce competitiveness of high school, the game was a lot of fun. Mostly it was a motley bunch a business men and a few women, with a some high school and college guys thrown in the mix. Coach Harlan occasionally umpired and Kevin Wilson and several former teammates became my competitors. I was grateful to be put on third base rather than stuck behind home plate for a change. And Corey insisted that he provide transportation even though my parents would have let me use one of the cars.

One Sunday evening returning home from practice, Corey turned to me. "Dave, I've never kissed a guy before."

I was going to tease him about the corny come on, but remembered that it wasn't easy for me to say that kind of thing either. "It's a lot like kissing girls," I said instead.

"Except for my mom, I've never kissed anyone." He quietly admitted.

"For real? I mean... you're pretty hot. I sort of imagine you being one of those guys that has to beat girls away with a stick."

"That was sort of the problem." He smiled but he didn't look happy. "In seventh grade there was this girl, Samantha Kirby. She was pretty cute and really popular and everything. She was also a bit more, ah, grown up, as it were."

I stifled a snicker and nodded. "I know the type," I said wanting him to continue.

"So like, she'd been after most of the year and finally I thought I'd get her off my back by letting her kiss me. I mean, that's all she ever claimed to want from me." He sighed. "I guess I was pretty dumb back then. But whatever! So we're in the corridor sort of hidden and she lays one on me, exactly when Mrs. Marston, the vice principal walks around the corner. That lady was mean and big! She practically ripped my arm off getting me away from Samantha, screaming at me the whole time; my arm had bruises for a week! Of course Samantha was all innocent and didn't say anything. Mostly I was worried that Mrs. Marston was gonna call my parents like she threatened to do. I mean, my folks are Catholic and very old-school; I guess you're not supposed to kiss or anything until you're married. Boy, they're gonna have a cow when they find out I'm gay!"

The truck was moving more and more slowly as Corey told his story. "Corey, why don't you just park; you're not really paying attention to the road." He parked. "So what happened?"

"Mostly nothing," he said. (It was a total anticlimax.) "I mean my parents never mentioned it so I guess no one ever called them. Of course Samantha left me alone after than, but then her family moved over the summer so...BFD. When I finally got interested in girls, I was too scared to do anything. And after...after I figured out...about guys, it just didn't seem fair to do that to a girl."

I guess I had some respect for the fact that Corey hadn't used girls but felt bad that he hadn't at least stumbled through a bad teenage kiss. "Sorry, that sucks."

"Hey, it's not your fault."

"Yeah, but maybe I can do something about it. C'mere," I said while releasing my seatbelt. Corey undid his seatbelt and moved toward me lifting his right leg over the gear stick. Like slow-motion film our faces moved toward each other. There was a quick touching of lips, followed by a tentative kiss, followed by something sort of like the real thing. His lips were warm, full and firm. We pulled back in unison and then reunited. My tongue pushed into his mouth and I tasted the cherry Coke he had been drinking when we finished practice; Corey's tongue pushed back into mine and they parried while my hand reached up to feel his chest through the damp cotton of his shirt. Eventually Corey's hand pushed mine to his crotch where I felt his stiff cock in his jeans. I know mine was hard as well. I was practically panting when I pulled away. "Maybe we should stop," I said with some embarrassment, though I wasn't sure why. I forced myself not to look at Corey's crotch and nervously muttered something inane.

There was an awkward moment before Corey nodded and repositioned himself behind the wheel. "That was way better than I ever could have imagined!" He started the engine. "I hope we can do that again."

I just nodded as he put the vehicle in gear and pulled away from the curb. I didn't want to be another Samantha, and once again I worried about how this was supposed to mesh with Nick and me. On top of that I couldn't help but think of how Trevor had wowed me then dumped me; I didn't want to mislead Corey. And I remembered how much it hurt when Chuck went away even though he never made any pretense about love or anything beyond sex. I was trying to protect Corey and myself, hardly a win-win situation.

So of course I told Nick, thinking he'd straighten things out. (I'd previously told him about Sean and me at the graduation party.) But no-o-o-o! He practically congratulated me for my service to a fellow gay man; I was truly rudderless at that point.

It wasn't long after that, that Corey and I were at the park for some two-man basketball. We were just getting into it when four guys showed up: Gregg Ronson, Barry Seward, (from baseball) and two others, who were introduced as Nate and Dennis. They looked vaguely familiar from school but I certainly didn't know them.

"Dudes, wanna join us?" Gregg inquired. "Threes are always better than ones. You game?" We consented and teams were decided: Gregg, Corey and Nate would play against Barry, Dennis and I. I didn't really care until their team was dubbed skins and I could stare at lots of naked male flesh.

It was a very competitive game and everyone hustled. Dennis was overly aggressive in his defense, shoving pushing and rubbing against his opponent at every chance, but equally fierce when we had the ball. Gregg called "foul" frequently but only when it was appropriate. No one really paid attention since there wasn't a referee and it was all for fun anyway. Eventually the "skins" won: they scored 36 points first; the shirts had accumulated only 29 points. Of course the losers had to treat the winners: Barry and I paid the tab for a round of drinks at a nearby burger joint.

We all sat at tables and downed our drinks, while shooting the shit. At one point I noticed Dennis removing his shirt to cover the boner in his shorts. Been there, done that I thought as I turned my attention elsewhere.

"That was a blast!" Corey announced as were headed home. "Sorry you guys lost," he said with a chuckle.

"To the victor goes the spoils," I said before exiting his pick-up.

"I like the sounds of that!"

"Dream on homie," I said.

Several days later I noticed that Dennis was in the store. He sort of wandered the aisles and then left without making a purchase. The next weekend Dennis was again in the store and I assumed he accomplished his goal as he exited with a smile on his face and several paint sample cards in his hand; I figured that he had seen and possibly talked to Corey.

With the long days of summer, dusk was just starting to come on when Corey parked as we headed home from practice. "I know you think we should be cautious, that you don't want me to get hurt, but I've been thinking about you for two years!" (That was major news to me. I went so far as to ask about Aaron and Rene and was told that they were "okay but he really wasn't interested.") "I don't want you to do anything you don't want to but I want to do everything and anything you want." (Holy shit!) He slid across the seat and started to kiss me. I moaned into his mouth and kept going. Eventually I moved to his neck while lifting the hem of his shirt, which he quickly removed. We were beginning to sweat by the time I got around to undoing his fly. He lifted his hips and I slid his jeans down his muscular thighs, revealing a bulging jock strap. I slid to the floor between his legs and licked and teased the elastic covered mound before pulling the pouch away: his glistening cock and dark-skinned ballsac erupted from their confines. His cock was beautiful and was so hard, it took me a moment to realize that he was un-cut. That hardly mattered, I was so turned on I didn't bother to play but went down on as far as I could. Corey groaned.

I hadn't even worked up much saliva when Corey pumped his hips. "Oh shit!" he cursed and started dumping his load. He groaned and tried to apologize through several shots; at least he stayed half hard, which I took as a good sign. "I'm sorry...Dave. just..."

"Hey. No problem." I ignored his dick and used my hands and mouth to worship the smooth skin covering his firm muscles. I particularly enjoyed the valley that extended from his navel to his clavicle. He trembled when I started in on his pecs and nipples, and I didn't have to look to know that he was fully hard once again. We made out for a while and his hands tentatively roamed by back.

"Please..." he said in a husky whisper. I retraced my path down his torso but avoided his cock in favor of his thighs and then his balls. This time I took care to never let him get too close before I'd slip off his cock to nibble and kiss elsewhere; he made little noises whenever his dick felt neglected. After 15 minutes or so I knew it was time: his hips were thrusting and his moans were non-stop, except for an occasional utterance. I ratcheted up my performance even as I felt his ballsac shrink in my hand and its contents arrive in my mouth. It didn't seem possible, but he shot more than the first time! My legs were cramped and my dick was aching, but I just gazed up at Corey's beautiful body from my "front and center" position on the floor of his used pickup.

"That was... amazing!" He said, finally sitting upright. "Un-fuckin-believable!" I just smiled at him as he rearranged the jock and pulled up his pants. (Seemingly for my benefit, he left his shirt off.) I was feeling sort of giddy and nervous and I don't know what else; maybe a bit of pride for having brought him off so spectacularly. I didn't want to say anything fearing that it would be the wrong thing at the wrong time. He pulled me into a kiss, then released me and asked. "What about getting you off?"

I suddenly remembered that we were parked on a city street, where anyone could have wondered past. And then Nick popped into my consciousness, even though he was the one who had told me to "go for it." "I'm cool, ‘cause tonight it's all about you." I gave him a kiss and seemingly that settled that.

That night I began to dread the next time I'd see Corey, but even at work, it just felt good...easy...natural. We started to hang out sort of the way Nick and I always did, like we didn't need a plan. Some times Nick joined us or we hooked up with others for basketball or pizza. Yet for some reason, in his truck after softball was the only time and place we kissed, occasionally Corey got more than just a kiss.

Dennis appeared at the store almost every Saturday. I wanted to tell him he was wasting his time chasing after Corey but couldn't think of a way to say something without potentially freaking him out. A couple times he was at my register and gave me the strangest look. Whatever!

Having decided to use some of my graduation money for a computer, I had Nick (I was hoping to scam some of his software) and Germ doing research. And I even asked Pam's advice. She was extremely helpful if not a bit too technical, but afterward, she was so much nicer to me. Go figure.

I was also spending a lot of time at Nick's house. We were supposed to be sorting through his stuff to organize what he'd take to school, but mostly we just goofed off, listened to music, watched movies or talked. (I did make him look over my shoulder as I prepared an email to send to my assigned roommate to let him know I was gay. Despite Nick's prediction, the guy was straight but totally cool with the situation.) But best of all we did a bit of cuddling and kissing. (I hated the fact that I'd compare Nick and Corey; they were both so different and yet so sweet. I don't think I could choose one over the other; it was like that ice cream dilemma again!)


*     *     *     *     *

Despite the rumors, apparently Rosemary decided not to retire after her second honeymoon and subsequent vacation; I was told she would be returning the first part of August. Fine by me. I was grateful for the income, but also needed to get ready for college. In addition to Corey and myself, there were two other college-bound employees and a casual farewell was planned for the four of us. It was a cookies and punch kind of thing, held during store hours on my final Sunday. Uncle Bob had installed a "College Fund" donation jar near the entry and over the summer the change and bills, split four ways, provided each of us with a crisp $50 bill. (I think that made Corey and Larissa feel better about coming in on their day off.)

Being a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon business was rather slow and Bob told me I could leave at 4:30. "Don't worry. I'm gonna pay you for the full day and I'll punch your timecard and take care of you register."

"Thanks, Uncle Bob!" I said and grabbed my backpack from my locker; I wasn't going to hang around in case he changed his mind.

The parking lot was fairly empty but I found Dennis hanging out around the bike rack. I decided I really should say something. "Hey Dennis, Corey's not here today, you know..."

"Yeah... I know...but you're the same Dave that was catcher for the varsity baseball team right?"

"That's me, but..."

"I heard my brother talking to one of his friends about you and I...I , um wanted to ask you a question."

"Sure, but not here. And don't move! I'll be right back." I ran back into the store grabbed two bottles of water and one of orange juice and threw a $5 bill in front of Uncle Bob.

"Forget it Dave. It's on the house."

"Thanks, but I don't want my drawer to be short!"

I hurried outside and handed a bottle of water to Dennis. "Let's go some place we can talk." I unchained my bike and we rode to a shaded area in the park. "Maybe you should tell me what you heard from your brother." I suggested as we ditched our bikes and sat on the grass. Dennis looked pretty nervous; he took a huge drag from his water and sketched out the story of my coming out to the team in the locker room. Inwardly I sighed with relief. "That's pretty much what happened and yes, that was me. I am gay." I had a pretty good idea what was coming and wanted to help in any way I could. "It's okay. Take your time; I'm here to listen."

The first part came slowly and it was about what I expected, until he said, fighting his tears. "But I'm so ugly!"

That threw me completely. He was at that gangly stage, mostly arms and legs and big feet, but he wasn't ugly. I moved closer and said. "It's okay. You're not ugly!" But when I tried to put an arm around his shoulder he pulled away.

"But I am. I am!" After a few tears he continued. "When I was little my brother used to call me Jack, like Jack-o-lantern, since I was practically born on Halloween. But now I look like Ichabod Crane; I'm all arms and legs with no body and a big stupid nose. I'm a freak...a fuckin' freak! No one's ever gonna..." He started to cry in earnest but this time didn't pull away when I put an arm around him. I was at a loss for words so I just held him as he cried.

After he settled I asked. "How old are you Dennis?"

"Sixteen, but I'm gonna be seventeen in November."

"So you're kinda young to be a senior this year, right?' He nodded. "And it's hardly unusual for you to be growing at your age. Some guys start in middle school and others are still growing in college, but you probably know that already." Again he nodded. "So when you started getting tall did your junk grow? Do you have hair around your dick?" He finally looked up and turned to look at me. He had a silly grin on his face. He didn't respond but I knew his answer. "See!...You're not a freak!" I said emphatically. Then conspiratorially I added. "I saw you bone up that day we played basketball; Corey does that to a lot of guys." His face turned bright red but he was still smiling. "Kevin Wilson does that to a lot of guys too and I think Gregg Ronson is pretty hot!" Dennis nodded his head in agreement.

"What about Phil Townsend?" (Phil was varsity shortstop as a junior this year and had perhaps the best ass on any guy in school.)

"Nice butt."

"NICE?!?!? It's beyond perfect!" Dennis proclaimed. "How about Jesse Billings?" (Jesse played football and worked out religiously. Though I wasn't on the team this year, I saw him around school.)

"Yeah, Jesse's definitely got it going on." (Dennis was cracking me up, but I managed not to laugh.)

"You got that right!" He fervently replied then turned anyway and quietly added. "You're pretty hot too."

"Oh man..." I said as I leaned in to grab his lean body. "I was about to say you're a good judge of male flesh but now I'm thinking maybe you need to see an eye doctor." I went for the Nick tickle thing and Dennis crumpled to the ground. He tried to squirm away but I wouldn't let him escape. His giggles ran scales from a ridiculously piercing falsetto to an almost grunting pant. His eyes were watering and his skin was flushed. "I'm not gonna quit until you say you're not a freak."

He was strong and determined and I was getting tired; I was afraid he might wear me down before I forced him to give. "I...I''m not...a...a freak!" He managed to get out between anguished laughter.

I rolled him onto his back and stared into his face. He looked exhausted but also sort of happy or relieved or something like that. "Glad to hear it!" I said and placed a quick kiss on his nose. His eyes grew huge and he had a trace of a smile on his lips. "Oh god. Don't tell me you've never been kissed?" I said with mock despair. Dennis shook his head; I had to assume he was being serious. "One of my friends made it all the way through high school without kissing a boy or a girl and you want me to think you're in the same predicament?" He meekly nodded. "Well, if you're sure and you promise not to tell your brother..." I couldn't help but smile. Dennis was nodding and his entire body seemed to echo that nod. "Promise?" I asked lowering my face to his. His answer was a hand behind my head me pulling my face to his as he rose up to meet me. It lacked finesse but was totally sweet. But when I pulled back and sat back on my haunches, a stiff cock pushed against my ass. "Well I guess you passed that test," I said teasingly as in crawled off of his supine body. I noted his now-red face and acknowledging the sizable tent in his shorts said. "Dennis, that's not anything to be embarrassed about...unless you do that on the basketball court. I snickered and he started laughing. I wanted to tickle him again, but refrained.

When things settled down I asked another question. "I assume you've had biology, so you know about genetics and all that stuff, right?" He nodded. "So it follows that you and Barry share the same gene pool, right? He looked a bit confused. "Same mom, same dad, or is there something you need to tell me?"

"Dude!" Dennis cried with a shocked expression on his face. "You're talking about my parents!"

"I know. Just checkin'." Dennis glared at me. "Sorry, my bad," I said with a smile. "The point is that you and your brother have pretty much the same DNA. Barry's never gonna look like Kevin or Corey but he's kinda cute. Right?" Dennis was almost squirming in his seat. "I know it's weird to talk about your brother that way, but forget you're brothers and tell me he isn't at least somewhat handsome." Dennis was having none of it.

"Okay, consider this, in a year or two my kid brother Jeremy is going to be a walking, talking wet dream. He's three years younger but he's almost as tall as me and he's already pretty cute. He's totally straight but when he starts working out for football this year, girls will be wetting themselves to next to him. I'm serious!" Dennis just stared at me. "So even though my mom and dad wasted the best stuff on a straight guy, there was enough to go around to make you say I'm okay."

"I said you were pretty hot," he quietly corrected.

"I rest my case! My point is that it's fairly reasonable to assume that you will grow into those long limbs to become at least as handsome as your older brother." Whether or not he was convinced, he didn't argue and appeared more at ease when he launched into the stuff I originally assumed we would talk about. At one point he pulled out a phone and informed me he needed to let his folks know where he was. I was reminded to do the same and searched through my pockets and bag before I found my (almost) new phone.

We shared the juice as I let Dennis talk. I let him know I was no expert but was willing to listen. Talking with Nick had literally saved me, so I encouraged him to find a friend he could confide in, particularly since I would soon be leaving town. After ascertaining that he had a private mailbox, I promised to email some stuff. (Brent's emails to me.) Before we left Dennis shyly requested we kiss again. I agreed with a smile.

*     *     *     *     *

Sean returned in late July and invited Nick and I to meet up with him. (After the three weeks in Hawaii, his family traveled to Seattle, Vancouver, the North Carolina coast and Martha's Vineyard as a conjoint vacation/ business trip.) He was very tan and sexy as usual, though perhaps a bit subdued. Using his laptop he shared his pics with Nick and I: we were eyeing his very hot surfing buddies and other hotties he seemed to associate with wherever he was visiting. There were some spectacular shots of beaches and mountains and a picture of his sister and her friend, which I guess was intended to prove he was being honest when he offered me the opportunity to join him. We ate and laughed and had a great time. A few days later Sean called wanting to stop by. He said he wouldn't stay long but accepted my invitation to share a drink. We stood at the kitchen counter as he told me he had wanted to say goodbye, since he was headed back to Florida.

"It's been kind of shitty year. I left all my buds behind to come here, the middle of nowhere. You and Nick were great, but this isn't the place for me." When I asked about his family and what he was planning to do to, he said. "I don' know exactly, probably get a job, maybe think about school next year. I have an empty-nest aunt and uncle that will let me stay with them. I mostly want to reconnect with a couple guys that are still around back home." (I wanted to ask if one of them was a boyfriend but decided against it. It never occurred to me that the flippant, sexy and confident Sean might actually be lonely.)

Fortunately Germ arrived, as Sean wanted a picture of us together. "You guys can do better than that!" Germ declared after two shots of us looking fairly glum. I kissed Sean and we started laughing before he kissed me back, we hugged and laughed. Fortunately Germ snapped a few more shots. "Dude! Is that tongue?" Jeremy asked as we reviewed the pics. "That's gross!" But even my kid brother was laughing.

We walked to his car together. "Thanks Dave that was nice, but can I kiss you for real?"

"Sure," I said and put my arms around his waist. "If you promise to send me copies of the pics my brother just took. ‘Cause no one's ever gonna believe that I met a cutie like you right here in Podunk, Illinois."

Sean laughed and wrapped his arms around my neck. "It's a deal, but I can hardly believe I met a guy that's sweet, honest and so totally hot, practically in the middle of a corn field!" I blushed as our lips met. We kissed in broad daylight in front of my house. The kiss was really nice. It lasted for a long time but not long enough. "I never..." Sean began but never finished his thought. We shared another kiss before we said our goodbyes, then he drove away.

*     *     *     *     *

Chuck rolled into town about the time Sean was leaving. He was also tan but appeared to be very happy; he was also much more handsome than when I saw last him. We met at the same cafe where Emily and I had one of our dates. Over a meal, he regaled me with stories from his summer camp experience, which included a trip to Wrigley Field for a game. He was all excited about the kids he'd worked with and how his cousin had hooked him up with a friend of hers so he even had a girlfriend for the summer! He obviously enjoyed himself; I'd never seen Chuck so animated. When he asked about my plans for school, he practically booed when I told him I was going to the University of Michigan.

"We'll kill them next year! But why Michigan?"

"Well, Nick and I..."

"Is that your boyfriend?" He asked with a big-brother smile.

"No; not really." Chuck continued to smile. "Anyway, we had this plan to go to Columbia together, share a room and all that, but he didn't get in even though Cornell wants him. I finally realized that I can't really afford Columbia or Boston; Iowa doesn't want me, which left me with Michigan or U. of I. Michigan has a better program, the money's about a wash and I'll be far enough away I won't be expected to come home every weekend..."

"Sounds like you've got it all figured out. So what about this Nick guy?"

"He's boyfriend, if that's what you mean." (There was that boyfriend thing again!) "He's just my best friend, since like forever. And he's gay. But other than that..."

"Okay. I kinda got an idea," Chuck said with a smile letting me know I was off the hook. We talked and ate and laughed. Chuck even ate the portion of my dessert that I couldn't finish. After several hours, the bill had been paid but there was no lull in the conversation, until Chuck suggested we wrap it up. "I've got something for you," he said with a gleeful smile. I wasn't expecting anything and hadn't noticed any packages but from somewhere Chuck produced a baseball: it was signed by Mark DeRosa of the Cubs!

"No fuckin' way!" I practically yelled.

"Way!" Chuck teased. "That was one of the best things about the camp. A couple players from the Sox and the Cubs came to this crummy field where we played. Those kids went ape shit!"

"I bet you were pretty excited too, so don't be acting all Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected!"

"No man! I was just as excited as the kids! But I didn't forget you. See? There's your name on the other side from his signature!"

"That's so awesome, Chuck. I don't know how...what to..." I stopped and moved a bit closer to his smiling face. "I suppose I could kiss you right here!" Almost on cue we started laughing uncontrollably. When we finally stopped I said. "I guess I can put it on the shelf with my trophy," and proceeded to tell him about the Brass Balls Award.

"That is so excellent Dave. I know you deserved it but it's pretty cool that the guys did that."

Outside I noticed that Chuck was still driving the same dumb, ugly car he had last year. I'm sure it was out of practicality rather than preference, since scholarships don't usually involve cars, unless maybe you're a football star. (I hope Chuck eventually enjoys success in the sport but even if he ends up on the cover of Sports Illustrated or becomes a hall of famer, I hope he stays the decent, honest, loveable guy I know.)

We hooked up again, but only briefly before he headed back to Indiana.

*     *     *     *     *

Days before Nick was to depart, we were again in his room sorting and packing. We were trying to keep things light despite the fact that we would soon have to say goodbye for real. Of course, Nick was so much better at that kind of thing. He was uploading some music onto my iPod and got the idea that he could teach me to dance! He was moving to the music and looking pretty cute doing it, all the while encouraging me to join in. Honestly, I probably wasn't trying very hard; I preferred to watch Nick do his thing, even more so, when he turned the dance into an impromptu strip tease. He only had to remove his shirt and shorts to be left dancing in his skimpy briefs and from there it didn't take much for Nick to engage me in making out. Eventually my clothes ended up on the floor and we had sex for the first time since my birthday back in May. We got off twice before we slept.

I don't remember ever waking up as happy and content as I felt to find myself in Nick's bed with our naked bodies touching. I stared at him for the longest time, just taking in his handsome face before I had to kiss him, which awakened him. We kissed and cuddled, and despite the wonderfulness of it all, I couldn't stop myself from speaking.

"Nick. I think I really screwed things up big time. We could have been together...could have been boyfriends all this time, but I was too scared; I'm such a wimp! You're so good and sweet and smart and patient and understanding and...and...I really do love you." I felt tears form in my eyes.

Nick kissed me. "I know all that and I love you too. And as far as I'm concerned we've been boyfriends since that night of the Halloween party when you told me ‘no'. I knew you wanted to say ‘yes' and that's how I've thought about us ever since." He smiled like it was totally obvious. "Of course I understood why you said no, so I made a promise to never get us in that kind of a situation."

"I don't get it," I whimpered, feeling like the world's shittiest boyfriend.

"Look! Being boyfriends isn't just about holding hands and sex...thought there's nothing wrong with that." Nick said with a giggle followed by a kiss. "It's about respect and caring about each other. Dave you never said ‘I love you' to me very often but every time you did, I knew you meant it. You were concerned enough about me, to tell me about Sean and Corey, though you really didn't need to. Sean can certainly take care of himself, but Corey's a sweet guy and was totally hung up on you. I'm glad you could help him out. I wouldn't have been so happy if you dumped me for him...he's pretty hot! Almost as hot as you," he said before kissing me on the mouth this time. "But I wanted to help him; I didn't want him to agonize alone the way you did."

"Nick why are you so smart?"

He kissed me; I kissed him back. We kissed before he answered. "I don't think it's a matter of smarts Dave; you're probably smarter than me." He paused. "Maybe I'm a bit more willing to act on a hunch, to listen to my gut and heart and not just my brain! You might want to try it sometime." He rubbed my chest and belly with the palm of his hand. "I bet you have some really excellent ideas in there." He said with a shit-eating grin. Perhaps he saw my dick respond as he moved away adding. "I'm going to take a shower."

My head stopped spinning long enough to glimpse his naked butt as he exited the bed. SWEET!

Nick returned with damp hair and just a towel wrapped around his waist. "C'mere boyfriend." Nick practically jumped into bed alongside me.

We both needed a shower before we descended to the kitchen, sexually satiated and starving! Nick's mom offered us breakfast or lunch and we chose breakfast. We drank orange juice while Nick's mom cooked.

"So Dave, do you guys just about have Nick's stuff sorted out? His dad's still debating about renting a 28 foot U-Haul and I keep telling him, and Nick, that dorm rooms are tiny!"

"I think it's pretty much under control...Linda." (At home I would never address my parents by their first names but Nick's parents were adverse to being called Mr. or Mrs. Anderson and I wasn't about to start referring to them as mom and dad, so...Linda it is.)

"Nick and I came to something of an understanding last night." I turned to wink at him and he squeezed my hand under the counter. "I think everything will fit in your SUV." Nick smiled as his hand moved to squeeze my crotch. "Well, most everything," I added.

I cried the night before Nick left, but not as he and his parents backed out of their driveway. It was extremely unusual for anyone from our town to attend an Ivy League School, so perhaps pride trumped love, at least until their vehicle was out of sight. However, I continually wiped my eyes while walking home, thinking I had made some huge mistake in allowing Nick to leave for New York, while I was bound for Michigan.

*     *     *     *     *

Corey only had to ride a couple hours to the U of I campus at Champaign-Urbana, but he left the next day. I helped him carry stuff from his room to the van in the garage. After out final trip he pulled me into a hug and kissed me; I tasted a bit of saltiness from tears I hadn't even been aware of.

"Dude, there's going to be plenty of hot guys at your school so don't get hung up on missing me," I half-teased as I wiped one of his cheeks with my thumb. (We had become good friends over the summer but I didn't want him to pass up an opportunity simply because of me.) My hand dropped to his chest and I tweaked one of his shirt-covered nipples; his face burst into a surprised smile. "That's it!" I said. "You flash that smile and all you have to do is reel the guy in. You're irresistible when you smile; it'll be like fishing in a barrel!" His face blushed a bit though his smile got bigger.

Corey pulled me into another hug and I thought he might break a few of my ribs! "Dave, you're the most amazingly awesome guy ever!" He said. We were kissing when his mother called out, announcing that his dad had just returned home.

"I guess this is it, then, big guy," I said as we broke our embrace. "But I'll see you over winter break, right?"

His face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Absolutely!" He said and kissed me again. He was obviously a bit sad, but also excited about heading off to college.

"Dude, in a few weeks you won't even remember me, but you have my phone and email to get you over the hump, so don't be a stranger. Okay?" I planted a kiss on his cheek and he totally smiled!

*     *     *    *    *

My own departure would occur the next day, but that evening Jeremy and I were playing a video game, while Angie and our folks were out shopping for back-to-school stuff. Germ wasn't on his game as evidenced by the fact that I had a serious point advantage. "Dude, what's up? You're seriously losing and that's hardly your M.O." I went back to playing but noticed that his hands weren't even near the controls. I put my controller down and slid closer. "Is something wrong, bro? You're awfully quiet tonight."

He didn't move but the controller slipped off is lap. His head turned away from me before he practically mumbled, "I think I'm gonna miss you bro...and I've sort of been a shithead since know...told the family."

"Hey, I didn't say that stuff to make anyone uncomfortable or unhappy. But I had to say it; I'm sorry you got caught in the middle." I nudged him lightly. "And it's true you've been a shithead at times but I think little brothers are genetically encoded to be that way, so I forgive you. You certainly could have been worse!" He gave me a tiny smile.

"But seriously, Jeremy, you're hardly little anymore so I want to tell you something about high school: Seniors always like to pick on the new kids and some of them might give you shit when they find out you're my brother ‘cause I'm gay. I don't care what they say about me, so don't feel like you have to defend me or anything. I guess you'll have to figure out how to deal with the rest, but keep your cool and don't get into it with them. You just have to be honest, then there's no reason to be afraid. Okay?" Germ nodded.

"Cool. This next part is kind of weird so don't freak out. ‘K?" He gave me an odd look; I took a deep breath. "Bro, I'm a hundred percent serious about this, so just listen. You're already pretty cute." Jeremy started to squirm. "But in another year you're gonna be totally hot!" He was starting to blush again. "I bet lots of girls are already checking you out." He attempted nonchalance but his smile told me I was correct and that he probably liked it. "Just go easy on the girls, okay, bro?" I lightly punched his shoulder and he seemed to relax now that we were talking "guy/girl" stuff. "But what I wanted to say was that it's possible some guy will try to hit on you. It doesn't necessarily mean he thinks you're gay ..." (It was getting messy. I just wanted to be helpful but was possibly confusing Jeremy. Dylan was a perfect, non-threatening example but I couldn't use him since he'd shared that information confidentially. I sighed before continuing.) "Hopefully it'll never happen, but if it does, just be cool. Do like dad does to those salesmen at the door: just say "No thanks." Sorry bro, that was kinda gross, but I'm a bit afraid of you losing it and bashing someone's skull in."

I think he took the last part as a backhanded compliment. "Okay. I promise to stop and think before I trash some loser." He snickered and held up his hand.

"Friends?" I asked.

"Friends!" he confirmed as we bumped fists.

"C'mon. Let's get some ice cream before everyone gets back!"

"Can we take the Camaro?"

"Dude, my scholarship and the dorm deposit will be worthless after dad kills me! Plus, you'd probably be grounded until you're 30, at least!" We both laughed.

"Guess we better take the Jeep."

I put my arm on his shoulder and he did the same as we walked to the garage. Germ ordered three scoops of ice cream with hot fudge and nuts. I ordered a scoop of rocky road and one of mint chip.