This story is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, dialogue, and plot are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

Dearly Departed

I didn't want to go. There was no obligation for me to show up. No expectations, either. So as I passively studied my appearance in the mirror, I asked myself what I was doing. I was dressed appropriately and all ready to go. What was I doing? I asked the question again.

I must have been staring at the mirror for a long time and repeating the question too loudly in my mind, because I noticed a figure in the open doorway, looking in the bathroom. I didn't bother to turn away from the mirror, but the question I'd been considering for the last bit of eternity was forgotten.

There were footsteps in the room, and then comforting hands on my shoulders. My gaze did not shift from the mirror. I could see Mom beside my reflection. Still I didn't alter my line of sight. I was staring into my own eyes.

"You don't have to go," Mom whispered to me softly. "No one will blame you if you decide to skip this. It's tough for everybody."

Still not changing my position, I thought of what I wanted to say. I hadn't been talking much lately, so the sound of my own voice was strange. It sounded almost as strange as my eyes looked. "I want to go," I managed, relieved I was able to make myself sound slightly convincing. I had to lie every time I opened my mouth to say anything. I didn't see the point in speaking of the numb sensation that I'd been experiencing for more than the last forty-eight hours.

Mom stared at me for a few seconds, concern evident in her every move. She embraced me as effectively as she could from the side and left quietly. It felt good to be touched. But I didn't have any desire to touch back.

Finally dragging myself away from the mirror, I trudged down the stairs and joined my parents in the car. Dad smiled at me, doing his best to be cheerful for my benefit. "You look pretty sharp," he said, and then started the engine.

It was a long, quiet drive. The sun shined brightly, the sky was without a cloud, but the day couldn't have been drearier. We arrived at the funeral home within fifteen minutes. The parking lot was filled already.

Inside, it was as quiet as a funeral should be. We were one of the last people to arrive, but there were a few chairs saved for us in the second row. I refused to meet any of the stares I felt burning into me.

I glued my eyes to the floor with the full intention of keeping my gaze there during the whole service. A few minutes passed, and then in some distant part of my brain I heard the preacher begin the service. Immediately I made a point to study the design on the carpet closely. Things would be fine if I could just shut everything out.

For a long time I successfully did this. But after staring at the floor for a while, my mind started wandering. I panicked and did everything I could to stop it. I hadn't allowed my mind to work for over two days now, and I was scared.

Drew's face pushed its way into my thoughts, and I squeezed my eyes shut in an attempt to make it go away. It didn't work. And my mind wasn't done, either.

"You jump in first. This is your idea."

I looked at Drew incredulously. "My idea? You're the one who said you wanted to go swimming. All I did was tell you where we could find a pool."

There was silence, and I knew he was smiling, even though it was too dark to see. "Fine. I'll go first, but you have to come in right after me."

I agreed and removed my shirt and shorts, shivering as the late night breeze swept across my nearly naked body. Drew cautiously approached the edge of the pool, sticking his foot in. He pulled it back fast. "It's too cold!" he informed me.

"You're just afraid!" I fired back. But I decided to test it out for myself. Walking to where Drew was, I bent over and put my hand in the water. "It's not-"

My head went in the water first as I created an overly loud splash. I resurfaced quickly and grabbed him by his legs, pulling him into the water with me. He had been so busy laughing he wasn't expecting a counter-attack.

I dunked his head under the water several times before I decided we were even. Our laughter had become way too insane, our splashing way too frantic as we wrestled, and lights were turned on in the house.

We noticed this at the same time, and quickly disentangled ourselves. Desperately, we scrambled out of the pool and grabbed our clothes, not bothering to put them on. We ran the whole way back to my house soaking wet in only boxers.

Out of breath, we snuck in the back door and up the stairs to my room. "Here, wear these for tonight," I said, opening up my drawer and tossing him a pair of boxers. Looking at each other for the first time since at the pool, we made eye contact and burst out laughing.

He slipped out of his wet boxers and tossed them aside. Soon my own equally damp boxers were by his, creating a mini pile on the floor. "Don't I look sexy in these?" Drew joked with a devilish tone in his voice.

Now decked out in only my boxers, he modeled himself for me. "Stop teasing me, I'll cum in my underwear," I replied with a grin as I slipped into a dry pair. He made a big deal of adjusting his crotch, getting his package in the right position. "Is your penis comfortable?" I asked with a giggle.

He grinned. "I'll make you suck it," Drew declared, springing on me without warning. We hit the floor hard and rolled around on the carpet, resuming our wrestling match that was interrupted in the pool.

We weren't any quieter in this round. Dad warned us from his room across the hall to keep the noise down. After letting us know he felt we should be sleeping, all was silent again.

We made eye contact once more and shared another laugh. We were lying side by side on the floor, the after-effects of our wrestling competition.

I got up and slid in bed, deciding not to risk further irritating my parents. "You're going to sleep?" he asked me, shocked and offended. "It's only a little after midnight!"

I shrugged. "I don't want to make my parents mad. Next time Dad will actually get out of bed to scold us. He won't be as nice then."

He grinned. "Then we'll be quieter." With that, he leapt on me and began round three. To make the scuffle more interesting, he forced himself under the sheets with me and pinned me against the mattress.

"You're not fighting back," he noted all of a sudden. He was right. I could feel his erection poking my bare stomach, and it was impossible to concentrate on wrestling. He rolled off of me and we sat motionless for a minute, still in bed together.

Again our eyes met, but there was no spontaneous giggling effect this time. We were silent for what seemed like hours. "I'll do yours if you do mine," he said softly.

We stared at each other. It was my turn to grin and state what was next. "You do me first. This is your idea."

I guess I had been crying for a while. The preacher was still talking, and the floor looked the same. I could feel Mom's hand rubbing my right shoulder gently. My sobs were quiet, but so was the room. Everyone could see I was crying.

But it was controlled crying. I felt better having thought of Drew, and I felt better having let something out of my system. I looked up and observed the preacher for the first time. He was a young looking guy with a pleasant face and voice.

I could tell he was wrapping up the service. The burial would be next. After his closing words, he stepped away from the podium and leaned against the wall. The service was unofficially over, but there was one thing left.

As Green Day's "Good Riddance" began as a conclusion to the service, I inhaled sharply and bit my lip. Mom felt my jolt and squeezed my arm tightly. But I wasn't under control anymore. When I started sobbing this time, my shoulders slumped and shook violently.

Drew and I had loved this song. We'd spent hours playing the repetitive but catchy chords on Dad's acoustic guitar. The song was ours. I was unable to block it out. I couldn't block out any of the memories anymore.

My one request for the service had been that they play this song. A few days ago it had seemed like a good idea, and I felt lucky when they approved it. I had suggested it without much hope, not expecting punk music to be allowed at a funeral. But the preacher felt it was a nice message, and a suitable ending to the service. Drew's parents were glad to do something that would make me feel better, so they agreed.

Now as it played, I felt miserable. I wasn't sure who was to blame: me for thinking of it, or them for not rejecting it. The song was roughly only two and a half minutes long, but I barely survived it. As we filed out to go to the burial, I caught Mom's eye and shook my head. She nodded, and the three of us waited behind to talk to Drew's family.

I was still not in a mood for conversation, so Mom and Dad explained to Drew's parents that we wouldn't be attending the latter part of the funeral. I was unable to look at anyone, ashamed that I didn't have the courage to stick it out at my best friend's service.

Reluctantly, I raised my head when I heard my name being said softly. I looked up to see Drew's mom. "Brett, honey, why don't you come by the house later on and see if there's anything of Drew's you want? Some of his stuff might mean something to you, and I'm sure he'd want you to have whatever you desired."

Again I looked down, trying to keep the tears out of my eyes. I nodded and choked out a response that I'd be happy to. She gave me a long hug, and then his dad did the same. "You're still welcome at our house," he whispered to me with a smile. I nodded and backed into my parents, wanting desperately to leave. I did so with Mom on one side and Dad on the other.

Dad parked the car in Drew's driveway and turned off the engine. "Take as long as you need. Nobody's in a hurry today." I nodded, my main action for the day, and walked to the door in my recently well-practiced zombie-like state.

This was familiar terrain. I could have closed my eyes and walked perfectly up the winding stairs that lead to the porch. Not thinking, I opened the door and went in without knocking, as I had done so many times over the years. My mind was working on automatic again.

His parents were sitting in the living room. They did their best to be enthusiastic for me, telling me I was free to take anything that would remind me of Drew, and repeating the bit about how I was always welcome to come by.

I thanked them and started on the path toward Drew's room. Everything seemed so empty. The thud of my shoes on the wooden floor in the hallway was the only sound in the house.

At the last door on the left, I paused and looked in. The door was open, like always. The bed was unmade, like always. I steadied myself with my hand against the doorframe as a wave of dizziness hit me.

Slowly, I stepped in the room, my footsteps now muffled on the carpet. I studied the walls as if I was seeing them for the first time. Three sides of white, and a fourth side painted bright red. I sat down on the foot of the bed and stared at the lone red side.

My eyes swept across the rest of the room. The posters of various bands we both worshipped, the big beanbag modeled after a football, the electric guitar sitting idle against the amp, which would emit no more blaring noise.

I got up and planted myself in the chair at his desk, studying the contents. It was a mess of scattered CD's, random assignments from school, sketches on paper with ragged edges. Absentmindedly, my hand went down to my right ankle and stroked the woven fabric adorning it.

"Anybody home? I don't hear an electric guitar playing." I peeked my head in the doorway and saw Drew lying on his bed with his head propped up on his hands.

His face brightened when he saw me. "What took you so long? Did your rusty bike fall apart on the way?"

I glared at him for making fun of my bike. "I found this on the street," I joked in a deadpan. "You want it?"

Drew laughed and opened his hand. I carefully placed it in his palm, enjoying the brief moment of gentle contact. "How much did you pay for this piece? Twelve cents?" he asked with a warm smile.

I shrugged. "Can't put a price on a thoughtful gift. I think it'd look cool on your ankle. Happy birthday."

He sat down on his bed and tied it around his right ankle, studying the look. "Not bad. It beats that Green Day CD I bought you for your last birthday. I feel like an idiot," he cracked with his best impish grin.

Laughing, I decided to punish him for his disrespect. We grappled around on his bed for an endless amount of time before falling off and running out of energy temporarily.

"You know, Derrick Palmer got a car for his fourteenth birthday. How come you didn't get me one of those?"

He'd worn the ankle bracelet everywhere from then until a few months ago when he'd had his idea.

"You didn't find that on the street, did you?" I inquired, smiling.

"Better. It's been on my ankle for the past six months. You gave it to me when I turned fourteen. Now you're fifteen and you get it back. Then you give it to me when I turn fifteen, and I'll wear it until you're sixteen. We'll switch off each time one of us has a birthday. Get it?" Drew's eyes were sparkling with life as he spoke. He was proud of his plan.

I laughed. "Yeah, I guess. But where's my real present?" I whined with mock irritation.

"I was just getting to that."

"It's not a car, is it?"

"Better. Now it won't take you so long to get to my house when I call you and tell you to come over." He grinned, enjoying my surprise.

"So it is a car. It better be a nice one. I'll be pissed if it doesn't look good."

"Why would you want a car when this is something you can use now? That's why it's better. You don't have to wait another year until you can get your license to make use of it."

"You got me a new bike?"

"I didn't say what I got you. It's not nearly as expensive as the ankle bracelet, I'm afraid. We've been keeping the mystery object in the garage for a week now. Come see." I raced to catch up to Drew, eager to see what awaited us in the garage.

Drew would be fifteen in a little more than four months now. I'd wear the bracelet for both of us. I lied down on the bed, placing my head on his pillow that had been slept on so recently. His scent was still strong on it. The bed was ready for him to return to it. The whole room was.

"Does that sound right?" Drew played a few chords for me to analyze. He looked down at me from his bed. I was sprawled on the beanbag, cooling off from our activities.

"That's pretty close," I answered, not really paying much attention. I wasn't a good enough actor to satisfy him.

He laid the guitar down on the bed. "You're not even listening!" he insisted. With his usual speedy actions, he was literally in my lap on the beanbag, fighting for room. After a brief war he gave up and stayed put on my lap.

"I should have just given you the beanbag as your birthday present."

I smiled widely. "No way. I loved your gifts."

He'd gotten off my lap and was now taking up the other half of the beanbag. We were side by side, firmly pressed against each other. We craned our necks and looked at each other for several minutes, letting the silence comfort us.

I found myself staring in wonder at his lips. They were seductive and only inches away. He repositioned his head, resting it on my right shoulder. His hair was now very near my nose. As much I liked gazing at his lips, his hair smelled sweet, too. "Happy birthday," he purred.

I inhaled the smell of the pillow again, just to make my recollection seem closer to the present reality. Curling up on my side, I buried my nose in the pillow and closed my eyes. I'd slept in this bed beside Drew so many times.

I must have lain there for a while. When I opened my eyes Drew's mom was sitting on the bed beside me, soothingly rubbing my back.

"Is my dad still waiting?" I asked, with a feeling that I'd been asleep for hours.

She shook her head, continuing the back rub. It was really more of a gentle pat. "I came in to make sure you were okay and saw that you had fallen asleep, so I went outside and told your dad we'd bring you home when you were ready."

"I didn't mean to fall asleep," I apologized in a mumble. She quieted me and kept moving her hand on my back. I hated actions like that, but I needed any kind of touch badly. "Would you mind if I slept here tonight?" I asked, surprising myself.

She smiled sadly. "Of course not. You must be exhausted. I'll call your parents and tell them we'll bring you home tomorrow. If you want something to eat just help yourself."

I hadn't faced her during the whole conversation. She was sitting on the side of the bed my back was facing. I felt her hand on my face, gently turning it in her direction. "There's something else I want you to have."

She handed me a picture and let me study it. Lightly kissing me on the forehead, she got up and started to walk out. "If you need anything"

I nodded, not hearing her leave, keeping my eyes on the picture. We were standing next to each other, posing as a duo of a rock band. We each had a guitar in our arms, and our expressions were appropriately exaggerated, as any outrageous punk group knows to look.

For the first time in over two days, I smiled genuinely and slid the picture under the pillow, closing my eyes and easily drifting back to sleep.

Skating in an empty parking lot. Drew laughed as he failed to emulate my complicated move, losing control. I reached out and steadied him so he wouldn't crash to the unforgiving ground.

"I can't do it," he said, still laughing, my hands hugging his chest. "You win. Satisfied?"

"I didn't need you to tell me I'm better. It's not me that almost lost a couple of teeth on the asphalt."

He grinned, freeing himself from my grasp. "Suck it," he said, squeezing his crotch. He took a quick glance at the sky, which was growing dark and dangerous looking. "Let's go home."

We grabbed our skateboards and walked out of the parking lot towards my street. The rain started falling as we crossed over to the road that led to my house.

"We should have gone home five minutes ago. But you had to prove you were as much of a stud as I am," I teased Drew. "Now we'll be soaked."

He shrugged. "What's wrong with getting wet? Does it remind you of the time I pushed you in your neighbor's pool head first?"

Laughing, I shoved him playfully. The rain was coming down hard already. "I'd take you down right now for that remark, but instead I'll just help you humiliate yourself. Race you to the driveway on our skateboards. First one there gets a blow job."

"You're going down. Literally," he giggled. "Start practicing the mouth movements now so you don't bite me this time. I can't afford to lose another inch of my penis." He left me behind, laughing, and I quickly threw my board on the ground to catch him.

Just as I started gaining on him, he found a burst of speed somehow and recaptured first place. He grinned proudly and turned his head to make sure I was still trailing as my driveway approached. Satisfied with the distance, he swooped into the driveway, breaking the tape at the finish line in style.

Or at least he tried. The turn was too sharp, and the slick pavement threw him off the board, causing him to land hard. A few seconds later, I made a smoother turn into the driveway and got off my skateboard, kneeling over to inspect Drew.

"Do I need to call the coroner?" I asked with a smile. He grinned lightly and pushed himself off the ground. He sat in the driveway and analyzed his damages. There was a huge cut on his left knee, and a few other minor scratches on his legs.

"I still won," he said with his grin in place. I laughed and pulled him to his feet. We left our skateboards in the grass and headed for the door.

Inside, I handed him a band-aid for his only serious injury. "Winnie the Pooh. Cute," he smirked. We went into my room and closed the door. Immediately he lunged at me and brought me to the floor with him. The loud bang that sounded throughout the house was a noise my parents were very familiar with. It was okay as long as it wasn't after eleven.

His quick attack had given him the upper hand, and although I actually tried with all my strength to get him off of me, he had me pinned. He held my shoulders down with his knees and tickled my stomach, something I despised greatly.

"Don't forget that deal we had," he cooed, his crotch dangerously close to my face. "I didn't bust my knee for nothing." I was past the point of laughing now, too out of breath to make much of any sound.

I was defenseless to his antics, and he was going to make the best of it. Drew quickly had my shorts around my ankles to further rub things in. He slipped his hand an inch beneath the waistband of my boxers and then pulled back quickly within a second. "Oops, didn't mean to touch you there," he teased.

He repeated this action until he had me completely hard. Once accomplished, he giggled evilly. "Your penis wants to be touched. Want me to touch it? Do you want me to tickle your penis?" he asked in an explosion of high-pitched laughter.

These games amused him greatly. I was at his mercy. "Tickle it, Drew. You know you want to," I dared him.

Not taking the bait, he declined. "No way. Tickle your own penis. Better yet, tickle mine." He eased off me for a second, only to turn himself around to where we were face-to-face. "Wanna?"

We played another staring game in our position. "I don't remember anything about tickling in our bet. Go turn off the light," I commanded mysteriously.

He got up reluctantly and did as I asked. The room was suddenly pitch black, without even a hope of illumination. The door was closed and the blinds covered the windows faithfully. After seemingly forever passed, I quietly tiptoed to the doorway, where I intended to ambush Drew.

When I got there, I realized two things. First, he wasn't at the doorway anymore. Second, it was me that was going to get ambushed. I was right on both counts. A hand darted out from underneath the bed and playfully pulled me to the floor.

I relented and allowed him to pull me under with him. Neither one of us could see anything, so every action was fair game. I knew if I didn't strike first he would have me pinned again, this time in the dark.

Giggling loudly, I groped around in a wild way until my hands connected with flesh. I put my hand around the target and realized it was an ankle. For the first time I noted that Drew was completely silent and unmoving.

Perfect. This time I was going to pin him. It didn't matter if he was just letting me do it. My body ached for revenge. I slid my hand up his entire leg, making sure he didn't wiggle around on me. When my fingers crept up to his waist area he giggled, failing to remain silent any longer.

"You lost your boxers too?" I asked wryly, smiling in the darkness. His scent made me feel incredibly frisky, and I crawled on top of him, bare skin against bare skin, our faces touching.

I felt his gaze directed right at my eyes, and I returned it. "Did you let me win when we were racing earlier?" Drew asked me.

"Nah, you beat me. Your turns still suck, but I couldn't catch you going down the street." I reached down and caressed his wounded knee. "You were fast." My voice was a mere whisper. We were both being deathly quiet now. "I'll go slow," I promised him in a soothing tone.

The pillow was wet when I opened my eyes in the middle of the night. I'd been sleeping for almost twelve hours already, but I still felt tired. The street light outside shone in through the open window, giving the otherwise dark room some lighting.

My eyes studied the surroundings again. This time each object I took in gave me countless memories. The ceiling fan lazily stirred the air throughout the room. I was shivering even with the comforter pulled up all the way. Drew and I always slept together like that.

I reached out and turned the pillow around so I wouldn't have to sleep on the wetness. The picture was still there as I had left it. Gently I picked it up and put it back under the pillow. As soon as my eyes were closed I was asleep again.

I remember gently being woken early in the morning, and dropped off at my house by Drew's mom. She had tears in her eyes as he told me bye, hugging me before I got out. The first thing I did when I stepped inside my house was flop on my bed. I still felt like sleeping until the pain was gone. "Brett, honey?" my mom called as she came in my room. She must have heard me come in.

It almost made me cry to hear her concern for me, but I held back and stared at the wall, lying on my side. I wasn't sure what I wanted. Part of me wanted to be held and rocked like a small child and part of me didn't want anyone to see me like this. I was too far gone to have any clear line of thinking, though. Whether I liked it or not, she approached the bed and sat down. I felt her petting my shoulder. "Alan said he was going to stop by later. He wants to see you. Your dad and I are going to be back at work tomorrow, but if you need anything, Alan will be around. He volunteered to stay."

I said nothing. She had expected that. My mind slowly worked. Alan. My friend. Our friend. He gave Drew and I rides to all the places we ever wanted to go. And he let us do whatever we wanted when we were hanging out with him. He lived not far from Drew. I liked Alan. Now Mom was touching my hair, caressing my face. She only did that when she was extremely worried. Now she was crying again. I slowly focused on her, wanting to say something to make her stop crying. But nothing came to mind, so I just looked at her blankly.

She gave me a kiss on the top of my head and told me we would be okay. "Get some more rest if you want, honey," she said, leaving the room and shutting the door. I realized I had the picture of Drew and I clutched in my hand. Even though I was a walking zombie, I hadn't allowed myself to lose the picture. It was amazing how easily sleep came once more.

A low, comforting voice woke me up. My eyes slowly opened and I saw the tall figure of Alan standing by my bed. I tried to smile and greet him, but all that came out was a soft groan. "Hey, bud. Your parents needed to get out of the house for a bit. It's just you and me." He searched for a chair to sit in and found none. So he shrugged and made himself comfortable on the carpet right by my bed.

Alan didn't act like Mom did. Or like Drew's mom did. He seemed much calmer, but still caring. I felt better around him than anyone else had made me feel so far. I could even talk clearly. "I feel like I'm dying now, too," I said, my voice suddenly back to normal, if a little monotonous.

Alan smiled. He nodded his head. "It does feel that way. Sometimes you hurt so much it feels like there's something physically wrong. And you feel so miserable you just want it to go away. But it doesn't go away as fast as you want, so you end up feeling frustrated and hopeless." I nodded my head in silent agreement, and turned over to face him completely.

"It does go away, though, right?" I knew my eyes were burning into him. I could feel signs of life for the first time in days. But I didn't feel any less pain.

Alan shrugged. "It won't always feel like you can't go on. Eventually you'll realize you can still do the same things you used to do. Sometimes the pain seeps back in and you want to cry about it like what hurt you just happened again. You're always going to feel that hurt. It gets better, but when you feel like crying about it, it helps. And then you go on. And then you'll do something else that triggers a memory, and then you're hit with more pain. So you'll cry again. But you always go on." He stopped and laughed. "And I'm sure you want to hear all of my long speeches. I'll try not to ramble so much ," he apologized.

I hadn't shifted my gaze. But if my stare was making him uncomfortable, he wasn't showing it. He seemed very relaxed. "Do you miss Drew?" I asked him.

"Not as much as you do," Alan said, every word completely sincere. "You guys were so close. The reason I liked having you two around was because you were so cool around each other. I always liked Drew. He thought I was so lucky to be in college. He told me he'd make sure college was a lot of fun for him. The look in his eyes. I could tell he had every intention of you being with him through all that fun."

The thoughtful look frozen on my face, I took in all he said. It confused me a little. "Alan?" I asked. He looked at me, inviting me to fire away. "You're talking a lot." He cracked up, and I managed a weak smile.

"Yeah I am," he agreed. "But you don't have to say anything. Just let me babble and don't worry about responding." I felt a little comfort in that. "Your mom wanted me to try to get you to eat something. It'll make me look really good if she came back and you had eaten. You want to make me look good, right?" he asked, smiling.

I shrugged, and he laughed. "I'm not hungry. It's like I don't care about anything." There. I finally got to say it. I don't care. I don't care about anything but being able to laugh with Drew again.

Alan rose to his feet. "Okay. I'm going to let you be alone now," he said. "But I'm not far away. If you get hungry, or if you just want company, call me. I think I'll just go hang out in your living room." He headed for the door, and then stopped. "I'll come in later to tell you bye when your parents get back. And then I'll be here tomorrow pretty early. I bet you're excited," he grinned, shutting the door behind him as he left.

"Okay," I mumbled. I barely realized I had a goofy grin on my face as I said it. But then it was erased as I was again back asleep.

We loaded our gear in the back of Alan's brand new Suburban. "This is what it's all about, boys," he'd told us when we first saw the shiny black SUV. "Don't you guys wish you could have something this nice as a gift for making it into college?"

Drew tossed his bag into the trunk and shut it, smirking. "When I'm in college," he boasted, "I'll have something much nicer than this." Alan took a threatening step towards Drew. "I mean, when I'm in college, I'll be lucky to have something as nice as this," Drew corrected himself with a giggle. Alan smiled and backed off.

"It's not bad, Alan," I chimed in, climbing into the backseat. It went without saying that Drew got to sit up front with Alan. "But did you buy it with that huge scratch on the side, or did someone hit you?" Alan's eyes widened briefly before my grin gave me away. "I'm kidding!" I pleaded as he reached behind to torture me.

Drew and I waded into the middle of the lake, trying to find an area deep enough to actually do some real swimming. It was getting dark and Alan had long since left us to ourselves and retreated back to our campsite. Suddenly Drew jumped on my back and dunked my head under water. "What the hell?" I demanded, not really angry. I reached for him and missed, and he giggled and scampered away.

I chased him further into the lake, both of us giggling at the slow-footedness of the event. I was only inches away from grabbing onto him, and triumph was near. Then he disappeared. As I continued wading, I suddenly realized why. There was a rapid drop off out of nowhere. I resurfaced quickly and searched for Drew, but it was too dark to see anything for sure. "Drew," I said, thinking he was probably resurfacing fairly near me. "We should probably go back. It's too dark to see. Besides, Alan is probably getting lonely." There was no response.

Calling his name again, I dipped my head under the water once more and searched for him briefly. He didn't appear to be around. I stayed near the point where the drop off had occurred, not wanting to worry about the deeper part. I wasn't sure how deep it got there, but I didn't want to mess with it. As I continued to search around the area, suddenly I realized why Drew had disappeared so abruptly. A particularly slippery rock sent me on a nasty spill, and for a moment I was completely disoriented and hidden in the deep part. When I got back on my feet and popped up above the water again, I was scared.

"Alan!" I screamed, not knowing what else to do. I couldn't find Drew and I was afraid he had somehow run into trouble with the suddenness of the incredible drop off and the slippery rock he might have encountered. He wasn't that good of a swimmer, anyway. And neither was I, for that matter. I could barely see Alan's shadow near the shore. It seemed miles away. "I think Drew might be drowning!" I yelled. Immediately I realized I was probably being a little too dramatic. But at least Alan got the message that he needed to come.

And he got to me faster than I thought was possible. "Was he around here?" he asked, his voice calm but definitely worried. I told him about the rock and the drop off and he went underneath to try to find Drew. I stayed in the shallow part in case Drew resurfaced while he was looking in the deep part. Seemingly hours later, someone resurfaced. But I knew it was Alan, not Drew. "If he's down there, we'll never find him in time," he said, gulping in the air. "You won't believe how deep it gets."

The harsh reality of the words hit me and tears stung my eyes. Now I was sure Drew was gone. Then I felt a tug on my legs. "He's right below me!" I shrieked, my voice high pitched. Alan went underneath once more, and came back up with Drew seconds later. I was surprised to hear laughter. In the voice that could only belong to Drew.

"Would you believe when you slip and fall into deep water when you're least expecting it it's hard to tell which direction is up?" he asked, sounding very much alive. Relief flooded through my body, and I reached in the darkness for Drew, wrapping my arms around him. I pushed my lips into his without thinking. They were cold and wet, but I had felt the need to kiss him. "Jeez, I wasn't gone for that long," he said, laughing. Alan practically carried us both all the way back to the shore. We clung to him and made hardly any effort of our own to do any of the work.

We couldn't keep our hands off each other that night. The three of us had stayed up much later than the swimming incident, talking inside our tent, each in our own sleeping bag. We talked and laughed until it must have been after three in the morning. And then Alan was asleep. Drew scooted closer to me. In unison, without words having been exchanged, we unzipped our sleeping bags and gave each other access to our bodies.

When the casual playing got old, Drew got out of his sleeping bag and crawled on me. We were face to face. We grinned at the closeness. He returned the kiss I had given to him out in the middle of the lake with Alan right there. "Do think he noticed?" Drew asked, referring to the event in the lake. I didn't answer at first. Drew interpreted my silence as me holding out on him, when I was actually considering the possibility for the first time myself. He punched my bare chest lightly. Then he kissed me there. "I think he saw," he offered, now kissing my throat.

I inhaled sharply at the thrill of our actions. He softly kissed my left nipple and I hissed softly, chills spreading through my entire body. "He didn't say anything about it if he saw," I whispered as he kissed my right nipple just as lightly. "But it was pretty dark, and we were all kind of caught up in the moment," I added as he returned to my left nipple, barely touching it with the tip of his tongue. The air made the wet spot feel cold and if my nipples weren't fully erect before, they were now.

He did the same to my right nipple, and I tensed up more so than before, drawing in another sharp breath. He momentarily lifted his face off my chest and made eye contact with me. "But would you care if he had seen?" he asked, kissing me hard on the lips and then pulling back. He rested his head on my chest now, waiting for my answer.

"No," I said, breathing deeply, inhaling the fragrance of his hair. It smelled sweet, like always. The coconut shampoo he used to wash his hair seemed to stay with him at all times. I could feel him smiling against my chest. Then his face was buried against my crotch, only my boxers separating my package from his face.

He took a deep breath from his position and nuzzled me. "Good," he said. I closed my eyes and drifted off to another planet as he slid my boxers down around my ankles. I could feel his hot breath on my penis. His tongue flickered and teased the head, and I grimaced in sheer pleasure. His lips encircled the tip, and he took in another breath.

Alan moved. We froze where we were as Alan's sleeping bag shifted around. "You girls make the most noise," he said loudly. "Quit giggling and go to sleep already. Tomorrow we're going to get up early. So no more making out," he said with a laugh. Then all was silent again. I could hear Drew giggling softly, trying not to be loud about it. He still had my penis partly in his mouth, and the image got me laughing, too.

He brought his head back and pushed my boxers up, climbing back into his sleeping bag. We turned to face each other. After sharing an insider's smile, we were swept away by the power of fatigue.

I awoke screaming. A name. By the time I was entirely awake Alan was already in the room, and I was still screaming. Alan. That's what I had been screaming. How appropriate. He was standing over me, that same look of concern on his face that I'd seen on everyone's face the last few days. I was sick of that look.

"Make it stop," I said, deathly quiet compared to the screaming of before. "I keep dreaming about him. I can't stop dreaming about him." Clearly relieved that I was no longer in a hysterical state, Alan reached down to touch me, and I recoiled at the movement, harshly biting into him with a verbal assault. "Don't! Everyone thinks if they touch me I'll feel better. It's not helping. Nothing's helping. I feel like I died, too, and no one can do anything!" I wailed, noting that familiar look of concern returning to Alan's face. But I was sure he would never try to touch me again.

He sat down on the edge of the bed facing away from me. He sighed, as if of the two of us, he was worse off right now. "Of course no one can help you. All anyone can do is be here for you. You make the decision when you want to start feeling better."

I could feel the heat coming off my cheeks. "Bullshit! I can't control a damn thing!" I stopped for a second, raw emotion pumping in my veins. I wasn't done. "No one understands. You all just think I'll get better in a few days, like I have the fucking flu." To my amazement, I could sense him reaching out to grab me again. "Don't!" I repeated, smacking his arm away this time for emphasis. Then I ran out of complaints, so I said the most obvious, unintelligent complaint I knew. "It's not fair," I finished, beginning to sob now.

Alan regarded me as that of an alien creature for a few seconds as my crying steadily grew worse, and then made a third attempt to handle me. This time I didn't have the energy to stop him. Instead of the usual arm on the shoulder crap, he pulled my entire body up and brought me to him, giving me a full body embrace. I punched his arm in disagreement several times, as hard as I could at first, and then gradually lowered the intensity to that of a tap as my body now shook at an almost convulsive level.

His fingers ran through my hair soothingly and he rocked back and forth. The only thing missing from the standard baby treatment was the humming. As the tears finally stopped, I realized with no small amount of guilt that Alan had known what I needed the most, despite my continual rudeness about it. I looked up at him apologetically, and he gave me that infamous Alan smirk of confidence. But I knew my apology was accepted.

When he sensed I was done, he gently set me back down, and I was now lying on my mattress again. "Did you know about me and Drew?" I asked, ready to back out and withdraw the question if he didn't catch on immediately. To my surprise, he did. Or maybe I shouldn't have been surprised at all by the nod of his head. I felt incredibly relieved. Someone knew about us and still accepted us as friends. "For how long?" I asked out of curiosity.

He didn't even have to think. "The first time Drew ever introduced me to you. You guys were on a different planet when you were around each other, and I knew it was way beyond typical friendship. Plus there was that time we all went swimming," he said, reminding me of the dream I had just woken up from screaming. Of course he had known. I felt stupid.

"I didn't want to think about him at all for the first two days after it happened. And then when I couldn't control that I did my best not to think about that stuff we did together. Now I can't block out any of it. It hurts, Alan. It hurts how clearly I can remember the times we spent together. It's never going to go away, I know it."

His body language seemed to indicate that he agreed with me. "But you're going to be fine," he told me. I believed him. For the first time, I believed I would get better after all. "But first, you've still got a lot of remembering to do. I think when you have all these dreams about Drew, your mind is doing the best it can to cope with his loss. If you try to shut it out there's no way you'll ever heal. And Brett? It's time to start healing."

I sat up and hugged him tightly, feeling more capable than I'd ever felt without Drew in my life. I really believed I could go on. It felt wonderful, even if it was a bittersweet sensation. I yawned as our hug ended, somehow still tired. Alan sensed this and got to his feet.

"Your parents will be home pretty soon," he said. "If you feel like sleeping some more, go ahead. But tomorrow we're getting up out of this mug and doing something," he said with a grin. He loved to talk like a gangster rapper in times of good humor. I smiled with him. "And remember," he said, leaning down close to me, "even if Drew's gone, you still have your hand." He kissed me affectionately on the forehead after his piece of advice was said, grinned, winked, and left, shutting the door behind him. There was only one thing going through my mind; the kiss. It had been just a peck, nothing implying romantic intentions. I looked up at the ceiling, propping my head up on my hands, a very slight grin on my face. It had just been an innocent peck, nothing more.