NOTICE: This story contains sexually explicit material involving members of the same sex.  If this offends you, or if, for some reason, it is not legal for you to read this, then please leave.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

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Everything's Eventual

by R.H. Lee

Chapter 1:

A New Home


    Sitting in the back seat of a rental car, fifteen year old Ryan Houser watched the cornfields go by as he and his family drove from St. Louis, Missouri to Springfield, Illinois. The occasional cow pasture dotted the passing landscape, and Ryan wondered just what he was going to do in Springfield. His sun bleached brown hair and striking blue eyes looked back at him in the reflection of the window as more and more of the farm land passed by.

    They'd moved from San Dimas, California when his father had found a job in Illinois. Frank Houser had been working as an industrial engineer in San Dimas when the company he'd been working for suddenly closed down. He'd searched and searched for work, but there was nothing for him anywhere near where they'd been living.

    Finally, Frank had found a job that would pay him almost as much as the one he'd lost, and the cost of living in Springfield was considerably lower than it was in San Dimas. Ryan and his little brother, Scott, had stayed behind with their step-mother, Sheila, while their father had flown to Illinois to buy a house and get things ready for them to move.

    Ryan's only worry about moving was that there'd be nothing for him to do in Springfield. He had very few friends to leave behind, and the ones that he'd had weren't close friends. Ryan was a loner in San Dimas, keeping to his music and his writing. He planned to one day be a famous musician or a writer.

    Scott, being two years younger and far more outgoing than Ryan, had a lot of friends to leave behind, and he was very upset about it. He didn't understand how his older brother could be so antisocial all of the time. For him, making friends had always come naturally. He played football and baseball, and everyone, it seemed, was his friend.

    Their father had assured both boys that they would make new friends in Illinois. Ryan accepted this readily, but Scott didn't want to leave the friends that he already had. Emails and letters weren't enough, he'd said, and their father had finally put an end to his ranting by telling him that if he didn't stop, he would be grounded to the house for two whole months, and that meant no sports, no friends of any kind, and no television.

    Like Ryan, Scott had brown hair that was almost flaxen from the sun and the same blue eyes. Both boys looked like their mother, who had died giving birth to Scott thirteen years ago. He was more athletic than Ryan, and his body showed it. Ryan worked out in the garage in San Dimas just like Scott, but he didn't work out as much or have the sports background to help build his muscle mass.

    When they pulled into Springfield, Illinois, both boys looked around at all of the shops and convenience stores that lined both sides of the street. Scott wondered what the school he'd be going to was like, and Ryan wondered what the house he'd be living in would look like. They'd seen pictures of the house online, but Ryan wanted to know what it looked like inside. In truth, he felt a little cheated by the fact that his father had just decided on the house without even asking any of them about what they wanted or thought.

    After driving through countless neighborhoods, they finally pulled into the driveway of a two story white house with clapboard siding and green shutters. The roof looked like slate, but it was the same color as the shutters. The lawn was well manicured, and there was a two car garage attached to the house.

    Once inside the house, Ryan and Scott raced up the stairs to pick their bedrooms. Ryan wanted a big room, because he had more stuff to put in it than Scott had, and he wanted to be away from the rest of the family, so that his keyboards didn't bother anyone. Unfortunately, the two bedrooms that they had to choose from were both identical and right next to each other. Ryan was not happy about that at all.

    Then he noticed another set of stairs at the other end of the long hall way, and he headed for them, hoping for a full sized attic. What he found was more than he'd really hoped for. The attic had a finished room and bathroom as well as a large open area for storage on the other side of the stairs. Ryan couldn't wait to ask if he could have that room.

    "I thought you'd ask for that one," said his father when he got back downstairs. "It's bigger than the master bedroom and on the other side of the house from the rest of the bedrooms. I had already planned on giving you that room, so you can practice your keyboards without disturbing the rest of us too much."

    "Really?" cried Ryan excitedly. "I can have it?"

    "You sure can," said his father, smiling at him. "Help your mom with the stuff in the trunk of the car. Our furniture won't be here for another day or two, so we'll be sleeping on our air mattresses until then."

    When he got outside, he noticed a boy about his age across the street, standing on the front porch of a house that looked a lot like theirs. The roof and shutters were black instead of green, but other than that, the houses were a perfect match. The boy had long brown hair that reached just below the middle of his back, and he appeared to be slightly bigger in size than Ryan, but he couldn't see him very well.

    "Ryan, give me a hand," called Sheila from the driveway. "This stuff weighs a ton!"

    Going to the car, Ryan glanced back one more time, and the other boy was still standing there, watching him intently. He wondered if they would be friends. In San Dimas, all of the kids in the neighborhood were younger than him, and he'd had nothing in common with any of them. It would be nice to have a friend his age that lived across the street.

    After moving the bags and boxes from the trunk into the house and helping to set up all three air mattresses, they piled back into the rental car and headed to a restaurant for dinner. They settled on The Olive Garden and talked about the upcoming days while they ate. Frank Houser told his sons that over the weekend, they'd be shopping for school clothes and supplies.

    "We'll also have to get you both winter coats and warm clothes pretty soon," he said, thinking about the cold Midwest winter that would be upon them before too long. He remembered visiting Chicago for Christmas when he was a boy, and it had been so cold that year that even a winter coat hadn't kept him warm for long.

    "Does it get really cold here?" asked Scott from across the table.

    "You'll see for yourselves in a few months," he said. "Just remember that when I say warmer clothes, I mean thermal underwear and thick socks, too."


    "Someone moved in across the street today," said Jeff Glass to Travis Newman on the telephone. "Missouri plates."

    "Family or couple?" asked Travis.

    "Family," he replied. "Two kids, both boys, and their parents. One is probably our age or older, the other is younger."

    "Did you talk to him?" asked Travis.

    "Nope," he said. "Just watched them pack stuff into the house from the trunk of the car. They left again a little while after that."

    "So, what did he look like?" asked Travis, and Jeff imagined him writing everything down on a piece of paper.

    "I dunno," he said. "Maybe as tall as me, blond hair, tanned."

    "Was he cute?"

    "Pervert!" chuckled Jeff.

    "Don't even try to tell me that you didn't check the guy out," laughed Travis. "I know you better than that."

    "He wasn't ugly," admitted Jeff. "When is Robin supposed to be home?"

    "Changing the subject," laughed Travis. "He must be hot!"

    "You are an ass!" said Jeff.


    The next day, Travis and Jeff sat on Jeff's front porch, watching moving men carry furniture and boxes into the house across the street. They were both silent for a while, waiting to see if the boy that Jeff had seen would come out of the house. They'd seen the younger boy, but there'd been no sign of his brother.

    "Are you sure that the other one was their son?" asked Travis after sitting there for an hour. He hadn't seen a glimpse of the boy that Jeff had talked about on the phone the day before.

    "He looks a lot like the younger one, so I'm sure," said Jeff. He wondered where the boy was, himself. He watched them all walk back into the house last night, and none of them had come out this morning before the moving truck had arrived.

    "Did you see that?" asked Travis, looking at Jeff with wide eyes.

    "What?" he asked, looking from Travis back to the house across the street.

    "Computers," breathed Travis. "A bunch of computer stuff."

    "So?" he said, reminding himself that Travis was becoming an obsessed computer junkie.

    "Nothing," sighed Travis as the older boy finally came out of the house. "That him?"

    "Yeah," said Jeff, and they both fell silent again.


    "All of that goes up to the room in the attic," said Ryan as his keyboards and computer equipment came off the truck. "So do those two desks and that entertainment center." He pointed at the items he was talking about.

    After they had carried most of his stuff into the house without dropping anything, Ryan looked across the street. There was another boy with the one he'd seen the day before. This one had short dark blond hair. They were both wearing shorts and t-shirts, and they were watching him intently. He wondered why they were watching him.

    "Ryan, I've put all of the boxes that I can find with your stuff on one side of the hallway," called Sheila. "You and Scott need to come inside and start carrying your stuff up to your rooms."

    After carrying all of what he thought was his to his room, Ryan started putting his clothes in his closet and chest of drawers. When that was done, he put his bed together and folded the air mattress and put it in the top of his closet. Tackling the big job of putting his computer equipment together, he was careful to keep all of the wires behind his desk, taping them together, so they wouldn't tangle. Next, he put all of his keyboards on their stands and tested each one to make sure that he'd plugged them all in right.

    He was putting his posters on his walls with tacks when his little brother knocked on his door. Scott came in and sat on the bed, watching him put posters of Star Trek, space ships and star charts on the walls of his room. When he was done, he stepped back and admired his work.

    "What did you need?" he asked Scott, turning to face his brother.

    "Can you help me with my bed?" he asked. "I can't do it by myself."

    "No problem," he said. "Has Sheila brought us up any sheets or blankets?"

    "They're all in the hall closet downstairs," said Scott, following his brother down the stairs to the second floor.

    He had Scott's single bed put together in no time. When he was done with that, he helped his brother tear down the empty boxes and carry them down to the garage. Noticing that the car wasn't there, he asked his brother where their parents had gone. Scott told him that they had taken the car back, and were buying another car.

    "Great," he said. "Another decision made without our help."

    "They're coming to inspect the pool tomorrow," said Scott as they walked back into the kitchen and sat at the table. Up until then, neither of them had even thought about the in ground pool in the back yard.

    "The way Dad talks, it'll be cold in no time," said Ryan. "We won't have much time for swimming. Besides, school starts in a little over a week."

    "Ryan, do you think I'll make friends here?" asked Scott, throwing him off guard.

    "I don't think you'll have any trouble with that, Scott," said Ryan. "You always make friends pretty quick."

    "But I don't know anybody here, Ryan," he said. The kid looked pitiful, and Ryan actually felt sorry for him for a change.

    "Neither do I," he said. "But I'm sure we'll meet people when school starts."

    "What about the two boys across the street?" asked Scott. "Have you talked to them?"

    "Nope," he sighed. "They were watching us all day, though."

    "Are you going to hide out in your room all the time like you did in San Dimas?" asked Scott.

    "I don't know," replied Ryan. "It depends on what I find to do outside of my room, I guess."

    "There was plenty to do in San Dimas," reminded Scott.

    "Well, there wasn't much I wanted to do there, Scott," he said. "I didn't have as many friends as you did, and the ones that I did have were only school friends."

    "Is it because people don't like you, because you're gay?" he asked, startling Ryan and nearly making him jump out of his chair.

    "What?" gasped Ryan when he finally found his voice.

    "It's ok, I heard you the night you told Mom and Dad," said Scott. "I don't care about it. It has nothing to do with me, but I know that a lot of kids talk bad about gay people."

    "You heard us talking that night?" he asked, shocked. He'd thought that Scott wasn't even home. Memories of the night that he'd had "the talk" with his father and step-mother flashed through his mind, and again he thought that Scott was out with one friend or another.

    "It's no big deal to me, Ryan," said Scott. "Like I said, I don't care about it one way or another. I just wish that you had friends. You stay in your room all of the time, and you always look sad."

    "Well, no one outside of the house knows about me, Scott," he said. "It was hard enough for me to tell Mom and Dad, and I was so scared of what they'd say or think about me afterward. None of us had planned on telling you for a while."

    "Why not?" he asked. "I'm not a little kid, Ryan, and you aren't the only gay person I've ever known."

    "What?" asked Ryan shocked again. "What other gay people do you know?"

    "My science teacher was a lesbian," he said, shrugging. "And Mr. Miller across the street in San Dimas was gay."

    "And you are ok with all of this?" asked Ryan, still not believing his ears.

    "Like I said before, it doesn't matter to me," said Scott. "What does it have to do with me?"

    "Well, if word got out before I was ready for it, people might be mean to you because your older brother is gay," said Ryan. "Other than that, I don't think it has anything to do with you."

    "Why would they be mean to me, because you are gay?" he asked. "You just said that it has nothing to do with me."

    "Well, people are cruel, Scott," he said. "You should know that by now."

    "Yeah," he said. "Some kids at school in San Dimas were always mean to this one girl, because her family was poor, and she was always dirty and stuff. They said really mean things to her and stuff."

    "You didn't say anything mean to her, did you?" asked Ryan quickly.

    "No!" cried Scott. "Dad would have beat my ass for it!"

    "Well, other than Dad getting mad about it, Scott, there are other reasons not to be mean to people," said Ryan. "You never know what's going on in that person's life, or why they are the way they are. Saying cruel things to people can have a lot of different effects."

    "You've been talking to Mom," he laughed. "She told me almost the same thing a long time ago. But I would never be mean to anyone just because they don't have money or they look a certain way, Ryan. I know better than that."

    "Come on," said Ryan, standing up. "Let's go make our beds and give Mom the thrill of her life!"

    Later that night, after Scott had gone upstairs to play video games, Ryan went into the living room to talk to his parents about what he and Scott had talked about. He hoped they wouldn't get mad at him for Scott knowing about him. It had been their idea not to tell Scott for a while. They'd thought that he might not deal with the news very well.

    "I need to talk to you both about something important," he said, sitting down on the couch next to his step-mother.

    "We're all ears," said his dad, turning off the television and giving Ryan his complete attention. "What's up?"

    "Scott knows that I'm gay, Dad," said Ryan quickly. "I didn't tell him, though, honest. He said he heard us talking about it in California."

    "Well, what did he say about it?" asked Sheila. "Was he upset?"

    "Not at all," said Ryan, smiling. "He said that it really didn't have anything to do with him, and he didn't really care about it one way or another."

    "We had a talk with him about how people treat each other a while back," said Frank. "It wasn't long after you told us you were gay. He had some really good things to say about himself in that regard. He's a very together young man."

    "I just wanted to tell you both that he knows," said Ryan. "He thought that I didn't have many friends because I'm gay, and other kids didn't like me or something."

    "Was that true?" asked Frank. "You didn't have near as many friends as Scott did. I don't think anyone ever came to the door for you, and you rarely ever got phone calls from anyone."

    "No one knew about me," he said. "I was lucky. No one even bothered with me most of the time. For some reason, it was like I was invisible most of the time."

    "Well, you know that if you ever have a problem with someone, you can come to us, Ryan," said Sheila. "At the very least, we'll listen. If the situation calls for it, we'll take action ourselves. We'd never stand for anyone being cruel to you or Scott for any reason."

    The next morning, the entire family headed for the mall to buy school clothes for Ryan and Scott. They shopped for hours and bought so much that Ryan wondered how he was going to fit it all in his closet and dresser. Scott got new sports stuff, and Ryan got more blank CDs for his computer, too. After putting everything in the car, Frank and Sheila set both boys loose with some money and told them to have fun while they shopped for a few things for the new house.

    Ryan headed for the food court to get pizza while Scott went straight for the video arcade to play games. After getting himself a slice of pizza and a soda, Ryan about bumped right into the boy that lived across the street from him.

    "Easy," laughed the other boy. "I don't want to wear your pizza."

    "Sorry," said Ryan. "Guess I wasn't paying attention."

    "Didn't you just move into the house across the street from me?" asked the other boy.

    "Yeah," he said. "I'm Ryan."

    "Jeff," was the other boy's reply. "Hang on, and I'll sit with you."

    "OK," said Ryan.

    "So, where in Missouri did you move from?" asked Jeff when they were seated at a table with their food.

    "We didn't come from Missouri," laughed Ryan. "We rented a car at the airport in St. Louis. My dad sold his car before we left California."

    "California?" said Jeff. "That's where we moved here from!"

    "We lived in San Dimas," said Ryan. "Where did you live?"

    "Near Berkley," replied Jeff. "North."

    "So, how long have you been here?" asked Ryan, thinking he could find out from Jeff just how cold the Illinois winters really were.

    "Almost a year," he said. "My family moved here last October."

    "So how cold does it get in the winter here?" asked Ryan.

    "You better get warm clothes and a good heavy winter coat," laughed Jeff. "I about froze to death last winter."

    "That's what I was afraid of," laughed Ryan.

    "Hey," said Jeff. "Do you like comedy flicks?"

    "Depends on the flick," said Ryan. "I don't pay too much attention to television. I mostly play my keyboards."

    "That stuff was yours?" asked Jeff, wide-eyed.

    "Yeah," said Ryan. "My dad has one computer, but I have three of them. They all hook together and each one does a different thing."

    "I have a computer," laughed Jeff. "I don't know what I'd do with three of them."

    "Well, I use mine mostly for my music and writing," replied Ryan. "I have a digital studio to record tracks as I play them on my keyboards."

    "Cool," said Jeff. "I don't know anything about what you're talking about, but it sounds cool."

    "Thanks." Going out on a limb, he said, "Maybe I'll show you what I was talking about some time."

    "Cool," said Jeff. "I asked about comedies because a few friends are coming over tomorrow to watch some movies with me. If you're not doing anything, why don't you come over?"

    "What time?" asked Ryan.

    "About noon, I guess," said Jeff. "We're all trying to learn to get up before one so school days won't be such a shock. You going to Springfield High?"

    "I doubt it," said Ryan. "My parents think that a better education comes from a private school."

    "Mine too," said Jeff. "I go to Westlake."

    "Never heard of it," replied Ryan.

    "We have to wear blazers and dress pants and shit, but it's a good school," said Jeff. "All of my friends go there."

    "Maybe I'll be going there, too," said Ryan. "Who knows?"

    "Well, I gotta jet," Jeff said, looking at his watch. "Robin gets off work in a few minutes, and she's my ride home. Catch you tomorrow?"

    "I'll see what I can do," said Ryan.

    "Nice meeting you," said Jeff, as he got up.

    "You, too," said Ryan.

    Ryan walked back to the video arcade where he was supposed to meet his family, thinking that maybe he'd made himself a friend. Sure, he'd have to be careful what he said in front of him, but that wouldn't be too difficult. He'd been guarding what he said for years. It was the "few friends" that Jeff had mentioned that bothered Ryan. He was never good with a group of people at the same time.

    Later that night, Ryan sat alone in his room, playing a new piece on his keyboards. He'd been working on some rhythms in California, and now he was trying to put them all together into one song. It sounded pretty good to him, but he'd ask his step-mother what she thought in the morning. It was after midnight, and he was really tired.

    Lying in bed, he thought about inviting Jeff over to swim later the next day. He wondered if they would get to be good friends. He hoped so. It would be nice to finally have a close friend. He hadn't had a close friend since grade school. Peter Banks had been about his best friend. Then his family had moved to Seattle, and Ryan was alone again. He'd never really made any good connections with people after that.

    Sunlight across his face woke him the next day. He silently reminded himself to close the blinds before going to bed later that night. He hated mornings, and looking at the clock beside his bed, he saw that it was, indeed, still morning. It was only nine, and he really didn't want to get up. However, he was the type of person that couldn't go back to sleep after being woke up completely.

    He got up, grabbed a clean pair of shorts and a t-shirt, then headed for his bathroom. After showering, shaving and brushing his teeth, he went downstairs to raid the refrigerator. As usual, Scott was up and sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal.

    "My God!" cried Scott, feigning shock. "You're awake before noon!"

    "Shut up," grumbled Ryan, going to the fridge. "Where are Mom and Dad?"

    "Enrolling us in school," said Scott. "We actually get to go to the same school here."

    "What's the school's name?" asked Ryan, grabbing a bottle of juice from the fridge and eyeing the bacon.

    "Westlake," said Scott before diving into his cereal again. "Another private."

    "That's where Jeff and his friends go," said Ryan as he sat at the table across from Scott.

    "Who is Jeff?" asked Scott.

    "He lives across the street," replied Ryan. "I met him yesterday at the mall."

    "He lives across the street, and you had to go to the mall to meet him?" chuckled Scott.

    "Don't be a pain," said Ryan. "I wasn't just going to walk across the street and introduce myself."

    "Why not? I did," said Scott.

    "To Jeff?"

    "No, to Mark," said Scott, rolling his eyes. "He lives across and up the street a few houses. We're going to play catch later today."

    "I'm supposed to go to Jeff's around noon to watch a movie with him and a few of his friends," said Ryan, thinking that he would actually go. He couldn't expect to make friends if he didn't try.

    "You going to go?" asked Scott.

    "Yeah," said Ryan as someone knocked on the front door. "Why not?"

    "I'll get it," called Scott already out of his seat and in the living room.

    "Who is it?" asked Ryan, not getting up from his chair.

    "It's for you," called Scott on his way back to the kitchen. "I think it's Jeff."

    "Hey," Ryan said when he got to the door. "Scott could have just let you in."

    "No problem," said Jeff. "I wasn't sure if you'd be up yet."

    "I'm not, usually," said Ryan. "Come on in."

    "Thanks," said Jeff. "I just came to tell you that we won't be able to watch movies at my place today. My dad is home today, and he wants to watch a game on television."

    "Baseball?" asked Scott, coming into the living room.

    "Yeah," said Jeff.

    "Cool, what time?"

    "I guess it starts at eleven," said Jeff.

    "Hey, Ryan, do you think it would be ok if Mark came over to watch it with me here?" asked Scott.

    "I don't see why not," said Ryan. "You always had friends over in San Dimas. Why should here be any different?"

    "Just wanted to check, bro," said Scott. "I'm going to go ask him if he wants to."

    "Come on upstairs, Jeff," said Ryan. "I'll show you my room."

    "Cool," Jeff said, following Ryan up the stairs.

    "Wow," said Jeff when they got to the attic. "Your room is all the way up."

    "Yeah, my dad said that this way, I'd have privacy, and my keyboards wouldn't keep everyone awake," replied Ryan, opening his bedroom door. "The rest of the attic is for storage, I guess. There's a room above the garage, too."

    "Cool!" cried Jeff when they walked into the room. "You've got, like, everything in here!"

    "Well, I don't spend much time out of my room," said Ryan, turning to look at the contents of his bedroom.

    Along one wall were his computers and keyboards, across the room was his entertainment center, television, VCR, DVD player and stereo, and next to the entertainment center was his chest of drawers on one side and a small refrigerator on the other side. In the center of the room, against the wall with all of the windows, was his bed and two night stands.

    "You've even got a fridge!" said Jeff. "I had no idea!"

    "I think of this as my own apartment," said Ryan. "I've got my own bathroom. I just don't have outside access or a kitchen."

    "That's your computer?" said Jeff, pointing at the computer equipment.

    "Yeah," chuckled Ryan. "My dad got most of it from his work. He helped me connect them all in a network, and a friend of his taught me how to plug my keyboards into them. Like I told you, I have a digital studio that records what I play as mp3s and let's me burn tracks on disc."

    "Cool, play me something," said Jeff, sitting on the computer chair.

    "What kind of music do you like?" asked Ryan, stepping behind his keyboards and turning them all on. He reached down to turn on his amplifiers and waited for them to buzz.

    "Just play anything," said Jeff. "I don't care."

    Changing some settings, and testing the sound, Ryan played Stairway To Heaven, and the keyboards sounded just like a guitar. When he was done, Jeff sat there blinking at him.

    "That was cool!" said Jeff. "Robin will love your keyboards."

    "Robin?" inquired Ryan. "Your girlfriend?"

    "No," laughed Jeff. "She's just about my best friend. You'll like her, I guarantee it!"

    Getting a bit more brave than he'd ever been before, Ryan said, "We could watch movies here if you want."

    "Cool, you got a phone yet?" asked Jeff. "I could call Robin's cell. She's probably with Travis now."

    "My line isn't connected yet, but you can use the one in the living room," said Ryan, trying to figure out just where his balls came from, offering to have them over.

    "You're going to have your own line?" he asked, stopping in the doorway to look back at Ryan, wide-eyed.

    "Yeah," giggled Ryan. "Why not? I have to have a line for my computers."

    "Man, get cable!" Jeff said.

    "Oh, I'm getting that, too," replied Ryan. "I just need a phone line to fax."


    "Yeah," said Ryan. "I fax music sheets to a school in New York."

    "Dude, you must be way into this music stuff," laughed Jeff.

    "I am," replied Ryan.

    Two hours later, Ryan was answering the door for two more people he didn't know. His parents still weren't home, and Scott and his friend, Mark, were in the living room, drinking soda and watching baseball. Ryan stepped aside to let his two knew visitors inside the house. Robin was just a little shorter than him. She had long, dark red hair, dark eyes, and she was wearing glasses. Travis was at least an inch taller than Ryan with spiked blond hair and grey eyes.

    "I'm Robin," the girl said, taking Ryan's hand. "Jeff says you're cool."

    "Thanks," said Ryan, chuckling. "I'm Ryan, and he says you're cool, too."

    "Thanks," she laughed. "That's Travis."

    "Hey," called Travis.

    "Jeff's upstairs," replied Ryan, nodding at Travis. "I was grabbing some drinks and munchies, wanna help?"

    "Sure," said Travis. He walked over the counter where Ryan had sodas, chips and dip, and grabbed what Ryan indicated.

    "Guys!" said Jeff, bouncing up out of the computer chair when they walked into the room. "Isn't this, like, the coolest room you've ever seen?"

    "It's hella cool," said Robin, setting the sodas in her hand on the card table that Ryan and Jeff had set up for just that purpose. "Keys!"

    "Yeah, you should hear him play!" said Jeff, smiling excitedly as Robin walked over to investigate the keyboards.

    "I want to!" she said, turning and smiling at Ryan. "Do you know any R.E.M.?"

    "Sure," said Ryan, happy to have something in common with them. "Let me see."

    He stepped behind the keyboards and turned everything back on again. He silently counted to four and then started playing Losing My Religion. Robin and Travis were both wide-eyed at first, but then they started smiling. Robin started singing, and by the end of the song, all of them had joined in.

    "That was amazing," said Robin. "How did you get it to sound like every different instrument in the song?"

    "Well, I play that song a lot to warm up," said Ryan. "So most of the other instruments are already programmed. I just hit a few buttons, and they accompany what I'm playing."

    "Which did you play?" she asked.

    "I played the guitar," he replied, smiling at her.

    "That's so cool," she said, smiling back.

    "Let's watch some movies, and then maybe Ryan will play for us some more," said Jeff, noticing that Ryan was a little uncomfortable with all of the attention.

    "What did you bring over?" asked Robin, sitting on the bed beside Travis and turning to face Jeff.

    "We've got Mallrats and Clerks," Jeff said, happily.

    "Clerks first," said Travis.

    "Yeah," said Robin. "I watched Mallrats, like, a week ago."

    "Which one do you want to watch first, Ryan?" asked Jeff, turning to face him.

    "Doesn't matter, really," he replied. "I've got both of them on DVD."

    "Cool," said Jeff. "Do you mind watching them again?"

    Chuckling, Ryan replied, "I love both of them, so I don't mind."

    They watched both movies, but they talked through most of them. Ryan told them that his parents were enrolling him and his brother in Westlake, and all three of his new friends were happy to hear that. In the course of the discussion, Ryan learned that there were three other friends that usually hung out with Jeff, Robin and Travis.

    "Nathaniel is my boyfriend," said Robin. "You'll like him, he's funny."

    "A little hard to take at first, but you'll like him once you get to know him," said Jeff.

    "Yeah, he's a riot," said Travis. "Is he working today?"

    "Yeah," replied Robin. "He gets off work at five."

    "Well, I can't hang that long," said Jeff. "I have to get the grass mowed and I have to clean my room. Mom's really on me about that."

    "Well, I was hoping to have some alone time with Nath, anyway," said Robin.

    "Ryan, what are you doing tonight?" asked Travis.

    "Nothing much," replied Ryan. "Just hanging around here, probably, why?"

    "You want to go hang out at the mall for a while?" he asked. "I really want to get some stuff, but I don't like going by myself."

    "How will we get there?" asked Ryan.

    "I can drop you both off, but you'll have to find a ride home on your own," said Robin.

    "I can always call Rick," laughed Travis. "Don't make it sound like we'll be stuck."

    "You know Rick's getting tired of driving you around, Trav," said Jeff.

    "He'll be alright when he sees Ryan," laughed Travis, and Robin kicked him. "Ow!"

    "What's so special about me?" asked Ryan confused.

    "Don't pay any attention to Travis," said Jeff. "He's crazy."

    "Certifiable!" said Robin, glaring at Travis.

    Soon, Jeff and Robin would be leaving Ryan alone with Travis. Robin had told them both to be ready by four-thirty. She was going to drop them at the mall. She'd also had a private conversation with Travis, and when he'd come back to Ryan's room, he seemed a bit embarrassed. Ryan wondered what was going on, but he thought it would be best if he didn't ask any questions.

    "Dad, this is Robin, Jeff and Travis," said Ryan when the four of them came downstairs. "We were watching movies in my room. Is it alright if I go to the mall with Travis later?"

    Shocked that Ryan had friends over, Frank smiled. "Sure," he said. "What time?"

    "Four-thirty," said Robin. "I'll be back then to drive them out there. A friend will pick them up."

    "Why don't you call me when you're ready to come home, and I'll pick you up at the mall?" asked Frank, shocking Ryan.

    "OK," he said. "Is it alright if Travis stays here until Robin gets back?"

    "Sure," said Frank. He couldn't believe it. He was so happy that Ryan had friends over that he would have consented to just about anything.

    "Thanks," said Ryan, smiling at his father. "Did you get us enrolled?"

    "Enrolled?" asked Frank momentarily confused. "Oh, yes! You both have to attend an orientation next Friday. School starts the following Monday."
    "You can ride with us if you want," said Robin from the doorway. "It'll be either me, Rick or Nath that pick you up."

    "Can my brother ride with us?" Ryan asked quickly, glancing at his father.

    "Sure," said Robin, smiling. "We always take all three cars to school anyway. If I pick up Trav, then Rick picks up Jeff, or Nath does."

    "Thanks, that'd be great," said Ryan, smiling. "Dad?"

    "I don't see a problem," said his father. "You all go to Westlake?"

    "We sure do," said Jeff. "Did they tell you about dress code?"

    "No," said my father. "They mentioned that there was one, but they said that they would discuss it with the boys at orientation."

    "Well, you might want to send $150 with both of them for their jackets," said Robin.

    "They'll also need navy Dockers," said Jeff. "Oh, and white dress shirts, too. Ties are given to us. Three a year."

    "Thanks for the information," said Frank. "I had no idea."

    "Well, they would have sent a note home with them from orientation," said Robin. "But it's better if they can just buy their jackets that night."

    "Well, I have to go," said Jeff. "Dad'll have my butt if the grass isn't cut. Later Ryan. Pleasure, Mr. Houser."

    "The pleasure's mine, Jeff," said Frank.

    "I'm out, too," said Robin. "I've got to get some stuff done before my dad gets home. Mr. Houser, Ryan."

    "Later, Robin," said Travis.


    "Do you think it was a good idea to leave Travis with Ryan?" asked Robin as she and Jeff walked across the street. "He could out all of you."

    "Somehow, I don't think it would matter to Ryan," laughed Jeff. "I don't know what it is about him, but something tells me he's family."

    "You think he's gay?" she asked, stopping to look at her friend.

    "I don't know for sure, but he did seem . . ."

    "Gay," she chuckled.

    "Let's not ask him about it, though," said Jeff. "Somehow, I don't think he'd just answer us. We have to be careful with that one."

    "OK," she said, laughing.