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.

Comments and criticisms are very much appreciated.  Please email me with any thoughts, rants or praises.  Flames will be ignored, of course, but most emails will gain a response.


Everything's Eventual

by R.H. Lee

Chapter 2:

A Life Less Ordinary


    "So, what did you mean about Rick seeing me earlier, Travis?" asked Ryan when he and Travis were alone in his bedroom.  He noticed that Travis blushed when he asked him, but he really wanted to know.  He was sure that there was something that Jeff and Robin didn't want him to know about.  He thought that they all might share something in particular in common.

    "Oh, nothing," he said.  "I was just trying to be funny."  Travis hoped that Ryan would just drop it.  He wasn't so good at keeping secrets.  He, especially, wasn't good at keeping secrets that he'd already almost let slip.  Everyone knew that he was gay, and he didn't care that they did.  Sure, some of the kids at school gave him a hard time, but Jeff and Rick were always there to help him out when he was in trouble.  He didn't want to out his friends, but it was getting harder and harder to know who he could and couldn't talk to.

    "So, what do you want to do for an hour?" asked Ryan, laughing.  "Robin will be here then."

    "Oh, I don't care," said Travis.  "We could watch music videos or something."

    "Well, cable isn't installed yet," said Ryan.  "So, I can't get MTV or any of the video channels."

    "What do you want to do?" asked Travis.

    "Well, I'm not sure," said Ryan truthfully.  "It's been a very long time since I had a friend over, so I don't really know what to do with one."

    "What do you mean?" asked Travis.

    "Well, I don't know what to do to keep us occupied," said Ryan quickly.

    "No, I meant about not having a friend over in a long time," said Travis.

    "Well, since grade school, I've been kind of a loner," said Ryan suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable.  "I didn't have any real friends."

    "Really? I didn't either after I moved here until I met Jeff and Robin," said Travis.  "I tried to make friends, but most of the kids at school just stayed away from me."

    "Why?" asked Ryan.

    "Well, we moved here from Kansas about two years ago," he said.  "When I got here, I didn't know anyone, and no one really liked me."

    "What's not to like about you?" asked Ryan.

    "Well," said Travis.  Now Travis was the one to feel uncomfortable.  He didn't care who knew that he was gay, but he didn't know if Ryan would be cool about it or not.  He didn't know if he could tell him or not.  He didn't want to be thrown out of the house.  For one thing, he was across town from where he lived.

    "Hey," said Ryan, gripping Travis's shoulder.  "It's ok, man. You can tell me anything."

    Making a quick decision to trust Ryan, Travis blurted, "They didn't like me, because I'm gay."

    The room got quiet, and neither Travis nor Ryan knew what to say after that.  Ryan wanted so badly to tell Travis that he was gay, too, but he was scared.  He didn't want people to know about him yet.  He'd finally made friends, and it felt so good.  He didn't want to lose his friends.  Sure, Travis was gay, and from what he said, everyone knew about it, but that didn't mean that everyone liked it.

    "Jeff and Robin like you, though," he said, looking at the floor.

    Thinking that his worst fear was about to be realized, Travis stood up.  "I can go to Jeff's if you want me to leave. It's alright, Ryan, I understand."

    "Why would I want you to leave?" cried Ryan, standing to face Travis.

    "Because of what I said," replied Travis.  "I understand, Ryan. It's no big deal."

    "What's no big deal, Travis?" asked Ryan confused.  "I don't get it."

    "You don't like me, because I'm gay," said Travis.  Ryan could see the hurt look in his eyes, and he felt like such an idiot.  He was a coward, and he knew it.

    "Travis, I didn't say that," he said.  "All I asked was if Robin and Jeff know."

    "Yes, they know," he replied and stopped himself before he said anything else.  "Look, I should just go."

    "No," said Ryan.  "I don't want you to go. We're going to the mall, right? Robin will be here in half an hour to take us. My dad's going to pick us up. Travis, I like you just fine. Believe me."

    "You do?" he asked, and suddenly, Ryan wasn't so scared anymore.

    "Travis, I'm gay," he said and closed his eyes.  His heart was slamming in his chest, and he felt like he was about to pass out.  He couldn't believe he'd just blurted it like that.

    "Really?" asked Travis, shocked.  "You, too?"

    "Yeah," Ryan tried to chuckle.  "Me, too."

    "Um..." said Travis.

    "I know," laughed Ryan.  "I don't know what to say now, either."

    "Uh, guys," said Scott from the doorway.  "Robin's here, and Dad sent me to get you. Is everything ok?"

    "Everything's fine, Scott," said Ryan.  "We'll be right down."

    "That's ok," said Robin, smiling at him from behind Scott.  "I came up. We have a little bit, I just wanted to come back."

    "Cool," said Ryan, turning his head away from the door and Robin.  "Come on in."

    Suddenly he was very scared.  What had she heard? Had she heard him say that he was gay? Would Travis keep his secret? Had he just screwed everything up?

    "I'll leave you all alone," said Scott.  "Ryan, are you alright?"

    "I'm fine, Scott," said Ryan.

    "OK," said Scott.

    "Well, I guess you two are getting pretty acquainted," said Robin when Scott was going down the stairs.

    "Oh, God," gasped Ryan.  His head felt funny, and his stomach was threatening to expel its contents.  She'd heard him. Of that, there was no doubt.  What was he going to do?

    "Ryan, are you sure you're OK?" asked Robin, grabbing his arm.  "You don't look so good. Sit down."

    "Robin, what did you hear," he asked, turning to face him with the most terrified expression.

    "Oh, Ryan!" she gasped.  "It's ok. Sit down, and let's talk."

    "Here," said Travis, holding out a can of soda.  "Drink something."

    "What did you hear?" he repeated still looking at Robin like a deer caught in headlights.

    "I heard you tell Travis that you're gay," she said, confirming his very worst fears.  "But don't be so upset, Ryan, please? Travis didn't tell you everything, I take it."

    "But you told me not to!" cried Travis.

    "What are you talking about?" cried Ryan near hysterics.  His eyes darted from Travis, to Robin, and back again.

    "You have nothing to worry about," she said.  "Me, Jeff, Travis, Nathaniel, we're all different. That's why we're all friends. You're going to fit right in!"

    "What do you mean?" he asked.

    "Well, I probably shouldn't say this, but Jeff is gay, too," she said, looking at Travis and silently asking him not to say anything until she was done.  "I'm bisexual and so is my boyfriend. I can tell you that, because Nath wouldn't care. Jeff is the one I'm worried about."

    "All of you?" asked Ryan stunned.  He couldn't believe it.

    "Yeah," she laughed.  "It's like we have a club, or something."

    "What do you mean?" he asked.

    "Well, almost all of us moved here from somewhere else, and we all met, because we were a little nervous about being new," she said.  "And it turned out that we had much more in common than just being new."

    Travis started laughing, and she glared at him until he stopped.  She didn't want to say anything about Rick or Nathan without them there.  Jeff hadn't even mentioned Nathan to Ryan, yet, so she wanted to talk to both Nathan and Jeff before she said another word about them.  Then, as if thinking about him summoned him, Jeff was standing in the doorway.

    "Hey," he said.  "I saw Robin come back, and my chores are done, so I thought I'd come and see if I could hitch a ride to the mall with you guys. What's going on? Why do you all look so strange?"

    "Jeff," said Robin quickly.  She stood up and faced him.  "I'm afraid I kind of told something about you that I shouldn't have."

    Seeing the look on Robin's face, and immediately understanding her meaning, Jeff got ready to explode.  He couldn't believe that she would betray him like that.  How could she?

    "Calm down, Jeff," said Travis.  "It's alright."

    "What do you mean?" he asked, glaring at Travis.

    "I'm gay, too," said Ryan, startling Jeff.

    "Before I even knew what I was saying," said Robin.  "He was so upset, Jeff. He thought that we wouldn't like him, because he's gay, and I just . . ."

    "How did you find out?" he asked Robin.

    "I came back early, and Scott brought me upstairs," she said.  "We were about to say something when Ryan told Travis that he's gay. Then, he saw me, and he got . . . I don't know, like panicked."

    "Dude, its ok," said Jeff, tapping Ryan on the shoulder.  "Welcome to the group."

    "See? I told you it was like a club," laughed Robin.

    "Exactly what all did you tell him, Robin?" asked Jeff.

    "I told him about you, me and Nath," she said.  "I didn't say anything else, I swear."

    "Well, he might as well know about Nathan, now," laughed Jeff.  "I was going to invite Nathan over tomorrow and see if Ryan wanted to hang out and tell him then, but now's as good a time as any, I guess."

    "That's right!" cried Travis.  "Nathan gets ungrounded tomorrow!"

    "Yes, he does," said Jeff.  "And I'm going to rip him a new one for getting grounded for a week!"

    "Who is Nathan?" asked Ryan.  His head was still spinning from all of this, and he still couldn't believe it.  Was Springfield, Illinois the center of the gay universe?

    "He's my boyfriend," said Jeff.  "You'll meet him tomorrow."

    "Speaking of boyfriends," said Robin.  "Mine gets off work in twenty, so if you boys want a ride to the mall, you'd better get ready to go!"

    All the way to the mall, Ryan was silent while his new friends chatted and laughed.  He listened to what they were saying, and he thought about everything that had been said already.  He'd come out to his parents almost six months ago, and he'd vowed that he'd tell no one until after high school.  Now he'd told three people, and he was still in high school.  A sophomore, to be exact.  He still had two whole years to go before he was scheduled to come out of the closet.

    "You're awful quiet, Ryan," said Jeff as they got out of the car and told Robin they'd see her tomorrow.  "You all right?"

    "I'm fine," he replied.  "Just getting used to this."

    "Look," said Jeff.  "You don't have to feel any different around us. Just be yourself, Ryan. We like you for who you are, not what you are. Let us be your friends, and we'll never let you down."

    "You guys don't even know me," he replied, looking down at his feet.  "Why do you want to be my friend?"

    "Because, from what I've gotten to know of you, you are cool," said Jeff.  "It'll be ok. Believe me. I know how hard it is to come out to anyone. You should have seen me when I decided to tell Robin! I was a basket case. I know where you're at, man. I really do. Don't push us away just because we know now. Just be our friend."

    "Who's hungry?" asked Travis as they walked into the mall.  "I am starving!"

    "What else is new?" asked Jeff, laughing at his friend.  "Food court?"

    "Yeah, but not McDonald's, please," said Travis holding his stomach.

    "What about you, Ryan?" asked Jeff.  "Hungry?"

    "A little," he said.  "But I agree with Travis. No McDonald's."

    "Alright," chuckled Jeff. "Let's go upstairs to the food court. I'm sure there's something there you'll like."

    They stopped at the Mandarin Express and each got a different meal.  Ryan sampled the Sesame Chicken and loved it, so he ordered that.  He watched as Jeff ordered the tofu plate.  Ryan looked at him in surprise.

    "I'm a vegetarian," Jeff said with a laugh.

    That was when Ryan saw him for the very first time.

    He was about a few inches shorter than Ryan with dark hair that was almost black and cut very short.  He could see from a mile away that his eyes were as dark as his hair.  His face was longish and angular.  It had a chiseled look to it, and his eyes had an almost haunted quality. He was dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans, and he was headed straight for them.  Ryan's breath caught as he watched him walk, and for a few seconds, they made eye contact, and Ryan thought he would never breathe again.

    "Rick!" cried Jeff, startling Ryan and causing him to take a deep breath.  "Where did you come from?"

    "I've been here for a few hours," he said.  "Who's your friend?"

    "Oh!" laughed Jeff.  "Ryan Houser, this is Rick Preston. Rick, meet Ryan Houser from San Dimas, California."

    "Bringing reinforcements from the home state, Jeff?" chuckled Rick.  "Nice to meet you, Ryan. What brings you to Illinois?"

    "My father found a job here," said Ryan, staring at Rick.  "We moved here a few days ago."

    "He's going to be joining us at Westlake, too!" cried Travis.

    "That's cool," said Rick, sitting across from Ryan.  "Sorry to hear that you had to move here from California, though, Ryan."

    Jeff could see the way that Rick and Ryan were looking at each other, and he thought it was great.  Travis had been right about Ryan being Rick's type, and Jeff could see that Rick was Ryan's type.  The two of them didn't take their eyes off each other for more than two seconds the entire time they were sitting in the food court.  Jeff thought it would be great if they got together.

    "You said you were here for a few hours?" asked Travis.

    "Yeah, I'm supposed to be looking for something for my little sister's birthday," he said.  "I don't know what to buy for her."

    "Get her a CD and a poster," said Jeff between bites of his tofu and steamed rice.

    "I get her that every year," said Rick.  "I want to get something different this year."

    "Like what?" asked Travis.

    "I don't know," he said.  "She'll be thirteen this year, and I want to get her something nice."

    Ryan loved the sound of Rick's voice.  He loved his eyes, his smile, and he loved the way his Adam's Apple bounced when he talked.  He couldn't take his eyes off of Rick.  His heart was beating faster, and his palms were sweating.  He'd seen good looking boys before, but Rick was way more than good looking.  Ryan couldn't believe he was sitting there, looking back at him.

    "I don't know what to buy for a thirteen year old girl," said Jeff.

    "What about you?" Rick asked Ryan.  "What do you think I should get her?"

    "Girls like jewelry," Ryan breathed.  "Get her a necklace; something nice, but not too expensive. She's thirteen, and an expensive necklace would be more of a heartbreak if it got lost."

    "That's a good idea," said Rick, smiling at him.  "Think you could help me look for one when you're done eating?"

    "Sure," Ryan said, suddenly realizing that he hadn't taken a single bit of his food since Rick had sat down.

    Jeff couldn't help smiling at them.  It was great! Rick had been lonely for a while, and Ryan was just what he needed.  He only hoped that Rick would be good for Ryan.  He didn't know for sure, but he suspected that Ryan had never had a boyfriend.  Rick had had one, but that was before Jeff had moved to Illinois.

    Rick Preston was born and raised in Springfield.  He was the first person in Springfield that Jeff had come out to.  The two had gotten to know each other, and they were getting pretty close.  Rick was sort of a loner at school, and Jeff was new, so Rick took pity on him and talked to him.  They sat together every day at lunch, and pretty soon, their lunch group started to grow.  First Robin, then Travis, Nathaniel and Nathan moved to Springfield from various parts of the country and, in Nathan and Nathaniel's cases, the world.

    "I'll go help Travis find a pair of shoes for school," said Jeff as they all put their trash in a waste can.  "You and Ryan can go hunt for a birthday gift, and we'll meet you in center court in thirty."

    "Sounds cool," said Rick.  "See you boys in half an hour."

    "Not if we see you first!" laughed Travis as Jeff nearly dragged him away.

    "So tell me about yourself, Ryan," said Rick as they were riding down the escalator.

    "Well, I moved here from California with my dad, step-mother and younger brother," he said.  "I play keyboards, and I guess I'm pretty good. I like to write stories, but I never let anyone read them, and I love music and Kevin Smith movies."

    "Very cool," said Rick.  "You said you play keyboards? As in electric pianos and synthesizers?"

    "Yeah," he replied.  "My dad bought me a really great keyboard when I was eleven, and I took lessons for a few years, but I can pretty much play by ear. Then my step-mother bought me another, much larger, keyboard with more features, and my keyboards began to grow. Now, I have six of them, two amps and they're all hooked into three different computers that are networked, and I have a digital studio that lets me record music on my computer that I compose, and then I can burn it to CD."

    "Very cool," said Rick.  "I play drums, and I think I'm pretty good, too. My mom bought me my first set of drums when I was eight, just after my father died, and I've been playing ever since. Like you, I can play by ear, but I've also had lessons. I can pick the beat out of just about any song and replicate it on my drums."

    "Nice," said Ryan.  "Sorry to hear about your dad. My mom died when I was two."

    "That sucks," said Rick.  "Sorry to hear it."

    "I don't really remember her," said Ryan.  "Sheila, my step-mom, married my dad when I was six, so she's been my mother practically my whole life. My younger brother considers her his mother."

    "That's cool," he said.  "How old is your younger brother?"

    "Scott is thirteen," replied Ryan.  "He's into football, baseball . . . any sport really. He'll be going to Westlake with us, too."

    "Cool, so will my sister, Beth," said Rick.  "She's about as girly as they get, but she likes to play softball in the summer. Maybe she and your brother will be friends."

    "That'd be cool," replied Ryan.  "So, where do you want to look for that gift?"

    "Oh, right," chuckled Rick.  "How about Kay's?"

    "Sounds fine with me," said Ryan.  "Lead the way."


    "Did you see the way that those two were looking at each other?" asked Jeff when Rick and Ryan walked away.

    "I did," laughed Travis.  "And I told you that once Rick saw Ryan it would all be over!"

    "Yes, you did," replied Jeff.  "But I had no idea that Ryan would be stuck on Rick, too!"

    "Why not? Rick is very cute!" said Travis.

    "Well, yes, he is, but Ryan's just coming out," said Jeff.  "I don't know how long he's had to deal with his sexuality, but I got the impression that he was kind of skittish about it."

    "Yeah," said Travis.  "But Rick sure seemed to cure him of any fears he had about it."

    "Maybe," said Jeff.  "I hope they get together."

    "Come on!" cried Travis.  "You know they will. Admit it."

    "I don't know," said Jeff.   "I thought that you and Rick would get together, and you didn't."

    "You thought that me and Rick would get together?" laughed Travis.  "Why?"

    "Well, you two seemed to be getting close for a while, then you just kinda started goofing on each other," Jeff replied.

    "I'm not his type, Jeff," said Travis.  "Ryan is definitely his type, though. You watch, Ryan and Rick will be together by Labor Day."

    "Now we just need to find you a boyfriend," chuckled Jeff.

    "No," said Travis.  "I'm just fine without one. Believe me! I can barely afford myself!"

    Laughing, the two stepped off the escalator and began to search for Travis's new shoes.


    "So, tell me more about San Dimas," said Rick as he and Ryan browsed necklaces at Kay Jewelers.  "What was it like there?"

    "Well, it was usually warm, very sunny, and extremely boring for me," said Ryan, remembering all the times he'd watched everyone at school divide off into groups of friends with the same interests and goals.  He'd had no one, and he didn't want to even think about it anymore.

    "Why do you say that?" asked Rick.

    "Well, in California, I was basically a loner," said Ryan.  "I didn't really have any friends to hang out with, so I just stuck to myself and kept my nose in a book. I didn't play sports like Scott, so I didn't have team mates to hang out with, and I wasn't exactly in band anymore, so there were none of those guys to hang with, either."

    "Sounds like you were lonely," said Rick.  "Everyone needs friends, Ryan."

    "Well, yes, I guess you're right," he agreed.  "And now, I think I have a few."

    "Jeff, Robin and Travis are a great bunch," laughed Rick.  "Have you met Nathan or Nathaniel yet?"

    "Nope, Robin is somewhere with Nathaniel right now, I think, and isn't Nathan grounded or something?" he asked.

    "Right," chuckled Rick.  "He should be making parole soon, though."

    "That's what Jeff said," laughed Ryan.

    "Well, let me tell you a little bit about both of them, then," said Rick.  "Nathan is a wild one. He loves to make jokes and keep people laughing.  Nathaniel . . . Well, you have to take Nathaniel with a grain of salt. Thinking before he speaks is something that Nathaniel often refuses to do. He's a good guy, though. You'll like him, if you give him a chance."

    "Don't you feel like the odd man out?" asked Ryan.  "I mean, you've lived here all of your life, and each one of us moved here from somewhere else."

    "Well, like you, I didn't have a lot of friends before these guys came along, either," said Rick.  "I had one or two school friends that I hung out with at school from time to time, but no real friends."

    "I know that feeling really well," said Ryan, finding a gold heart-shaped locket with a tiny diamond in it.  "How about that one?"

    "Let's ask about it," said Rick, grinning at him.  "As long as it isn't more than $125, I can get it for her."

    "Well, we did say something not so expensive," Ryan reminded him.

    "Yeah, but she'd love this one, and she can wear it only on special occasions or something," replied Rick.

    As it turned out, the necklace cost much less than what Rick had thought, and he bought it.  Then the two went across center court and got a soda and pretzel.  They stayed around center court, waiting for Jeff and Travis to come downstairs.  Rick knew that they would be a while.  He knew how much of a big deal shopping for shoes could be to Travis.

    "So what kinds of music do you like, Ryan?" asked Rick, after they'd both finished their pretzels.

    "Well, I'm eclectic, I guess," he said.  "I like just about anything, but I can't stomach much rap, and I'm only recently learning an appreciation for opera."

    Rick chuckled, "Well, I can agree with you on rap music, but opera isn't my thing at all. I don't like country music, much, either."

    "Well, if you want to know what the easiest genre is for me to play, that would have to be techno," said Ryan.  "I have a really great keyboard system at home, and I can make or reproduce just about any sound that you can think of.  Techno music is really nothing more than synthesizers anyway."

    "True," agreed Rick.  "I have an electronic drum set that's fairly easy to assemble and disassemble. If you'd like, I could bring it over to your house some time, and we could see what we could come up with together."

    "Sounds like a plan to me," said Ryan, smiling.  "Any time before school starts. I don't know what Dad will be like once we get back to school."

    "Yeah, summer is getting away from us, isn't it?" offered Rick.  "I wish we had a little longer before school starts again."

    "I'm actually kind of looking forward to school," said Ryan.  "From what I read in the literature that my dad brought home, I think it might actually be a good school."

    "Oh, it's a good school," laughed Rick.  "My problem is just that it is a school."

    The two were quiet for a while.  As they watched the people coming and going through the mall, Ryan wondered about Rick.  Was he gay? His mind told him that he had to be, because he was hanging out with Jeff, Travis and Robin.  Then he thought that he was being stupid.  Hanging out with gay people didn't mean that you were gay at all.  He liked Rick.  That much was obvious.  He just didn't know how much he should like Rick.

    It had been a very strange day for Ryan, and he started to think about the fact that all of his new friends now knew that he was gay.  First of all, he was still reeling over the fact that he had friends to begin with.  He'd been without them for so long that he'd been used to being alone all of the time.  He knew that it was going to take some getting used to when someone called on the telephone or knocked on the door, and it was him they wanted to talk to.  That would be strange enough, but they also knew that he was gay.  He didn't know if he should be more comfortable with them all or more nervous.

    With Rick, it wasn't like that.  He was sure that Rick probably thought he was gay, but he really didn't know yet.  But even if he did know, somehow, Ryan didn't think it would matter to him.  He liked Rick, there was no denying that.  He wanted to get to know Rick better, and he was trying to figure out how to do that without seeming too interested in him.  Music seemed to be a good way, but how much could they discuss about music? Most of that would actually be playing, and when he played, Ryan never talked to anyone.

    Rick wondered why Ryan was being so quiet.  He also wondered when Jeff and Travis had met him, and why hadn't they at least told him that they had.  He liked Ryan.  That much, he was sure of.  There was something about him that worried Rick, though.  It was like Ryan was holding something back.  He wondered if it was something that he should be concerned about, or was it just that he didn't know him well enough yet? He decided that he would figure it out.

    He hoped that Ryan was gay.  Being in the company of two gay friends didn't make you "one of them."  He knew that very well.  Robin and Nathaniel had been a complete mystery to him for a while.  He was convinced that Robin was straight when they met.  Partly because she kept talking about how cute she thought this or that boy was, and, of course, there was also the fact that Rick knew no lesbians.  When she'd talked about a girlfriend in Texas, at first, Rick had thought that she simply meant a best friend.  Then when he'd overheard Robin and Jeff talking about why Robin and her girlfriend had broken things off, Rick was even more confused.

    Just when he thought that Robin was actually a lesbian, Nathaniel had arrived.  Now that was a tricky subject for a while.  Rick and Nathaniel didn't quite hit it off at first.  Rick found Nathaniel to be rude and perhaps too blunt.  It took a little one on one time with the guy for Rick to figure out that Nathaniel was a good guy that just always said what was on his mind.  Nathaniel didn't polish his statements for anyone.  In a way, Rick admired him for it.

    Nathaniel turned out to be an even bigger mystery for Rick than Robin had been.  When Nathaniel had first showed up at school, Rick automatically thought that he was gay.  He noticed a few lingering glances in the wrong places, and Nathaniel said a few things that encouraged Rick's thoughts.  Then he was with Robin.  That happened quite behind Rick's back.  Not that he'd expected to be kept up to date on all of his friends' romances or relationships.  It simply happened without Rick noticing any of the clues that it was going to happen.  Nathaniel was driving Robin and Travis to school, and then Robin got her own car, and Nathaniel had said that it would be so weird not having her sitting beside him every morning when he went to school.  The next thing Rick knew, they were kissing right there in the quad!

    It had taken Jeff to explain it all to Rick back then.  As always, Jeff was the one to go to when you didn't understand something about the friends you shared with him.  Jeff just seemed to have something that made it easy for all of them to bare their souls to him at any given time.  Rick knew that he and Jeff had gotten into some very powerful conversations about things that were very important to Rick at times, and he loved Jeff for that.

    Then Nathan moved to their lunch table.  Now, that wasn't too hard for Rick to figure out.  Nathan and Jeff barely ever took their eyes off each other, even before they were an official item.  Of all of his friends, Nathan was the one that Rick thought was the easiest to get along with.  With Nathan, you always knew exactly where you stood.  His boundaries were very clearly set, and if you crossed one of them, Nathan was never too shy or afraid to tell you so.  Rick liked that about him.

    Travis was the easiest to get along with at any given time.  He was always in a good mood, and he loved to be the one to cheer you up when you were down.  Rick and Travis had always found it easy to be in each other's company.  Rick knew that Jeff and Robin had hoped that he and Travis would end up liking each other more, but that just wasn't going to happen.  Rick liked Travis a lot, but he just wasn't the kind of guy that Rick could see himself being intimate with.  He liked their friendship too much to test the waters, anyway.

    "There you two are," laughed Travis as he and Jeff came up to them.  "We were looking for you. You said center court."

    "Well, we are still in center court, kind of," said Rick.  "We're just a little off to one side. Did you get shoes?"

    "He got shoes, all right," chuckled Jeff.  "First he couldn't decide between two pairs, then, thinking that I was helping, I suggested a different pair. Wrong move! He bought all three pairs!"

    "There are five days in every school week, Jeff," said Travis quickly.  "I can wear different shoes on any of those five days."

    "Let's not forget weekends, dances and social events," laughed Rick.

    "OH NO!" cried Travis, looking at Jeff.  "I didn't even think about that!"

    Chuckling, Jeff said, "Another time, Trav. It's almost nine now. We have to call Ryan's dad and get home."

    "I can give you guys a lift," said Rick, thinking that this would be the perfect way for him to find out where Ryan lived.

    "Cool," said Jeff.  "Let's go."

    Later that night, after being dropped off at home, Ryan thought about the day's events and all of his new friends.  Travis was supposed to come over the next day to hang out.  The cable would be hooked up, so Ryan thought they could watch videos, or they could swim in the newly filled pool.  He didn't know what else there was to do.  They were coming to install the cable internet modem and router, so Ryan thought they could surf the net if they got too bored.

    He liked Travis.  Travis seemed to be a little flamboyant, but Ryan didn't really care.  At least he could call him a friend.  He wasn't really all that worried about the first day of school now, because he knew that there would be at least four people there that he knew.  If he got to meet Nathan and Nathaniel, then there would be six.  Never before had he ever looked forward to the first day of school.

    He wondered just what Nathaniel would be like when he met him.  He'd been told to take Nathaniel with a grain of salt, and that he'd really like him if he gave him a chance.  Were they all worried about something that Nathaniel would say to him? Or were they worried that Ryan would just simply not like him? He'd find out soon enough, he was sure.

    Ryan really liked Jeff, so he was sure that he'd like Nathan, too.  Jeff had said something about introducing them the next day, so Ryan figured he'd find out then.  He wasn't worried about meeting Nathan for the first time.  With that thought, Ryan was amazed that he wasn't so worried.  He couldn't believe that he'd been so upset about leaving California.  Being in Illinois for as little time as he had been, he now had four friends, and with any luck, he'd have two more in a few days.  That was six friends that he didn't have in California.  That was the last thought he had before drifting off to sleep.

    He woke up to the sound of Scott pounding on his bedroom door.  "Wake up!" cried his little brother, and Ryan moaned.

    "What?" he called through the closed door.  He glanced at the clock on his night stand and saw that it was only ten o'clock.  Cursing his brother for waking him up so early, Ryan got out of bed and padded to the door.

    "Travis is downstairs talking to Mom," said Scott when Ryan opened the door.  "You gonna get up? Or are you going to leave your friend with Mom?"

    "I'll be downstairs as soon as I make my bed and get changed," he yawned.  "Tell him to please wait for a few minutes."

    After making his bed, he slipped on a pair of shorts and, without thinking, he put on the Hawaiian style t-shirt that Scott had got him for his birthday.  He'd sworn he'd never wear that shirt when he'd unwrapped it, and Scott just giggled insanely at him.  Now, he had it on, and he walked down to the living room where Travis was sitting with his mom.

    "Hey!" cried Travis, smiling at him when he entered the living room.

    "Good morning," he said.  "I'm going to grab some breakfast, you hungry?"

    "Nope," said Travis.  "I ate before my mom dropped me off."

    "OK," said Ryan, walking out of the room toward the kitchen as he heard someone knocking on the door.  He made a detour to the front door and opened it to see Jeff and another boy he didn't know.  He thought it must be Nathan.

    "Bitchin shirt," said Jeff, smiling at him.

    Looking down at himself and almost dying from embarrassment, he noticed for the first time just which shirt he was wearing.  Instead of just running away, he thought about what Jeff said and giggled.  "Yeah, it's pretty loud, isn't it?"

    "Don't start the surfer speak again," moaned the other boy.

    "Ha!" laughed Jeff.  "Ryan, this is Nathan. Nathan, this is Ryan Houser."

    "Pleasure," said Nathan as Ryan shook his hand.

    "Come on in, guys, Travis is in the living room with my mom, and I'm going to get something to eat."

    "Ryan, did you remember to pull your computers out, so they can get behind them?" called Sheila as Ryan passed the living room.  "They'll be here any time to install your cable."

    "I did that before I went to sleep," he called back.  He went to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of juice and a bagel.

    "What do you boys have planned for today?" asked Sheila when Ryan came back to the living room.

    "I don't know," said Ryan.  "I hadn't thought that far ahead."

    "Excuse Ryan while he actually wakes up," laughed Sheila.  "He'll be thinking coherently in a few minutes."

    "Yeah, the bagel will help," said Ryan, sitting down on the couch between Travis and his mom.  "Did any of you bring swimming trunks?"

    "I can go across the street and get a pair," said Jeff.  "Nathan, you have some at my house still."

    "I didn't bring any," said Travis.  "I didn't even think about the pool."

    "Well, you look to be about the same size as Scott, so if he doesn't mind, you can borrow a pair," said Sheila.  "What do you say, Scott?"

    "Sure," replied Scott.  "I have more than one pair, and I'm going to Mark's to play Playstation, anyway."

    "Well, then that's settled," said Sheila, smiling.  "Just don't get too loud. We don't want to alienate the neighbors just yet."

    About a half an hour later, they were all in Ryan's back yard, swimming and horsing around in the pool.  Jeff and Nathan were trying to dunk each other, and Ryan and Travis were splashing each other.  Ryan was having a good time.  He hadn't said more than a few words to Nathan, yet, but he supposed that they would talk whenever they talked.

    "Hey, Ryan," said Jeff, swimming over to where Ryan and Travis were practically throwing water at each other.  "What did you think of Rick?"

    "He was nice," laughed Ryan just before Travis splashed him again.  "He's going to bring his drums over, and we're going to jam one of these days."

    "He sure seemed to like you!" laughed Travis, and Jeff splashed him to shut him up.  "Well, he did."

    "Is Rick gay?" asked Ryan, looking from Jeff to Travis and back again.  He didn't know why Robin and Jeff kept trying to silence Travis.

    "Well, that's really a question you should ask him yourself," said Jeff.  "Kind of a personal question."

    "Sorry," said Ryan.  "I just don't think I can walk up to him and ask that question."

    "Well, it won't be hard for you to figure out once we all start hanging together," said Travis, and Ryan thought Jeff was going to splash him again.  He didn't, though.

    "Robin invited us all over to her house next Friday after your orientation at school," said Jeff.  "Her dad is letting her have a barbeque."

    "OK," said Ryan.  "I'll ask my parents, and make sure I can go."

    "He's letting us hang out over there?" asked Travis clearly shocked.  "I thought he didn't really like us."

    "Well, he isn't really sure about us, but Robin said that he told her it was ok for Friday," said Jeff.

    "So we're all going to be there?" asked Nathan, coming up behind Jeff.

    "As far as I know," replied Jeff.  "Ryan just has to clear it with his parents, and I haven't talked to Rick about it, yet. I imagine Nathaniel will, though. They're at work together right now."

    "So where is Robin now?" asked Nathan.

    "She's shopping for school stuff with her dad," replied Jeff.  "Then she said she was going to hang out with Nathaniel at his place."

    "Does he not want to come over here?" asked Travis.

    "I don't know," said Jeff.  "I don't think that's the case, though. He and Robin are probably just trying to get in as much alone time as possible before school starts. You know they'll both be working a lot during the school year."

    "Yeah," said Nathan.  "That reminds me, I have to ask for Friday off."

    "Well, you'd better start looking for someone to work for you," said Travis.  "It's five days away."

    "Ugh," moaned Jeff.  "That means school starts again in seven."

    "Yeah," said Nathan.  "But at least we have four out of six classes together."

    "I don't have classes with any of you this year," said Travis.  "I'll be alone."

    "We'll see each other at lunch," said Jeff.

    "What about you, Ryan?" asked Nathan.  "Do you know which classes you have yet?"

    "He won't know until orientation," reminded Jeff.  "That's Friday morning."

    "How long will it take?" asked Ryan.

    "You go in at seven for a meeting with the principle and dean," said Nathan.  "Then there's a tour of the school, and you pay for your jackets, they give you your ties, assign you a locker, and they give you your schedule."

    "Yeah," said Jeff.  "It should be over by noon, if it takes that long."

    "I thought you guys would like some lunch," said Sheila, walking out the back door of the house, carrying a tray of sandwiches.  "I'll bring chips and sodas out in a few minutes. I don't want any of you in the pool for a half hour after you eat, though."

    "Thank you, Mrs. Houser," called Travis as he climbed out of the pool and headed for the sandwiches.

    "You're all welcome," she said.  "Ryan, would you dry off and help me with sodas?"

    "Sure," he said, swimming over to a ladder and climbing out of the pool.

    "So how are things going?" she asked once they were in the kitchen.

    "Pretty good," replied Ryan, smiling.  "I'm getting used to everyone."

    "I'm glad that you've made friends, Ryan," she said.  "Scott told me something that I wanted to talk about with you, though. I didn't get a chance last night before you went upstairs."

    "OK," he said, sitting down at the table.

    "Well, your brother is a little worried about you," she said.  "He said that he overheard you telling Travis about your sexuality, and Robin was standing there with him. He's pretty sure that Robin heard what you said, and he thought you might be upset."

    "Oh," said Ryan.  "That all worked itself out. Travis is gay, too. Robin told me that she and her boyfriend are bisexual, and Jeff and Nathan are together."

    "Well, I'm glad that it worked out for you," she said.  "I think that it's important for you to have friends, and its even more important to have friends that share your interests and lifestyle. Just don't let anyone talk you into doing anything you aren't ready for."

    "I wouldn't," replied Ryan.  "Besides, they've been nothing but friendly so far. No one has asked me to do anything. Jeff said that Robin has invited me to a barbeque at her house on Friday, after orientation. I was going to wait until everyone left to ask, but can I go?"

    "I don't see why you can't," she said, smiling.  "Your father and I talked about giving you as much time as possible to spend with your friends. You've never really gone anywhere with anyone before, but we're trusting you to be with your friends. Your father will talk with you about ground rules, though, OK?"

    "OK," he said.  "I assumed that I'd have the same rules as Scott, though."

    "Well, to an extent, you probably will," she said.  "But you're older than Scott, and you'll have a little more freedom. Just don't abuse it, Ryan. I feel weird telling you that, but I know how easy it is to follow a crowd."

    "I'll respect the rules and follow them, Mom," said Ryan.  "I don't think any of them would try to get me to do anything that would get me into trouble, but even if they did, I know right from wrong."

    "I know you do," she said.  "It's just nice to be told every now and then."

    "Yeah," he replied.  He was really happy about the way his parents were treating him.  He was a little unsure about how they would react to his going to the mall and other places with his friends, and he was glad that they were going to let him do things.  He really liked hanging out with them.

    "Let's get this stuff outside, before one of them comes looking for you," she laughed.

    "There you are!" cried Travis when Ryan and Sheila walked out of the house with the drinks and chips.

    Everyone gathered around the table and grabbed a soda.  They all talked and laughed with each other, and Sheila again thought about how nice it was that Ryan had finally started to come out of his shell.  Maybe these guys would be good for him.  She could only hope that they would be.  For now, she'd just be happy that he had friends.

    "I have to work in a little more than an hour," said Nathan after Sheila went back in the house.  "Travis, if you want a ride home, you'll have to be ready to go."

    "I wish you didn't have to work tonight," said Jeff.  "You just got ungrounded, and I haven't seen you in a week!"

    "Don't start in on me again about getting grounded," warned Nathan, smiling.  "It was partly your fault."

    "I know, but I really wanted you to be at my house tonight," said Jeff.

    "Well, let me assure my parents that I'll be good for a few days, and then everything should go back to normal," said Nathan.  "Let's go get changed. Travis, be ready when we come back."


    "So, you think he's gay, then," said Nathaniel while sitting outside Applebee's with Rick after work.  The two had been talking about Ryan all day long.  It was all Rick wanted to talk about.  Robin had talked about him the night before, so Nathaniel was getting an ear full of knowledge about him.  Robin had already told him that Ryan was gay, but apparently, Rick didn't know that, so Nathaniel decided to keep it to himself until Ryan told Rick.

    "I don't know," said Rick.  "I mean, I hope he is. I really like him. I just don't know if he likes me or not."

    "Well, you said that you two had a long talk at the mall last night," said Nathaniel.  "What did he say?"

    "He told me about his family, his music and moving to Illinois," said Rick.  "Normal 'get to know you' stuff."

    "Well, if you don't find out by Friday, Robin's having a barbeque at her house, and her dad has agreed to let all of us come," said Nathaniel.  "She's invited Ryan, too."

    "How'd she get her dad to agree to that?" asked Rick.  "I thought he hated all of us."

    "He doesn't hate us," he said.  "He just thinks that she needs to have friends that are girls, too."

    "You mean straight girls," laughed Rick.

    "Something like that," chuckled Nathaniel.  "I have to meet Robin. What are you going to do?"

    "My sister's birthday party is tonight," said Rick.  "I have to go home and change, and then I'm meeting the family at the park."

    "Have fun. See you tomorrow," said Nathaniel, getting up off the curb and heading toward his car.

    "Same time, same place," laughed Rick.


    Ryan sat with his step-mother and brother, watching television after everyone had gone home.  Even this was new for him.  He usually just stayed in his room away from everyone.  The only one who commented on it was Scott.  He said that it was nice that Ryan was hanging out with them, and he hoped that he'd do it more often.  Ryan thought he would.

    "Let's have ourselves a little family talk," said his father, turning off the television after the end of the movie they had been watching.  "I've noticed that both of my boys have been spending a lot of time with friends, and school is about to start, so I wanted to make sure that both of you understand the rules."

    "Are they different than when we lived in San Dimas?" asked Scott.

    "For you, not really," said Frank.  "You are to be in by eight on school nights, no sleepovers until the weekend, bedtime for school nights is nine. Pretty much the same as usual."

    "And if you go somewhere with a friend, let us know where you are, what time you'll be back, and call us if you are going to be late," added Sheila.

    "Ryan, you are to be home on school nights by ten and in bed by eleven," said Frank.  "No sleepovers until the weekend, just like Scott. You heard your mother about letting us know where, when and calling if you will be late."

    "Yes, Sir," said Ryan.

    "Now, your mother is going to need some help around here," said Frank.  "That means dishes, keeping your rooms clean, helping to keep the living room clean and mowing the grass will be both of your responsibilities. You will take turns cutting the grass. It needs to be done once a week. I'll let you both take care of deciding a schedule, but if I hear any arguing over it, I'll decide."

    "How about this Sunday, I'll cut the grass," said Scott.  "Ryan can do it the next week."

    "That's fine with me," said Ryan.  "I'll do the dishes tomorrow, too."

    "OK," said Frank.  "You both know the rules, and I expect them to be followed. Scott, if you go out for any athletics the school has to offer, we'll change rules accordingly."

    "Yes, Sir," said Scott.

    "One other thing," said Sheila before letting the boys go up to their rooms.  "You both are allowed to have your friends over as often as you want as long as it doesn't interfere with chores. I want quiet evenings, though, so your friends should all leave before dinner. If you would like, one friend can stay for dinner now and then. Just ask us first to make sure that we don't have something special planned."

    "No phone calls after nine for Ryan, and eight for Scott," said Frank.  "Ryan, you have your own line, so we won't know if you're on the phone or not, but I'm trusting you to stick to this rule."

    "Yes, Sir," said Ryan.

    "And no skipping school," said Sheila, making both boys laugh.  Ryan and Scott had never skipped a day of school in their lives.  "If you are sick, we will call and let the school know that you are not going to be there, but you had better be sick."

    "I think that about covers everything," said Frank.  "Why don't you boys go on upstairs. I don't want to hear your television, Scott. If you have it on, turn it down."

    Upstairs, Ryan turned on all of his keyboards, but instead of turning on his amps, he plugged in his headphones.  He sat at the keys and played random tunes until finally, a song developed.  It wasn't something he'd heard before.  It was more like a mixture of two different songs.  It sounded pretty good, so he reached over and opened the studio programs on his computer, clicked record and played it again.

    He thought about Rick most of the time he was playing.  He wanted to get to know him better, but he didn't know where he lived or his phone number.  Rick knew where Ryan lived, though.  He'd dropped him off just the day before.  He hadn't come back, and Ryan had been hoping that he'd come over earlier, while they were all in the pool, so he could see him in trunks.  He smiled at that thought.

    Once he'd played the song again, he saved it on his computer as an mp3 to play again in the morning.  He planned to make at least ten or eleven more semi original recordings and burn a CD.  He didn't know what he wanted to do with it when he was done, though.  He'd think of that later.  He crawled into his bed and drifted off to sleep almost instantly.

    The next day, it was Robin that came to see him.  This time, he was already awake, had taken a shower and was eating breakfast when Sheila opened the door to let Robin inside.  They talked for a few minutes as Ryan finished his eggs, and then he went into the living room to greet her.

    "Hey you," said Robin, smiling at him.  "I hear you had a little pool party yesterday."

    "It wasn't really a party," he said.  "Jeff and Nathan came over, and Travis was here when I woke up."

    "Yeah, Trav really likes you," she said.  "We all do."

    "I like everyone, too," he said.  "I still haven't met Nathaniel, though."

    "Well, if you make it to my barbeque, you will," she said.  "I wanted to know if you wanted to go to lunch with me. My treat."

    "I'd like to, but let me ask my mom for some money," he said.  He didn't want any of them paying for anything for him.  That just felt rude.

    "Where are you going?" asked Sheila when Ryan asked for money.  She was getting into her purse when she asked.

    "I thought we'd go to Applebee's and bug Rick and Nathaniel," laughed Robin.  "They're both working until five."

    "Well, I just finished breakfast," said Ryan.

    "Oh, I didn't mean right this minute," she said.  "I want to go to the Mall and find something for my dad first."

    "Oh," said Ryan, looking at Sheila.

    "You're going to owe me a month's allowance, kiddo," chuckled Sheila, getting back into her wallet.

    "Thanks, mom," he said as she handed him twenty dollars.

    Once in Robin's car, the two started talking about Rick.  Robin brought his name up, so Ryan didn't feel like he was fishing for information.  He was happy to talk about him, though, because he did want more information.

    "Rick's a great guy," said Robin.  "You'll really like him."

    "Yeah, we talked the other night at the mall while I helped him pick a gift for his little sister's birthday," said Ryan.

    "So you've already met Rick, then?" she asked.

    "Yeah," said Ryan.

    "Well, then, the only member of our little group that you have to meet is Nath," she said.  "We'll see him in a little while. He won't be able to talk to us long, though."

    "You said Rick works with him, too?" asked Ryan.

    "Yeah, they're both bus boys at Applebee's," she said.

    "Where do you work?" he asked.

    "I started at Subway about four days ago," she replied.  "So far, it isn't a bad job."

    "I can't wait till I can start working," he said.  "Then I won't have to ask my parents for money all the time."

    "Well, you can get a permit to work now, but you can only work four hours a day, I think," she said.

    "My dad wouldn't go for it," he replied.  "Once school starts, he'll be trying to make sure that me and Scott get good grades. Once I'm sixteen, though, he'll let me get a job."

    "When's your birthday?" she asked.

    "July eleventh," he replied.  "I have almost a whole year to wait."

    "Yeah, you, Jeff and Travis," she said.  "Travis wants to work at The Buckle."

    "I want to make tips," said Ryan.  "That way, I'll have money every day."

    "Good idea," she said.  "There's a new restaurant that opened not far from my house. They don't serve alcohol there, and you only have to be sixteen to wait tables. There's that one and any of the Steak 'N Shakes. You can wait tables there, too."

    "Yeah, well, I have almost a year to figure out where I want to apply," he said.

    At the mall, they went from store to store for a while before Robin decided to pick up what she came for.  They stopped in at Radio Shack to get her dad a new remote for his television set.  They looked at every single one before Robin found the one she was looking for, explaining that it had to be the exact same one that was broken.  Walking out of the store, they ran into Travis.

    "Trav!" greeted Robin, hugging him.  "What are you doing?"

    "Shoes," laughed Travis, holding up three bags from different shoe stores.

    "Didn't you and Jeff go and get you a pair the other night?" asked Ryan.

    "Well, then Rick reminded me about dances and other occasions where I'd need dress shoes," laughed Travis.  "Now I have to find clothes to go with all of these shoes!"

    "You are so bad!" laughed Robin.  "How did you get here?"

    "Oh, Rick didn't have to work today, so he brought me," said Travis.  "He's in Bergner's right now."

    "Why didn't he work?" asked Robin.  "Nath said that they both had to work until five."

    "Well, Rick said something about the schedule being wrong or something," said Travis.  "I don't know."

    "Is Nath at work?" asked Robin, taking her cell phone out of her pocket and checking to see if Nathaniel had called her.

    "Yeah," said Travis.  "He's still there. But he gets off at four instead of five."

    "Well, I'm glad you told me," she said.  "He apparently wasn't planning to."

    "What are you guys doing?" asked Travis.

    "We came to get a remote for my dad," said Robin.  "We were going to head over to Applebee's and bug Nath and Rick, but I'm not going there now."

    "Why not?" asked Ryan.

    "I've changed my mind," said Robin quickly.

    "You are such a woman," laughed Travis.

    "Let's go find Rick and invite him to lunch somewhere else," said Robin.  "Where would you like to go, Travis?"

    "I don't care!" he laughed.

    The three of them headed for Bergner's and Ryan felt his stomach fill with butterflies.  He couldn't believe how much he liked Rick after only meeting him once.  He could only hope that Rick at least liked him as a friend.  If he didn't, it would be unbearable.  He didn't want to be around someone that he was attracted to if they didn't like him at all.

    "You got quiet," said Robin.  "Everything all right?"

    "Fine," replied Ryan.  "Just thinking."

    "About Rick?" laughed Travis.

    "Stop that, Trav," said Robin.

    "What?" he asked innocently.

    "You know what," she said, smiling.

    She hadn't been told about Rick and Nath's conversation the night before, so she didn't know that Rick liked Ryan.  She hadn't talked to Jeff or Travis, so she didn't know about their conversation, either.  She didn't want Travis making Ryan feel bad, though.  She was hoping that Rick and Ryan would like each other, but she didn't want Travis putting any thoughts into either of their heads.

    "Could we make a pit stop?" asked Ryan.  "I really need to go to the bathroom."

    "OK," said Robin.  "You sure you're all right?"

    "Yeah, I just really need to use the bathroom," he said, smiling at her.

    While Ryan was in the bathroom, Travis told Robin about the way that Rick and Ryan had looked at each other the other night.  He told her that Rick had been shopping for Beth's birthday gift, and he'd asked Ryan for a suggestion.  Then he'd bought exactly what Ryan had suggested after having Ryan help him pick it out.

    "So, you think Rick likes Ryan?" she asked.

    Travis nodded.  "And I think Ryan likes Rick," he replied, smiling.  "You should have seen the way they looked at each other. It was like me and Jeff weren't even there."

    "It would be cool if they liked each other," she said.  "Have you talked to Rick about it?"

    "I haven't asked him if he likes Ryan, but that's all he talked about on the way here," said Travis.  "He asked me to tell him everything I know about Ryan, and he asked if Ryan was gay."

    "What did you tell him?" demanded Robin, thinking that Travis had probably just blurted it out to Rick.

    "I told him that he'd have to ask Ryan," said Travis.  "He said that was exactly what Nath had told him, too."

    "So he's talked to Nath about Ryan?" asked Robin.  "I wonder why Nath didn't mention it to me last night."

    "I don't know," said Travis.  "But here comes Ryan."

    "Ready?" asked Ryan when he got to them.

    "Yeah," replied Robin, now more interested than ever in seeing how Rick and Ryan would react to seeing each other.  She also thought that the reason that Ryan had gotten so quiet was because he was thinking about Rick.  She'd soon see.

    "He may not be in Bergner's anymore, though," said Travis.  "I'm supposed to meet him in the food court, so why don't we go there?"

    "You should have said something!" cried Robin.

    The three of them headed off to the food court.  Robin was thinking of ways to get Rick and Ryan to talk about their sexualities without having to give one, or both, of them away.  She wanted them to like each other, but she also wanted each of them to know that the other liked him.  Not telling one of them about the other was going to make it hard for her to make sure that they got together.  She wished Jeff were there to help her out with this one.

    Ryan was thinking of what he would say to Rick when he saw him again.  He felt stupid for being so nervous about seeing him, but he'd never liked anyone as much as he liked Rick.  He still thought it was strange that he liked him so much after only meeting him once, but he couldn't deny that he did like him.  He just hoped that he was gay and that he liked him as much.

    When they got to the food court, Rick wasn't there yet.  Robin decided that they should each get something to eat and wait for him.  She was very interested in seeing their reaction to each other.  From what Travis had told her, she was sure that they liked each other.  She just couldn't wait to see it for herself.

    Then, there he was.  Rick was wearing tight black denim shorts and a very tight white t-shirt with the arms cut off.  His feet were covered by black leather sandals, and Robin thought he looked great.  Looking over at Ryan confirmed what Travis had told her.  It appeared that seeing Rick had taken his breath away.

    "Hi," he said when he walked up to their table.  "I didn't expect to see you two here."

    "I came here to buy a remote for my dad," said Robin.  "I asked Ryan if he wanted to come along."

    "Nice to see you again, Ryan," said Rick.  "I was actually thinking about you earlier."

    "Nice to see you, too," said Ryan.

    "Are you going to be at the barbeque on Friday?" asked Rick.

    "Yeah," replied Ryan.  "Robin invited me."

    "Well, I tell you what, I'll pick you up around eleven, and you can ride over with me," said Rick, surprising Robin.

    "Well, I have orientation at school Friday morning, so I don't know when I'll get out of there," replied Ryan.

    "Well, why don't I pick you up at the school?" asked Rick.  "Those orientations don't last more than three hours. What time do you go in?"

    "Seven," replied Ryan.  "My little brother will be there with me."

    "No problem," said Rick.  "I tell you what. I'll be outside the main entrance to the school at nine-thirty. I'll drop your brother off at home, and then you and I will hang out, if you want, until it's time to head over to Robin's. How does that sound?"

    "That sounds fine with me," said Ryan.  "What time is the barbeque?"

    "Noon or one," said Robin.  "Whenever everyone gets there, I guess."

    "So, Friday, nine-thirty in front of the school?" asked Rick, smiling at Ryan.

    "Yeah," said Ryan.  "I'll be there."

    "Travis, if you're ready, we need to get going," said Rick.  Turning back to Ryan, he said, "It was nice to see you again, and I look forward to Friday."

    All the way back to Ryan's house, Robin thought about the way that Rick and Ryan looked at each other.  She'd hoped that they would like each other, but it was like they were the only people on the planet when they were looking at each other.  That was way more than she could have hoped for.  Rick had all but declared that he liked Ryan.  He'd even added a little time into Friday to hang out with Ryan alone.

    Ryan wasn't being very talkative, now, either.  She could tell that Rick definitely had an effect on him.  She asked him what he thought of Rick, and all he'd said was that he was really nice.  Robin could see that Ryan thought much more of him than that by the look in his eyes and the way he smiled every time she said Rick's name.  She couldn't wait to tell Jeff.