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 intentional.
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.
AUTHORS NOTE: This chapter will start out slow like all of the rest, but I do intend to speed the story up. I want this story to catch up with the current day, so don't be alarmed if the characters wake up to find the ground covered with snow and the temperature just above freezing. This story does take place in Illinois, and believe me, Winter is a bitch in Illinois.
by R.H. Lee
Living With Mitch
"So we're set for Saturday, then?" asked Nathaniel the next day at lunch.
"The back yard is ours for most of the day," replied Ryan. "And Mitch will be on his best behavior, I think."
"You think?" asked Miguel.
"Well, something happened yesterday, and my dad pretty much told Mitch that he either straightens up or he's out on his ass," said Ryan.
"Awesome," said Robin. "So Mitch has been muzzled?"
"So far," said Ryan. "He still doesn't have his speakers, so I can't say anything about the morning music."
"We'll see for ourselves this afternoon," said Nathaniel. "We are still on for later, right?"
"Oh yeah," said Ryan. "My dad said that we can study in my room or in the dining room."
After lunch, Ryan walked with Travis to their Algebra class. Travis talked about the party and wanted to know if they were buying gifts for Rick. Ryan hadn't thought about that, but he didn't really want to do that. He hadn't really known Rick long enough to feel comfortable buying him anything. He liked Rick a lot, though.
He had hoped that he and Rick might actually get even better acquainted, but with Rick moving to Florida, all thoughts of that happening were over. He'd have actually liked it if he and Rick had gotten romantically involved with each other. He had no idea what they would have done with each other, but the idea was nice.
Miss Kurfoot, their Algebra teacher, was quite fond of torturing her students with pop quizzes, surprise tests and all sorts of other wonderful things. Because of this, Ryan was always ready for anything she might throw at them. However, when he walked into the classroom that day to find a surprise test on each desk, he was not prepared. The business with Mitch had made it impossible for him to even think about studying Algebra. So, when Kurfoot announced that it was not one of the easy "open-book" variety tests, Ryan groaned along with the rest of his classmates.
Luckily, the class was more review than anything else for him. He opened the test when Kurfoot instructed them to begin, and he solved each of the equations with almost complete confidence that he was giving the correct answers. The test lasted most of the forty minute period, and Ryan was finished with his in a flat twenty-five minutes. Travis labored over his for an additional ten minutes before walking to the front of the class to put his test on Kurfoot's desk.
"So, how'd you do?" asked Travis as they left the class.
"I'm pretty sure I did ok," replied Ryan. "You?"
"Oh, I'm certain that I failed," said Travis. "I hate Algebra!"
"You know, if you need help with it, you can always ride home with me now and then, and we can work on it," said Ryan.
"Thanks," replied Travis. "I'll take you up on that. Right now, I have to haul ass to History class."
"I've got gym, so I'll see you later," said Ryan as the two parted company.
Ryan made it to the locker room just as the bell sounded. Miguel was already at his locker when Ryan got there. He quickly changed into his gym uniform and he and Miguel walked outside to the field. The sky had darkened, and clouds were everywhere. The wind was picking up, and Ryan hoped that they'd call off outside activities.
"So, I'm riding home with you today?" asked Miguel as they walked over to the baseball diamond.
"Yeah," replied Ryan. "Robin is taking us, and she said she'll give you a ride back to your dorm after we study."
"What time do you think that'll be?" asked Miguel.
"Well, probably as long as it was last week," said Ryan. "It depends on when we all feel that we've got everything covered, I guess."
"And Mitch won't be in our faces?"
"My dad promised," Ryan assured him. "Besides, Mitch is supposed to be acting better now."
"Yeah, right," said Miguel.
When they got to the house, they all went straight to the dining room table. Sheila offered them all juice as they passed her. Mitch wouldn't be home for at least an hour, so they had time to get some studying done before he found a way to ruin their concentration. They sat around the table and spread their books and notebooks in front of them.
This test would be a bit harder than the first. There were more definitions to remember and chemical compositions. Ryan and Miguel spent about five minutes devising a system for remembering the definitions while Robin and Nathaniel came up with easy ways to remember chemicals. After a half an hour, they were all comfortable enough with what they'd studied to say that they at least thought they'd pass the test. They moved on to the day's assignments.
To everyone's surprise, when Mitch walked in the dining room, he sat at the head of the table, spread his books in front of him and began to do his homework in silence. He hadn't even said hello to them. Ryan didn't trust him, though. He kept waiting for him to say something bad to Miguel again.
While Ryan worked on his book report for English class, Robin and Nathaniel began talking to each other in Spanish. Soon, Miguel was answering them, and Robin explained that she and Nathaniel had to speak in Spanish in their Spanish class, and the whole class was expected to read a section of text in class. Ryan was shocked when Mitch started to answer them in Spanish, and he was even more shocked when he figured out that Mitch wasn't saying anything rude or obnoxious. He was amazed to discover that Mitch really had a vast Spanish vocabulary.
"I hate to break this up," said Nathaniel. "I have to, though."
"Why?" asked Robin, closing her Spanish book.
"I have to be at work at four," said Nathaniel, looking at the clock. It was already a quarter past three.
"I thought you made sure you always had Thursdays off," said Robin.
"I did, but with Rick not working anymore, someone has to cover his shifts," explained Nathaniel. "And today, that someone is me."
"Oh, all right," said Robin. "You do have Saturday off, though, right?"
"Yes," he confirmed. "I even checked again yesterday, and I made sure that no one will try to call me in."
"I had to beg to get Saturday off," said Robin. "You know how hard it is to get a weekend off, and I was already off on Sunday."
"You really should check out that new place out by Wal-Mart," said Nathaniel. "You'd probably get more hours there, and you'd make tips."
"I already checked on that one," said Robin. "But they want waiters, not waitresses."
"Are they hiring?" asked Mitch. "Because I really need a job."
"I don't think they are right now," said Robin not even looking over at him.
"What about where you work?" he asked Nathaniel. "You said that with this guy, Rick, not working, people were having to cover his shifts."
"Well, I think they are about to hire someone," said Nathaniel. "You could come down and fill out an application, though."
"Where is it?" asked Mitch.
"Applebee's," replied Nathaniel.
"Oh," said Mitch. "I can't work there. That's where I was working in Sacramento, and I got fired."
"Well, I really need to go home and change," said Nathaniel, gathering his books and filling his backpack. "My homework's all done anyway."
"Mine, too," said Robin. "I'll probably go home and make sure that the house is clean."
"Well, since one of you is my ride back to school, I guess I'll go, too," said Miguel.
"Well, let's get going," said Nathaniel.
"What time on Saturday?" asked Ryan as he stacked his books on the table.
"We'll both be here at eleven," said Nathaniel. "And we're bringing Miguel."
"Rick said he'll bring Travis and be here as close to eleven as he can be," said Robin. "So that leaves Jeff and Nathan."
"I'll call Jeff in a bit to ask him," said Ryan. "I'm sure he already knows what Nathan's plans are."
"Ok, so tomorrow morning; six-thirty," said Robin.
"We'll be here," laughed Ryan.
After they left, Ryan took his books and went upstairs to change out of his uniform. Mitch may have acted like he was a normal person, but Ryan wasn't about to spend any time alone with him to test that act. He was practicing his clarinet when Scott knocked on the attic door. He thought for a minute that it was probably Mitch, and he wasn't going to answer the door. But it could have been any of the other members of his family, too.
"Hey," he said when he opened the door and faced Scott. "What's up?"
"Nothing," said Scott. "I was just sent to tell you that dinner is ready."
"Oh," said Ryan. "Let me put this away, and I'll be right down."
At dinner, Mitch was silent. The only times he spoke were when he was asked a question, or when he asked that a bowl or plate be passed to him. Ryan talked with his parents about Saturday. Frank told him that he would have liked to be home all day for the party, but he had to go into the office to get some things done.
"I'll be back here no later than one," he said. "I don't have all that much to do."
"I'll be here pretty much all day," said Sheila. "I need to do some grocery shopping in the morning, but after that, I'll be home."
"Robin, Nathaniel and Miguel will be here at eleven," said Ryan. "I'm not sure what time Rick and Travis will show up. I'm going to call Jeff after dinner to ask him when he's coming."
"Ryan, can Mark come?" asked Scott. "I always go places with him, and I'm over at his house a lot, but I never get to have him over here."
"I don't see a problem with it," said Ryan. "If it doesn't rain, we're probably going to swim."
"Well, you know the rules, and I expect that you'll all follow them," said Frank. "Is there soda in the pool shed?"
"Stocked and ready," replied Sheila. "I have to do the house shopping Saturday morning. With three boys to feed, the food disappears faster. We also need a little of this and that, too."
After dinner, Ryan went back to his room to call Jeff. He'd noticed that Mitch had been paying very close attention to the conversation at the dinner table, and he wondered just what his cousin had up his sleeve. He didn't trust him as far as he could throw him, and he hoped that he wouldn't pull any stupid stunts.
Jeff asked if it would be alright if he came over when Ryan called him. It was still warm outside, so Ryan suggested that they sit outside in the back yard. Jeff told him that he would put his stuff away and be right over. Ryan went downstairs, carefully avoiding Mitch, to tell his parents that Jeff would be over, and the two of them would be in the back yard.
"I was bored stiff," said Jeff when he and Ryan got to the back yard.
"You should have just come to my house when we got home from school," said Ryan.
"Yeah, but you guys were studying Chemistry, and I don't have that class," said Jeff.
"Well, that doesn't mean that you can't come and do your homework with us," said Ryan. "We don't just study for Chemistry. We have other classes."
"Yeah," chuckled Jeff.
"So what time is Nathan going to be here on Saturday?" asked Ryan.
"We can be over any time you want," said Jeff. "Nathan's spending the night at my house tomorrow night."
"So you won't be riding home with us tomorrow, then?"
"Nope, I'll walk over to Nathan's with him, and we'll ride home from there," replied Jeff.
"Have you talked to Rick?" asked Ryan.
"Yeah, he'll be here before noon, he said," replied Jeff. "Going to be very strange with him gone."
"I was just starting to get to know him," said Ryan.
"And like him?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Ryan. "But I guess that doesn't matter now."
"Well, you don't have to stop liking him just because he's moving, Ryan," said Jeff. "There are telephones, email and of course, the regular mail."
"True," said Ryan.
"I don't want you to move," said Travis. He was sitting on Rick's bed, looking around the room at all of the boxes. The walls were now bare, and the chest of drawers no longer had drawers. Everything was just about packed in Rick's room. He was just about ready for the move.
"I don't really want to move, either," said Rick. "But I don't actually have a choice."
"Why don't you stay here and live in the dorms?" asked Travis. "That way, you'd at least be here during the school year."
"We asked about that," said Rick. "But my mom just can't afford the extra money to keep me in the dorm. Besides, she's going to need me in Florida."
"I know," said Travis. "Will you come back to visit?"
"I'll try," he replied. "Don't know, though. Tickets aren't cheep."
"Will you have a job there?" asked Travis.
"I hope so," laughed Rick. "It'll be a bit, though. I have to go and find one."
"How are you getting your car to Florida?" asked Travis.
"We're hitching it to the back of the U-Haul," laughed Rick. "You know I would never leave my car."
"So, how do you think you did?" asked Robin as she, Ryan and Nathaniel walked out of their Chemistry class the next day.
"I'm not worried about it," replied Ryan. "After Miguel showed me easy ways to remember the definitions, it was easy."
"Yeah, studying with him is fun," said Nathaniel. "He's really cool."
"Well, I have to get to class," said Ryan as he headed off toward the computer classes.
After taking tests in English, Chemistry, Computer Basic and World History, Ryan was mentally tired. That was four tests in a row, and he was never so happy to go to lunch in his life. Luckily, there were no tests in Algebra, Art or Gym, so the rest of the day wasn't going to be as hard as the beginning of it. He spaced out during Algebra class for a few minutes, but no one seemed to notice. He supposed he was lucky that he hadn't been daydreaming when he was supposed to be taking notes on the new chapter.
In Gym, he and Miguel spent the half hour in the outfield during the baseball game, and luckily, no one was very good at hitting the ball that day. The two boys talked most of the time, and Coach Rogers never even glanced in their direction. That was a good thing, because Rogers was a hard ass. If he caught you talking or goofing off, you would run laps around the football field for the entire class. Ryan had already seen this happen to two of his classmates.
It was during the baseball game that Ryan decided to ask Miguel if he wanted to spend the night at his house that night. Miguel was going to be there pretty much all day the next day for the party, anyway, so Ryan figured he might as well spend the night. Miguel said that all he had to do was inform the dorm master that he would not be spending the night in the dorm, and he'd have to give them the telephone number and address where he would be spending the night. All that was left was for Ryan to ask his parents. They decided that Miguel would just ride home with Ryan and Scott to do homework. Robin was already coming to do homework, so when she left, she could give Miguel a ride back to the dorm if it wasn't alright with Ryan's parents.
As it turned out, Sheila told Ryan that it was fine with her if Miguel spent the night. In truth, she was so shocked that Ryan had even asked to have a friend overnight that she never even thought to discuss it with her husband. Scott had already gained permission for Mark to spend the night, so now, Sheila had added another boy to the dinner table, and another boy was going to be eating breakfast in the morning.
Ryan rode back to the dorm with Robin and Miguel, so that Miguel could grab his clothes for the next day and leave all of the information with the dorm master. On the way back, Robin stopped at The Music Barn to grab a CD that had just came out, and then she dropped the boys back at Ryan's house.
At dinner, Mitch was once again pretty much silent. He looked surprised to see Miguel and Mark sitting at the table, but he didn't say anything to them. Frank reminded his sons of the rules for having overnight guests, and Sheila told them that they were not to raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night.
"While I'm at the store, I'll pick up some hamburgers and hot dogs for your party, Ryan. I'll even get some tofu dogs. I think we have hamburger and hot dog buns in the pool shed, though. After dinner, you can check."
"Thanks, Mom," said Ryan. He was pleased that she remembered that Jeff was a vegetarian.
"Who is going to eat tofu dogs?" were Mitch's first words since he'd sat at the table.
"My friend Jeff is a vegetarian," said Ryan. "And Robin might eat them, too. I'm not sure."
"That's disgusting," said Mitch.
"Well, you don't have to eat them, Mitchell," said Sheila. "There'll be regular hot dogs and hamburgers, too."
"You are going to be on your best behavior, Mitch," said Frank. "I don't care what you think of any of Ryan's friends. You will not say one bad thing to any of them, or you will spend the rest of your time until Winter in your room."
After dinner, Ryan, Miguel, Mark and Scott went to Ryan's room to watch a movie. Sheila allowed them to take along sodas and chips, but she warned them to clean up their mess. She told them that if she had to clean up after them, they would not be spending the night again any time soon. All of them promised to be as neat as possible and clean up whatever messes they made.
"The Travis that you're talking about being at the party is Travis Newman, right?" asked Miguel when they were all up in Ryan's room.
"Yeah," replied Ryan, hoping that Miguel wouldn't say anything mean about Travis. "Why?"
"You know that Mitch is going to say something to him, don't you?" asked Miguel. "I mean, if he doesn't like me, because I'm Latino, what do you think he's going to say to Travis?"
"Travis isn't Latin," said Scott, completely missing the message.
"No, but that wasn't what I was talking about," said Miguel. There was no malice in his tone or facial expression, so Ryan didn't know what he thought of Travis.
"I hadn't thought about Travis and Mitch," said Ryan. "We'll just have to make sure that Mitch isn't allowed to get too close to Travis."
The boys quickly changed subjects and started to discuss a movie to watch. Scott wanted an action movie, Mark wanted comedy, and Miguel said he didn't really care what the movie was as long as it wasn't Titanic. Ryan suggested Titan A.E., and they all agreed on that one. So for a little more than an hour and a half, the three boys watched the movie and passed chips back and forth among them. They were all sitting on Ryan's bedroom floor.
After the movie, Miguel helped Ryan take all of the empty soda cans and the empty bowl that had held chips down to the kitchen. Mitch was sitting at the dining room table, working on something for school. Ryan wondered what he was working on so late on a Friday night, but as he got closer to the table, he saw that it was Algebra.
"This is the most stupid math in the world," muttered Mitch as he began erasing his work on an equation.
"Need some help?" asked Ryan in an attempt to be nice to Mitch.
"Do you know this stuff?" asked Mitch, looking up at the two boys.
"I can show you a way to do those equations that will make it all seem simple," said Ryan, sitting the empty soda cans on the counter.
He ran through two equations with Mitch, showing him every step he took in solving it. Then he talked Mitch through doing an equation on his own. The next equation, Ryan didn't help Mitch with at all. He let Mitch work through it until he'd come to a false answer. Then he showed him where he'd gone wrong and how to fix what he'd done.
"Hey, thanks!" said Mitch after he'd worked through three equations on his own, solving them correctly. "I thought I'd be sitting here until Monday morning."
"No problem," replied Ryan. "If you just follow what I showed you, you shouldn't have any trouble with the rest of your assignment."
Ryan stepped over to the counter and rinsed out the four empty soda cans before crushing each one with the can crusher on the wall between the counter and the back door. Then he rinsed out the bowl that they'd had chips in and put it in the dishwasher. Taking two bottles of juice from the refrigerator and passing one to Miguel, Ryan left the kitchen, leaving Mitch to stare after him in amazement.
Back upstairs, Ryan and Miguel sat on the floor again and played Rummy. Ryan thumbed the remote to his stereo, turning on the radio. He was careful not to turn it up too loud and thought that the purpose of his father giving him the attic room for his bedroom had been defeated. Since Mitch had moved in, volume was once again an issue.
"So, Mitch isn't always a moron?" asked Miguel as he shuffled the cards.
"Well, my dad kind of threatened to kick him out of the house if he didn't straighten up," said Ryan. "I'm expecting him to revert any time now."
"So, your dad threatened to send him back to California?" asked Miguel. "I don't get it, the other day, he practically ordered your dad to do just that."
"Well, things are a bit different now," replied Ryan. "I can't really tell you how, but trust me, Mitch wants to live here more than he wants anything else in the world."
"So, in order to stay, he's got to be nice?" asked Miguel.
"That's part of it," said Ryan.
"Well, I'm sure that he has to show respect and stuff," said Miguel. "What about how he treats your little brother?"
"Oh, that's why my dad threatened to throw him out," explained Ryan. "Mitch can't even so much as look at Scott cross-eyed now."
After playing cards, they watched television until they were both on the edge of falling asleep. Ryan let Miguel use the bathroom first, and then he got ready for bed himself. He waited until Miguel was situated on the pallet Sheila had made for him on the floor before turning the light off and crawling under his covers.
The next morning, Ryan woke up to find Miguel sitting up and looking at him. When Miguel noticed that Ryan had opened his eyes, he looked away. Ryan thought about just asking Miguel if he was gay, but he thought that would be rude, so he just laid there, waiting to see what he would say.
"I was waiting for you to wake up," he finally said.
"How long have you been awake?" asked Ryan.
"For about an hour," replied Miguel.
Ryan got out of bed and went to the bathroom to shower and get dressed, leaving Miguel sitting on the floor. He wasn't trying to be rude, he just wasn't a morning person, and even though he'd been startled into being more awake than he usually was in the morning by Miguel staring at him, he still wasn't completely awake. After years of repeating the same morning ritual, Ryan went into auto mode.
He was slightly more awake after his shower, but he wasn't completely there yet. He dried himself off and got dressed a little quicker than usual, but that was merely because he was now awake enough to think about the fact that he'd just basically ignored Miguel and taken the bathroom first like a very ungracious host. He was brushing his teeth when the bathroom door opened, and Miguel stepped into the room.
"Sorry, man," said Miguel, smiling shamefully at Ryan. "I really have to use the bathroom."
"No problem," Ryan muttered with the toothbrush still in his mouth. He about jumped out of his skin when he heard Miguel urinating into the toilet bowl.
He was even more shocked when Miguel stripped and stepped into the shower. The bathroom was set up in such a way that through the mirror, Ryan got a perfect view of Miguel's naked backside before he stepped into the shower. He'd seen Miguel in his boxers before, but he'd never seen him naked. After hastily rinsing his mouth, he left the bathroom.
"Just come to the kitchen when you're dressed," he called over the sound of the shower. He went down to the kitchen where he expected to find Sheila, but she wasn't there. Mitch was instead.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Mitch when he looked up from his bowl of cereal.
"What do you mean?" asked Ryan.
"You look like you're a zombie," replied Mitch. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," said Ryan. "I'm just not awake all the way, I guess."
"You suck in the morning," chuckled Mitch.
"Thanks," replied Ryan, getting a bowl out of the cabinet and making himself a bowl of cereal. "Where's Mom?"
"The grocery store," said Mitch with his mouth full of cereal.
"Scott and Mark aren't up yet?" asked Ryan as he sat down at the table.
"Are you kidding?" laughed Mitch. "Those two were up until all hours, laughing and talking."
"Oh," he said.
When Miguel came downstairs, Ryan told him to help himself to a bowl of cereal. He'd left a bowl and spoon on the counter. The jug of milk was sitting beside them, and there were three different kinds of cereal on top of the refrigerator.
"Good morning, Miguel," said Mitch, smiling up at him. "How'd you sleep?"
"OK," said Mitch slowly.
Ryan was sure that Mitch was about to say something stupid or rude, but he couldn't seem to swallow the mouthful of cereal that was still in his mouth. He was forced to just sit and listen.
"Hey, I want to apologize to you about the way I talked to you the other day," said Mitch.
"No problem," said Miguel as he sat down to a very shocked Ryan.
"What time is everyone supposed to be here again?" asked Mitch, looking at Ryan.
"Eleven," replied Ryan after he finally managed to swallow his cereal.
"You sticking around for the party?" asked Miguel.
"Sort of have to, Miguel," said Mitch. "I'm grounded, after all."
"Ah," said Miguel, glancing at Ryan.
"Well, you boys enjoy your breakfast," said Mitch. "I'm going to get dressed."
After breakfast, Ryan checked the internet on the living room computer to see what the temperature was supposed to be. Satisfied that it was going to be a hot day, he and Miguel went to the pool shed to make sure that there was soda in the refrigerator out there and bring out all of the pool toys. He remembered to get Scott's toys out, too.
They had just got the gas grill pulled out of the shed and set up on the deck when Sheila came out of the house carrying bags. Both boys quickly went to help her carry soda and condiments to the refrigerator in the pool shed. She had bought enough soda to keep an entire stadium happy for at least one inning of baseball.
Robin and Nathaniel were the first to arrive, and Robin brought a bowl of desert with her. Nathaniel was carrying a bag, and Ryan soon learned that there were chips and other extras in it. He put the chips on the table and followed Sheila in the house with the bag. Robin handed him the bowl she was carrying, too.
"Have you guys heard anything out of Jeff and Nathan?" asked Robin when Ryan and Miguel came out of the pool shed.
"Not a peep," said Ryan.
"Well, we'd better either call or go over there and get them," she said. "They're alone in the house. Jeff's dad had to do things today. We may not see those two all day long."
"What are you on about?" asked Nathaniel, coming out the back door of the house.
"Jeff and Nathan alone across the street," she said, turning to him. "I said we'd better call or go over and get them."
"Oh, give them a break," laughed Nathaniel. "They'll be over before too long. They have to eat."
"Who has to eat?" asked Jeff as he and Nathan came around the side of the house.
"See? There they are," said Nathaniel.
"I'm shocked," said Robin.
"Well, just about everyone is here," said Ryan. "We just have to wait for Rick and Travis."
"The grills are ready," said Miguel as he walked over to where they were all standing.
"Which one of us is grilling today?" asked Nathaniel, looking from Jeff to Nathan, and then to Ryan and Miguel.
"Sheila said that she's grilling for us today," said Ryan. "When I told her that I would do it, she told me to shut up."
"Outstanding," laughed Robin.
"So where's Mitch?" asked Nathaniel.
"As far as I know, he's up in his room," said Ryan. "We haven't seen him since breakfast."
"He apologized to me for what he said," said Miguel. "I was stunned!"
"I bet," said Robin. "He can apologize all he wants, but I will not forget what he said."
The six of them walked over to the pool and sat on the lawn chairs. They talked about Rick and how much they were all going to miss him. Ryan didn't understand why he didn't just move into the dorm, so he could finish out the year at Westlake, but he didn't say anything to his friends about it. He supposed that Rick had thought about that, and if it wasn't happening, there was a reason behind it.
Mitch came outside just as Rick and Travis walked around the side of the house. Mitch wasn't paid any attention as they all gathered around Rick, talking at once. Mitch watched them all, and he wondered just what was so special about Rick. He thought Ryan's friends were the weirdest people he'd ever met.
Ryan watched Mitch carefully as Travis sat not two feet from him, talking to Robin. He was so worried about what Mitch would say. The look on Mitch's face wasn't showing any signs of malice, but that didn't mean that Ryan trusted him one little bit. He was glad when Sheila came out of the house and started grilling. He thought that Mitch surely wouldn't say anything out of the way in front of her and risk getting into more trouble.
"So when are you leaving?" he asked Rick when he finally felt comfortable enough to stop watching Mitch like a hawk.
"We should be all packed by Wednesday," said Rick. "My mom's meeting with the realtor one last time on Monday about selling the house."
"So you're leaving Wednesday?" he asked.
"Probably," said Rick. "Unless something unexpected happens."
"What was Florida like?" asked Ryan. "Where exactly in Florida are you going?"
"Brent," replied Rick. "It's a bit smaller than Springfield. There are a little more than twenty-two thousand people there."
"Did you like it there?" asked Nathan.
"It was cool," said Rick. "We checked out schools and stuff. It'll be alright."
"How far from the ocean?" asked Jeff.
"Not too far," said Rick. "My cousin, Danny, took me to the Gulf to hang out on the beach. I met a lot of interesting people."
"I bet you did," laughed Travis.
He sat down next to Mitch, who, until that moment, Ryan hadn't even noticed had moved closer to them. Mitch looked at Travis like he was the most disgusting thing he'd ever seen. Ryan was about to say something, but Mitch beat him to it.
"Get away from me, faggot," he said through clenched teeth.
Everyone got really quiet. Ryan noticed that all of them were glaring at Mitch. He hadn't gained Sheila's attention, because he didn't raise his voice. Travis turned to look at him before getting up from his seat. Before Ryan knew what to do, Robin was on her feet.
"Why are you even out here?" she asked, keeping her voice low. "You aren't even one of our friends."
"I live here, bitch," he said. "And I don't like frilly little queers, so you keep your little pet away from me."
He got up and walked into the pool shed. Sheila turned toward them with a questioning look on her face, but Ryan didn't say anything. One look at Nathaniel, and Ryan knew that things could quite easily get ugly if Mitch said another word. He was about to say something to Sheila about it when Nathaniel got up and walked into the pool shed. Ryan held his breath.
Nathaniel grabbed Mitch by the shoulders and slammed him against the wall. He tightened his grip on his shoulders and put his face just inches from Mitch. Mitch wasn't sure what to do. He'd never been challenged like that before. He was worried that Nathaniel was going to hit him. He didn't know if he could take him or not.
"Listen, you little dick," said Nathaniel. "This is my friend's going away party, and you're making all of my friends feel like shit."
"Fuck off," spat Mitch, regaining his momentarily lost courage. "Get your hands off me."
"Oh, you're going to listen," said Nathaniel, moving to tightly grip Mitch's neck, being careful not to choke him or leave marks for him to whine about. "The way you talk to Ryan pisses me off. Now, I can't say anything about that, because Ryan is a big boy, and he can take care of himself. If you say one more bad word to any of my friends today, I'll knock your damned teeth out, clear?"
"Crystal," said Mitch as Nathaniel let go of him.
As he was walking out of the shed, Nath turned and said, "Oh, and I swear to God, if you ever talk to Robin that way again, I'll kick your fucking ass so damned bad you'll have to shove your fist up your fucking nose to scratch your balls! Friends?"
When Nathaniel came out of the pool shed, he looked at his friends and smiled. Ryan didn't know what to think about that. Mitch still hadn't come out, but Ryan hadn't heard anything, so he was sure that Nath hadn't hit Mitch. Sheila was still looking at him, so he shook his head to let her know that he didn't think anything was wrong now.
When Mitch came out of the shed, he went straight into the house. Sheila looked at Ryan again, so Ryan shrugged. He wasn't sure he wanted to get Mitch into trouble over this one. He thought that maybe his friends might just deal out a little trouble of their own. Nathaniel had at least gotten him to go inside and leave them alone. Even Scott, another person Ryan hadn't noticed until that moment, looked at Nathaniel in awe.
The rest of the party went pretty good. Travis didn't even let what had happened phase him. He splashed around in the pool with Jeff and Robin, and Ryan heard him laughing. He noticed that Nathan, Rick and Nathaniel were talking very quietly, but he decided to let them keep their conversation to themselves.
Mitch did come back outside to make himself a plate when Sheila was done grilling everything. After making his plate, he went back inside. Ryan was happy with that. He noticed that Travis watched him very closely while he was outside, but after he went back inside, conversation resumed. They sat around the picnic table, eating and having a pretty good time.
"So, are you having a good time?" asked Rick as the two of them went to throw their empty paper plates in the trash beside the kitchen door.
"I was a little worried when Mitch said what he said," replied Ryan. "After that, everything was pretty good. You want to swim?"
"Well, I'd kind of rather talk to you for a little bit," said Rick, looking around at the rest of his friends. They were so far unobserved.
"We can just go sit on the lawn chairs at the other end of the pool," said Ryan. "I think they'll let us have a few minutes alone."
"Look," said Rick. "I know this is shitty timing and everything, but I wanted to tell you that I really like you, Ryan. If I wasn't moving, maybe . . ."
"I like you, too," said Ryan. "I've been trying to find a way to tell you that since I met you."
"It sucks that we waited until now," sighed Rick.
"Well, at the very least, we can have a friendship, Rick," said Ryan. "We can email each other and stuff. I would like to stay in touch."
"Oh, me too," he replied quickly. "I was just talking to Travis about that this morning."
"Yeah, Trav seems to be the most upset over your move," said Ryan. "He likes you a lot."
"Not the way you think," he said. "Travis and I got pretty close, but we both decided a long time ago that it would never go any further."
"Oh, I know," replied Ryan. "That's not what I meant."
"Travis is a great guy," said Rick. "He didn't deserve to be treated the way Mitch treated him today."
"I agree," said Ryan. "I think Nathaniel took care of that, though."
"Yeah," chuckled Rick. "Did you see the look on Mitch's face when he came out of the shed?"
"I did," said Ryan, smiling. "He deserved it."
"Well, we'd better get back to the rest of them," said Rick. "They're starting to look at us kind of funny."
Frank came home just as they were all sitting down at the picnic table for desert. Robin had brought what looked like chunks of chocolate cake mixed into a bowl of whipped cream. They all loved it, and Travis ate two helpings. Ryan listened to them all talking about things they'd done before he had arrived, and he wished that he'd had more time with Rick. He wondered what would have happened between them if he had moved to Springfield a year or more before he had.
"So Mitch has been a good boy today?" Frank asked Ryan while the others went back to the pool.
"Not entirely, but it was nothing to get too upset about," replied Ryan, choosing his words carefully. "Let's just say that he and Travis will never be friends, but Nathaniel handled that one."
"How so?" asked Frank, looking over at his nephew, who was standing inside the kitchen door, watching them.
"I'm not sure, but whatever Nath said to him worked," replied Ryan. "Mitch went into the house and didn't come out until the food was done. Even then, he didn't eat it with us. He went back inside to eat."
"So, nothing for me to talk to him about?" asked Frank.
"Nope," replied Ryan. "Taken care of."
Ryan joined his friends in the pool as Scott and Mark left for Mark's house. Ryan noticed that Mitch had come back outside and was talking to Frank. The two kept glancing at the pool group, but Ryan figured that his father would either fill him in on their discussion, or he wouldn't. He turned his attention back to his friends.
"So do you know your address in Florida?" Jeff asked Rick as they both tried to dunk Nathan.
"I wrote it down and gave it to Mr. Houser for Ryan," replied Rick, moments before Nathan pulled him under the water.
"I already asked," said Robin. "He said he'll make copies for us."
"So, I see Mitch is talking to your dad," Nathaniel said to Ryan as the two moved as far from Rick, Jeff and Nathan's water fight as they could.
"Yeah, I noticed," replied Ryan. "They keep looking at us, too."
"No," said Nathaniel. "They keep looking at me. I supposed Mitch is tattling on me for my behavior in the pool shed."
"What exactly did you say to him?" asked Ryan.
"Now, now," said Nathaniel. "That was a private conversation. One that I hope Mitch will think about every time he sees Travis."
"What are you two being so secretive about?" asked Robin, glancing at Mitch and Frank.
"Not secretive," replied Ryan, nodding at Rick and Jeff. Nathan was apparently under water again. "Safe."
"Yeah, they're having fun," said Travis, coming over to them.
"I think Mitch is being a spoiled brat and tattling like a baby," said Nathaniel, smiling.
"Why are you smiling about it?" asked Robin. "What did you do to him?"
"I didn't do anything to him," replied Nathaniel. "I just talked to him."
"Yeah, I know how you talk to people," said Robin. "You know, if he's telling Frank that you did do something to him, you could get into trouble."
"Well, if I get into trouble for not doing something to him, then you can be sure that I will do something to him," said Nathaniel. "He was being a tosser, and I put him back in line, Robin. That's all."
They watched as Mitch went back inside. Frank got up from the picnic table and went to talk to Sheila, who was putting lids on the bowls of chips and deserts. The two talked for a few minutes, and then Sheila went into the house. Frank followed her, carrying the bowls. It didn't look like either of them was upset to Ryan.
"Well guys, I have to leave," said Rick from behind them.
"What time is it?" asked Robin. "It can't be too late."
"I know," said Rick. "But I promised my mom I'd be home in time to go to dinner with her and Beth."
"That means I have to leave, too," said Travis.
"You could ask one of the others to give you a ride," said Rick. "If you want to stay for a while, ask Robin or Nathaniel."
"No, I'll just ride with you," replied Travis, getting out of the pool.
They all got out of the pool and toweled off. Each one of them wanted to say goodbye to Rick. They weren't sure if they would see him again before he left. He'd already told them that he would be really busy over the next few days. Of all of them, Travis was the one who was the most upset about Rick leaving, and he planned to be over at Rick's the next day, helping him pack.
Rick gave each of them a hug before he and Travis left. When he got to Ryan, he hesitated. Both of them smiled, and Ryan's heart was racing. This was the first boy that Ryan had ever really wanted to be with. It took a while before he could admit it him, but now that he had, Rick was leaving. When he actually hugged Rick, he didn't let go for a few minutes.
"I'm going to miss you, Ryan," whispered Rick as he squeezed Ryan tighter.
Ryan was kind of dazed as he and the others said goodbye to Rick and Travis and watched Rick's Mustang pull out of the driveway and fade away down the street. Once Rick and Travis were gone, the group slowly started to disband. First, Nathan and Jeff went back across the street to watch a movie before Nathan had to go home. Then Robin and Nathaniel offered Miguel a lift back to the dorm as they headed back to Nathaniel's house.
The next day, Ryan spent his first Sunday without hanging out with any of his new friends. He watched television in his room for a while, and he even watched the Sunday Night Movie with his family. There were no run ins with Mitch, and Scott busied himself in his room for most of the evening. Ryan turned in early, thinking about how much he would have liked to get to know Rick a lot better.
Life settled into a somewhat normal routine for Ryan. There were tests and quizzes in each of his classes every week. Robin, Nathaniel and Miguel continued to come to his house to study every Thursday, and sometimes Jeff joined them. On vary rare occasions, Nathan joined them, too. Ryan started to help Travis with Algebra, and to his amazement, Mitch sat in on those study sessions, and he was never even the slightest bit rude to Travis.
Miguel spent every other Friday night at Ryan's house, and he continued to puzzle Ryan with actions that were questionable, but Ryan never asked about his sexuality, and Miguel never said anything about it, either. It was clear that Miguel knew that Jeff and Nathan were together, and he knew about Travis, so Ryan thought he may suspect him, too. Ryan had come to the conclusion that if Miguel was gay, he would have already said something about it.
That didn't stop Ryan from thinking about Miguel, though. The two were getting pretty tight, and Ryan caught himself staring at Miguel quite a bit. He also had to stop himself from telling Miguel just how attractive he thought he was on several occasions. The last thing Ryan wanted was to lose the friendship that he had with Miguel over something stupid.
Robin and Nathaniel questioned Miguel's sexuality quite often. They talked to Ryan about it whenever Miguel wasn't with them. Robin thought that it was odd that Miguel had never had a girlfriend, and Nathaniel said that he'd never once heard Miguel say anything about a girl that he liked. Ryan said that they never discussed girls, either.
Mitch started working at Subway with Robin. Robin informed him that Mitch was as big a jerk as ever, but he never once said anything out of the way to her. What was irritating for her was the fact that her manager seemed to be another Mitch. She wondered why she'd never seen it before. Twice she'd had to assure Nathaniel that Mitch, although a huge asshole, hadn't been saying anything rude or cruel to her at work.
At the beginning of October, the school started to advertise their annual Halloween Dance. Ryan and his friends were already talking about costumes that they intended to either rent or make for that dance. Scott even got in on those discussions. He wouldn't be allowed to attend the dance, because the dance was for sophomores, juniors and seniors, but he was a typical thirteen year old boy. Halloween was one of his favorite times of the year.
It was two weeks before Halloween that Miguel came up with a way for Scott to attend the dance. He'd asked many times about costume guidelines, and when he asked if it was possible to use a freshmen or a student in eighth grade as part of a costume, he was told that it was fine as long as the youngster left the dance directly after the costume contest.
Miguel told them about a story he'd been told about in Church. It was the story of Balaam's Ass. None of them knew what he was talking about, but Miguel was sure that the judges would know it when they saw it. Three of them were members of the Westlake Church, and the head judge was his Sunday school teacher, who had told his Sunday school class about Balaam and his Ass.
"On the way to see the Israelites, Balaam and his ass encounter an angel that only the ass can see. I assume that Balaam has been blinded to spiritual things by his own greed. Three times, the ass refuses to proceed as directed by Balaam, and each time Balaam applies a punishment. Finally, after being abused a third time, the ass asks, 'What have I done to you to make you punish me three times?'" explained Miguel.
"Balaam answers, 'Because you have mocked me. If it were a sword in my hand, I would kill you!' To which the ass responds, "Am not I your ass, upon which you have ridden since I was yours till this day? Was I ever unruly to you?' Balaam replied, 'Nay.'"
"So what does that have to do with us?" asked Ryan. "I don't even understand the story."
"Don't you see?" asked Miguel. "The judges do know the story, and I know they'll recognize it if we use it as our costume!"
The two boys agreed once he explained that he knew a boy from church that didn't attend Westlake that had told him that he had a donkey costume. He said it was something really great. His friend had used it in his school's Christmas Pageant as the donkey that Mary rode. The guy playing the front end could bob the donkey's head, make its mouth move, and even bat the donkey's eyelashes with a little lever. The guy playing the back end had the tougher job. He had to carry Mary on his back.
Miguel suggested that he and Ryan operate the donkey with Scott riding as Balaam. He said he knew where he could get Scott's costume, and the deal was set. They didn't tell any of their friends about it, but they were pretty sure that they could win the contest.