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Life Goes On

Chapter 9

Author's Note: My sincere thanks to Dewey of for the use of his characters Brian and Pete. Much of what appears herein was originally included in Dewey's story "Brian & Pete" chapters 24 & 25. Brian and Pete will make more appearances in the next chapter of "Life Goes On". Without further ado, here are Preston's, Keith's and Drew's perspectives on those days.

Groggily I opened my eyes and checked the time. It was eleven-twenty. So much for messin' around until lunch time! Fond recollections of my few hours alone with Prez the prior night filled my thoughts. I rolled over half expecting that Prez would already be awake but found him there, asleep on his belly; his face turned my way. The sheet was only covering the lower half of his body.

Prez has a lot of freckles on the back of his shoulders but they dramatically thinned as I gazed down towards his fine white ass. My morning wood bounced at the vision of perfection lying beside me. His shoulders appeared less red between the freckles and the remainder of his back was lightly tanned. There were a few small splotches where his skin had obviously peeled off.

My baby's flesh simply soaks up the sun's power. Even though I drench him in sun block every time we go to the beach, he still gets a little burned.

My mom had been dropping little hints to keep Prez protected since before school ended. Her newest suggestion, made just the prior evening before I joined Prez in our room, was to try and get Prez to wear a hat to protect his face from the sun's rays. But Prez didn't own any hats. He'd never worn one in all the time we had been together.

On weekends and sometimes on week nights, Mrs. O'Brian used to wear baseball caps when she was out and about in the sunlight, I recalled. Sometimes she'd even forget to take it off after entering the apartment. Maybe if I reminded Prez of that fact, he would be more likely to accept the idea. Prez had even saved her cap and lovingly placed it in a zip-lock bag for posterity.

All I knew was that the images of skin cancer patients my mom showed me not too long ago were totally gross! And I didn't want my super-sexy partner to have to deal with that in his later years. Still lying in bed beside him, I resolved to spend a few dollars that very day before we started riding our bikes around the foothills.

I rolled to get out of bed and Rush hurried over to me. While scanning the floor for something to wear, I pet the dog and he happily wagged his tail. Prez had tossed my shorts over by the closet. I got up and stepped into them. Rush was bouncing around at the door as I reached for the knob. He scampered around me as I walked through the house and he spun around in circles at the sliding glass door too. I told him to sit and he stopped spinning so fast that he almost fell over to one side as he sat! Smiling widely, I asked, "Got yourself dizzy again, huh?" I unlocked and opened the door for him. It had been at least eight hours since his last trip outside, so I just motioned for him to go and he took off for the Cyprus trees.

Closing the door and turning around, I went directly for the fridge and grabbed the bottle of Sunny D. I hadn't gotten the glass filled before I heard Prez behind me say, "G'mornin' babe."

Turning around, I watched as he shuffled toward me. We kissed then I asked, "Want some O.J.?"

He smiled but shook his head and said, "Apple juice," then turned for the refrigerator. I got him a glass from the cabinet above me. With the bottle of apple juice in hand and returning to me, Prez asked, "Where are our little brothers, I wonder?"

"They're all out by now."

Pouring his juice, he smiled, "We kinda slept through our morning plans."

I kissed his shoulder and softly admitted, "We're not going to easily reproduce last night."

After taking a sip of juice, Prez nodded, "Sometimes the stars align just right."

"It happens pretty often since you came to town… and I mean that in more than the physical or sexual sense."

Prez smirked, "Come on, Keith! It's not just me! It's you too! And your folks… and Drew… and Corey and John and Mike and Derrick…"

Before he listed every person he knew, I interrupted, "And they're all surrounding us."

Prez rapidly nodded then swallowed most of his juice in one big gulp. Then he said, "I dreamt of my mom again last night." He immediately had my undivided attention. He sighed, "It was… one of the odd ones. I remember images of her and me… in a car, in a very dense forest, and some other places I can't fully describe other than to say it was very bright."

I smiled and reminded, "The sun rose only two or three hours after we finally zonked out." Then I asked, "How does the dream make you feel?"

"I feel good about it… in an off balance, trippy-kinda way," Prez grinned. He then asked, "What did you dream about?"

Not certain I wanted to share, I shrugged, "Nothing much that I can remember distinctly." He waited and I softly said, "Instead of us flying together or even hand in hand, I only remember you hovering above me, like you were trying to get me to join you but I wasn't able too."

Appearing concerned, Prez asked, "I hope I didn't fly off without you?"

Shaking my head, I answered, "I don't think so. I don't feel abandoned."

Acting stunned, Prez exclaimed, "You had better know I would flap my arms three times faster and harder to pull you along or just land and stay with you!"

Draping my arms over his shoulders, I softy admitted, "I know," and kissed him deeply. Moments later, we were rummaging through the pantry for cereal and granola bars. We ate at the kitchen counter then rinsed our bowls and glasses before stuffing them in the dishwasher. I noticed another bowl and glass on the counter. But there was already a bowl, a glass and two spoons in the dishwasher. I sighed, "Look at this Prez. John put his spoon in the dishwasher but not his glass or bowl."

Prez frowned, "If he put the spoon in then why not the other two?"

I huffed, "Far too much effort, I guess!" but I still rinsed the stuff before putting them in the dishwasher too. Facing Prez, I mischievously grinned, "Someone needs another laxative brownie, I think."

Grabbing my hands, Prez chuckled and led me to the bathroom where we got ready for our day out.

While we were under the shower spray, I told Prez, "We really should cover you with some sun block before we jet."

Prez huffed, "I guess, we'll be out for at least two hours. But there won't be water reflecting sunlight or washing the lotion off either."

"Just your face, neck, arms and legs, baby."

Grimacing, Prez snarled, "I hate tasting that stuff."

"I know. We could stay inside today?"

"Oh no we can't!" Prez forcefully said. "It feels like I was inside most of the last three days! You want to go for a ride around the hills and it sounds like fun to me!"

I had him exactly where I needed him. "Well we've got to protect your face and neck. It's either sun block lotion or a wide rimmed hat."

He growled, "I'm not gonna wear a ten-gallon hat! They're bigger than my entire head!"

I recommended, "How about a baseball cap, like your mom used to wear? Then we'll only have to cover your neck a little bit."

Prez shrugged as he rinsed soap from under his nads. Finishing the task, he said, "If those are my only choices then it'll be a cap; as long as I don't have salty-sweat and sun block lotion dripping into my eyes and mouth." Stepping around me so I could rinse off, Prez added, "We gotta find something cool, like maybe a Peterbuilt cap." As soon as I could clear soap from my eyes, I smiled at him. He chuckled, "Wishful thinking, yeah, I know."

I snickered, "Your peter's plenty built already!"

Grinning widely at the turn in the conversation, Prez bellowed, "From your perspective, thankfully."

Turning the water off, I wondered, "Is there anyone else's opinion that matters?"

Stepping outside the tub, Prez sighed, "Other than my own, I suppose not."

He knew I would make a grab for him once out of the tub and I did but not before Prez tossed a towel over my head. Unable to see, I could grab anything and everything I wanted! Prez reached to hold my arms still, cackling insanely. Before long, he realized he needed to remove the towel from my head. Instead of grabbing at him I pulled him into my arms. Loving the body contact, I sighed then whispered, "Your cock kinda twists inside me a little bit, ya know?"

Regaining some composure Prez softly asked, "You feel that too?"

"And it feels fucking incredible," I breathlessly admitted. Prez whimpered and kissed me deeply. It was a really good one at just the right time and I reciprocated fully. Dripping wet, we started grinding and humping away but only long enough to share some affection. Soon enough, we got dressed then let Rush inside before heading to the garage.

The bike tires needed some air and we pumped them up before heading out. We stopped at a local gas station for Gatorade to keep us hydrated. They also had a rack of baseball caps which Prez inspected carefully while I paid for our drinks. Unable to find a hat he liked, we got our drinks then headed to the mall. We walked through Penney's and Macy's checking their selections before finally moving on to Hot Topics, where Prez found several hats he liked. Prez immediately decided against the Beatles hat because it was black and would only retain heat. That left him teetering between a white Fender hat and an olive green Lynyrd Skynyrd hat. He wanted both but didn't want to have to stop by the house to drop off the spare before we went off into the hills. So I took the Fender hat and said, "You wear that one and I'll wear this one until we get back home."

Surprised, Prez asked, "You want one too?"

I nodded, "Why not?"

He smiled at me and clearly transmitted very warm thoughts that settled in my shorts. Buzzing my ass off, I stood beside Prez grinning slightly as he paid for both hats. As he put his money down, I remembered that I wanted to buy him a hat! He had thought of me last night and got me the muscle tee, now in the laundry and splashed with jizz. It was obviously too late, as the lady took his cash and returned his change. Smiling wider, I thought that wasn't exactly how I expected things to turn out; but my chubby pleasantly rubbing against my boxers again prevented me from speaking. At least I had paid for the Gatorade. As we walked towards the exit where our bikes were locked, Prez reached in the sack and handed me the white Fender hat. I put it on and he frowned, "Don't you want to take the tags off and adjust it?"

"Oh, yeah," I stupidly said as I took the hat off. Beside me, Prez started giggling. We glanced at each other only briefly but long enough to keep us silent and giddy all the way out of the mall. Just before we leaned over to unlock our bikes, Prez reached his hand in his shorts and adjusted what appeared to be full wood!

Before we took off, I reached over for him to lean in close. He did so and I whispered, "Why is it that everything we do makes me want to make love with you?"

He chuckled and softly answered, "I don't know but if one of us doesn't start concentrating on something else, we'll never make it to the hills. We'll be lucky to make it home!"

Mounting my bike with a now raging boner, I cracked up and we peddled off.

The area beside Agoura Hills and behind Lost Hills where we go biking has several intersecting dirt trails. There are lots of earthen ramps to go flying off of and various holes and obstacles to avoid; like shrubs with huge thorns that rip chunks of flesh from your legs if you're not careful enough. Of course, we're really not out there to be careful either and the occasional wound happens. During our first break, Prez rubbed the condensation off his Gatorade bottle with his leg where one bush slashed him. Of course, it bled more after getting wet but Prez said it felt a lot better with the cooler bottle against his leg. By our second break, another bush had jumped in my path and attacked my leg!

As we finished our Gatorades, Prez asked, "How far are we from Doug's place?"

"We're actually in old Agoura, I think."

"So we're closer to Doug's than home?" I nodded and watched a wide grin spread across my baby's face. He suggested, "If they're there and doing what I think they're doing, we could get them back for the interruption Saturday night?"

Maniacally, I nodded, "It's definitely worth the trip to check!" and within a minute we were on our way.

Unfortunately, Derrick's car wasn't in the driveway. While I attempted to peek in the kitchen window without trampling the shrubs below, Prez commented, "They only spent a day alone and must've gone surfin'. They'll never beat our record like that!"

Carefully stepping away from the window and shrubs, I chuckled, "They said not to bother them until dinner time. Guess we'll have to get ‘em back another time."

Prez nodded, "It was implied that we would eat dinner here."

"What time is it now?" I wondered.

Prez checked his watch. Sounding surprised he announced "It's twenty of five already!"

"That seems about right, the sun is definitely heading west," I commented. Prez mounted his bike, looking up and around the sky. I couldn't help but giggle.

Smirking and peddling away, Prez hollered, "It's the damn 101 that constantly throws me off!" He then pointed in the direction of the freeway, "The signs say north but it's really west!"

Peddling after him, I cracked up. Prez shifted gears and took off for the trails again. Hollering "Didn't you notice any shadows getting bigger?" I raced after him.

We cut across the trails and took a few ramps on our way back home. In our driveway, Prez rambled, "South is really east, and north is really west, up must be down, therefore inside is outside…" Hopping off my bike, I grabbed hold of him and kissed him hard before he continued and I pissed myself!

After a few shared breaths, Prez slid away and smiled, "I hope I don't ever get really lost."

Shaking my head, I reminded him, "You led the way home. You led us to the mall."

Prez started ranting as we put our bikes away. "All by landmarks I now know. If one landmark burns down, I'm driving around in circles until I run out of money for gas! Then I start walking but where the hell am I walking to? The sun sets in the west so the 101 could be to the north… but if I'm wrong I'm lost in Ventura county somewhere and quasi-homeless only because I can't find my way home!"

I was laughing so hard I was practically in tears as I followed Prez into the house from the garage.

Sitting on the sofa with Corey, Drew smiled, "What's so funny?"

With his arms out feeling for walls and his eyes closed, Prez grinned, "Help me to my room so I don't get lost again?"

"You got lost?" Corey chuckled.

I snickered, "Not this time." Prez squinted at me but couldn't fully wipe the grin off his face. He then huffed and headed for our room. I noticed John in the kitchen before hurrying after Prez.

The moment I crossed the threshold into our room, Prez grabbed me around the waist and spun us around until we landed on the bed. When we stopped making out for a few moments, I whispered, "You know your sense of direction isn't quite as hopeless as you make it sound?"

Underneath me, Prez shrugged, "It sure is confusing at times."

Pushing up off him and kneeling on the bed, I used my hands and arms to demonstrate for him; "Here's the 118 freeway. It does run east-west and never varies. The 101 comes out of the city in a north-westerly direction at North Hollywood and then veers completely west. It then goes a little ways in a southwest direction starting right near Woodland Hills. Around Agoura, it then turns north-west and stays that way until you get to the city of Ventura." Prez nodded and I finished, "From there on up to San Francisco, the 101 runs pretty much parallel to the coastline, sometimes right near the beach; other times through mountains and hills miles away from the shore."

"So when we decide to go up North to check out Berkeley, we would take the 101?" Prez wondered.

Lying back down beside him, I answered, "We could and it's a scenic drive most of the way but…"

"And there's always a ‘but'."

Smiling, I continued, "It would take a good eight to ten hours because the 101 has lots of spots where the speed limit is down to thirty-five."

"And the alternative is?"

"The I5."

Prez frowned, "We'd have to go… umm… east to grab the 405!"

"Exactly! But we'd be moving at sixty-five or better most of the way and could get there in six hours or less. It's considerably faster but less scenic. It's mostly farmlands, all the way."

Prez hummed then said, "The choice is slow and pretty or fast and boring. You've been up there before?"

I nodded, "We took the 101 to the Hearst Castle a few years ago."

"What's that?"

"William Randolph Hearst was a mass-media publisher and millionaire decades ago, in the nineteen-twenties I think. He built a huge mansion; it's now like a state recreation area and museum. It's about another two hours north of Santa Barbara."

He smiled, "It sounds nice. Could we stop there on our way north?"

I shrugged, "It would be a long stop over. We spent most of a day there, including the three hour trips there and back home again."

Prez nodded and then sighed, "We have to shower and get over to Agoura Hills or Mike will start whining."

I groaned then nodded and we rolled off the bed. It was almost half-past five. As we stepped out of our room, I noticed my dad watching the ballgame on TV with my brothers and Corey. Grabbing Prez by the arm, I led him to the living room.

"How was your day?" my dad asked.

"We were mountain biking over in the hills by Agoura most of the day," Prez answered.

I added, "And we're going over to Doug's place for dinner and the rest of the night."

"Home by one?" my dad asked. He really needed to record that question just so he didn't have to ask it so much.

We both nodded and I assured, "Shouldn't be a problem but we'll call if we decide to stay the night."

My dad waved, "Nice seeing you again. Have a good time."

Prez chuckled and I smiled, "Good to see you too; maybe again tomorrow?"

"It might be nice," my dad joked as we started down the hall for the bathroom.

While we were in the shower, our stomachs started growling loudly. We had a decent enough breakfast but had likely burned off those calories riding around all day. We both began moving a little faster to finish our shower and get over to Agoura Hills for dinner.

Prez's stomach growled again while we dressed and he complained, "We'll probably even have to cook our own dinner."

I nodded, "He'd best not be late and then want me to cook!"

In short order, we grabbed keys and wallets then left the room. Prez said, "Let me quick feed the hound."

My dad wasn't in the living room. He'd probably gone to get changed out of his suit. Before I could sit down, Drew said, "Mike called while you were in the shower. He said that they'd be a little late but should be at Doug's no later than six-thirty."

"I'm gonna kill him," I grumbled. Drew smiled and I explained, "We're starving and he's supposed to make dinner." Turning to the kitchen, I called, "Prez!"

He replied, "Yeah, I heard, Mike's late again."

Entering the kitchen I said; "Let's grab a sandwich real quick. We'll be lucky to eat by eight if we wait on Mike's snail pace."

After feeding and watering Rush, he spun around and opened the fridge. "Turkey breast, bologna or ham and cheese?"

"How's ham and cheese sound to you?"


"Yeah, that sounds even better," I said and then reached under the counter for a frying pan. I put it on the stove and turned the burner up half way.

Prez started buttering slices of bread and tossing them into the pan while I loaded each with layers of cheese, ham and then more cheese. My dad stepped out of his room and asked, "I thought you were eating out?"

"We probably will," I replied.

And Prez added, "But Mike's running behind again and we're too hungry to wait."

My dad nodded and hearing the roar of the stadium crowd, returned to the living room.

About twenty minutes later, we had finished our sandwiches and were cleaning up while my dad began preparing a salad. We soon said our goodbyes and left in Prez's 4Runner. It was about quarter after six. And believe it or not, we still arrived at Doug's before they did!

Parking in the driveway but leaving the engine and A/C running, Prez softly giggled, "Here we go again!"

"He's fucking unbelievable!" I rambled. "He called while we were in the shower almost an hour ago! We cooked and ate and cleaned up too then drove here! I can only wonder what the hell he's doing and where he's doing it!" Leaning over the steering wheel and bowing his head, Prez snickered uncontrollably.

Looking up at the clock in the dashboard, Prez smiled, "He's only three minutes late... or later."

"If we hadn't already eaten, I'd really be fuming."

"I was so hungry I felt a little woozy making those sandwiches."

"That's exactly my point. If it was a matter of survival, we'd be screwed."

"I'll bet he goes into the studio before the kitchen," Prez smirked.

"No bet. Something's severely whacked in his priorities," I huffed. Just then the 442 pulled into the driveway beside us. There were two other dudes in the backseat, I noticed. Prez turned off the engine and I wondered aloud, "Who's that with them?"

"Either a captive audience or human sacrifices," Prez joked. Wide-eyed, I turned to face him and cracked up! As we stepped out of the car, I was still laughing and Prez chuckled insanely.

Derrick and the two other dudes met us near the back of the 4Runner. Mike wisely chose to walk around the front of the cars, a safe distance away from me. Mike said, "Prez, Keith, meet Pete and Brian. Pete, Brian, these are Keith and Prez."

Disapprovingly, I faced Mike and huffed, "Nice intro." Turning back to the other two dudes, I extended a hand to the shorter of the two then properly introduced myself and Preston.

"Howdy y'all," Prez exaggerated his accent and enthusiastically extended a hand to the taller boy named Pete.

"Let's get our buns inside. I'm hungry!" Mike exclaimed while rubbing his belly.

"You have the keys, Mike," I reminded.

"No, actually I don't. D has them. Derrick, what's taking you so long? Let us in the house already!"

Derrick stopped dead in his tracks, faced Mike and stared.

"Please?" Mike asked plaintively.

"That's better." Derrick smiled triumphantly and led us to the front door.

Turning to Brian, Prez asked, "You guys are together?"

"Yeah," Brian confirmed. "It's a long story. I promised Derrick I'd tell you guys tonight."

"Derrick?" Prez asked, obviously surprised. "What did he do to get you to promise that?"

"He asked," Brian answered and then added, "I told him I'd rather tell the whole story once rather than tell it two or three times."

"See?" Derrick said from the door as he opened it. "I'm not a total closet case."

"You better not be, dude," Mike responded, "or I'll have to drag you out kickin' and screamin'."

"There you go with the screaming again," Prez teased as we walked into the house. "That is why you two are staying here, right? So your screaming doesn't wake up your mom and sister?"

"Shut up," Mike shot back. "You're one to talk Mister ‘Oh God, yes, harder Keith!'"

My baby's face almost caught fire, he was so embarrassed that two virtual strangers heard Mike's shot. Softly chuckling, I reached for his hand. Derrick and Pete laughed heartily at the joke but Brian only smiled. I think he was a bit surprised we were close enough to say stuff like that to each other. Or maybe he wouldn't say anything like that ever.

Prez snickered, "Touché," then buried his face in my shoulder for a few seconds.

Looking over at Brian and Pete again, I softly asked, "You dudes aren't really out, are you?"

Pete replied, "Only to family and a few friends. But other than that… we were talking about it on the way back from the beach."

Mike confidently stated, "Well you're with friends here, dudes. Bring your stuff inside and get comfy."

Brian turned to his partner and softly smiled, "I'll get our bags, Pete."

"Okay baby," Pete nodded. Unnecessarily, Brian's face flushed.

Mike started for the hallway and softly tapped Pete's arm saying, "Come on dude, and check out the studio." Prez and I faced each other, grinning knowingly, and then followed Mike, Pete and Derrick down the hall.

In the studio, Derrick wandered over to the computer and mixer then began powering things up. Mike had taken out three guitars and a different bass for Prez.

Obviously impressed, Prez mooed and pulled me over towards it. "A Warwick 5-string with a flamed maple top," Prez raved on. "And active electronics too!" He let go of me and spun around. "You found this in their collection, Mike?"

Already wearing a Gibson acoustic guitar, Mike nodded and said, "She's already plugged in. Turn the amp on and let's play somethin'."

Prez turned the amp on and Derrick stepped behind the drums. "Pick your poison," Prez said.

Mike and Derrick checked with each other and almost simultaneously answered, "Teach Your Children."

Facing Derrick, Prez said, "Count it out, D."

Derrick adjusted his headset and mic then said, "The other mic is hot too, Keith." I stepped away from Prez and in front of the mic stand. Then Derrick counted off the tempo. Better than ever before, Mike, Prez and Derrick came down on that first beat just perfectly. We had played the song at least fifty times in the many months since Doug taught it to us. Prez and I started singing the first verse. Mike and Derrick and Pete joined us at the chorus.

Brian returned and sat on one of the chairs while our band and Pete finished the tune. We began chatting and soon learned our new friends hadn't come very far out of the closet at all. To prove we weren't going to cause them any trouble, Mike and Derrick kissed passionately and so did Prez and I. In no time at all, my brain spun, my heartbeat quickened and I lost myself in Preston's tasty kiss.

Suddenly Mike loudly said, "Okay! Umm… dinner! Yeah, that's what we were going to do. Then the jams, then the making out." Prez stepped back from me and we grinned at Mike. "And then… the oral sex!" Mike added, and we all cracked up!

While Pete and Prez went to the kitchen and began making dinner, I prompted Brian to tell us their story. It began really sweet, when Brian and Pete were much younger, about twelve or so I'd guess; during sixth and seventh grade. Then the story took a sour turn when Pete told his parents that he was gay. Things got really ugly for them and Pete's mom took Pete to Portland, leaving Brian in a deep funk for a long time.

Throwing himself at wrestling and school, Brian fought to get past the situation with his parents and tried to learn to live without Pete. Then Brian admitted that he had developed eating disorders trying to make sense of his shattered world. From the kitchen, Prez gasped, "Jesus!" and I turned to look at him. While Prez seemed somewhat sad and a bit stunned, I noticed that Pete seemed equally shocked. I thought that odd. Pete must've known this; I thought and wondered why he seemed so taken aback.

Brian continued relaying his story. At one point, Pete became so emotional, he crossly asked, "Brian, why didn't you tell me about the eating problem?" My eyes widened. So Pete hadn't known about it… until now. Suddenly, Brian's old problem became much worse because it was never shared with Pete. Brian held it all inside. Pete's tone of voice said it all. Yeah, he was a little angry and disappointed but he was also scared to death.

As Brian started ragging on himself, I reminded him that bulimia was a disease. He understood it, at least technically, but still insisted that he should've been able to control it. Pete then promised that he would do anything and everything to help Brian with this problem just as they had helped each other with other issues in their lives. I also invited Pete and Brian to my house so they could meet and maybe talk with Corey and Drew. With some prompting from Prez, Mike and Derrick, they agreed.

Then Pete told his half of the story. Learning about his mom and grandparents and then his mom's abusive boyfriend left my nerves on edge. I started shaking all over with fear and scanned the room. Everyone had the same concerned expression except Derrick. His face was pointed at the floor and he reached up to wipe his eyes. Wrapping an arm around Derrick, Mike tried to calm him. Soon Pete finished his story and then called Brian aside so they could talk. I'll bet they had lots to say to each other. While they were in the guest bedroom, the four of us talked softly about what we had learned. But Pete and Brian were getting kind of loud with their conversation. I went back to check on them and Brian hurried past me without saying a word. While that left me puzzled, at that moment I was more concerned with Pete and the tears pooling in his eyes.

Sometimes asking the tired old question "Are you okay?" is beyond foolish. It was obvious that Pete was not okay in any way. So, I shared a summarized version of my own story with Pete; not to take his thoughts away from Brian but to remind him and myself about the power of hope, of having as positive an outlook as can be mustered. I told him about my own fucked up perceptions – of being gay, of not wanting to deal with it and searching for an easy way out. And then, I told him what happened when I came out to my family. Then I soon had a part time job doing something that interests me. And a month or so after that, a sexy red-headed Texan moved to town. I was going to add the part about Mrs. O'Brian and how Prez and I have remained a couple through all that but I guess I didn't need to. Pete had already gotten the picture. With a smile and a friendly pat on the back, Pete decided we needed to get back. Smiling, I nodded and Pete stood up. He opened the door and started down the hall.

Close behind, I followed Pete back to the living room. Exactly what was being said there, I didn't clearly hear.

But Pete heard. As he entered the room, Pete asked, "Before I dump you because I've had enough?" Brian shot up and onto his feet so fast he seemed to blur.

Prez slid beside me with a questioning expression. A nod and a kiss answered that; I thought the little that was said alone in the other room between Pete and I was enough. We both went to the kitchen to stir pots and check the oven before our dinner turned to cinders.

Just as I turned to call Mike into the kitchen, he hollered over the music; "Aw… ain't they cute?" Brian and Pete were holding a soulful kiss. Standing immediately behind Mike, Derrick fought to control himself but shook it off and slapped Mike upside the head! Derrick and I both shouted, "Shut up Mike!" and Prez began giggling behind me.

Soon enough we were sitting down to dinner; a dinner that Prez and Pete mostly handled I repeatedly reminded Mike. I guess it was around nine by the time we got the kitchen and dining room cleaned up. The six of us returned to the studio. Thankfully, Mike didn't feel like recording; he and all of us just wanted to jam and have some fun. After running through Crazy Little Thing Called Love with Pete joining in, Prez powered up the keyboards and suggested we try Baba O'Reilly. It took a minute or two for Prez to get the thing working. I lifted my glass of water and let an ice cube slip into my mouth so I could crunch on it and cool my throat. Soon the recognizable synth part filled the room. As the song progressed, Pete got up and sang along with me. Mostly he stayed away from the mic but every so often he'd step up close to me and add a really excellent harmony vocal. During a short break in the vocal part, he told me he wanted to handle the next few lines so I stepped back and got another drink of water. Before I could turn around, he clearly sang, "Don't cry. Don't raise your eye. It's only teenage wasteland." Still stunned at how awesome he sounded singing the part, I hurried over and sang the remainder of the song. At the end of the song, we all excitedly told Pete he did a fantastic job. For another hour and a half, we played with Pete and Brian adding vocals here and there. What had started out as a relatively somber evening turned into a lot of fun.

Around eleven o'clock, after a truly hilarious version of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell with Prez and Mike handling lead vocals, he put his bass down, turned off the amp and slithered towards me. Opening my arms, we kissed. I only heard the drumsticks being put down and the pop of Mike's amp being turned off. When I opened my eyes again and slid my chin over Preston's shoulder, I noticed that Brian and Pete weren't in the room. Mike and Derrick were in a similar state.

Making eye contact with me, Derrick softly wondered, "Where'd they go?

I shrugged then Prez's head popped up off my shoulder and he looked around.

Mike said, "They can't be far unless they're walking back to the hotel."

"They probably just want some time alone," Prez offered.

Shifting around slightly, Mike asked, "Anybody wanna get high, besides me?"

Prez snickered and I grinned at him. "As long as I don't have to roll a joint," Prez answered. "I've learned it's a skill that requires a bit of practice."

Stepping away from Mike, Derrick said, "No worries. We found Doug and Brian's bong."

"Amongst other things!" Mike cackled as Derrick opened the door and stepped out of the room.

I glared at him accusingly and queried, "What other things?" Derrick was just outside the room, reaching into the linen closet.

Mike replied, "We found some old porn tapes, from the seventies and eighties." and Prez howled.

Returning and closing the door, Derrick softly said, "The one we watched had to be from the seventies. The dudes were wearing white sox with colored stripes!"

"Omigod!" Prez and I laughed while Derrick and Mike sat down on the floor. Soon we were sitting down on the floor with them. While Derrick crumpled a bud into the bong, I commented, "It looks like Aladdin's Lamp." It was less than a foot long, about six inches high and painted dark blue with dark green splotches scattered randomly.

"Yeah," Prez agreed. "Is it glass?"

"Nope, ceramic" Derrick answered, then put the bong to his mouth and lit it, taking his first hit.

Mike warned, "Don't fill the bowl dudes. The thing's as old as we are and a full one will kick your ass." Holding in a lung-full, Derrick nodded, put the bong on the floor and briefly sputtered. Then Mike pulled the bong over and refilled the bowl. As Mike lit it and took a hit, Derrick finally exhaled.

"Is this cool?" Prez asked. "In the house, I mean."

Again Derrick nodded, "We wanted to say thank you in some way the other night before they left. So we offered to share a joint with them. They eventually agreed but when I pulled a joint out Doug went and got this ol' baby. The smoke gets cooled by water and they said its way better than joints."

Leaning close to me, Prez whispered, "I've never seen one before." Mike put the bong down and slid it towards me.

"Me neither," I said clearly so Mike and Derrick would hear.

"It's no biggie," Derrick grinned. "Put a little weed in the bowl. Keep it level while you pick it up so dirty water don't spill out. Put your thumb over the carburetor, then light it and inhale slowly. When you're ready, remove your thumb and inhale the last of the smoke."

Prez smiled, "I don't see an engine or carburetor." Mike sputtered then roared laughing and started hacking his lungs up!

We all started chuckling at Mike then Derrick showed us the carburetor and explained, "If you don't hold this little hole, the smoke won't go through the water."

"I'm just a bong virgin," Prez snickered while I filled the bowl only halfway.

I asked, "Is this enough or too much?"

Leaning over and looking, Derrick said, "That should be cool."

I lifted it to my mouth with my left thumb over the little hole at the end and just as I was ready to light it, Mike smiled and coughed, "Go slow bro; too much too fast and you'll cough your head off."

"Like you just did?" I smirked.

"That was because of Prez!" Mike chuckled and then turned to Prez. "Ya kill me sometimes, really ya do."

Shrugging in the cutest way ever, Prez smiled, "Until tonight the only carburetors I've ever seen were on car engines."

Derrick explained, "We'd never used one either until a few nights ago." I lit the bowl, inhaling as slowly as I ever had. Suddenly the ash in the bowl got sucked into the water. "Lift your thumb now dude," Derrick instructed and I did so. A lot of smoke suddenly rushed into my lungs. Involuntarily my eyes slammed shut and I put the bong down.

Still trying to hold the hit, I opened my eyes and squeaked, "Holy shit!"

"Pretty great, huh?" Mike snickered.

"As soon as we move out of your mom's house, I'm getting a bong," Derrick said.

Prez carefully filled the bowl and checked with Mike and Derrick.

Watching Prez light the bowl I started to exhale. Prez uncovered and recovered the carburetor several times while taking his hit before putting the bong down.

"He's a natural!" Mike smiled.

Derrick turned to me and explained, "That's what Doug and Brian were doing the other night. The great thing is - we've smoked very little; less than a pin-joints worth."

Mike nodded and added, "Joints waste a lot. While we're passing it around, it's still burning off into space. This is so much better and our weed will last a little longer."

I turned to Prez. He was still holding his breath and turning redder than I've ever seen. He exhaled without so much as a sputter then said, "This is awesome! It doesn't taste like a joint and doesn't burn my lungs. Does it really save that much reefer?"

Derrick nodded and Mike said, "I came here with less than half of my little bit and we're still smoking it."

"We haven't even touched my little bag yet," Derrick added.

Turning to me, Prez asked, "Would you mind if we saved what's left of mine for here?"

"Not at bit, baby," I warmly smiled.

Glancing at Prez and then me, Derrick inquired, "What've you dudes been up to the last few days?"

"We went to the beach yesterday for a little while then I had to work," I answered.

And Prez added, "While Keith worked, I practiced and played with Rush. After Drew and John got home…"

"You were alone?" Derrick interrupted and Prez nodded. Derrick asked, "For how long?"

"About two hours, I guess," Prez answered but didn't elaborate. He then continued on, telling them about dinner, my mom and the sick kid and his trip to the mall.

"You got the Guster CD's, very cool!" Derrick excitedly said. He then asked, "Whadya think?"

"I had the player shuffling all the new CD's but what I heard sounded great." Prez exclaimed, "I can't believe we've never heard them on the radio."

"How would you describe them?" Mike asked.

Humming thoughtfully for a few moments, Prez then said, "Alternative rock, good lyrics, nice melodies and the guys harmonize pretty well. I thought you had heard their stuff."

Shaking his head, Mike said, "Only Derrick, not me."

"I'm really looking forward to the concert!" Prez exuberantly added.

I commented, "They're a three man band, which surprised us both because it sounded more like a four or five piece group."

Derrick loaded the bong again and passed it around. We rambled on taking various tangents for only a little while longer. A little before midnight, Prez and I got ready to leave while Mike and Derrick went to bed. We noticed Brian and Pete lying together on the sofa.

Prez took my hand in his and led me just to the edge of the dining area table. I softly said, "Look at that. They look good together."

Prez whispered, "Yeah, they do. It sounds like they've had a real hard time, though. And Brian… can you believe he just told us he's bulimic and he hadn't even told Pete? I mean, he doesn't know us from Adam and he just put it out there."

"It was kind of weird," I agreed. "Maybe it was time for Pete to find out. You know how they say things happen for a reason? Maybe this all happened for a reason, too. Maybe he's supposed to meet Corey and Drew."


"Could be; I still can't believe it though. Brian is built like a brick shithouse. It doesn't add up."

The next thing I knew Brian was off the couch and standing. Damn! Open mouth and insert foot I thought. He put a finger to his mouth and motioned us over to the kitchen. Once there I sheepishly apologized.

"Nothing to be sorry for," Brian assured. "Like you said, things happen for a reason. This is one of those things."

"Maybe," I replied uncertainly.

"I believe it is," Brian said. "There have been too many things happening on this trip for it all to be coincidence. From the first night we camped out in Oregon to my brother's boyfriend getting bashed… and other incidents in between… it seems like I'm being led, but I don't know to where or who's holding the leash. Even meeting Mike and Derrick, and then you guys… I can't believe its only coincidence."

"Do you believe in God, Brian?" Prez whispered.

Brian nodded. "Yeah, I do. I don't go to church, but I believe. I have to after everything I've been through. Someone was looking out for me. I wouldn't be alive otherwise."

I softly smiled, "We're going to head home, but we'll meet you guys here around ten tomorrow morning and we'll head out to the beach and then to my place from there. Dinner will be around six. Is that cool?"

Brian nodded. "Sounds good to me."

Prez said, "Mike and Derrick have gone to bed, so if you guys are going to stay, the guest room is open. Just lock up, okay?"

"Sure," Brian nodded. "Getting Pete to move at this point will be a challenge, though." He then paused, obviously considering something. He then asked, "Are you guys like us? Committed?"

"Definitely," I happily confirmed as we moved toward the front door. "It's been interesting. A lot has happened for us, too. We'll tell you about some of it tomorrow." Prez looked down at the floor for a moment.

"Only if you feel comfortable," Brian said, "Be careful driving home, guys."

"We will be," Prez affirmed. "It's been really good meeting you, Brian, and Pete, too. You guys have given me a lot to think about."

"Me too."

"Same for us," Brian said. Prez and I shook his hand then stepped outside. "See you tomorrow."

"G'night," Prez said as he pulled the door behind him. As we started for the 4Runner, we heard the deadbolt click.

Once on our way home, I turned to Prez and asked, "Would you mind if I told them about your mom?"

Shaking his head vigorously, Prez answered, "Not at all."

"The way you looked down before, I thought maybe you'd rather not."

He nodded and hummed affirmatively then briefly glanced my way and smiled, "You'll be doing most of the talking. That way I won't get choked up… again!"

"If there's anybody that has good reason to, it's you and people who've gone through something similar." Prez only nodded and merged onto the freeway. Shaking my head, I softly apologized and explained, "Guess I'm too stoned to push the edit button."

"No reason to be sorry. I just don't want to go there. I'd rather be here, with you." He paused and chuckled, "More stoned than I think I've ever been!"

I grinned, "You're driving as good as ever too. Just remember to use your blinkers and make complete stops so no cops get suspicious."

"What did you think of Brian and Pete?" Keith asked.

"Intense," was the first word out of my mouth.

Nodding, Keith said, "I can't believe that Brian hadn't told Pete of his eating disorder before. Pete was really bummed about it too. They kinda need to communicate better and trust each other more."

I rambled, "Not everyone is like you and your family. Since day one, I felt just as comfortable with you and your folks as I felt with my mom. There's been only a few times when I felt I needed to think before saying something to you or any of them. And I almost always say what I need to immediately… except that one time that got me in trouble."

"When was that?" Keith asked as I exited the freeway. As soon as I could do so, I turned to him, surprised he didn't remember. And he still looked at me with questioning eyes!

I loudly asked, "Do you really not recall?" Expressionless, he turned my way, waiting. For a moment I asked myself if I should bring it up again. I sure didn't want to remind him of how I had betrayed his trust. I even remembered the exact day since it was the six month anniversary of my mom's accident. More to prove my point, I softly said, "When I told you that Nelson and his friends figured out we were gay; the night of April seventeenth."

Obviously stunned, Keith hollered, "Oh that! You weren't in trouble though."

Happy tears began to fill my eyes. Thankfully, I only had to drive a little further before pulling in front of the house. As soon as I set the parking brake, I turned to him saying, "I'm really glad you don't think of it but it's an experience I'll never forget."

Taking my hand in his, Keith assured, "I was having nightmares for a while too. I understood why you held it back. It was to protect me. That counts."

Now I was awestruck! At first I could only kiss his hand. Turning off the engine, I smiled brightly, "You are so completely awesome and lovable in so many ways!"

Releasing his safety belt and opening the door, I saw my lover blush as he turned to me and challenged, "Race ya to the bedroom."

Before I could agree in any form, he was on his way to the front door. Stepping out of the car and closing the door, I noticed lights were still on in the house.

In the middle of the lawn, he huffed, "Dammit, someone's still awake."

Wrapping my arms around his waist, I pulled him close and whispered, "It doesn't matter. You won."

"I feel like playing though," he whined.

I affirmed, "And we will, as soon as we get in our room."

Moments later we were inside, sitting on the loveseat talking with his parents and John. Keith told them about Brian and Pete, that he had invited them to dinner and that he thought Brian could share his story with Corey. Once everything was discussed, we said goodnight as they padded towards their bedroom.

The prior summer, there was one afternoon where Mike, Derrick, Keith and I burned four joints in four hours. But that night in the studio with Derrick and Mike, we each only had two bong hits apiece and I was at least twice as wasted. Keith felt the same way – totally blot toed he called himself – a spec on the landscape! It was well after midnight and I tried to control myself but roared laughing into a pillow.

We started to make love but being so wrecked and silly we never finished what we started. We had so much fun though! It was a night for the record books. When I leaned over to reset our alarm for 8:45AM, Keith attacked me. He wasn't really humping my butt since he hadn't even tried to enter me… more like bumping my butt! And he was acting like he was getting off on it majorly! Even oral sex got ludicrous when we tried to lick each other off. Then I took it to the next level; holding his hard bone and gradually approaching with my mouth open wide I then snapped my jaw shut only an inch or less from the target.

"Ooo, try to bite me, will ya?" Keith laughed, grabbed me around the belly and held on tight, loudly chomping near my dick, balls and thighs! About an hour later we settled down in bed and, between yawns, kissed goodnight.

The alarm went off and Keith smacked it. Even after a good night's sleep, he was still being silly. Moving in for his morning kiss and to grope my woody, he gently bit my nose! Barely awake for two minutes we were hysterical, rolling around and playfully biting lips, ears, noses and nipples. Pulling on boardies, we crossed the hall and brushed our teeth then shared our morning kiss before heading to the kitchen.

Juice and granola bars traveled with us to Agoura Hills. Minutes later, breakfast was eaten and we found ourselves stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Keith sighed, "We forgot to grab a hat before we left home."

"Good thing I remembered the sun-block."

"Keep the hats in the truck from now on, okay?"

Instead of exiting at Kanan Road, we crawled off the freeway at Driver Avenue. Still acting stoned, I purposefully mispronounced Chesebro "Cheese-a-bro" and Keith giggled, "No, let's call it Cheese-dick Road!"

"There's no cheese on my dick, dude! Gotta have some foreskin for that!" I grinned.

Turning towards me, Keith smiled, "We've gone a day without now. I hope you're ready later tonight."

"Keep me away from that bong and I will be!" I promised.

I knocked on the door of Doug and Brian's house, expecting Brian or Pete to answer because Derrick and Mike were still asleep. But Mike swung the door open and let us in. "Hey guys," I said as I leaned against the entryway wall. "How was your night?"

Mike smiled, "Oh man, you missed it Prez. We had a gay ol' time after you left, didn't we guys?"

"Jealous?" Brian calmly teased, yet he blushed fiercely.

Unbelievably, Mike stepped closer to Brian and Pete, scanning Pete's tall, trim body. Spinning around to Derrick, Mike said, "Yeah, I am."

Stunned, Derrick hollered, "Oh dude, you just earned a night on the couch!" We all cracked up.

"Seriously, though, you guys were makin' some good noise in there," Mike slyly commented. "You woke us up and we had to go for it again."

Surprising Keith and I, Pete blushed, "We weren't trying to be quiet. Sorry if we bothered you. We didn't think you would mind."

"Mind? Hell no!" Mike excitedly blurted. "It got me some more of this stud, so why would I mind?"

Through our combined laughter, Derrick smiled, "Okay, you earned your way back… as long as you behave."

Seemingly disappointed, Mike's face lowered. "But that's no fun."

Shaking his head, Derrick chuckled, "You are so bad."

Unable to take it anymore and anxious to get going, I wondered, "Are we gonna yap all day or are we hitting the beach?"

Making eye contact with me and then Keith, Pete agreed. "Let's hit the road."

Brian picked up two rolled towels for himself and Pete while Derrick scurried around checking to make sure the doors were locked and appliances were turned off. Returning from the master bedroom with towels, Mike led us to the door. Keith and I stepped outside with Brian and Pete close behind. I unlocked the 4Runner and I called for Brian and Pete to ride with us. "I can make it to the beach and back without a map or compass," I joked. Keith began softly snickering. Brian and Pete smiled uncertainly and piled into the backseat.

As we pulled away from the curb, I asked, "What kinds of music do you guys like?"

Brian replied, "Just about anything, I guess."

"Anything pop," Pete specified. "We don't like elevator music or opera."

Leaning forward, Keith turned the radio on and said, "Stop me if you hear something you like." Immediately, we heard Metallica's Enter Sandman playing. Keith turned around for opinions.

Pete scrunched his nose and shook his head saying, "Just not in the mood for thrashing this early in the day."

"Find some classic rock, like you guys were playing last night," Brian offered.

Pressing one of the preset buttons, Keith said, "You sang really well last night, Pete." The station changed to KCBS where we found Baby Come Back playing.

"Thanks," Pete smiled, "It's just something I've always done… singing along with the radio, I mean. You guys just happened to play songs I knew reasonably well."

"We just started working on ‘The Who' tunes the last week or so," I admitted. Most of the way down Malibu Canyon we discussed music, favorite bands and songs. As I turned onto PCH, Brian wondered if we were going to Russ's shop for gear. I assured him we would and then asked how they knew of Russ's place.

It turns out that was where they met Derrick and Mike. Initially, they were looking for surfing instructions. Russ had introduced them. Brian smirked, "Pete's a natural surfer, I'm a natural sinker."

Wrapping an arm around his partner, Pete assured, "You're not that bad, baby." Obviously stunned, Brian turned to Pete.

"It took me all last summer and the first few weeks of this summer to find my balance," I confessed. In the rearview mirror, I noticed Brian whispering in Pete's ear.

As I slowed to turn across PCH, Brian asked, "Can I ask how you two met?"

I glanced at Keith and smiled, "Soon after I moved here, I got lost one night and Keith rescued me," then shot across the road and pulled alongside Russ's shop.

We got out and Keith smiled, "He's at his cutest when he's confused." I acted shocked for our new friends but made eye contact with my lover. Taking my hand in his, Keith grinned, "From that first day and through the rest of the summer we spent just about every day and night together." With the stereo blasting, Derrick's 442 pulled in and parked.

"We spent the whole next day together riding our bikes around the valley," I added. Mike and Derrick hopped out of the car and stepped up to us.

Keith said, "Then we had dinner at my house and went to Malibu that night with these two."

"What are you talking about?" Mike wondered.

I answered, "How we met last year."

Derrick smiled knowingly but Mike rolled his eyes and spat, "They were married before we had even met Prez!"

Keith laughed, "No we weren't!"

"I dunno," Derrick snickered, "It sure seemed that way."

"Okay, not exactly married." Mike agreed but stipulated, "By the time we left the beach that night you sure were. You consummated your relationship that night didn't you?" Brian and Pete smiled at us as we continued bantering to and fro.

"Not that night!" I loudly insisted. Seeing Russ heading our way, I softly chuckled, "The next morning." That set Mike and Derrick off laughing, calling us Misters Sweet and Innocent again!

Probably uncertain how to deal with the four of us at once, Brian and Pete turned and greeted Russ. The four of us followed them into the shack to get our boards and wetsuits. Once our boards were tied down on the roof of the 4Runner, we got in and followed Derrick back out to PCH. Keith drove and we shared a few stories about our first months together without Mike and Derrick's commentaries. At one point, Keith described how he felt like he was tearing in half every time we had to separate and that he always found an excuse for just one more hug, just one more touch, just one more kiss. We pulled into the Zuma beach parking lot just as we had finished up telling them about our birthday party.

The four of us had our boards off the roof in no time and soon caught up with Mike and Derrick then hit the surf. Pete was a natural surfer. Brian kept trying and losing his balance, much like I had the prior summer. Derrick, Keith and Mike gave him pointers but I knew from experience that all the ideas would only help him understand what he needed to do. Like I had eventually done, Brian would just have to find his balance and learn to deal with the water pushing the board around beneath his feet. He was getting frustrated but that only made him more determined.

For the first time that season, we got lunch at one of the beach vendors. Derrick, Pete and I went for a walk for food and drinks while Mike and Keith stayed in the water with Brian. By the time we returned with burgers, hot dogs, salads and drinks, they were on the beach drying off and ready to eat. Brian began rapidly shoveling his salad into his mouth. Pete warned him to slow down so he wouldn't get cramps while in the water. Slowing down a little, Brian swallowed then explained, "I'm so close to completing a ride. It's the white water closer to the beach that's causing me to wipe out."

Swallowing, I nodded, "Been there, done that, all last summer."

"You'll manage baby," Pete softly smiled. Again Brian looked around nervously. It took me a few seconds to figure out that Brian wasn't upset with Pete; he was simply shocked that Pete had used a pet name on a public beach. Glancing at Keith briefly, I'm sure he noticed Brian's discomfort. The prior summer we were likely acting the same way, I realized.

Derrick and Mike on the other hand were completely oblivious, having grabbed the last hot dog at the same time and fighting for possession. Then Mike tore the dog in two, took his half out of the bun and began doing sexual things with it, causing Keith, Pete and I to fall apart in hysterics! Blushing fiercely and shaking his head slowly, Derrick chuckled, "You are beyond bad!"

"You love it too," Mike grinned, and then stuffed the hot dog in his mouth and chewed.

Showing his sillier side, Derrick grimaced and hollered, "Ouch! It hurts! Stop biting it!"

Mike snickered and gagged a little before swallowing. Finally, Mike shot back "I hate beach sand on wieners; they get all crunchy and salty!"

"Don't ya hate that?" Keith chuckled.

"It makes it way more difficult to get to the gooey center!" I snickered.

Everyone roared at once. Finally, Keith glared at Mike and Derrick then playfully complained, "You two have been a bad influence on Prez."

Smiling proudly and standing, Mike and Derrick announced they were going to the toidy then walked off towards the parking lot. Since Keith and I had finished lunch but Brian and Pete were still finishing up, we decided to go for a short walk down the beach and excused ourselves.

Once we were down by the water line, I said, "I'm surprised Brian is having such a hard time surfing. With his wrestling skills, I'd think he'd have no problems at all."

"In wrestling you plant yourself, shifting most of your weight in a direction," Keith explained. "Surfing is much more subtle."

"I hadn't realized that. No wonder I wind up beneath you so often," I grinned.

"Oooo-kay! Did it suddenly get warmer?" Keith laughed, and then ran into the surf and dove in.

I followed him into knee deep water. As he returned I chuckled, "I was still talking about wrestling!"

He wiped water off his face and away from his eyes then smiled, "Sure ya were; in bed and out of it!"

"I'm being bad?"

Wrapping an arm around my shoulders, Keith whispered, "Very, but that's one of the reasons I love you."

That did it! Suddenly it was indeed very warm. Pulling Keith along with me, I tossed myself into the water before the tent I was pitching in my new boardies became obvious to everyone at Zuma. While underwater, I adjusted myself as best as I could. Rising to the surface and letting a wave push me ashore, I could intermittently hear Keith laughing. Standing beside him, I asked, "Do you think we'll have some time alone today?"

"I hope so," Keith smiled. "Brian and Pete are coming over tonight, remember? If we don't get the chance, be prepared for an all nighter."

"Guaranteed," I nodded.

"Let's head back," Keith suggested and then pointed, "Brian and Pete are already surfin'. Since we both forgot to bring a hat along, you need some more sun-block too."

Snarling, I softly growled, "Not on my face again, please?"

Keith sighed, "You're already getting burned, especially your shoulders baby. It's sun-block or minimal time in the water."

"We'll put all the sun-block you want on my shoulders and back; just not my face again."

"It's a deal," Keith said, and then suggested, "We'll toss the Frisbee around the beach and only go in the water to cool off."

"Remind me to put the hats in the truck later, please?"

Nearer to our towels and gear, Mike and Derrick passed us, carrying surfboards and heading back to the surf. Wrapped in a towel, Keith had hidden the tube of sun-block lotion so it wouldn't boil in the sun. He's always thinking of things like that to make me more comfortable. He squirted a large amount into his hand, passed me the tube then moved around to my back. I started applying the stuff onto my chest and belly. Once Keith reached the waistband of my boardies, he tugged them down a little.

"Shit!" he grumbled. "You're frying out here Prez."

"I'll survive."

"I know you will baby, for now. What I'm worried about is skin cancer ten or twenty years from now. Do you want me breaking down and crying every time I look at you?"

I sighed, "I know why, Keith. And no, I don't want to be scarred and sure don't want you crying every time you see me."

"We're putting our T-shirts back on," Keith strongly demanded.

"You don't have to."

"If you are, I am."

I reached down and happened to pick up Keith's T-shirt. I grinned and put it on before he could say a word! Noticing it was my shirt in his hand Keith began giggling and pulled it over his head.

He then grabbed the Frisbee and we moved towards the water where there were fewer people to accidentally trip over. Keith chuckled, "What I'm wondering is what excuse we can come up with when they take out the bong later."

"I'll tell them the truth. We skipped last night and again this morning, wore each other's T-shirts this afternoon and if we get stoned and miss another night, we'll be hospitalized with ruptured testicles tomorrow!"

Briefly cupping his crotch with one hand, Keith giggled, "They'll just have to deal."

We started to separate and toss the Frisbee. Mostly we stayed on the beach but occasionally the wind would send it towards the water, giving us the chance to cool off. Within thirty minutes, Pete was out of the water and playing with us. Soon afterwards, Derrick joined us and finally Mike came out and grabbed his football.

Brian remained in the water and we all hollered our congratulations when he finally rode a wave all the way. Of course, he had to ride a few more waves to make sure he had the skill down. Once satisfied, Brian walked out of the surf and up to where our towels were. Pete broke away from us to follow his partner. Derrick was near me and commented, "Brian is one mass of muscle! Not an ounce of fat anywhere," then ran to catch the football.

Chasing after the Frisbee, I wondered, "He's about as tall as Mike, don't you think?"

"And he's more cut than Keith or any of us," Derrick said then hurled the football. "Pete's taller than all of us."

Having already sent the Frisbee flying, I nodded, "About six feet give or take an inch, I think." Down the beach, Keith and Mike waved for Derrick and me to join them.

Soon we had gathered our surfboards, towels and slipped into sandals or sneakers then headed for the parking lot. Derrick and Mike went directly to the 442 but Brian, Pete, Keith and I needed to use the men's room before facing the drive back to Agoura Hills. Once the boards were tied down and we were on our way, Brian was obviously very tired. Pete had even mentioned that his boyfriend's fingertips were prunes and that he'd be hurting the next day.

On Kanan Dune Road, on the way to Agoura Hills, the four of us chatted about Brian's workout routine, height and weight. Unfortunately, the discussion also led Brian and Pete into a minor disagreement over what Brian had eaten during lunch. Eventually, Brian just stared out the window and stopped talking. They were so much like Drew and Corey it was uncanny. I began to wonder about a lot of things – why I had met Keith at just the right time? Why my mom was gone? Why Jake had started the fight? Why Brian and Pete had decided to come to Southern California when they knew no one here? And how they managed to meet Mike and Derrick at the surf shop we always went to when there were literally dozens of them scattered along PCH.

Once at Doug and Brian's house in Agoura Hills, Mike and Derrick went to the master bath for a shower. Pete and Brian went down the hall to the other bathroom for a shower as well, leaving Keith and I alone in the living room watching TV. Suddenly Keith jumped up off the sofa and hurried down the hall. I got up to discover what was going on, worried that he had heard someone fall. He moved so fast that by the time I had reached the entryway he was already returning. Keith was wearing his patented mischievous grin so I was relieved that nothing was horribly wrong. Before I could say a word, Keith had me in his arms.

"I want you now," he seductively whispered.

"Oh God Keith!" I giggled as he dove for my neck. Shivers ran up and down my spine as he began untying the drawstring of my boardies. Hastily, he tugged at the Velcro fly and let my drawers fall to the floor. The next thing I knew, we were laying on the carpet in the dining area taking care of some much needed business! Minutes later, our board shorts were back on and Keith was lying on the sofa with his head resting in my lap. The TV was on but we weren't paying attention to it. I was finger combing his hair and he was gazing deeply into my eyes, an appreciative smile on his face.

Pete and Brian came from the hallway already dressed in clean shorts and shirts. Brian was carrying a gym bag. No sign of any disagreement appeared on their faces. It's amazing what fifteen minutes alone can do, I thought.

The master bedroom door opened seconds later. Now Mike looked majorly bummed out. He sighed, "I'm sorry dudes; my mom wants us home for dinner tonight."

Sitting upright, Keith said, "That's okay, Mike." Taking my hand as he stood, Keith suggested, "We'll meet at the beach tomorrow morning?"

Derrick questioned, "You bet. Ten?"

Wrapping my arm around Keith's waist, I nodded, "Sounds good."

Facing Mike and Derrick, Brian said, "Thanks for letting us crash here last night."

"No problem," Mike smiled, and then he suggested, "You guys could check out of the hotel and crash here while you're in town, ya know?"

"Thanks," Pete replied, "We'll think about it."

"Cool, see you tomorrow then," Mike stated.

Brian, Pete, Keith and I stepped outside. Pete said he would follow us home. Keith quickly gave him a few directions, just in case we got separated on the freeway. Once Keith and I were in the 4-Runner and the A/C was blasting cool air, we closed the doors. I put the truck in gear and smiled, "I'm so glad you were feeling just as randy as me!"

Keith chuckled, "After a few hours in your shirt, I really wanted more than a quickie." He then promised, "That was just a warm up for later."

Giggling like a school girl, I almost forgot to get into the left lane for the 101 on-ramp! And wouldn't you know it; Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing began playing on the radio! Grooving in his seat, Keith sang along.

Ooh, now let's get down tonight
Baby I'm hot just like an oven
I need some lovin'
And baby, I can't hold it much longer
It's getting stronger and stronger
And when I get that feeling
I want Sexual Healing
Sexual Healing, oh baby
Makes me feel so fine
Helps to relieve my mind
Sexual Healing baby, is good for me
Sexual Healing is something that's good for me
Whenever blue tear drops are falling
And my emotional stability is leaving me
There is something I can do
I can get on the telephone and call you up baby, and
Honey I know you'll be there to relieve me
The love you give to me will free me
If you don't know the things you're dealing
I can tell you, darling, that it's Sexual Healing
Get up, Get up, Get up, Get up, let's make love tonight
Wake up, Wake up, Wake up, Wake up, 'cos you do it right
Baby I got sick this morning
A sea was storming inside of me
Baby I think I'm capsizing
The waves are rising and rising
And when I get that feeling
I want Sexual Healing
Sexual Healing is good for me
Makes me feel so fine, it's such a rush
Helps to relieve the mind, and it's good for us
Sexual Healing, baby, is good for me
Sexual Healing is something that's good for me
And it's good for me and it's good to me
My baby ohhh
Come take control, just grab a hold
Of my body and mind soon we'll be making it
Honey, oh we're feeling fine
You're my medicine open up and let me in
Darling, you're so great
I can't wait for you to operate
I can't wait for you to operate
When I get this feeling, I need Sexual Healing
Let's make love tonight
‘Cause you do it right
darling please don't procrastinate
'cause I may have to masturbate

Back in Woodland Hills I exited the freeway, stopped for the traffic light and then adjusted my stiffy. Keith noticed and chuckled, "We're only about five minutes from home."

"I know!" I loudly said, and then turned to him, playfully complaining, "You just had to sing along, didn't you?"

"It's almost five-thirty too. Dad's probably home already. I'd doubt I'll have a chance to take care of you."

Noticing Pete's Malibu behind us, I nodded and snickered, "I'm trying to think of something grotesque to force it down! I'm thinking of horror movies now. Jack Nicholson just axed that poor chef in The Shining."

"Ice picks in your ears. Needles shoved in your eyes, power drills to the skull."

"It's working, thank God! Keep going so I don't display myself to your family," I grinned. As I traversed the side streets, Keith kept rambling on, describing some really gross stuff and switching the radio to the metal station. I pulled in front of the house, set the parking brake and pushed my dick down into its normal position. Keith took my hand in his, raised it to his face and then inhaled deeply before licking my palm. I whined, "Oh, you're killing me in the best ways imaginable!"

Leaning closer, we kissed and then Keith whispered, "I love you baby."

Turning the key in the ignition to off, I grinned, "You must! Who else would give me a hard on and then help me get rid of it before embarrassing myself?" Giggling, Keith helped me put the shade up for the windshield so the car wouldn't be an oven the next day.

We got out of the car and started up the driveway hand in hand. John was working on his bike near the open garage door. We said hello and then turned around, waiting for Brian and Pete. They were still in the Malibu chatting and noticed us waiting. Finishing their conversation, they stepped out of the car and walked up the driveway. As they approached, Keith held his other hand out and introduced Pete and then Brian to John.

In his characteristic blank tone, John asked, "The gay guys you told us about last night?"

"John!" Keith growled.

"What?" John wondered, and then turned to our new friends and asked, "You guys are gay, right?"

Understandably, Brian glared at John. Pete wrapped an arm around Brian as John took a step back, nearer to his bike. Pete grinned, "Yes we're gay, John."

Shaking his head, Keith admonished his brother. "That wasn't very nice, John. You know better." But John continued watching Brian. Tension filled the air and I involuntarily squeezed Keith's hand in mine.

John then challenged Brian directly saying, "What's your problem?" Now I began to become afraid – not only for John but for all of us.

Keith squeezed my hand tighter than I was squeezing his and shouted, "John!"

Unbelievably, to me any way, Brian then stepped closer to John! John backed up into a shrub. This was going to get really terrible. I knew Brian had every right to be angry with John but he was just a little kid who didn't know any better. Feeling protective of my foster brother, my Irish blood began to boil. Brian softly said, "You should be careful of what you say and how you say it. Someone might take offense, and it could get ugly for you."

My head was spinning! I glanced at Keith, Pete, John and then Brian in quick succession. Keith seemed just as concerned as I. Releasing each other and ready to react, we took two steps closer to Brian and John. They just stared at each other for a long few moments. Again, I glanced at Pete who also seemed nervous. If Keith went after Brian, I would have to protect him from Pete and things were definitely spiraling out of control. I could see all five of us winding up in a hospital before the sun set that night.

Brian stepped back from John and extended an open hand for John to shake. I was so relieved that I felt weak in the knees! John was visibly shaking as he raised his right hand to shake with Brian's.

"I'm Brian. One more thing, John; don't provoke a fight with someone bigger than you unless you know without a doubt you can win, and then think again. It's better not to get into the situation in the first place, and the attitude you have doesn't help."

"He's right, John," Keith affirmed. "Trust me, if he wanted to, Brian could wipe the floor with you."

"Maybe," John said. I couldn't believe it! Brian's cut every bit as much as any Olympic wrestler and I was frightened of what might've occurred. But John was still being defiant, like he had any chance of getting up again if Brian had hit him.

Keith sighed and shook his head then firmly said, "Before you do anything stupid and get the shit beat out of you John, think about this - he scared Mike last night, and all Brian did was look at him."

John turned to me for confirmation and I slowly nodded. Finally, John apologized to Brian. Pete then stepped forward and shook hands with John. Obviously, John didn't feel the need to demonstrate his masculinity for Pete though. John was pleasant and asked, "Wanna come inside?" Pete nodded and followed John into the garage.

Brian turned to Keith and I appearing only slightly frazzled. "I didn't mean to go off like that," Brian began. "I didn't mean… no, that's not true. I wanted to scare him."

Relieved and breathless I said, "Oh, you scared him all right! You scared me too. I wasn't sure what you were doing."

"John's just a kid," Brian replied. "There's a lot he doesn't get yet. I can see that. Besides, I wouldn't jump on him unless he attacked me first. I don't fight unless I'm provoked."

Keith wondered, "What made you that way? I mean, the way you handle yourself, it seems like you've done a lot of fighting."

Brian glanced at us, considering his answer. Then he sighed, "I did fight a lot. I had to fight to survive. But… most of what you see is show. Looking tough and talking tough keeps me out of a lot of battles. Don't think I don't know how to take care of myself, though, because I do."

His final statement made me angry. Didn't he realize the bad scene that almost transpired? John was a dumb kid. Brian was old enough to know better, I felt. Was he trying to intimidate me and Keith, I wondered.

Before I could say a word, Keith interjected, "You are the strangest person, Brian. It's like you're a hard-ass, but you have a softer side, too. I don't understand how you got that way."

"I got that way because I had to be tough at school with all the abuse, but at home I could sometimes let my guard down. I…" Brian paused and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm really insecure about a lot of things. The only thing I know for certain is what I can do with my hands and my body. I don't trust myself to be able to judge things well enough on my own, so I have to trust Pete."

Hearing his explanation, I relaxed, "You really lay it all out there, don't you?"

"Only if it's safe, and I feel safe with you guys," Brian replied. He pursed his lips for a moment's quiet thought. "I don't know why, but I do."

Being equally direct, Keith said, "If I met you on the street, Brian, I'd go out of my way to steer clear of you. You look like you could be a serial killer. No offense intended."

Brian finally cracked a crooked grin, "None taken. I looked into it, but the fringe benefits sucked."

Surprised at his joke, we chuckled. Then I suggested, "Let's go in. I'm sure they're wondering what happened to us." Keith nodded and led the way in through the garage.

As the door opened, I could hear Rush scampering for the door to great us. I was barely inside before Rush jumped up on me, almost knocking me back out and onto Brian. He still doesn't get that he's way too big now. "Rush! Sit!" I firmly commanded. Then I reached down and took hold of his collar to lead him out back. Mr. Hundser smiled and nodded as I passed. Mrs. Hundser looked at me with obvious concern. I took Rush out back and stayed with him for a minute or so, until he and I were both calmed down. When Rush took off running for the trees, I slipped back inside.

By that time, Keith had introduced our new friends to his parents. He then asked, "What is that smell?" and led me into the kitchen to inspect the pots and pans on the stove. While we did so, he whispered, "Are you okay Prez?"

I nodded and sniffed the contents of the large skillet, unsure of what it was I smelled. "Are you alright?" I softly wondered.

He grinned, "My hand's a little sore." I glanced his way and he giggled, "You almost crushed it!"

My jaw dropped! I kissed his sore hand and whispered, "John's getting another surprise treat after that little scene!"

"The little shit!" Keith chuckled.

I then lifted the skillet cover and asked, "What's this - something new?"

"Peppers and chicken," he answered. I could make out the green, yellow and red peppers swimming in the pan of tomato sauce but wasn't certain of the meat.

"It smells great!" I replied and Keith then led the way back into the living room. His parents were on the loveseat – our usual spot! Brian and Pete were sitting on the sofa so we parked our buns on the living room carpet in the center of the room.

"Keith and Preston told us a little bit of what you told them," dad said. "It sounds like both of you have been through the wringer."

"It hasn't always been easy, no," Pete replied cautiously. "Brian and I both had a bad time after we were split up. He… well, he and his parents didn't get along, and my mom and I had a… a falling out."

Keith mentioned, "Pete, Brian, I told them what I could remember of what you told us last night. I hope that's okay?"

Brian nodded. "It's fine. I still don't know what you expect me to do here, though. I mean, what is it you found so important that you want me to share it?"

"My son Drew, who isn't here at the moment, has a boyfriend who is bulimic," Dad explained. "Corey feels like he's alone. By hearing how you deal with it, and how you overcame it, I'm hoping he'll draw some confidence in himself."

Brian nervously bit his lip then said, "I don't think what I had really qualifies. It isn't a classic case. What if what I say makes Corey feel worse?"

Mrs. Hundser then asked, "Brian, do you still purge?"

Brian checked with Pete before answering. Pete nodded and Brian said, "Sometimes. But I eat well most of the time. I'm not really… It doesn't seem to be hurting me."

"It's not good for you, Brian," dad said. "You're depriving your body of the fuel it needs, and you're conditioning your body to that reflex. I would guess the reason you couldn't hold down food was because you had taught your body not to."

Brian shrugged, "You could be right. I don't know."

Mrs. Hundser smiled. "I'm sorry if it seems that we're interrogating you. Corey is very important to all of us, and we want to do anything we can to help him. That's why Keith asked you to come over, I think."

Keith nodded and Brian sighed, "I'll do what I can. I don't know if my experiences could help."

The front door opened. Drew and Corey stepped inside and looked around, noticing two new people sitting on the sofa. Keith nudged me and grinned. Why he had done so, I wasn't sure.

Mr. Hundser said, "Hi boys. This is Pete and Brian…"

Before she could finish, Corey stepped forward and reached across the coffee table, offering his hand to Brian. Brian stood and shook his hand. "Hi, I'm Corey, Drew's boyfriend." Corey had clearly emphasized the word boyfriend, as if it needed to be done immediately. Brian and Pete had both watched Drew and Corey enter. I hadn't noticed any long lingering stares and even if I had, who was staring at whom, I wondered.

I quietly thought, uh-oh! Here we go again! Brian, you have this wondrous effect on people! They were still shaking hands when Brian introduced himself and his boyfriend. Corey then released him and extended his hand to Pete. While they shook hands, Drew stepped forward and shook Brian's hand then Pete's.

Turning his attention back to Corey, Brian commented, "Looks like you both got lucky."

"Huh?" Drew squeaked.

Corey nodded and smiled, "Yeah we did. Looks like you did too."

Brian said, "You have no idea, Corey. I'm very happy."

Rapidly nodding, Corey agreed. "So am I." He then wrapped a possessive arm around Drew.

Looking down at Corey, Drew asked, "Did I miss something?"

Brian quickly answered, "No, we know where everything stands now, that's all." Glancing at Corey again, he added, "Right Corey?"

"Yep!" Corey happily cheered.

Drew complained, "I'm still lost."

Pete mumbled, "You aren't the only one."

Both of Keith's parents were wide-eyed and smiling.

Mrs. Hundser patted her knees, stood and looked my way asking, "Preston, help me in the kitchen please?"

"Sure," I answered and stood.

Turning her attention to Drew, she said, "Drew, Corey, set the table before you go anywhere. And don't make any plans for after dinner."

"Okay," Drew sighed.

I followed Mrs. Hundser into the kitchen. Once we were alone, she nonchalantly asked, "How long were you out today?"

I answered, "From about eleven until about four, I guess."

Pointing up at the cabinet over the refrigerator, she asked, "Can you reach those serving bowls for me?"

"No problem," I happily answered, turned around and raised my arms. Before I had touched them she swatted my ass!

Stunned, I swung around and asked, "What was that for?" Standing between the kitchen and living room, Pete had seen her spank my butt, covered his mouth and started snickering!

"The rest of you is crimson red! I thought I'd complete the picture!" she sharply hissed. Corey and Drew entered the kitchen. One gathered plates while the other got silverware for the table.

Barely controlling himself, Pete stepped closer and giggled, "Which bowls did you need?" Standing beside me, he whispered, "You're in the dog house now!"

Mrs. Hundser pointed at the three bowls and thanked Pete. Returning her attention to me she sighed, "You have got to protect yourself from the sun, Preston."

"I did!" I squealed. "Keith covered me in sun-block before we went in the water and again after we had lunch," I explained. "Then he wouldn't let me go back in the water. So we put our shirts on and tossed a Frisbee around."

Squinting her eyes she said, "You'd better be telling the truth, Mister!"

Raising my right hand, I swore that Keith would corroborate the story. Then I turned to Pete and said, "Tell her dude. After lunch, what was I doing and what was I wearing?"

Placing the bowls on the counter near the stove, Pete said, "It's true. The only time Prez was in the water was when he was chasing the Frisbee. And he had a shirt on from about one on. It was on when we drove to Mike's and when we drove here."

"Keith even had me buy hats yesterday," I offered and then sheepishly admitted, "We just forgot to bring them with us today."

Pete thoughtfully added, "You can't surf with a hat on, unless of course you'd like to lose it."

Leaning against the counter, Mrs. Hundser stared at me then demanded, "Take the shirt off."

I did as she asked and slowly turned around in place for inspection!

"Oh my goodness!" she sadly gasped. "Your mother's going to haunt me, I can see it now." My foster mom then sternly instructed, "From now on, if you're out in the sun more than an hour, you make sure you keep your shirt on!"

"She taught me about Aloe lotion," I uncontrollably laughed. "I promise; Keith will dowse me from head to toe in it after dinner."

She made a crooked smirk, knowing that Keith would thoroughly enjoy the task. Struggling to maintain a poker face, I glanced at Pete. Then he and I both cracked up!

"Out of my kitchen! Both of you – OUT!" she demanded. Pete hurried out of the room. I put my hands behind my buns and backed out of the kitchen.

The TV was off and no one was in the living room when we returned. Pete hummed thoughtfully and I led him into the garage.

When we stepped in, Brian was lying on the bench with Keith standing behind him. Both pairs of hands were close together on the bar. Keith quickly pulled his hands away from the bar and opened his eyes wide as if caught in the act. HARUMPH!

"What were you two talking about?" I wondered, acting more suspicious than I really was.

Sitting up, Brian answered, "We were deciding whether you two were worth it."

Taking a seat beside Brian on the bench, Pete sweetly asked, "And what did you decide?"

I slid in close to Keith and wrapped an arm around his waist.

"The jury's still out," Brian answered indifferently.

Turning Keith to face me, I whispered, "Let's see if I can sway the jury's opinion then." I gave him a little peck and got one in return. Then I gave him a bigger kiss but when I tried to pull back he wouldn't let me. We opened wider and began swapping spit.

Before I was anywhere near ready to break the kiss, the door opened.

Drew pleasantly asked, "What's up?"

"They're makin' out; what's it look like?" Corey answered and then asked, "Wanna join them?"

A few moments later, Drew whispered, "I love you, Cor."

Corey replied in kind and then there was only the sound of heavy breaths.

Breaking the silence, I heard Brian whisper, "I'm not looking forward to this, Pete."

"You'll be fine, baby." Pete softly assured. "I'll be right there with you, okay?"

Keith and I both turned and looked at them. Glancing behind me, I noticed Corey and Drew were also watching them.

The door opened again and John hollered, "Dinner's ready!"

The dining room table had the extra leaf inserted but with nine gathered around it, individual space was at a minimum. Drew, Corey, Keith and Preston sat on one side. Brian, Pete and John sat across from them with Mr. and Mrs. Hundser at each end. The table was set wonderfully. In the center of the table was the main course; boneless chicken breast and tomato sauce covering white rice. Centered at each end of the table, were two large bowls over flowing with salad. Then, there was the sliced French bread being passed around. It all looked and smelled awesome.

Impressed with the smell wafting around the room, Pete waited his turn to serve himself and commented, "Everything looks and smells wonderful Mrs. Hundser."

Mrs. Hundser smiled appreciatively and said, "Thank you, Pete. I like trying new dishes. I found this one last year and we first tried it last autumn."

Also waiting his turn, Preston scowled and asked, "Was I living here then?" Mrs. Hundser nodded and Preston slumped, softly admitting, "I don't remember." Under the table, Keith reached for his partner's hand. Preston immediately sat upright, glanced at his partner and wordlessly transmitted, "Here in body, not in mind once again."

Finished filling his plate and passing the spoon to Pete, Mr. Hundser remembered, "If I recall correctly, you really seemed to enjoy it."

"You not only cleaned your plate but sopped up all the sauce with bread," Drew added while carefully filling his plate. He then handed the serving spoon to Corey. Corey had already put a large portion of salad in his plate but only took a small amount of peppers and rice with only a few small pieces of chicken hidden in the sauce.

Beginning to serve himself, Keith teased, "We didn't even have to put your plate in the dishwasher."

Turning to Keith wide-eyed and smiling, Preston drawled, "Awlrighty then", and took two pieces of French bread from the basket, causing Keith, Corey and Mr. Hundser to snicker.

Keith passed the serving spoon to Preston. Pete passed the other serving spoon to Brian. While Preston loaded his plate, Brian only took one heaping spoonful of the chicken, peppers and rice then added a small pile of salad. Mrs. Hundser looked across the table at her husband while the last servings were placed in dishes. Brian and Corey had almost exactly the same portions in their plates, she noticed. Everyone began eating.

While chewing his first mouthful, Preston hummed and smiled. After swallowing, Preston turned to his foster mother and asked, "How'd you keep the peppers so crisp?" Pete paid close attention, also enjoying what he was eating.

"First, put the tomato sauce with a cup of water in the skillet and bring it to a gentle boil then add the sliced boneless chicken breasts," Mrs. Hundser explained. "After the chicken is cooked, add the peppers then lower the heat to let it simmer for another twenty minutes."

"That's so easy!" Preston exclaimed. "I thought maybe you got home early and spent hours preparing this."

Chewing, Mrs. Hundser smiled and shook her head. Whenever Preston enjoyed a meal, he would always ask how it was prepared so she knew the boy wasn't trying to butter her up. She was still aggravated that every visible part of him was glowing bright pink though.

"When I got home, John and I started the salad," Mr. Hundser said. "Then I began filleting the chicken breasts. From the start to the table, it took about an hour and a half."

Turning to Preston, Keith smiled, "When we go to college next year, we won't be eating only burgers and boxed dinners."

"No way!" Preston excitedly agreed. "Not only does it taste great, it even looks good with green, yellow and red peppers sitting on a bed of rice." A few chairs over to the right, Drew was quietly trying to get Corey to eat more chicken. Rolling his eyes impatiently, Corey only bit off half the piece of chicken on Drew's fork.

Pete noticed Brian picking at the food in his plate but not really eating very much. "Aren't you hungry, Bri?" he softly asked.

Shrugging, Brian answered, "My stomach's upset. I'm kind of nervous."

Hearing this and becoming concerned, Mrs. Hundser asked, "Brian, are you sick?"

"No, I'm alright, really," Brian assured.

Pausing just long enough to swallow, Pete began "Bri…"

"I said I'm fine!" Brian loudly insisted. Movement at the table ceased and everyone looked at Brian for a few uncomfortable moments. Embarrassed, Brian mumbled, "Excuse me," and then got up from the table. He walked past the living room and down the hall, eventually finding the bathroom.

Pete softly apologized. Having just learned of Brian's eating disorder, he wanted to protect his partner from himself and didn't realize that he had pushed it; but he didn't say that to the Hundsers. And he didn't need to since Keith, Preston, Mr. and Mrs. Hundser were already aware of the problem. After quickly clearing most of what remained on his plate, Pete wiped his mouth with a napkin then excused himself to check on Brian.

Keith and Preston sighed almost simultaneously. Unable to take the silence anymore, Drew wondered, "What's going on here?" Since Drew had spent the night at Corey's the prior evening, neither had heard any of what Keith told his parents and John.

Turning to his brother, Keith answered, "Both Brian and Pete have had some pretty rough times."

"They're just having problems dealing with their pasts," Preston offered. "Mostly they're really nice guys. They were with us last night and again today at the beach."

Mrs. Hundser glanced at Drew and Corey saying, "We'll talk more about it later. Finish your dinner boys."

John hurried through what remained on his plate and served him-self another heaping spoonful. Preston took another piece of French bread from the basket and worked on clearing his plate of every morsel and drop of sauce. Uncontrollably, Keith snickered; followed by Corey, Drew and Mr. Hundser. Noticing that he was the cause of the snickering, Preston smiled, "Waste not, want not."

From the first night Keith brought Preston home for dinner, Mrs. Hundser was tickled that Preston not only finished his meal but picked every last bit of meat off the breast bone. Lowering her glass to the table, Mrs. Hundser smiled at Preston, "You're still in trouble, young man." Wide-eyed, Preston stopped chewing for a few seconds. Hearing this, John began snickering.

After the situation with Brian earlier, Keith couldn't let this pass and wondered, "What did you have for breakfast yesterday, bro?"

"Cereal and juice, like most every day," John answered.

Nodding, Keith then asked, "But you couldn't put your bowl and glass in the dishwasher?"

"Guess I forgot," John offered but then noticed his parents eyeing him.

Leaning back in his chair, Mr. Hundser glared at his youngest son. "We've talked about this before, John. I work, your mother works and we've all got things to do. Cleaning up after your-self makes all our lives easier. If your brother hadn't cleaned up your mess and I had found it when I got home, you know you'd likely have gotten a talking to. I guess you need some on-the-job training."

Fuming, John shot death rays from his eyes at Keith. Keith only smiled and batted his eyes. In Keith's mind, this would be payback not only for leaving the bowl and glass on the counter but for being a brat and almost causing a fight with Brian.

"You can help your brothers clear the table and load the dishwasher," Mrs. Hundser softly instructed. Turning her attention to Corey's plate and noticing only one small piece of chicken remaining, she then got his attention. "Corey?"

"Hmm?" Corey hummed.

"Just eat that piece of chicken so I don't have to lie to your mother, please."

He didn't really want it and glanced around the table, thinking someone would get him off the hook. When no one did, he whimpered.

"Come on dude," Drew encouraged, "It's barely a square inch."

Huffing, Corey made sad, plaintive eyes at Mrs. Hundser.

It didn't work. Mrs. Hundser then more forcefully warned, "Corey."

Picking up his fork again, Corey speared the chicken and popped it into his mouth. He loved Drew and all the Hundsers but really hated that they were making a big deal about nothing. As soon as he swallowed, Corey then turned to Drew and asked, "Ready dude?"

Drew nodded, put his utensils on the plate and swallowed the remaining bit of iced tea in his glass. Picking everything up, he then started for the kitchen. Corey carried his glass, plate and utensils to the kitchen. Keith and Preston stood then took their stuff into the kitchen but purposefully left it on the counter for John to rinse and put in the dishwasher. They then returned to the table and sat.

John stood taking his, Pete's and Brian's plates into the kitchen. Pete and Brian returned from the bathroom where they had been talking. "I owe all of you an apology," Brian began, meeting each person's eyes around the table. "I still have a long way to go to get control of my emotions sometimes. I won't make an excuse." Returning to the table, John picked up the glasses on that side of the table.

"Well, it happens to the best of us, Brian. It's nothing to worry about," Mr. Hundser said.

"Still, I apologize for making you all feel uncomfortable," Brian sincerely said.

Silently returning to the kitchen, John took note of Brian's apology. The dude had scared him but here he was being sorry. Why didn't Brian just stand his ground and say nothing, John wondered. He found the situation odd and continued to load the dishwasher.

Mrs. Hundser said, "That's enough, Brian." Quickly changing the subject, she asked, "Does anyone want some ice cream, before we move into the living room?"

Immediately and almost simultaneously, Brian and Corey both said, "No thank you," but everyone else asked for some. Mrs. Hundser stood and Preston also stood, offering to help and praying that he wouldn't be locked indoors for a few days for getting sunburned. After eight months living with the Hundsers, Preston had never received a swat on the ass for anything. The fact that Mrs. Hundser had done it told him quite clearly that she was more than a little annoyed. As he served the first two bowls of ice cream, Preston remembered that Keith's mom was also dealing with a very sick boy and his family at work. Keith had explained that his mom often got uncontrollably emotional over circumstances like this. He was glad that she chose to smack his ass instead of breaking down in tears.

Ignoring the conversation around the table, Preston swiftly returned to the kitchen for the next two bowls of ice cream. Standing beside Mrs. Hundser, he whispered, "I promise to stay indoors Saturday through Tuesday."

Glaring at Preston for a moment while still serving desert, she huffed, "And?"

Prez thought carefully then quickly added, "And to keep a T-shirt on while at the beach tomorrow?"

Nodding, Mrs. Hundser grinned wickedly but said nothing, adding to Preston's worries.

Resigned to getting some kind of additional punishment, Prez carried the next two bowls over to the table. Again, he quickly returned and softly pleaded, "Please don't lock me inside. Keith will wind up getting the same punishment and he did nothing wrong. He talked me into getting hats and always dowses me in sun block every time we're out."

Mrs. Hundser only hummed. Whimpering, Prez served the next two bowls and again raced back to the kitchen. "Brian and Pete will only be here another day or two," Prez desperately explained. "Then Keith and I will be working. Getting sunburned really isn't my fault, it's my Irish heritage."

Mrs. Hundser didn't even face him while he spoke and maintained her poker face. Finished filling the final bowl, Mrs. Hundser faced him and wondered, "What do you think would be a proper punishment?"

Preston thought carefully. He really didn't feel all that bad from the sunburn. And he knew that anything he begged her not to do would likely be done! Then he realized that he had already asked not to be locked inside. Preston thought, I'm so screwed but didn't say another word.

Handing Preston the bowl, Mrs. Hundser said, "After our guests leave, I want to see you in the den."

Prez sighed, "Yes, ma'am," and returned to the table.

Keith could tell by the way Prez walked that something was wrong. "What's the matter, baby?" Keith silently transmitted.

Rolling his eyes, Prez silently wished, "Why couldn't I be born with brown skin and hair?"

Still uncertain, Keith glanced at his mom and after a few moments realized what was going on. It took Prez almost a year to get in trouble but the damage was done now. Eating his ice cream, Keith wondered if he could help his lover out somehow. Taking everything into consideration, including his mom's stressed state, he wondered if he should even say anything. One wrong word or phrase and she could start crying, which would be far worse than any punishment she could dish out. Finally, he decided to shadow Prez for the rest of the evening.

Served first, Mr. Hundser and Pete finished their ice cream first. John finished next, stood and wandered around the table collecting empty bowls. Mr. Hundser firmly grasped Drew's shoulder saying, "Join us in the living room please."

Drew looked in his father's eyes and nodded but wondered why he and Corey needed to be there. Brian and Pete were friends of Keith's and Preston's, after all. Something was going on. Drew only wished he knew what it was as he stood and followed his dad with Corey trailing behind. Pete and Brian followed them.

Standing in a circle in the living room, Mr. Hundser looked deeply into Brian's eyes and then moved on to Pete. Both boys suddenly felt less nervous about what was planned. The two felt they only had to tell an abridged version of their story and didn't need to worry about being held accountable in any way. Turning to Corey, Mr. Hundser calmly stated, "I'd like for you to pay close attention to tonight's conversation."

Taken aback, Corey checked with Drew. Drew only shrugged as Keith and Prez walked past them and settled into the loveseat. Corey nodded and softly wondered, "Is something wrong?"

That simple question was difficult for Mr. Hundser to answer. With soft, caring eyes he looked at Corey and shook his head. The prior night, Mr. Hundser had had a nightmare, most likely instigated by the final conversation of the evening with Keith. In the dream, he was attending a wake for Corey and holding onto a wailing Drew. While any similar dream would be disturbing enough, a wake for a fourteen year old boy woke him up and sent him to the bathroom to relieve his bursting bladder. That dream would never have a chance to become reality, Mr. Hundser strongly believed. He told his wife about the dream that morning while they prepared for the day. He had tried to ignore his wife's question about why he got up in the night but that only served to raise her blood pressure.

Drew sat on the floor in front of Keith and Corey sat beside his boyfriend, in front of Prez. Mr. Hundser took a seat on the sofa. Mrs. Hundser entered the room with dejected John. Finally, Brian and Pete sat cross-legged on the carpet in the center of the room.

Brian began telling the story of how he and Pete met. He was good at public speaking, Mr. Hundser noticed immediately as the boy made eye contact with everyone in the room. Hearing that Brian and Pete were young when they fell in love, Corey smiled widely and shifted closer to Drew. But the pleasant part of the story passed too quickly as Brian told of how he was chased out of Pete's house and then how Pete's mom took him away. Pete added a short tale of how his parents separated then Brian continued. Soon Brian was sharing how he started wrestling, how he needed to lose weight for the sport, eating less and exercising more. He had Corey's undivided attention.

Wow, Corey thought, this dude is a lot like me! Yeah, Brian had stared at Drew when we first walked in but we settled that quickly. Besides, Drew is definitely eye candy and worth being stared at!

But then a relatively sad story got even worse as Brian described how he began having trouble keeping food down. "I changed my diet to all bland foods, fruit and veggies, but it didn't help," Brian explained. "By the end of April, I was eating once a day, maybe twice. It got to the point where I knew it wasn't going to stay down, so I began to purge before my body could do it for me. I went to bed one night, planning to get up early and go for a run; when the alarm sounded, I could barely raise my arm to turn it off. When I tried to sit up, I got so dizzy that I fell back on the bed. My brother found me, and I woke up in the intensive care unit several days later. The doctors told me that if I'd somehow managed to keep going for three more days, I would have died. And this all started because I thought I was too heavy."

Drew and Corey now knew why they were here with Keith's friends.

Brian sensed that Corey was feeling self-conscious but had an idea. He didn't really want to do it but standing and removing his shirt, he struck a pose, flexing his muscles. Even Prez and Keith were amazed with what they saw. "Do you think I look too heavy?" Brian asked Corey.

"Hell no! You look awesome!" Corey excitedly answered.

Weakly smiling at the compliment, Brian then shook his head saying, "You're wrong Corey. I need to lose about ten pounds."

Pete's head snapped to look up at his partner and he excitedly thought, "What? Are you out of your freaking mind, Brian?"

Prez softly chuckled, "No way!"

And Corey added "No you don't! You're perfect!"

Reaching down to pick up his shirt and putting it back on, Brian softly declared, "If you're telling me I'm perfect, then you're telling me not to believe what I feel about my body size and my weight. Think about that. Maybe you shouldn't trust your feelings either. Maybe you need to realize, like I did, that you can't trust your own judgment when it comes to your body. I know I can't. I was three fucking days from dying Corey, because I wouldn't listen to my brother or my foster mom or the school even. And it almost killed me. Think about it, okay? I've just met you, and I really like who you are. I'd hate to lose you as a friend. It would kill me if I did, and if it will do that to me, what do you think it would do to Drew and everyone else you love?"

Defiantly, Corey mumbled, "I wouldn't let myself get sick like that."

Drew softly reminded, "You already have, Cor. You collapsed on the tennis court."

Brian sighed and sat back down. "Corey, do you think I planned on ending up in a hospital? I didn't but still wound up there. I would be dead if they hadn't found me."

"I heard you the first time," Corey impatiently said.

Drew couldn't believe Corey's tone of voice and leaned forward to look him in the eyes.

Brian apologized to Corey and said, "I can be intense sometimes."

Nodding, Corey softly said, "its okay, Brian." But he honestly didn't feel okay. He was angry, embarrassed and frustrated. Drew had been watching him like a hawk for two weeks, even following him into the bathroom when he needed to shit. Now Keith and Prez had met these dudes and brought them here so he could sit through all this. Why were they all doing this to me, Corey wondered. The room was quiet and everyone was watching him but Corey was too absorbed by his own thoughts to even notice. Corey stood, ready to leave the house but couldn't bring himself to go that far. Drew would lose it if he just left.

"Corey, we didn't ask Brian to share this with you to make you feel bad," Keith explained. "We thought… if you met someone who's been there and heard what he had to say, it might help somehow."

Nodding at Keith but not making eye contact, Corey started down the hallway to Drew's room.

Drew then stood and glanced around the room. He wanted to say something but wasn't sure what to say. Thank you wouldn't have been appropriate he felt, because Corey was obviously upset and he would have to deal with that. So he just slowly went down the hall, preparing himself for the argument that was sure to start anytime.

Mrs. Hundser thanked Brian and added, "I know it's not easy to talk about something as intensely personal as this."

"If it helps Corey, then it's worth it. I'd hate to see anyone go through what I did," Brian said.

"I don't get it," John huffed. "Why would you want to do that?"

Brian wondered, "Do what, John?"

John asked, "Why would you guys want to starve yourselves? It's not like either of you is fat."

Brian shrugged, "I look in the mirror and see someone that's too heavy."

"But how?" John asked forcefully, making his voice crack. "How can you look at your body, with all the muscles and see fat?"

A short conversation began between John and Brian. They discussed John's perceptions of what he liked and disliked about his looks. Then they discussed what Corey obviously thought of himself and finally what Brian believed about his looks.

At the far end of the hall in Drew and John's room, Corey was appalled and unloaded on Drew.

"I can't believe your family did this!" Corey began.

Drew could believe it though and simply sat on the edge of his bed while Corey paced around the room. Since school had ended and Drew learned of Corey's eating disorder, he was slowly becoming more stressed out. And since Corey's trip to the hospital, Drew's nerves were on edge. He had never asked Corey if he could follow him into the bathroom or offer him food from his plate, Drew just started doing it since that's what he felt he needed to do.

"Don't you know I come over here not just to be with you but because I like being here and getting away from my mom and dad?" Drew nodded and Corey raved on. "I'm so embarrassed! No… I'm mortified! You guys are all making a big deal about nothing! I wasn't in intensive care! I didn't almost die! I just got overheated and passed out! I don't know what to do now."

"What do you mean?" Drew wondered.

Corey sighed, "I'm so embarrassed, part of me just wants to leave and never come back."

Drew softly wondered, "Then why didn't you?"

"Because I love you, you jerk!"

"I know dude," Drew sighed. "I love you too but I had no…"

Corey loudly interrupted, "Then why didn't you stop them?"

Beginning to get annoyed, Drew reminded, "Because I had no idea! I was with you yesterday, last night and all day today, remember?" Corey continued to pace as if he hadn't heard a word Drew said. To get his attention and hopefully calm him down, Drew grinned devilishly, "That was you suckin' my dick last night, wasn't it?" Corey spun around and stared at Drew then nodded. "Oh good," Drew joked, "For a second there I thought maybe I was suckin' someone else's dick. Talk about embarrassing!"

"Why Drew?"

Uncertain, Drew sat up straight and wondered, "Why what? Why was I suckin' your dick?"

"No!" Corey hollered. "Why did Keith and Prez do this to me?"

Shrugging, Drew answered, "Because they care."

"This is how you show someone you care?" Corey yelled.

Corey had crossed Drew's line in the sand. Becoming equally upset Drew jumped up and loudly answered, "Yes!"

Corey started for the door but Drew grabbed his arm roughly and pulled him back so hard that Corey fell onto John's bed. "Now you listen to me!" Drew loudly began, "Keith and Prez do care about you – almost as much as I do, you fuckin' dope! Did you forget the camping trip and your talk with Prez?"

Startled at Drew's sudden change, Corey shook his head but kept mum. He had never seen Drew like this and now he was more frightened than angry or embarrassed.

Drew was starting to shake from the buildup of so many emotions he couldn't even identify them all. He hollered, "You wound up in a fucking hospital for three days with I.V. tubes running into your arms! I had to visit you there! My dad had to drive me there and talk to nurses so I could see you! Your mom or dad had to come down and escort me up to your room! And why did all this happen? Because you still see yourself as fat and let me tell you something… You were never fat! A year and half ago, yeah you were a little chubby around the belly but you sure weren't rolling down the halls like some of the really heavy kids in our school! Haven't you ever heard of baby fat? I had it, you had it, Keith had it and John still has it! But we're all still growing so sooner or later… WHAM! It's gone! But you had to take it further! Not only did you start changing what you ate but then you started forcing yourself to vomit. When you got caught doing that, then you started taking laxatives!"

"Calm down Drew," Corey pleaded. Drew was yelling loudly and everyone in the house could hear. Of course, Corey didn't realize how loud he had been when he had something to say.

"NO!" Drew screamed at the top of his lungs. "You think we're all out to embarrass you? Well, we're not… Surprise!" Beginning to shed tears, Drew paid them no mind and continued on. "The whole fucking world is out to get ya Cor! The doctors are, your parents are, my parents are, Keith and Prez are, and even I am! You say it's nothing, but three days in a hospital is way more than nothing! When John had his tonsils out he was in overnight… for a fucking operation! In one day and out the next!

"Do you think I like watching you shit? Think again! I'm in there with you to make sure it's a normal shit - not diarrhea! And to make sure you aren't slipping yourself more laxatives! Imagine what it would be like if we hadn't started messin' around. If I wasn't comfortable seeing you naked, I sure as hell wouldn't be following you into the bathroom! But I care enough about you to deal with it… including the smell! Your parents care enough to take you to doctors and to meet you half way, cooking what you'll eat! My parents care enough to watch what you're eating and to ask me if you're eating right! Keith and Prez cared enough to bring two dudes they just fucking met here so you could hear their story. If it was me with a problem and all these people were watching my back, I'd consider myself pretty damn lucky!

"Brian said he couldn't trust himself when it comes to his weight. Well if you can't trust yourself, or me, then just go! Get the fuck out! And don't call me or talk to me ever again you selfish little prick!" Sitting down on his bed and pulling his legs up close to his chest, Drew lowered his head and cried.

Corey only stared at Drew for at least a full minute. Finally, he got up and went to Drew, reaching for his shoulder, ready to apologize.

But Drew was beside himself. "Don't fucking touch me!" Drew cried and rolled off the other side of his twin bed and stood there glaring at Corey. After wiping his nose with his arm, he hollered, "If you think… ~sniffle~ …we're all out to embarrass you… then just leave like you wanted." Wiping his eyes but still out of control, Drew demanded, "Don't call me, don't talk to me, stay away from this house and don't you dare… ~sniff~ …expect me to visit you … ~snort~ … in any God damned hospital… ~sniffle~ …or go to your fucking funeral! Just GO!"

Corey was also crying by this point. He couldn't move. His entire body was shaking and he could only look down at the floor. Was this the same care-free, easy going Drew that he fell in love with? Was he responsible for Drew's outburst? How long had this been building up? Corey softly wept, "I don't want to go, Drew."

"Why not? We're all out to make your life a living hell anyway."

"I love you dude, really… I swear to God, I really love you."

Wiping his eyes, Drew stared at Corey, waiting for him to say something more that could change the major argument they just had.

Shaking his head sadly, Corey hoarsely whispered, "I have been selfish. And for some reason, I can't really explain why after all you said, I love you even more." Through tears, Corey softly pleaded, "Can I stay, please?"

"On a few conditions," Drew throatily answered.

"Anything dude, just say it."

Drew sighed, and then laid it all on the line. "You pay attention to me from now on. If I tell you to eat, you better fucking eat. If I offer you food from my fork, like I did earlier, I don't want to see an angry, bitchy face or hear any argument. I'm not going to stay your friend just to watch you kill yourself. Yeah I know, that may not be your goal but that's what the doctors are worried about. If you can't deal with these conditions, then let's just call it quits because you are tearing me apart."

Corey nodded and sniffled then answered, "I'll try, honest. It probably won't be easy for me to just change everything on a dime but I'll try."

"No more bitchy faces or attitudes?"

Corey shook his head and conceded, "No more."

"If we're playing tennis or doing anything where I see you getting tired, I'll tell you to take a break and you'll listen?"

Corey sniffed and nodded, "I'll do whatever you tell me."

Drained of all energy, Drew calmly and softly explained, "I can't take this any longer, Cor. The whole damn situation has been making me crazy for a long time, since before I turned around and saw you lying on the tennis court. I really can't stay your friend and watch you hurt yourself anymore."

Any chance Corey might have had to control himself completely withered away. He wailed so loudly that everyone in the house clearly heard it. "I can't help it! I'm so fucking fat I can't stand to look at myself!"

These statements, although piercing, weren't news to Drew or to anyone else. That's all it ever was; an inaccurate, appalling perception of himself. It was so sad and so untrue. Drew walked onto and over his bed then landed right in front of Corey.

Frightened and more ashamed, Corey stepped back until stopped by a wall, cupped his face in his hands and continued weeping. Drew raised his right hand and with his index finger, beckoned Corey to come to him. It took a few moments for Corey to notice what Drew was doing, he couldn't see through his own tears. Moving so quickly that he almost knocked Drew backwards onto his bed, Corey came and wept on Drew's shoulder for the better part of twenty minutes.

Drew remembered crying that hard when Aldo died and when his grandparents passed away. No one died this day, Drew thought as he tried to calm Corey. Running his fingers through Corey's silky blond hair, he softly shushed his boyfriend. Then he thought, maybe some part of Corey did die? It was a bad part of him that was only doing harm anyway. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

"Do you trust me to help you?" Drew softly asked as Corey began to shudder and slowly calm down.

With his face still buried in Drew's shoulder, Corey nodded.

"Shh, it's gonna be okay now," Drew confirmed as much for himself as for Corey.

"You still love me?"

"Even if we split up I'd still love you," Drew honestly answered.

Corey looked up and asked, "You really would, wouldn't you?"

Drew nodded and affirmed, "Hey! You're my first. You think I won't remember that years from now? I just can't watch you hurting yourself any more Cor. Your passing out that day was only made worse by your eating problem. If you deny that, then you're really denying the whole thing."

Corey was still attached to Drew as Drew took a few steps sideways. Stopping in front of the dresser mirror, Drew gently pushed Corey away then turned him around so they could see their reflections. Drew raised Corey's arms and started to remove his shirt.

"What are you doin'?" Corey tried to giggle.

"Shush!" Drew commanded. Getting the shirt off and tossing it on John's bed, Drew then pointed into the mirror and asked, "You see that face?" Corey nodded and Drew said, "When you smile at me from that face, my heart jumps in my chest. You see that chest?" Again Corey nodded and Drew admitted, "Your nips are awesome to me but there's hardly any muscle there. I have way more than you do and way less than Keith or Prez. John's got more meat on his chest than you do. Remember that stand up double you got?" Corey nodded and Drew said, "That could've been a triple or homer with just a little more muscle." Drew then firmly poked Corey's ribs. "These shouldn't be so visible, not when your arms are down, like now." Finally, Drew tapped Corey's head and said, "The person I care for is in there. All the rest is just attached to that person. I don't need you to be a super model. As far as us messin' around is concerned, I wouldn't care if you had the smallest dick in the whole state. That's not what I care about. I care about having someone to be with, to play video games, baseball and tennis with. That's all I want or need from you."

Drew sighed, "You're way too skinny dude. You're wasting the time we could be together with doctors. Half of every Monday and Friday you're with them when we could be doing something way more fun. If you couldn't see before why I love you, now you know. I've said it before and I'll say it again, just fucking eat, okay? A bowl of ice cream once a week won't make you fat." Pausing for a moment, Drew exaggerated, "Fuck, you'd have to eat a gallon a day for a month just to get where you need to be."

"It's not good for you, Drew." Corey sighed.

Taking it back, Drew stated, "A gallon a day would be bad. A gallon a week would be bad. Two or three scoops a week won't hurt you. It's mostly cream, sugar and flavoring. If the flavoring is fruit, like the strawberry ice cream we had tonight, then the cream and fruit outweighs the sugar and its fine every once in a while."

"There's a lot of fat in cream," Corey reminded. "That's bad for your heart."

"When I'm older and a doctor warns me about too much fat, I'll worry about it then. Right now, I like ice cream every now and then. You did too, last year. You had cake and ice cream at my birthday party. Do you really think that your mom or mine would feed us stuff that would kill us off at an early age?"

"Maybe they don't know?"

Drew giggled, "My mom? Hello? She works in a hospital surrounded by all kinds of doctors! Your mom's not exactly stupid either." Wrapping his arms all the way around Corey's thin waist, Drew said, "You trust me but not my mom or yours? Come on dude! Look at it this way, all the doctors and our mothers are telling you something different than what you want to hear. What you think you know is causing all these smart people to worry. Not to mention what you're doing to me."

Turning around to face Drew, Corey rested his arms on Drew's shoulders and wondered, "What am I doing to you?"

Holding Corey's boney hips, Drew smiled and blushed. "You make me crazy… in some really great ways and this one really bad way. Remember how long it took for me to decide it was okay to jack you off, or say I love you, or suck your dick, or mess around with a dildo? Everything we've done or may do takes me a lot of time to think about. I have to think if I should even go there. Do you think I'm as dumb as you think our parents are? Jeez Corey, forget having the thinnest trimmest body around and join me here in the real world, will ya please?"

"You'll help me?"

"Every day."

"If I don't change right away, then what?"

"As long as you keep trying, no problem. If you stop trying then we've got a problem. If you ever tell me to drop dead or fuck-off, I'm gone and so is this friendship."

Corey rested his forehead on Drew's shoulder, thankful that he hadn't caused a breakup but worried that he might someday break the promises he had made.

After about a minute, Drew softly said, "Now you can tell me something." Corey looked up and waited for another bomb to be dropped. "When we got home, what was that going on between you and Brian?"

Corey grinned, "Do you really want to know?" and Drew anxiously nodded. "He was looking at you… practically undressing you with his eyes!" Corey uncontrollably giggled.

"No," Drew groaned, not believing a word of it. Pete was tall, trim, blond and had blue eyes. Drew had noticed Pete first when he walked in the door. Pete was exactly what he saw Corey could be in just another few years.

Corey nodded rapidly and grinned, "Guess I got a little jealous."

Still not believing that Brian was checking him out, Drew again groaned, "No."

"Do you remember me saying I feel lucky?" Corey asked and Drew nodded. "I do feel lucky." Corey's shoulders began to bounce as he prepared to embarrass Drew a little. "Why do you think I was jealous? I know you're awesome… and sooo friggin' hot!" Corey uncontrollably laughed.

Drew felt his face flush and forced himself not to cover the blush with his hands. Instead, he stuffed his hands into his shorts pockets but still turned away from Corey. Drew didn't know it but whenever he blushed, Corey found him even more irresistible. Needing some body contact, Corey wrapped his arms around Drew's waist and clasped his hands tightly.

After a minute or two Corey yawned.

Drew yawned too then said, "All that wore me out."

"Me too."

Looking over his left shoulder, Drew asked, "Ya wanna lie down?"

"Only if you'll hold me."

Drew nodded. The two boys separated only long enough to get situated on Drew's bed. They didn't even take any clothes off and lay on top of the covers sharing a pillow. Laying on their left sides and facing the door, Drew wrapped his right arm over Corey. Corey held Drew's hand and drifted off to sleep in less than five minutes. Drew followed soon thereafter.

Brian and Pete had left the Hundser's home for their hotel soon after Drew and Corey began getting loud with each other. All the Hundser's and Preston sat in the living room quietly watching TV during the loudest parts of Corey and Drew's argument, each ready to react if it became obvious that things were getting physical in that room. Once things calmed down between the two boys, they finally relaxed.

Across the hall, in the den, Mrs. Hundser and Preston were sitting down on the sofa-sleeper looking at a few color photos of skin cancer patients in a medical text. Keith had followed Prez but was sent away by his mother.

In the text book, one photo showed a big chunk of one man's arm had been removed. On the adjoining page, the entire tip of a woman's nose had been removed. There were others just as revolting that were all photos of real cases, taken immediately after skin cancer surgery and before any corrective surgery had been done. Prez was totally grossed out and quickly closed the book. Mrs. Hundser explained, "This is why I give you such a bad time about sun burns. So you tell me, what should we do to make sure that you don't wind up in a similar text?"

Prez gulped, hoping he wouldn't lose his dinner in the den. Slowly and softly he answered, "They've now got SPF45 sun blocks out, I'll get some of that instead of SPF30. If I'm out in the sun for more than an hour, I guess I'll have to wear a T-shirt. And, I'll definitely remember to bring some kind of hat with me. Beyond that, I don't know what else I can do other than stay inside and I really don't want to do that."

She nodded and agreed, "Those are all good steps. The only other thing I could add is for you to pay attention to your body a little more."

"I honestly never feel myself getting burned, only afterwards," Prez said.

She sighed, "You're already burned enough and I'd rather you stayed in for the next few days. Do you really have to go to the beach tomorrow?"

Prez shrugged, "I don't have to… but we already told Mike, Derrick, Brian and Pete that we'd be there. I'll just have to stay covered up and spend less time in the water. The sun reflecting off the water is probably making things worse."

"You're a big boy now," Mrs. Hundser stated. "This time I'll let you go and prove to me that you can take care of yourself. There won't be a next time, Preston. If there is, you'll be grounded for a week, guaranteed."

"Even at night time?" Prez asked.

Mrs. Hundser nodded, "You can go to work and school only; other than that, your home with no music - no stereo, no bass, no guitar and no band practice. If it makes music, you can't touch it."

"OUCH!" Prez loudly said. "That's really hitting me where it hurts!"

Standing, Mrs. Hundser quipped, "You know I'm serious now?"

"Yes ma'am!" Prez excitedly said. "It will never come to that… I hope!"

"Make sure it doesn't," she said and stepped out of the room, turning right to check on Corey and Drew. She found them sound asleep.

Prez followed Keith's mom but turned left and stopped beside the loveseat, looking more pitiful than he had since late October.

"Aloe time?" Keith asked.

"The drug store first," Prez answered. "I gotta get better sun block before tomorrow."

Keith and Prez walked outside. "So?" Keith queried.

"If I come home even redder tomorrow, I am so screwed." Prez answered. "No music, no band practice, nothing for at least a week! Only work and school."

"Omigod!" Keith yelled. They got in the 4Runner and Keith warned, "It's that kid at the hospital. It's coming… she's gonna lose it… and I hope we're not around when it happens. She'll start crying, my dad will get angry at whoever caused her to cry and the rest of us will have to run and hide."

Still getting control of his rolling stomach, Prez leaned his head against the steering wheel for a few moments and let the air conditioner blow cold, fresh air on his face.

Becoming concerned, Keith rubbed Preston's back and asked, "Are you okay, Prez?"

Without lifting his head, Prez nodded, "She showed me pictures in a book of skin cancer patients. Nauseating shit man. Just give me another minute or two."

Keith sighed, "I saw them too."

Preston only rolled his head a little to see Keith's face. If he was feeling better, Prez might've chuckled but he couldn't. "Earlier today, I wanted you to gross me out. Nothing you said was as bad as those pictures… and in color too!"

"Take your time Prez," Keith said and continued rubbing his partner's back.

Preston began taking slow, deep breaths. After six breaths and managing to not puke, he sat up straight in the driver's seat and closed his eyes. "Damn!" He groaned. Then he softly said, "I don't wanna have to make this trip in the morning. And I definitely want to show her that I am taking this seriously."

Keith asked, "Do you want me to drive?"

Prez nodded, "Good idea," and then stepped out of the truck. Keith and Preston swapped seats.

Keith adjusted the mirrors then turned and asked, "Ready to roll?"

"I'm better," Prez said and weakly smiled, "I just don't want to have to watch lines in the road or other stupid drivers."

"Slow and easy," Keith warned, "Keep your eyes closed, baby. Here we go." He then stepped on the clutch, pushed the stick into first gear and pulled away from the curb. They made it past the first two intersections and turns without issue and soon were on Topanga Canyon.

"What a day!" Prez groaned. "It was good then it was bad, then it was good, then it was bad again. Talk about taking things to extremes! I expect roller coaster days but this was ridiculous!"

Stopping at a traffic light, Keith chuckled, "I was thinking about going to Disneyland tomorrow night too."

Finally, Prez giggled a little and then laughed and then roared hysterically. "What the hell!" Prez bellowed. "Ya only live once! Let's do it!"

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