This story is a work of erotic fiction involving teenage boys. All the usual rules apply. If you shouldn't be reading this now then don't continue on.

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A New Life Chapter 41

Full Circle

After Keith left for work Sunday afternoon, I pulled my shorts back up, switched to the driver's seat and drove Derrick and Mike home. They said that they would be back in about an hour so we could jam. Once I got home again, I let Rush out back then played fetch with him for a while. The yard looked the same as always but to me it seemed... well, different. The cypress trees around the edge of the yard had new growth from the spring rains. Even though I was occupied and in a good mood, those time warp thoughts began creeping into my brain again.

I asked myself, was I ever here completely alone last summer? Had I ever been here alone? Instances were so rare that I couldn't think of any time at all.

But this was my home now. I had keys to the front and back doors. It would only be about an hour before Mike and Derrick would knock on the door, I reminded myself.

I could last an hour... or could I? Shaking my head, I angrily grumbled, "Just stop! She's gone and I miss her. Isn't that enough?" Sure, it would've been cool to have her with me at my first Pride Parade, I thought. But I had all my friends and my entire foster family there. That had to be enough.

Obviously, I needed something more to occupy myself and push those flashback feelings away. I led Rush inside and filled his water bowl. Thirsty, he went right to it. Then I went to our room and got my new bass out. I started playing in our room but my mother's pictures were following me so I went to the garage, turned on my amps and plugged in. But I didn't know what to play. The garage was completely different now that I was living with the Hundsers.

Tears began to fill my eyes. The backyard looked the same as last summer and that bothered me. The garage looked different than last summer and that bothered me too. Neither condition satisfied me somehow. That didn't make any sense at all but it was what I felt. Wiping my eyes real quick, I decided to leave them closed and played what I felt; as Mike had suggested the prior week. I set no rhythm, considered no key or progression; I only played deep droning tones. Time crawled and I wished for someone or anyone to knock on the door just so I wouldn't be alone.

Then I remembered to call my Aunt and quickly did so. She could tell by the tone of my voice that I was feeling a little down. At first, I tried to deny it and told her about the Gay Pride Parade. When I was done relaying my version of events, I finished with the wish that my mom could've been there with me. "While I was at the Parade," I said, "I didn't think about it. Too much other stuff was going on around me. But I thought about it last night and I've been thinking about since I got home."

My Aunt Eileen sighed and said, "I wish you would've told me before now. I would've gone with you."

Slightly stunned but extremely pleased, I choked back my tears and softly asked, "Really?"

She said, "Your mother and I talked about you and Keith."

"I know." My mom had told me and was sorry that she had betrayed my trust. But it didn't bother me very much at all and I told her so. If she needed to talk and chose her sister, it was okay with me.

After a long silence, she softly said, "It worried and confused her at first. But then, she only thought about you. She said that you were the happiest she had ever seen."

Grinning, I said, "I was." After a short pause, I added, "I still am – it's just..."

She waited only a few seconds before whispering, "Lingering memories?"

I nodded as if she could see me over the phone then sighed, "Yeah. I'm here alone right now. In all these months, I can't recall ever being completely alone. There's always been someone else around." My aunt said nothing so I continued, "It's been weird. For the last month or so, I keep seeing this house like it was last year. I wish it would stop."

She sighed, "She had a presence that few people have. Give yourself time, Preston. It's still new. I've felt the same way, you know?"

"You have?"

She confided, "Every time I drive past Woodland Hills, I briefly consider exiting at Topanga Canyon. I was so happy that you both moved here. It's been years since I've been back to Texas and having family close by again was nice."

So I'm not going insane after all, I thought. "You could take that exit, ya know? Instead of turning right on Vanowen, turn left."

She happily said, "I'll do that. The number is in my cell phone. I could quickly call to see if you're at home."

Feeling a ton lighter, I asked, "Is Wednesday night good for you?"

"Yes, that would work out really well, as a matter of fact."

I grinned, "What makes you say that?"

She whispered, "I think it would be best if Bobby weren't here; in case we become emotional. You can see your cousin another time."

That made sense to me. And it also made me reconsider bringing Keith along. Filling the silence on the line, I said, "I was going to ask if Keith could come too but now I'm thinking better of it."

"He could come if you want," She offered, and then quickly explained, "Bobby's only ten. If we got emotional, he might not understand."

I said, "That's cool. It's enough to know that Keith's welcome."

There was another pause. Then my Aunt said, "We aren't homophobic, Preston. I can't say that we know a lot of gays or lesbians, but you're family. That counts infinitely more, don't you think?"

Overflowing with joy, I wiped happy tears away and said, "Definitely."

"I'll see you Wednesday night around six then?"

"Yep! I'll bring dessert."

She giggled, "Just bring yourself, Preston."

I smiled, "The Hundser's don't often have cakes or cookies around. This occasion requirequires something sweet, don't you think?"

After a fairly long silence, I wondered if I had said something wrong. Then my aunt loudly giggled, "What a charmer!"

I asked for directions to her house. While I was still taking notes, there was a knock on the front door. Rush started barking up a storm. Going to answer the door, I told my Aunt, "My friends, Mike and Derrick are here. We're gonna jam until it's time to get ready for work."

"You're not alone anymore?"

"I haven't been since I picked up the phone," I smiled, and then let Mike and Derrick in. I snickered, "To the garage this time!" and pointed in that direction.

They both chuckled evilly and went to the garage.

Grinning at them, I told my Aunt that I needed to go but assured that I'd be there Wednesday night. We quickly said goodbye and I hung up.

Stepping into the garage, I said, "That was my Aunt."

From behind the PA, Mike said, "Oh, cool."

Walking towards my bass, I said, "I'm gonna have dinner with her Wednesday."

Mike hollered, "Wednesday?" Then he huffed, "I was hoping to start recording stuff at Doug & Brian's."

Picking up my bass, I turned to him and smiled, "It's only dinner, dude. There's still Wednesday afternoon and Thursday too."

Taking his seat behind the drums, Derrick suggested, "How about the beach Wednesday night, after you get back?"

I turned my amps on again and nodded, "Sounds good. But Keith will be around and alone, ya know?"

Picking up his guitar, Mike said, "I'll see what Shaun and Gil are doing." It was as if I hadn't even mentioned Keith!

"Jerry and Mack too," Derrick said. "They've had some good comments and suggestions."

Mike grinned devilishly, "But they expect us to play that electronic, techno crap!"

Daringly, I grinned at Mike and shrugged, "Why not?" Then I pressed a few buttons on my new effects unit and began playing a synth-bass pattern at about one hundred and twenty beats per minute. Chuckling, Derrick added a common dance rhythm. Mike shook his head sadly but then leaned over to adjust his guitar processor. Then he pulled his new E-bow out and joined us. His guitar sounded like an entire orchestral string section at times. After about ten minutes, we started breaking up because Mike was stealing melodies from every popular dance song he had ever heard and we actually sounded good, as if we had always played that style.

Allowing the song to fall apart sloppily, Derrick chuckled, "If Jess were here, she might've added some cool synth sounds."

Mike grinned, "That sounded alright. But how about we try something for real?"

I giggled, "That was real!"

Shrugging, Mike asked, "Remember what I was saying about having different bands?" I nodded and he explained, "Just the three of us could do heavier rock and blues tunes. With the same core band, we could do lots of stuff."

Derrick proudly chimed, "While we've been working, Mike's been learning a bunch of Cream, Zeppelin and Rush tunes."

"I've messed around with some Rush," I admitted, "a little Zep but not any Cream."

"You must know Sunshine Of Your Love?" Mike asked, and began playing the song perfectly. Of course, I had heard the tune on the radio; there simply wasn't any Cream in my collection. Derrick and I joined in. Moments later, Mike started singing. He did a really good job of it too. During the chorus, Derrick and I backed him up. Mike copied the start of the solo verbatim then took his own tangents. It sounded pretty great for a first run through.

Turning down the volume on his guitar, Mike asked, "What do you think, dude?"

I enthusiastically nodded, "Yeah man, we can take some heavy rock and metal tangents. We'd have some trouble with the vocals on Rush and Zeppelin tunes though."

Derrick said, "Keith wouldn't have any trouble with the lyrics though."

Nodding, I agreed but stipulated, "Only if he wants too."

They both watched me carefully. Derrick then asked, "What's wrong, bro?"

I shrugged, "Nothing's wrong, really. I just feel guilty about the way we got him singing. He adjusted to singing in front of us and smaller audiences of family and friends. But watching him at John's party and again at the frolics..." Shaking the thoughts away, I grinned, "He knows I'd like him too but I'll leave it completely up to him."

Derrick grumbled, "He's so good though!"

Mike nodded and said, "But he'd never do any AC/DC, Guns & Roses, Metallica or any serious, head-banging rock like that though."

I shrugged, "So we play what we can, both with and without Keith. If you want to concentrate on Cream and Clapton tunes, that's cool. You play and sing it well. And let's not forget Derrick and the Petty tunes."

Glancing back at his partner briefly, Mike then turned his guitar's volume up and began playing the familiar opening chords to American Girl. Derrick started hitting his high-hat and together they played the song. Watching Mike's hands to see the chords, I tried to keep up but often stopped and tried again. Closing his eyes, Derrick started singing. Mike and I backed him up. At the song's end, Mike said, "I'll lend you the Petty disk, dude." Then he stepped closer to me and showed me the progression to Breakdown. Together, just a little slower than the recorded tempo, we then played through the entire song. The third time through, we played it at tempo with Derrick's lead vocals. It sounded really good but bare without the keyboard part. Mike and Derrick had their parts down pretty well though. We finished Breakdown and then I asked Mike to show me American Girl slowly. He also reminded me of the opening fills I was supposed to be playing and together, we worked them out. Derrick excused himself to go to the toidy while we worked our parts out. We were just about finished when Derrick returned.

"Whew!" he softly said, "It's getting toasty in here."

Agreeing, I said, "The fan's on the floor next to the dryer, bro."

Derrick lifted the fan onto the dryer and turned it on then went to his drums. He said, "The Hundser's are home, bro."

Looking up, I asked, "All of them?"

Shaking his head, he answered, "I only saw Keith's folks."

A few minutes later we ran through both songs again. Playing better, I got fewer smiles and confused stares from Mike and Derrick, just nods and grins. At quarter past three, Derrick's watch alarm went off. Pleased with our progress and not really wanting to stop for work, we played both tunes again. The third time through was the charm. Both songs sounded really tight; even our vocals.

Begrudgingly, we stopped and powered down our equipment. Derrick hurried out to the 442 for his work clothes while Mike and I went into the kitchen. Saying hello to Keith's folks, I let Rush out. Then I told them about the phone call with my aunt and that I wouldn't be home for dinner Wednesday. They were genuinely pleased. Mrs. Hundser even hugged me.

We then went to the bedroom and changed for another night at Black Angus. Facing them while I changed, they talked about the songs we were playing and others they wanted to try. When we were finished, I called Rush inside. Commanding him to sit for a Milk Bone, I squatted down to say goodbye to my hound dog. Ready to leave, I turned and asked, "Do you want to drive, D?"

He nodded then we started for the car. The moment we pulled away from the curb, my stomach growled. I had completely forgotten to eat! There I was fighting time warps and I could've at least occupied myself making a sandwich! We stopped at Mike's house and they kissed then both turned to me.

I smiled, "What? Do I get a kiss goodbye too?"

Derrick grinned, "Sure, if ya want?"

And Mike chuckled, "No problem here, dude."

Waving the idea away, I giggled, "That's okay, really!"

Derrick turned to Mike and said, "I don't really need to kiss him goodbye though."

Mike grinned and shrugged, "After work then - one kiss and no tongue!"

Thoughtful for a moment, Derrick nodded, "Sounds reasonable."

I roared and Mike got out of the car loudly saying, "You think I'd rather be alone? I can't wait to spend an entire afternoon and night jamming like we just did!"

Following him out of the car, I chuckled, "Soon dude."

Mike said, "Stop by later for a dip in the pool. I'll lend you that CD too." Before I knew it, Mike leaned closer and gave me a peck on the cheek! Stunned, I quickly looked at him and then at Derrick and back to Mike again. He smirked, "You didn't shave today."

I giggled, "Sorry!"

Behind me, Derrick said, "He makes me shave everyday." Expecting more to be said, I turned to him. He only nodded, "Let's go dude."

As I got in the car, I noticed Derrick glancing past me at Mike. Closing the door, I looked at Mike. They were sharing something. What exactly, I had no idea. When Mike nodded and turned towards the house, Derrick sighed then put the car in gear and pulled away. Suddenly he shouted, "I don't wanna fucking work!"

I assured, "Soon he'll be coming to work with us."

"And then Keith too," he added.

"I can't wait!"

Derrick turned the radio up. He would take Wednesday night off but would be back at work Thursday and not off again until Monday. By then, he'd be completely tuckered out, I thought.

Turning to look at him, I paused then cautiously said, "Derrick?"

Without looking my way, he said, "Yeah."

I confessed, "I'm not getting it dude."

Turning to me, obviously confused, he asked, "Not getting what?"

"Why you and Mike were talking about kissing me," I said. Grinning, he glanced my way again. I snickered, "And why you've been dropping yer drawers on a whim!"

He chuckled insanely then started, "It's simple, bro. We're attracted to each other in lots of ways, right."

I nodded, "Right."

"And it would really hurt if anything bad happened to any one of us, right?"


"We hug and kiss lots of people, all the time," Derrick said. "Mrs. Hundser just hugged you. Everybody shows some affection to someone. Why can't we? Fuck, even straight dudes show more affection than we do – pats on the back or butt, even hugs. But we don't. Not because we don't want to but because we've been scared to, like a hug or a kiss is gonna get totally out of control and we'll wind up boinking our brains out."

Nodding, I snickered hysterically. The truth always creates a deep down, good feeling, I've learned.

"We've hidden a lot already just because of the phobes. That is just so much bull and totally senseless. And now we're making connections with other gay dudes too. How can we get friendlier with any of them if we're afraid of each other? It doesn't make sense.

"We've partied with Doug and Brian. We watched them and how they interacted with other people, one-on-one. Everyone was greeted the same, warm way. When folks started leaving, they were hugged – straight dudes, straight babes, gay dudes – it didn't matter." He paused for a few moments then said, "We need to get to that level too. What better place to start than with each other?"

I shrugged then shook my head, "Don't you get jealous?"

He laughed, "Fuck yeah, I do. Ask Mike about his little slip up last summer. I made it more than it was because I saw Keith and Mike as seven-year-old kids. I can't compete with their history."

"I can't compete with any of your histories."

He snickered, "Let me tell you something, bro. Last year, before you showed up, the three of us were having some rough times. That whole winter and spring, Keith was just so super-sensitive. We all know why now but back then, it really wasn't talked about. That April, Mike and I started getting together. Don't get me wrong; I really like Keith as a friend. He's kinda cute too but there was something there... or maybe more to the point, something wasn't there - too many silent moments wondering what he was thinking. Mike asked if we could include him in some birthday fun."

"Just a sec," I interrupted. "Do you and Mike have an open relationship?"

He hummed uncertainly then replied, "Not really. We want it to work long term. And we are depending on each other more every day, it seems.

"After I asked Mike about sticking together as long term partners, we kept bringing it up and refining the ideas, ya know?" I nodded and he continued, "The reality of the situation is, we'll probably always be attracted to other dudes. The idea of doing it behind each other's backs felt wrong to both of us. We had no problem admitting our attractions to other dudes though. So the answer we came up with was to allow the occasional friend to participate with us. It doesn't have to be a mutual attraction either. It's our way of dealing with the sexual urges that could conceivably tear us apart. That time with Keith last summer was the first time we tried it.

"Believe me, when Mike was stroking Keith's bone last summer, I was watching Mike way more than Keith. When we switched off and I took hold of Keith, I was still watching Mike more than Keith - looking into his heart to see if he was having more fun than he did alone with me."

"What did you see?"

"I saw playful seven year old Mike, joking around with seven-year-old Keith. And I saw sixteen-year-old Mike, joking and playing with me in a completely different way. Even though I didn't see Mike as having a better time, it was like having their history thrown in my face. But after Keith lost it, and it was just me and Mike, he held me and whispered in my ear." I waited and Derrick smiled, "He thanked me and said that Keith just needed to be part of something. He was right too. Keith lightened up for a good two weeks. Just as he started getting weird again, you showed up."

He paused and smiled wickedly but said nothing. I prodded, "What else happened that night?"

Pulling into the Black Angus parking lot, Derrick snickered, "Mike looked into my eyes and... umm..." He giggled again, and then briefly glanced my way saying, "It was for me and only for me, I won't repeat it."

I groaned, "Come on!"

Shaking his head and parking the car, he turned off the ignition then turned to me and smiled, "It was perfect, bro - so perfect that he came right after he said it. And I liked hearing it so much that I kissed him hard and, with very little warning, I came too."

Nodding, I hummed and asked, "Something perfect, huh? Was it really sappy?" Shrugging, he grinned then got out of the car. Following him and hurrying inside to clock in on time, I promised, "We're gonna talk more about this - all four of us."

Spinning around and walking backwards, he said, "Anytime, bro."

I caught up with him and he nudged me hard. Turning to him for an explanation, he huffed, "Next time, Mike and Keith absolutely have to be around. Just remembering what Mike said..." He tugged the front of his black pants and I snickered like crazy.

It was not a quiet and easy work night as I assumed. There were several large parties of twelve or more and one party of thirty that came in at seven and simply would not leave! It was after nine when I finally grabbed a burger to satisfy my empty stomach. Shortly after eleven, we left the restaurant. Again, Derrick and I were exhausted and silent most of the way home.

Before it was too late, I decided, "Head to Mike's place, D."

Glancing briefly my way, Derrick asked, "Don't wanna hang out by the pool?"

Shaking my head, I said, "Too tired. I just wanna cuddle until I pass out. But I want to grab that CD and tell Mike myself."

Nodding, Derrick said, "That's cool, bro."

Minutes later, we were pulling onto Mike's street. Much to my surprise, Keith's car was in front of the house! Derrick turned and smiled, "Come on dude, a dip in the pool will bring you around."

"I don't have any trunks!" I giggled, "Not even my Speedos!"

He grinned and shrugged, "Leave your CK's on or take `em off."

I laughed, "You're starting to sound like Mike!"

Shaking his head, Derrick groaned, "We're not gonna have to re-educate you, are we? I mean, the way we've been is for straight dudes, not alone together."

As he pulled along side the curb, I reminded, "Mike's mom and sister are home."

Stopping the car and turning off the engine, Derrick turned and asked, "What's your waist size?"


"Come on," he said as he opened the car door, "you can wear a pair of my trunks."

I got out of the car and followed Derrick around back. Soon we could hear splashing in the pool. Derrick opened the gate and I stepped in the yard then closed the gate behind me. Turning around, I immediately saw Keith standing in the shallow end of the pool. Moving nearer to the edge of the pool, he smiled and watched me as I walked towards him. In the deeper end of the pool, Mike swam to the ladder and got out to greet Derrick. Keith hopped out of the pool and came to me. We kissed and hugged but I held on for dear life.

Keith giggled, "You're getting all wet!"

"Screw it," I mumbled and squeezed him tight again.

"You had a rough night?"

I nodded and softly chuckled, "I am so tired."

"Do you want to leave?"

"No, let's stay for a while."

"We could stay the night if we want?"

I hummed thoughtfully then whispered, "Let's sleep at home."

Keith nodded, "We'll take off in an hour or so?"

And then Derrick called for me. "Come on, Prez. Let's find you something to wear."

After another quick kiss, I stepped back from Keith and nodded. Then I followed Derrick into the house.

Quietly, Derrick led me through the kitchen and down the hall, unbuttoning and removing his shirt while we walked. Derrick is much smaller around the shoulders in comparison to Keith. His chest is defined but still not as big as Keith's. Keith and Derrick have better definition in their abs than me or Mike.

Noticing his lats, I softly commented, "You've been surfing already."

Stepping into his room, he nodded and softly reminded, "Yesterday morning, remember?"

Lightly tapping his back muscles, I said, "It shows."

We began to take our work clothes off. He grinned, "They hurt like hell this morning. Mike too. We were both sore at the parade."

That reminded me of the previous day's discomforts. Then I wondered - what if things had occurred a day later and Keith and I were marching in the Gay Pride parade with sore dicks? My grin broke into a snicker. By the time I got my pants off, I was on the verge of muffled hysterics.

Grinning slyly at me, Derrick asked, "What? What did I say?"

Shaking my head, I giggled, "Nothing, it just reminded me of something."

Naked, Derrick went to his dresser and pulled out two pair of swim trunks. Both had the same Hawaiian floral pattern but one pair was orange while the other was navy blue. Handing me the blue pair, he grinned, "Laughing while someone is undressing is very unnerving. Thankfully, I know you well enough to assume it wasn't me."

I assured, "It wasn't you, bro." And then I pulled up the trunks. Quietly, we left the bedroom and went back outside.

Keith and Mike were both relaxing on lounge chairs as we stepped outside. Shifting over to one side of the chair, Keith grinned widely, beckoning me to lay down with him. It had been almost a year since the last time we did anything like this.

Mike's focus was entirely on Derrick and anyone could see the "come hither, lover," expression on his face. Derrick and I smiled at each other then separated and went to our partners. I immediately accepted my lover's invitation and snuggled up next to Keith. But Derrick decided to play hard to get with Mike and stood beside the lounge chair.

Derrick asked, "You want me to lay down there with you?" Smiling widely, Mike nodded enthusiastically. "Are you gonna be good?" Derrick queried. Keith and I chuckled.

Mike innocently asked, "Do you really want me to be good?"

"For now," Derrick softly answered, and then moved to lie down beside Mike.

I closed my eyes, safe and secure in my lover's arms. Keith whispered, "Unwind baby. The day's over." I sighed and snuggled closer to him. Softly, Keith planned our Friday night camping trip while I relaxed and absorbed it all. Then I told him about my phone call to my aunt and my Wednesday night dinner plans. I felt bad telling him that I wanted to see my aunt alone this one time. But when I told him why, he understood perfectly. He would spend the night with his dad preparing for court.

"Its okay, Prez, really," He said. "Promise me one thing though?"


"If you feel the slightest bit jittery when it's time to leave, call me and I'll come get you."

"I will, I promise." But I knew in my heart that I wouldn't feel that way on the way home. I would probably be nervous on the way there though.

Mike and Derrick got up and lazily slipped into the pool. Squeezing me tight, Keith asked, "Wanna get wet?"

Glancing up, I caught him smiling and rolling his eyes. He had purposefully asked the question that way. I snickered and tickled him! Then I jumped up off the lounge and made him chase me around the pool. Of course, I let him catch me. That's the best part!

Walking around to the steps at the shallow end of the pool, we joined Mike and Derrick. Soon the four of us were together, paddling in the deep end of the pool.

Glancing at me, Keith grinned, "Mike said that he managed to keep his pants up all afternoon."

I chuckled, "At least around me."

Looking away innocently, Derrick mumbled, "Not all afternoon." Mike giggled and splashed him. The next thing we knew, it was all out war! Chuckling, Keith and I moved aside until they were done dunking and splashing each other, then they came nearer to the side of the pool where I was telling Keith about our jam sessions.

Derrick happily said, "Yesterday, we played three different jazz tunes that Prez made up as we went. The first tune was medium tempo, then a ballad and finally a really fast one."

Agreeing, Mike said, "They were totally original progressions too. Or at least it seemed that way to me."

Returning the compliment, I nodded and smiled, "You played great too, Mike. Once you get the bouncy, swing feel the rest is easy."

Mike nodded and Derrick grinned, "How'd you do that, bro?"

Tilting my head curiously, I wondered, "Do what?"

"Make up those progressions on the fly like that?" Derrick asked.

I shrugged, "From the circle of fifths."

Uncertainly, Mike said, "I thought that was for key signatures."

I nodded, "It is but you can also create patterns on the circle." Noticing confused expressions, I elaborated. "Say you start at C. Skip G, D and A, but choose E; only keep it in the key of C. You wind up with E minor instead of E major. Then go back two to D, again making it a D minor. Go back four on the circle to B flat then go forward two and you're back at C again. You can create any progression just by playing what-if games on the circle. And with a progression like that, where you've got C, then E minor moving down to D minor, you can walk back chromatically from E minor to E flat to D minor. Same thing when you're moving from B flat up to C – just walk up chromatically – B flat, B then C."

Mike sneered, "So then, why did you have such a tough time during American Girl?

I chuckled, "I was just barely keeping up! I've never played that tune before."

Derrick said, "So what if it wasn't the record. You were setting the groove and left a big gaping hole."

"I was watching the chords through a section I couldn't remember!"

Shaking his head but grinning, Mike snickered, "You were thinking again. Listen and play."

Derrick then turned to Keith and said, "The last two runs were great, dude. Even without the keyboard parts, it was pretty tight."

Keith asked, "Were those two songs the only ones you played?"

Glancing at Mike, I giggled and answered, "To warm up, we played some techno dance stuff."

Mike glared at me. "You make me crazy sometimes."

I teased, "Just testing out my new toy, dude."

Keith turned to me and seductively said, "You make me crazy too."

Wrapping an arm around him, I replied, "Take me home."

"And directly to bed," Mike and Derrick sang and then cracked up laughing.

Smirking at Mike, I reminded, "Get that Petty disk, dude."

Brightening up, Mike snickered, "Yeah," and then swam for the ladder. Derrick, Keith and I followed him out of the pool.

While Mike hurried inside, I turned to Derrick and said, "I'll get your trunks back to you in a day or two."

He nodded and smirked, "Cleaned, I hope."

I snickered and shook my head. "Nope, gonna leave a big ol' nasty stain in there for ya, bro."

Simultaneously, Derrick and Keith groaned loudly then cracked up. Keith grabbed hold of me and buried his laughing face into my shoulder. Taking hold of Keith, I smiled contentedly and watched Derrick stagger around.

Mike returned and looked at the three of us suspiciously. "Okay, only Prez is smiling innocently." Grinning at me, he queried, "What did you do?" Never letting go of Keith, I shrugged and looked up at the night sky. Derrick would likely tell Mike my joke later, I figured, and kept mum. Besides, that sort of joke works only once.

Releasing Keith, I took the CD and my clothes from Mike and asked, "See you at the beach tomorrow?"

Mike nodded then glanced at Keith and asked, "When are you working?"

We started for the car and Keith answered, "Not until three - one to ten Saturday and Sundays; three to ten Monday and Tuesdays."

Looking my way, Derrick suggested, "One of us needs to swap nights with someone. Otherwise, we'll only have Wednesdays to get together."

Nodding, I hummed and then explained, "We just wanted to split the week to have three consecutive days off."

Mike said, "For now, Wednesday's our only day to accomplish stuff. That's why I was so pissy before, when you said you were visiting your aunt Wednesday."

The four of us stopped at the curb by Keith's car. Looking at Derrick and then Mike, I promised, "We'll get it worked out, dudes." Then I focused on Derrick and said, "I'll start asking around tomorrow night."

Derrick nodded, "I'm none too thrilled with the idea of working Thursday nights anyway. I'll check around too."

Keith then reminded, "We gotta get ready for the trial this week too. We can do that just about anytime but you two need to set something up."

Mike said, "Thursday and Friday morning, at his office."

Keith nodded, "I'll let him know."

Saying goodnight, Keith and I got into his car, waving as we pulled away from the curb.

Keith asked, "Are you really gonna try and switch work nights?"

Glancing his way, I replied, "Only if I can get consecutive days, babe." Since I didn't really need the extra money, I was actually considering simply dropping a night. He seemed a little sad, so I said, "Believe me; I'm not ready to be left alone yet." Then I told him about my flashbacks earlier and that it was the phone call with my aunt that saved me from myself.

Taking my hand and shaking his head sadly, Keith said, "I have no clue what we can do about that."

I sighed, "Your mom said it may just wind up being this way for a while. At least until I make some new memories. Maybe, if I dropped a night, I could learn how to be home alone without freaking myself out. And, another possible bonus – it might get you working there sooner."

Stopping at a traffic light, Keith turned to me and softly asked, "Where are you now?"

Squeezing his hand, I smiled warmly and answered, "Right beside you, babe." Glancing at the radio, I saw it was twelve forty-five then recited the date and time for him.

The light changed and Keith started driving gaily forward again. I asked him about his night at work. Keith said that a new shipment of videos was delivered and he spent the first half of the shift unpacking boxes. Blockbuster was getting more DVD's delivered too, he added, and rattled off some titles. Then he said that he went home for dinner. His mom had everything ready early and the whole family ate together. But it was the first time since last October that I wasn't sitting beside him so he was kind of lost and "leaning towards bitchy queen mode". Groaning, I squeezed his hand tightly for a moment.

He asked about my night and I started telling him about how busy Black Angus was as we pulled into our neighborhood. He stopped in front of the house and turned the ignition off. Smiling at me he looked down at our hands and chuckled, "We kinda need to let go for a minute." Pouting playfully, I let him go anyway and quickly got out of the car.

We walked up to the porch and Rush began warning the city of intruders. Beyond the closed doors of our neighborhood, other dogs began barking. Unlocking our front door, I softly called Rush and the barking turned into whimpers. He spun around happily as we stepped inside.

Turning to Keith, I smiled, "I love his enthusiasm!" Keith snickered and we led the hound out back for his final toidy before bed. While we waited for Rush to finish his business, I raided the kitchen. I was so hungry! Wide-eyed, Keith watched as I sampled Wheat Thins and Triscuts then ate a granola bar, washing them down with a big glass of milk. Snickering insanely between sips of iced tea, he leaned against the counter until I finally poured a glass of apple juice then went to call Rush.

Once the hound was in, Keith started for our room. Rush raced us. I turned out the kitchen lights and Keith got the living room lamp. Stepping into the bedroom, I turned on the lights. Rush already had his rope toy. Wagging his entire body, he growled, daring me to try and take his toy away. Putting my glass of juice down, I snickered then dropped to the floor to say hello.

Keith smiled, "Gotta leak, baby."

Releasing the rope toy, I nodded and shadowed him across the hall. Minutes later, we were back in our room.

Keith snarled at the mostly unmade bed saying, "Let's change the sheets," and then started pulling the covers off the bed. I shook the pillows out of their cases. Then Keith went to the linen closet and returned moments later with clean, fresh sheets. After we finished remaking the bed, I took the soiled sheets to the garage and quickly returned.

The TV was turned on and the lights were turned off. We met in the middle of the bed. I snuggled next my lover and he contentedly sighed, "I got ya, baby."

Glancing up at him, I said, "I learned something today."

He grinned and accusingly said, "Oh?"

I giggled and kissed his perky nipple then said, "I was wondering why Mike and Derrick were turning into nudists before our very eyes."

He snickered, "Mike's never had a shy side!"

I then told Keith about the chat Derrick and I had on the way to work. While I spoke he was mostly thoughtful, occasionally nodding.

He asked, "What do you think?"

I shrugged, "I don't know. We'd have to agree on what exactly is acceptable."

Keith nodded, "Fast dancing is no problem. You can fast dance with whomever ya want, as long as I don't want to dance with you, I guess."

"And slow dancing?" He hummed thoughtfully then smiled at me. With a brief hug, I admitted, "Not the way we slow dance. If I saw you hip-to-hip with anyone, I think I'd be disturbed, to say the least."

Keith giggled, "Thank you."

"How about hugs?"

"There are two kinds of hugs – really close ones and ones that are a bit further away."

I nodded, "Arms and upper body only."

Humming positively, he said, "Those are cool just about anytime."

"Even ones that last more than a few seconds?"

He hummed again, more thoughtfully this time and shrugged, "It would be different for every person. I've seen you hug both Mike and Derrick for more than a few seconds. If you did it that way with everybody, like Doug or Brian might... I can't say how I'd react. I'd like to say that I'd be cool but won't promise anything. That's probably something that takes twenty years to get used to."

Until about two in the morning we bounced ideas back and forth, reaching a few decisions but leaving others alone. Keith turned the TV off then we fell fast asleep.

For no real reason, I woke about eight-thirty Monday morning. Feeling rested, I snuggled up next to my lover. He sighed contentedly then started snoring again but I remained with him. Minutes later, Rush stirred in his crate then stepped out and stretched, his wagging tail rapping against the mattress and the dresser. Before he woke Keith, I got up and pulled on a pair of shorts to take him out. Noticing it was only minutes before nine; I went to turn the clock radio alarms off. But both alarms were already turned off. Keith had obviously done it last night.

Lightly slapping my thigh, I led my hound out of the room, down the hall and outside. Then I went to the garage to wash our sheets. The house was completely quiet. Both the Hundser's had left for work. Stepping into the kitchen, I noticed a familiar brightness – a look that only happened early in the summer and early in the morning. Before I began slipping into a time warp, I recognized it and decided to relieve my bladder.

Heading to the bathroom, I wondered if Corey, Drew and John were still asleep. John would likely sleep in but Drew and Corey would be awake any minute, I figured. I took a leak then brushed my teeth but decided to wait and shower with Keith. In the meanwhile, since my stomach was rumbling again, I would start breakfast.

Pancakes sounded good - and maybe some bacon. I needed the skillet and a large frying pan. Setting each to begin heating, I then got the bacon, butter, eggs and milk from the fridge. Turning on the kitchen radio, I then went to the pantry for the Bisquik. Then I got a large mixing bowl.

Remembering Mike's total lack of culinary skills, I smiled while I whipped the pancake batter. Cooking is so easy! Get the required pots, pans and utensils then all the required ingredients and begin. Like anything else, certain things need to be done in the correct order – such as heating the pans. The first time I made pancakes, I forgot to preheat the pan first and instead, cranked the stove burner to heat it quickly. The first two or three pancakes looked more like hockey pucks, burned to a cinder.

Once the batter was mixed, I started placing strips of bacon in the frying pan then put butter in the skillet. While the bacon cooked, I started the pancakes. Soon the bacon needed to be turned over. By the time that was done, the pancakes needed to be flipped. Back and forth, I continued like that. Soon I had a pile of pancakes building on a plate and most of the bacon done.

Wearing only sport shorts, Keith wandered into the room. "Aww," I groaned, "I wanted to wake you up."

"You did – indirectly. I smelled bacon cooking. Did you sleep ok?"

I nodded, "Great."

Taking hold of me, he kissed my neck and hungrily said, "It smells great."

I grinned, "Me or breakfast?"

He seductively whispered, "Both," and then started nibbling on my shoulder and neck.

I giggled, "I'm almost done here, babe. Ya wanna wake your brothers and Corey?"

Letting me go so I could deal with the splattering bacon, he answered, "Drew and Corey are already awake. I heard the squeak of the sofa sleeper being closed. I'll get John motivated, hit the bathroom real quick and be right back."

He started to walk away and I watched him. "Gawd!" I excitedly moaned.

Spinning around, he wondered, "What? Did you get popped with grease?"

Bouncing my eyebrows, I smiled, "Nope - just admiring your back."

Keith leered; beaming seductive thoughts at me. He then sighed and went his way.

With everything cooked, I placed the plates of pancakes and bacon on the table. Drew came in saying, "Told ya. It had to be Prez making breakfast."

Corey smiled, "I would've been happy with cereal."

I went to the kitchen for plates and forks saying, "It's every man for himself." Drew got a bottle of juice from the fridge then went to the pantry for maple and boysenberry syrups while Corey gathered glasses.

Keith returned and said, "John's being a grumpy bitch," then took his father's chair at the table. I sat in his mom's chair. Drew and Corey sat in their usual places.

While the others dug in, I sort of zoned. Everyone still had bed hair. All of us were shirtless; wearing only the shorts we had worn the night before. How lucky could I possibly be, I wondered and smiled.

Frowning at Corey, Drew said, "Only one pancake, dude?"

Corey shrugged, "I like `em but only a little." Then he turned to me and smiled, "A sliced apple on cereal was really all I was expecting. Sorry."

Drew shrugged and sighed.

I encouraged, "Eat as much as you want, Corey. Don't be shy, there's plenty."

Keith looked across the table and grinned, "Come on, Prez. Help yourself. I warned John that if he didn't get it in gear, he'd miss out." I served myself three pancakes and three slices of crisp bacon.

From the hallway, John grumbled, "I ain't missing out!" and then stepped into the room. He sat in my usual chair, across from Corey and Drew. John then grabbed the last three pancakes.

After swallowing his first mouthfuls, Keith smiled, "I could get used to this."

Glancing my way, Drew grinned, "You're making us breakfast the rest of the summer?"

I chuckled and shrugged, "Not every day. You guys get some turns too."

Chewing, John glared at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Drew grinned, "I pour a mean bowl of cereal." Apparently finished eating, Corey wiped his mouth with a napkin and giggled.

Keith said, "You had home ec in school, didn't you Drew?"

Nodding, Drew grinned, "Yeah. I got a C."

Corey giggled, "For not setting the stove on fire!"

Turning to his youngest brother, Keith grinned, "You'll get to take it too."

Smirking, John mumbled, "Better call 911 now and avoid the rush." Drew and Corey snickered insanely. Glancing at his brothers, John added, "If you two just barely passed, I'm in big trouble."

Recalling my junior high home economics class, I said, "Back in Texas, they made it much harder than it needed to be. They taught us to shop with play money. And you had to know all the measurements and all the various utensils by name."

Keith nodded, "That's where the big problems are."

Drew snickered, "That and cleaning up the mess afterwards."

John hollered, "We have to clean up too?"

Keith chuckled, "'Course! What'd you expect, maid service?"

John huffed, "Can we please not talk about school?"

I smiled and nodded then asked, "What's everyone doing today?"

Turning to Drew, Corey said, "I need to be home by noon but I'll be around after dinner time tonight."

John shrugged, "Hangin' out with Tommy."

Keith asked, "Ya wanna come to the beach with us, Drew?" He then suggested, "We'll drop Corey off at home on the way."

Obviously wanting to spend every possible moment with Corey, Drew shrugged, "When?"

Keith and I shared a meaningful glance. The kitchen clock read a little after ten. I answered, "Not for another hour or so."

Checking with Corey, Drew then nodded, "Okay." Drew then wondered, "Where do you go every Monday and Friday afternoon?"

Rolling his eyes and glancing nervously around the table, Corey huffed, "My mom just wants family time, dude."

Finished eating and standing, Drew grumbled, "At least it's not over the weekends." Corey got up too and they started for the kitchen.

"Hey!" Keith loudly said. Stopping in their tracks, Corey and Drew turned to face him. John looked up and over at his oldest brother. Keith grinned, "Was that a pretty good breakfast?"

His brothers and Corey smiled, nodded and thanked me.

Keith prodded, "If we have to clean up too, it's the last good breakfast you'll get from either of us."

Not knowing how to cook, John complained bitterly. But Drew smirked at Corey. Corey nodded and they then began rinsing the dishes, wiping the counter and loading the dishwasher. The task completed, they passed through the dining room. Glancing around the table, Drew asked, "You dudes can rinse your own plates, can't you?"

Chewing still, Keith and I nodded. But John shook his head and teased, "Nope."

Glaring menacingly at his brother, Drew warned, "Rinse your plate or expect to find something worse than a wet towel in your bed."

"Like what?" John dared.

Grinning devilishly, Drew mumbled, "Mud? A lizard? There's a world full of messy shit out there."

Heaving and sighing impatiently, John grumbled, "All right."

As Drew and Corey walked off, John finished his breakfast. Soon he also left the room.

Across the table from me, my lover was transmitting seductive images. Once all my brothers had left the room, I leaned forward and smiled, "I thought you wanted to hit the beach?"

He nodded, "We will... after."

Beginning to quake with anticipation, I got up to rinse my plate and glass. Prez followed. The moment the dishwasher was closed we reached for each other.

Resting his head on my shoulder, he whispered, "Sorry I was so tired last night, babe."

Reassuringly squeezing him tight, I softly said, "I was plenty tired too." Pulling back and sinking into his deep blue pools, I grinned. "I'm not the least bit tired now though."

Bouncing his eyebrows playfully, he leered, "I am so head-over-heels in love with you... and incredibly horny... again!" Latching onto my hand, he didn't wait for my reply but began leading me back to our room. In the living room sat John, flipping channels on the TV. Unable to control myself, I giggled hysterically all the way down the hall.

Once we were safe behind our closed bedroom door, my lover went for my throat. Loving the attention but unable to return his affection similarly, I began pushing his shorts down. Only a few minutes later, we were burning the mattress with some very intense foreplay. On our sides and grinding away, Prez panted, "What's your pleasure? Top or bottom?"

Answering was an effort. I really wanted both. Almost another minute of humping passed before I deliriously whispered, "Fill me up." Prez obviously liked the idea and ground against me even harder. On the verge of combusting, I held him tightly until he mellowed and dreamily looked down at me. Dazed, I desperately heaved, "Fuck me, Prez."

With a nod, Prez rolled off me to reach for the lube, I thought. But the lube was on top of the night table. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Prez opened the bottom night table drawer. He rolled back to me with the shriveled tube of KY and his red cock ring.

"Put it on me?"

Sitting up and getting the greatest head rush, I tried to focus but I swear I saw three cocks for a few seconds there! Wrapping the leather ring tightly around my lover's bone, I then got on my knees. Caressing my back gently, Prez moved into position and whispered, "I love you so much, Keith."

Wanting to feel his heat inside me, I whimpered impatiently while he lubed my hole with feather light fingertips. Soon my hips were moving. I was telling him how awesome it felt and suddenly realized that there was no other sound in the room. We had failed to turn the TV or stereo on! Prez slid his finger inside me and left it there motionless for a few moments.

I sighed and thought, I don't give a damn what my brothers or Corey thinks. To me, Prez was healing. And the stronger he became, the more he showed his love for me in everything we've done together for a very long while. Prez removed his finger and started rubbing his dick up my crack. Six months worth of experiences fast-forwarded across my mind. Then Prez slid into me. I pushed back against him and we remained still for a few moments, taking the time to enjoy initial penetration. Then I realized that the warm sensation between my hole and nads was Preston's hairless sack – held forward by the cock ring.

"Omigod, Prez!"

Rubbing my buns, he groaned desperately. "Oh man... oh dude! You are incredible."

Empowered, I shifted forward slightly, ready to ride his dick like never before. But he pushed forward into me again! I hollered, "Yeah!" Pulling a pillow closer, I stuffed a corner in my mouth so I wouldn't be quite so loud. Not another intelligible word was spoken by either of us until we were in the shower. We couldn't stop smiling at each other. But those smiles contained all the words that needed to be said.

Washing his arms, I said, "That was something special, baby."

He nodded and giggled, "It really was great. You were fantastic."

Kissing him quickly, I whispered, "Needed and very much appreciated."

"My turn tonight?"

Starting at his shoulders and working my way down his front, I teased, "I'd like to try and reproduce that session though."

Prez smiled, "I'd love you to, with me on bottom," and then he turned so I could wash his back.

Soaping him up, I grinned, "That's not what I meant."

Looking over his shoulder into my eyes, he giggled, "Oh no, my turn."

Draping my chin over his soapy shoulder, I whispered, "More lovin' like that could turn me into a total bottom!"

Turning in my arms, he laughed, "I've thought the very same thing!"

Hugging him tightly, I contentedly sighed. For a minute or two, all washing stopped. We just held onto each other under the shower spray. Then we switched positions and Prez bathed me. Just as he was finishing up, there was a knock on the bathroom door.

Entering the room, John loudly said, "Sorry. I can't hold it any more. I'll be out in a minute."

Wide-eyed, Prez smiled and pointed down at our hairless crotches then he fell against me snickering insanely. Soon, John had finished relieving himself. He quickly washed up and left the room without another word.

Prez and I finished in the shower then went to our room to put on trunks. Corey and Drew were waiting in the living room, watching TV with John. Heading to the kitchen and opening the back door, Prez called Rush then led him to our room and locked him inside.

I asked, "Ready dudes?" They nodded, stood and followed us out of the house. Prez decided to drive. On the way to Corey's house, Prez and I agreed to rent boards, no matter what the surf conditions happened to be. Turning slightly in the passenger's seat, I asked, "Ya wanna try to surf, bro?"

Drew shrugged, "I've never tried before."

Prez encouraged, "You'll never be as wobbly as I am on a surf board, Drew."

I snickered, "You're getting better, baby." Facing Drew again, I said, "It's like a skateboard in lots of ways but imagine if the ground was moving while you were riding."

Drew smiled, "Sounds fun. I'll try, sure."

Minutes later, we were stopped in front of Corey's house. Sounding slightly desperate, as if Corey were leaving forever, Drew whispered, "Call me as soon as you get home."

"You know I will," Corey smiled, and then kissed Drew goodbye. He then thanked Prez for the ride and got out of the car. Drew sighed as we pulled away from the curb.

Turning around, I asked, "You miss him already?"

Smirking uncertainly, Drew blushed and nodded, "It's so weird. I don't get this way for anyone else, really. Others come and go, no problem."

Prez said, "It's not so weird, when you think about it."

Reaching to take my lover's hand, I nodded, "I've resigned myself to having two different personalities – one when Prez is around and another one when he's not."

Drew snickered, "Last night at dinner made that real plain!"

Turning to him, I grinned, "What?"

Smiling widely, Drew said, "We all noticed and very much prefer you when Prez is around. By the way, I'd doubt that we'll be hearing John joke about either of us or our boyfriends any more." I tilted my head curiously and he giggled, "The parade yesterday made all the difference. Between the dudes with purple hair, the dudes with umpteen piercings and the dudes dressed as women, John's counting his blessings."

Facing forward and catching a playful glance from Prez, I suggested, "We all need to dress in drag this Halloween, just for John!"

Drew laughed, "He'd flip out!"

Prez giggled, "I wanna be Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz. Rush can be Toto!"

Grinning insanely, I added, "All of us have to do it though – Mike, Derrick, Corey, you – even dad!"

Grabbing his stomach, Drew roared, "He'd run away if dad did it too!" Prez and I cracked up!

In my mind, it was settled. Somehow I'd get my dad to dress in drag.

Soon we were at Russ' shop and renting short boards. The waves were virtually non-existent, one to three foot swells. As we tied the boards down to the top of the 4Runner, Prez asked, "Is it just me or were there bigger waves last summer?"

"I think so. Maybe because of the El Nino season we had."

Once we were back in the car and waiting to merge with PCH traffic, he said, "The water's definitely colder this year."

"If we're gonna be here more than an hour or two, we'll probably want to rent wetsuits too."

A song that Prez obviously didn't like began playing on the radio. Snarling, he reached for the buttons.

"What song was it?"

"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. There's like fifteen minutes of uninspired solos near the end."

I've never heard him slam a song that badly and grinned, "Ooo!"

Nodding at the radio, he said, "Find something on that thing, please babe."

Reaching forward, I pressed scan. Soon, we heard really sweet sounding acoustic guitar. Prez reached and stopped the scan. We had never heard the song before and shrugged uncertainly. A mellow string section began playing behind the guitar.

Suddenly feeling like stopping the car to take Prez in my arms for a street-side slow dance, I said, "Now this is a lazy sway kinda tune," and then turned the volume up a few notches.

Glancing my way briefly, he nodded enthusiastically, "Bossa Nova. But who is it?"

The male vocalist sang: "How insensitive I must have seemed when she told me that she loved me. How unmoved and cold I must have seemed when she told me so sincerely. Why, she must've asked, did I just turn and stare in icy silence? What was I to say, what can you say, when a love affair is over? Now she's gone away and I'm alone with the memory of her last look. Vague and drawn and sad, I see it still, all her heartbreak in that last look."

Another vocalist sang in Spanish for a few moments then the first vocalist continued. "Oh what was I to do, what can one do when a love affair is over?"

Another song, obviously from the same CD began. Drew giggled, "That was soooooooooo sappy!"

Quickly turning in my seat, I made Drew jump. I grinned, "Some day bro."


"There's gonna come a time when you want to hold Corey just for the sake of holding him."

Prez dreamily chimed, "Together, you'll start to just gently sway, setting your own rhythm." Then he loudly asked, "Who the hell was that?"

Grinning at him, I asked, "Is there a trip to Blockbuster Music on the horizon?"

Pulling into Zuma beach parking lot, Prez nodded excitedly. "We must have that disk. I've never heard a guitar tone quite like that. It sounded like a classical but played in a jazz style."

Without interruption, a third song from the same disk played. I said, "The singer was trying to sing as softly as he possibly could, up close to the microphone."

Glancing nervously my way, he suggested, "You and Drew hit the waves while I wait to learn what disk to get?"

Shaking my head, I smiled, "We'll wait with you."

In the backseat, Drew groaned loudly then started giggling. Prez parked and I turned the radio up then reached for my lover's hand. Drew hollered, "I feel I need to wait outside!"

We turned and smiled at him then leaned closer and kissed deeply. With beautiful music playing in the background, I closed my eyes. All too briefly, I went to a magical place where only Prez and I existed. But my lover needed a layer of sun-block applied which I happily helped him with.

The song ended and the DJ began rattling off the song titles and finally announced, "That was the classic collaboration of Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's hard to believe it's been thirty years since that record was first released."

Drew giggled, "Omigod! Plastic records!" But Prez and I were now satisfied. He turned off the radio and engine then we got out of the car. Standing beside Prez, Drew asked, "Is there anything you won't listen too?"

Beginning to remove the bungees, Prez shook his head and grinned, "Remember, it was that other rock tune that made us switch stations?"

Shaking his head sadly, Drew said, "Those Sinatra songs had practically no rhythm though. And you, a bass guitarist!"

"I heard plenty of bass," I interjected.

"Those songs had rhythm," Prez said, "a bossa nova rhythm, upright bass with Latin percussion. It was just an orchestra, Drew."

I said, "You wait dude. You'll be hearing those tunes late at night very soon."

Laughing loudly, Drew turned and started for the beach without us!

Taking the surf boards off the roof of the car, we tossed the bungees in the back seat then started for the sand. Prez said, "I want to play every kind of music, Keith. You understand that, don't you?"

He knows very well that I prefer ballads. Taking his hand, I nodded, "You're preaching to the choir, Prez."

Grinning at me, he shrugged and said, "We all have our preferences. Derrick likes more eclectic bands, Mike likes the blues, heavy metal and grunge, Jessy gets into jazz and I like classic rock. But I wouldn't mind playing with an orchestra at all."

"You'll get there too, I have no doubt about it," I assured.

By the time we got to the water's edge, Drew was already swimming. Seeing Mike and Derrick in the distance, we waved then mounted our boards and paddled out. For the next hour and half, we surfed, occasionally giving Drew one of our boards so he could try. He did pretty well too, considering it was his first time.

Prez seemed to have finally gotten his surfing legs. He didn't need to bail once, controlling his board all the way to the shore.

Around one thirty, we gathered our stuff, said goodbye to Mike and Derrick and then left Zuma so I could get to work by three. Prez drove us back to Russ' shop and then back over the mountain. Instead of searching radio stations, Prez asked me to pop The Beatles, Past Masters Volume Two into the deck.

Once we got home, Prez and I went directly to the bathroom. We relieved ourselves, brushed our teeth, shaved and showered again. While we were naked in the shower, I noticed bright pink bands of flesh around my baby's waist and knees. Lightly tracing my finger around his waist, I asked, "Does that hurt?" He shook his head and I said, "We're gonna have to pay special attention to this area and your thighs."

Turning around, he asked, "How're my shoulders?"

"They're fine baby, just a little tanned."

Leaning back and turning his head slightly, he smiled, "As long as my entire back isn't fried, I'll sleep comfortably tonight."

Shaking my head and grinning, I softly reminded, "After you pound my ass!"

He laughed, "You mean, after you fuck my butt!"

I giggled, "Okay, you can fuck my ass and pound my butt!"

For the rest of our shower and while dressing, we playfully bantered back and forth like that with a few grabs and gropes thrown in for good measure.

Still chuckling and wanting more, we stepped out of our room and went to the kitchen. Munching on a burrito, Drew sat on the living room carpet and watched TV. Prez called Rush to let him out back again. Using the left over bacon from breakfast, I started making two turkey club sandwiches. Prez sliced a tomato and tore off a few leaves of lettuce for the sandwiches. Then we sat at the table and played footsies while we ate.

More than anything, I wanted to stay home with him but I had to get my buns to work. Prez followed me to the doorway and I kissed him goodbye. But then he followed me out to the car and kissed me goodbye! Across the street and looking in our general direction, one of our neighbors did a quick double-take and I began giggling into the kiss. Pointing over his shoulder, I told him about our confused neighbor then got in my car.

At least Drew was home and Prez wouldn't be alone for an hour, I thought as I pulled away and waved. Mike and Derrick would be over soon too. Leaving him happy, I was satisfied that I had helped to make his day in the here and now.

That night, while I waited for Prez to return home from work, I talked with my dad. "Could Mike and Derrick meet you at your office Thursday and Friday morning?" I asked.

My dad nodded, "I put aside two hour blocks every day this week." He then got up and went to the den, returning moments later with his Day Planner. "Thursday, I have nine to eleven open and Friday, ten to twelve."

I said, "Cool. And how about we get together Wednesday night, while Prez is with his aunt?"

Still filling in his schedule, my dad nodded and turned the pages. I then got up to call Mike. While I was still on the phone with Mike, Rush started whining then he got up and trotted to the door. Mike invited us over but I balked uncertainly. Prez walked in the house and squatted down to greet his dog. I went over to him and he bounced up. "Do you want to go swimming?" I asked.

Shrugging indifferently, he softly smiled, "As long as I'm with you, babe. All I need to do is wash my work duds tonight."

That was a good enough excuse to stay home; then told Mike that we'd catch up with him at the beach tomorrow.

My mom commented, "Your white shirts are beyond laundering."

Sitting on the loveseat, Prez nodded, "It's the greasy buckets. Every three months or so, I need to replace them."

I said goodbye to Mike and sat beside my partner.

Humming thoughtfully for a moment, my mom then said, "I saw a sale flyer in with Sunday's paper. Somebody has short sleeve white shirts on sale – I think it was Macy's."

Prez nodded and my dad reminded, "You should both get hair cuts before Monday too. And don't forget to make sure your suits still fit." He then smiled, "In an attempt to at least appear respectable!" Prez and I chuckled and I'm pretty sure my baby blushed for an instant.

My mom said, "Rush is due at the vet by nine Wednesday morning."

"When can I pick him up?" Prez asked.

"At five," My mom replied.

Thoughtful for a moment, Prez softly said, "I need to be at my aunt's by six." Turning to me, he asked, "Can I still make that?"

I nodded and softly said, "It'll only take about thirty minutes."

Prez smiled and leaned back. I wrapped an arm around him. We watched TV with my parents until the eleven o'clock news started. Then my mom kissed us goodnight and wandered sleepily to her room.

I noticed my dad eyeing us carefully. Moments passed and I grinned, "What's up, dad?"

Snapping out of his thoughts, my dad smiled and asked, "Have you thought about this trial at all?"

Prez and I glanced at each other. I shrugged, "Not very much."

"It's pretty much just a formality, isn't it?" Prez asked.

My dad shrugged uncertainly. "They're job is to make Jake look innocent and to imply that you boys instigated the fight."

Prez insisted, "Jake started the shit in the locker room Wednesday and he started the fight Friday - wrong on both counts."

"We've got witnesses and they've got witnesses," my dad said. "The case is pretty strong but I guess I'd like to know what you expect."

Without much thought, I said, "Lock him away for as long as possible on assault and attempted murder charges."

But Prez took longer to answer. He said, "I want to know why he targeted me." My dad nodded then Prez sighed, "He needs to learn about diversity. However long that takes, he shouldn't be allowed out until he learns how to live in a city like L.A."

"I don't want to see him," I confessed. "Not even at the trial and hopefully, never again as long as I live."

With a blank, professional expression, my dad nodded, "Nothing has really changed then?" Prez and I checked with each other and nodded. Then my dad got up and stepped closer to us saying, "It won't be a media circus like OJ but expect newspaper reporters. If you're approached, repeat those famous last words – no comment. Starting today, do not say a word to anyone outside the immediate family until after the verdicts and sentencing."

We agreed then I asked, "Are you worried, dad?"

He shook his head and said, "There's two parts of me fighting each other – the father versus the lawyer. My emotions are yelling protect while the lawyer sees the rational, process oriented side. You'll see the rational side while I'm prepping you and again in court. Please separate the two sides of me in your own minds."

Prez asked, "Are you representing us?"

My dad answered, "I'll be there but Gene Lieberman will be doing the actual talking in court." After a short pause, my dad smiled, "It'll be all right. Gene has a presence in court that most of us can only hope for. Good night, guys." We nodded then he turned and walked across the rooms, stepped inside the master bedroom and closed the door.

I turned to Prez and asked, "Are you having any second thoughts?"

He quickly shook his head but sighed, "I wish it wasn't necessary. Why are they antagonized? Are the few public displays of affection that horrible? What exactly are they afraid of? Is keeping us down worth all this fuss?"

All I could do was shrug. Some people had that much hatred in their hearts. Sadly, they thrive on spreading the hate around too. Prez knew that but it was totally foreign to him.

He defiantly said, "I'm not gonna be a second class citizen."

Looking away innocently, I said, "Nothing's gonna keep us down."

Wide-eyed, Prez snickered, "Speaking of getting down."

We stood and Rush scampered to the bedroom. I turned off the TV and the lights then met my love in our room.

The next morning we woke with the alarm at nine but didn't get out of bed until closer to ten. After a quick breakfast without my brothers, we hit the bathroom. Bypassing the shower, we relieved ourselves and brushed our teeth then went to our room to slip into our trunks. Last night and again while we dressed we noticed that after only a few days, our pubes were growing back. There wasn't much but hair was definitely sprouting.

Since we would be at the beach more than an hour or two, we filled our thirty-two ounce travel jugs with ice water. Prez called Rush inside and led him to our room. We met at the front door. Prez had his new acoustic bass with him "just in case," he smiled, and tossed me the keys.

On the way to Zuma, I grinned, "Mike's already counting down."

Tilting his head curiously, Prez asked, "Counting down to what? The trial?"

I snickered, "Nope – to school!"

Prez giggled, "There's three full months of vacation! He could at least wait until August to start counting down!"

I smiled, "As of Sunday night, it was ninety-four days."

Shaking his head, Prez calculated, "It must be ninety-two now."

"When I got there, he was in his room, marking the calendar and counting days."

"How's his training going?"

I grinned, "While we were working Saturday afternoon, he went shopping with his mom." Prez snickered and I continued, "He's hoping that he gets to start work at Black Angus really soon."

Wrapping his hand around his belly, Prez roared, "The lesser of two evils!"

Once we stopped laughing, we were silently holding hands, just listening to the radio. Glancing his way, I wondered, "What're you thinking, baby?"

He shrugged and sighed, "I'm just trying to put a little perspective to things." Before I could ask, he said, "Derrick was right, we have been treating each other as mere acquaintances. But I'm nervous about showing affection too. Often, it could be just like a hug goodbye or hello. That's no problem for either of us. But there are other times when those hugs might have more meaning." He turned to look my way and I quickly took my eye off the road for him. His expression was thoughtful. After I returned my attention to driving, Prez said, "Just last week, Mike and I shared a really long, close hug. We needed it but now, I'm wondering how that scene might've played out if you and Derrick were around. The hug wouldn't have been near as long, and that bothers me too. It wouldn't have been the same for Mike or me, and it would've bothered both you and Derrick."

I thought carefully, imagining myself watching Prez and Mike hug. I cleared my throat and said, "I'm putting myself there. And I'm thinking that at some point, you would've looked up at me. I would've seen the sadness in your eyes. Mike and Derrick would probably do the same. But would either Derrick or I have had the common sense to just leave you both alone for a few minutes? I don't know. I'd like to think that one of us would lead the other out of the room but other things come into play here too."

"Such as?"

"Well," I started, "for the last few weeks you've been having flashbacks and we've talked about it. If we weren't already talking about it, I wouldn't have understood the hug. Since I did know what was happening, maybe I would've led Derrick out of the room. But what would Derrick feel about it? Would he willingly follow me? What were they talking about over the previous few days? Those things would have impact on Derrick's perception."

Prez nodded, "Those are all things to be considered but we'd only have half of the picture ourselves. I have no idea what Mike and Derrick talk about when they're alone. If they say anything about it at all, it would be well after the fact."

"We've got to make sure to tell them all this," I said. "We could be setting ourselves up for a fall."

Prez wondered, "I'd like to know what Derrick thinks he might've done if he were around last Tuesday."

About an hour later, after we had taken a few rides and we were all relaxing on the beach, we brought it up with them. Mike had obviously told Derrick about that particular hug and the circumstances surrounding it but failed to mention how long it was.

"Five minutes, huh?" Derrick suspiciously queried a wide-eyed Mike.

Nervously grinning, Mike shrugged, "I wasn't watching the clock but it was pretty long. I did tell you that."

Unable to control myself, I cracked up at Mike. The three of them only grinned at me and I quickly muffled myself.

Prez assured, "There was absolutely nothing sexual about that hug, bro."

And Mike quickly said, "Very much the opposite."

Prez nodded and softly offered, "We were mourning."

"In all this time, we haven't had that chance," Mike reminded.

Facing Derrick, I asked, "How would you have reacted after say, the first thirty seconds, when it was obvious that they didn't want to stop?"

After a few moments thought, Derrick shrugged, "I would've gone with you. But I would've also needed to be filled in."

Knowing that Prez wouldn't have minded, I nodded, "And I would've filled in the blanks for you."

Mike then turned to Prez and asked, "Do you ever flashback at my house?"

Prez nodded, "Just the other night as I was lying down with Keith at the pool. The last time we did that, my mom was alive. I warped back a year the first time we went surfing and again, the other night when Derrick was driving home from work. The warm night air and being in a convertible just seemed familiar."

Surprised, Derrick asked, "That often?"

Prez nodded again and sighed, "Almost every day, sometimes more than once a day."

Seeing him sad, I quickly reached for his hand and said, "We're gonna make this summer different than last summer."

Brightly, Mike turned to Prez and said, "July will be full of new stuff, dude. We'll be at Doug and Brian's, jamming at a different place."

Smiling, Derrick said, "I ain't gettin' rid of my 442." Prez chuckled and Derrick continued, "Get used to the night air or offer to drive."

Prez smiled, "We'll play it by ear."

We all agreed then Mike asked, "So what's it gonna be? Are we friends or not?"

Glancing at each of us in turn, Prez nodded, "Best friends."

Mike cheered, "Let's act like it then."

We all nodded and Derrick smirked, "We'll seal it with kisses later." He stood and then grabbed his board.

Moments later, we were all paddling out past the breakers. This was the second day Prez didn't bail out of necessity but rode every wave he caught to shore. For the last ride of the day, the four of us caught and rode the same wave. With that experience tucked neatly away, my baby beamed with satisfaction. The four of us started for the cars. Stopping at Derrick's car briefly, we all hugged and promised that there would be many more to follow. On top of the world, Prez bounced in his seat and sang along with the radio the entire way home.

At home again, we found Drew and Corey watching TV in the living room. In the kitchen, John and Tommy were rummaging around for a snack. I pulled a frozen pizza out of the freezer and popped it on an oven tray then slid it in to bake. Prez and I then took a shower where he showed me just how happy he was by making me absolutely delirious.

While I finished dressing for work, Prez hurried to the kitchen and served the pizza, saving us each a piece. My brothers and their friends shared a loud afternoon snack in the living room but Prez and I shared an intimate meal at the dining room table.

Hand in hand we walked out of the house. Stopped and standing beside my car, Prez softly reminded, "No work tomorrow."

Captivated by his face, I stepped closer. Without any thought at all, I cupped his package and lightly stroked his dick through his shorts. His eyes widened and he giggled, "I'll miss you too babe," then hugged me tight and squeezed my buns hard! We were softly snickering into our goodbye kiss. Releasing each other, I then unlocked the car door. Prez softly smiled, "Have a good night, babe."

"You too, Prez. I love you, baby."

I watched as Keith pulled away. When he was out of sight, I turned and started for the house. There was only forty-five minutes until I needed to change clothes for my own job but thoughts of what to do until then filled my mind. All our laundry was done; the sheets were already washed and dried. I thought I'd just chill in the living room with my step-brothers and their friends. But as I stepped in the house, I found the living room vacant. I could hear them all in Drew and John's room, playing a video game. They had left the living room TV on though.

With nothing else to do, I quickly went to our room and got my acoustic bass. Then I returned to the living room, sat on the sofa and played along with whatever music was on the TV. Bored with commercial advertisements and sitcom theme songs, I turned off the TV and practiced the Petty tunes. Around three-twenty, Mike and Derrick knocked on the front door. With my bass still hanging off my shoulder, I let them in.

Both grinned and stepped inside.

Derrick asked, "What were you playing?"

"The Petty tunes," I answered, and then started for our room.

On the way, Mike asked, "How's the new bass treatin' ya?"

I happily answered, "It's great, dude! The ebony fret-board is so much smoother than rosewood."

Mike chuckled, "You could slide naked over `em without gettin' slivers in yer buns!"

Derrick snickered.

I chortled, "That's too extreme a demonstration for me," and then started taking my bass off.

Derrick loudly said, "Don't take it off!"

Startled, Mike turned to his partner and then laughed, "Aren't we supposed to shout, take it all off baby!"

Slouching, I kept my bass on. Shaking his head sadly but smirking, Derrick nudged Mike hard and whispered, "That's two."

Wondering what Derrick was counting for and noticing Mike's forced frown, I cracked up.

Looking at me, Derrick prompted, "Play something, bro."

Immediately, I began playing American Girl to prove that I learned the entire tune. Soon Derrick added a simple knee-slap beat. Mike watched us both, occasionally nodding and smiling. Just as I was finishing the song, Mike commented, "You've locked it, dude."

Derrick agreed, "Awesome, bro. If you missed a single note, I didn't catch it."

Smiling, I nodded, "Thanks," and then sharply ended with a power chord. Quickly checking the clock, I took my bass off and put it back in its case.

While I began changing for work, Mike said, "We've gotta jam tomorrow, Prez."

I nodded, "We've got most of the day, dude."

Derrick asked, "What's the plan?"

Crossing the room, I began outlining what I needed to do. "I have to get Rush to the vet by nine."

Grinning at each other, they groaned, "Ooo!"

"Then I'll get Keith motivated."

Mike snickered, "At least an hour for that!" Rapidly nodding and chuckling, Derrick agreed.

Letting that pass and pulling on my pants, I asked, "Are we going to the beach?"

Derrick nodded, "We'll be there by ten."

"And leave around noon then head to Agoura Hills," Mike added.

They both turned to me while I was buttoning my shirt. "Rush can be picked up at the vet's around five. From there, I'm off to visit my aunt. I should be home around nine – ten the absolute latest."

Derrick asked, "We'll meet at the beach then?"

Sitting down to tie my shoes, I nodded, "Give Jessy a ring and see if she'd like to join us."

Nodding, Mike said, "As soon as I get home."

Turning to his partner, Derrick proudly commented, "She'll be impressed." They shared a quiet moment and then Mike leaned closer and softly kissed Derrick. Both kept their eyes open at first but then they slowly started to close.

Since they weren't stopping and I was starting to really miss Keith, I went to the living room. Drew and Corey were close together on the sofa, watching TV. I asked, "Where's John?"

Focused on the TV, Drew answered, "They went to Tommy's."

I nodded and asked, "Feed Rush for me please, Drew?"

He replied, "No problem."

I thanked him then Mike and Derrick stepped up behind me. We all said our goodbyes then I led Mike and Derrick out of the house.

Changing direction slightly, Derrick said, "I'll drive." I nodded and he turned to me saying, "I can't believe you're flashing back in my car. You've always admired it."

I shrugged, "There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, bro."

Opening the car door, Mike nodded, "Little things like light and shadow or first experiences. It's gonna pass, dude." He paused and wondered, "For some reason, when I noticed they weren't happening anymore, I actually sort of missed them."

Sitting in the back seat, I chuckled, "Please lock me up if I ever say that."

After starting the car, Derrick seemed to check with Mike before saying, "You missed them enough to cry."

"Keith never told me that you experienced it, Mike. There was only one example, like it was an isolated incident."

Glancing back at me as Derrick pulled away from the curb, Mike asked, "The office desk, right?" I nodded and he said, "That's all he ever heard about."

Derrick did a quick double-take and asked, "Really?"

Mike nodded then faced forward and reached for the gear shifter to hold Derrick's hand. I could tell by their silence that Mike had shared more with Derrick. Even then, Mike was getting closer to Derrick, I reckoned. It was then that I could imagine fully the tension that had been building between the three friends and why Keith sometimes felt left out. Suddenly, I felt the intense need to comfort my lover. And since Keith wasn't around, the desire only built. Mike kissed Derrick goodbye. The hug goodbye that Mike and I shared in front of his house only made my heart twist. Part of me wished that my mom and I had moved sooner, so I could've been here with them and especially for Keith. The other part of me was thrilled that I got here at all.

Forcing a smile, I got in the front passenger seat. Derrick pulled away from the curb.

It's a relatively short drive from Mike's house to the intersection at Topanga Canyon – two or three minutes, tops.

In that time, my emotional turmoil twisted my stomach to the point were I was salivating but couldn't swallow fast enough. Taking a deep nervous breath, I tried to talk myself out of it but the moving car wasn't helping in the least. Undeniably nauseous, I turned to Derrick and commanded, "Pull over now, D."

He only looked at me for a second then immediately did as I said. "Whoa! Shit, dude! You look awful!" he yelled as the car came to a stop and I jumped out. Leaning forward, my hands braced on my knees, I waited for the final flip that would empty my stomach. Derrick loudly asked, "You alright, bro?" He was behind me and I couldn't see him. But I imagined him looking over his shoulder to the back corner of the car where I was hunched over. For a brief moment, it seemed like I was hovering twenty feet above Derrick's car and I could see both of us. Then I heard loud screeching tires and instinctively jumped out of the street.

Turning around, I watched an out of control car glide sideways around the corner and bounce off of a parked car fifty or so yards in front of Derrick's 442. The car bounced clear across the street into a second parked car before coming to a stop. At the top of his lungs, Derrick hollered, "Holy fucking shit!" and hurried out of his car. Still bent in half but feeling less nauseous, I watched Derrick run across the street and pound on the car's roof. He hollered, "You okay, mister?" He pounded on the car again. Standing up straight, I noticed the people in nearby homes racing across lawns to the scene. Derrick hollered, "Somebody call 911! This guy ain't answerin' or moving!" Two women turned and hurried back into their homes. A man came to a stop beside Derrick and the two of them pounded on the roof of the car. Then the man reached for the door handle and yanked. It was then I noticed the entire front and driver's side of the car was a crumpled mess. Derrick took hold of the door handle too and the two of them counted to three then tugged at the door. It didn't seem to move. There were sirens in the distance. I walked across the street to help, still coming out of shock. Derrick and the man again counted in unison and tugged at the door. It moved only a little but enough for me to get my hands in there. On the count of three, they tugged and I pushed. Surprisingly, the door flew open like it was never stuck to begin with.

The driver of the car was unconscious, slouched forward on the deflated air bag. The man reached in and pushed the driver back into the seat. He then reached around to unlatch the safety-belt. I watched the man check for a carotid pulse. Long moments passed while he searched for a heartbeat.

Siren blaring, a police car pulled up and the policeman hurried over. Derrick and I stepped back to let the cop get in closer. Soon, the man that helped open the car door stepped away. Glancing at us, he shook his head sadly, pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and fumbled, dropping them on the ground. Bending over and picking them up, he then struggled to get one lit. Derrick stepped over, took the lighter from him and lit his cigarette.

Turning to me, the policeman asked, "Did you see everything?"

Leaning against the 442, I shrugged, "Most of it."

Derrick returned to my side and excitedly said, "I saw it all."

Looking at the nervous middle aged man, the cop asked, "Are you a witness too?"

The man shook his head and took another deep drag from his cigarette.

Stepping back to us, the officer said, "I'll need statements from both of you," and then went to his squad car.

Pulling me aside, Derrick looked at me strangely for a long few moments. I had never seen him afraid but at that moment, my best friend seemed scared to death – of me. Finally, he whispered, "If we hadn't pulled over..." He paused and looked down then glanced back up and asked, "How do you feel now?"

I shrugged, "Fine, just really blown away, ya know?" Thankfully, he smiled and nodded.

The policeman returned and asked for our names, addresses and phone numbers. Then Derrick told what had happened. "We were on our way to work," he said and then pointed at me and continued, "My friend felt sick and told me to pull over so I did. We had just pulled over and I was looking back at him when I heard screeching tires and spun in my seat. Turning the corner, it was obvious the dude had no control. It seemed the car was sliding sideways. He smashed into that car and then into that other one." The policeman checked with me. Still in a mild state of shock, I nodded. Then Derrick said, "I got out of my car and started knocking on the roof of the car. Then that other dude came over and when we got no response, we tried to open the door." Derrick paused to look at me and suspiciously grinned, "Then my friend came over and, with his help, the door opened." Accusingly, Derrick glanced my way and the policeman scribbled away. When the cop looked up again, Derrick nodded at the wrecked car and asked, "That dude is dead, isn't he?"

The cop nodded then said, "That's all I need, for now. We'll call you if we need to." He then went to the other man waiting by the curb. Derrick and I walked back to his car and got in.

He started the car and turned to me saying, "You saved us, bro. If you hadn't told me to pull over, we almost certainly would've been in the intersection when that dude lost it."

We pulled away and I nervously smiled, "Coincidence?"

Unwinding, he loudly chuckled, "I guess!" Silent moments passed during which I wondered about the man in the car. He wasn't that old –maybe late forties or early fifties. It seemed that he had suffered a heart attack or something while driving. Derrick then tapped me and said, "Do me a favor?"

"Sure man, anything."

He briefly grinned at me and said, "Wash the 4Runner tomorrow."

I nodded and giggled, "It hasn't been washed in two months."

"We can tell!" he cackled. "It's not even white any more."

I chuckled, "Would you do me a favor?"

"Whatever, bro."

"Don't tell Mike or Keith about that accident for a day or two? I'm pretty sure that Keith would freak."

Glancing my way twice and seeing nothing but concern on my face, Derrick answered, "You got it." Only moments later, Derrick softly asked, "You weren't hurt, were you?"

I shrugged, "I'm still shaking though."

Reassuringly, he firmly took hold of my shoulder and nodded.

Nervously, I confided, "It was too close – way too close, dude. And what happened to the driver?"

"Completely different circumstances, bro. And most importantly, we're both fine."

I nodded and smiled but inside, I thought of running home and hiding in my room. Instead, I wound up at Black Angus. Derrick parked around back. He stopped me before entering the kitchen and gave me a tight hug. "You just seemed to need it," he whispered. I returned the hug and thanked him then we separated and went inside.

The first hour was pretty rough but as it got busier, I spent less time frettin' and fussin'. It wasn't as hectic as the last three nights had been but still busier than I was used to. Derrick and I did get to take our break together though. We grabbed our plates and Derrick suggested, "Let's eat on the veranda."

"The veranda" was the loading dock behind the kitchen! Complete with a beautiful view of the dumpster and the parking lot beyond. On a good night, there might even be entertainment; a cat fight or even rat hunting.

Starving, we quickly stacked a few boxes to use as a table and ate quietly. When we were almost finished eating, Derrick grinned, "I don't know how I'm gonna keep that accident from Mike."

I shrugged and smiled, "Just give me until tomorrow, bro. Until then, bite your tongue. Better yet, let Mike bite it!"

He nodded and confided, "Mike's been so intense lately. The only time that guitar isn't hanging off him is when he's hanging off of me."

Chuckling, I asked, "And that's a bad thing?"

"No dude, not at all. But he's practicing more than I've ever seen – six to twelve hours a day. He plays first thing in the morning and every chance he gets all day long."

I agreed, "It shows too," and admitted, "He's playing way more than I am."

"I'm lucky to get an hour or two."

"Two or three hours a day but sometimes I skip days."

Thoughtfully, he slowly nodded. Then he grinned, "It doesn't sound like we're talking about music any more."

I loudly laughed, "I was even if you weren't!" Gathering my plate and glass, I teased, "Besides, three hours is a medium length session."

Derrick cracked up and playfully bounced into me as we started for the kitchen. "More tall Texas tales?"

Shrugging, I put on my angelic face which only made Derrick laugh harder and louder, earning him curious stares and smiles from our co-workers in the kitchen.

Only about two hours later, we were walking out of the restaurant for the night.

Derrick sighed, "I've gotta be back here Thursday night."

"Did you ask any one about swapping nights?"

He nodded, "Everyone," and then turned to me asking, "You?"

I shook my head and quickly explained, "I may just drop Tuesday nights. Maybe Mike or Keith can get in quicker and..."

We separated and walked around opposite sides of the car. We got in and Derrick asked, "And?"

I sighed, "I need to learn how to be alone again, bro. Sunday afternoon after Keith left and before you dudes showed, I was beside myself. I don't think I've ever been alone for that long in all these months."

Starting the car, Derrick then backed out. We started forward and Derrick said, "You've been alone before Sunday, Prez. You just felt it more intensely Sunday."

"When was I alone for longer?"

Without a pause, Derrick said, "Lots of Tuesday afternoons, after Keith leaves for work you have thirty or so minutes alone."

I shrugged, "Keith's brothers are almost always there at least part of that time."

"Just a few weeks ago you skipped a whole morning and stayed home."

Grimacing, I reminded, "I was sick and asleep in bed most of that time."

"But you were alone." I nodded and Derrick continued, "If you feel you need to take a night off then do it – just to prove that you can. I know you can because there have been plenty of times you've been alone."

Grateful for his patience, but equally uncertain of my own ability, I weakly smiled.

Noticing my expression, Derrick smirked, "I'll bet you wind up calling Mike to jam."

I giggled, "Not the first night but probably the second."

"Good! Mike's been jamming alone when he wants to call Shaun. But he's afraid of rocking the boat." I chuckled and Derrick grinned, "The three of you could jam and Gil won't get pissy about it."

"Are we hittin' the beach tomorrow?"

"Early," he nodded, "at Doug and Brian's by noon-ish."

"Will they be home at all?"

"Maybe Brian but not Doug – he's working."

Snidely, I grinned, "A whole house to play in when ever you two want. You are so lucky!"

He loudly chuckled, "Oh! And you and Keith haven't been breaking any records at all!"

I teased, "None that you know of!"

Smiling widely, he playfully huffed, "What did you do Friday night – besides shave, that is?"

I fibbed, "We watched `Men In Black' and `Twister'."

He glanced my way several times before softly chuckling, "You are so full of shit!"

"You really want the truth?"

Derrick chortled, "The real truth!"

"Okay," I started and then outlined about six hours of playtime. He didn't seem too shocked about anything until after the Hundser's returned home, when Keith and I started the second round. Derrick giggled disbelievingly and soon pulled in front of the Hundser's house. I finished the tale with Saturday morning's revelation that it is possible to over stimulate our dicks and how we were hurting most of the day.

Shaking his head but smiling widely, Derrick giggled, "You are so full of it, bro."

Daringly, I grinned, "You don't believe me?" He shook his head and I said, "Fine. Care to place a little wager on it?"

He smirked, "How much?"

"You tell me a story about you and Mike?"

He said, "Yeah," and we shook hands.

"Come inside, bro."


I nodded and said, "If you don't hear Keith tell the same story now, it'll be too late."

He turned off the ignition and got out of the car. Together we went into the house. Keith wasn't in the living room but we stopped to say hello to Keith's folks. I said hello to Rush and then we started down the hallway. The bedroom door was open and Keith was sitting at the desk in front of the computer. I cheerfully said, "Hey babe!"

Turning around, my lover smiled widely. Noticing Derrick behind me, Keith quickly minimized the browser window then stood. We met in the middle of the room for a kiss and a hug. Looking over my shoulder at Derrick, Keith said, "Hey bud, wassup?"

Derrick replied, "Nothin' much, dude." He then asked, "What were you looking at on the `puter?"

Heaving in my arms slightly, Keith chuckled, "Just checkin' out Nifty," and pulled back to smile widely at me.

Derrick chuckled and teased, "I hear you don't need any lessons from stories."

Silently, Keith questioned me. I shrugged, "I told him the truth about Friday night and he doesn't believe me."

Keith giggled and asked, "Did you exaggerate?"

I laughed, "Swear to God, the total truth."

Closing the door and turning again to lean against the dresser, Derrick began, "So you spent about an hour shaving each other..."

Snickering evilly, Keith pulled me down on the bed with him. He then turned to Derrick and dryly said, "We had great sex."

Derrick queried, "For how long?"

Keith shrugged then looked deep into my eyes and softly answered, "The better part of seven hours."

Derrick cracked up! After about a minute, he hoarsely chuckled, "That is so much bull!"

Tilting his head, Keith assured, "No lie, dude. From about six to seven thirty, we were in the toidy shaving and then we fed Rush. From almost eight until almost ten, we made love. Then the rents came home and we helped with the groceries. Mike called, we decided to eat something and then went right back to our room. From about ten-thirty till about one, we played some more."

I prompted, "And the next day..."

Keith cupped his crotch and snickered, "Our dicks hurt like hell, dude." Derrick roared and Keith loudly continued, "We played tennis against Drew and Corey and lost because we couldn't or wouldn't run! Only cold water helped!" Wiping tears from his eyes, Derrick started to calm down. Standing, I started to get out of my funky work clothes. While I was bent over, pulling my legs out of the pants, Keith and I shared a long devilish smile.

Tossing my dirty clothes at the closet, I then turned to Derrick and said, "You lost, bro."

Smirking, Derrick leaned against the dresser again. Turning to me, Keith curiously grinned. Derrick sighed, "I could tell you about last winter, when we were watching your house?"

"Nope!" I giggled, and sat beside Keith on the edge of the bed in my skivvies.

Catching on to the stakes, Keith grinned, "Mike told me and I told Prez months ago."

I reminded, "Didn't you and Mike have the house for a while after the pride parade?"

Nodding, Derrick chortled, "It wasn't anything like you two dudes though. We don't have that kind of time. For us, we might spend an hour naked together but neither of us gets off, or other times it might only be one but not the other. Lots of times we don't get past foreplay but then, after a few days like that, things get really intense. Like the weekend of Mike's birthday – after everyone left Sunday morning, we had almost five full hours alone together." Remembering, Derrick smiled and giggled, "We were so tired and climbed into bed."

"Which room?" Keith wondered.

"My room," Derrick answered. Then he shook his head and glared, "What does it matter? They're both twin size beds!"

"I don't know dude!" Keith giggled. "Just curious if you dudes have a preference, I guess."

Derrick shook his head. "Not a conscious preference but we did it in my room a lot the first few months; the last month or so - more often in Mike's room." He paused then remembered, "We really wanted to sleep and thought we could get by with a quickie before we had to hurry over here to jam. I was spooned up behind Mike. Naturally, I started getting hard. Soon Mike felt it. He groaned and giggled simultaneously then rolled over to face me.

"You know what I love most about him?" Derrick suddenly asked. Keith choked back a giggle and shook his head. I shrugged and Derrick answered, "It's his focus. He's got a direction in mind and the determination to get there. Those two things mixed with the fact that he's a musician and completely attractive to me in so many ways – that's why."

Keith and I agreed and totally enjoyed developing our bond. Derrick continued, "We started making out, telling each other that we really needed to sleep but continuing on anyway. That time, I was probably the more aggressive one, at least when we started. But the more we messed around, the more I wanted. After a while, I was hovering over him and getting us lubed up."

Raising my hand, I asked, "With or without a rubber?"

Derrick smirked, "What does that matter?"

"I just don't know dude. Do you use them or not?"

Thinking for a moment, Derrick then shrugged, "Last summer, almost always but not very often lately – only if there's no time to cleanup properly. That Sunday we did use them though. We had the time and they are fun to put on."

Bouncing my eyebrows, I sneered, "I could imagine."

Derrick asked, "Do you dudes use `em?"

I shook my head and Keith said, "Not once." Turning to me, he softly said, "I always trusted you."

I whimpered and Keith leaned over to give me a much needed kiss.

Derrick snickered and asked, "Are you completely versatile all the time?"

Keith shrugged, "Not all the time. Sometimes we don't have the time or the energy."

I nodded enthusiastically. "We switch around just because we like to most of the time though."

Derrick agreed, "We're pretty versatile when we have the time. We had the time that Sunday morning - three sessions in five hours, separated by short jam sessions." He sighed, "Then Mike's mom and sister came home and it was back to hiding hugs and shit." Perking up slightly, Derrick said, "A lot of that was taken care of Friday night though. Lindsay came downstairs while we were still talking with Brian and our moms. We're aloud to kiss, hug and hold hands around her now. She was more confused and worried because we weren't doing those things. She was seeing it as a purely sexual, convenience kinda thing."

Incredulously, Keith whispered, "Omigod!"

"From her point of view, it must've looked that way." Derrick said, "Just friends that have sex. So how could we have any kind of commitment towards each other? Which explained a few curious stares I caught; by the way. She's a smart kid. This summer, Mike's mom and Lindsay will be taking advantage of the time we're away.

"Now everybody knows the commitment is way more than sex. It's our entire future. I'm depending on him for stuff and he's depending on me for stuff. Our goals are the same and we want to share the experiences together." After a short pause, he looked up and softly said, "We'd like to include you two in our plans too."

Surprised, Keith and I chimed, "Us?"

"Hell yeah," Derrick chuckled at our reaction. "We've got something good going, the four of us, as a band. First of all, the music – we learn stuff fast and the more we play certain tunes, the tighter they get. It might very well take a while to get a band like that together again. Good bass players and singers are rare. Second of all, we're all gay and can understand each other at a level that straight dudes can't or won't."

Turning to Keith, Derrick smiled, "You've always loved music as much as movies, dude. Just think about the music, not the crowd. We could make decent bucks relatively quickly."

Facing me, Derrick confided, "We can see the four of us, living together, going to school together, and partying together – for at least a little while. Financially, it would be so much more affordable for four than for two."

Keith turned to me for a moment and then back to Derrick asking, "That's why Mike was nervous about us going to college?"

Derrick nodded, "We don't want to hold you back from your goals, dudes. Just hoping... maybe we could find a way to merge them."

I smiled, "You've given us something to think about, bro. And I have to say, it does sound like fun." Then I turned to Keith and said, "The Musician's Institute is an accredited school. I'm sending away for more information on them."

Derrick offered, "Mike already has. Basically, Guitar Institute, Bass Institute and Percussion Institute are eighteen month programs. They offer four year bachelor's degrees too. They cover everything – the instrument of your choice, vocal courses, recording and the business side of it too." Glancing at Keith, Derrick said, "We've thought about you too, dude. If you're interested, there's a six month recording school too. And there are good jobs with decent bucks there. If you're not comfortable behind the mic then maybe behind the board would suit you?"

Keith shrugged, "Is it very technical?"

Derrick smiled, "Its stuff we do every day, dude - just with fancy terms. Learn the lingo and the associated action."

Turning to me, Keith said, "If there are good paying jobs, its way better than trying to pay bills on a Blockbuster paycheck."

I nodded, "And after MI, we can decide on college?"

He asked, "You would still want college too?"

"Probably so," I softly answered, "that's what my mom wanted and I'll always feel the need to accomplish that for her."

Standing up straight, Derrick said, "Think about it, dudes. It's got some advantages. I'm gonna get home before Mike calls looking for me." We started to get up and Derrick said, "I can find my way out. See ya in the morning." He then showed himself out of our room.

Keith turned to me and giggled, "I can't believe you sat there in your underwear all that time!"

I smiled, "Why? It didn't seem to faze Derrick. I know I didn't get a boner and had nothing to hide from either of you."

He hugged me tightly and kissed me hard. I pulled him back onto the mattress with me. Moments later, we broke our kiss but remained on the bed.

I asked, "What did you think about Derrick's ideas?"

Keith sighed, "I can't really see myself as a recording engineer. But I can't see myself as an author or playwright either. I don't have any clue where I'd be happy, Prez. I only know that I'm happy with you. As long as we're happy together, everything else is secondary to me."

Snuggling closer, I kissed him softly. After I settled down beside him again, I asked, "Would you be happier if you were working a career quicker?"

Keith shrugged, "You know how I feel about school. Still, if I can get a degree then I really should try."

"Whatever you want, Keith. Don't feel like you have to for me or any one else but you. There are all kinds of vocational schools out there with relatively short programs – a year maybe two."

"I honestly like both ideas, baby. I could probably learn recording and get work doing it. All I want is to come home to you."

Smiling widely, I looked up at him. "Are you trying to seduce me?"

"Imagine it," Keith dreamily whispered, "the four of us living in a two bedroom place. They've got their space and we've got ours."

I giggled, "The living room and kitchen would be shared disaster areas."

"I could teach you about the stuff I'm learning and maybe learn a little music theory from you along the way."

"We're all getting so used to one another," I softly confided. Glancing up at him, I admitted, "I can actually see us living together, occasionally bitching each other out over burned dinners and dirty dishes."

"Every time Mike attempts to cook," Keith snickered. Then he looked away for a moment and his smile faded. Glancing at me, he whispered, "I want time alone with you, Prez. You know I don't have a problem making out around them. It's actually pretty cool. But I need our moments alone, like now."

Squeezing him tight, I whispered, "Me too," and happily promised, "We'll always find a way to make that time. One of us will need it and drag the other away."

With that, Keith shifted down and we started making out.

At nine Wednesday morning the clock radio went off. With my eyes closed, I reached and fumbled around a few seconds before finally pressing the off button. Prez rolled over and spooned himself behind me. Humming contentedly, I wiggled myself back against him.

I sighed, "We gotta get Rush to the vet."

"He's already there," Prez softly said. He then asked, "Are you really looking forward to going to the beach?"

I shrugged, "Got something better in mind, sexy?"

He giggled then squeezed me tight and said, "I know it's gonna be hot up there but I really want to check out the attic."

Processing that in my morning daze, I turned in his arms and looked deep into my lover's eyes. He didn't appear sad. Before I could ask, Prez said, "I really don't know all of what I saved, Keith."

Carefully, I assured, "You saved everything that was important, Prez. Like her jewelry box, her favorite baseball caps, her books and all the photo albums and the family Bible."

He whispered, "What else?"

"Like all the kitchen utensils, dishes, the toaster, microwave and other small appliances, and of course the pots and pans. We packed all the framed photos and knick-knacks. From the closets, we saved sheets, blankets, pillows and all the towels. There were two new living room lamps you helped her pick out too."

His entire face shone and he said, "That was a fun trip. It was only a week or so after our weekend at Big Bear. She picked two ceramic lamps. The design painted on them wasn't so bad. I just thought, ceramic in an earthquake zone? And they were eighty bucks each! I had seen the wooden lamps and especially liked the night light in the middle. And they were only sixty bucks each. The nightlights in those lamps were great. Late at night, we'd watch TV with only those on."

Remembering a few nights I spent at the apartment, I smiled and nodded my head enthusiastically. Daringly, I brought him out of the past and into the future. "They're gonna look great in our place. Their history makes them that much more valuable to both of us."

I watched his eyes glaze over then a smile brightened his face and he pushed me back. Straddling and hugging me tight, we kissed hard. A minute or so later, Prez slid his face to one side and whispered, "Wanna hit the beach?"

Humming negatively, I then suggested, "How about we hang out at home – to sort of make up for the few hours we'll be apart later tonight."

Growling provocatively, Prez then pulled me with him as he rolled over onto his back. I kissed him. Only moments into the kiss, Prez raised his spread legs and wrapped them around my waist. Obviously he wanted to make love but he wasn't anywhere near hard. Considering the memories and worries he woke with, that was completely understandable.

And it was a perfect opportunity for me to correct the situation. Pushing up off of him, I smiled down at my lover then slowly licked a trail from his throat to his chubby.

While my face was buried in his crotch, Prez giggled, "Do I get some too any time soon?"

Lifting my face just enough to look up into his eyes, I replied, "As soon as I get your dick as hard as mine," and then went back to work. Unfortunately, it didn't take very long to reach my goal. As promised, I moved around so my baby could get at my cock.

Satisfied, we snuggled together and flipped through television channels. Finding nothing to watch, we got up, slipped into shorts and started our day. While we were in the bathroom, Prez said, "Before we shower, I just want to go up into the attic for a few minutes."

I stopped brushing my teeth and studied him carefully.

He explained, "It's like I need to see that stuff to know it was real, Keith."

I nodded and finished brushing my teeth then said, "Promise you won't get sad or upset."

Prez smiled, "I promise. I'm actually sort of anxious just to see some of it."

Moments later, we were in the garage, pulling the attic steps down from the ceiling. The garage was pretty warm but I still felt a blast of warm air against my face from the attic. Prez hurried up the steps, reached for the light and turned it on. "Wow!" he excitedly said.

Still climbing the steps I asked, "What?"

He looked down, offered me his hand and smiled, "I remember this attic as small and dark. It's actually really big up here and there's plenty of light."

Our attic space covers the area above the garage, living room, dining room and my parent's bedroom. Most of that space is less than four feet tall and virtually unusable but there is a lot of floor area.

I took his hand and smiled, "My folks have some college memorabilia and stuff packed away up here." Pointing at three footlockers, I said, "There's some baby stuff from my brothers and me over there." Turning to the front of the house, I pointed again and said, "Those boxes have the holiday ornaments in them." Then I led him over to his stack of boxes and said, "These are all yours."

"Oh my God!" Prez hollered. "How did all these boxes get here? I don't remember moving much at all!"

I smiled, "A couple of boxes were moved almost every day, Prez. You'd give a few to me, or to my folks, and we'd bring them right up here. There are some folded boxes that had the CD's and record albums in them. All the original packing boxes for the stereo components are here too."

Prez let go of my hand and reached to cover his smiling face. "I only remember about a dozen or so boxes, Keith."

I shrugged, "Closer to three dozen all together, I'd bet." His face was splattered with confusion. Taking his hands down from his face and holding them both, I explained, "After the funeral, you were there at the apartment, every day, packing stuff. At the end of every day, I'd take boxes home - stuff that wasn't needed at first, like the sheets and blankets. My dad put an ad in the paper to sell most of the furniture. He arranged for people to come to the apartment over the weekends, when we could be there with you. By that first weekend, you packed a lot of stuff, baby."

Squeezing my hands, Prez loudly giggled, "I guess!"

His eyes were glistening but I continued and asked, "Do you remember the guy that bought the sofa and most of the living room furniture?" Prez shook his head and I recalled, "It was the first weekend. He came with his girlfriend." I prodded, "Remember?" Prez shook his head and I said, "She was reaching for the stereo and asked if it was for sale too. You quickly moved between her and the entertainment center and flatly said, no, none of it is for sale." I grinned and giggled, "No one else could really tell but me, I'm sure. But if she had set one finger on that receiver, you probably would've busted it clean off!" Prez's jaw dropped and I laughed, "It's true!"

If there is any `thing' that could be called a permanent monument to Prez's mom, it's the entertainment center. In Prez's mind, it's the stereo components. Mrs. O' Brian had always loved music and nurtured that same love in her son. In second grade, Prez played a mean recorder, or so I was told by Mrs. O' Brian.

Smirking evilly at me, Prez let go of my hands and turned to the stacks of boxes. Everything was clearly marked or in its original packing carton, like the microwave. I watched as he wandered around and read each box. Then he turned to me and said, "Its hotter'n hell up here. We'll come back up and look around when it's cooler. Let's go."

He started down the stairs saying, "I saved way more than I thought." He seemed pleased about it. I turned off the lights and followed him down to the garage. Together, we folded the steps and raised them back to the ceiling. Prez then looked around the garage and said, "I should ask Mike and Derrick to take their stuff home. We can jam over there or at Doug and Brian's this summer."

I sighed, "Has anyone complained?"

Prez shook his head. "But still, we've been jamming here for six months. Mike's house has a garage too. We could split the year evenly."

That sounded reasonable to me. We started for the house and I asked, "You'll mention it to them later?"

Prez nodded and hummed affirmatively but headed directly for the bathroom. Passing the living room, he turned and said, "The air conditioning feels great. Was it extremely hot up there or was it just my nerves messing with me?"

I smiled, "It was really hot. I'd guess about a hundred and twenty or worse."

Reaching for my hands and pulling me into the bathroom, Prez whispered, "Thanks, babe."

Enveloping him in a warm embrace, I asked, "For what?"

"For being patient and taking me up there. I'm still shocked at how much there is."

I said, "It's not that much. When it's time to setup our own place, we've got a good start." We kissed then stepped back, dropped our shorts and climbed into the shower.

Afterwards, we dressed and Prez went to get his new bass. I said, "I'm hungry, baby. Ya want anything?" He leered and I quickly added, "From the kitchen?"

Opening the case, Prez said, "I should be hungry but I'm really not. I'll just pluck around here."

Certainly, Prez was still processing the stacks of boxes in the attic. I grinned, "You'll be starving later. How about a sandwich?"

He nodded and asked, "Ya need help?"

Shaking my head, I said, "I got it," and then left him in our room. As I walked down the hall, I heard Prez playing a walking bass line. While I gathered everything I needed in the kitchen, I heard Prez stop for a moment then he started playing Sign of the Gypsy Queen. I dropped four slices of bread in the toaster and then opened a can of tuna and drained the excess water. A minute or so later, while I was mixing the tuna, mayonnaise, chopped onion and celery, I heard Prez begin playing what sounded like Petty's American Girl. The toaster popped. Prez suddenly stopped playing, grumbled and played a section over. I got two plates and took the bread from the toaster then started making our sandwiches. There were a few moments of silence from our room then I heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Prez had decided to play along with the CD, I thought.

With our sandwiches ready, I picked up the plates and turned to put them on the other counter. Prez was already sitting there, smiling at me. Glancing briefly at the plate as it slid down in front of him, he said, "It looks like another masterpiece, babe."

I grinned, "There was half of a small onion and some celery, so I stuck `em in the food processor," and then sat beside him.

We dug in and Prez turned to me, still chewing. When he swallowed he smiled, "Masterpiece is an understatement."

I smiled, "Guess all those after school snacks for my brothers accomplished something."

Finishing another big bite of his sandwich, Prez swallowed and nodded, "Something incredible."

It was only his smile that led me to believe he wasn't just referring to the sandwich. Prez got up and gently ran his hand across my shoulders as he went around me. I tingled with pleasure and watched as he stopped in front of the fridge and peeked inside. Turning to me, he asked, "Milk, cola or water?"

Swallowing, I answered, "Milk please."

Prez brought the gallon jug to the counter then reached for two glasses and filled them before returning to his seat. I gave him a peck on the cheek then lifted my glass.

We finished eating then cleaned the kitchen before returning to the bathroom to rinse with mouthwash. Long ago, we learned the hard way that sharing tuna fish kisses is one of the most revolting things in the world!

We returned to our room. Prez pressed pause on the CD player, turned to me and said, "Ya wanna work on these tunes with me, babe?"

Kicking back on our bed, I asked, "Derrick's got lead on these?"

Picking up his bass, he nodded, "Yeah, listen to the background vocals. There are some hand claps in there too." Then he went over to restart the disk. We ran through American Girl, You Got Lucky, Breakdown, Runnin' Down a Dream and I Need To Know.

Prez paused the CD player and admitted, "I really need to wash my truck but I'd much rather run through these songs again."

I grinned, "We'll wash both our cars tomorrow morning."

"Cool," Prez nodded. He then pressed repeat and we rehearsed the same five tunes again.

By the time the final notes of I Need To Know drifted off to infinity, it was almost noon. Prez stowed his bass and said, "I'll drive to Agoura Hills, okay babe?"

Nodding, I got up and gave him a hug. He picked up his bass case and we left our room. Stopping at the doorway, Prez said, "I feel like I'm forgetting something."

I reminded, "The dog. Rush is at the vet, baby."

"Oh yeah," he drawled.

We walked out of the house and I locked the door then went to the 4Runner and got in.

Buckling up, Prez said, "I don't know if we'll be playing any of those songs today." He started the engine and reminded, "Mike wants to try writing originals too."

I nodded, "When I'm not singing or otherwise engaged; I'll try to figure out the mixer and computer stuff."

Pulling away, Prez excitedly said, "Very cool."

I chuckled, "We'll see if I can figure out the gadgets."

"What's to figure out? Left and right balance, bass, midrange and treble tone controls – it's very much like any home stereo. Only instead of two channels, you're controlling everything input to the mixer." He paused only to turn onto Topanga Canyon then said, "There's at least two phases to the recording process, as best as I can figure. First phase, get the individual tracks recorded. We'll probably concentrate in layers – just the rhythm section first. Add the vocals and any solos. Second phase would be mixing them all together to two tracks."

Mildly stunned, I asked, "How do you know all that?"

Prez shrugged, "I read about it in Bass Player and other magazines. And I picked up a little the last time Doug and Brian recorded us - enough to get a basic understanding anyway." He stiffened in his seat momentarily and slowed down as another car passed us on the 101 ramp. Prez sighed and glanced my way briefly then said, "So many things can go wrong while driving. Why do some people need to go so much faster than the rest of traffic? It only adds to the dangers."

I took hold of his hand and said, "Its okay now, baby."

He nodded and built up to freeway speed then said, "Just yesterday, Derrick and I witnessed a bad accident on our way to work. The guy had a heart attack or something and lost control."

Stunned, I turned to him and said, "It scared you."

He nodded, "It was weird too. Derrick was telling me about how things were for you three just before I moved here. I just felt like I could've and should've been here for you. The feeling got so strong that I began to feel a little nauseous. I told Derrick to pull over. I got out and leaned over, ready to heave. The next thing I know, car tires are screeching. An out of control car hit a parked car about fifty yards in front of us and ricocheted across the street into another parked car before it came to a stop."

I hollered, "Omigod! You and Derrick saw the whole thing?"

Prez nodded, "We were a few minutes late for work."

Shaking my head, I snickered, "And you two were talking about hurtin' units and sex-capades last night! Why didn't you tell me then?"

He softly admitted, "I didn't want to make a big deal of it and worry you."

I sighed loud and long. Squeezing his hand, I assured, "You're obviously not hurt physically but you were shaken up by it. Anybody would be. I sure as hell would've been!" Prez giggled and turned on his directional to prepare to exit the freeway. Without another second's thought, I said, "I'll drive you to and from your aunt's tonight, if you want?"

Prez moved smoothly into the exit lane. When we came to a stop, he said, "Believe me, part of me really wants to take you up on that offer. But I do have to drive myself around. I can't make you my chauffer every time bizarre shit happens on the road."

He was right and I knew it but wasn't exactly happy about it either. Stubbornly, I grumbled, "I'll follow you then."

Prez loudly giggled, "Keith! I can drive to my aunt's and back! Following me won't keep any thing from happening." Then he briefly turned and glanced my way saying, "I made it all the way to Agoura Hills without any problem."

Slouching, I pointed ahead and reminded, "Watch the road."

Snickering, Prez pulled in front of Doug and Brian's house and parked behind Derrick's 442. Turning the engine off, he then leaned over to kiss me. "I'll be fine driving tonight, just a little lonely. Next time you're coming with me, I promise."

"I do want to go with you, even more now."

"I know but it wouldn't be right to call last minute to change the plans."

I completely understood his need to make a good impression with his aunt. Because it was so obviously important to him, it was just as important to me. "Be extra careful and call me as soon as you get there?"

He nodded and kissed me then assured, "And I'll call again when I'm ready to come home." We got out of the car and started for Doug and Brian's house. Prez suggested, "Why don't you get together with Mike and Derrick after dinner, while I'm gone? I could meet you all at the beach?"

"I've already got plans," I said, and then knocked on the door.

"Oh really?" he loudly laughed, "With whom?"

I grinned, "With my dad, getting ready for court."

"I'll get together with him Saturday, after you leave for work."

I said, "Cool," then knocked on the door again and checked the knob. It turned and I opened the door. We stepped inside and could hear Derrick's drumming down the hall so we followed the sounds. We passed the two bedrooms then took another few steps towards the end of the hall. To our right, the bathroom door was open. Standing at the toilet and taking a piss with his trunks at his ankles, Mike hollered, "Hey! What took you so long?"

Prez looked at his watch and yelled, "It's twelve-o-seven, exactly. We've been waiting outside at least two of the seven."

I loudly added, "Don't you close the door when you take a whiz any more?"

Mike hollered, "What for?" and finished relieving himself. He shook his dick and picked up his trunks then flushed and stepped in front of the sink. Prez and I smiled and sadly shook our heads. As he washed his hands, he turned and said, "Go ahead in. D's just warming up."

We turned and Prez opened the door to the studio. The sound of Derrick's drums seemed to triple, at the very least. We stepped inside and Prez went directly towards Derrick. Prez loudly asked, "When did you get here?"

Smiling, Derrick yelled, "About fifteen minutes ago." Prez turned to me and smiled then led me over to the mixer and computer. He was just showing me the faders and channel meters when Mike walked in the room.

Still drumming, Derrick hollered, "Did you lock the front doors?"

Mike yelled, "Yep, both of `em"

I loudly bitched, "You just got here too, you fucker!"

Mike threw his head back and laughed hysterically as he went to his guitar.

Derrick hollered, "You two need to get some new material."

Prez tapped my shoulder and showed me how each channel was being directly recorded onto the computer's disk. Then he handed me headphones and told me to put them on. I watched his fingers raise six faders and the room sounds gave way to Derrick's drums in the headphones. I could barely hear what Mike was playing until Prez raised another fader. Mike was playing Van Halen's I'm The One. I remembered the song because Mike played Val Halen disks all the time and because I thought the title was `Show Your Love'. Prez then gave me a kiss and lifted one headphone to say, "The next fader over is for the bass." He then got up to join Mike and Derrick. I watched him pick up a bass and turn on the amp. He then gave me a thumbs-up and I raised the fader. Prez fell right in line with the band. While they played, I adjusted various settings on the mixer; just to see how the little knobs effected what I was hearing through the headphones. A few minutes later they ended the song with a loud explosion of sound.

I took the head phones off and turned around.

Mike said, "Let's record Little Dreamer."

Derrick and Prez agreed but Prez suggested, "Let's rehearse it one time."

"Why?" Mike said, "Let's record it, check it out and re-take whatever we need. If we want to do it all again then fine but lets just record it."

Derrick smiled and nodded. Prez shrugged and said, "Look at the computer screen, Keith. See the part that looks like cassette deck controls?"

Turning around, I looked at the monitor and quickly found the section he described. "Got it," I said.

Derrick said, "Drag the mouse to the record button and let's do it."

I clicked record then faced them and nodded. Mike began with the familiar opening riffs then Prez and Derrick joined. I put the headphones back on and listened. They were playing really well and I could here the lyrics in the back of my mind. Naturally, I closed my eyes and started singing. A few moments later, I heard laughter in my headphones. I opened my eyes but kept on singing. Exaggerating his playing, Mike loudly laughed, "This take is shot!"

I stopped singing and looked at Prez; his face red from laughing.

"What?" I hollered, and took the headphones off.

Sloppily, they stopped playing. Shaking his head sadly, Derrick pointed at the microphones above and around the drums. Chuckling, he reminded, "It's all being recorded."

Mike snickered, "There are direct lines from the amps to the board but the drums are live, bro."

Prez came towards me and giggled, "You'll get your chance lover."

Suspiciously, I queried, "What does that mean?"

Derrick grinned, "We're playing Van Halen. You don't expect any of us to be able to sing it, do you?" Prez turned away and covered his mouth.

Mike snickered, "Hello? Is there anybody in there?"

Derrick and Prez both tried not to laugh but failed miserably.

"Alright," I loudly chuckled, "On one condition."

Prez swung around. Mike and Derrick stopped laughing. I said, "For every song I sing lead on, each of you have to sing lead on two other songs." I faced Mike and said, "You sing lead on some Stevie Ray or Clapton." Turning to Derrick, I said, "And you do some Petty or Stones." Finally, I faced Prez and said, "You do The Joker and Hold My Hand." Glancing around the room, I said, "It's not like your all tone deaf."

Derrick softly offered, "But you've got the stronger voice."

"And wider range," Mike chimed.

I turned to Prez and he smiled, "But it is our dream." Turning to Mike and Derrick, Prez said, "Two for one isn't that bad."

Mike grumbled, "All right. Let's just get on with it."

Derrick nodded and said, "Okay. Ready?"

I smiled at Prez and said, "You're my witness baby."

Prez grinned, "Did you press pause?" I quickly did a double take between the computer and Prez. "It's all been recorded then," Prez snickered.

Rubbing my hands together, I smiled at Mike and Derrick then said, "I get a copy of that before we leave today!"

Mike rolled his eyes, shook his head and mumbled, "Cranky bitch." Turning to Derrick, he said, "Give me a count, dude." Derrick paused for a moment then tapped his sticks together and Mike started the introduction to Little Dreamer. Seconds later, Prez and Derrick joined. They played the entire song while I watched the meters. It was really impressive. I knew that Prez hadn't practiced that song since before the accident but he didn't seem to have any problem remembering his part. They seemed to drag the ending out a little but they watched each other and held the ending with Derrick's cymbal tapping.

After a few moments, Mike took his guitar off and said, "Press stop, Keith."

Spinning around, I pointed the mouse and clicked.

Prez stepped up beside me and said, "It's all recorded onto the PC now."

Mike sat beside me and reset to the beginning of the track. He started pressing buttons on the mixer and said, "I'm just muting the microphone channels so we can listen to the playback without feedback."

I smiled, "Just save the first take - and don't accidentally erase it!"

Mike loudly snickered, "I'm saving it!" Derrick leaned against the wall behind Mike and me.

The tracks began playing back through the speakers mounted up near the ceiling corners. At first I only heard the three of them playing. Then Mike muted the bass and guitar channels. Between Derrick's drum beats, we clearly heard my singing followed by snickering and finally laughter before the whole song fell apart. Although it wasn't very loud, every word we each said was on the disk. Right after Prez's recorded voice said; "It's all recorded then," Mike clicked the pause button.

He turned to me and huffed, "See, I'm saving everything up to that point as an MP3." He clicked the file menu and then saved the song as "1crankybitch.mp3". I sneered at Mike. He giggled, "We'll burn in onto CD later."

Looking up and behind me, I saw Prez leaning against the wall next to Derrick. Prez had his hand over his mouth and his shoulders were bouncing. Derrick simply smiled and shook his head.

Mike then pressed play and we listened to the second take. When the song finished, I glanced around the room. They all seemed to be waiting for my opinion. I shrugged, "I dunno. You all played it well and it is damn close to the original recording but there's something not right."

Mike hummed thoughtfully and typed on the PC keyboard. Then he reset the song to the beginning and pressed play. Only the drum track was clear. I asked, "What did you do?"

"I muted the guitar and bass tracks," Mike replied.

"Why can I still hear them then?"

Derrick answered, "The microphones around the drums." He then tapped Mike's shoulder and suggested, "We should put the baffles around the drums, dude."

Turning to Mike, I suggested, "Mute the drums but play only the guitar and bass tracks." Mike nodded and entered the commands. For a moment there was silence but then he turned up the bass tracks. He started to turn up the guitar tracks but I quickly said, "Wait a sec." After another few moments, I looked up at Prez and commented, "It sounds dull. Not your playing but just the overall sound. The sound of just your acoustic in our bedroom earlier was better."

Prez shrugged, "Must be the room acoustics. Add some reverb to the track, Mike."

Mike did as he was told and suddenly it was as if Prez was playing bass in a huge room! Mike adjusted the reverb a little more and I noted how he was doing it. Seemingly satisfied, Mike looked around. We all nodded then he raised the guitar tracks.

With only the guitar and bass tracks playing for a few seconds, Prez suggested, "Mute the bass track now, Mike."

"Okay," Mike said, and did as Prez asked. He then looked around at each of us. Derrick said, "It sounds good, dude."

Prez nodded and I said, "It actually sounds the best. Why am I not surprised?"

Mike snickered, "I'm running the GT-3 in real stereo – one track to the amp and then to the mixer, the other directly into the mixer."

Prez said, "It's called, recording wet, or with the effects as part of the track. My bass is recorded dry. We added reverb later."

Then Derrick huffed and said, "Let's put the baffles up and I'll re-do the drum tracks."

The baffles were obviously home made from standard four-by-eight plywood and wrapped with carpet remnants. We set the two of them up, trapping Derrick behind the drum kit and the four foot tall baffles. Mike then handed Derrick the headphones. Taking a seat on his throne, Derrick put the headphones on. Picking up his sticks, Derrick asked, "Ready?"

Mike reminded, "Be quiet now, dudes." He then reset the entire song and pressed record. I wondered - what the hell is he doing? It looked to me like Mike had messed up royally so I blurted out, "Aren't you erasing the other tracks?"

Mike's head sagged; he pressed the stop button and yelled, "Cut!" then cracked up laughing.

Derrick stopped playing and took the headphones off asking, "What happened?"

Still laughing, Mike stood and looked at Prez longingly then wandered over by Derrick.

I looked up at Prez. Now Derrick was chuckling but shaking his head sadly. My lover squatted down and said, "It's called sound-on-sound recording, babe. We're not erasing anything. We're actually recording six new drum tracks to be added to the already recorded bass and guitar tracks. We can't play the other tracks through the monitors or that'll be recorded too. But Derrick has the headphones and can hear them."

Wide-eyed, I loudly said, "Oops! Sorry!"

Mike walked over to us and giggled, "Let's try it again." Then he glanced at me and loudly laughed, "Now shut the hell up!"

I grinned widely and softly snickered, "Bitchy queen." Prez and Mike both cracked up.

Separated from us by baffles, Derrick hollered, "Any time today, dudes!"

After a brief shoving match, we stopped laughing and Mike pressed record. Only a few seconds into the song, while Mike's attention was on the computer, Prez and I noticed Derrick signaling us. He obviously wanted the headphone volume turned up. Prez tapped Mike's shoulder and signaled to Derrick. Mike caught Derrick's signal and quickly turned up the headphones.

Watching Derrick and hearing only the drums was impressive, to say the least. Derrick hit the drums precisely on the beat and very hard.

A few minutes later, Derrick finished the song, tapping his cymbals lightly. Mike pressed stop and hollered, "That was awesome!"

Wiping his brow, Derrick smiled, "Thanks. Let me outta here. I feel quarantined or something." The drum throne was in the corner of the room surrounded by Doug's drums. There were at least twice as many different drums and cymbals than Derrick owned. Still sitting at the computer, Mike reset the song and pressed play. Prez and I helped moved the baffles and Derrick stepped out from behind the drums.

The four of us listened to the song playback through the monitors. Again, the drums and bass were lifeless. Leaning over and in front of Mike, I clicked the reverb button but nothing happened. Then Mike pressed more buttons and the song came to life. He said, "When you turn on an effect, you have to apply it to each track."

Prez added, "Only the tracks you want to apply it to. Remember, Mike's guitar tracks already have effects."

Smiling up at my lover, I said, "It sounds much better like this – less sterile."

"This is the `small club' setting," Mike said, and demonstrated, "There are other settings, like `large hall' and `amphitheater'." Returning to the original setting, he nodded, "This is the sound we want for this song." Derrick and Prez readily agreed. At the end of the song, Mike pressed stop then handed me a piece of paper with the lyrics written out and grinned, "Ready?"

I grinned, "You expected me to ask for lyrics?"

Mike nodded and said, "Better than testing your recall and doing twenty takes. Hopefully we can get it done in five or less."

I frowned, "Why so many takes?"

Mike shrugged, "I thought we'd do the vocals the same way we did the other ones." Turning slightly, he looked up and asked, "You can handle the `puter, right Prez?"

Prez smiled, "I get to run the deck while you three sing?" Mike nodded and stood up. Prez slid into the chair beside me and giggled, "Sweet!" Then he looked up to Mike and asked, "Which channel or channels am I monitoring?"

Mike answered, "Just channel ten, dude."

Derrick tapped my shoulder and said, "Come on, dude." Getting up, I followed him to the vocals booth.

Remembering that the booth was once the master bedroom walk-in closet, I sneered, "It took me years to get out of the closet now you're dragging me back in again!"

Prez giggled and Mike hollered, "It's not a closet!" and pulled me inside!

"It is too," I grinned.

Taking the lyrics from me, Derrick handed me a set of head phones. He then clipped the sheet of paper to a music stand and put his headphones on.

Stepping up to the microphone, Mike asked, "Can you hear us, Prez?"

Through the headphones, I heard Prez answer, "Every word. The first time through, I'm just gonna set the levels so everybody sing the lead vocals."

Derrick said, "Sounds like a plan."

Prez said, "Here we go," and seconds later, Mike's guitar introduction began. It was exactly like the Van Halen recording. Moments later, the three of us began singing Little Dreamer. Near the end of the first verse, Mike and Derrick stopped singing lead vocals and switched to backup vocals. Probably from slapping a tambourine around for six month, I instinctively began slapping my thigh while I sang. Mike giggled and reached for my hand to hold it still.

I shook him loose and started slapping my left thigh with my other hand. Derrick chuckled, "That's gonna be recorded too, dude," and then reached for my left hand. Snickering and shaking his head sadly, Mike shuffled behind me and wrapped his arms around me. By this point I wasn't even singing, just sorta chuckling the lyrics. Even though they were preoccupied, Derrick and Mike stopped on queue and sang the backup vocals.

That cracked me up and as the guitar solo started; I loudly laughed "You're all taking this so seriously! Like it's gonna wind up making us millions!"

Stuffing my hand in my shorts pocket, Derrick snickered, "There, play pocket pool."

Mike said, "I'm gonna make CD's and tapes so we can get gigs, bro."

Still holding my arm, Derrick asked, "How would you like to make between fifty and a hundred bucks for five or six hours of singing?"

I stopped struggling and giggled, "Who's gonna pay to hear me sing?"

Noticing that I was still, Mike and Derrick let go of me. Derrick grinned and shook his head sadly. Mike swung me around to face him and asked, "You've got what we all want and you don't even know what it is you've got, do you?"

Even after chewing on his question for a few seconds, I could only grin, "What are you talking about, Mike?"

Mike's head sagged and he caught it in the palm of his hand. Derrick then said, "Perfect pitch, dude. It's what allows Mike and Prez to catch a tune so quickly and reproduce it. It's what lets you hit the right notes too."

"I want Brian and Doug to test it though," Mike said, "It's either really great relative pitch or perfect pitch."

Finally, I said, "I don't know what either of you is talking about."

Derrick said, "Before you knew the terminology, all you knew was that you liked being with other dudes. Just because you don't know what the technical term is, doesn't mean you don't understand. That's obvious every time you sing."

The song ended and seconds later Prez came to the doorway of the booth. He said, "I think its relative pitch. Like when we sing Don't Worry Baby, Keith needs the opening chord a millisecond before he starts singing to get his bearings." Wide-eyed and smiling, I stared at him. Prez grinned, "I never thought about it before but was listening to it all. They're right, babe. If you don't have perfect pitch, you're amazingly close."

His brow furled with thought, Mike asked, "When you hear music, do you see colors?"

Tilting my head uncertainly, I thought about the question and answered, "More like moods – angry or red, happy or light green, sad or deep blue, like that."

Looking down at the floor and slowly shaking his head, Mike softly muttered, "Sonofabitch." Then his head snapped up and he snarled, "Every musician works for those skills dude. Years of hard work that you just take for granted."

Glancing briefly at each of the three of them, I shrugged, "Don't you dudes see colors or feel the mood of certain songs?"

Prez said, "A little bit now. But I learned it from you as much as any practicing I've done."

Mike answered, "Feeling a mood or setting a groove is one thing. Seeing or associating a color is completely different."

Derrick moved beside Mike and smiled, "We want you in this band, Keith. None of us knows how to work an audience, dude. We're all learning that. What matters is the sound. Mike and I have to practice for hours to sing one song close to the way it should be. You worked with Prez's singing too, I'm sure. There's gonna be some more freebies, like the dances at school, but we could make money."

"All we need is to be prepared with the right equipment and the right tunes," Mike said. "These recordings we're making will showcase our style. On my PC, I have a list of each song we cover."

Derrick added, "And all the lyrics and miscellaneous footnotes we've made."

Mike sighed, "I don't know exactly why but Prez told us that he feels guilty about the way we got you singing last winter. If he's guilty then we're all guilty."

Prez huffed, "Mike, come on, dude. Keith needs to want to do it."

"I do want to," I quickly admitted, and then elaborated; "Like this, the four of us - or with Jessy too. It's the actual performances that freak me out."

"But you're not a hopeless spaz about it," Derrick said. Mike giggled and Derrick continued, "You could be so overwhelmed with stage fright that you couldn't speak, never mind sing. We're all overanxious and twisted before we perform."

"Far less so when it's just us around," Mike nodded.

I sighed, "All I want is for you dudes to get the success you deserve."

Taking my hand, Prez softly said, "You deserve some of that success too, babe."

"Most definitely," Mike agreed.

Derrick said, "The frolics were a hit because of you Keith – your voice, Mike's guitar, Prez's bass, Jessy's keys and my drums. Some songs are easy. Some take more repetition, like the Asia and Yes tunes."

Prez nodded, "Or tunes with tight vocal harmonies."

"We'll get them all sounding really tight," Mike promised, "It's just gonna take all of us working on them together."

I nodded, "I just want you dudes to sing more songs. That's not unreasonable, is it?"

The three of them chanted, "No."

Mike added, "With you as an example, we'll each get better."

Derrick agreed, "Singing with a CD is way different than carrying the melody alone."

Prez grinned, "Why don't we take a break and get something to drink. Or we could all stay huddled in the closet?"

Derrick shoved Prez. Prez cracked up and led me out of the vocal booth with Mike and Derrick close behind. Prez and I took seats at the counter while Mike reached into the fridge and got us bottled water.

Derrick went to the living room and turned on the stereo. He returned saying, "This is Doug and Brian's music. Can you believe they wrote this?"

Prez nodded, "We're almost there, bro. The song still dictates what we play."

Swallowing a mouthful of water, Mike then agreed, "We need to direct the song more. But that comes from the melody and the lyrics."

"We need to study some purely instrumental music," Prez considered.

Derrick swallowed a mouthful of water and asked, "Got anything particular in mind?"

Prez shrugged, "The guitar and keyboards would play the melodies." He then paused and looked at Mike asking, "Would you play Santana?"

"Anything but Black Magic Woman," Mike grinned, "it's overplayed."

Prez smiled, "Nope, an instrumental with Carlos playing the melody. I can lend you a disk with a few really excellent examples."

Mike nodded, "Bring it to the beach later, k?"

Derrick nudged me and asked, "Help me sing the Petty tunes?"

I asked, "You want me to sing it with you?"

Derrick shook his head and admitted, "It's just easier after I hear you sing, somehow."

I snickered, "But Petty's singing the same stuff."

Mike took another mouthful of water then said, "It's after two already. Break time is over. I want to get another song started at least. Derrick and I can work on them after you dudes take off." He started for the studio and we followed.

Picking up the bass guitar, Prez asked; "Are we coming back here again tomorrow afternoon, Mike?"

Derrick moved carefully around the baffles. Strumming his guitar, Mike answered, "We've got the key now so yeah, any time we want."

Taking a seat the PC, I reminded, "We're washing our cars tomorrow morning and you two dudes have an appointment at my dad's office."

Derrick sat and said, "We'll be back here around noon again."

Mike nodded and said, "Let's get the base tracks for American Girl recorded." Prez and Derrick agreed.

Uncertainly glancing at the mixer and PC, I asked, "Is Little Dreamer saved, Prez?"

Prez nodded, "Yep. Just press File, New Project and then record."

I easily did as Prez explained then turned to the three of them. Derrick counted off and they started playing the tune. They watched each other from time-to-time, feeding off of each other and queuing one another. After about five minutes, they ended the tune.

I reset the recorder and muted the drum mics. They all huddled around me and the PC to listen to the playback. The bass and drum tracks sounded as good as the guitar tracks, I immediately noticed.

Mike said, "You left the effects on so the tracks are recorded with reverb."

Prez said, "I'll bring my effects box tomorrow so the bass can be recorded wet."

Not knowing any better, I asked, "What's the diff?"

Derrick said, "We can only use four on-board effects simultaneously."

Mike nodded, "So we've gotta be careful what gets used and where. We'll definitely need a little compression on the master stereo tracks."

Prez nodded, "If I use my own effects, like Mike, then we won't have use the PC effects until the final mix."

Mike passed a sheet of paper to Derrick. Tapping my shoulder, Derrick grinned, "It's you and me dude, in the closet!" Standing, I chuckled and Derrick explained, "Once we get this done together, I'll re-do the lead vocals later."

We put the headphones on and heard Mike rambling; "Barry had a little lamb that he never would let go."

I loudly laughed, "Stop that!"

Even with the headphones on, I clearly heard Prez roar laughing; "Be serious this once!"

Mike giggled, "Right! There's work to do. Working on wooly beasts will have to wait." Derrick and I glanced at each other and shook our heads. Then Mike said, "Ready?" We both said, "Yeah," and seconds later, the playback of American Girl began. Soon Derrick and I were singing into the large vocal mic hanging from the ceiling. After the first chorus, I nudged Derrick lightly and pointed at him. He sang the second verse alone and did a damn good job of it too. I joined again for the chorus' but let Derrick sing the lead verses solo.

When we finished, I smiled at Derrick and said, "Excellent job, dude."

Just before we took off the headphones, Mike agreed, "It's so good, I kinda hate to re-take it again."

We left the booth and rejoined our partners to listen to the playback.

Over the next few hours, we started recording tracks for covers of Sunshine of Your Love, Skuttle Buttin' and Hold My Hand. As soon as the clock struck four that afternoon, I was ready to pickup my hound dog from the vet. But Mike and Derrick wanted me to record a few more bass tracks. Since they weren't picky, I chose one of my first memorized songs; Come Together by The Beatles. After I played that song solo, Derrick and Mike joined me. We then recorded basic tracks for Sign of The Gypsy Queen.

By that point, Keith and I had learned lots of stuff about the mixer and the PC software used to record it all. Over the last few months, Mike and Derrick had indeed spent a lot more time with Doug and Brian than Keith and I had. During those visits they learned from Doug or Brian and taught us a lot of what they had learned. When we stepped out of the studio around four-thirty that afternoon, Brian was already home.

Having not seen Brian or Doug since Mike's birthday bash, I happily said, "Hi!"

Brian smiled, "It sounded good from here gents."

Simultaneously, we chanted our thanks. Then Mike said, "Those are just some basic tracks to get us off the ground." He then hurried into the kitchen and started cleaning up.

Derrick added, "We'll be heading right back in there for some over-dubs." He then asked, "You wanna help?"

Standing and nodding, Brian asked, "Prez and Keith are running off?"

I nodded and explained, "I've gotta get my hound dog at the vets. Then I'm going to have dinner with my aunt."

Shaking his head sadly, Brian teased, "Doug's going to wind up redecorating. I can see it all now."

Keith giggled, "No, no, please! It's just fine the way it is!"

Watching Mike scurry around the kitchen, I promised, "We'll have dinner here tomorrow if Mike cooks."

Mike hollered, "You're helping too, O'Brian!" and I cracked up.

Taking my hand and starting for the door, Keith said, "Say hello to Doug for us. We gotta jet."

Waving as my lover practically dragged me to the door, I explained, "I forgot my checkbook and have to stop at home first."

Keith and I said, "See ya!" then hurried out of the house.

The moment the door closed behind me, I said, "I can't believe I forgot my checkbook. And after I talked with your parents and made such a big deal about paying for the surgery."

Letting go of me and waiting by the passenger door, Keith smiled, "Don't worry about it, baby. I didn't think to remind you either."

I walked around the truck and unlocked the doors. We got in and buckled up then I started the engine and explained, "I want to stop at the market for a cake or something for desert."

Keith said, "You'll still get there with plenty of time to spare, Prez."

I pulled away from the curb and said, "Just stay off the 101 and use the side streets, right?"

"That's the quickest way there," Keith said.

Stopping at the light, I turned to Keith and said, "You seemed to like running the mixer and PC."

Keith nodded, "It's just like you said, listening to the stereo with way more than two tracks."

"That's just the beginning. At some point, fourteen tracks get mixed down to two. If we need to, we could do lots more over dubs." The light changed and I turned left onto Kanan Road, heading for the freeway.

Taking my hand, Keith said, "Don't feel guilty, Prez. I've had fun these last few months."

I confessed, "I don't like watching you get stressed out."

"That's not your fault," Keith said. I briefly glanced his way and he repeated what Derrick had said earlier – that we were all learning how to interact with the audiences. Then he finally admitted, "If we can make money doing it, I have to say, it would be worth the butterflies."

"And if you ever change your mind, you can concentrate on mixing or anything else that interests you," I said, and then pulled onto the 101 southbound ramp.

While we waited for the meter, Keith sighed, "I wish I could choose something though, Prez. I can't see myself sitting at a desk all day. I can't see myself out in the sun all day either, say in construction or something like that. Singing is easy. If I can make some cash doing it, I should take advantage of it, I guess."

Squeezing his hand, I softly reminded, "For as long as you want to Keith. I can't and won't help you choose when to give it up. Your voice is one of the many things I love about you." Keith turned my way and smiled. "I can't help it. I'm completely biased. Not just your singing voice; your every day speaking voice has always captivated me, you know that."

Keith nodded, "It's nice to hear again though. You know what I love?"

The meter light turned green and I accelerated onto the freeway. Grinning, I rambled, "My hair, my eyes, my fair skin, my pubes - the way I walk too."

"Good guesses," Keith chuckled. "And those are all parts of you I really do love. But I guess the best thing of all is just being with you and talking with you, like now."

I nodded, "Having someone to bounce ideas off of beats talking to yourself. I'm gonna miss you later tonight. Betchya I spend half the night talking about you."

"You'll have lots to catch up on. You're still looking forward to it, aren't you?"

"Definitely," I quickly answered.

"She can help fill in some gaps for you."

"I know she will. In two short phone calls, she's filled in a little bit."

"Is there anything in particular left?"

I shrugged, "Not really. We'll probably start talking about my mom and then keep moving forward from there. I don't want to concentrate on the past. I guess I'm hoping for a relationship in the future."

Keith then reminded, "If she meant what she said about going to the Pride Parade, I'm sure she wants that too."

I smirked, "You might have some in-laws too, if everything works out."

Keith giggled, "I'm looking forward to it."

A few minutes later, we pulled in front of our house. Leaving the engine running, I said, "Sit tight babe, I'll be right back," and then ran across the lawn and into the house. On the living room floor, I noticed Corey lying on top of Drew and quickly said, "Hi!" then raced to our bedroom. Quickly, I grabbed my checkbook from the desk drawer and spun around. Corey and Drew were now sitting together on the couch. I smiled, "Resume making out. I'll see you later," and hurried out of the house then sprinted across the lawn again.

Getting in the truck, I reached for the seat belt and smiled, "Drew's getting over his claustrophobia."

"At least with Corey," Keith nodded.

Without intending to, I chirped the tires as I pulled away.

Wide-eyed, Keith smiled, "I don't believe you just did that!"

"I wasn't trying to!" I snickered.

Reaching for my hand on the stick-shift, Keith giggled, "Take it easy, Prez. Soon Rush will be home and you'll see that he's fine."

"My poor hound dog has been emasculated! I'd doubt he feels fine about it. You should've seen the look he gave me this morning when I dropped him off."

"Where the hell are you going and why am I staying here with these people?"

"Exactly. I actually got a little misty-eyed leaving him there."

"When we had Aldo fixed, I worried about him that whole day."

"How old where you then?"

"About four, I think. I remember it pretty clearly."

"I wonder if I'll have to bring him back to get the stitches taken out?"

Keith seemed thoughtful for a few moments then said, "I don't recall having to do that with Aldo. They must use those dissolving stitches."

I remembered, "Getting my stitches pulled was way worse than getting them."

Keith grinned, "Imagine getting them yanked out of your groin."

At the top of my lungs, I hollered, "AHHHH!" Keith cracked up and I snickered, "I did not need that image implanted, thank you."

Still laughing, Keith breathlessly giggled, "That's exactly why I don't think we'll have to worry about it."

Pulling into the vet's parking lot, I chuckled, "They'd have to knock him out again. Either that or knock me out!"

When I parked and let go of the gear shifter, Keith raised my hand to his mouth and seductively sucked on my middle fingertip. Loudly, I whimpered and my pecker began lengthening in my shorts.

He leered, "Guess what I want when you get home."

I softly admitted, "I want some right now."

Letting me go, he sighed, "This isn't the time or place."

Leaning towards him, I whispered, "We'll make up for it around nine-thirty tonight," and then kissed him deeply.

Moments later, we broke our lip lock and went into the veterinarian's office to retrieve Rush. There were a few other customers waiting with their pets. Since no one was at the counter, I stepped up to the receptionist and introduced myself then said, "I'm here for my white shepherd, Rush."

"Oh yes," the receptionist smiled, "the Oscar winning actor." Keith snickered and I grinned. Reaching for our file, she said, "We neuter several hundred animals a year here and none have ever whined and carried on quite like him. The only way we could keep him quiet was to sit with him."

Pulling my checkbook from my back pocket, I snickered, "He's so spoiled."

Keith added, "There are six people in our house so he's not lacking attention."

She nodded, "But he's so sweet. That'll be one hundred and forty dollars."

While I made out the check, I asked, "How is he now?"

She answered, "He seems wide awake and ready for home. Try to keep him from licking the wound excessively. No dinner tonight, only water. No running or jumping for at least the next three days. And watch the wound carefully for redness or swelling."

"Will he need to come back for the stitches," I asked, and tore out the check.

Taking my check, she smiled and shook her head.

I pulled out my driver's license for her and she scribbled the information on the check. Moments later, she handed me a receipt and said, "I'll be back with Oscar," then opened the door to the exam areas.

I snickered, "Rush!" as she left us.

Grinning widely, Keith complained, "I can't take either of you anywhere."

"I wonder what he was doing? Howling? Whining?"

"Here she comes," Keith said, "Just ask."

The door opened and Rush saw us. His tail spun around and he clawed at the linoleum floor to run to us. But the receptionist had a hold his leash and Rush stumbled. "He's still recovering from the anesthesia," the receptionist said, returning my hound dog to me.

I kneeled down for a moment to say hello and asked, "Are you wasted, Rush?" He licked my face and immediately started for the exit! Quickly standing, I chuckled, "I guess not!" Rush tugged and stumbled again.

Keith smiled and thanked the receptionist as Rush led me outside. Seconds later, Keith stepped out giggling, "About an hour after the surgery, he started howling and wouldn't stop until someone petted him."

Squatting down, I chuckled, "You are a bad actor, Rush!" and tried to wrap my arms around the dog to pick him up. But Rush wouldn't stay still. He kept swinging around so I wouldn't get too close to his rear end!

Grinning widely, Keith stepped up saying, "Unlock the car Prez," and took hold of Rush's collar.

Standing and unlocking the truck, I reminded, "He can't jump in, Keith."

Opening back door, Keith said, "He won't be able to with me holding his collar. I'll lift his front, you lift the back." I nodded and Keith swiftly wrapped an arm around and under Rush's chest. Then I cupped my hands behind the dog's knees and we lifted. Once in the back of the truck, Rush spun around happily then stumbled and fell again!

Closing the rear gate, I chuckled, "He's still stoned!"

Heading for the passenger's side, Keith said, "He'll be mellow for while tonight."

We got in and buckled up again for the short trip home. Rush quickly learned that standing in a moving vehicle while stoned was not worth repeatedly trying and just laid down. Once I was out in traffic, I said, "You'll have to tell me how things go with your dad tonight."

Keith nodded, "I don't expect it to be too exciting, really. You'll have to tell me about your dinner and visit."

I grinned, "Other than work and school, when was the last time we spent four hours apart?"

Keith hummed thoughtfully. "I really can't recall. A long time ago," he eventually said.

"It feels weird."

"I know."

Silent moments passed.

"Have I been really clingy, Keith?"

"Clingy? Not more than I can easily handle. I haven't been overbearing or anything, have I?"


"We just want to be together."

"As much as possible."

"It would be great if we were working together too."

"And maybe we'll share more classes when school starts."

"We should find out in another week or so. The next year's schedules are published and mailed out with this year's grades."

More silent moments passed. I pulled into our neighborhood. Keith reached for my hand and smiled, "You're everything to me baby. I don't want to miss or waste a moment."

I nodded and slowed as I pulled in front of our house. Stopping the truck, I turned to my lover and said, "As much as I want this time with my aunt, I'm already looking forward to coming back home and telling you about it - like it has more meaning when I share it with you."

Rush stood up and stuck his panting face between us. Keith pushed the dog back, leaned over and kissed me. "Be careful baby. See ya in a few hours."

"I love you, Keith"

He got misty eyed and grinned, "I must love you too. It feels like I'm tearing in half and your only going across the valley for a few hours!"

I leaned over and kissed him goodbye then he turned and got out of the car. Rush scrambled around the back seat until Keith opened the back passenger side door. Before I could react, Rush tore for the door. But Keith was right there and caught Rush as he lept from the car. "Gotchya, ya wired mutt!" Keith triumphantly said.

I giggled, "See ya later, lover."

Keith nodded and said, "Have a good time, baby." Then he closed the door and followed Rush to the house. I waited and watched as he entered the house.

Checking the mirrors and the street around me, I pulled away from the curb and turned on the radio then flipped to KLOS. Queen's You're my Best Friend was playing. I sang loudly along with the radio. Of course, I started wondering what I could call Keith. Yeah, he most definitely was my best friend but he was so much more. He was my lover too but again, that wasn't a sufficient term for our relationship. We were partners, planning our future together but that was insufficient too. The whole drive across the valley, I sang along with the radio and tried to find more words that could describe our relationship. I think the best word I found was, lucky. I was lucky to have him. He felt that he was lucky to have me.

Less than a mile from my aunt's house, I saw an Albertson's supermarket and remembered, "I have to get a cake!" I tried to move over to the left but traffic was heavy and I wound up passing the market and turning around when I could do it safely.

At Albertson's, I found a Boston cream pie and quickly paid for it. I wasn't familiar with this part of the valley and had to double check my directions and get my bearings before I could pull away. Only minutes later, I was on her street. All the houses in the neighborhood were large, two-story garden homes. I remembered my aunt saying that that her house was near the end of a cul-de-sac. Slowing as I approached the end of the street, I then pulled along the curb in front of her house. It was white with brown shutters around the front and side windows. Taking a deep breath, I picked up the Boston cream pie and got out of truck then started up the driveway.

The front door opened and for a brief moment, my Aunt Eileen stood there smiling. She then hurried towards me. "Look how tall you've gotten!" she loudly said, and I cracked up.

My eyes filled with tears but I chocked them back and I happily replied, "Another two or so inches since I last saw you."

While I carefully balanced our desert in one hand, she tightly hugged me and looked up. Her eyes were red and swollen, as my own probably were. She softly said, "It is time," and led me to the house.

Standing in the doorway was my Uncle John. We met at the hospital back in October. I extended my hand and he firmly shook it. He smiled, "That's a hell of a grip, Preston."

Stepping into their home, I grinned and shrugged, "Probably from playing my bass."

My aunt pulled a hanky from her blouse pocket and loudly wailed, "I'm so happy that you're finally here!" My uncle took the Boston cream pie from me a millisecond before my aunt embraced me again.

Breaking down, I hugged her back and softly said, "I'm happy to finally be here."

For the next few minutes, we held each other and cried.

Then my uncle came in the room and wrapped his arms around the two of us. He softly reassured, "Sometimes bad things happen so that good things can happen. Let's make tonight the start of something good."

My mom was about five foot six. Stepping back from my aunt, I noticed that she was slightly shorter. My aunt eventually let go of my hands and excused herself to wash up.

"How've you been?" my uncle asked.

Following him into the kitchen, I replied, "Really well, thanks. It's been a busy few months."

He smiled, "Wait for your aunt or you'll have to rehash it all," and then opened the refrigerator. "Would you like something?" he asked.

"Soda or water would be great," I answered, and then quickly asked, "Could I rinse off in the sink and use the phone, please? I promised Keith that I would call when I got here."

"Of course," he answered, and reached into a drawer for a fresh towel. Quickly, I splashed some water on my face and dried off then called Keith.

My aunt returned as I was finishing up on the phone and saying goodbye to Keith. "We have so much to catch up on," my aunt said as she passed me. She went to the stove and stirred a pot.

"Preston was just about to tell us what he's been doing the last few months," my uncle said, and pointed at a large glass of cola.

"I don't remember much about those first weeks after the funeral," I started. "There are only flashes of me cleaning and packing things."

While I drank a little soda, my uncle asked, "Have the Hundser's been treating you well?"

Swallowing, I nodded then happily said, "They're the greatest. Keith's mom was a big help those first weeks. She really helped me deal with the grief. And Keith's dad found me an investment consultant."

Everything's taken care of then?" my uncle asked.

"As much as it possibly can be."

My aunt said, "You bought yourself a nice car too, I see."

Leaning against the counter, I said, "I wanted something bigger than the car my mom was in. If I could've, I would've bought a tank."

My aunt nodded, "I'm still nervous around trucks."

My uncle agreed, "Around here with all the oil built up on the pavement, a slick road is like ice."

Silent for a few moments, I decided to not say a word about the accident I had witnessed a few days earlier. There was no reason to worry them, I reckoned.

My aunt huffed, "Traffic is getting so bad. We keep building more freeways and widening roads but it just doesn't seem to matter."

Nodding, my uncle changed the subject by asking, "What else have you been doing?"

"I work at the local Black Angus. My friends and I have started a really good band. Keith's youngest brother John asked us to play at his birthday party about a month ago. The next week we played at our school's frolics. Both gigs went really well. Earlier today we jammed some more and even recorded it. Then I had to get Rush at the vet..."

"Rush?" my uncle interrupted.

I smiled, "The Hundser's got me a puppy for Christmas. I named him Rush."

"That's sweet!" my aunt happily chimed.

"He was neutered today. I picked him up at the vet just before I came here."

My uncle asked, "And how about school?"

"Well, the first quarter wasn't so good, obviously. Mostly C's and B's But it's been getting back to normal the last two quarters."

My aunt then asked, "Are you thinking of college?"

"Yep. My mom wanted me to. I took the SAT's back in April, the week after I got the truck, I think. I got pretty good scores; not Ivy League level but decent enough."

My aunt then asked, "Have you thought of what you might want to major in?"

I nodded, "Music education. I want to be a music teacher."

My uncle commented, "There's not much money there."

"That's what Mags would've wanted though," my aunt said. "As long as Preston is interested, he has my support."

Taking a seat at the small breakfast table, my uncle smiled, "I'm just presenting options."

I went to the table to sit with him and said, "Keith's dad suggested taking some elective computer classes. I've been doing really well in the classes I've taken. Music is the goal though."

My aunt joined us and softly said, "On the phone you mentioned that you were having flashbacks."

I shrugged, "That's so weird. I've been walking in and out of rooms in the Hundser's home for almost a year. But suddenly some rooms just have an air about them, like its still 1997 and she's still alive. I can't wait for it to stop."

Reaching for and taking my hand, my aunt said, "The first year is full of memories. When my parents died, I remembered lots of little things about them for about a year."

My uncle nodded and said, "Back in the early seventies, when I was only thirteen, my oldest brother was killed in Vietnam. The same sorts of things happened to me and to my parents. Joey's room became a sanctuary of memories, for my entire family."

Slightly ashamed, I looked down and admitted, "I am so happy that I'm here and not still in Texas with my dad."

My aunt sighed, "He was a good man once. I don't know what happened to turn the tide. Your mother didn't even really understand how his career could've affected him so dramatically." Facing her husband, she hissed, "As long as I live, I will never forgive him for not coming to the funeral."

I smiled and said, "Thank you." They both looked at me and I admitted, "Part of me thinks that I'm being as stubborn as he is, holding a grudge."

Releasing my hand, my aunt shrilled, "Rightfully so!"

My uncle said, "No matter how bad things may have been, he still lived with her for what?"

"Almost eighteen years," my aunt answered.

He shook his head sadly, "You don't just chalk up eighteen years without saying goodbye. At least I wouldn't."

My aunt then asked, "Are you happy, Preston?"

I quickly nodded and said, "Yes. I'd be happier if the accident never happened. But I feel guilty admitting that I am happy, even though she's gone."

My uncle said, "Don't do that to yourself."

Again, my aunt squeezed my hand and said, "Being happy is a good thing, Preston. She was happy here and was so extremely happy that you were happy too. She'd want you to be happy. You know that, don't you?"

I nodded but broke down in tears again. "When will I stop mourning? Why do I feel so guilty?" I softly sobbed, and broke free of my aunt to cover my face.

Sliding her chair closer to me, my aunt rubbed my shoulders and said, "She was too young and you were too young. We all could've had so much more time together. But we have to live for today and do our very best to make it a good day. God knows there are enough problems in the world. We can't add to that by making ourselves miserable. It only makes matters worse."

"She'd be very angry to see you this upset," my uncle softly said.

"I know," I sobbed. "That's another thing that makes me crazy sometimes."

He then said, "What did she do when you were sad?"

I remembered back to one of the last big arguments with my dad. I said, "She was making fun of him. And then we went out to rent a video." Grinning and wiping my eyes, I recalled, "She got something old and really goofy. I think it was a Pink Panther flick."

My uncle said, "She took your mind off of the problem." My aunt and I looked at him. Smiling insanely, he crossed his eyes and shouted, "Kato! You idiot!" Then he started karate chopping the air around him.

My aunt and I cracked up. A timer went off behind me and my aunt stood but she left one hand on my shoulder for what seemed to be a very long time. Looking over and up, I found she wasn't even near me any more. But I still felt that hand on shoulder!

I wasn't frightened in the least, oddly enough. Then the pressure of a hand on shoulder seemed to slowly fade.

Turning to my uncle, I softly asked, "Do you believe in life after death?"

Stunned, my uncle shrugged, "There are things that can't be proven. But I know that my son will continue on in my place. And those who knew me will remember me. We're all interconnected, don't you think? Six billion connections around the world, each of which affects countless other connections."

I shrugged, "That makes sense but is that all there is? Only memories carried over generations?"

From behind me, my aunt said, "I believe there's something more. Something we can't see or touch with our hands but we feel it just the same."

I nodded and softly admitted, "Sometimes it's like I can feel her still."

My aunt came over to me and smiled, "You too?"

"Weird things sometimes happen. Keith and my friends have noticed. I have to wonder if it's all coincidence or if maybe..."

My aunt shrugged, "If anyone had the capacity, Mags sure did."

And my uncle said, "You've definitely got her smile – warm and inviting."

I smiled, "It's been a long time since I've heard her called Mags. The Hundsers always called her Maggy."

Returning to the stove, my aunt remembered, "Since we were kids, she's always been my big sister Mags."

"I'd like to hear some of those stories," I said.

She nodded and said, "But we have six months to catch up on. Tell us about Keith."

Smiling, I felt my face heat up and happily said, "What can I say? I loved him before the accident because we always had so much fun together. But lately, I look at him and the things he's done for me and just say, wow. He's listened to me and comforted me all these months. He loved me enough to offer me his home. We share a room and get along great. We do so much together that earlier today, we couldn't recall the last time we were separated for a few hours. Other than work and school, we really haven't been. I can't explain it but I've always felt good around him." My aunt giggled and I asked, "What?"

Shaking her head and waving her hand, she snickered, "You are definitely in love."

My uncle said, "Your whole attitude and facial expressions changed the second you started talking about him."

I blushed and giggled, "He makes my days worth living."

Both my aunt and uncle loudly laughed. My uncle got up from the table, still chuckling and grasped my shoulder firmly as he passed. I can't explain why exactly, but that one touch told me that he truly didn't care that I was gay.

With a large plate in her hands, my aunt said, "Follow me to the dining room."

I stood and as my aunt turned, I saw steaks and butterfly shrimp on the platter she was holding. I hummed hungrily and said, "It smells great."

My uncle followed me into the dining room carrying a bowl of salad in one hand and another bowl of veggies in his other hand. I sat down and said, "This is great."

Putting the tray down on the table, my aunt asked, "Do you like shrimp, Preston?"

I nodded, "I've had cocktail shrimp and fried butterfly shrimp before but neither ever smelt that good."

My aunt paused and put her hand on her hip, appearing very much like my mother for an instant. The she grinned, "It's a Cajun batter recipe."

My uncle sat and said, "It's a little spicy but its never kept us awake at night. Go ahead and dig in." He then picked up the bowl of mixed veggies. My aunt started with a small plate of salad and I reached to spear a steak and sample two of the Cajun butterfly shrimp. Soon, our plates were full and we started to eat.

Looking up at my uncle, I asked, "What kind of job do you have?"

He swallowed and answered, "I'm a consultant for Southern California Edison. It's a good job with good benefits and the work is interesting."

My aunt said, "He's working far fewer weekends these days. We're finally getting time to do things as a family."

Then I turned to my aunt and asked the same question. She answered, "I work at the local junior high in administration."

I then asked about my cousins. "And how are Bobby and Sheila?"

"Shelia starts junior high next year," my aunt smiled, "She's very upset that we'll be in the same building every day."

My uncle said, "And Bob just finished third grade. He's at baseball camp this week."

My aunt then said, "After he met you last summer, he talked about you for weeks."

Remembering that day last summer, I smiled and shrugged, "We just played a video game on my PC."

"You made an impression," my uncle smiled. He then asked, "Have you ever tried out for any sports?"

I nodded and answered, "Back in Texas, I played little league baseball in grade school. In junior high, I tried out for basketball but didn't make the cut. Then I started really getting into the bass and that became more important. But last weekend I played some tennis and the week before we played some volleyball at the beach."

"Why the bass?" he asked. "Most kids want a guitar, don't they?"

I chuckled, "Yeah, it does seem that way. But I just liked the sound of the bass. My mom would play her records and CD's and I'd always sing the bass parts. I've since learned how important the bass part is in most songs." Turning to my aunt, I said, "Did I tell you that I bought a new bass and amp?" She was chewing a piece of steak but her eyes widened as she shook her head. "I just got them last week," I said, "Keith and I went there for an acoustic bass, so my friends and I could jam at the beach, like MTV's Unplugged. The bass amp wasn't really planned on but the price was right and I do need it."

Carefully and softly, my aunt said, "I can only assume that Mags made sure you could financially support yourself."

While I chewed a piece of shrimp, I nodded. As soon as I swallowed, I answered, "More than I could've ever imagined. I probably could afford to support myself and still have plenty left for college." My tongue began tingling from the spices while I talked and I paused for a mouthful of water.

She asked, "Have you done anything else with the insurance?"

Swallowing a second mouthful of water, I shook my head then said, "Just the truck, the bass and amp. Rush got out of our room one day last week and pretty much destroyed the Hundser's bedspread. I replaced that too." I then paused and smiled, "That's really good shrimp. You don't mind the spices while you're chewing but after you swallow, the reminder is there."

Appearing slightly worried, my aunt asked, "It's not too spicy for you, is it?"

Forking my final piece of shrimp, I shook my head and smiled, "It's been a long time is all. Keith's mom doesn't often make things very tangy but you know; my mom's chili could leave a person sweating for an hour after they ate." I then stuck the shrimp in my mouth and started chewing. My aunt and uncle both nodded and chuckled.

For the remainder of our dinner we chit chatted about lots of things. More memories of my mom were shared by all three of us. The Boston cream pie I got on the way over was very moist and enjoyed by all. After we finished desert we moved into the living room. My uncle turned on his stereo so we had the local smooth jazz station playing in the back ground. I noticed it was almost eight and I started getting butterflies in my stomach. It seemed my aunt and I were constantly looking at each other and my uncle noticed. He said, "You've both got the same color hair, the same nose and eye spacing."

Tearing up again, my aunt said, "I can see her in you, Preston."

I grinned and wiped my eyes then said, "And you look so much like her, it's a little shocking. Thank goodness for different hairstyles."

My aunt said, "I did let my hair grow back in February and had it styled like hers."

I nervously chuckled, "Thank goodness I didn't see it."

She nodded, "It was just a phase. After about two weeks, I couldn't stand seeing it or maintaining it."

During the next hour, I learned that my aunt and uncle had talked with the Hundser's about me and where I would live during the wakes and after the funeral. They all agreed that I needed to be someplace familiar. We then started talking about the flashbacks. I was having way more of them than my aunt ever had.

My uncle said, "If they ever become a real problem for you, please feel comfortable calling us."

My aunt then suggested, "You could spend a week or two here; someplace that doesn't bring back memories? We'll set up an extra bed in Bob's room."

A little taken back by the offer, I smiled and shrugged, "Hopefully it won't ever come to that but thank you. I've really enjoyed myself tonight. Maybe I'll stay the night sometime. But you folks have to get ready for work in the morning and I'm gonna meet my buds at Zuma beach for the first unplugged set of the season."

I stood and my aunt did as well. We met in the middle of the room for another tight embrace. She whispered, "Are things better now?"

"Way better," I softly replied. "I'm sorry for being so distant. It won't ever happen again, I promise."

"Call me whenever you need," she whispered.

Kissing her forehead, I then softly sobbed, "I will."

Standing and walking towards us, my uncle briefly rubbed our backs then went to the kitchen. My aunt and I must've stood there another two or three minutes pulling ourselves back together again. We separated and she led me to the door. We said our good nights and I walked to my 4Runner. Unlocking the doors, I noticed my Aunt Eileen and Uncle John still standing in the doorway watching me. I got in the truck and started the engine. I waved and briefly honked the horn then pulled away.

Turning on the radio, I replayed the entire evening in my mind while I drove back home. Several times huge shivers ran up and down my spine. I had a lot to tell Keith about. I've never really been able to count on my family before. Now I had two families that I could count on. That was a humbling thought. They weren't doing it out of pity but simply because they wanted to. I never felt uncomfortable there and honestly felt that I could spend a night or two with my aunt's family. If the opportunity ever arose this summer, I would take it. I would have to invite them to the Hundser's some time soon too. Suddenly, I was looking forward to the Christmas holidays and it was June!

Soon, I was back in Woodland Hills and making the final turns into our neighborhood. The trips I had just taken would definitely be repeated and eventually become second nature, just like getting around Woodland Hills had become. I parked the truck in front of the Hundser's home then walked up to the front door. The front door opened. Staring at me as if I had done something wrong, Keith stood there and Rush ran out to me. I greeted my hound dog then went to Keith and asked, "What's the matter, babe?"

"Did you forget something?" he stubbornly queried.

Stopped at the entryway, I searched my mind at least ten seconds before finally shouting, "I was supposed to call you before I left for home! Oh shit, I'm sorry Keith." Reaching for his hand, I explained, "It was a little emotional the last half hour or so and that completely occupied me. There were no troubles getting there or back."

"And your home, safe and sound," Mrs. Hundser said. That one statement sent shivers down my spine. She then asked, "Did you have a good time?"

Still shaking his head sadly but grinning, Keith pushed me down into the loveseat then sat beside me. I chuckled, "I had a great time. We talked about my mom... well, like she was still around, like anyone talks about anyone else. They were mostly happy memories too. I needed that."

She smiled and nodded, "It shows."

Turning to Keith and then to his father while I petted my spastic hound, I asked, "How'd things go here."

Keith's dad said, "Everything went very well."

Keith shrugged and frowned, "We're not supposed to talk about it anymore."

Mr. Hundser then explained, "From now until you testify, I want you all to concentrate on your own perspective of events. Not what Mike or Derrick has added in the last month or so; not what either of you have shared with each other either. Only what you know occurred. Hearsay is inadmissible testimony."

"Damn," I softly groaned.

Keith grinned, "So you get to tell me everything while I sit there muted."

I grinned, "How was Rush?"

Smiling, Keith rolled his entire head and groaned, "Omigod!" His parents started chuckling and Keith said, "I let him out back first but ten minutes later, he was sitting at the back door so I let him in again. He went straight to his crate and moaned and groaned for an hour!" Keith then imitated the dog and Rush went to him. "You're a bad actor!" Keith laughed, and hugged Rush.

Mrs. Hundser giggled, "It was probably after-effects from the anesthetic."

Looking down at Rush, I suspiciously asked, "Were you getting head-rushes Rush?"

Rush stared at me then backed away. Lowering the front half of his body and wagging his tail in circles, he dared me to play. I moved down to the floor and Rush bounced over to me. He tried to sit in my lap but he's not a five pound puppy any more. Spreading my legs so my crotch had breathing room, Rush slipped onto the floor.

Keith asked, "Do you still want to go to the beach, Prez?"

Looking up and behind me, I answered, "Sure, babe; whenever you're ready."

Standing, Keith said, "Lemme just get the lantern and a blanket."

Getting up off the floor, I followed him down our bedroom hallway. He stopped at the linen closet, opened it and turned to me while reaching for the blanket. I softly said, "While I was there, we were talking about you."

He grinned, "Nice things, I hope."

I nodded and brightly shone, "They said that my whole appearance changed when I was talking about you." With the beach blanket in one hand, Keith closed the closet door and I reached for his other hand. "I think I love you."

"You think?" He loudly chuckled.

I whispered, "I know I do, more so now than ever."

Stepping closer, he stole a kiss and softly said, "I really missed you."

I nodded and said, "I missed you too, babe. Let me get my bass and we can take off." Letting go of him and heading into our room, I commented, "I don't know why I didn't just leave it in the back of the truck today. Mostly I used Doug's Rickenbacker bass. Tomorrow, I won't even bother bringing mine."

Standing at the bedroom doorway, he asked, "Why not? Was that a good bass?"

Picking up my acoustic case, I turned to him and nodded, "Rickenbacker is one of the best. Chris Squier, the bassist for Yes uses one and McCartney uses one too. Lots of famous bassists like them. After playing one, I can see why. It felt really good and had a tight punchy sound."

Keith nodded and asked, "Do you want anything before we leave, Prez; a Coke or something?"

I shrugged, "Not really. Why don't we bring the small cooler with a few cans though?"

Keith nodded and turned around. We walked down the hall and into the kitchen. While Keith got the cooler from the pantry, I gathered two cans of Coke and two cans of 7Up. Keith set the cooler on the counter and put the cans inside. I tossed a few handfuls of ice over the cans and we were set. Returning to the living room, Keith said, "We'll be at Malibu." Obviously, he had already told them about our evening plans.

Mr. Hundser said, "Back by one." He then pointed at Rush and smiled, "The alarm will go off and we'll know if you're late."

I looked down at Rush and muttered, "Snitch." But then an idea struck me and I turned to Keith asking, "Why don't we bring the hound?"

Keith shrugged but Mrs. Hundser said, "That's not such a good idea right now. Wait a few days for the wound to heal."

Having forgotten all about it, I nodded then looked down and said, "Sorry hound dog, not this time."

Keith started for the entryway closet to get the electric lantern and said, "We'll be home by one."

I said goodnight to Keith's folks then started for the door. The moment Keith closed the door; I began telling him all about the visit with my aunt and uncle. We talked about it all the way down to the beach. Honestly, I was beyond happy; more like ecstatic. There were small pangs of guilt but they were controllable. I don't think Keith had a clue they were even there and I sure didn't want to talk about them.

While I rambled on, I silently promised myself that I wouldn't allow myself to wake up feeling remorse ever again. Whatever it took, I would block those thoughts.

The day had started on an emotional note. I took Rush to the vet and I would be lying if I said leaving him there had not effect on me. Then I got back to a quiet house, stripped and snuggled up to my lover. From that moment, the day took a turn for the better. Visiting my aunt was the best thing I could've done. Seeing her, hearing her voice and the things that were said about my mom somehow confirmed that I wasn't going to go crazy.

A strange thought crossed my mind. It was regarding the saying, "life goes on." Mike had said that to me several times when we were alone last week. Lots of people say it, but for me it had new meaning. If life could go on after the sudden and tragic loss of a loved-one, then what in our lives could ever be so horrible? It put things into perspective for me. The worst thing that I could do was choose to dwell, fret and fuss over the loss of my mother. It would always be a jip. She was too young to die and I was too young to lose her, especially so soon after starting our new life together. But I resolved to push it aside, to the best of my ability and concentrate on the good things, like Keith and the Hundser's, like good friends and relatives; all of whom some how manage to constantly remind me that they care about me.

If the day wasn't good enough already, Keith and I arrived at Zuma to find all our friends there. Mike, Derrick, Jessy, Nelson, Jerry, Mack, Gil, Shaun, Rick, Matt and Eddie were all there, sitting on blankets arranged in a semi-circle around several lanterns. Spreading out the blanket, Keith and I closed the circle. We jammed and joked around and jammed some more for two and a half hours.

As we gathered our stuff for the trip back home, I thought, I'm right back where I started almost a year ago. Then, I was the new kid, in a completely new state and town, starting over again. It seemed as if I'd settled in now; though not without a few bumps and bruises along the way.

While our friends started for the parking lot, I remained. Inhaling deeply and slowly through my nose, I cherished the salty smell then let it out slowly. To my right was the Pacific Ocean. Building lights speckled the hills and mountains beyond the parking lot to my left. A gentle breeze blew. Sand brushed coarsely over the tops of my feet. Keith smiled and softly reminded, "We're gonna be late, baby."

"She loved it here," I whispered and smiled, "So do I." We started for the parking lot and I continued; "Now I know why she wanted to be close to her sister again. She's good people."

Keith grinned, "I get to go too next time, right?"

Our hands were full so I playfully bumped into him and smiled, "You bet. I want them to know the guy that makes my face light up."

To Be Continued

Stay tuned for more of Prez, Keith, Drew and the rest of the cast as "Life Goes On". I hope you enjoyed the story. Comments and constructive critisisms are always welcome.
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