Legal Notice:

The following contains descriptions of graphic sexual acts between consenting underage boys. It is a work of fiction and has no basis in reality.

Do not read this story if:

1) You're not 18 or over.
2) If it is illegal to read this type of material where you live.
3) If you don't want to read about gay/bisexual people in love or having sex.

The author retains copyright (2003) to this story.  Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.

Perry and Jesse:  The Incredibly Romantic (and slightly kinky) Adventures of Two Boys In Love   

Part IV  Brothers

Chapter 11  At The Mall

I woke up to what sounded like raindrops splashing on the window.  That was kind of strange since there didn't seem to be any hint of rainy weather yesterday.  It had been downright hot and sunny all day long.  I blearily opened my eyes to see that there was daylight pouring into the room.  I was surprised to see it was eight o'clock already.  We'd probably miss a nice breakfast if we didn't get our asses in gear.  That's when I noticed that Derrin was no longer in my bed.  He was sitting cross-legged on the futon, still in his pj's, staring at the TV and playing Kingcarver 2.  What I had mistaken for raindrops, were actually the sounds of Derrin lightly clicking the buttons on his controller.  He had the volume on the TV turned off.

"What's up, dude?" I asked groggily.

Derrin turned quickly when he heard my voice.  I was glad to see there was a bright, toothy smile on his freckled face.  He turned the game off and came over to the bed.  I realized now that he only had his pajama tops on.  He was wearing black sweatpants instead of his pj bottoms.  He sat on the edge of the bed on top of the covers while I wearily propped myself up against the headboard.  I noted with some relief that all my clothes were still on and it felt like all my parts were where they were supposed to be.  I had a semi-hard morning dick, but it didn't feel like anything that needed immediate attention.

"Guess what?" he asked cheerfully.

"What?" I asked, not being able to help but smile when looking at that boyishly cute face.

"I shot my first load last night!" he proclaimed proudly.

"Huh?"  I guessed I wasn't quite as awake as I had thought.

"Well, last night, after we had  By the time I put my pajamas back on, you'd already fallen back to sleep, but I still snuggled up against you anyway--you said I could!" he reminded me quickly.

I nodded.  It was true that I didn't remember anything after telling Derrin to put his pajamas back on.

"It felt so good being next to you like that, and I was already really hard from touching your dick and stuff, and I felt an orgasm coming..."

Gees, my twelve year old cousin sounded like a veteran Nifty reader!

"And usually, it's like this big shudder goes through my body and there's hardly any juice or anything coming out...But this time, I shot this huge load of spunk into my pajamas and it felt so awesome--I had tears in my eyes when it was over!"

Well, that explained why he was wearing sweats...

"Thanks, Perry," he crooned, once again pulling me into a bony embrace.  He pressed his freckled cheek against mine and I could feel his delicate breath on my face.  I hoped he wasn't planning on kissing me, because I just knew I'd freak.

Fortunately, he released me after a minute or so.

"We should probably get downstairs if we want a hot breakfast," I suggested.

"But I was hoping we could jack each other off first!" Derrin said, pouting a little.  "I loved the feel of all that jism blasting out of me!"

I hoped no one was walking down the hall past my bedroom.

"Well, it wasn't exactly a huge blast..." he admitted reluctantly.  "But it still felt totally awesome!"

"You remember the deal, right?" I asked.

"Yeah..."  Derrin admitted with a jutting lower lip, looking like a child who was disappointed that he wasn't getting the toy he wanted today.  "And I promise I didn't touch you or nuthin'!" he stated with obvious pride at his own self control.

"That's cool, Derrin," I assured him with an affectionate smile.

Seeing that there wasn't going to be any more sexual antics this morning, he sighed resolutely.  "Secret brothers?" he asked hopefully.

"Secret brothers," I affirmed.

It was nearly ten thirty when my mom dropped Josh, Derrin, and me off at the Santa Corina Mall.  They would call about picking us up sometime between three and four.  Then we'd probably have dinner together before the Waldman's headed back to Arcadia, a nice suburb in the San Gabriel Valley east of L.A.  The mall was jam-packed with holiday shoppers of course, but the bustling crowds filled the wide corridors with a palpable energy.  While I would be keeping an eye out for any potential 'enemy' high schoolers, including Goreski and his minions, and Julio and his cohorts, I was also intent on enjoying the day.  My plan was to focus on just having fun with my cousins while not thinking at all about my beautiful blond angel and his gorgeous eyes and lips and hair and feet and belly button and...

Anyway, I was planning on buying some new basketball sneakers so I'd be ready for the regional play-offs, even though they wouldn't begin until after the Christmas vacation.  If I got them now,  I'd have a few weeks to break them in.  I didn't really like wearing basketball sneakers for everyday shoes because I didn't like the way they came up over my ankles, but I'd wear them to practices and stuff until they felt comfortable. 

While us boys hung out at the mall, my mom and Uncle Ron were taking a drive over to Oceanside just to hang out and talk and stuff, which seemed pretty cool to me.  I really liked it that they were a brother and sister who felt comfortable sharing with each other and leaning on each other when they needed to.  I wondered if Derrin--my 'secret brother' as he liked to say--could fill a role like that in my life...

The weather had cooled off slightly from yesterday, but it was still pretty nice out.  Josh was wearing a long sleeved grey Henley with a maroon Quicksilver T-shirt over it, baggy carpenter jeans and his dark grey Sketchers, from which he had carefully removed all the white powdery stuff that he had picked up from the pool rescue yesterday.  Derrin was looking sharp in a Sean John light grey sweatshirt with brilliant orange stripes running down the shoulders and arms.  I guess he hadn't brought his styling gel along, so he was wearing a backwards Angel's baseball cap over his light blond hair.  I went for a mostly blue, printed, short sleeved silk shirt, unbuttoned over a dark blue Calvin Klein T-shirt.  My mom had insisted I tuck it in, but as soon as her car disappeared, I pulled it out. It looked better that way with my new Diesel jeans.  Of course I wore my black Vans, which were now my favorite shoes because Jesse had the same ones!

We hit the Sam Goody first, and I saw the soundtrack to Return Of The King, which I wanted to buy.  I wasn't much interested in orchestra music before, but I really liked Howard Shore's scores.  They really reminded me of Middle-earth some how.  I also saw the new Avril Lavigne album.  I liked her stuff a lot because it had actual tunes and wasn't just a bunch of shouting and rapping, and she was young and sang songs about teenagers in what seemed like a more realistic way than the other teen groups.  I bought the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, but held off on the Lavigne, because I thought the other guys might laugh at my taste in music!

Josh bought a Smashmouth CD and he started working on the cute young female cashier right away.  By the time we were ready to leave the store, he already had a date to meet her at the foodcourt for lunch.  He was really quick!

"What about Hannah?" Derrin asked as we stepped back out into the crowded corridor.

"What about her?" Josh asked carelessly.

"Are you gonna tell her you're dating another girl?" 

It was clear that Derrin was trying to taunt his brother, almost as if he wanted to get a rise out of him.

"It's not a date, you little twerp," Josh replied, still in a very casual voice. 

"I wonder what Hannah would think about it," Derrin said, his threat clearly implied. 

We moved over to the side and let people pass us by.  We were standing next to Le Petite Bistro, where Jesse had eaten dinner with my mother and me for the first time, only a couple of months ago.  Josh was now starting to get pissed.

"You'd better watch it!" Josh warned him.  He still didn't sound seriously upset.

"Oh yeah?  What if mom hadn't told dad about her new boyfriend, huh?  Would that have been good too, huh?"  Even though Josh was nearly a foot taller, the diminutive boy gave his older brother a challenging shove.

I wanted to tell Derrin to back off, but it suddenly became clear to me that there was something going on here that had little to do with the cute cashier at the music store.

"This has nothing to do with that, you little moron!" Josh said, his voice finally taking on an angry edge.

"You probably want mom to leave, 'cuz you can drive now and go where ever you want and see all the girls you want and you don't even care about Hannah or dad or me or anybody!"

"What the fuck are you talkin' about?!" Josh exclaimed angrily, grabbing Derrin by the front of his sweatshirt.

"Josh!" I cautioned him.  "Take it easy.  He's just upset about the stuff that's going on with your parents."

"You're just like mom!" Derrin spat accusingly  as he tore himself out of his brother's grip.  He was red faced and there were tears in his eyes now.   It was obvious that he was incredibly upset. 

I was scared.  I felt panicky and didn't know what to do with him.  Last night, he seemed to be holding it all in, barely getting upset as he told me what had been happening to his family.  Now, it seemed like it all wanted to come gushing out at once.  And it was also clear that Josh was under just as much strain as his younger brother, and both their tempers were flaring.

The two boys glared angrily at each other for what seemed like minutes even though it was actually only a few seconds.

"Maybe mom's just sick of the way we fight all the time--who can fuckin' blame her?" Josh yelled disdainfully over the din of the crowd.  Several people turned to glance at us, but then moved on, intent on minding their own business.

"You're the one who's mean and selfish!" Derrin retorted, his hands bunched into small tight fists.

I could see this wasn't going to be a productive discussion about their feelings regarding their parents current situation.  It was just going to be a heated brawl between siblings.

It was clear that Josh was right on the edge.  To his credit, he didn't do what all his instincts obviously wanted him to do, which was to pound his kid brother into the fake cobblestone floor.  He glanced at me helplessly, but I didn't know what to do.  The only think I could think of was to get out into the open air and hope everyone would just cool down.  But before I could voice my opinion, Derrin came and stood by me.

"I don't even want you to be my brother any more, stupid!" he snarled.  "I'm gonna move in with Perry!  He's a hundred times better than you, and he'd never treat me the way you do!"

Well, that was a surprise.  Josh just glared at him for a long moment, desperately trying to calm himself down.  His fists and jaws were clenched and his face was red beneath his shaggy mop of curly blond hair.  I could see, just below the surface rage, that he felt sorry for Derrin, but he didn't know how to handle the suddenly volatile situation.

"I don't need this shit!" he declared.  He spun around to head back in the direction we had just come from.  After a few steps he turned back, the anger in his eyes somewhat subdued.

"Sorry  about this, Perry.  I guess we're under a lot of strain right now with all the shit that's going on with mom and dad...uh...Maybe you and Derrin should just go on your own for a while and I'll meet up with you after lunch sometime.  I've got my cell on."

"Yeah, after you meet your new girlfriend!" Derrin sneered, still breathing heavily and trembling with frustration.

"Okay..." I said hesitantly.  I had sort of been counting on Josh to be an unwitting bodyguard, someone to keep the scary high schoolers away.  Now, Derrin and I would be on our own.  Still I was practically fourteen.  I felt a little ashamed at the idea of having to hide behind my older and more muscular cousin.  I should be able to take care of myself at the freakin' mall for cryin' out loud!

Josh gave Derrin one more frustrated glare, and then took off into the crowd.   As soon as Josh disappeared, Derrin touched my arm as if it were some sort of ersatz security blanket.  He was still tense and red faced.

"Are you all right?" I asked with serious concern.

"I hate him!" Derrin proclaimed between sniffles.

I knew that he didn't.  He was just taking his frustrations about his parents' predicament out on his older brother.

"You don't mean that," I assured him.

He didn't answer that directly, but instead, looked at me with those big, teary eyes.  "I really do want to move in with you," he insisted.  "That is, if my mom and dad..."  His voice trailed off into more sniffles.  He started wiping the tears away with the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

I didn't know how to even begin getting into a conversation like that.  I tried to imagine what my mom would say...

"Do you wanna get a Coke or something?" I offered.

"Where's the arcade?" he asked, his mouth still forming a thick lipped pout.

Of course, the arcade was just as jammed as the rest of the mall.  Surprisingly, there wasn't anyone there from St. Boniface, at least as far as I could tell with all the clusters of teenage boys milling around.  It would've been nice to have one or two buddies to hang with for a little extra security if nothing else--I'd even have been happy to see Manny and Artim right about now.  Derrin only wanted to play one game of course.  We had to wait nearly twenty minutes to get our turn at Kingcarver 2.  The kids before us got wiped out at level six and thought they had really accomplished something--pitiful amateurs!

Derrin didn't seem to want to talk about the incident in front of the music store, so I just held my tongue.  Obviously, he was filled with fear and insecurity about the whole situation and I felt really sorry for him.  I was glad he suggested the arcade.  There was something therapeutic about playing video games, especially when it was just you versus the machine.  You were entirely in your own, goal oriented universe, with clear rules and boundaries, and if you were good enough, heroic enough, quick enough, and strong enough, you could achieve the ultimate reward: your initials in the number one spot of the top scores list.

We played the team version of course, and we totally kicked ass.  The first eight levels were child's play for us, and forty minutes and four levels later, we actually had a little crowd gathered around, cheering us on.  In order to get the top score, we'd have to beat the sixteenth level, which was further than either one of us had ever managed to go individually.  But as a team, a team that had played video games together for the last seven or eight years, anything seemed possible.

We were totally engrossed in what we were doing.  I only had a brief thought that I was glad that Derrin was able to get away from the problems of his life, even it was just for a couple of hours.  We were in the middle of level fourteen, and I was eagerly anticipating moving on to level fifteen , which I had never beat, when someone placed a game token on top of the one that was already there.  A pudgy Korean boy who may have been anywhere from twelve to fourteen years old, with a brush cut and glasses, was waiting patiently for his turn.  I paused the game and turned in annoyance to see who had so rudely placed their token on top of someone else's who had been waiting for a long time already.

The guy was just a little taller than me, although the way his shaggy reddish brown hair poofed out from his head made him seem a little taller.  He had a roundish sort of face that was made to look small by the large corona of long bristly hair surrounding it.  He had small greenish grey eyes, a small turned up nose, a small, thin lipped mouth and what would probably be described as a weak chin with a couple days of stubble on it.  His skin was unblemished and soft looking.  He was wearing an overly large, drab green army jacket that hung nearly to his knees.  Beyond that, he was wearing a pair of well worn jeans and faded red Converse hi-tops.  If it wasn't for the way his eyes glinted with some indefinable malevolence, you could've said he looked almost clown-like.  But there were those eyes, and he did have that shaggy reddish brown hair, and I had no doubt that I was standing only about a foot away from Arnie Hollister, Fred Goreski's best friend.

"We need to talk, Thompson," he said in an odd, high pitched voice.  He may have been seventeen, but he sounded more like a twelve year old.

When he reached past me to retrieve his game token, I almost wet my pants.  My heart was suddenly thumping fiercely.  My chest felt tight and my gut was twisting into painful knots.  I suddenly felt cold, even though the crowded arcade with all its teen bodies and rows of noisy machines was generating plenty of heat.

"Who's this guy?" Derrin asked in a brazen tone, obviously irritated that our game had been so rudely interrupted.

"Uh...Arnie Hollister...?" I  hazarded a guess.

Those beady green eyes just stared at me with something that could never be mistaken for love.  All right, here he was pretty much on cue, looking spooky and pissed.  Gary had warned me not to go to the mall this weekend, but here I was, scared and unprotected.  My first thought was for Derrin's safety.  He had his own cellphone, so I wasn't too worried about leaving him for a few minutes...hopefully only for a few minutes.

"Look , Derrin, I guess I need to go talk to this guy about some...stuff, so why don't you just keep going; see if you can get that high score."

"But I've never gone this far before, Perry.  I really need you here," he pleaded.  I knew this was important to him, but I also didn't want him to get involved in any way, shape or form with this creepy Hollister fellow.

"I...I won't be too long," I said, glancing nervously at the high schooler.  He just stood there like some cheap horror show clown sculpture.

"I'll play for you until you get back!" the Korean boy offered enthusiastically.

I had to smile at the patient boy's enthusiasm.

"That would be great.  You got your cellphone on?" I asked Derrin.

My cousin nodded sullenly, not at all pleased with my sudden departure.

"I promise I'll be back as soon as I can.  Beat that score, okay?"  I gave him an encouraging pat on the back and then nodded to Arnie.

He gestured sharply with his head towards the mall entrance  I went first, with him following close behind.  Some kids followed us curiously with their eyes, but no one said anything.  I saw a couple of high schoolers who might've been from Holy Trinity elbow each other and snicker.  Hehe, the little eighth grader's going to get his ass kicked, hehe...

Shit, I was scared despite my best efforts to keep my fears under control.  I mean, what could happen in the middle of a crowded mall, right?  I was in no real danger as long as we stayed in an open public place.  If he tried to drag me into the bathroom or something, I'd put up a big enough fuss that someone would step in to help.  I'd just hear whatever it was he had to say, and then go back to  Derrin.  No big deal.  So why was I trembling so much?

"The john's over there," Arnie said, gesturing down the corridor where a hallway separated the Lane Bryant from the Discovery Channel Store.

I stopped in front of the arcade.  "You must be crazy if you think I'm going in there with you!" I replied, surprised to hear such brazen words coming out of my mouth.

Arnie looked moderately surprised.  This expression quickly turned into one of condescending annoyance.  "I could crack your pretty little skull open right here before anyone even knew what was going on," he threatened.  "If it had been me instead of  Goreski in the john that day, you and goldilocks  would've been on your knees begging for some fat, high school cock!"

He barely moved his lips when he spoke, and there was that strangely immature sounding voice that gave a sense of unreality to the whole conversation.  Not that I wasn't any less scared.  Maybe this guy knew a few moves that Goreski didn't.  Jesse said he had been lucky and caught Goreski by surprise.  Maybe a couple of these crazy guys together would have been more than a match for my sweet blond angel.  I had no way of knowing.  One thing was for sure though, I was no threat to Arnie Hollister.  I wished Jesse had showed me some of that Aikido yesterday.  Still, it didn't really matter.  As soon as he made a move for me, I'd cause such a commotion that he'd have to back off.  Then I could call Josh or go to the security office or something.

"Look at you, you pathetic little douchebag," he sneered hatefully.  "Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"You're as sick as your stupid wrestler friend!" I informed him.  Holy shit!  Why was I saying these things?

Arnie started reaching an arm towards me.

"I'll scream  if you touch me, you freak!" I warned him defiantly.  Why did these guys think they could just push people around any way they wanted to?

I suddenly felt something small sharp in my back.  I started to turn.

"Don't move, Thompson," the unfamiliar voice cautioned.

"Hey, Mario, who woulda guessed?   The little prick's got balls," Arnie laughed drily as he looked over my shoulder at his tall Hispanic friend.

Mario Hernandez was apparently standing behind me and I could sense his six foot tall frame looming over me even without looking.  And there was something sharp in my back...

"Weren't we gonna take a walk over to the john ourselves?" Mario asked, his deep, slick voice containing more than a hint of an Hispanic accent.

"That was the plan, bro," Arnie agreed readily, his beady eyes glancing up at Mario and then down at me.

"Looking pretty sharp there, Thompson, in your fancy silk shirt and designer jeans.  Bet mommy would be upset if you got any stains on your pricey rags," Mario my ear.  And then to make the threat unnecessarily plainer:  "Red stains, especially!"

Okay, so Mario Hernandez had some sort of small knife poking into my back.  I'd never have believed it if I hadn't felt the very sharp tip pressing on my lower back through my shirt.  He was standing so close that no one else would even notice what he was doing.  If I tried to move forward, I would run right into Arnie.  Truthfully, Hollister didn't look that powerful despite his earlier threats.  But Gary had described him as crazy and impulsive, and I didn't think he meant that in a romantic way!  Still, if I could just get up enough momentum to knock him out of the way...

"Arnold?  Arnold Hollister?" an unfamiliar voice rumbled out from within the sea of holiday shoppers.

I felt the sharp object being withdrawn from my back and breathed a tentative sigh of relief.  We all turned to see who had called out.  I was surprised to see Gene Rauch's stocky form pushing it's way through the crowd towards us.  But I was sure that hadn't been Gene's voice...That's when I noticed the taller Gene walking right behind the shorter one.  Well, he  wasn't Gene of course, but resembled him in so many ways that he had to be my friend's brother.  As he got closer, I saw that the brother was wearing a hooded University of Miami warm-up jacket in the school colors: forest green with orange lettering.

"Uh...Rauch...George Rauch?" Arnie stuttered, his face drawn into a mask of startled shock.

"Arnold Hollister, my man!" the tall guy said in a voice that sounded  like he was forcing himself to be cheerful.  Gene's older brother easily stood six foot six and while not overly bulky, must have weighed close to two hundred and sixty pounds.  Like Gene, he had a stocky build, with a wide neck bulging with tendons and thick muscles, short, sandy  blond hair, and a broad and pleasant, clean shaven face.   There was an unmistakable gentleness in his expression that was encouraged by his kind, hazel eyes.  He may have known Arnie Hollister, but no way was he anything like that creepy clown.

"Hey, Perry--everything okay here?" Gene asked with barely disguised concern.

"Uh...yeah...I guess..." I stammered, realizing that I was still trembling from fear.  I wondered if Mario had put that damned knife away, or if he had just withdrawn it slightly, ready to jab it back in at any time.

"And you're...Hernandez, ain't ya?" George said, pretending to squint at the tall Hispanic youth still standing way too close to me for comfort.

"Who the fuck...?" Mario began.

"Georgie Rauch--captain of the football team last year.  And Arnold here was my official bench warmer!"

I almost burst out laughing when he said that.  Arnie's little eyes squinted evilly and his face turned red with sudden embarrassment.

"Yeah, I remember Arnold.  A bit of a whiner.  Always thought the coach was pushing him too hard...What, no smoking?  What, no pot?  What, no steroids?"  George recited, doing a pretty good imitation of Arnie's strangely high pitched voice.

"Uh..yeah...hehehe," Arnie muttered sheepishly.  He didn't even look me in the eye and barely had the nerve left to glance up at his taller Hispanic friend.  "Uh, well, Mario and me, we gotta split..." he said, starting to back away.

"But you never told my bro what business you had with his friend here--Perry, isn't it?" George asked with a warm smile.

"Sure, Perry Thompson," I said gratefully, extending my hand.

The hand that wrapped around mine was easily twice my size, and I could feel the strength just in his fingers alone.  This was a guy who was in seriously top condition.  I sensed that he could have squashed Fred Goreski like a bug, and knocked the heads of these two goons together like they were sacks of flour.  I smiled, thinking of the big white mushroom cloud Tyler Litteton had kicked up yesterday when he fell on those bags of powder at the bottom of the swimming pool.

"So you guys are just takin' off?" George asked with mock disappointment.

Arnie just sort of sneered at the football player and gave me a hateful glance before he and Mario quickly got lost in the crowd.

"What was that all about?" Gene asked.

"Hey, you haven't even formally introduced me to your friend," George noted.

"Oh yeah," Gene smiled broadly.  "George Rauch, I'm very proud to introduce to you my good friend, one of the most popular kids at school, Perry Thompson.  He's been totally kickin' ass on the basketball team and grabbing all the hot lookin' chicks for himself."

I blushed profusely at Gene's ridiculous introduction.  Why would he say such silly things about me in front of his own brother?

"And Perry, I'm only moderately ashamed to introduce to you my one and only super-sized brother, Georgie.  He's a freshman at U of M on a football scholarship--naturally."

George again took the opportunity to shake my hand.  He gave off the same easy going vibe as his younger brother but there was also something else, some kind of twinkle in his eye, some added little message in his smile, that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

"You're not telling me that one of the cutest guys I've ever seen in my life is straight?!" George groaned facetiously.

Now it was Gene's turn to blush.  He gave his brother an annoyed shove.  "I'm sorry, Perry, really.  My brother, he's just such a..."

"What: a queer?  An exhibitionist?  Drama queen?" George asked, pretending to be upset with his younger brother, but judging by the playful smile on his face, obviously meaning it all in good fun.

So Gene's brother was gay?  And he was coming right out and announcing it to a total stranger?  My head was spinning.  I couldn't believe it.  I hadn't even recovered from my frightening run in with Arnie and Mario, and now this...?

"Arnie Hollister was never the cream of the crop," George stated.  "Why would a nice kid like you be hanging out with--excuse my language--scum like that?"

"It didn't look like you were hanging out at all," Gene noted. "It looked like they were on your case about something," he ventured.

I wondered if I'd have to tell Gene the whole story about Jesse's incredible fighting abilities and the humiliating thing that happened to me at the rummage sale a couple of weeks ago.

"I think we all need to go grab a bite and sit and have a good talk," George suggested.   I sensed his concern even though the friendly and confident smile never left his face.

I wasn't sure how hungry I was anymore, the thought of having had a knife poked in my back slowly sinking into my head, but the idea of sitting down sure sounded good.  I started following them towards the foodcourt when I suddenly remembered...

"Derrin!" I shouted.  I stopped so suddenly that Gene bumped right into me.

"Whoa!  Who's Derrin?" Gene asked, recovering his balance.

"My cousin.  I left him at the arcade!" I said, turning around even as I spoke.  I didn't even look to see if Gene and George were following.  I just headed back to the arcade as fast as I could push my way through the crowd.  I had this terrible thought that maybe Arnie and Mario would go after him...

When I got there, I sighed with relief.  Derrin was standing out front, obviously looking for me.  He smiled his freckle faced, toothy grin when he spotted me making my way towards him.  He looked puzzled when he saw Gene and George coming up behind me.

"Hey, that's not the same guy you left with," he pointed out.

"I'm so sorry, Derrin.  I didn't mean to leave you--honest.  It's just that...well, it's a long story," I apologized quickly and sincerely.

"That's okay..." Derrin answered unsuredly.  

 "This is one of my best friends from school, Gene Rauch, and this is his brother George who I just met."

"Wow, you're big!" Derrin said with genuine awe in his voice.  The five foot tall twelve year old tilted his head back to look up at the towering  freshman.

"That's what my ma keeps tellin' me," George quipped.

I had only known this guy for about ten minutes and I already liked him.  Of course, that wasn't surprising, considering he was Gene's brother.

"How'd you do on the game?" I asked Derrin as we worked our way over to the foodcourt once again.

"Aw, that kid, he didn't know his trolls from his goblins...We just crashed and burned.  It was pathetic...I wish you hadn't left," he added sullenly.

"Hey, I'm really sorry about that.  I'll find some way of making it up to you, okay--bro?" I added meaningfully.

That cheered him up a little.  The foodcourt was crowded of course, but we managed to find a table way in back.  George volunteered to hold the table for us (who'd challenge him?), while the rest of us got our food.  We all ended up at the Subway counter.  I looked around for Josh but couldn't spot him in the bustling mass of shoppers.

"So, where you visiting from?" Gene asked my cousin.

"Arcadia," Derrin answered cautiously.  The usually brash youngster suddenly seemed to be having a pretty good case of the bashfuls.

"Isn't that where the race track is?" Gene asked, smiling his usual warm and friendly smile.

"Yeah, but kids can't wager," Derrin explained solemnly.

"Oh," Gene responded as if that were news to him. 

I was so relieved.  What amazing luck that Gene of all people would be wandering by just when I needed to be rescued.  And that gentle giant of a brother of his, I had a good feeling about him.  The fact that he was so open about his sexual identity thrilled me somehow. 

Finally, we all got our sandwiches, chips, and drinks and headed for the table, which was hard to miss with the six foot six freshman sitting there.  Still, he waved when he saw us approaching.  He stood up when we arrived.

"Those look good.  I think I'll get me a couple of foot right back!"

"Gees, I shoulda offered to pay for him," I said belatedly.  "He did save me..."  Oops, that had slipped out a little too quick!

"Saved you from what?" Gene asked, his face again filled with intense concern.  "Those guys, they looked like bad news, Perry.  What business did they have with you?"

"It's a really long story..." I stammered uncomfortably.

"That one guy looked like a fucked-up circus clown!" Derrin noted seriously.  "Is he like your dealer or something?"

"Derrin!" I said, startled by his brash implication.

I turned to Gene, who just shrugged and smiled lopsidedly at my cousin's outrageous suggestion. 

"I'm just so glad you showed up when you did," I said with unabashed gratitude, feeling the fear of my earlier situation start to twist my gut once again.  Suddenly, my ham and cheese sub didn't look nearly as appetizing as it had a few minutes ago.

"Well, actually, you do have to thank Georgie for that," Gene said, and he was blushing.  "You see, he likes to play this stupid little game when we're out in public, ya know?  Like he's trying to set me up with some cute guy or something even though he know's I'm totally straight."  Gene glanced uncomfortably at Derrin, obviously wondering if he should be talking so brazenly in front of a twelve year old kid.

"Your brother's gay--I think that's totally awesome!" Derrin remarked with an approving smile.

Gene nodded, impressed by my young cousin's open minded attitude.  "Well, he'll like point out guys to me--usually our age or a little older and say, 'That's the one for you, Gene,' and shit like that.  He knows it gets my goat!"

It was a cute story but I was wondering what it all had to do with me.  At the same time, I kept thinking about what would've happened if the Rauch brothers hadn't come along when they did...

"Anyway, we walked past the arcade and of course, because George is  like an Ent or something, he sees everything.  So he says, 'Hey, wait a minute, I think I found him,' and I don't know what the hell he's talking about.  But we walk back towards the arcade and he points you out and says--and this is his words, 'kay?--'Now there's a total hottie, dude; if you don't date him, I will!' and holy shit--it's you!  And with those two mean lookin' guys hovering over you.  I didn't know what to think.  Luckily, Georgie knew right away that something was wrong with that picture and...well, you know the rest."

"I've got to find some way to thank him," I said, and I was feeling all my emotions starting to reach the boiling point.   I started shaking with fear again.  At the same time, I felt such a surge of relief and gratitude for Gene and his brother's wandering eye.  I didn't want to have a breakdown in front of Derrin or Gene, so I got shakily to my feet.

"I...I have to go to the bathroom," I mumbled.  Fortunately, the men's john was just a few yards from where we were sitting.

"Don't go alone!" Gene said worriedly.

"I'll be okay.  Just stay with Derrin, please?"

Gene nodded reluctantly.

"I'll keep an eye on the door any way," he assured me as I turned, afraid that the tears were going to start pouring out at any second.

I was relieved to see that the restroom appeared to be empty.  I decided to splash cold water in my face in a preemptive effort to stop the tears before they started.  After a couple of minutes, I heard the bathroom door open.  I whirled, prepared to scream at the top of my lungs if it was Mario, or Arnie, or Julio, or Fred, or anyone who half way resembled any of them...But it was Gene.

"Hey, Georgie's sitting with your cous.  I just wanted to see if you were all right."

I was standing in front of the sink with water dripping off my face onto the front of my T-shirt, my heart pounding like the kick drum in some techno dance beat.  When I saw the look of worry and concern on my friend's face, it almost caused the tears to well up again.  I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself.  I leaned wearily against the counter.

"You're really scared," Gene noted.  He gently rubbed my arm from the shoulder down to the elbow and it felt good to have that big hand comforting me just then.

I wanted to tell him that I thought Mario had a knife, but I bit my tongue.  "Sorry...they just kinda took me by surprise..." I admitted sheepishly.

"Why would a couple of high school seniors be on your case , Perry?"  Gene asked worriedly.  Then he looked at me more thoughtfully.  I could see moisture in his own dark green eyes.  "Does this have something to do with that St. Agnus rummage sale?" he asked tentatively.

I'm sure my stupid eyes gave me away, as the look in his face seemed to show.  I slowly nodded.  "What...what did you hear?" I asked fearfully.

"Well, I thought it was a pretty crazy story, but Artie was saying that this big wrestling guy from H.T. was hassling you in the john, and Jesse came in and like went totally Kung Fu all over his ass!"  Gene looked at me for a reaction, but I just stared at him, willing the fear that was twisting my gut to subside.  I was safe now.  Gene and his brother were here.  And then I felt another surge of emotion go through me as I realized that Jesse was miles away, up in the mountains and that, as much as I  desperately needed him right now, I wouldn't be able to feel his comforting arms around me any time in the near future.

"So, it's true?" he asked incredulously. 

"Sort of," I admitted.  "There's more to it then that...I...I should tell you but...I don't think I can right now," I sniffed.  How did you tell a guy that you had almost been forced to suck another guy's huge, bloated dick?  I felt a wave of nausea rack my body.   I did my best to cover it up though.  Gene didn't need to see me acting like a weepy little baby.

"Take it easy," he said worriedly, seeing my face contort with the nausea.  "But Jesse...he really beat up a high schooler?" Gene asked, his curiosity getting the better of him despite my obviously distraught condition.   "I always thought there was more to him then he let on..."

I didn't want to touch that comment, so I just nodded vaguely.  "It's Karate though...not Kung Fu," I corrected him, not that I really knew the difference between them.

Gene nodded, apparently still having a hard time reconciling the seemingly outrageous story he had heard with today's events.  "So one of those guys we saw...He was the one Jesse beat up?"

I shook my head.  "Those were his friends, I guess.  We'd been warned that they might be out looking for trouble, but I thought, with Josh and Derrin around, there wouldn't be anything to worry about.  But then, Derrin and Josh--Derrin's older brother...uh...had a fight, sorta, and Josh took off on his own."

"This is a lot to take in," Gene admitted with a heavy sigh, his brow still furrowed with concern.  "What do you think they wanted?" he asked.

I shrugged.  "I think they were trying to scare me...They wanted me to go to the john with them..."

"Shit!  That would've been bad!"

"I know.  I was getting ready to scream or run for help or something when you guys came along.  Thank you so much, Gene," I added emotionally.

"That's okay," he assured me.  "I'm just glad we showed up when we did.  They were standing pretty close.  You might not have been able to get away..."  Gene shook his head in dismay, trying to keep his own emotional response under control. "Lucky you caught my brother's eye..."  he smiled.

I felt myself blush despite the fear and despair that kept threatening to overwhelm me.

"That's pretty cool," I remarked,  "that your brother is so open about...about that stuff."

"Yeah.  He's a pretty cool guy," Gene admitted.  "He came out to the family when he was a junior at H.T.  We were all pretty shocked 'cause he had kept it such a secret 'til then.  But he...uh...shit, how do I say this?  He was smitten, I guess. There was this guy at H.T. that he really had strong feelings for, and he wanted to share his feelings with us, I guess.  He wanted to introduce this guy and make it clear that they were more than just friends so...that's what he did."  Gene shrugged, realizing that was all the explanation there was to be had.

"Are they still together?" I asked hopefully, already trying to imagine a similar scenario involving me, my mom, and Jesse.

"Nah, you know how those things go.  Just because it was between two guys, it was still a high school romance.  They spent almost two years together and then it just kind of quietly went away after graduation.  I don't really know all the details.  You could ask Georgie if you're really curious..." Gene offered.

"Uh, no...that's okay," I said, finally feeling the fear that was gripping me starting to subside a bit.

"Are you feeling better?" Gene asked, again placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.

I gave him a shaky smile.  "Yeah...I guess," I offered hesitantly.

"Do you want to go home?  Georgie can drive you..."

"Uh, no one's home right now, I don't really want to go home."  That would be running away, and even though it seemed like a really good idea, I didn't want to give Arnie and Mario the satisfaction of scaring me off like a frightened bunny rabbit.

"You know you're safe now, right?" Gene asked, looking me squarely in the eye.

I nodded.

Gene smiled warmly.  "I'm not coming on to you or anything, but Georgie's right--you are a good looking guy, Perry.  That gal you have back in La Jolla is one lucky chick," he assured me.

It always shocked me when I heard my fictitious girlfriend being mentioned by someone new.  How had Gene heard about that?  At this point, I didn't even want to know.  Let them all think I had a hot girlfriend in La Jolla.  It really helped to divert any potential suspicion away from Jesse and me, and I knew I was grateful for that.  If it weren't for Jessica...sigh...That was another problem that had to be dealt with.  But she was more than a problem, and that was a problem in itself!  I did have feelings for her, and I did find her attractive.  I wasn't in love with her but...

"Hey, you ready to go back out and eat your sandwich?"  Gene asked patiently.

I shook myself out of my reverie.  Wow, scary how my mind just wandered off like that!

"Yeah, sure...Thanks, Gene.  I'm so glad that you're my friend.  You don't know how much it means to me," I told him sincerely.

"Hey, dude, I'm just a dumb jock.  How do you think it makes me feel to have one of the coolest kids in school count me as one of his buds?" Gene beamed.  It was strange, but I couldn't hear any hint of sarcasm in his voice when he said that.

I wanted to tell Gene that the stupid joke about me being Mr. Popular was getting old and annoying, but instead, I just shrugged and wiped my face with a paper towel.  My T-shirt had a few water stains on it, but otherwise I looked okay for a kid who just had a knife poked in his back.  I straightened out my silk shirt and went back out to join the others.

"Everything okay?" George asked as we settled back in our seats.  I nodded while taking a long slurp of my Coke.

"So Gene, you've known this guy for what, like over a year, and you never introduced us?" George asked his brother.

"Actually, I just told you yesterday that he's the one who's having that cool birthday trip to Disneyland, remember?"

"Oh, yeah...Shit!  You're gonna pass up a chance to spend a night in a hotel room with this cutie, just for some dumb football game?"

"Football got you into college, dude!" Gene reminded him irritably.

"Yeah, but..."

Gene scowled at his brother and shook his head.  "You'd better knock it off.  I think you're freakin' Perry out," he observed.

"That's okay," I assured them.  "I think it's kinda funny.  I know he's just messin' with me."  I gave George a goofy little smile and wiggled my eyebrows salaciously.

I didn't get the laugh I had been expecting.  The way Gene's older brother looked back at me, sent a weird little shiver down my spine.    The smile was half gone, and there was a more thoughtful look on his wide, clean shaven face.  "Is that what you think...?" he muttered, his soft spoken words almost lost in the din of the noisy lunch time crowd.

There was a moment of awkward silence at the table.

"Hey, look, Perry--it's Josh and that girl from the music store!"  Derrin said in a half whisper, boldly pointing across the large open space of the foodcourt.

It took me a while, but I finally spotted them in line at the Panda Express.  She was pretty cute:  short red hair, petite, bright smile--the perfect cashier, I thought.  Josh even had his arm around her.  He sure moved quick!

"Damn!" George exclaimed, all the while still smiling.  "Is every guy in your family like a total stud or something?"  he asked incredulously.

"What about me?" Derrin asked jealously.

"You too, dude.  I bet the girls are all over you like ants on a picnic basket."

Derrin's eyes lit up with pride.  "I do have a girlfriend, ya know," he pointed out proudly. 

My younger cousin really was pretty cute and I liked it that he was so accepting of Gene's brother.  I wondered if Josh would have the same reaction.  Somehow, I didn't think so.

"Another potential date down the drain," George groaned with mock disappointment.

"Knock it off!" Gene said, sounding slightly annoyed.

Even though he was okay with his brother's sexual identity, I think Gene preferred a more low key approach.  I thought it was kind of funny the way George got under his brother's skin.   I imagined myself walking through the mall with Jesse, the two of us holding hands, brazenly pointing out all the hot looking guys that we passed.

"Watcha grinning about?" Gene asked.

"Oh...uh...nothing.  I'm just so glad you guys came along when you did.  Thanks, George.  I'm so grateful to you.  I should at least pay for your lunch!" I insisted, pulling a twenty out of my wallet.

"You're kidding, right dude?" George asked, his nearly permanent smile diminishing slightly as he looked at the bill I offered him.

"Well, no...I...I just wanted to show I feel," I stammered awkwardly, suddenly embarrassed that I had tried to pay for my rescue with money.  Still, I couldn't withdraw it now after I had offered it.

"Put your money away, dude!" George said with a slight frown.  "You're hurting my feelings here!"

"Oh...shit..." I blustered, turning red as I stuffed the bill back into my pocket.  I wished I could turn to liquid like one of those X-men and just slide down the chair and onto the floor.  "I'm so sorry...I don't know what the fuck I'm doing..." I babbled.

"Perry--chill, dude-- it's cool," George assured me warmly.  "I'm glad it all worked out.  But honestly, if you weren't so gosh darn cute, I probably woulda walked right past without noticing ya!"

"I told Perry he was good lookin' too!" Derrin chimed in helpfully.

Gees, that George wasn't giving up.  Why would a college jock have the least bit of interest in a skinny little kid like me?  I wondered dismissively what he was most attracted to:  my dysfunctional, overly long, plain brown hair, my big stupid 'Hey folks, here's what I'm thinkin' right now!' eyes, or the big 'King O' The Dorks' sign hanging around my neck...

"Finish your sandwiches, George.  We gotta get going soon," Gene reminded his brother as he himself polished off his foot long Italian sub.

"Go?  We just met Perry and Derrin here, and we have to go?" George complained like a petulant child.

"We gotta meet up with mom and dad in less than an hour so we can head up to grandma's--remember?" Gene reminded him.

George nodded reluctantly and popped about six inches of roast beef sub in his mouth as if it was a tater tot.  "What about a round of golf tomorrow?" George asked me with his mouth full.

My eyes lit up with excitement, but Gene quickly shook his head.  "Regional playoffs tomorrow, remember?  And the coach and everyone is expecting you to show up!"  I could see Gene was starting to become impatient with his older brother.

George nodded absently as he stuffed the last six inches of his second foot long in his mouth.  He took a long drink and carelessly wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket.

"You know what?  I wanna just make a quick patrol of the mall once before we take off--just to see if those jerks are still hangin' around...I'll buzz you on your cell to catch up with you guys, okay?" he said, already getting to his feet and picking up his plastic tray.

I didn't think anyone was about to argue with him.

I took a few half hearted bites of my sandwich and nibbled on my chips while Gene and Derrin finished their lunch.

"Well, no point in hanging around here," Gene said as he got to his feet.  "Unless you wanna hook up with your cousin..." he offered, gesturing with his head back towards the Panda Express.

"Nah," Derrin responded quickly.   "Perry wants to buy some new basketball sneaks--his team's gonna be in the playoffs too, ya know!" Derrin pointed out proudly.

"They sure are," Gene agreed with a congratulatory smile.  "Morgan can't stop talking about what a great contribution you've made to the team this year," he said, as we started walking over towards the Foot Locker.  "You know, he kinda feels like you're his protege or something!"

Of course, when he mentioned Morgan, my mind started wandering down that dark and twisted path again. I wondered if he and Derek had a chance to talk yet, and how Derek was taking Jesse's gentle, but undeniable rebuff.

"What's on your mind?" Gene asked.

Gees, my stupid eyes must be giving me away again.  "Nothing...I mean, I was just thinkin' about the last game, where Morgan lost his temper.  I was really scared..." I admitted.

"I heard about that.  Did he ever tell you what was eating him?"

I shrugged.  If Gene only knew...

The shoe store was crowded.  There were a lot of kids our age, but plenty of adults and little kids as well.  There were a lot of new styles on display, just in time for the holiday season of course.  I was a little shocked at the prices on new sneaks--some were as high as a hundred and fifty dollars.  I finally found a pair of blue and white Reeboks that seemed to have all the features I was looking for.  They were on sale for 'only' $129.95!  Still, I had plenty of cash stuffed in my wallet. Any time we went somewhere, my mom would give me a big wad of bills and she never asked for any of it back.  Plus there were the checks my dad sent me every month.  Those were supposed to be just for me, and they weren't the official alimony and child support checks he sent to my mom.

It looked like it was going to be a hopeless cause to get one of those guys in the referee shirts to get the size nines I figured would be a perfect fit, but Gene went right up to one of them and with the friendliest of smiles, tapped the lanky kid on the shoulder and pointed to me.  I smiled timidly and held up the display shoe for him to make note of. 

"What size, dude?" he called across the crowded store.

"Nine!" I responded as loud as I could.  As it was, he could barely hear me, but after confirming what he thought he heard by holding up nine fingers, he disappeared into the stock room.

"Thanks, Gene.  I guess I would've just sat here like a dork, waiting all day."

"No problem," he said. 

The bench I was sitting on was full of kids trying on shoes, so he just stood in front of me with his arms casually crossed in front of his broad chest while Derrin wandered around the store.  I was trying to glance discreetly at a couple of the teens on the bench, just to check out their feet, but my heart really wasn't in  it today.  Having a knife poked in your back was a definite bummer...

"Perry, don't mind my brother, okay?  He says a lot of goofy things but...really, he's an okay guy."  It seemed like Gene was trying to apologize for George's extroverted behavior.

"I like your brother a lot!  He's just like you!" I said, and then realizing that had the wrong implication, I quickly added, "except for that one thing..."  I blushed.

Gene laughed.  "Yeah, that one thing.  You know, he hasn't always been so brash about it.  I mean, I think he knew for a couple of years before he even told us about it, and even after that, he kept a pretty low profile around school, being captain of the football team and all."

I nodded my head in sympathetic understanding.  "It must have been hard for him to tell people," I guessed.

Gene nodded thoughtfully.  "Yeah, it must've been hard--especially being in sports.  You know how guys talk."

Yeah, I did know how guys talk.  That's why I was worried about Tom and Derek...

"I wish people were just free to be what they wanted to be--what they needed to be, and everyone else would just like...not judge them and stuff," I said, awkwardly expressing something that I actually felt quite strongly about.

"I hear you, Per," Gene said, nodding in agreement.  "Like Georgie, he's a great athlete, a super ball player, the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, but shit...As soon as some of those stupid jocks found out he was gay, they just wouldn't even talk to him any more.  I know it really hurt his feelings.  At least, Georgie was big enough that no one dared to mess with him."

I thought about how many times I had been caught in a threatening situation, including today's exciting episode with Arnie and Mario, and how helpless I'd felt.  If it ever got out that I was having a sexual relationship with another boy, I'd be lucky to survive a week at some place like Holy Trinity, with big kids like Fred Goreski and Mario Hernandez stalking the halls.  Of course, those guys would be gone--God, I hoped they at least had enough brains to graduate!  But I had no doubt there would be others...

"Yeah, that's what I mean," I said, also nodding in agreement.  "Still, I kinda wish he'd stop saying those silly things about me...I mean, I know I'm not especially good lookin' or anything but..."

Gene shook his head in frustrated disbelief.  "Perry, what do you see when you look in the mirror?"

Before I could answer, Gene's cellphone went off.  He moved over to a relatively quiet part of the store to take the call.  At the same time, the Foot Locker kid came over with my shoes.  Derrin followed closely.

"These are real beauts!" the salesman said.  "Wish I could afford these babies!" he admitted enviously as he knelt down in front of me and took them out of the box.

My eyes lit up excitedly.  They were white in front and a glossy blue along the heel and ankle.  They were called mid-levels so they wouldn't press on my ankles as much as my old basketball sneaks did, and they had a  zippered hood over the laces.  I toed off my Vans and let the teenage employee slip the shoes on for me.  I stooped to lace and zip them up and then stood.  Wow!  They were so light, it was like walking on air or something.

"These are awesome!" I informed Derrin and Gene.

"They look totally rad!"  Derrin agreed.

I started taking a few tentative steps around the bench, and then started walking at a faster pace around the store.  They fit perfectly and I could tell there was enough support there for jumping and stuff.

"What do you think?" I asked Gene.

"Hold on a sec," he said, grabbing a cap from off a nearby shelf.

It was a Reebok baseball cap and he put it on my head backwards.

"There you go.  PT Rappa!" Gene said, laughing.

I guess with my baggy Diesel jeans, open shirt, and fancy basketball sneaks, I did look a little like a rapper.

"Check it out!" Derrin said excitedly. 

He tilted his already backwards cap forwards a bit and leaned up against my back and made his coolest rapper face, folding his arms in a menacing fashion and giving Gene a cocky look.  I copied Derrin's expression so that we looked like we were posing for the cover of some teenybopper white boy rapper CD.  I guess Gene thought it was hilarious as he was turning red from laughter, the big tendons in his neck bulging.

"Hey, what'd I miss?"  It was George, and he made his way over to us and his mouth just fell open.  "Shit!  The gangstas is gettin' down, bro!"

"I wish we had a camera!" Gene said, still snickering with laughter.

"No problemo!" George said, pulling out his cellphone.

"Now look like you mean it, dogs!" he growled, stepping back and pointing the cellphone at us while  Derrin and I leaned against each other's backs with our arms crossed and our fingers split in a gang sign.  I wasn't sure how 'mean' I could look with my big goofy eyes and pouty lips, but I did my best.

"We gettin' it down, dog!" Derrin exclaimed meaninglessly.

"Got it, dudes!" he said, and then checked the small picture on the front of his phone.  "All right!  Christmas arrives early for Georgie Rauch!" he exclaimed with happy satisfaction.

The sales guy was still kneeling patiently in front of the bench.  "So, you gonna take those?" he asked, pointing to the Reeboks on my feet.

"Definitely!" I said, putting the cap back on the shelf.

"You gonna wear 'em?" the kid asked.

I hadn't planned to, but they felt great and made me look cool.  "Sure!" I said.

The sales guy stuffed my Vans into the shoe box and we went over to the counter.  I gave him the cash and he stuck the box in a Foot Locker bag and we were out of there.

"I didn't spot your two buddies," George informed us, "but I'd definitely stay alert."

"Hey bro, we gotta get going..." Gene reminded him, tapping his sports watch.

"Yeah, I guess..." George said reluctantly.  "Derrin, dude, you'd better call your brother.  We ain't goin' nowhere until he shows up."

I started to protest, but realized that was a smart move.  The idea of Derrin getting caught up in my sordid little mess sent a cold shudder from my head all the way down to my brand new shoes.

"We're parked out by Macy's.  Why don't you have your brother meet us there?" Gene suggested.

We walked towards the exit, all of us feeling better after having a few laughs in the shoe store.  George showed us the picture and it was pretty funny.  Neither Derrin nor I looked very threatening, but Derrin's scowl was a lot better than mine.  I just looked like I had gas or something!

As we got close to the exit, George took us over to the side of the corridor.

"Perry, you said you wanted to repay me for what I done?" he asked seriously.

"Absolutely," I assured him.

George smiled.  "Then what I want is ten minutes alone with you before we take off."

"Georgie...!" Gene started to protest.

"Chill out, bro.  What kind a perv you think I am?" he asked with a scowl for his kid brother, showing that even he could become irritated under the right circumstances.

"I will be asking for a hug at some point during the proceedings--but that's all," George told me in a very sincere voice.

I shrugged and nodded my approval.  I had no fear of this gentle giant.  I had gotten nothing but good feelings from him since the minute he had so brazenly come to my rescue.

"Walk out to the truck with me," he said, and then turned to Gene.  "Give me at least ten minutes, dude, please.  But no matter what, don't come out until Perry's cousin shows, got it?"

"Yeah, sure, Georgie," Gene said, still a little uncomfortable with his brother's plan.

Then George gave Derrin a wink and a smile and headed out to the parking lot.  I glanced at Gene to let him know I was glad to do this, and followed George out.  The lot was full today so it was a pretty long walk to his  Ford pick-up truck.  I saw from the license plate that it was a rental.  He hadn't said a word the whole time we were walking.  Now he leaned himself up against the bed of the truck and folded his arms.  I stood in front of him, not knowing what to expect.  I suddenly realized there were tears in his eyes.

"What's the matter, George?" I asked with concern.

"Nothin', Perry, nothin'.  I'm just a really big baby, I guess."  He sniffled and wiped his face with his sleeve.  A couple more tears still spilled out before he seemed to recover somewhat.   "It's just that...well, I really liked meeting you today, ya know?"

"Same here!" I assured him.  "I think Gene's really lucky to have such a great brother!"

"Yeah, ya think?" George asked with genuine surprise registering in his voice.

"Gene is one of the nicest people I know, and you're just like him...well, except for that one thing..."

This made George laugh, and that was something of a relief.  It was really strange to see a six foot six college football player crying in the middle of a parking lot.

"Yeah, that one thing.." he repeated with a knowing smile.  "And what a thing it is..." He sighed heavily and I sensed what Gene had told me.  That everything hadn't always been easy for this kind hearted giant.  That he had been through some difficult times because of what he was.  He looked up at me, his eyes still moist.  "I meant everything I said Perry, about you being a hottie...Shit, you're beautiful...a really beautiful boy and there's just no denying that."  I heard his voice becoming choked with emotion again.

I didn't know how to respond.  I just slowly shook my head in denial.

"Don't tell me you haven't heard that before," he challenged me.

" mom, I guess..."

"I'm not talking about your ma--mothers'll love you no matter what.  I mean other people, other kids in your class maybe..."

I wasn't sure what he was getting at.  Why did he want to know what other people thought of me?  How could I even begin to describe what Tom thought about me, or Morgan, or Jessica or...Jesse.  They all had their reasons for seeing me the way they did, just as I had my reasons for seeing them the way I did.  It wasn't really about words, or looks, but about friendships and camaraderie and shared experiences, and yes, even love.  This wasn't something we could talk about in the mall parking lot, though I did wish I could sit with George and have a long one on one some day.

"I guess my friends like me just fine...and I like them back," I answered stupidly.

George nodded as if, impossibly, what I had just said made some sort of sense to him. "Perry, if you were five years older..."  Then he shook his head and laughed a self deprecating laugh.  "What the fuck am I saying?  On your eighteenth birthday, you'll probably have a beautiful girl on each arm, and a couple more waiting in the wings."

I thought maybe he was trying to tell me he was lonely.  Maybe, because of who he was, it made it difficult for him to make friends.

"Don't you have any friends at your school?" I asked.

George smiled, but there was still a lot of emotion in his expression.  "Yeah, sure I do, Perry.  And one or two of them are pretty special.  I guess I'm just trying to tell you, in my clumsy, dumb jock way, that you made an impression on me today, a big impression..."

"You're the one who made a big impression!" I joked, even though I meant it.  Even if I never met George again, I'd never forget meeting Gene's big brother.

"Oh man, Perry, you touch my heart, I swear!" George sighed.  "But listen, dude, before I cash in on that hug, we gotta get something straight.  I just gotta know that you're goona be okay when I'm gone, understand?  I cant be worrying my ass about those freaks o' nature back there," he gestured with his head back towards the mall, and was obviously referring to Mario and Arnie.

"Well, I guess I kinda was warned," I admitted.  "But I thought with Josh around, we'd be okay."

George nodded in understanding.  "But then he found that chick and he split, huh?"  George speculated.

"Yeah, something like that," I offered, not wanting to get into the whole situation between Derrin and Josh and the problems their parents were having.

"Anyway, I been thinkin'.  I still got a few buds back at H.T.  I was thinkin' of getting in touch with them before I leave, and tellin' 'em to keep an eye out for those guys, Hollister and Hernandez..."

"And Goreski," I added without thinking.

George's eyes opened wide when I mentioned that name.

"Freddy 'Ballcrusher' Goreski?" George asked with surprise.  "He's involved too?"

I nodded sheepishly, inadvertently shuddering at the mention of that highly appropriate nickname.  I hoped he wouldn't ask me for an explanation.

"Yeah, he was a loud mouth jerk even when he was an underclassman," George offered.  "I bet he's a real asshole as a senior...Man, I'd love an excuse to just pound that arrogant sack of shit into the pavement," he said, gritting his teeth.  Then he shook his head, as if trying to clear something from his mind.  "Sorry, Perry.  I'm really not the vengeful, violent type.  But like I was sayin', I'm gonna give a few of my buddies a heads up on this situation.  Are you going to H.T. next year?"

I nodded hesitantly, no longer sure if that was a good thing or not.

"Well, that'll work out then.  I'll tell my friends, and they'll tell their junior friends or brothers, and next year, when you're at H.T., I swear, Perry, no one will dare lay a finger on you.  I'll let it be known that I'll come back and personally pound the crap out of 'em myself if I have to."

"Gees..." I said, awestruck by the intensely serious concern this guy seemed to be having for a virtual stranger, "I...don't know what to say..."  I stammered.

"Then it's time to cash in, dude," he said, opening his arms wide.

Filled with a myriad of emotions and warm feelings, I willing walked into his arms.  I felt those long thick limbs wrap themselves around me like a warm comforter and I leaned my head against his huge chest, feeling and hearing the resonant thump of his steady heart beat. 

"Thank you, Georgie.  Thanks for rescuing me..."

I felt his arms tighten even more about me and he pressed his cheek against the top of my head.  When he sighed it was like the trunk of a tree suddenly expanding to twice its original circumference, but he still held me fast.  It wasn't until I heard someone clearing their throat as they approached the truck, that George opened his arms.

I turned to see Gene and Derrin, with Josh following close behind.  The two of them both had grins on their faces but Josh looked a little uneasy.

"So, everything okay here?" Gene asked.

"Yeah, it's great," George responded, dabbing a couple of unspilled tears from his eyes.

I realized my eyes were moist as well and I bowed my head and quickly wiped them, hoping no one would notice.

"Hey, Georgie," Derrin said, tugging on Josh's arm.  "This is my brother, Josh.  He's like a total jock!"

Josh gave Derrin an annoyed big brother look and cautiously extended a hand.   George quickly took it and warmly wrapped it in both of his, giving Josh's arm a vigorous shake.

"Hey there, Josh.  Georgie Rauch.  What's your game, dude?"

"Well, there's JV football, basketball, swimming...and Varsity soccer," he added proudly.

"Catholic school?"

"Yeah, St. Mike's.  Soccer team took the San Gabriel Valley championship this year."

"Excellent, dude.  Congratulations."

"George got a football scholarship to MSU!" I bragged.

Josh seemed appropriately impressed by that bit of news.  Only the best of the best would get into Miami on a scholarship.

"That's awesome!" Josh replied.

"Well, hey, look guys.  Sorry to say hi and bye, but we gotta get goin'," Gene reminded everyone.

"Just one more pic, bro," George insisted, handing his cellphone to his brother.  He then gently pulled me back against the truck and put his arm around my shoulders.  Standing next to the towering freshman, I felt like an eight year old again.

Gene moved back to get the picture, when Derrin ran up.  "Hey, me too! I wanna be in the pic!"  He looked at George with  puppy dog eyes.

"Then get yer little butt over here, rapper dude," George smiled.

Derrin got under George's other arm and smiled proudly. Gene got the picture and we said our good-byes.  Gene got in the passenger side and closed the door.  George turned and gave me one more grizzly bear of a hug through the open window.

"If I hear that something bad happened to you while I was away, Perry Thompson, I'll never forgive myself," he whispered, for my ears only.

"Don't worry about me.  I think I still have more friends than enemies," I said half facetiously.

"Well, add one more friend to the list, dude," George said, releasing me from my second hug. 

We stepped back and watched as the pick-up truck pulled out and took off.

"He was like the coolest gay guy I ever met!" Derrin commented as we headed back to the mall. I smiled to myself, wondering how many gay guys a twelve year old boy would have encountered.

"How do you know he's gay?"  Josh asked curiously, actually directing the question to me.

I shrugged.  "He pretty much came out and said it," I replied, trying to not make it sound like a big deal.

"And he thought Perry and I were really good lookin'!" Derrin beamed proudly.

Josh just scowled at him.

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