The following contains mild descriptions of sexual acts between consenting underage boys. It is an original work of fiction and has no basis in reality.
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Despite the fact that it was a sunny, comfortable December day, the basketball team's first loss of the season hung over the middle school like a thick and stubborn marine layer. Instead of the usual lively, congratulatory post-game discussions, everyone seemed to sit and munch on their lunches lost in their own dismal thoughts.
"You guys need to snap out of it!" Gene pointed out. "You act like it's the end of the world. You lost one lousy game--one that didn't even count."
"It was my fault," I pointed out, ready to launch into a detailed explanation about how I'd let my guard down for the briefest moment, allowing St. Matt's to score the winning basket.
"Don't say that!" Morgan shouted, springing to his feet and glaring at me.
Everyone within earshot turned to look. Morgan quickly realized what had happened, but remained standing for a few more tense seconds before slowly retaking his seat, his jaw tightly set. He wouldn't look me in the eye.
Gene, Jesse, and I all exchanged concerned glances, but didn't say anything.
"I haven't even written that fuckin' English assignment yet," Morgan grumbled, abruptly changing the subject.
I could sympathize there. I had made a couple of false starts, but ended up hating my ideas after the first few paragraphs. I had nothing.
"Why don't you write about what it felt like to sit on the bench last night, not being able to help your team?" Jesse suggested. At first, I thought he was joking, but he looked sincere as he made firm eye contact with the disgruntled team captain.
I thought for sure Morgan would blow his stack, and for a few heartbeats, I did see him bristle. But then I saw his shoulders relax as he nodded thoughtfully.
"It must've been hard for you," Jesse noted sympathetically.
Morgan nodded. "Yeah, it was; not that the team couldn't do it without me or any bullshit like that; just that I knew I was a distraction, that I was dragging everyone down just by my being there." He sighed heavily. "Shit, it was hard."
"Whatever we managed to do, whatever we've learned as a team, is cuz of you," I told him earnestly. "I couldn't even dribble straight before you started working with me," I reminded him.
"You were already good," Morgan retorted glumly. "You just didn't know it."
"Yeah, I noticed that too," Gene chimed in. "It's just that you...I dunno...lacked the self-confidence or something." He gave me that patented 'everything's A-okay' grin of his before diving into his monster sub sandwich. I remembered how his brother George had popped two twelve-inchers into his mouth like they were Tootsie Rolls.
I shrugged self-consciously.
"I think Morgan helped you see the ability in yourself. That's the mark of a great captain," Gene observed.
Morgan looked uncomfortable but reluctantly grateful for the kind words.
"Write the story," Jesse urged. "I bet you'll actually feel better about it if you do."
I wondered if Jesse had also given me the seeds of an idea--since I really was the one who had lost us the game. I could tell what that felt like (pretty crummy!). Then I realized I would be stepping on Morgan's story, so I discarded the idea. Back to square one....
"You're like a fuckin' psychologist or something," Morgan said, and the tone of his voice indicated that it was clearly meant as a compliment.
"Well, if that were true," Jesse said with a slight smirk, "I'd say both you and Perry are being too hard on yourselves.... Vouldn't you agree, Dr. Rauch?" he asked in a hokey German accent.
"Absolutely, Dr. Taylor," Gene concurred with a big grin.
"In fact, my prescription for both of you vould be to shed all your clothink und play a verocious game of vun und vun!"
"How would that help?" I asked, blushing even though I knew Jesse was just goofing around.
"Well, I'm not sure how it would help you two," he said in his own raspy voice, "but I've always been curious to see what it would look like for someone to dribble three balls at a time!"
Well, after all that talk about...balls, it seemed inevitable that we'd end up shooting hoops. Even Gene and Tom joined us, and just being there on the court with all my close friends, concentrating on nothing but our moves, helped to lessen some of my guilt and frustration about last night. At one point, I had the ball and was making my way toward the basket when Jesse popped up in front of me, the sunlight glinting off his shiny blond hair. He grinned at me and then did this weird thing with his tongue, sort of flicking it at me in a way that seemed unbearably sexy to me. I overshot, not just missing the backboard, but actually sending the ball sailing over the high chain link fence.
"I'll get it," I declared with embarrassment as everyone groaned. I hurried out the open gate and jogged around the court as the rest of the guys lapsed back into psychologist jokes. "It seems like Perry's suffering vrom an extreme case of hoop envy," I heard Jesse announce in his silly German accent.
The back part of the court went right up to a thick grove of pine trees that eventually started ascending one of the small hills that partially surrounded the school grounds. Even though it was a bright and sunny southern California day, it was hard to see among the shadows, protruding roots, and mats of dried pine needles. Finally, I spotted the ball. It had rolled quite a bit after landing, apparently not running into anything that could stop it until the ground actually started to slope upwards.
I was just bending over to pick up the bright orange ball when I was suddenly kicked solidly in the ass, the force of the impact causing me to topple forward into a nest of prickly pine needles. I landed clumsily on top of the basketball and grunted as the air rushed out of my lungs. There was an immediate cackle and I turned to see Deanna Kennedy standing over me, hands on her wide hips.
"All them tai-bo workouts finally paid off!" she laughed. She was by far the largest girl in our class, heavy set and big boned, with a thick neck, wide, flat face and jet black hair that she kept tied back in a simple knot. I recalled that last year, it had been reddish brown, so she had probably dyed it over the summer.
I scrambled to my feet, realizing that I was actually frightened to be confronted by this imposing figure, in this isolated part of the campus, hidden from the view of everyone including my buds on the basketball court.
"Why'd you do that for?" I asked breathlessly, as I awkwardly held the ball in one hand while trying to brush the pine needles off my clothes with the other.
"Why'd you do that for?" Deanna repeated, mocking my voice.
"You didn't need to do that, Dee," came a softer voice from nearby. I was surprised to see Dana Dupres appear from around a wide tree trunk.
"Are you kidding? This twerp's been begging for a good ass-kicking since the day he first showed up--ain't that right, twerp?"
Deanna was clearly being a bully, but I had no idea why. We had rarely exchanged words over the past year and a half, and I couldn't imagine why she would feel such animosity towards me.
"I don't know," I said uncertainly, now mentally as well as physically off balance. "I mean, I don't remember doing anything to get you so upset."
"Upset? Who said anything about being upset?" she sneered. "I'm just sick and tired of you and your pretty friends parading around the campus like you're the goddamn British Monarchy. Ain't that right, Dana?"
Dana, who looked much more normal, petite and unassuming, in her white polo shirt and light gray Dockers than she had in her outrageous, tight leather outfit at Katy's party, had a troubled look on her smooth, light skinned face. Even without make-up, her eyes looked big and dark, but not as threatening as they did when she had all that mascara and stuff on.
"Why're you bothering with him for? Just let the little punk go back and play his stupid ball game," she said, trying half-heartedly to match her friend's sneering attitude.
"I don't know. Seems like there's an opportunity here to make an impression," Deanna noted.
She'd done a pretty good job of that already, as my throbbing ass would attest. "I don't want any trouble with you," I said as calmly as I could. I started to walk around her, making sure I was well out of kicking distance.
"C'mon, pretty boy. Show me what you got!" Deanna urged, spreading her legs and balling her fists. I knew from watching Jesse and Tom, that she was balancing herself, fully prepared to launch an attack in nearly any direction in the blink of an eye. I didn't know if she really knew tai-bo or not, but I wasn't about to take any chances.
"Deanna...please," Dana implored, and she sounded sincere in her desire to not want there to be any trouble here.
"You were the one telling me you'd love to get this pretty boy on his back. Well, I'm just providing a service!" With that, she did strike out, lunging toward me, one thick leg pivoting and striking me squarely in the thigh.
"Dee!" Dana cried.
The force of the kick knocked me backwards and I dropped the basketball as I struggled to stay on my feet.
"I don't understand why you're doing this!" I said, not wanting to sound like the mewling little punk she seemed to think I was. But this was weird, and it really did hurt. I didn't think she had kicked me as hard as she could have, but it was still enough to leave my leg throbbing. I could see the dusty imprint of the sole of her sneaker on my black Dockers. I figured I probably had a matching print on my backside as well.
"You really don't, huh?" Deanna asked, deliberately moving toward me, fists still clenched. I had no doubt at this point, that if she got close enough, I was going to go home today with my first-ever black eye.
I put my hands up in a ridiculous attempt to ward her off, but she just kept coming. I started staggering backward, which I knew was a bad thing to do, and had to keep glancing behind and down to make sure I wasn't going to trip over some protruding root.
"Nobody fucks with my cousin and gets away with it!" she declared, suddenly swinging her fist at me in a wide arc.
I managed to barely avoid the blow, but then tripped over one of those stupid roots. I came down hard on my already sore ass.
"Your cousin?" I half asked, half groaned.
"Who's your cousin?" came a raspy voice, slightly muffled by the dense pine forest.
Deanna whirled in time to see Jesse come out from behind some nearby trees.
"Goldilocks!" she cried, and suddenly launched herself at Jesse. As she swung her balled fist at him, he grabbed her wrist, twisted it, and put his foot out, trying to trip her. But she was able to twist her leg in a way that deflected Jesse's, and she took a swing at him with her other fist. But by now, Jesse had a firm grip on her other arm, his small hands digging visibly into the flesh of the thick, muscular limb. Even as he dodged her attack, he was able to bring her arm back in a huge arc, pinning it behind her. She grimaced as he gave it a good twist and she collapsed to her knees.
"You little fucker!" she gasped in pain.
I heard more feet scrambling in the dried pine needles and soon Morgan, Tom and Gene stood gaping at the odd scene in front of them. I hurriedly picked myself up, wincing at the shooting pain in my leg and the overall soreness of my ass.
"What the fuck's goin' on here?" Morgan asked, and he didn't sound like he had the patience for a long explanation.
"Well?" Jesse asked, his face flushed red with sudden exertion. He pulled sharply on Deanna's pinned arm and she winced.
"Don't, Jesse!" I implored him.
"Go ahead, break it you little turd!" Deanna taunted defiantly despite the grimace of pain on her reddened face.
"Who's your cousin?" Jesse asked, applying even more pressure.
"You...know...." she grunted, her large bosom heaving as she gasped for air.
"Jesse--stop!" I begged, coming closer. Seeing that I was serious, he angrily gave her arm one more jerk before he backed away, his crystal blue eyes cold and his jaw set angrily.
"Are you okay?" Tom asked, running up and putting a hand on my shoulder. I nodded but found myself limping as we started to head back out of the tree cover. I leaned a little on Tom to take the weight off my injured leg.
Deanna, much more limber than her size would've suggested, quickly got to her feet but made no threatening moves as we passed by. She just glared at me as she rubbed her reddened arm, and I had a sudden flash of insight as to who her cousin might be.
"I'll get you, ya little twerp, and Goldilocks too--we all will!" she cursed like the Wicked Witch of the East.
"Are you threatening my friends, you fat cow?" Morgan asked in a clearly challenging way.
"You wanna piece of me, Hothead?" she asked, again balling her fists threateningly.
"C'mon! Sister Mary Luellen's on lunch duty today!" Tom warned.
"What about you, Lunkhead?" Deanna asked, turning menacingly towards Gene. He just shook his head as if she wasn't worth the effort of getting upset about.
"C'mon, Morgan," he said, giving his tall friend a pat on the shoulder.
Morgan shrugged him off, bristling. "No one's gonna fuck with my friends!" he declared angrily. "You hurt Perry, you fat, bloated bitch queen!"
"Hey, get off it," Gene said soothingly. "We all saw how hard it was for Jesse to put her in her place," he reminded Deanna in a deliciously sarcastic tone. Go Gene! "She'll think twice before she tries anything like that again."
She seemed unfazed by Gene's dig. "Anyone who sticks up for those two pretty boys is gonna be in deep shit themselves!" Deanna declared as we all headed out. "Even you, fag boy!" she said, pointing directly to Tom. I felt his fingers dig deeper into my arm but he didn't say anything.
I turned back and saw her standing there defiantly, her pants legs still covered with pine needles, Dana standing with a worried look behind her. By the time we got to the clearing, my leg was feeling a little better and I didn't need to lean on Tom anymore. Unfortunately, our sudden absence from the basketball court had been noticed and Sister Mary Luellen stood nearby, her arms crossed, glaring at each one of us as we came out of the woods. It was clear by her stance that she wanted answers, so we all went up to her contritely.
"Are you hurt, Mr. Thompson?" she asked suspiciously.
"He just went back there to get the basketball, and he tripped over some roots," Jesse explained quickly and smoothly.
"Is that what happened, Mr. Thompson?"
I didn't even think before I replied. "Yes, Sister." Lying came to me so easily now.
"Is there anyone else back there?" she asked, gazing past our heads.
"Not that we saw," Morgan answered.
She looked at all of us, and she certainly couldn't miss the guilty looks on our faces. Tom's expression was the worst, not just because of the harsh and violent encounter, but because of Deanna's disparaging epithet. Certainly I couldn't help but look a little out of sorts after the pummeling I took back there.
"Your pants are soiled, Mr. Thompson," the Sister pointed out, and I turned red with embarrassment, thinking that I had actually wet myself! But then I realized she was talking about the sneaker print on my left thigh.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just fell...."
"Hmph," she grunted disapprovingly. "In the future, I'd appreciate it if you let whoever's on lunch duty know before you go running off into the woods." She paused and gave us all one more scrutinizing glare before her posture relaxed slightly. "There have been the occasional mountain lion sightings over the years, you know." And she said this in a way that sounded like it was meant to be a legitimate concern for our well being.
"Yes, Sister," we all agreed in unison, and I was pretty sure everyone was trying like me to stifle their laughter. She spun on her heel and left us standing outside the basketball court.
"Shit, I forgot--" And then Gene came up, balancing the basketball on one hand. "Thanks," I muttered sheepishly.
"You guys lied to the Sister!" Tom exclaimed, a mixture of awe and fear in his voice.
"You'd rather I told her the truth?" Jesse asked.
"Well...er...I don't even know what was going on in there. Why was she trying to hurt Perry?"
"Fred Goreski," I said, glancing at Jesse for corroboration. He nodded in agreement.
"You think this had something to do with that business at the rummage sale?" Morgan asked.
Jesse nodded without hesitation.
"She's Goreski's cousin?" Gene asked disbelievingly.
"Pretty obvious family resemblance, if you ask me," Jesse noted drily.
"Man, could you believe the crap that was coming out of her mouth?" Morgan asked.
I saw Tom tense up.
"I guess she's just jealous," I observed.
"Of what?" Tom asked.
"Of us, of our friendship. All she has is Dana, and after our little scene, maybe not even her. Dana seemed pretty freaked out by all that."
"How pathetic is it that a big fat lesbian would call Tom a fag boy?" Morgan noted disdainfully.
Tom cringed. "I don't know why she said that!" he groaned defensively.
"You think she's a lesbian?" I asked.
Morgan shrugged. "C'mon, look at her and Dana. I mean, what do you think. Deanna sure doesn't go out of her way to look the least bit feminine, and when Dana's out of school she dresses like some sort of street freak."
"And they don't mix with the other girls," Jesse added.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Tom asked.
I nodded. "Just a little stiff."
Tom suddenly came up and started rubbing my butt.
"Hey!" I jumped about four feet in the air.
"Calm down," he giggled. "I was just getting that shoe print off your pants."
Jesse and I were stunned when we returned to our lockers to get our books for the afternoon. Both our locker doors were stuffed with folded pieces of paper of every color and variety. I picked one at random, a folded piece of lined notebook paper. The curvy writing and hearts replacing the dots on the i's and j's suggested a feminine hand.
"Oh Perry. Please pick ME to go to the Bainbridge party with you. Everyone says I'm really pretty when I get dressed up and put on make-up. I know I'm only a sixth grader but I love you SO much I could just DIE! Here is my address, phone number and email...." It was from a girl named Hailey Brodeur. I wasn't even sure if I knew which one she was--the sixth grade was the largest class in the middle school with thirty-one students.
I could see from Jesse's expression that he was reading something similar. "Guess I opened a can of worms, huh?" he asked me sheepishly.
"Well, my fault really," I acknowledged. "I'm the one who told your mom about Merissa. I should be jealous I guess," I said with a smile.
"Well, Merissa may be my date to the party, but you're still definitely my trophy stud!"
I was more than a little surprised to see a familiar Nissan Sentra parked at the curb in front of our house.
"That's Gary!" I noted curiously.
"Yes, did you make some arrangement with him?" my mom asked. I still wasn't sure where she stood with the high school junior. She was clearly appreciative of all he had done for me on my birthday, basically keeping me from getting seriously hurt or even kidnapped at Hode Ranch. But she still had mixed feelings about that incident and my conduct, and seeing Gary obviously brought those feelings to the fore.
We pulled into the driveway. Gary got out the same time we did. He had on a red and gold Holy Trinity letter jacket, and it looked like he had come straight from school, because he was wearing a white polo shirt, black Dockers, and basketball sneakers.
"Hey, Mrs. Thompson; hey, Perry!" he called in a cheerful voice.
"Hello, Mr. Van Driesen," my mom said somewhat stiffly.
"Just Gary, please, ma'am," he urged her.
She just nodded. "Can we help you with something?" my mom asked, while the three of us stood in the driveway.
"Well, if it's okay with you, Mrs. Thompson, I'd like to hang with Perry for a bit. I think we have some things to talk about."
"Yes, I suppose you do," my mom admitted, although there was some reluctance in her voice.
"So, if you don't mind..." Gary said, glancing towards the house.
"Technically, Perry is grounded. I'm sure you know why."
"Yes, ma'am," Gary acknowledged contritely, wisely choosing not get into an argument with her on that topic.
"But I suppose, if you promised to just stay here at the house--and I mean, here-at-this-house," she spelled out plainly, "it would be all right. That is, if it's okay with Perry...."
"Sure, Mom," I said. There was a lot I wanted to talk to Gary about, even though I was still troubled by the conversation I had had with Theresa on Saturday night.
"I'll have to have your word on that, Mr. Van...Gary," my mom requested unflinchingly.
"Of course," he nodded. "I swear we'll stay here."
"Fine then. Perry, you be a good host, and I'll see you around six. Would you like to join us for dinner?" my mom asked.
"That's okay, ma'am. I should be gone before you get back."
"All right then," she said, a slight hesitation in her voice." I do want to thank you again...."
Gary waved her off. "No, ma'am. There's nothing to thank me for. Things worked out, and Perry is here safe. That's all that matters, right?"
My mom nodded. "Thank God, you're both safe," she pointed out.
"Well then, have a good talk," she finished and got back in her car.
We watched her pull out of the driveway.
"You wanna shoot hoops?" I asked.
I was pretty sure that wasn't what he had come here for, but I felt like I had a lot of nervous energy I needed to release and was hoping maybe he felt the same way. He gave me a thoughtful look and then shrugged off his jacket and tossed it on the grass. I set down my backpack and retrieved the ball from the side of the garage.
He was as good as I had heard, a fast and forceful dribbler, a high jumper and a quick shot. I was still a little stiff from my unpleasant encounter with Deanna and I couldn't really compete head to head. But it was a good workout and after about five minutes of intense play, I was able to snatch the ball from him for the first time. I spun around him, almost losing my balance, but somehow managed to tip the ball up. It danced on the rim for a few seconds before spilling in.
"Excellent, dude!" Gary exclaimed excitedly.
We played for another ten minutes and we were both winded. I was tired and thirsty and I suggested we go inside. We grabbed our backpacks and jackets and I let us in through the kitchen door.
"Coke?" I asked, and he nodded.
"Wanna sandwich?" I asked.
He shook his head and I dug out a couple of energy bars instead. We each munched on one and chugged down our Cokes, all in complete silence. Finally, Gary wiped his mouth on his bare arm, which was very well muscled and coated with curly black hair that went to the ends of his wrists.
"So...we need to talk, dude," Gary said, looking uncomfortable sitting at the kitchen counter next to me.
"Well...uh..." Gary stammered. "I'm not even sure where to start."
"I know about Shane," I told him.
Gary nodded and then seemed to remember something. He dug his well worn wallet from out of the back pocket of his Dockers and rifled through it. He pulled out a small picture and handed it to me. It was what looked like a school portrait of a boy who looked a little younger than me. He had straight brown hair that half covered his ears and was parted in the middle, a straight nose, a hesitant smile, a smattering of freckles, and eyes that looked like they might be the same bright green as Derek's. Just a kid....
"Shane?" I asked, my fingers trembling as I held the tiny photo.
Gary nodded. "He'd just turned thirteen--end of seventh grade. That was over at Saint Joe's."
It was hard to believe that this nice looking boy, this ordinary school kid in his white polo shirt, had somehow gotten so emotionally despondent, so desperate, so cut off from the future that he had chosen to deliberately take his own life. I was still reeling from Jesse's recent admission, and somehow, I couldn't help but link the two in my mind. Even though I didn't think Jesse was directly responsible for Bobby Cohen's injuries, I could understand a little how guilty he must have felt at the time, how responsible for leaving that twelve year old innocent lying in a coma. The fact that he was still there, in some dark corner of Illinois, hidden away with all the other living dead, never failed to send shivers down my spine. And then there was Gary's childhood friend, Shane. The two of them had been really close and there had been no accident, only a dreadful misunderstanding.
"I still don't understand why Shane would get so upset that he would--"
"In hindsight, it's pretty clear that Shane had other problems, other things going on in his life as well," Gary replied, as if he had been prepared for this discussion. "You see, Shane's older brother was involved in a car accident like when he was sixteen and Shane was twelve. Poor kid ended up with a damaged spine and had to be in a wheelchair. Well, his parents apparently didn't deal well with that situation. Not only were they pretty much ignoring Shane, but they were blaming each other for what had happened to their older son and things were getting pretty hairy there. I know that cuz Shane told me about it. The strange thing was, it seemed like, as Shane's problems got worse, my feelings for him got stronger."
"He was so lucky to have you as a friend," I said.
"I don't know about that, dude," he said with a slight grimace. "I mean, who can say? I guess if I had it to do over again, knowing how Shane would react, I shoulda just kept my mouth shut. He had plenty of shit on his plate and I shoulda just been supportive."
"You were supportive," I insisted. "You had strong feelings for him and you wanted to share those with him."
Gary nodded. "I did, and what you say makes sense. It's just that...who would have ever thought he'd react like that? Man...it hadn't even occurred to me that all his problems along with my...my feelings about him would drive him to that...I mean, a thirteen year old kid...."
The more I thought about Shane, the more I thought about Jesse. How could someone with Jesse's vibrant spirit, his intelligence, his talents, his passion, willingly attempt to throw his whole life away? I felt myself starting to tremble.
"Hey dude--Are you okay?" Gary asked worriedly.
I knew Jesse wouldn't want me to share his story with anyone, but it was bursting to come out of my throat. Somehow, I just knew that I'd feel better--a little better--if I could just share this with someone. I felt queasy and light headed. Anxiety flooded my whole body and my arms and legs started to feel all tingly.
"Perry, talk to me...."
"Why did you come over today?" I suddenly asked, wanting desperately to get my mind off that image of Jesse lying on the floor of his apartment, alone and dying.
"You don't look so good," Gary persisted.
"If you want me to suck you off--I will!"
"Damn, Perry! Is that what you think?" he asked, sounding truly shocked at my assumption.
"You wanted that. You told me," I spoke quickly between heavy, but unsatisfying gulps of air. I slipped off the stool and nearly lost my balance. Gary quickly grabbed my arm to steady me and I felt compelled to cling to him. I felt unnaturally cold and was trembling.
"Holy shit," Gary mumbled. "What's going on?" I could hear the panic in his voice as I wrapped my arms around his broad hard chest. I felt his arms come around me, tentatively at first, but then with more force. "What's going on, Perry? My God, you're shivering.... Tell me what to do to help you."
"What...do you want?" I managed to sputter.
Gary slowly guided me out of the kitchen and into the den. He gently sat me down, never releasing our embrace.
"What...do...you...want...?" The words came out sluggishly, as if my mouth was full of cotton, and not just my mouth, but my brain as well.
"I didn't realize showing you that picture of Shane would get you so upset," Gary noted apologetically.
"It wasn't just that," I explained shakily, trying as hard as I could to hold everything in. "You see, I know someone who...who tried to do that...and, when you showed me that picture, I was thinking of that person too." Jesse Taylor, my precious angel, lying at the bottom of an imaginary pool, ready to take that last breath....
Gary nodded in understanding. "But this...person, he--or she--got through it okay?" he asked cautiously.
Jesse, the magical sparkle gone from his eyes forever....
"Didn't they?" Gary asked more forcefully.
Reluctantly, I nodded. He had gotten through it, and in some way I didn't understand, I had been there to help. He had told me as much and I believed him because I felt it in the depths of my soul. And knowing that we were connected in that deep way, I knew that I would always be there for him just as he would be for me. He was safe; we were safe. God told him to stay with me.
I slumped back on the sofa, finally feeling useful air filling my lungs. I realized how tense I had been as I felt my muscles slowly relax. Apparently, Gary felt it too, because he slowly let me go.
"That's good," Gary muttered with obvious relief. I could tell he really wanted to know who I was referring to, but also knew better than to pry. I almost felt like daring him. Eventually, he'd break down my defenses and I'd be compelled to tell him...not just about Jesse's suicide attempt, but about everything, about how I loved a boy in a way that was more profound than anything I could have possibly imagined.
"Let me get you some water," he offered, getting to his feet. And when he got up and stood there looking at me worriedly, dark brown eyes peering from under that shaggy mop of thick black hair, I felt the moment pass. Jesse hadn't told me that story so that I could blab it to the rest of the world; he told me so that we had a chance at building a stronger, more honest relationship, and that was more important to me than anything. Besides, I knew Gary had a lot of things on his mind, and he hadn't come here to listen to me spill my guts. He had come to my rescue twice, not asking anything in return but my friendship, and that was something I needed to concern myself with now.
I managed a shaky smile. "I can get it myself."
"Just sit. I'll get it." And Gary quickly disappeared back into the kitchen while I tried to calm myself down. The important thing to remember was that Jesse was here, and that we loved each other, and he'd never try anything like that again. I needed to get past that, past my fears and my selfish desire to always have Jesse at my side, and somehow, spending the afternoon with Gary seemed like a good way to concentrate on the needs of others. He soon returned with a tall glass of water tinkling with ice cubes.
I took a big gulp and nearly choked on it.
"Take it easy," Gary warned.
I took a few more careful sips. "I'm okay," I assured him, offering a toothy smile to prove my point.
"Then maybe I should get going," Gary offered hesitantly.
"You still haven't told me why you came by."
"So you had a good trip to Disneyland, huh?" Gary asked, skirting my inquiry.
"Yeah...it's always a lot of fun to take someone who's never been before," I answered hesitantly.
Gary nodded. "Theresa's quite a fan. We've been over there a few times."
"Cool..." I said, wishing Gary would just come out and say whatever was really on his mind.
"So, Per..." he began nervously, his eyes downcast. "I was thinking about...well, about everything...all the stuff we talked about on Friday and Saturday. First of all, I'm really sorry for blowing my stack--twice. That was so unbelievably fucked--"
"It's okay," I assured him quickly. "I sorta pushed you into it."
"Yeah...well, not really. It's me, keeping things bottled up too tight, and then having all this emotional shit just...spew out of me all at once. That doesn't make any sense, does it?" he asked glumly.
"Actually, it does," I assured him. "I feel like that too...a lot."
"Really?" Gary asked with mild surprise. "You seem like you have a lot of good things going for you."
I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that. My parents were divorced and that didn't seem like a good thing. I was deeply in love with another boy and had to hide that from everyone, including my mom and my closest friends. There was a beautiful, forceful young lady to deal with. "I'm pretty mixed up most of the time," I confessed. "But not about you, Gary. I somehow knew right away that you were a good guy, and now you've risked yourself for me twice--I can't believe it! I just can't tell you how grateful I am!"
"Somehow, I don't feel like I deserve your gratitude," he said, picking himself up and moving over to the recliner. "If you knew the stuff that's been going through my mind...."
"You mean the sex stuff?" I asked brashly.
Gary winced at my bluntness. "Yeah...uh...Theresa told me what you guys talked about Saturday night. That's definitely part of it," he admitted.
"Okay..." I said quietly.
"Okay, I'll do it," I said as confidently as I could. I looked him right in the eye and he was the one to nervously break our lock.
"You mean that fantasy I told you about?" Gary asked cautiously.
"Whoa...that's...that's cool..." he stammered uncertainly.
"I think I'd be more comfortable if we went up to my room," I admitted. Somehow, the idea of blowing Gary right here in the den where my mom and I sat watching Star Trek and the Lakers just didn't seem right.
"I didn't say I wanted that."
"Yes you did, the other night."
A guilty look crept across his rugged features. But I just got to my feet and headed for the stairs, not even looking back. As I got near the top, I finally heard the dull thuds of Gary's footsteps.
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