Chapter 6

I woke the next morning feeling strangely relaxed, warm, and discovered I had a new sense of peace. Morning light streamed through the curtains, making small shadow patterns over the room. My clock radio told me it was nine thirty. Birds sang somewhere outside the window, making this seem eerily like a scene from Leave it to Beaver.

Except the Beav never had such a nice bedmate.

Toby was breathing softly behind me and I rolled over gently to see him. Morning light suited him, playing through his mussed hair and casting contrasts with shadow and light across his face. His mouth was slightly open and turned away from me just a touch. Speaking of touch, I reached out and placed my fingertips on his exposed upper chest, trailing my fingers across his smooth chest and savoring the feel. How many times had we gone to the pool or played hoops and I watched as the drops of sweat slowly slid from pecs to his stomach. His chin showed just a hint of stubble, and the makings of a small zit were hidden there.

I ran my fingers up his chest to his collarbone and then to his neck before laying my arm on him and curling up to his warmth. I had to pee, but I would hold it until my vision turned yellow in order to have this quiet moment. I don't think this is a forever thing, I don't think Toby will wake up and ask me to be his boyfriend. I am pretty sure he really does love me, and that I certainly desired him, but I also had a sneaky suspicion that I wasn't Toby's first.

I would probably not be his last, though it pained me somewhat to think it. He was certainly one of a kind and I made myself a promise to cherish this sweet guy every day, to relish in the closeness that we had. Maybe, one day, we would be together. But there was also Wes to deal with, and what would that bring?

Deep inside I was worried about that, there was something deep inside me that was tugged at by Wes, something that I didn't yet understand. Would he accept me? Should I care if he did? It wasn't like I had known him all that long, even if I did think that he was a really nice guy and I wanted to know more about him. Ok, he's sweet and sexy, but to have him be gay would be outlandish. I was shocked to be in bed with Toby, to be sure, but I also felt completely at home with him. Was that love? Or was there more to it than that?

I was smart enough to know sex doesn't equal love, but sex can be a physical expression of love. Did that mean Toby loved me? Or was he simply attracted to me? Or was I just an `itch to be scratched' as he had put it?

"What?" Toby mumbled.

"Huh?" I said looking down on him, his blue eyes turned to focus on my face.

"You always scrunch your eyebrows together when you are thinking about something real hard, so what is it?" he asked with a morning voice that made it sound as if he had a frog in his throat.

"Um, well," I stuttered.

"Erik, we just played a really intense game of you show me yours and I'll show you mine," he looked at me with amusement, "we are laying next to each other stark naked, in bed in your room in your parents' house. What in the world could possibly embarrass you to say to me at this point?" he chuckled.

"Don't laugh at me, you just descend on me like a tornado, telling me you have been attracted to me for a while, sleeping with me and...having sex with me. I'm trying, ok?" I grumbled as I got out of bed and headed for the bathroom. He whistled and made a lewd comment about my ass, that is so weird! It's Toby, for crying out loud, I have known Toby off and on for about ten years. Christ, his mom used to drop him off for my mom to baby-sit.

I returned to find him dressed, with the exception of a shoe which he was struggling with. I grabbed a pair of sweats and covered myself below the waist at least. His foot slid into the shoe at last and he stood, rumpled and...well, undeniably attractive. I walked over and sat next to him on the bed, he had his head down, studying his shoes.

"I guess I fucked up, huh?" he asked me.

"You mean with last night?" I asked softly. He merely nodded in reply.

"No, you didn't. It was truly wonderful, and unexpected and...well, I'll never forget it," I said with all the sincerity I could put behind the words.

"Seriously?" he asked, daring to look at me from the corner of his eye.

"Seriously," I said. He looked back down at his shoes and exhaled loudly.

"So, what do we do from here?" he asked.

"I really don't know. I...well, from what you said last night; I'm guessing you aren't gay." I looked at him as he shook his head.

"No, I'm definitely Bi. Amanda Kile can be a witness for me on that, definitely like the ladies too," he chuckled nervously while running a hand though his hair.

"You made me feel really good, like I was worth something," I said softly.

"You are, Erik, you are the only one that doesn't see it. Ok, look, just because you don't have model agencies banging at your door, that doesn't mean you aren't attractive. Plus all that's attractive about you isn't on the outside," he turned to look into my eyes, his blues focusing on my own. "You have a good heart, you're a good person, and that counts for a lot more than Amanda's snatch."

I looked at him like he had three heads.

"That didn't sound the way I wanted it to, let me try that again," he said with an embarrassed chuckle. I waited patiently for him to work his way out of this one.

"She has the personality of a cow. It's like you look into her eyes, and just like a cow, there's no `there' there. She might be good in bed, but that's all she is. You are like, this total package and you don't really know it. I don't know who's going to end up with you in the long run, but they are one lucky bastard."

"Well, that's...better than the first go `round anyway," I smirked at him, but I knew my cheeks were burning with embarrassment from his compliments, and I would be lying to say they had no effect on my ego either.

"All I really mean is you are so awesome, and I'm glad that...well, that you're starting to accept you for you," he stood slowly and stretched. "I have to go; Mom is going to skin me as it is. Besides, you need to get to Karla's."


"You need to go get Wes," he replied.

"But, he probably doesn't want me to," I began.

"You don't know that for one, and for two, his dad will be majorly bent if someone else brings him home, trust me on this, I speak from experience."

I sighed deeply, growing worried and feeling that slight euphoria that had accompanied the morning light began to break away from me like fog in the heat of a summer morning.

"Erik, it'll be ok. Call me later, ok?" he smiled encouragingly at me.

"Hey, um, Toby, can I ask a small favor?" I asked, feeling my heartbeat race with my sudden idea.

"You can ask..." he replied with a grin.

"Could, would you kiss me one more time?" I asked, feeling my cheeks light with fires of their own.

"Really?" he asked me. I nodded as I stood up, and he stepped into me, never taking his eyes from mine. He leaned in closely and placed his soft lips on mine; sucking in softly, gently before breaking the sweet, sweet kiss.

"Call me, k?" he said and I nodded back at him as he turned and left me. I sat in my bed and tried to gather courage from the kiss, from the memory of the embrace and the passion of the night before to steel me into action for the here and now.

After a quick shower I headed over to Karla's, knocking once on the front door and then letting myself in as I always did.

"Erik, I didn't even hear you leave last night, are you feeling better?" Karla's mom asked me as I entered their front hallway, toeing off my sneakers as per house rules.

"Um, yeah, I'm feeling fine," I said as I fought to keep the confusion from my voice. I guess Karla must have told her mom that little lie to explain my not being there that morning.

That's good, Karla and Wes are on the back porch having breakfast," she smiled at me as she went back to her program. I thanked her and made my way back to the rear of the house, past the kitchen and the den where Karla's father maintained a small home office. I can't imagine what for, he doesn't bring any work home with him, and he's the manager of a grocery store.

I stepped up to the sliding glass doors and saw Karla on the porch, the porch directly above the set of glass doors in the lower part of this split level house where Wes and I had stood just a few hours ago, talking about imaginary places to go to hide from reality and revealing sexual identities. They were both in profile to me, and my heart made a small jump at seeing Wes. His hair was unkempt; his clothes were rumpled and wrinkled from having been slept in. Karla was somewhat better; she obviously took the time to make herself reasonably presentable.

I savored the view for a moment and then took a deep breath, feeling Toby's embrace on me once more, before opening the sliding door. Both their heads swiveled at the sound of the door opening and I got two different reactions as well. Karla looked surprised, then schooled her features to neutrality. Wes looked very uncomfortable, and I felt bad immediately.

Maybe this was a mistake.

"Morning, I'm going to refill my orange juice, you want some?" she asked me as she stood. I shook my head `no' and moved so she could pass me. Wes seemed to have trouble looking at me and my heart hurt somewhat to see it. I barely knew him, why should he have this much impact on how I feel? Why do I care so much about what he thinks?

"I'm sorry," he said softly, not facing me. I moved over to Karla's chair and sat down.

"So am I," I said softly, "probably not the kind of discussion you were hoping for."

"No, it's not that," he sighed while trying to maintain eye contact with me. "I was surprised and...I mean it was unexpected," he mumbled.

"Yeah, if it was a surprise I would guess you weren't expecting it," I smiled at him in what I hoped was a reassuring way.

"Yeah, I know," he mumbled again before running a hand through his hair, "I've never met anyone who" He said it with a great deal of difficulty, like admitting you watched your sister in the shower or something.

"Wes, I came out to you, it's not like I'm fucking the neighbor's cat," I replied, hoping to break the tension. It worked as he giggled.

"I know that, that's not what I meant either."

"I told you because...Wes, I like you. You are a good guy, I think, and I didn't want to lie." I laid my hands on the table, palm down at first, then layering them in nervousness. "You asked me a question, and when I saw your face fall when I avoided the question...well, I knew if I didn't...if I wasn't honest, you might never forgive me. I don't want to lie to anyone about myself anymore, not to any of my friends.

"I want you to be my friend, and I just had...had to be honest." I sat and waited for his reply while he kept his head down for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he looked up at me, his face a picture of sadness.

"I'm ashamed," he began to tear up slightly, but quashed them immediately with the butt of his hands, "So ashamed of how I acted. I never want you to lie to me; I just wasn't ready for that I guess."

"Well, I only admitted it to myself just yesterday. But I can't go back, Wes, I can't be a lie to people that are important to me. You're so cool to hang with, your whole attitude is so laid back and different from my other two friends, I just felt like..." I closed my eyes before continuing, "I felt like I have to move forward, and I want you all to be there with me so you have to know what you are getting into."

He sniffled.

"Thank you, Erik. I really, really appreciate that. Seriously, man, more than you know."

"You two all right?" Karla asked as she stepped onto the porch.

"You were gone for a long time, you make that stuff fresh?" I asked her teasingly.

"Fresh squeezed, you better believe it," she grinned at me with some relief in her face that things had turned out all right in the end.

"Fresh squeezed? I saw you take the tube out of the freezer this morning!" Wes teased her.

"Now I understand," I smiled slyly. She looked at me warily and Wes smiled openly. "She was staring at the side of the container, that whole concentrate thing," I sniggered. Wes laughed out loud and Karla, for once, just shook her head and chuckled.

Wes and I got into the car, Wes strapped in next to me and we pulled out from Karla's driveway and headed along the short drive to Wes's place. Wes was a little more his normal self, kind of quiet but not silent, and the silence that did occur wasn't uncomfortable. We were just a few blocks from his house when he asked me to pull over. I did, a little confused, but willing to comply.

"I just..." He cleared his throat, turned halfway in his seat so that he faced me and began again, "I just want to ask you a couple of questions. Um, if that's ok."

"Sure, but one condition," I replied.

"Ok, what condition?" he asked.

"You can't walk away from me again," I said with a tremor in my voice.

"Ok," he whispered, "deal." We remained silent for a moment before he spoke again.

"How did you realize you were...?"

"Gay? Go ahead and say it, then maybe you won't be afraid of what it means." I inhaled as he stiffened, then relaxed and nodded to me. "I guess I have known for a while. Toby says he thought so for a long time, but I stayed in the closet because...well, they can be a little forceful and I wasn't ready for the way they can focus and rattle my cage."

"So why did you come out then?"

"My mom kind of brought it up...while I was carrying a box of dishes." I blushed at the memory.

"The dishes you broke?" he asked with a smile.

"Yep, those dishes," I replied, smiling in return.

"So I guess it wasn't something you planned then?" he asked and I merely nodded.

"Your friends are pretty cool, they accepted you with no problems," he commented.

"Yeah, they can be pains, but they are there when I need them," I replied.

"Did you...I mean, I know when we first met you didn't, but after that...did you come back because...?" he looked at me questioningly, unable to complete his sentence. I felt ashamed then, knowing what the question was.

"No, I didn't stay friends with you because I was attracted," I said stiffly, "I really do like you for you."

"So you don't find, attractive?" he asked, cheeks red but his face set defiantly in my direction. Shit! Wasn't like I could really get out of this without lying.

"Wes...I do think you're attractive, but that's not why I hang out with you," I replied.

"Oh," he replied softly.

"Wes, I hope...I hope that we can still be friends...but I understand if you don't want to, I don't want you to be uncomfortable with me. I can't help how I feel, and I...I told you the truth." I heard more pleading in my voice than I liked, in fact I was ashamed of that too. I wanted him to accept me, but it was feeling more like I needed him to accept me.

"I can deal with it, Erik. I won't turn my back on a friend," he sighed before smiling at me reassuringly, "I know what it's like to not have friends, and I won't give up on you so easy. You've been really good to me, and honest and...well, I guess I'm flattered someone as cool as you thinks I'm, um, I guess it's all good." He smiled at me and I broke into what I was sure was a huge smile, fit to split my head.

"Yeah, it's all good Wes, for sure, man."

"You better get me home before my dad begins to wonder what happened to me," he sniggered before adding, "I don't want him to think we are making out in the car or something."

I laughed with him as I pulled back into traffic and headed to his house, convinced this had to be one of the best days of my life.

Fables say that the end of the rainbow is home to a leprechaun's treasure, a pot of gold in fact. But what if the treasure is friendship? The kind that lasts a lifetime, to see you through the things that always wear away at you through the daily task of living your life?

Yeah, I'll take my friends over gold any day, and Wes is certainly a treasure. What could possibly go wrong?