About the only good thing happening
on the home front was that Toby had been steadily improving
over the course of June. He was no longer taking the extremely powerful
doses of chemotherapy, and the medication he was currently on didn't
have the horrendous side effects. He still wasn't back to "normal" yet,
but some of the color had returned to his face,
he wasn't getting sick to his stomach, and he had put on some weight.
He continued to get tired very easily, though.
The prognosis from the doctors was also fairly positive. The only
trouble was, since the leukemia he'd had earlier in life had come back,
he would eventually need a bone marrow transplant, despite the fact
the treatments were working. I'd seen enough hospital shows to know
that waiting for a
donor could take a long time. As soon as Maggie had told me
that at some point in the future Toby would need a transplant,
I immediately envisaged him lying in a hospital bed, barely clinging to
life once again, waiting for
that magical donor to appear. The thought alone was nearly enough to
bring on another fit of crying and hysteria. Losing Ryan and Toby ... there was no way that
I could ever possibly handle that.
Fortunately, before I had the chance to start freaking out, Maggie had
informed me that back when Toby first had leukemia, the whole family
had been tested, and Ryan was a perfect match. Actually, their dad had
too, but obviously he wouldn't be able to help Toby out.
Anyway, that was a load off my mind. Despite Ryan's attitude
problem, I really didn't doubt that he would do anything he could to
brother, even after Toby had slugged him (which left him
with a really nasty black eye, by the way). And if he didn't, I would
his candy ass down and take the marrow out of him myself!
At any rate, I could rest
easy, and Maggie assured me that it wasn't something I needed to worry
about. Not to mention, it was still quite a ways down the road. Ever
since I'd had
that little talk with Maggie right after Ryan dumped me, I hadn't been
very trusting of her. But I didn't think even she would lie to me about
something like this. Or maybe I decided to trust her this time because
I couldn't take another burden on my emotional plate at the moment.
As usual, though, Maggie was still on a hectic schedule at the
hospital, which kind of miffed me, since I thought she should be
keeping a closer eye on Ryan. To say the least, things at home had been
pretty awkward since the "breakup." Getting out of the house during
the day helped a lot, but I still had to be around him in the evenings
and on the weekends when I didn't have to work. Dealing with a breakup
is hard to begin with, but when you still have to live with that
person, being in close proximity to them day in and day out, it's even
Like I said, I'd tried to get Ryan to talk to me for a few days after
he dumped me, but it was Toby who convinced me to back off for a little
while. I didn't want to, because it was obvious that Ryan was hurting.
He may have been cruel to me, but I still loved him, and I didn't want
to see him in pain, whether he was my boyfriend or not. During the day,
he was involved in a number of summer sports activities, and in the
evenings, he had been working out with Delcondris, but the rest of the
time, he just moped around the house.
Other than Delcondris, he didn't see any of his other friends -- which
was really starting to piss them off -- and although he talked to Toby
occasionally, it was only about mundane things. He seemed just as
empty and withdrawn as he had when he'd learned of Mikey's death. As
for me, he did a pretty good job ignoring me. He wasn't rude or mean,
he just tried his best to avoid me, staying cooped up in his room. When
our paths did cross, he never made eye contact with me, which really
hurt. When he didn't think I was paying attention, though, I did notice
staring at me a few times, with a sort of lost expression on his face.
I tried not to think about what was going through his head, because I
didn't want to give myself any false hopes. Those had been
fading with each passing day.
It had become clear to me that if he had just blurted out that he
wanted us to break up due to the stress of the situation, in
the heat of the moment, then he would have come back and
apologized soon thereafter. But it had been close to a month now, and
hadn't spoken a word to me. I wasn't going to give up hope entirely,
though, and I secretly kept a close eye on him, out of concern for his
emotional well-being. I even made sure to do his laundry for him, since
I'd noticed his dirty clothes piling up, and I made dinner for the
three of us almost every night. I even took care of many of Ryan's
chores around the house.
I didn't get so much as a "thank you" from Ryan for doing any of that,
that's not why I was doing it. I just wanted to let him know, in some
small way, that I cared, and was still there. However, I was
finally starting to come to the conclusion that I couldn't sit around
pining after him for the
rest of my life, even though a big part of me would probably never be
able to let go.
Throughout the entire month following the breakup, Toby was my rock. I
would probably have been ready to be carried off to the nut house
within a week if it hadn't been for Toby constantly being by
my side, reassuring me, and just being an overall incredible guy. Once
again, it made me wonder if maybe I should have been with Toby the
whole time, after all. But those thoughts were usually short-lived, as
I realized that during the preceding months, my feelings for Toby had
gradually become those of
a brother, not a potential lover.
Toby had been spending nearly every night with me, and I relished the
feeling of him lying next to me. Ever since I'd found out what it felt
like to have someone sleeping with me, I'd hated sleeping alone. And
despite our history together, nothing ever happened beyond cuddling
when we were in bed together. I wondered, though, if Toby still had
feelings for me. If he did, the subject was never brought up.
Nevertheless, with us sleeping in the same bed every night and being
inseparable when we weren't asleep, it wasn't that much of a stretch to
see how others might perceive our relationship -- especially Ryan. And
that's where we ran into trouble one morning in mid-June.
The three of us were eating cereal together at the breakfast table on a
Saturday morning. Ryan was his usual, sullen self, shoveling his food
into his mouth, his eyes never leaving his bowl. That morning in bed, I
had been awakened when Toby threw off the covers with a dramatic flair,
his knees up to his chest, and let out the loudest, most rip-roaring
had ever heard in my life. At first, I was thoroughly disgusted, not so
much by the explosive sound of Toby's flatulence, but by the putrid
odor that quickly filled the entire room. My first thought was to give
Toby a nice hard smack upside his immature, fifteen-year-old head, but
I couldn't help but start cracking up when I saw his big, toothy grin
the look of total, unabashed pride on his cute face.
Needless to say, we couldn't stop laughing, and while we were eating
our cereal that morning, each time we glanced at each other, we both
started giggling like little school girls. Suddenly, Ryan threw his
spoon into his cereal bowl, sending milk splashing all over the table.
"I'm glad to see you two are so happy together," he said, his tone
dripping with sarcasm. He then shoved his chair back from the table and
of the kitchen, leaving Toby and me in stunned silence. A few
moments later, the whole house practically shook as we heard the sound
of a door slamming upstairs.
"Shit," I muttered.
"Fucking prick," Toby said, rolling his eyes.
"Jesus, Toby," I chided him. "He's your brother. Go tell him he's got
the wrong idea!"
This was definitely not good. The last thing Ryan needed was to think
that I was getting it on with his brother. That would just make an
already bad situation worse. For whatever reason, I wasn't worried so
much about Ryan hating me and never wanting to speak to me again as I
was about his emotional state.
"Connor, he broke up with you," Toby said, sounding exasperated. "It's
his own fault if he's upset. Even if there was something going on
between us, it's none of his business anyway."
"But there isn't anything going on between us!" I practically shouted.
Toby closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and let out a long,
"Fine," he finally said, with a sigh. "I'll talk to him after he's had
a chance to cool down."
After that incident, I tried to keep things a little less obvious with
Toby, so as not to give Ryan the wrong impression. Apparently, Toby did
set things straight with Ryan, or at least tried to. Who knew if Ryan
actually believed him or not. In a way, though, Toby was right. If
something had been going on between us, it wasn't Ryan's business. He
the one who wanted to break up with me, right? But still, Toby was his
brother. No matter how much of an insensitive jerk Ryan had been, it
would just be too cruel to let him think that I had gotten together
with his own brother not even a month after we'd separated.
Eventually, however, with all the tension that had been building up, it
became too difficult to be at the house. I had to get out. So, I
started hanging out more with Cody and the twins after work and on the
weekends. Cody was his usual, cheerful self, and he did help me to get
my mind off of things. He tried to get me to start jamming with him
again, but I wasn't really in the mood. Most of the time, we just
sat around and talked ... usually about Ryan. Cody, bless his heart,
never once tried to tell me to "move on" or any crap like that. That
wasn't what I wanted to hear at the time. He just sat there and
"Am I bitching too much?" I asked Cody out of the blue one evening as
we were playing a game of Mahjong on his bedroom floor.
"Nah," he shrugged. "I'm just glad we're spending some time together
"I feel like such an idiot, though," I said. "I mean, you didn't act
like this when you and Toby broke up. How did you manage that?"
"Well," he replied, pausing for a moment to consider. "I don't think I
handled it as well as you might think. I cried quite a bit. But I've
always known that everything happens for a reason. And my mom told me
to be grateful for the time that I got to spend with Toby, the things
we shared, and what I learned from him. That was my first
relationship with anyone, so it was a good experience. You also have to
remember, nothing lasts forever. Everything in the universe is
It was beyond me how a sixteen-year-old kid could be that wise. But I
didn't want to burden Cody any more with my crap. I wasn't being a very
good friend to him by doing that. So, I figured that despite the fact
that I was slightly intimidated by Tatyana's eccentricities, maybe it
would be a good idea to talk with her. I was disappointed, however,
when Cody told me that she was working on writing a book all summer,
which was the final thing she needed to do in order to qualify for a
tenure position at her university.
At first, I was a little bummed, until Cody explained that if Tatyana
got tenure, then they'd be staying here for good. Before
that, he said, they had moved around quite a bit, as she usually only
held a position at a school for a year or two. I hadn't realized that
Cody could have ended up
being forced to move away if his mom got a different job. If that had
happened, I would have lost yet another important person in
my life. So, if Tatyana's having to spend all summer writing a book
she and Cody could stay, even if it also meant that she wouldn't be
magically solve all of my problems, I figured that was a
reasonably fair trade off. Yeah ... Cody and Tatyana just up and
leaving would definitely not have been a good thing. Maybe it was
selfish of me to think like that, but it seemed like I was losing
people left and right. I couldn't handle any more.
My time at the twins' house was much different. There were no
philosophical conversations, and I even managed not to talk about Ryan
that much. We actually did all kinds of fun stuff. Sometimes we would
toss a ball around in the backyard (which I was becoming better and
better at), or have water gun battles, wrestle, go
hiking in the woods, go bike riding, or on particularly hot days, just
sit around and watch DVDs or play video games. It felt a lot like when
I first started hanging out with Ryan and Toby, and we just had a good
time doing "guy stuff." I liked it a lot.
Ben's little flirtations, however, were getting less and less subtle,
and I wondered if Derek was starting to pick up on it. With each
passing day, Ben seemed to sit a little bit closer to me, his casual
touches lasting a little longer, and he had his arm around my shoulders
whenever he had the chance. Then, of course, there was the way he
looked at me, like a lost little puppy dog. I wondered if that's what I
looked like when Ryan and I first started dating.
It didn't bother me, actually ... I mean, how could you be bothered by
someone as hot as Ben flirting with you? And I knew that Derek would
have no problem with it, anyway. But it was still just ... weird.
Extremely flattering, but weird. Ever since that night we had kissed,
though, Ben had kept to his word and maintained the boundaries I had
requested. Even when I spent the night there and slept in his bed with
him, he never tried to do more than hold me. And I was grateful for
that. But I couldn't totally ignore the tingling sensation in my own
heart when he would softly run his fingers up and down my arm as we
were snuggling in bed, or when I felt his warm breath on my neck ... or
when he laced our fingers together and just held my hand.
As June began drawing to a close, I realized that I had been spending
more and more time with the twins, and less time with Cody. It wasn't
that I didn't enjoy Cody's company, but he wasn't as active as Ben and
Derek, and I didn't like just sitting around and talking all the time.
Cody was so mature and grown up, and sometimes I didn't want to be.
When I was at the twins' house, I
could be totally immature and rambunctious and just forget about
everything else in my life. I didn't have to think about
anything deep or depressing. It was like finding an oasis of peace in
the middle of a blistering desert. Plus, it being summer and all, I got
see them without their shirts on a regular basis ... that was a
definite bonus! It had its drawbacks, too, though.
"OOMPH!" I gasped, as Ben tackled me to the grass one afternoon in his
backyard. We had been playing a game of "tackle frisbee" and running
through the sprinklers. I didn't even have the damn frisbee, but Ben
had apparently decided that I needed to get tackled.
As I hit the ground, face first, Ben landed squarely on top of me, and
I could feel his shirtless chest pressed up against my back. But he
didn't move to get off of me, and the slight swirling motions he was
making with his hips against my butt were starting to get me a little
aroused. Well, a lot aroused, actually, and within moments, I had a
full-fledged stiffy. It wasn't the first time that Ben and I had been
that physically close, nor the first time that I had gotten hard around
him. But at that moment, I guess I realized that I was starting to feel
something for him, and maybe not just physically, either. That scared
"Get off, you jerk!" I shouted at him.
Ben jumped off of me like he had just touched a hot stove.
"I'm sorry, Connor," he said immediately, a pleading look in his eyes.
"Are you hurt? Did I do something wrong?"
"No," I sighed. "Just forget about it."
Fortunately, he didn't press the issue, and we continued on with our
game. That was the last time he tackled me that day, though.
On the last Friday in June, I went home right after I got off work. I
didn't want to ignore Toby, and even though I knew Ryan would be there,
I needed to spend some time with my not-so-little "little brother." I
was in for a bit of a surprise, though. I walked upstairs and
opened his bedroom door, only to find Toby sitting in front of the
television, playing a game on his Playstation ... with Cody. And they
were sitting close together. Very close.
"Uhhh ... hey guys," I said, feeling like maybe I was walking in on
something I shouldn't have.
"Hey, Connor," Toby replied cheerfully, turning away from the game
momentarily to give me a big smile. "You wanna play with us for a
"Ummm ... no, thanks," I answered, eyeing the scene in front of me
cautiously. "I think I'm just gonna go to my room and listen to some
"Sure," Toby said. "Come on back if you get bored, though."
I just smiled and nodded, then walked out, closing the door softly
What in the hell was going on? When
did Toby and Cody start hanging out again? As far as I knew, they
hadn't even talked since they'd broken up!
Of course, I had to know what was going on. So, after Cody left for the
evening and Toby came to get into bed with me, I just had to ask him
what was going on with him and Cody.
"We're friends," he replied, matter-of-factly.
"Ummm ... you weren't exactly on the best of terms the last time I
checked," I said. "What happened?"
"I was bored, so I called him and asked him if he wanted to come over
and hang out," Toby answered. He made it sound like it wasn't a big
deal at all. But to me, it was. Of course, I was happy that they seemed
to be ok now. At the same time, I also felt a little pang of
jealousy, like if they got back together again, then I'd become a
third wheel when I wanted to spend time with them. That would just
serve to remind me that I didn't have a boyfriend anymore.
"Are you sure that's all that's going on?" I asked.
"For now," Toby replied enigmatically, as he wrapped his arm around me
and snuggled up behind me.
"Don't hurt him again, Toby," I said, turning over so I could look him
in the eyes. "What you did to him wasn't that different from what Ryan
did to me. Don't lead him on if you don't have those kinds of feelings
for him. If you do, I'll be pissed. Cody's too nice of a guy.
He doesn't deserve that."
"I know, Connor," Toby replied softly. "I promise, I won't hurt him."