Someday Out Of the Blue

by LittleBuddhaTW

Special thanks to Kitty (PiscesRising) for editing!

This is a story involving teenage gay males and may include sexually explicit content, adult language, and/or violence. If this kind of material is offensive to you, you are under the age of 18, or is illegal in the area where you live, do not read any further.


"Connor, I think we should break up," Ryan said, matter-of-factly.

"Excuse me?" I replied, thinking my ears needed a good cleaning, since I could have sworn I heard him say that we should break up. And that was just ... ridiculous.

"I said, I think we should break up," he repeated, this time more firmly.

The only thing I could do was stare blankly at him. In the week since the memorial service for Mikey at school, these were the first words Ryan had uttered. We'd all been extremely concerned, as he obviously wasn't taking Mikey's death or his brother's illness very well. But this was the last thing I had expected. You'd think that if someone was planning on breaking up with you, there would be some sort of sign. Not with Ryan, though. This came completely out of left field.

But then again, maybe I should have been expecting it. Ryan had already pushed away almost everyone in his life he cared about. He was bound to push me away eventually, right?

"I thought you loved me," I said.

"I did," he replied softly. "Things change, though, Connor."

I refused to believe him. We loved each other, dammit! You couldn't just stop loving someone, could you?

"I don't believe you," I said, reaching out to put my hand on his arm. "Don't do this, Ryan. Whatever it is, we can deal with it."

"God dammit, Connor!" he shouted, slapping my hand away. "I don't love you anymore, okay?"

I felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer. It hurt more than any beating my mother had ever given me.

I don't love you anymore.

My brain was fighting to comprehend what he had said, but I was having trouble making sense out of it. I couldn't imagine how you could love someone one day, and then the next day, suddenly not. No ... no ... it just didn't make sense.

I don't love you anymore.

As we stood there in the hallway staring at each other, I started to feel dizzy, and my vision began to blur. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if I were in some kind of alternate reality, or a dream. My body felt like a dead weight, but my heart was racing, like it was getting ready to burst out of my chest and fly away.

The next thing I realized, I was sitting on the floor, hugging my knees to my chest, my whole body trembling. I wanted to cry so badly. I could feel the tears ready to come gushing out of my eyes, and a deep wail trying to spill forth from my throat ... but nothing would come out. Part of me wanted to beg Ryan not to do this, and another part wanted to scream at him ... hit him ... strangle him. But I couldn't move. I could still see and hear, but I felt somehow detached from everything. Was this what it was like to go into shock? Or was I slowly dying of a broken heart?

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Toby come out of his bedroom.

"What's going on?" I heard him ask. "Are you okay, Connor? What's wrong?"

I looked up and met his eyes, but I couldn't speak. Even if I could, what would I say?

"Ryan, what the hell did you do to him?" I heard Toby shouting at his brother.

I heard words being exchanged between the two of them, but I couldn't understand them any more. All I knew was that whatever they were saying, it was loud and angry. It sounded like my ears were ringing, my whole head pounding, and I just wanted it to stop. Then, all of a sudden, I saw movement, as Toby lunged at Ryan and punched him right in the face, sending Ryan tumbling to the floor like a sack of wet cement.

Under normal circumstances, I'd imagine that seeing my boyfriend -- well, ex-boyfriend, actually -- get hit like that would make me flip out, but I felt strangely numb to it all. I just watched, feeling nothing, as Ryan lay writhing on the ground, his hands covering his face. And I didn't like that. I wanted to cry. I needed to cry. But it wasn't coming out ... and that was starting to get REALLY FUCKING FRUSTRATING!!!!!

"Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!" I started screaming at the top of my lungs.

The dam had finally burst.

Before I was totally aware of what was happening, Toby, even in his weakened condition, had managed to help me up off the ground and lead me into my bedroom. As he was pulling off my shorts and shirt, I looked back out into the hallway, but Ryan was gone -- most likely back to his room. Once Toby had me stripped down to my boxers, he put me in bed and slid in behind me, wrapping his arms tightly around me. I was still trembling, but at least I'd stopped screaming. I wasn't sure how much more I could take -- Toby's illness, Mikey's death, and now Ryan breaking up with me. Sure, I'd become much stronger over the past few months, but I was still just a teenager, for chrissakes! How much could one boy handle?

"It's going to be okay, Connor," Toby whispered in my ear. "You stayed with me when I was sick, and I'm gonna stay with you now."

"Why is he doing this to me?" I managed to ask between tearless sobs.

"I don't know. He's just being an ass. He needs a major attitude readjustment, methinks," Toby replied, with a wry chuckle.

"I can't believe you hit him," I said.

"He's deserved it for a while now," Toby replied. "I hated doing it. You know how much I love Ryan. But he needed a major wake-up call."

"Toby, are you gonna be okay?" I asked softly.

"Connor," he said, gently stroking my hair. "I promised you in the hospital that I'm not going anywhere. It's not over yet, but I'm not gonna leave you, Ryan, my mom, or our friends. Ok?"

"Thanks, Toby," I whispered.

We didn't say anything after that, just lay cuddled up together on my bed. I really needed Toby right then, and I knew he wasn't going anywhere. I knew Toby would never leave me. And within a few minutes, wrapped up in his warm embrace, I managed to fall asleep.

I wasn't sure how long I slept, but I awoke some time later to the sensation of someone's fingers gently running through my hair. I managed to open my eyes and turned my head to see who was touching me. It was Maggie, and she looked very concerned.

"How are you feeling, Connor?" she asked. "Can I get you anything?"

"I'm ok, I guess," I mumbled. "When did you get home?"

"About two hours ago," she replied. "You've been asleep for a while."

"Did Toby tell you what happened?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yes, he did, sweetie," she answered, giving me a sympathetic smile. "I had a long talk with Ryan, too. Let's just say I'm very disappointed in the way he's dealing with things."

"Please don't yell at him or anything," I pleaded. "It's not his fault. I know everything has been hard on him."

"No, sweetie, I didn't yell at him. But I think he has a lot of issues that he needs to face. And I told him that. As I expected, he denied that there is anything wrong, and he's not being very cooperative about going to see another therapist. It's going to take a bit of time for him to pull through this."

"He said he doesn't love me anymore," I whimpered. "Did he really mean that?"

If Ryan wanted to take a break from our relationship to pull himself together, I could deal with that. It wouldn't be easy, but I could cope. If he really didn't love me anymore, though, I would be completely and utterly broken. He was my life, my rock. I wouldn't have survived without him.

"I can't read his mind, Connor," she said gently. "But I suspect he's just acting out now. He's very scared and confused, and he doesn't know how to cope with those dark emotions that are running through his head right now. I think I know my son pretty well, and I doubt he could stop loving you just like that."

That was a little comforting ... but not much. I wished I had Maggie's faith in Ryan, and I should. I thought I knew him well, too. But the way he'd been acting ever since April, I wasn't so sure anymore. And then there was that look in his eyes when he told me he didn't love me. He didn't hesitate at all when he said it. Maybe he really didn't love me anymore. But if he didn't, how could I move on? Where was I supposed to go from here?

"So what do I do now?" I asked, wiping a stray tear from my face.

"You go on living, sweetie," Maggie replied, brushing the hair away from my eyes. "You're a part of this family now. I've told you that before. Whether you and Ryan are together or not doesn't make any difference. It'll probably be a little awkward, for both of you, but you'll get through it. And, who knows, it could be a good thing to take a little break and focus on your life for a while. You have your new job, you've got all your friends, and so much else."

It seemed to me that she was just telling me to move on, and I didn't particularly like the sound of that. I wanted to believe that Ryan would change his mind, that he'd come running into my room and say it was all a big mistake. Ryan was my life, so how was I supposed to just "move on" like Maggie told me to? And even if Ryan and I weren't together anymore, that didn't mean that I didn't care about him or love him. I was worried to death about him. He was hurting, and I couldn't just say "forget it" and go do other things.

Of course, being the type of person to over-analyze everything, I started to get it into my head that Maggie wanted us to be apart. Maybe she didn't like the idea of having two gay sons, and was hoping Ryan would go straight or something. I immediately remembered how I felt back at Thanksgiving when she went to my mom's trailer and tried meddling in my life, and how pissed I was about that. I didn't like people getting into my business, and if she thought that she was going to get between Ryan and me, and use this to "straighten out" her son, then she had another thing coming.

Between my issues with my own mother, and the anger I felt towards Mikey's mother and father, parents weren't on my list of favorite people at the moment. I had done fine raising myself, and Toby and Ryan had to take care of themselves most of the time, since Maggie was constantly working. Why did parents have to get in the way at the worst times? Why couldn't they just leave their kids alone? Maggie hadn't done a damn thing when Ryan began acting all weird and stuff before, and that was way back in April. It took her until he had a total breakdown in the hospital to start to do anything about it, and even then it wasn't that much. Maybe I wasn't being very rational or logical, but Maggie was starting to piss me off.

"I'm not giving up on Ryan," I declared. "He needs me."

"I know, Connor," she replied, but the saccharine tone she had been using was starting to make me feel nauseated. "Just don't push him. Give him a little time to come around on his own. He's got a lot of things to work through, and none of us can force him to do it. Believe me, it's hard to be his mother and know that there's not much I can do. But that's the reality of the situation."

She did it again. She was telling me not to "push" Ryan. She was meddling, and I wanted to smack her upside her condescending head. Maybe Ryan needed a little pushing for once.

Fortunately, she got up off the bed and left me alone; otherwise, I might have had a fit and had to kick her in the vag. I was old enough to deal with things in my own way, and I didn't need Maggie's advice -- well, I did kind of ask for it, but it wasn't what I needed to hear. She was too personally involved in all of this to be trusted. And I didn't think I was being that immature about it, either. I still had Dr. Frazier, Tatyana, and all of my friends to confide in and get advice from. I wasn't planning on going through anything alone, whether it was dealing with my grief over Mikey's death or the situation with Ryan. I just didn't want to hear anything from Maggie about it.

I stayed in my room for the rest of the day, just thinking about stuff, my emotions shifting from sadness, to anger, to total despair, and, finally, an odd sense of resignation. I was grateful when Toby came back that night and crawled into bed with me. For a moment, it occurred to me that Toby sleeping with me might make Ryan jealous ... or something. And Maggie might have issues with it now, too. But I didn't care. I needed the human contact, especially with that contact coming from Toby. He was always there for me. He never judged me or hurt me, and I knew, from the bottom of my heart, that I would always be able to trust him.

We both ended up crying some more -- about both Mikey and Ryan -- but it was a good cry. It felt refreshing. And I didn't feel alone anymore, like I had been for a while with Ryan. I felt warm, safe, and loved, holding onto Toby, knowing that he wasn't going to leave me, as long as I needed him. And I hoped he knew that I would never leave him either. Ryan had let him down, but I wouldn't. We were going to have to lean on each other now -- just like real brothers were supposed to do.


My first day at work at the piano store turned out to be better than expected. It was the perfect job for me. Well, I would have preferred to be a rock & roll star, but working in a piano store was definitely a close second. Well, okay, not that close of a second ... but it still wasn't bad. Despite my depression over my breakup with Ryan, and the fact that he skillfully managed to ignore me and my attempts to get him to talk to me for the next several days, I was excited about my job. I needed something to get my mind off of things. Otherwise, I was afraid that I would fall into a black hole of despair that I might never be able to crawl out of again. Being surrounded by pianos all day was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

I was all ready to work when I walked into the store that morning, dressed in a new pair of khaki Old Navy slacks and a nice, short-sleeve button-up shirt. I had combed my hair back and even splashed on a bit of Drakkar Noir. As I took in the sight of all the keyboards and pianos, I actually started to feel something that almost resembled happiness ... almost, but not quite.

The only problem, however, was that despite my sense of readiness, I soon realized I had no fucking clue how to sell anything. The manager and the pimply-faced kid behind the counter, who looked to be a couple years older than me, weren't much help, either. The manager just showed me where to punch my time card and then told me to go chat with the customers and try to convince them to buy something. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell him that I had issues with walking up to total strangers and talking to them. Perhaps I should have thought about that when I applied for the job.

Since the store was fairly new, they were having a big sale, so there were quite a few customers there. More than you'd expect to be browsing around a piano store, for sure. And there I was, standing in the middle of the store, dressed up and ready to go, but without a friggin' clue what to do. I must have looked like an idiot, and it probably wouldn't be long before the manager figured out that I was going to majorly suck at being a salesman ... err ... salesboy ... or whatever I was.

Anyway, since I couldn't go up and just start talking to customers, and since I didn't know what else needed doing -- like cleaning or something, maybe -- what did that leave me to do in a big room filled with pianos? Play, of course! So, that's what I did.

Yeah, yeah, I know I vowed that I would never perform on stage again, but this wasn't exactly performing. I would just be sitting in the store and messing around on the piano. I never said I wasn't going to play anymore, just not perform ... there's a difference! But not the same old kind of stuff I'd been playing since I was a little kid. No more rock & roll or country music for me. I wanted to try something different, something that was more ... expressive. Like, maybe, classical music.

After Billy Joel's River of Dreams album in 1993, he announced that he wasn't going to make pop albums anymore and was switching to classical music. I thought that was pretty cool, and I'd never really played classical music much before. Sure, I'd listened to quite a bit, and had my favorites, but I wasn't exactly trained to be a classical pianist. I could at least give it a try, though. I figured it was time to broaden my musical horizons, anyway.

So, I sat down at one of the baby grand pianos, and, oddly enough, tried to adjust the microphone that wasn't there. It seemed as though some habits were going to be hard to break. After mentally knocking myself upside the head, I decided that since I was entering my "Billy Joel Phase," I should start with something from his first classical album, Fantasies & Delusions. After I placed my fingers on the keys and took a few deep breaths, my brain began to do whatever it was that it did, automatically sending signals to my fingers, telling them where to move, the key, chords, and melody crystal clear in my mind's eye.

Ironically enough, the first piece I played was "Soliloquy (On A Separation)," a melancholy reflection on being separated from someone you love. As I felt the music coursing through my body, the semi-good mood I had been in earlier disappeared, and the pain of my breakup with Ryan came rushing back. I somehow managed to hold the tears at bay, but I had to stop playing that song. It was definitely touching a nerve, somewhere deep inside me. The only problem was ... I couldn't stop. My fingers kept gliding across the keys, my body moving in time with the melody, as my entire being seemed to cry out in agony, with the piano as its voice.

When I finished, my eyes still tightly closed, I had every intention to play something a little more cheerful. But, instead, the music that appeared in my mind, and then came pouring out through my fingertips, was anything but cheery -- "Suite For Piano (Star-Crossed)," Billy Joel's eighth "Opus," a musical poem in three movements ("Innamorato," "Sorbetto," and "Delusion"), composed on the theme of a doomed love affair. I had no idea why I was torturing myself that way. I was just making myself more and more depressed. As I sat there playing, my mind was overflowing with memories of the many wonderful times I'd had with Ryan, how he had loved me, saved me, and given me a new life. And now, he didn't want me anymore. It was heart-wrenchingly painful and agonizing, but I still couldn't stop.

What the fuck was wrong with me?!

I finally managed to tear my fingers away from the piano keys and open my eyes. It took a few moments for me to remember where I was, and when I realized that I was in the piano store, and saw that a small crowd -- including the manager -- had gathered around the piano, I was thoroughly embarrassed. I hadn't planned on playing anything so serious or ... intense. Everyone was staring at me, and I felt incredibly self-conscious. Had I just made a complete fool of myself? Had I been crying while I was playing? Or, even worse, did it just sound awful? That was probably my worst fear at that moment.

As I was trying to decide if I should say something or get up and run out of the store and hide in one of the stalls in the bathroom until the mall closed, a middle-aged woman suddenly spoke up.

"There's no way I can afford to buy a baby grand piano, much less find the room for it in the house," she said. "Is it possible to get that kind of sound out of a keyboard, by any chance?"

I glanced over at the manager, who was eyeing me carefully.

"Ummm ... the newer model Kurzweil digital pianos have a very authentic piano sound, and they're much more affordable," I managed to stutter out.

"Really?" she asked. "Could you show me, please?"

"Uh ... sure," I replied, hesitantly.

I once again looked over at the manager, who nodded at me, and I led the lady over to where the Kurzweil digital pianos were set up on display.

"Any one of these three models would work fine," I explained, pointing to the digital pianos in question. "And they're all on sale for under a thousand dollars."

"Well, I'm most concerned with the sound. I want a real piano sound. And it needs to feel like a real piano, too. This is a gift for my niece's birthday. She's been taking piano lessons for a long time, and her parents and I need to finally get her her own piano, but we don't have the money or space for anything more than this. Could you play something for me so I could hear what it sounds like?"

"Sure," I answered. I then proceeded to play a few bits and pieces of Chopin, his angsty melodies fitting the mood I was in.

"That was incredible," the woman exclaimed. "Thank you very much. I'll take it."

And that's how things went from then on. I would come into the store, sit down at one of the pianos, and just play. People would walk up to me and ask me questions, and would often end up buying something. And all I had to do was sit there and do what I enjoyed doing, answer a few questions about pianos -- my favorite topic -- and that was it! The commission I was making wasn't bad, either.

I was enjoying my little classical music phase, too. When I was at home, or in my car driving to and from work, I was constantly listening to classical CDs, many of which the manager at the store had lent to me. Being a 'real' classical pianist, however, was difficult, and if I ever decided to become serious about it, I'd probably need to get a teacher. My manager had recommended a few, but I wasn't ready to get that involved yet. I was just enjoying fiddling around and experimenting on my own. I even tried composing a few of my own pieces, although they always ended up sounding a tad on the manic side, since my moods had a tendency to shift rather dramatically. I was happy at work, usually, but when I got home in the evenings, the depression and melancholy returned.

One of the things that kept me happy at work was that my friends stopped by to see me quite frequently. They would always say that they just happened to be in the mall, or felt like listening to me play, but I had a feeling they were checking up on me. I didn't like it that they thought I needed to be watched like a little kid or something. I had been through a lot, and things had taken a serious turn for the worse when Ryan dumped my ass, but I was managing. I was surviving. To make my point, I even broke with my "vacation" from playing rock music to pound out Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" on the piano one afternoon when they had all come into the store together to see me. Sure, I was still very upset about everything, but the crying fits had stopped after a couple days, and I thought I had been doing pretty well, considering the circumstances.

Out of all of my friends, though, it was Ben who seemed to show up the most. It was quite cute, actually, because he always looked so shy when he walked in, and had started blushing a lot, something he had never done that much of before. The first time he had come into the store by himself, he said he wanted me to teach him how to play the piano. I wasn't sure if he was serious or not, but I decided to give it a go, and the store wasn't that busy that afternoon, anyway. Unfortunately, while I may have been a decent piano player, I was an awful teacher. I didn't really know how I did what I did ... I just did it. So, needless to say, I had a terrible time trying to explain things to Ben. After a couple lessons, we gave up.

He also stopped in quite regularly to bring me lunch, usually from the food court in the mall, and we would eat together and chat back in the employees' break room. I wasn't stupid, and I knew that something was up with him, but I wasn't about to mention it. Sure, I was attracted to Ben, and he was just too sweet for words, but I wasn't ready to give up on Ryan. So, I just let myself enjoy his company and the cute way he was acting. Even when I was feeling particularly down, Ben always managed to put a smile on my face when he came around.

One afternoon, the shop was empty and I was sitting by myself, playing Mozart's "Requiem," when the manager walked up to me.

"How're you doing, Connor?" he asked.

"Uhhh ... okay, I guess," I replied hesitantly. There were no customers whom I should be helping at the moment, and since I worked mainly on commission, I doubted he would be giving me a raise ... so the only thing I could imagine was that I was about to get fired.

There goes my cushy job, I thought to myself.

"There was a gentleman in here the other day from the Chamber of Commerce," he began to explain. "He was very impressed by your playing and was wondering if you ever performed."

"Uhhh ... I used to play at a small pub, and have done a few other performances, too. Mostly rock and country music. But I don't perform any more," I said, keeping my eyes focused on the piano keys.

"It would pay pretty good. Are you sure I can't convince you to do it?" he prodded.

"Sorry," I sighed. "I don't perform."

"Well, ok, then," he said, and walked back to the front counter.

And that was that. I didn't want to perform. I was happy doing what I was doing. Yes, the stage had always been my sanctuary, but my last memories of being on a stage -- for Mikey's funeral and memorial service -- were still too fresh in my mind. I wasn't going to do it.

Of course, I had been discussing everything that had been going on since Mikey's death with Dr. Frazier during my weekly appointments, and he had decided to temporarily increase the dosage of my anti-depressant. This time, I didn't mind. I knew I needed the extra help. Cody and Tatyana thought yoga would be a better option, but I wasn't interested. It was much easier to pop a pill than to try to put my leg behind my head.

Some of the things they told me that yoga practitioners in India did as a part of their training were a little off-putting as well, such as shoving a long strand of gauze up their noses and down their throat, keeping a section hanging out, and letting the rest be passed through the digestive system. They would then eventually pass the other end of the strand of gauze through their rectum. Then, holding on to both ends, they would yank it back and forth to "clean" their colon. That was definitely something I wasn't about to try.


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 that 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 been, 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 help his 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 tie 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 worse.

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 him 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 he 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, but 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 nearly 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, pulled his knees up to his chest, and let out the loudest, most rip-roaring fart I 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 and 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 stormed out 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, slow breath.

"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 was 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 listened patiently.

"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 again."

"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 impermanent."

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 meant that she and Cody could stay, even if it also meant that she wouldn't be able to 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 especially 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 to 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 me.

"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 while?"

"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 music."

"Sure," Toby said. "Come on back if you get bored, though."

I just smiled and nodded, then walked out, closing the door softly behind me.

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."

Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved. No parts of this story may be copied, reproduced, in print or in any other format, without express written consent from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental.

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