Someday Out Of the Blue

by LittleBuddhaTW

Special thanks to Kitty (PiscesRising) and Sharon (Sat8997) 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.

Other stories by LittleBuddhaTW: "Seeking Nirvana" and "A Free Man In Paris"


August was hot. Too damn hot.

And that's why we had been in the pool in Cody's backyard almost every afternoon. The pool was a recent addition, but it hadn't been installed for the specific purpose of giving Cody and his friends a place to cool off during the summer. Tatyana was pregnant, and she didn't believe in giving birth in the traditional manner. Instead, she insisted on delivering the baby in water. If she wanted to do that, I didn't see why she couldn't have just done it in the bathtub. I also wasn't sure what effect the chlorine in the pool might have on a newborn baby, but I wasn't about to go questioning Tatyana's eccentricities.

What was even odder, though, was that Cody didn't know who the father was, nor did he seem to care. In fact, I didn't know anything about Cody's own father. Had he also just been some nameless sperm donor like this one seemed to be? And even though she was only one month pregnant, Tatyana was convinced that the baby was going to be a boy, and she'd already picked out a name -- Alexei. She said it was a good Russian name. I asked Cody why he didn't have a Russian name as well. He told me that he did (although he didn't tell me what it was), but that he'd taken it upon himself to change it to Cody when he was nine.

Strange family! I thought to myself.

The swimming pool was really nice, though, and didn't detract at all from the beautiful Japanese-style gardens that Tatyana and Cody had created in their huge backyard.
It was complete with wooden walkways, a small wooden bridge that extended over a miniature pond -- filled with large, orange carp, frogs, and water lilies -- and a rock garden. And it being summertime, the flowers and plants were in full bloom. It was truly breathtaking and very tranquil.

At any rate, Toby, Cody, the twins, Delcondris, Tuwanda, Natalie, and I were all swimming in the pool one afternoon, as had been our habit ever since the temperature had become so intolerable. It was the first time the whole group had been together since Mikey's funeral. Even Dominic and Ryan had come along, too. On the one hand, I was glad that Ryan was rejoining the rest of the world, but on the other, it was a bit awkward, mostly because Ryan knew about me and Ben. I didn't know how I was supposed to act with Ben while Ryan was around. Would it be inappropriate to hug and kiss him? What about holding hands? We weren't really into the public displays of affection, but occasionally we forgot that other people were around, and I didn't want to upset Ryan or anything if he happened to see Ben and me playing a little suck-face.

Ever since our little talk right after Ryan got back from baseball camp, he'd made what I thought was a serious effort to be nice to me. I wouldn't say that we were exactly the best of friends again, but there was progress. I didn't want anything to screw that up, and I hoped he could handle my being with Ben now. He'd said he was happy for me, although with Ryan, it was sometimes hard to tell what he was really feeling. Ryan and Ben didn't say much to each other, but I didn't notice any dirty looks passed between the two of them, and no fist fights or anything broke out while we were messing around in Cody's pool, so I figured that was a good sign.

As for Dominic, I was really glad that he'd decided to hang out with us. None of us had seen him since the memorial service for Mikey, and I had been worried about him. I could have called him, I suppose, but the period of time right after Mikey passed away wasn't exactly easy. Despite the heat, being the good Goth boy that he was, Dominic came dressed in all black -- black jeans, black t-shirt, black spiked dog collar, and even black eye-liner. I was disappointed, because I wanted him to join us in the pool, and it didn't appear as though he was dressed for the occasion.

I was about to see if Cody had an extra swim suit that Dominic could borrow, even though Cody was quite a bit smaller, but then I got quite a surprise when Dominic peeled off his clothes to reveal a swim suit underneath -- black, of course. I was also surprised at how hot he looked without his clothes on. I'd figured Goth boys tended to be on the pale side, but he had a really nice tan. He said he got it from working outside with his dad doing construction work during the summer. I also noticed that he had both of his nipples and his belly button pierced, and a tattoo of what appeared to be a cross between a sun and a ninja throwing star around his navel. Other than my one earring, I'd never considered getting anything else pierced, but I had to admit, Dominic looked totally hot!

Cody had set up his stereo system outside, and it was blaring some of my favorite music -- classic rock -- as well as some more recent dance music (which I'd never really gotten into). Everyone was loud and rambunctious, running around the yard, playing frisbee, splashing around in the pool, and just having a great time. Even Tatyana -- dressed up as an Egyptian queen, and referring to herself as "Cleopatra" -- was floating around the backyard, doing something that looked like Madonna's "Vogue" dancing. It was a peculiar sight.

As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature became increasingly unbearable, everyone ended up in the pool, and we started up a game of "Marco Polo."

"MARCO!" Cody shouted.

"POLO!" the rest of us yelled back in unison.



"Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!" Cody shouted, in what sounded like a shrill war cry, as he bounded through the water toward me.

Before I knew what hit me, Cody had grabbed ahold of me and pushed me under the water, thereby making me "it" in our little game. However, when I came back to the surface, sputtering water, I realized that they'd gotten me again ... the little bastard had stolen my swim suit! Unfortunately, unlike Toby at the water park, Cody jumped right out of the pool with my shorts and ran around the backyard like a wild man, swinging them around like a lasso and screaming his head off. If I hadn't been naked and totally embarrassed, I might have enjoyed the sight of Cody scampering around in his tiny pair of white Speedos. But at that moment, I was just hoping that a shotgun would miraculously fall from the sky so I could shoot the little bastard.

I was so bewildered by Cody's inexplicably immature behavior, I didn't stop to think that it might be even more embarrassing to chase him around the yard, buck naked, rather than just waiting in the pool until he'd finished having his fun. It took the whistles and catcalls from the other guys to bring me crashing back down to reality. And as I chased after Cody, the best I could do was cover my crotch with one hand and my ass with the other. I was absolutely mortified. The fact that there were girls staring at my bare ass didn't make it any easier, either.

The next thing I knew, I felt a pair of strong arms grab me, and I was unceremoniously tossed over someone's shoulder. It was Ben. He then proceeded to start smacking my butt, and before long, the others had lined up and were taking turns swatting me. They weren't hitting me very hard, but something about being forcibly held like that, naked and vulnerable, touched a nerve.

I started to panic.

Then I started to scream and thrash around wildly, kicking and hitting anything within range.

Maybe they thought I was just playing, because they kept up their assault.

"Put him down, dammit!" I heard Ryan's voice. He sounded extremely angry.

Within moments, I felt Ben set me down, but by that time, I was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack.

"Connor, are you okay?" Ben asked, putting his hand on my shoulder.

"Don't touch me!" I shouted, slapping his hand away, before dropping to the ground and curling up into a little ball.

I was really starting to freak out now. Not only had Ben's grabbing me and swatting me on the butt set me off, but being naked in front of all those people, and everyone seeing me having a panic attack -- something that only Ryan and Toby had witnessed before -- made it much worse. I was totally embarrassed and ashamed. Now everyone was going to see how much of a freak I was! I'd made so much progress over the past few months, and my episodes had become few and far between. Why was this happening again now?

I heard worried voices all around me, but I couldn't make out whose they were. As I lay there on the ground, trembling and whimpering, I suddenly felt a pair of strong arms holding me. I wasn't sure who it was, since my eyes were clenched shut, but something seemed so familiar ... like the scent of strawberries and Irish Spring soap. But, for some reason, I couldn't place it. I knew it made me feel better, though ... safer, somehow. I then felt another pair of hands helping to put my shorts back on.

"Connor, what's wrong?" I heard a male voice asking.

"He's having a panic attack, stupid!"

"What should we do? Does he need an ambulance or something?"

"Just be quiet and back off! He'll be fine in a few minutes."

Within a few minutes, my breathing had returned to normal, my panic mostly subsided. Now I was just left with the shame and embarrassment of being seen in that condition. Once I'd calmed down enough and was able to sit up and open my eyes, I saw everyone gathered around me. Some of them looked concerned, while others appeared confused.

But before anyone could say anything to me, I bolted. I had to get out of there. So, I quickly found the rest of my clothes and got dressed. Ben tried to stop me and talk to me, but I had to get out of there. I ignored him as I finished getting dressed, and then headed to my car as quickly as possible. I didn't know how I could face any of them ever again. Months of steady progress now seemed to have all gone down the drain.


As I charged through the front door, I saw that Maggie was there, much to my chagrin. I simply brushed past her in the hallway and ran upstairs to my room. I heard her calling after me, but I wasn't particularly in the mood to talk with her. Unfortunately, after locking myself in my room, I heard Maggie knocking on my door.

"Connor, open the door," she said. "What's going on with you?"

"I'm fine. Just leave me alone," I groaned.

"Connor, open up now," she repeated, her voice starting to grow agitated. "Don't make me get the screwdriver and take the door off its hinges."

That was something I definitely didn't want happening. I loved my door. But it also pissed me off that she would even consider doing something like that, invading my privacy. If I wanted to be left alone, why couldn't she just leave me alone?

"Fine," I sighed, then walked over to the door and let her in.

"What on earth is going on with you, Connor?" she asked. I couldn't tell if she was angry or worried.

"I just had a little anxiety attack. I'm fine now," I replied.

"It's not just that, Connor," she continued. "There's been a lot of tension around here for the past couple of months, and not all of it has been Ryan's fault. I want to know what is going on with you. Why have you become so stand-offish with me?"

I really didn't want to get into this right now, but she had me backed into a proverbial corner. So, now I was going to settle this problem once and for all. I just hoped I could control my temper. I didn't want to get into a fight or shouting match. All I wanted was to be left alone for a little while. Sure, I'd had a slight panic attack, but I was fine now -- well, maybe still a bit upset about what had happened -- but I didn't need to be babied or talked down to like I was a little kid.

"Look, Maggie," I began. "I'm very grateful for everything you've done for me. You've given me a place to live, bought me all kinds of things, and helped me out a lot. I'll always be thankful for that."

"Well, I'm glad you finally noticed that, Connor," Maggie said, with a sarcastic edge to her voice.

"I just don't know if this is working out. I'm not used to being 'mothered,' and I don't like it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and, frankly, sometimes it just pisses me off. I've talked with Dr. Frazier about it, and he said that a lot of it has to do with my past experiences with my mother. I'm not trying to make excuses or anything, but ... maybe it would be better if I just moved out."

"Connor, that's just ridiculous," Maggie laughed. "I've told you repeatedly that we want you to be here. All of us want you to be here."

"See, that's what I don't like," I pointed out, my temper bubbling just beneath the surface. "You talk down to me, and I don't like it. I've always been able to take care of myself and that's what I'm used to. I think maybe you should pay a bit more attention to your own two sons, who haven't exactly been all peachy over the past couple of months, and stop picking on me."

She most certainly looked upset by that comment. I hoped I wasn't being too harsh, but I hadn't been in the mood to have this conversation with her to begin with. Maybe it would have gone differently if she'd approached me at a different time. But she insisted on pushing me. Definitely not a good idea.

"I think that was uncalled for, Connor," she replied through gritted teeth. "And I don't see how I've been picking on you. But we do need to come up with some kind of solution here. I don't want you to leave. I've made that clear from the beginning. So what do you propose we do about this tension between us?"

"How about you start keeping the checks that the State sends every month," I suggested. "Between my social security checks and the money I make at my job, I'm doing okay. And I'd like to start paying you rent and pay you back for the things you've bought me. I've done everything I've been asked to do. I've kept up with my appointments with Dr. Frazier, not missing a single one. I've done everything he's suggested, including taking all of my meds. I've got my friends for support, too. I took care of Toby when he was sick, I've tried to help Ryan as much as I can, especially since you weren't around to do those things. I don't get in trouble, I get good grades, and I think I'm pretty damn responsible. I just want to be left alone."

"You're only sixteen, Connor," Maggie pointed out.

"And you don't think I'm more mature than most guys my age?" I retorted.

"Yes, you are," Maggie agreed with a sigh. "But that still doesn't change the fact that you're a minor and I'm your legal guardian."

"Well, I think my suggestion was very fair. And if I start screwing up, then I won't complain if you want to step in and 'mother' me. But as long as I'm doing well, which I have been, why can't you just cut me some slack?"

"I hardly see you as it is, Connor," Maggie interjected. "So I don't see what the big deal is."

"Maybe that should tell you something," I muttered, but loud enough for her to hear.

Maggie's face turned bright red, and it was obvious that I'd pushed some buttons.

"Okay, Connor, you win," she sighed. "If you're going to insist on it, you can pay me fifty dollars per month in rent, and take care of all of your own expenses. But I'm still going to insist that you take the check from the State every month. You don't know yet whether or not you'll be able to continue at your job once school starts again. I don't want you to try paying me back for the gifts I've given you, either. Unless I feel that you're having problems, I'll let you make your own decisions, although I'd say you're already a heck of a lot more independent than other kids your age. I know that you have a 'mother complex,' so I'm trying to be as accommodating as possible. Just, at least, please try to be civil."

"Thank you," I said. "But I still want to pay you back. If you won't take the money now, then I'll give it to you when I turn eighteen."

"I can't say that I'm happy about this," she replied, sounding exasperated. "I wish we could find some way to get along better, and try to be a nice, happy family."

"Be a good mother to Ryan and Toby first," I said. "Then maybe I'll feel better about things."

Maggie looked stunned when I said that, and for a moment, she looked like she was about to tear my head off. But then she just sighed and walked away. Maybe it was a bit too precocious of me to say something like that to her, but I needed her to know how I felt. I wasn't a big believer in her notion of a "happy family." The only families I'd seen were ones where the parents either abused their kids, or tried to control them and make them think and act just like them. Parents always seemed to be harping on "respect," but most didn't seem to realize that respect was a two-way street. If the parents didn't respect the kids, why should the kids respect their parents?

At any rate, it wasn't exactly a "happy" resolution, but I felt like the issue had been settled for now. The bottom line, though, was that I would have felt much more independent and happy if I was supporting myself completely. I'd proven that I could not only take care of myself, but others as well. If I'd had the money or energy to file for emancipation, I probably could have won. But it was just too much of a hassle. Plus, I didn't want to move away from Toby ... and I guess I didn't want to move away from Ryan yet, either. So, this was the best solution I could come up with. And as long as Maggie didn't push me anymore, things would probably be better. With her continuing to work a hectic schedule at the hospital, at least I wouldn't have to cross paths with her that much ... I hoped.


The next day at work, I had a steady stream of visitors coming to see how I was feeling. To tell the truth, I felt a little uncomfortable, because not only had everyone seen me have a severe panic attack, they all saw me naked. I felt like a fool, and I wished I could just crawl under a rock and hide. I couldn't stay mad at them, though. They were just teenagers, after all, and I knew that they wouldn't have done that to me if they'd known what the result would be. So, what was the point of carrying a grudge? It wouldn't change anything, anyway.

Ben was the first to come see me, and asked if I had a few minutes to talk with him. I hadn't answered his phone calls the night before. I'd just locked myself up in my room, hoping that I would wake up and it would have all just been a horrible nightmare. But it wasn't. And now I had to face my embarrassment and shame. I was a little angry at Ben for having put me in that position, even though he couldn't have known that I would flip out like that. I actually felt more embarrassed than angry, because I was afraid that after he saw how much of a freak I was, he wouldn't want to be with me anymore. Maybe that's why Ryan broke up with me in the first place, because he was tired of being with someone like me ... a total wuss. A loser.

"So, do you have a few minutes so we can talk?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, looking at my watch. "I can take my lunch break now, I guess."

"Great," he replied, with a look of relief. "Let's go to that little tea shop next to the movie theater."

I nodded in agreement, and we headed toward the other side of the mall, not saying a word to each other as we dodged the throngs of summer shoppers and made our way to the tea shop. It was a small, quaint little place, decorated in a Middle Eastern motif. The owner was an older man who had immigrated from Iran years and years ago. It wasn't a popular spot with the younger crowd because of the high prices -- it was some kind of special imported tea or something. I wasn't exactly a tea expert, so I wasn't sure. But we chose it because it was likely to be pretty empty. The tea shop was dimly lit, the walls were draped with ornate Persian rugs, and the whole place was filled with the aroma of mint tea and the soft sounds of Sufi music. It was a very tranquil atmosphere, and the owner was friendly and talkative.

Once we were seated and had ordered our drinks -- iced mint tea for both of us -- Ben started talking.

"Connor, I'm so sorry about what happened yesterday," he said. I was searching his eyes for some sign that he was disgusted or annoyed with me for being such a wuss, but all I could see was concern and regret.

"Just forget about it," I said. "It's over and done with, and I'd rather just forget about it."

"No, it's not okay," he interjected abruptly. "I never would have done that if I'd known what would happen. I would never intentionally try to hurt you. Please believe me."

He was practically pleading with me. It wasn't the reaction I'd been expecting.

"You mean, you don't think I'm a freak or a wuss?" I asked, feeling somewhat shocked.

"Jesus, Connor, not at all!" he exclaimed. "I know what you've been through. I should have known better than to do something like that. I'm sooo sorry!"

"It's okay, Ben," I sighed. "Really, it's fine. It's not your fault. I wouldn't have even thought that would happen. I thought you'd never want to see me again after witnessing that side of me."

"Are you crazy? I was afraid you'd hate me for doing that and would want to stop seeing me."

"No, Ben. It was just stupid. I don't want to stop seeing you, as long as you don't want to stop seeing me," I said.

"Well, then there was the thing with Ryan, too," he added, looking a bit uncomfortable.

"What thing with Ryan?" I asked, genuinely perplexed.

"He was the one who held you and got you to calm down," Ben explained. "Don't you remember?"

I really didn't remember ... at least, not at first. I had been shaking so badly and was totally spaced out. The only thing I could recall was the pair of strong arms holding me, soothing me, helping me to calm down. And that familiar smell, like strawberries and Irish Spring soap.

And then it hit me.

Like a friggin' ton of bricks.

Ryan had been the one! And he'd made me feel safe. Knowing that, though, just confused me even more.

"No, I don't remember," I lied. I didn't want to upset Ben, knowing that it was Ryan, and not him, who had been able to calm me down. Ben was my "boyfriend." He should have been the one I instinctively turned to in a time of crisis.

But, he wasn't.

SHIT! I thought to myself. It wasn't supposed to be like that. I wanted to be with Ben. I was sure of that.

"Don't you think that means something?" Ben continued to prod. "I mean, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to think about trying to work things out with Ryan."

"No!" I practically shouted, then instantly regretted raising my voice to Ben.

"I'm sorry," Ben said sheepishly.

"No, I'm sorry, Ben," I said with a sigh. "It just bugs me that you can't seem to believe that you are the one I want to be with. Just because I was with Ryan -- was being the key word -- that doesn't mean I can't be with you now. He had his chance and he hurt me ... badly. I can probably get used to the idea of being friends with him again. Maybe even good friends. But he's not the one I want to be with. I wish you would understand that."

"I do understand, Connor," Ben said softly, running his hand gently down my arm. "I just don't want to stand in the way if Ryan's the one you're meant to be with. I want you to be happy."

"I know," I said, with a half-smile. "But trust me; I'm very happy with you."

"And you're not angry about what I did over at Cody's house?" he asked again.

"I was at first, but it's over now. And it doesn't change how I feel about you," I said.

I hoped that would be the last time Ben and I ever had to have that conversation.

Most of the rest of the crew came by the shop to apologize as well, but I didn't particularly want to hear anymore about it. I'd just as soon forget the whole thing, because every time someone brought it up, it brought back that horrid memory of lying on the grass in Cody's backyard, naked as the day I was born, and having a fit in front of a whole group of people. Who would want to be reminded of that?

Fortunately, it seemed as though Toby understood how I felt. Rather than getting an apology from him, he just came waltzing into the store with Cody shortly after I got back from having tea with Ben, looking as cute as could be, and gave me a huge bear hug. He didn't need to say anything. The hug said it all. Over the past few months, Toby and I seemed to have developed something like that "silent communication" thing that he had with his brother. I didn't doubt that he would have done that a lot sooner if I hadn't gone running off and barricaded myself in my room. Cody, on the other hand, was beside himself. He seemed almost as upset as I had been the day before when I'd gotten my ass slapped and gone postal.

"Oh, my God, Connor, I'm sooo sorry!" Cody practically shouted as soon as Toby had let go of me. And before I could prepare myself for the 'Cody Assault,' he latched on to me as well.

"It's okay, Cody," I said, patting him on the back, trying to comfort him. "It's over with. I'm not upset anymore."

"No, I was acting like a totally immature kid. I shouldn't have taken your shorts like that," he said, still clinging to me for dear life.

"Uhhh ... Cody, you are a kid," I reasoned. "I think teenagers are supposed to act immature and crazy sometimes."

"But not me!" Cody exclaimed. "I really don't know what got into me."

"Well, maybe you should act like a kid more often," I said with a grin. "Don't try to grow up so fast."

Hmmmm, that was pretty insightful of me.

Cody blushed and walked back next to Toby, latching on to him next. The two of them were so adorable. And even though they were standing in the middle of the store, where anyone could see them, they didn't seem to have any problem being affectionate with each other. Although if someone had had a problem with it, I was sure they'd get an earful from Toby. That boy could swear like a drunken sailor.

The last person to come in, right before closing time, was Dominic. He had walked in quietly while I was turning the power switches off on the various display models of digital pianos, and I didn't notice him until he was standing right beside me. It nearly scared the living daylights out of me.

"Uhhh ... hey, Dominic," I stammered. "What's up?"

"Just wanted to say sorry about yesterday," he said, looking down at the ground. "I didn't hit you, though. I didn't laugh, either."

"Uhhh ... thanks, but you don't need to apologize for not doing anything," I replied.

"Yeah, I do," he stated enigmatically. "I should've tried to stop them. I know what it's like, you know."

"You know what what's like?" I asked, feeling genuinely baffled.

"The anxiety stuff," he replied, his eyes never leaving the floor. Maybe there was something interesting crawling around down there or something.

"What do you mean?" I prodded him.

"I mean, it happens to me, too," he said, finally looking me in the eye. "And because I know what it feels like, I should have seen it coming, and I should have tried to stop them."

"Dominic, it's okay, really," I said, touching him gently on the arm. "I'm fine now, and you didn't do anything wrong. And actually, I'd like it if you'd hang out more with us. Actually, we'd all like that."

"It hasn't been easy, you know," he sighed.

"The anxiety?" I asked.

"No, losing Mikey," he replied. "I liked him a lot. I knew what he was going through. I tried to get him to talk to me. But I'm just a kid, so what do I know about helping someone who's going through that kind of shit?"

"It's not your fault, Dominic," I said gently, pulling him into a hug. "It's not your fault."

"We were just starting to get to know each other, and I thought things were going so great. I finally met someone who I felt like I clicked with. Why did it have to end like that? It isn't fair!"

Dominic began sobbing, right there in the middle of the store. Fortunately, no one was around.

So, I just held him tighter.

"It's gonna be okay, Dominic," I said, rubbing his back as I held him, his body continuing to be wracked by sobs. "We're all your friends now. You don't have to be sad or alone anymore."

And from that point on, Dominic did start hanging out with us more often.


As the month wore on, everyone seemed to settle into a comfortable routine. I also received the good news that Lenny Sclafani, my attacker, was refused bail by the judge, and his trial for the attack on one of the other kids was set to begin in a couple months. The assistant D.A. seemed quite pleased (and proud) when she told me that every single motion by the defense, including requests to have the case dismissed, a change of venue, and a plea to have certain pieces of crucial DNA evidence thrown out, had all been shot down by the judge. It sounded like Lenny Sclafani's ass was grass, so to speak.

Toby, Cody, and Ben had also started searching out small clubs where I could perform and put what I had learned from Thom to the test. They were successful, and I was happy to be back on stage again. Besides some of my usual numbers, I also added a few new songs to my set list, like "A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste," a powerful, bombastic rock-ballad from the Wagner-esque rock musical, Whistle Down the Wind, written by Jim Steinman. It was extremely long, and the most vocally challenging song I'd ever performed, but it made a great opener.

Other songs I typically played included Billy Joel's "The Night Is Still Young" and "My Life," Bonnie Raitt's "Circle Dance," Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina," Elton John's "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" and the country-flavored ballad "The Fox," various Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan songs, and, of course, Jim Reeves' "He'll Have To Go," my closing number. Sometimes, Cody played acoustic guitar with me, but usually it was just me and the piano. I'd given some more thought to Thom's suggestion of getting a band together, which would certainly allow me to expand my set list, but I still didn't know how to go about recruiting people for something like that. And I guess I was a little selfish, too, because I preferred having the spotlight on me.

None of the gigs paid anything. They were mostly open mic things like my performance at that coffee house. But it was a lot of fun, and I loved performing just as much as I ever did. Since my Wurlitzer electric piano wasn't very versatile in terms of what sounds it could produce, I saved my money and bought a used Roland RD-1000 digital piano. Once I had that set up, along with a used amplifier and microphone that I had bought as well, the Wurlitzer began to gather dust. Maggie had suggested trying to sell it on eBay, but since it was a classic, I wouldn't hear of it.

During the times when I wasn't working or hanging out with Ben, Ryan and I seemed to be moving further down the path to becoming something like friends again. I think Ryan's going away for three weeks was probably the best thing that could have happened, giving both of us some space and time to think about stuff. I still didn't know what exactly had been up with him ever since Toby's leukemia diagnosis, but for the time being, I felt that it was better to just let it go and focus on repairing the damage that had been done to our little family. It was going to be tough, though. I didn't know if it was even possible to make that transition from boyfriends to being "just friends" with him.

We started doing things together like we used to, such as playing catch in the backyard -- which I was really starting to get good at -- and just hanging out and watching DVDs. Unlike before, though, there was no cuddling. But it was nice, and as we started talking again, mostly about mundane things -- like work, the upcoming school year, Toby's and Cody's relationship, or whatever -- I gradually became more and more comfortable with Ryan again. However, he never brought up my relationship with Ben, and I didn't mention it, either. While that probably kept us from getting into any uncomfortable territory, it also revealed an underlying tension and awkwardness, a gulf that still separated us, making our interactions somewhat superficial and preventing us from becoming really close again. I was afraid it would probably be that way for a while.

Had I been too quick to forgive Ryan? Sure, he'd been an asshole and broken my heart, but I'd made mistakes when we were together, too. I could never claim that I was a perfect boyfriend. And what good would come out of holding a grudge against him? I had given him his space, like everyone had told me to do, and he'd eventually taken the first step and apologized as soon as he got home from baseball camp. It may sound cheesy, but it really does take a big man to do that. If I had just brushed him off or not accepted his apology, then I would have been the asshole.

Nevertheless, I had to admit to myself that if the tables had been turned, and Ryan had a new boyfriend and I was single, I probably wouldn't be behaving as well as he had been. I had no doubt that I would have been a depressed, miserable, and cranky little bitch. So, in that regard, Ryan was handling things much better than I would have. But even though they were rare, there were times when I wanted to see him get visibly jealous; to let me know that he really did regret breaking up with me.

He'd apologized for the way he'd acted, but he never said he wished we were still together or anything like that. And despite the progress we'd started to make in rebuilding our friendship, the thought that maybe he didn't regret breaking up with me still hurt. I kept it well-hidden, though. From both Ryan and Ben. It wasn't because I was secretly hoping to get back together with Ryan, either. I was happy with Ben. But a part of me, most likely my fragile ego and low self-esteem, needed to know. Well, at least that's what Dr. Frazier had told me when I brought it up with him during our weekly session.

Despite my traumatic experience at Cody's pool that day, we were all back there the next weekend, and Delcondris hauled his family's large grill over in his dad's Suburban so we could have a cookout. At first, Tatyana complained that we shouldn't be eating meat, but Cody managed to shush her up, and she eventually went back into the house to do whatever it was she did.

In fact, for the remainder of August, we ended up having about two barbecues every week over at Cody's. I felt bad that Delcondris had to lug that damn grill back and forth, but he didn't seem to mind, and the food was great ... despite Tatyana's protests every time she smelled what she referred to as "that ghastly odor of burning animal flesh and carcasses." Seeing as Tatyana was a militant vegetarian, I was surprised that Cody enjoyed tearing into a big juicy steak or bacon cheeseburger just as much as the rest of us.

It was Delcondris and Derek who did the cooking (of course, since they were the straight guys) and for a couple of high schoolers, they sure knew how to work that grill. Not only did we get the aforementioned cow products, but also fatty, juicy sausages, corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, and meat and veggie kebabs -- they even made strawberry shortcake on the grill for dessert. How they managed to do that, I will probably never know.

Fortunately, there were no more repeats of the "swim suit incident," at least not done to me. Toby, however, got his swim suit swiped by Ryan, but rather than chasing Ryan around and demanding it back, Toby just lay down on one of the lawn chairs, buck naked, and looked as proud and content as he could be. Even when Ryan returned his swim suit, Toby didn't want to put it back on, until Cody forced him to, complaining that he didn't want everyone else gawking at his boyfriend's goods.

I must admit, I was definitely one of the ones doing some gawking. Ben didn't seem to mind, though, since he was drooling almost as much as me. But how could you blame us? Toby was not only totally, undeniably gorgeous, but the way he just oozed confidence and sexuality was virtually irresistible. Toby was wrong when he'd suggested that I had turned Ben gay. I didn't think something like that was possible. But if there ever was a boy who could turn someone gay, Toby would be the one. He was definitely something special.

I was glad that there didn't seem to be any hostility between Ryan and Ben. I had worried about that a lot during those three weeks that Ryan was at baseball camp, and especially the first time we'd all hung out together after Ryan got back. They'd been friends for a lot longer than I'd known either of them, and I didn't want to be the one to come between them. However, as Ryan and I started to become friends again, I did notice that something seemed a bit "off" whenever I was getting ready to go on a date with Ben or sleep over at his house. Ryan would ask what I was up to, and when I would tell him I was going out with Ben, he'd get a strange expression on his face. I couldn't tell if it was disappointment, sadness, jealousy, or something else altogether. It was completely unreadable, which was actually pretty typical for Ryan. But he never said anything, and every time I saw that look on his face, it was quickly replaced by a forced smile, and he'd always tell me to have a good time.

When I first started to notice that, I didn't think much of it. But when it kept happening, I started to wonder what was going on. It had become pretty apparent that it was some kind of jealousy -- but what he was jealous of, I couldn't be sure. Was it because he still had feelings for me? Or was it just because he wanted to hang out, and was disappointed that I'd been spending so much time with Ben? I thought about asking him, but I doubted he would give me an honest answer about something like that. But it did start to make me feel a little guilty that I wasn't spending enough time with him, when he was obviously making an effort to work things out.

One Friday evening in late August, I had a date planned with Ben, something we did every Friday. We usually went out more often than that, but Friday and Saturday night dates were pretty much set in stone. Needless to say, I could tell that Ben was a little hurt when I cancelled. I explained to him that if we went out, Ryan would be home all by himself, and I felt bad about that. Maggie was working (as usual), and Toby was spending the night at Cody's house. I could have invited Ben to come over, but I figured that just the three of us hanging out together might make for more than a few uncomfortable moments. Fortunately, Ben was very understanding, albeit obviously disappointed. I promised to make it up to him, though, and when I told him exactly how I would make it up to him, I think he was a bit more willing to miss out on one little date.

After I got off the phone with Ben, I went to Ryan's room to see what he was up to. I found him lying on his bed, facing the wall. I walked over and sat down next to him, and gently shook his shoulder.

"Hey, Ryan. What's up?" I asked.

He didn't turn around and his voice sounded muffled when he spoke.

"I thought you had a date with Ben," he said.

"I cancelled it," I replied.

"Why?" he asked, finally turning his head to look up at me. His expression wasn't as unreadable as it normally was. This time, he looked ... sad.

"I thought it'd be nice to spend some time with you," I answered, giving him a soft smile.

"You should spend time with your boyfriend," he said, turning back to face the wall again.

What in the hell was his problem?

"Well, I already cancelled it, so now you're stuck with me," I said, attempting to mask the growing frustration in my voice.

"What did you wanna do?" he asked. He finally turned all the way around, so I didn't feel like I was talking to a rock or something.

"Wanna watch a movie?" I suggested. "We can order some Chinese food ... or Indian. Cody told me about this really good Indian take-out place out on Route 45."

"Not really," he sighed.

I was starting to get the feeling that this was going to be difficult. Ryan had been doing much better since shortly after he got back from baseball camp, but now he seemed depressed. I didn't like it.

"Do you hate me, Connor?" he suddenly asked.

"No, of course not," I answered. "What's gotten into you, Ry? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Just forget about it," he said quickly. "So, do you have any other ideas?"

"No, I don't want to forget about it, Ryan. I want to know what the hell has been up with you for the past few months."

"I really don't wanna talk about it yet," he said, turning back again to face the wall.

I was feeling very frustrated by now. The only thing I could think of to do was to reach down and wrap my arms around him, something I hadn't done in a long time. As soon as I did, though, he quickly pulled away.

"Please, don't," Ryan said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Jesus, Ry. Please tell me what the hell is wrong with you. You're scaring me," I pleaded with him.

"It hurts," he whimpered.

"What hurts?" I prodded him, reaching out again to place my hand on the small of his back. This time, he didn't pull away, although I felt his body tense when I touched him.

"I miss you, Connor," he said softly.

Well, shit. What was I supposed to say to that?

"I know what we can do," I said. "Stay there and I'll be right back."

I went to Toby's room, signed on to his computer, and went to one of the gay story sites that I sometimes visited. There was a story that I'd wanted to read but had been a little unsure of. It was a twenty-five chapter serial novel called "The Ordinary Us," by Dom Luka. I'd read so many "coming out" and "coming of age" stories before, but something about this one had caught my eye. So, I printed out the entire story, which ended up taking quite a while, then gathered it up and headed back to Ryan's room, where I found him still curled up in the same position on his bed, facing the wall.

"I'm gonna read to you," I announced.

He turned around and looked at me incredulously. "Read to me? I'm not a little kid, Connor."

"Just shut up and lay there," I ordered him. "I'm gonna read to you, so deal with it."

And I did. I lay down on the bed next to Ryan, and I read the entire story to him in one sitting, from start to finish. I was reading until the wee hours of the morning, and by the time I had finished, I was exhausted, and I thought my voice was going to give out. But it was a sweet story, and I was kind of sad when it ended. From the wistful expression on Ryan's face, I could tell that he'd enjoyed it, too. I was very comfortable, lying there next to Ryan, and part of me wanted to just fall asleep right there. I didn't really want to leave him alone if he was still depressed. But I figured it would probably be best if I went to my own room. Sleep was a long time coming, though.

As I lay there on my bed, the moonlight streaming in from the window, I couldn't stop thinking about how to deal with Ryan now. It was pretty obvious now that he still liked me -- maybe even still loved me. It wasn't exactly a startling revelation. Deep down inside, I always knew that he did. He was just dealing with some heavy stuff, most of which he had yet to explain to me. But things had changed so much over the past few months. I had a new boyfriend now, a good job, lots of great friends, and I was happy with my life.

Sure, I cared about Ryan. In fact, I probably still loved him. I wanted him to be happy, but seeing the way he'd been acting recently was worrying. It wasn't like before when he had totally shut himself off from the world. He was hanging out with everyone again and trying to have a good time. But he wasn't happy, and I couldn't help but feel that I was the reason for that. I really wanted to help him, but I was afraid that by doing so, it might make things more difficult with Ben. He already had a hard enough time believing that it was him I wanted to be with, and not Ryan. And spending more time with Ryan wouldn't help that.

So what was I supposed to do? I was so confused. There were so many questions and doubts racing around in my head. I felt like Ryan was my responsibility, but as long as I was around, and had another boyfriend, he would probably be miserable. And I had no idea how long it would take him to get over it. And I certainly couldn't just ditch Ben. I wanted to be with him. I wasn't sure if I loved him yet, at least not the way I had loved Ryan, but I could see it happening at some point in the not-too-distant future. What wasn't there to love about Ben? He was perfect in almost every way. After being with him for close to two months now, I was also pretty sure that it wasn't just a rebound thing. Something special had grown between us. Was it as special as what I had felt with Ryan, though? I didn't know that, either. And after being "together" for a while now, why weren't Ben and I "official" yet? That was a really good question.

There were a lot of questions that I didn't have the answers to.

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.

*Lyrics from "Seasons" (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin), Copyright 1970, Dick James Music, Ltd.
** Lyrics from "Electricity" (written by Elton John and Lee Hall), from the musical Billy Elliot, Copyright 2005, Universal Music Publishing, Ltd.

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