by Julien Gregg
Copyright 2003 - 2004 Julien Gregg

This story is about homosexual teenagers.  If you are offended by this kind of story, then you shouldn't read mine.  If it is not legal for you to read erotic fiction where you live, then you should not read this story.  If you have questions or comments, email me at  You can also visit my webpage at  This story is copyrighted, so please do not duplicate it in whole or in part without permission.

Chapter 2

Wendy's house was huge, and that's putting it mildly.  It was a four bedroom, three story house with white clapboard siding and huge white pillars in the front.  A circle drive arched through half of the front lawn, and it was filled with cars when Steve, Nick and I got there.  Everyone was in the back yard, so we just walked around the house and through the gate.

"You came!" cried Wendy as soon as she spotted us.  She came running over, and I instantly felt like bolting.  I hoped that Steve had actually taken care of her.

"Hey, Wendy," said Steve, hugging her.  "Looks like just about everyone came."

"Shut up," she said, dragging Nick into her arms.

At least she settled for shaking my hand, but I noticed her smile really big at Steve when she did it.  She led us around the pool and to a picnic table where there was a group of other kids sitting.  Everyone in the group said hello to Steve and Nick, and a few of them smiled at me.  I smiled back, but I was nervous as Hell.

"Guys," said Steve, "this is Tommy Porter. He moved here a few weeks ago from Florida."

"Hey Tommy," a lot of them said at the same time.

We sat down at the table, and Wendy brought us each a soda.  She told Steve that her dad would have burgers for everyone pretty quick.  In total there were at least fifty kids there.  I couldn't see how her dad would have burgers for all of them.  I could see a man over on the other side of the pool, manning a grill, but it looked awful small.

Wendy didn't stick to us for long, though.  There were a lot of people for her to mingle with.  Nick was right, she was incredibly popular.  A lot of the guys there seemed to really like looking at her.  I thought maybe she'd find one of them to like instead of me.  I hoped she would, anyway.

"So, I hear Steve's got you on his suicidal workout routine," she said to me when she came back with a burger and handed it to me.

"Yeah, its tuff, but I like it," I replied.  "Thanks for the burger."

"I wanted you to have one before the mob gets to them," she laughed.  "So where in Florida did you live?"

"Tampa," I replied.  "A lot different than Storyville."

"I'd think," she said.  "Steve also tells me that you are really good at poker."

"Oh he does, does he?" I asked, smiling.

"Yeah," she said.  "Be careful, or you'll get sucked into the weekly summer poker games."

"What?" I asked.

"Well, every Sunday, a group of the guys get together to play cards," she said.  "Its like they want to be forty years old or something."

"Well, I don't think I'll be going to any of those games," I said, laughing.

"Never say never," she warned. "Listen, I have to keep moving and talk to everyone. I'll find you later. Welcome to Storyville, Tommy."

"Thanks, Wendy," I said.

That wasn't so bad, right? She didn't hit on me once that I could tell.  But then, I wasn't really good at the whole heterosexual attraction thing, either, so for all I knew, she could have been hitting on me the whole time.  I noticed her talking to Steve after she left me with my burger.  They looked at me, and she kind of frowned a bit.  Then Steve hugged her again.

Nick dragged me around, introducing me to people as soon as I'd finished eating.  I met Peter Noll first.  He was kind of good looking in a very different way than Steve was.  He had dark hair, cut short almost buzzed, dark eyes and a nice smile.  He shook my hand and said he looked forward to hanging out with me some time.

Next there was Jeremy Stokes, and he wasn't anything like I expected him to be.  After what Nick had told me about him, or rather, not told me about him, I found him quiet and withdrawn.  He was just a hair or so taller than I was with blond hair and blue eyes.  He didn't smile or say much to me, but he watched me as we walked around the party.

"Well, now you've met my three best buds," said Nick as we walked back over to the picnic table and sat down.

"When did they get back from their vacations?" I asked.

"Today, I think," he said.  "Peter called me this morning when he got in. This was the first time I've talked to Jeremy since school let out."

"Jeremy's kind of quiet," I said.

"Yeah, and he doesn't get much more talkative once he gets to know you, either," said Nick.  He looked like he wanted to say more, but he thought better of it.

Steve came back to the table and sat with us with Peter in tow a few minutes later.  They talked about the girls that Peter liked, and Steve kept pointing this one or that one out to him.  I felt the green monster trying to make my blood boil, but I did my best to ignore it.  Steve was straight, and that was all there was to it.

Wendy came back and dragged me away, and strangely, I was thankful for it.  She talked about just about everyone there, telling me one thing after another about them.  None of it was secret stuff, so I didn't bother to stop her from talking.  She seemed to know just about everyone there, and it was nice getting some knowledge about the kids I'd be going to school with.

"So are you coming with Steve to watch movies next week?" she asked when we got away from the louder groups of kids.

"I didn't know anything about it," I said.

"I told him to invite you," she said.  "He said he would."

"When did you guys talk about this?" I asked.

"Right after you guys got here," she replied.

"Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to him much since we got here," I said.  "So he'll probably talk to me about it later."

"Probably," she said.  "Please come, though. It'll give you a chance to hang out with our core group of friends."

"How many people will be here?" I asked.

"Well, Peter, Steve, Me, Marcy, Nick and Jeremy as far as I know," she said.  "Marcy kind of likes Peter, so I invited her. But usually, its just me and the guys."

"How long have you known them all?" I asked.

"We went to grade school together," she said.  "I've known Steve longer than that, though. His mom and mine are really good friends."

"Cool," I said, thinking about how stupid I was for thinking that she and Steve were an item when I first saw her talk to him at the DMV.

"Don't worry, though," she said.  "Our history together won't keep you from becoming a member of the crowd. Steve talks about you constantly, so he'll make sure that you in with everyone pretty quickly."

"He talks about me?" I asked.

"Nothing bad," she said, smiling.  "He really likes you."

"That's good to know," I said.  "We had a little disagreement about him talking about me without my knowledge a few days ago."

"I heard," she said.  "He was really worried that you wouldn't like him after that."

"He told you about that, huh?" I asked, trying not to think about it too much.

"Relax," she said, smiling again.  "Steve tells me everything. He probably tells me more than he tells Nick, and he's his best friend. He called me the night that you guys were all at Nick's, and you got upset. He was really worried."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, I can't tell you anything about him that you don't already know," she said.  "So, the rest of what I know, is confidential. He's a good guy, and he really wouldn't do anything to make you uncomfortable if he could help it. Don't worry about that."

"That's a relief, actually," I said.  "I've sort of been privately stressing over what they talked about that day."

"Well, all I can tell you about that is that whatever he said to Nick couldn't have been bad," she said.  "He has nothing but good things to say about you to everyone else. If he thought anything bad about you, I'd have heard about it by now."

"Talking about me?" asked Steve from behind me.

"As a matter of a fact, we were," I said, grinning at him.

"Good things, I hope," he said.

"I told him you are just about the most inconsiderate boy I know," laughed Wendy.

"Oh, so you told him all about me, then," he laughed.

"And then some," she said.

"Well, I hope he doesn't think less of me just because you said all that," he said, smiling at me.

"Nah," I said, smiling back and trying not to be effected by his smile.  "I already knew you were rude."

"Gee, thanks," he said, putting a pained look on his face.  "Its good to know that even my new friends are going to give me flack."

"I aim to please," I said, chuckling.

"Listen, Wendy's having us all over later next week to watch a few movies," he said.  "You want to come along?"

"Sure," I replied.  "We talked about that, too."

"Oh, I see," he laughed.  "Well, I'd also like for you to come with me to a card game on Sunday."

"See!" laughed Wendy.  "I told you!"

"What did you tell him?" he asked, looking disgusted.

"Oh, nothing," she said.  "Just that you get about five people together every week to sit around in their underwear, playing cards until the sun comes up and acting like animals."

"That's pretty accurate, really," he laughed.

"Thanks, but I think I'll pass on the card game," I said, laughing at both of them.

"Its not that bad, Bud," he said.  "Just a poker game. We play for pennies."

"Maybe another time," I said.

He looked disappointed, but he let it drop.  Before too long, Nick came and dragged him off, leaving me alone with Wendy again.  She just smiled and shook her head.  I was getting more and more comfortable with her.  I could actually see us becoming friends, and I again felt stupid about what I thought of her when I saw her at the DMV.

"You know, he really was let down, because you won't go play cards with him," she said after a while.  "Maybe I shouldn't have warned you off of it so fast."

"He can always take Nick with him," I said, dismissing it.

"Nope," she said.  "Nick went one time, and he hated it. Said he lost his shirt."

"So who goes with him?" I asked.

"No one from our group goes with him," she said.  "Peter doesn't play poker, and Jeremy . . . Well, Jeremy doesn't go, either."

I thought about it for a minute, and it seemed like that could be one more thing I did with Steve that didn't involve any of the other guys that we'd be hanging out with.  It was sickening, but I'd take any time with him away from the regular group that I could get.  I thought I might just change my mind about Sunday's poker game.

After a while, more and more people started to leave the party until there were probably no more than ten kids there, besides me, Steve, Nick and Wendy.  I noticed Steve talking to two boys I hadn't been introduced with on the other side of the pool.  I was about to ask Wendy who they were, when she answered my unspoken question.

"That's Dustin and Keith," she said.  "They're Juniors. They usually play the card games at Dustin's house. You live next door to Nick, right?"

"Yeah," I said, noticing a hard edge to her voice that hadn't been there until that moment.

"Then Dustin lives across the street from you," she said.  "He's a nice guy. I don't know Keith that well, I didn't even expect that he and Dustin would come to the party."

"Did you invite them?" I asked.

"I always invite them," she replied.  "They've just never showed up before."

"I see the poker buddies are together again," said Nick, coming over to stand beside me.

"Yeah," said Wendy.  "I'm shocked that those two showed up tonight."

"Dustin called Steve last night," he said.  "He asked them to drop by."

"I see," she said.  "Well, at least one of us could get them to come to the party."

I was wondering what was so special about the two of them.  One had dark hair and from what I could see was nice looking enough, and the other had blond hair and seemed to be just as nice looking as his friend.  They didn't look like jocks, so I couldn't figure out what the fuss was about.

"Doesn't Dustin spend any time over here anymore?" asked Nick.

"Sure he does," she said sarcastically.  "He comes over every Christmas and ever Thanksgiving with the rest of the family."

"You never did tell me what happened between you guys," Nick said.

"And I'm not going to now, either," she said just before she walked away from us.

"Man, I didn't mean to piss her off," he said after she was out of hearing range.

"Family feud?" I asked.

"No," he laughed.  "She used to date Dustin for a long time."

"Ah," I said still not really understanding.

About that time, Steve must have said whatever he wanted to them.  They walked through the gate, and Steve came toward us.  Wendy stopped him for on his way, and they talked for a few minutes.  Steve hugged her and whispered something in her ear before coming over to where we were standing.

"Peter take Jeremy home?" he asked when he got over to us.

"About a half hour ago," replied Nick.  "How's Wendy?"

"Hurt," he replied.  "I shouldn't have asked them to stop by."

The party wound down around ten-thirty, but Steve, Nick and I stayed to help clean up.  Mr. Benson was glad to have the help, and he shook my hand, saying it was very nice to meet me when we were done.  I was getting tired after all of that excitement, but Steve and Nick looked like they were wide awake and ready for more.

"Tommy," came Wendy's voice from behind me.  I turned to face her and smiled.

"Hey," I replied.  "Glad you came back out. I wanted to thank you for inviting me."

"Thank you for talking to me," she said putting her arms around me.

"Any time," I replied, hugging back.  I could tell she was depressed, and I didn't know what, if anything, I could do for her.

"Don't push this one too hard tomorrow morning, Steve," she said, letting go of me.  "He's a good guy. You'll kill him with your workout insanity."

"Easy," he said, smiling, but there was a haunted look in his eyes.  "Its the running that gets Tommy. We don't workout like madmen every morning, Wendy. Besides, we're not lifting that much."

"I hope not," said Mr. Benson, coming over to us.  "You promised all of us that you were done with your destructive workouts, Steven. I hope you really meant it."

"Don't worry, Paul," he said.  "My brother checks on us just about every morning. If he thinks I'm going to far, he'll kick my butt again."

"Well, just remember that there are a lot of people that love and care about you, Steven," said Mr. Benson.  "Whenever you get down on yourself, just remember that without you, several lives would be miserable."

He hugged Steve, and Wendy watched me the entire time.  I was confused as to what this conversation was really about.  It seemed like there was a big amount of history behind it, and I wasn't in the loop.  I stayed back and just let them have their time, though.  I'd learned long ago to stay out of serious discussions.  Sometimes there were mysteries that you just shouldn't solve.  I watched Wendy hug Steve, and I heard an even more confusing statement.

"Don't pin all of your hopes on one person, Steve," she said quietly.  "I'd hate to see a repeat of last summer. I love you like a brother, you know?"

"I love you, too," he said softly.  "Don't worry about me so much."

I noticed Nick looking at me with a worried expression on his face, and I got the feeling that I was witnessing something that Steve may not have wanted me to see.  He'd told me that he had his secrets, and now more than ever, I believed him.  I just wished that there was a way that I could get away and give them some privacy.

Steve was silent as he drove us home that night.  I didn't know what to say to get him talking again, so I just stayed quiet.  I'd never seen him like this before.  Nick didn't seem to have the words to bring Steve out of his mood, either.  I felt bad for him, but I didn't know what was on his mind.  I wished that I could talk to him about it and try to help, but I didn't want to push the issue, either.  Sometimes, trying too hard to help someone was just the way to make things worse.

For the rest of the night, Steve was quiet.  He showed me where the guest room was in the house, and asked me if I needed anything.  When I said no, he abruptly said goodnight to me.  Nick followed him down the hall to what I assumed was Steve's bed room.  I got ready for bed more confused than ever.  Had I done something? Had I said the wrong things when he was talking to me and Wendy? Paranoia or no paranoia, that was a distinct possibility.  I hoped not, though.  I settled down into a less than comfortable sleep.

The next morning, Steve found me sitting on the side of the bed.  I was dressed in my sweat shorts and tank top, and he stood in the doorway, looking at me for a few minutes.  His face was still shadowed, and his eyes were troubled.  I hoped that he really wasn't upset over something that I had done or said, because that would be awful.

"Morning," he said finally.

"Morning," I replied.

"Look, I'm sorry about last night, Tommy," he said.  "I shouldn't have just dumped you in here like that. I was having a problem, and I needed to talk to Nick, but I could have at least explained that to you. I thought I was over this, and I was doing really good until last night. I guess maybe I'm not as good at acceptance as I thought."

"Hey, I'm ok," I said.  "I slept good. No worries, Bud."

"Thanks," he said, smiling at me.  "Let's go workout."

Our workout was a bit heavier that morning, but I didn't comment.  My muscles were really going to be sore for the rest of the day, but I figured that Steve was just working off some steam.  He was talking to me more, but he still seemed withdrawn.  Every now and then, I got the feeling that he wanted to say something to me.  I waited, and gave him the chance, but he never said anything.  He'd just sigh and go back to working out.

Our days went on like that for a while.  Sometimes Steve was like he was when I first met him, but most of the time, he was quiet and withdrawn.  Everyone noticed it.  Sharon kept asking me and Nick if Steve was ok, but I didn't know what to say to her.  I heard Nick tell her that he was dealing, but I didn't know what that meant.  When Sharon told Nick that she wished Steve would just say what was on his mind and stop being scared, he'd feel better, I was sure that I needed to get away from them.

I went with Steve and Nick to Wendy's on Wednesday that week to watch movies.  I talked a bit to Peter and Jeremy, but Peter was worried about Steve, and Jeremy didn't say much about anything.  Marcy was nice.  She wasn't that bad looking, either.  She had long hair, about a shade darker than Wendy's, and her eyes were green like mine.  She smiled when she was introduced to me, and she seemed genuinely interested in talking to me.  I didn't have to worry about her thinking that there might be something down the line for us, because she only had eyes for Peter.

Mom's case continued to keep her working long hours, and I continued to spend lots of time at Nick's.  Sharon did her best to help me with my little problems, but she kept telling me that I needed to trust my friends a little bit more.  I always left those conversations confused.  It seemed to me that Sharon was trying to get me to come out to the rest of the group, but I was nowhere near ready for that.  I barely knew Peter and Jeremy, and I didn't think it would be a wise move to tell Wendy, either.  Steve had enough to deal with it seemed.

At the end of July, Sharon took me, Nick and Steve to Magic Land.  My mom and Mike told us to just go and have fun.  They were nowhere near a place in the case where there would be any time for them to go with us.  I was kind of sad that my mom couldn't go and have fun, too, but I enjoyed myself the best I could.

The park was very big.  It was nowhere near as large as Disney World, but it sure had nothing to be ashamed of.  There were seven rollercoasters, and many other attractions and rides to choose from.  Steve and Nick loved the rollercoasters as much as I did, but Sharon always just watched us from the ground.  She rode White Water Rampage with us, though, and we all got soaked.  It was probably the only ride that she actually rode, but she had fun.

My mom had given me fifty dollars to spend on myself at the park, and when I saw the prices of food and drinks, I was thankful that she gave me so much.  Steve offered to pay for my lunch, but I politely refused.  Sharon watched us closely during that exchange, and she smiled at me when Steve wasn't looking.

We played a few games, and Steve and Nick both one prizes.  I wasn't so lucky that day, so I didn't win anything.  Steve kept saying that he didn't like the bear that he one, but Nick seemed to be happy with his T-shirt.  By the end of the night, Steve told me to hang on to his bear.  He said that he didn't want it, but I could have it.

"Maybe you'll find someone to give it to, or something," he said.

It was corny, but I knew I'd never get rid of that bear.  I'd probably be the butt of a few jokes about it, but I didn't care.  I was keeping the stuffed animal.  I told myself not to put the sentiment on the bear that Steve had given it to me, but I couldn't help it.  Every morning when I got out of bed, I saw that bear sitting on my dresser, and it made me smile.  Pathetic, huh?

A strange event in Mom's case happened in the middle of August.  I woke up late that morning.  Steve had told me the night before that he wasn't in the mood to work out, so I didn't bother to set my alarm.  When I got downstairs, my mother was in the kitchen.  I looked at the clock, and she just laughed.

"I gave my closing argument yesterday," she said.  "The jury is in deliberation, so there wasn't much for me or Mike to do. We're both home today. We'll be home as long as the jury is out, unless something comes up."

"Cool," I said.  "How do you think it went?"

"Well, I don't want to get too excited yet, but I think that its going my way," she said.  "The jury seemed to respond to me, and Mike said that I was pretty good in the courtroom. I didn't think that my client agreed, but he said he was happy with the way I represented him."

"That's good, Mom," I said.  "I'm glad its going your way."

"School's starting soon," she reminded, making me grown.  "We need to go shopping. We should probably do that today. I don't know how long the jury will be out. Mike says he thinks it'll be a while, but I'm not so sure."

"We can go today," I said.  "How would they find you if we weren't at home?"

"Easy," she said, taking a cell phone out of her purse.  "The firm gave me this, so that I could be reached anywhere."

"Cool," I said.  "Steve's brother has a cell phone."

"Grab some breakfast and hit the shower," she said.  "We'll get going as soon as you're ready."

We shopped for most of the day, taking a break for lunch around noon.  Mom bought me more clothes in this trip than she'd ever bought me at one time.  I had shoes, socks, underwear, jeans and more shirts than I could count.  She even made me pick out sweaters, and it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around the fact that in Storyville, winter was the real deal.

After lunch, we stopped and got school supplies.  She said she'd talked to Sharon about what I would need, and Sharon had given her a list.  By the time we got home, it was almost supper time, and I had to make about four trips to the car to get everything she'd bought for me.  I chuckled, thinking that I'd grow out of half of this stuff by the end of the school year.

Peter and Nick came over a little bit later to see what all my mom had got me for school.  Peter was amazed at all the clothes.  Nick just shook his head.  We all laughed about it, but I knew why she went so gung ho.  Mom was showing me that we could afford things now, and she was making up for all of the time that she'd been away at work.

"Man, your mom knows how to shop!" said Peter as he looked at some of my new clothes.  "I won't even have to look when I go. I'll just come over and look through your stuff to see what I want and have my mom take me out to get the same thing."

"You wear all this stuff, and you'll look like Steve," laughed Nick.  "Did you pick all of this out?"

"Actually, I did," I replied.  "Some of it I let my mom decide on, but I always pick out my own clothes."

"Well, Steve will be wanting to borrow some of this, I'm sure," said Peter.

My mom took me, Nick and Peter out for pizza that night.  She laughed and joked with us, and I was really happy to spend time with her.  I'd missed her while she was working so hard.  I didn't realize how much until that night.  Mom and I had always done things together, but since she'd landed that case, I spent almost all of my time at Nick's or Steve's.

The jury didn't come back for a few days.  Mom said that she wasn't sure what that meant for the case, but Mike kept telling her not to worry.  We went to the school to enroll me, and I was shocked at how small the school was.  Nick told me that there weren't half as many people living in Storyville as there were in Tampa, so the schools didn't have to be so big.

Wendy through another party right before school started.  More people were at that one than the last party she through.  Steve came out of his shell for the party, and he laughed and talked with everyone like nothing was wrong.  I knew that something was weighing him down, though.  He'd been silent for almost all of our runs and work outs for weeks.  When I told Nick that I was worried about him one day, Nick just said he was, too.

"So, did you ever get enrolled?" asked Wendy the night of her party.

"Oh, yeah," I said.  "We went down last week and took care of all of that. Nick and Sharon went with us."

"So what did you think of the school?" she asked.

"Small," I replied, and we both laughed.

"Steve seems to be having a good time," she said, directing my attention to a group of kids on the other side of the pool.  Steve was in the center of the group, and he seemed to be entertaining them.

"Yeah," I said.  "I hope that he's gotten over whatever was bothering him, but I'm not holding my breath."

"You really are a good guy," she said, startling me.

"What?" I asked.

"Well, I have to say that I wasn't sure about you for a while," she admitted.  "You just seemed so closed off. But I see how you hang out with Steve when he's down, and you never push him to talk. He'd tell me if you had."

"Steve will talk when he's ready," I replied.  "Pushing him will only make things worse."

"You have no idea what's bothering him, do you?" she asked, looking hard at me.

"He hasn't said anything to me," I sighed.  "He talks to Nick, and I guess he talks to you. I've even seen Sharon take him off into the other room at Nick's from time to time, but he doesn't talk to me about it."

"We're trying to convince him to," she said.  "But promise me that if he does, you'll keep an open mind."

"What do you mean?" I asked.  The serious look on her face kind of scared me.

"If Steve tells you what's on his mind," she said.

"Wendy, I'm his friend," I replied.  "I'm sure that whatever is bothering him is pretty bad, but it wouldn't be a reason for me to stop being his friend. I like Steve. I like him a lot. I don't see much that could change that, unless he just stopped wanting to be my friend entirely."

That was all she said about it, and I was more confused than ever.  Something was eating at Steve, and everyone seemed to know about it.  I wished he'd talk to me.  It was hard to see him in pain like that, and I had to admit that I cared a bit more than I should about him.  When he did talk to me, he told things about himself that I really liked.  In a lot of ways, we were alike.  We were different in just enough ways for me to like him more and more.  It was starting to get frustrating.

The jury finally came back the day before school started.  Mom came home that afternoon more excited than I'd ever seen her before.  She just kept hugging me and smiling.  It was clear that she'd gotten the verdict she wanted, and I was happy for her.  To celebrate, Mike took us all out to dinner that night at a place where we had to look good to get in.

I dressed in a pair of tan corduroy pants and a green polo shirt.  My mom told me I looked really good, and she loved my shirt.  She was wearing a skirt.  She only wore skirts and dresses when she was really celebrating.  It was nice to see her so happy.  Mike and Sharon seemed to be just as happy as my mother.  I went upstairs to wait with Nick, but when I got there, I saw Steve through the door, and I stopped dead in my tracks.

He was dressed in black pants with a blue dress shirt, and I swear to God that it was like there was a light behind his eyes.  He looked so hot that night that I almost ran into the room and made a complete ass of myself.  This was getting very bad.  I had to get over Steve some how.  It was clear to me that he wasn't gay, and he was having some kind of problem that he didn't want to share with me.

"Just tell him, Steve," I heard Nick say.  "I'm telling you he can be trusted. He's your friend."

"Right," said Steve.  "Maybe I want to keep it that way, Nick. I can't tell him anything right now."

"Tell me what?" I asked, walking into the room.

"God," cried Steve.  "Nick!"

"Steve, calm down," he said.  "Tommy, how much did you hear?"

"Just that you want Steve to tell me something that he doesn't want to tell me," I said.  "Nick, leave him alone. If he doesn't want to talk to me about what's bothering him, I can accept that. It isn't like I'm ready to tell him my secrets, either."

"What's that supposed to mean?" fired Steve.

"It means what you think, Steve," I said.  "I understand. You have something bothering you that you don't feel you can tell me about, and you've told me before that you knew there was something that I don't talk about. Well, I'm not going to, either."

"Tommy," said Nick.

"No," I said quickly.  "There's no reason for me or Steve to tell each other anything. We get along fine as it is. If whatever it is that's on his mind is so heavy that he thinks I can't handle it, I have to respect that. Its bad that he thinks he can't trust me, but I can't do anything about that."

"You don't trust me, either," said Steve.  I could see from the look in his eyes that the fact hurt him.

"Tommy," said Nick again.

"Look, tonight is for our parents," I said.  "Let's just be good boys and let them enjoy their night."

I turned around and walked away from them.  Once downstairs, I put on a fake smile and pretended nothing was wrong.  Inside I was screaming at myself for doing that.  When I was saying those things, I told myself that this was the way to get over Steve.  Make him not like me at all, and then it would be easy to get over him.  But I didn't expect him to be hurt.  I hated myself for that.

"Are Steve and Nick about ready?" asked Sharon when I got downstairs.

"They were about ready when I came down," I replied.  "They should be down any minute."

"I hope they hurry," said Mike, walking over to hug his wife.  "We need to get going if we're going to make our reservation."

"Tommy," said my mother, looking at me hard.  "Are you all right?"

"Fine," I replied, invoking my best fake smile.

They came downstairs, but everyone could tell that things were not fine between us.  Sharon looked from me to Steve and back with a frown.  How could that woman always tell when two people were at odds with each other? I knew she was a psychiatrist, but no psychiatrist is that damned good.  Sometimes I hated her insight.

"Let's go," said Mike.  "Two cars?"

"We could take . . ."

"Two cars sounds good," I said, cutting Sharon off.  I saw her give me a hard look, but I just couldn't sit in the van with Steve and Nick right then.  If I did, I'd say something that would stun Steve.

"We'll meet you at the restaurant," said Mom, looking at me just as hard as Sharon.

I could tell that my mom was angry with me, and I hated that.  I just couldn't deal with them right now.  I didn't even know how I was going to make it through dinner.  Everyone was looking at me, and I thought about just telling them I would stay home, but this was supposed to be a celebration.  I'd ruined it already, but there was no reason to completely destroy it.

"What the Hell was that all about?" demanded Mom when we were buckling ourselves in.

"Mom, let's just have fun tonight, ok?" I said.  "I don't want to talk about this now."

"Well, you were rude to Sharon," she said.

"And I'm sorry for that," I replied.  "But right now it isn't a good idea to put me, Steve and Nick in the same car."

"This again?" she sighed.  "I thought you guys had gotten past this."

"Apparently not," I said.  "I'll explain it when I'm ready, Mom. Please don't push."

"How am I supposed to have a good time if I know you're upset?" she asked.

"I'm fine, Mom," I replied, flashing her another of my fake smiles.  "Really."

"Liar," she said as she started the car.

Santucci's was a very nice place.  The entire restaurant was decorated to look like you'd stepped into a part of Italy.  We were seated by a pretty girl with long auburn hair and dark eyes.  She gave us our menus and told us that Chet would be our server, and he would be with us shortly.

"The place looks different than last time we were here," said Nick, looking around.

"They had to replace the ceiling and one wall after the fire," said Steve.  "I watched them work when Peter and I would take off on Saturdays."

"There was a fire?" asked my mother.

I sat there, listening to Mike and Steve fill my mother in on the fire, but I didn't really hear much.  I couldn't stop myself from watching Steve.  I felt so bad for hurting his feelings like I had.  I wished that he'd just tell me what was on his mind, but wishing for that made me feel guilty, because I didn't think I would tell him my secret even if he told me his.  I was thinking about it all so hard that I barely heard the waiter, Chet, ask what everyone wanted, and I remember absently telling him that I would take the lasagna with a Coke.

I noticed Sharon looking at me from time to time, and I tried to smile at her a few times, but she never smiled back.  Instead, she just looked worried.  Steve watched me on and off, too.  The only reason that I knew it was because I watched him, too.  I didn't know what to do about this.  I'd made a big mistake, and I couldn't fix it.  I wished that there was some sort of happy medium, but that only works in the movies.  I had to do some hard thinking about how much I could trust my friends, and it scared the shit out of me.

Even later, when I got home, I wouldn't talk to Mom about it.  I begged off, saying that this was something I really had to think about on my own.  I know she didn't like it, but I just wasn't ready to talk about it all.  I had to decide if I thought my new friends could handle the fact that I was gay or not.  In reality, I just needed to figure out if I had the balls to actually tell them.

I went to bed early, but I didn't get much sleep.  I couldn't get my mind to settle, so I tossed and turned for most of the night.  My stand by alarm woke me at six, and I cussed it again.  I felt like I'd only just shut my eyes when the annoying screech started.  I took a long hot shower to wake me up, and Mom had breakfast ready for me.

"Did you sleep at all?" she asked when I plunged into a kitchen chair.

"Some," I replied, buttering my toast.

"Tommy, this isn't good," she said.  "Its your first day of school."

"Its only a half day, Mom," I replied.  "I'll come straight home and get some sleep. I promise."

"You have to talk to him, Tommy," she said, making me cringe.

"I can't," I said.  "Mom, he won't tell me what's on his mind, so I don't think I can tell him what's on mine."

"That isn't exactly fair, Tommy," she said.  "From what Sharon tells me, Steve has had it pretty rough. She wouldn't go into detail, but she said he tried to kill himself last year. If that is what's on his mind, then maybe he simply can't tell you. Maybe he doesn't know how."

I thought about that all through the day.  My classes seemed like they were going to be ok.  I wasn't sure about Chemistry, but Algebra wasn't going to give me a problem.  My biggest problem was that Steve was in four of my seven classes.  Each time we saw each other, we both just looked down and walked away.

For days this is how it all went.  I'd get up in the morning, Vince would drive us all to school.  I'd hang out with everyone in the morning before the first bell.  Wendy would try to cheer both me and Steve up every morning.  Nick did his best to get us to talk to each other, but it didn't work.  We'd separate for our classes, but I didn't have any classes that didn't have at least one of them in it.  At lunch we'd all be together again.  I'd join in the conversation, and so would Steve.  We never actually said much to each other, though.

Ben was worried about me.  Our chats were filled with him telling me to talk to Steve.  Andy even got on the band wagon from time to time.  My mom was telling me to talk to him, Sharon, Nick, Ben and Andy told me to talk to him.  I couldn't understand why I just didn't know how to talk to him.  This was harder than telling Ben.

It was two weeks after school started when the silence was finally broken.  It was Friday, and I'd just came home from school.  I logged on to my email server before I started my homework, and I was shocked to find an email from Steve.  We hadn't said more than a few words a day to each other in weeks.  Now I had an email from him.  They always say that when you can't say it in words, its better to write it down.  Maybe this was what he was doing.  I wasn't prepared for what I read, though.  It thoroughly stunned me to my core.


I hate it that we don't talk anymore. I was really getting to like our friendship. My problem is that friendship isn't all that I wanted it to be. You'll probably never want to talk to me again after you read this, but I just can't keep this a secret from you anymore. I promised you that if I ever had anything to say about you again, I'd tell you first. Well, I'm sorry, but I kind of lied on that one.

You see, I've talked to Nick about you a lot, and I've talked to Wendy even more. Sharon and I have had so many talks about this that she's ready to strangle me for not talking to you. It was never about trust, Tommy. You have to understand that. I feel like I could trust you just as much, if not more, than I trust Nick and Wendy. These are friends that I've known almost all my life, but I feel closer to you than anyone else.

This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do, Tommy, but I can't keep it secret anymore.  I'm gay, Tommy.  I don't know how you feel about that, but if you digested that one, I've got a better one for you. The reason that I kept avoiding this is because I'm afraid that you'll hate me. Not because I'm gay, though. Sharon assures me that you probably won't mind that at all. But there's more to it than that, and its the other part I'm not sure of.

I guess the only way to do this is to just jump right in, so here I go. I've liked you since the first time I saw you that day in Nick's living room. What I said to Nick that I didn't want you to know that day was that I really thought you were good looking. I got Wendy off of your back for two reasons.  One, it was clear that you didn't like her the way she liked you, but the biggest reason was because I couldn't stand the thought of her having someone I want for myself. Its selfish, and I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.

We got to know each other so fast, and I almost blurted it out to you so many times. It ate me up, Tommy. I had to tell you this. I know I'm a coward for not doing this face to face, but I hope that if you overlook any of this, my cowardliness is what you forgive me for. I'm sure that you won't feel comfortable with me around, so I won't put myself in your face. If you don't want to ride to school with us anymore, I'll understand. If I don't hear anything from you after this, then I'll know where you stand.

Hopefully still friends,


I sat there, staring at my computer screen, and for some reason, I started to cry.  I couldn't believe what I'd read, and half of my brain told me it was a cruel trick.  My heart believed it, though.  Steve was gay, and he wanted to be with me. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense.  The times I'd caught him looking at me, the odd looks he gave me whenever I talked to girls, the secrets kept from me, all of this was because he was scared to tell me.  This was so much like what I went through over liking Ben.  It was so strange to be on the other side of it.

I wanted to run over to his house and throw my arms around him.  I almost got out of my chair and did it, but my brain out ranked my heart, thankfully.  I had no idea what his situation at home was like.  I'd only met his parents a few times.  I didn't know if he was out to them or not.  Going over there and trying to show him that I wanted him, too would only be a mistake if they didn't know about him and accept him.

I didn't know what to do at first.  I thought about calling him, but I didn't want to say it over the telephone.  I thought about sending him an email, but I felt he deserved something better than that.  Messengers weren't going to work, either.  I was signed on to all of mine, and he wasn't online on any of them.  I knew I would go crazy if I didn't talk to someone about this, and my mom wasn't home yet.

Reading through the email again, I saw that he'd written about talking to Nick and Wendy about this.  Did this mean that they knew? It wasn't hard for me to believe that Nick knew about it.  He knew about me, and he accepted me any way.  But Wendy? Could she know about Steve?

I logged off of everything, grabbed my house key and ran down the stairs and out the front door.  Nick was one I could talk to.  Nick knew.  Steve had already said that he'd told Nick that he thought I was attractive.  That had to mean that Nick knew Steve was gay.  I just had to tell him that I knew, too.

"Hey," he said when he opened the door.

"I have to talk to you," I said quickly.

"Come on in," he said, stepping aside.

"Nick, I know about Steve," I blurted.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"He sent me an email and told me everything," I said.  "I can't believe he told me that way, but I understand why he did it. Nick, I know what you guys talked about that day when you wouldn't tell me. I know all about it now."

"Slow down," he said.  "You're talking way too fast. What did we say about you that day?"

"He told you he thought I was good looking," I said, smiling like an idiot.  "He likes me!"

"Calm down," said Nick.  "If you say it any louder, the whole block will know that you're both gay."

"It's true!" I cried.  "Oh, Nick, I feel so bad now."

"Bad?" he asked with confusion.  "You don't like him?"

"No!" I cried.  "That's not it. I feel bad, because I hurt his feelings the night we went to the restaurant. I feel bad, because I was mean to him."

"So you do like him?" he asked still unsure.

"Yes!" I said.  "I've liked him from the minute I first saw him."

"Everyone has been telling him to come out to you," sighed Nick.  "My mom was about ready to force him to. Wendy and Peter are both tired of hearing this, but they don't know about you, yet."

"They all know about Steve?" I was shocked.

"Tommy, all of our friends know about Steve," he said.  "Wendy, Peter, Jeremy, all of us. When he came out last summer, he came out to all of us. I can't tell you how he did it, but yes, we all know about Steve."

"My God," I said.  "Everyone accepts it?"

"Tommy, we have good friends," he said.  "I tried to tell you that you could trust them. They'll accept you no matter what your sexual preference is."

"I want to talk to Steve," I said pleadingly.

"Well then call him, or go over there," said Nick, smiling.

"What about his parents?" I asked.  "Do they know?"

"I'll let Steve explain that to you," he said.  "But they aren't home any way."

Just then, Sharon came in the door.  She was early, but I didn't care.  I was just happy to see her.  I had to tell someone besides Nick that Steve liked me.  I was so excited that I could hardly stand still.  I just couldn't believe it.  He liked me.  Steve Sutton liked me!

"Well, you certainly look happy today, Tommy," said Sharon, smiling as she came in the front door.

"Oh, he's happy," laughed Nick.

"Steve told me!" I cried, hugging her.  I knew that I probably startled her, but I couldn't help it.

"Told you what?" she asked when I let her go.

"Mom!" said Nick.  "Come on!"

"Finally?" she asked, looking at Nick.

"Finally," he agreed.

"Its about damned time," she said with her hands on her hips.  "What did you say to him?"

"I haven't talked to him yet," I replied.  "He sent me an email."

"Email?" she said, shaking her head.  "That boy."

"I'm going over there," I said.

"Don't bother," said Nick.  "He's coming up the walk right now."

I almost knocked Sharon over trying to get to the door.  She laughed and told me to go sit down.  I looked at her like she was crazy.

"You'll scare him to death if you pounce on him like I know you were about to," she chuckled.  "Now sit."

"At least come in the living room," said Nick, grabbing my arm and pulling me out of the hall.

"Hi, Steve," said Sharon.  "Come on in, honey."

"Thanks, Sharon," he said.  His voice sounded so sad that I again tried to run to him, but Nick stopped me again.  "Is Nick here?"

"Honey, don't look so down," Sharon said.  "Everything is going to be all right."

"Sharon," he said, and I could tell that he was crying.  "I'm scared."

I wanted to run to him, but Nick kept holding me back.  I was about to slug him.  I couldn't believe he'd let Steve stand there and suffer like that.  He was supposed to be his best friend.  How could he do that?

"You told Tommy, right?" she asked.  I didn't hear him say anything, but he must have nodded at least.  "Oh, honey, its ok. I told you that he would understand, didn't I?"

"I told him everything, Sharon," he said.  "Not just about me, but that I like him and everything!"

"Steve, come in the living room with me," she said.  "Tommy is here, and he really wants to talk to you."

"I can't face him, Sharon," he said, and then I heard him crying.

I couldn't take it any more.  I jerked my arm out of Nick's hand and ran to the hall.  Steve looked like he was going to freak when he saw me, but I grabbed him and held him so tight.  I don't even remember if I actually said anything or not.  I just remember holding him and wishing that he wouldn't cry anymore.  It felt like forever before he finally put his arms around me, too.  When he did, I about died.  I couldn't believe that I was actually holding him.

"You don't hate me?" he asked with a shaky voice.

"Steve, I don't hate you," I said.  "I'm gay, Steve. That was the secret that I was hiding from you. The other was that I like you the same way that you like me. Please don't cry anymore."

"I was so scared that you would hate me, Tommy," he said, still sobbing.  "I didn't even mean to hit send. When I realized that I actually sent the email I freaked out. I've been at home going crazy."

"Steve, I'm so glad that you sent that email," I said, and I was crying, too.

"Boys," said Sharon.  "Go into the living room and sit down. You're standing in front of the open door."

That got us moving.  I pulled away from Steve, and we walked into the living room where Nick was grinning like an idiot.  We sat on the couch, side by side.  I put my arm around Steve, and he just leaned his head over and laid it on my shoulder.  It felt so good to hold him.  I couldn't believe it.

"I told you to tell him, Steve," said Nick.  "I didn't know this would happen, but I knew that he wouldn't hate you for it."

"I was so scared," Steve said again.  "I didn't know what was going to happen, but I was sure that he wouldn't even be my friend anymore."

"Steve, I'll be your friend for the rest of our lives," I said, squeezing him tighter.

"Tommy," he said, looking at me with tear filled eyes.  "I think I love you."

The words I wanted so bad to hear him say to me! He said he loved me.  Omigod! Steve said he loved me! There wasn't a happier fifteen year old boy in the whole world.

"Well, that's good," I said, smiling.  "Because I think I love you, too."

"Well, if you don't want to come out to anyone else, Tommy," said Nick.  "You'd better let go of him. Wendy's on her way to the door right now."

"Oh, God!" cried Steve, sitting up again.  "I was supposed to call her back! I was talking to her on the phone after I sent that email."

We didn't let go of each other, and I had no intentions of letting him go for a while.  At that point, I didn't give a rat's ass who saw us like that.  I had him, and I didn't care who knew it.  The Pope could have been walking up the walk at that moment, and I don't think I'd have been phased.

"Is Steve over here?" we heard Wendy ask from the door.

"I'm in the living room," called Steve.

"Steven Michael Sutton!" she cried.  "Your brother has been calling me like crazy! He's worried sick about . . ."

"I'm fine now, Wendy," he said when she came into the living room and saw us sitting there.

"I knew it!" she cried, smiling.  "You two are such idiots, you know? I can't believe it took this long!"

"What do you mean?" I asked her, freaked by what she'd said when she came in.

"Oh, come on, Tommy," she said.  "I've seen the way you two look at each other. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you liked him, too."

"I was that obvious?" I asked.

"Well, ok, so I didn't know for sure," she said, smiling again.  "But I hoped."

"He loves me, Wendy," Steve said.  "He told me he loves me!"

"I'm happy for you, Steve," she said.  "Its about time you had some good luck."

"Thank you, Wendy," he said.

We sat there, talking for a while, and Sharon just watched us with a smile on her face.  I didn't know what she really thought about me and Steve being together, but I was sure she'd tell us eventually.  Nick kept smiling like he'd won the lottery, and Wendy looked happier than I'd ever seen her.  No one was happier than I was, though.  I still half believed that it was all a dream.  I'd wake up, and Steve and I still wouldn't be talking to each other, and I'd still be miserable.

Steve called his house and talked to Vince, and I about choked when he told him the news.  I had no idea that Vince even knew Steve was gay.  I guess it was ok for him to tell Vince about me if he knew about Steve already.  I wasn't going to hide from the people who knew about Steve and accepted it.

"Vince, I'm fine," he said.  "I'll be home later."

"So, I take it you won't be coming to my house tonight," said Wendy, smiling.

"I don't know what I'm doing tonight," he said.  "I want to spend time with Tommy."

"I want to spend time with you, too," I said, hugging him again.

"Well, what are you going to tell your mother, Tommy?" asked Sharon.

"The truth," I said, looking at her like she was nuts.  She knew my mom already knew I was gay and didn't have a problem with it.

"Well, what is she going to say?" she asked.

"Your mom doesn't know?" asked Steve, stiffening under my arm.

"My mom has known almost as long as I have," I said, calming him.  "She'll be happy for me, Sharon. You know that."

"Honey, its one thing to accept that your son is gay," she said.  "Its another to accept that he actually has a boyfriend."

"You are my boyfriend, right?" asked Steve.

"What kind of question is that?" I asked, turning to him.  "Yes! God, yes."

"Well, I guess he's your boyfriend," chuckled Wendy, making me blush.

"My mom didn't seem to be too worried about when I told her how much I liked Steve," I said.  "She even agreed that he's a good looking guy."

"Well, you should sit her down and talk to her about it before showing her," she said.  "She's pulling up outside now. Why don't you boys go and talk to her."

"Will it be ok?" asked Steve, looking at me with a worried expression.

"It will be fine," I assured him, silently fuming.  Why did Sharon do that? Was she trying to make problems?

He followed me out of the house, and we walked across the lawn.  My mom was just getting out of the car.  She didn't see us for a minute or so.  She was still getting her purse and briefcase out of the car.  When she finally did see us, she stopped and gawked at us.  For a second, I was afraid that we were still holding hands.

"You two are talking again?" she asked as she came up the walk.  I nodded and smiled.  "Thank God."

"There's more," I said, and Steve flinched beside me.  "Come inside, and we'll talk."

She followed us into the house, and I couldn't wait to tell her everything.  Then I caught the worried look on Steve's face.  Damn Sharon, I thought again.  Mom dropped her briefcase, and I stopped to help her.  She looked at me funny for a second, but then her expression softened again.

"Ok," she sighed as she sank into the recliner.  "What's the rest of the news?"

"Well," I said, looking to Steve for permission to tell my mother about him.  He looked terrified, but he nodded slightly.  "I told Steve that I'm gay."

"And I take it that he's fine with it," she said, smiling.  "That's wonderful, honey."

"I'm gay, too," Steve said quietly.

"You, too?" asked Mom.  "Well, I thought that might be what you were hiding."

"What?" he asked.  "How?"

"I'm the mother of a homosexual son," she laughed.  "I've seen that look on his face a thousand times. I'm not silly."

"Mom, what do you think about me having a boyfriend?" I asked, and Steve stiffened again.

"Well," she said, eyeing us.  "I suppose that it would be no different than if you had a girlfriend, really. Other than the fact that girls aren't normally allowed to spend the night with boys."

"Are you saying that we can't spend the night with each other now?" I asked, getting angry already.

"No," she said slowly.  "That's not what I'm saying. Tommy, I'm fine with you and Steve together. I have no problems with you having a boyfriend, but I am your mother."

"And?" I asked, trying hard to keep the bite out of my voice.

"Well, no mother wants to think about her fifteen year old son having sex," she said, making me blush.

"Mom!" I cried.  "We haven't even had a chance to talk about that kind of relationship yet. We only just started talking to each other about an hour ago, and Sharon was with us the whole time."

"Well, you can't tell me that the thought of having sex with your boyfriend has never crossed your mind," she said.  "Don't say anything. Let me talk."

"Mom . . ."

"Sit down and listen to me," she said.  "Both of you, please."

We sat down, and Steve looked more worried than ever.  I couldn't stand this.  If that expression didn't leave his face soon, I was really going to go off.  We finally got together, and I wasn't about to let anyone take the wind out of our sails.  This wasn't fair! How could Sharon and Mom do this?

"Look, Mom," I said unable to keep the edge out of my voice.  "We both just got happy. Why is everyone trying to make us unhappy again? What is it about everyone? Does everybody want us to be miserable?"

"If you'll stop and calm down, Thomas," she said, narrowing her eyes, "then you'll understand that I'm not trying to make you unhappy. I'm trying to keep myself sane."

"We're both just a little on edge, Donna," said Steve, nudging me to keep quiet.

"I understand that, and I'm sorry," she said.  "I hated watching you two the way you were. Believe me, I'd seen Tommy like that before.

"When he first told me that he was gay," she continued, "he pushed away all of his friends, stayed in his room, snapped at me all of the time and was just completely miserable. I thought I was going to lose Tommy. I was very afraid that he would hurt himself. If you could have only seen him the night he actually told me what was going on. He was physically ill, Steve. He was more upset and scared than I've ever seen him before."

"I can relate to that, Donna," said Steve.  "I actually tried to kill myself before I came out of the closet. My brother, Vince, is the one who stopped me that night, and he was the first person I told."

"Steve, I'm so sorry to hear that," said Mom.  "I hope that your parents got you some help."

"My parents won't even look at me now," he said bitterly.  "When I told my mother, she just got up and walked away from me. I was sitting on the bathroom floor, crying my eyes out. Vince told me I had to tell Mom, and now I wish I hadn't. When she told Dad, it was Hell for a while. He wanted me out of the house. I was fourteen years old, and he wanted to throw me out in the street."

"I'm so sorry," she said.  "I'll never understand how parents can do that to their own child."

"I'm just happy that my friends accepted me," he said.  "I practically lived at Nick's for like a year. Sharon talked to me a lot, and she got me all kinds of information, books, articles from the internet and stuff like that. She was great. Nick took the news like I'd just told him that I was tired or something. He just looked at me and said, 'So?'"

"Nick is a very great kid," said Mom.  "We had a bit of a rocky time when Tommy had to come out to Nick, but when it was all said and done, Nick was afraid that Tommy wouldn't want to be his friend anymore."

"I'll have to get that story from Nick and Tommy," chuckled Steve.

"Boys, I'm not trying to say that I don't want you to be together," said Mom.  "Tommy, you know I would never try to make you unhappy. All I want to discuss with you is responsibility."

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "You told me a year ago that I was responsible enough to stay home by myself."

"That's different," she said.  "What about sex? I know they teach sexual education in school, but do they go into depth about homosexual sex? Do you even know what it entails?"

"Yes, Mom," I said embarrassed.  "I'm not a child anymore. I know how homosexual men have sex with each other."

"Are you emotionally ready to handle that?" she asked.  "Are you physically ready for anal sex?"

"Mom!" I cried.  "That's a very private thing. I can't discuss that with you!"

"Well, you're going to have to," she said.  "I'm not going to consent to the two of you sleeping in the same bed under any roof unless I know that you can handle yourself physically and emotionally. Tommy, there's no way I can test you on this stuff. I can't leave you alone with Steve, and tell you to have every conceivable kind of sex and then come back and have you tell me how it went."

"What exactly are you asking of us?" asked Steve.  He'd calmed down considerably.  I, on the other hand, was still angry.

"I'm asking you both to promise me that you won't do anything to hurt each other," she said.  "I don't mean fighting, because every relationship has turbulence now and then. I'm talking about sex, boys. I don't want either of you to push the other into something you're not ready for."

"Donna, I would never do that to Tommy," said Steve.  "I really care about him, and I wouldn't do anything to hurt him intentionally in any way."

"Thank you, Steve," she said.  "That's what I wanted to hear."

"Well, you know I wouldn't push him into anything, Mom," I said.  "I'd end up hurting myself in the process if I did that."

"Tommy, I think that's a bit more information than I required," she said, chuckling.  Steve blushed.

"No!" I laughed.  God! What did she think of me? I wasn't a sex monger!  "That's not what I meant. I don't even know if I could even do that. What I meant was that if I hurt him by forcing him into something he wasn't ready for, he'd leave me eventually, and I'd be hurt by that."

"Tommy, you are growing up so fast," she said, smiling.  "That's the most responsible thing I've ever heard you say. I'm proud of you."

"So does this mean that we can still be together?" I asked.

"Thomas!" she gasped.  "I never said you couldn't have Steve as your boyfriend! I didn't even say that you couldn't be sexually active with him. I know that I can't physically stop you if that's what you want to do. I just wanted to make sure that, if your going to have sex, you know the emotional side of it. It isn't all fun, you know?"

"I know that," I replied.  "I'm not stupid."

"So you've shown me," she said.  "I just wanted to hear you say that you understood what I was getting at, Tommy. You did that."

"So you're not going to keep us from spending the night with each other?" I asked.

"No," she said.  "But in this house, there are ground rules."

"I know that," I said.

"Oh, these are brand new," she said.  "You were never having sex before."

"And I'm not now, either," I said, blushing.

"Tommy," she sighed.  "I didn't say you were. What I'm trying to say is that if you are going to spend the night together in my house, then you're going to follow some rules about it."

"Ok," I said.  "What are they?"

"First of all, I live here, too," she said.  "No over the top displays of affection."

"We can't hold hands or kiss and hug?" I asked, realizing that I had never kissed Steve before.  I glanced at him to catch his reaction.  He either didn't catch it, or he took it to mean that I wanted to kiss him.

"No, you can do all of that," she said.  "Even in front of me. I just don't want to see any groping, 'making out', or anything that would be inappropriate for a boy and girl to do in public."

"Well, I can pretty much promise you that we won't do anything like that," said Steve.  "I'd be too embarrassed for one thing."

"There's more," she said.

"Mom!" I cried.

"You will start doing your own laundry from now on," she said.  "That includes your bed sheets. I don't want to be confronted with anything while doing the laundry. Do you even know how to do the laundry?"

"I've done my own laundry before, Mom," I said, laughing at her.

"Ok," she said.  "Those are my rules. The only other thing is that if either of your grades start to slip, you spend some time away from each other until they come back up."

"Well how are we supposed to keep that one?" I asked.  "We don't even know what our grades are right now."

"We'll go from what your grades are at the end of the first quarter," she said.  "Steve, when report cards are handed out, I want to see yours, too."

"No problem," he said.  "I'm a good student, so I'm not worried about my grades falling. Studying is just something that I do."

"Tommy, do you agree to this?" she asked.

"Sure," I said.  "I've never had a problem with grades in my life."

"Well, then you'd better make sure you don't develop one," she said.

"So can Steve spend the night?" I asked.

"You don't have to ask me that anymore, Tommy," she said.  "Just follow the rules, and Steve can stay whenever he likes."

Steve called his brother to tell him that he was staying at my house, and Vince gave him pretty much the same speech my mom had just given us.  It seemed that both of them thought we were perverts that were only interested in sex.  At least they both agreed on letting us spend the night together.  Vince even said that Steve could stay with me on school nights.  I wondered just what the situation was with Steve's parents, but I wasn't going to push him for information.  He'd talk to me about it if he wanted to.

Nick finally had enough of waiting to find out what happened, so he came over a few minutes after Steve got off the phone with Vince.  He couldn't believe that my mom had said what she'd said, and I got a kick out of how big his eyes got when we told him.  He said his mom wanted to talk to my mom, so I had her call Sharon.

Sharon basically wanted to know what the ground rules were, and she told my mom that she'd have a discussion with us about the rules in her house before we spent the night there the next time.  I couldn't wait to hear what she had to say to us.  Mom said she would have sent us over to talk to Sharon and Mike right then, but she wanted us home for supper.  We went up to my room to wait for supper to be done.

"So, we're a couple now," said Steve when we got upstairs.  "Feels unreal to say that to you."

"I know what you mean," I said.  "I thought it was a dream until we started talking to my mom."

"I was scared shitless to talk to her," he laughed.

"I know you were," I said.  "I could see that."

"Well, we know your mom's rules," he said.  "I'm guessing we'll know Sharon and Mike's pretty soon, but what rules do we have?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.  I couldn't think of a reason for us to have rules of our own to go by.

"Well, like how far is too far?" he asked.  I watched his cheeks turn red after he said it, and I smiled.

"Why don't we just let things happen?" I suggested.  "We can stop if either of us get uncomfortable."

"That sounds ok," he said.  "I like what we've done so far."

"Me too," I agreed.  "But we haven't done anything more than hug each other."

"Yeah, but I liked it," he said, smiling at me.  "It felt so good to have you in my arms."

"I know what you mean," I said, wrapping my arms around him again.  "I could stay like this forever."

"Um, Tommy," he said, pulling away from me a bit.  "Can I kiss you?"

Instead of answering him, I just put my lips on his.  He responded by holding me tighter.  I felt tingles in my spine when his tongue touched my lips.  I wasn't sure he'd even want to go that far, but I opened my lips and let him really kiss me.  It was the most incredible feeling I ever had.  I don't think any kiss is ever as powerful as a first kiss.  It doesn't matter how long it lasts.  Its just the most amazing kiss you ever have.  We lasted for a while, by the way.

We sat on the bed and talked about what we wanted from each other.  He wanted to make sure that both of us remained the way we were.  He said he didn't want either of us to ever feel uncomfortable with the other, and I agreed.  I told him that I wanted to be able to tell him anything, and he said the same thing.

As far as sex went, we both agreed that we weren't ready for anal sex.  To be completely honest, I wasn't even sure if I could handle anything being inserted into that region of my body.  I didn't say anything, but I wasn't sure I ever would be ready for that.  We decided that other than that, we'd just let it happen and see how we felt about it.  For now, kissing, hugging and cuddling were enough for me.  I was interested in having sex, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't as important as I'd always thought it would be.

At supper, Mom talked to us just like she always had.  She didn't even mention our relationship even once.  And when we were watching television after supper, she didn't even bat an eye when Steve put his arm around me on the couch.  I did notice her looking at us from time to time with a smile on her face after we just sort of leaned on each other.  That's how it started, but by the time we were half way through the TV movie, we were lying on the couch.  I was behind him with my head on the arm of the couch, and my arm over him.  Every now and then, I'd rub his chest or stomach, and he'd run his fingers lightly over my hand.  It was peaceful and comfortable.  I really did love holding him.

In bed, we never made it past touching each other that night, but it was fine with me.  I was happy to fall asleep with him in my arms.  When we woke up, we were still in the same position as we were when we fell asleep.  He was lying on his side in front of me, and I was spooned up against his back with my arm over him.  The only difference was that when I woke up, his fingers were tangled with mine.

"You awake?" he asked after I'd been lying there just enjoying the feel of him for a few minutes.

"Yeah," I said.  "I didn't think you were, so I was being quiet."

"This is nice," he said.  "I like this a lot."

"Me, too," I said.

"Well, I'd love to stay like this all day, but if I don't get out of this bed, we're going to get wet," he said.  He rolled over and kissed me.  No tongue.  Morning breath can suck!  Then he got out of bed to go to the bathroom.  He didn't even try to hide his erection as it tented his boxers.  I guess it was probably pointless since mine had been poking him in the back ever since we woke up.

After we'd both taken turns in the bathroom and had our showers, we got dressed and went downstairs.  Mom was in the kitchen, drinking coffee when we came in.  She smiled at us as we both went for cereal.

"How'd you sleep?" she asked.

"Better than I ever have," I replied before I thought about what I was saying.  I felt my cheeks start to burn as soon as the last word was out of my mouth.

"Me too," said Steve, shocking me completely.  He didn't even blush after he said it!

"What are your plans for today?" she asked after we'd both sat down at the table, bowls and spoons in hand.

"Well," he said, "I figure we should go and talk to Sharon and Mike pretty soon. We might as well get it over with, right?" Mom nodded.

"Then we're supposed to hang out with the group," I said.  "Its been a while since we were all together at the same time."

"Are you going to tell the rest of your friends about this?" she asked.

"They all already know about me," said Steve.  "Its up to Tommy if he wants them to know about him."

"They accept Steve," I said.  "Telling them shouldn't be too difficult for me."

"I want you both to be very careful about how you act toward each other when people who don't know about you are around," she said.  "Not everyone will be as accepting as your friends are. You'll have to watch yourselves at school, too."

"Yeah," said Steve.  "I have a friend on the internet that got attacked at school for being gay, and he isn't even gay."

"That's horrible," said Mom.  "Tommy, I think it would be wise for you and Steve to consider taking some self defense classes."

"Sure, Mom," I said, knowing that when she got an idea in her head, it was pointless to argue with her.

"That teach karate at the youth club over by the middle school," said Steve.  "I could call them in the next few days to find out how much they cost. Then all I'd have to do is convince my parents to give me some money."

"The classes were my idea, Steve," said Mom.  "I'll pay for both of you. Don't argue. Tommy, tell him."

"Its not good to argue with her about a decision once she's made it," I told him.  "If you do, you're just going to waste your time. She's a Taurus."

"Ok," he said slowly.

"Find out how much the classes are and when they start," she said.  "Then let me know, and I'll go and sign both of you up. If you need a parent's signature . . ."

"I have that covered already," said Steve.  "Vince is eighteen, and he has guardianship over me. He can sign for me."

"Ok," she said.  I watched her eyebrows arch when he said that Vince was his guardian.

After breakfast, we went over to Sharon and Mike's to hear their lecture.  I was sure that it was going to be a lecture filled with "do this" and "don't do that".  After the way she'd acted the day before, I wasn't sure I wanted to spend the night over there anymore.  She didn't act too thrilled about me and Steve being together.

"Hi, boys," greeted Mike when he answered the door.  "Come on in. We were just talking about you."

"Then you better tell us what you said," laughed Steve.  "Tommy hates it when people talk behind his back about him."

This landed him an elbow to the ribs.  Mike and Steve just laughed.  Once Steve flashed that million dollar smile of his at me, I was over it, too.

"Hello, boys," said Sharon when we got to the dining room.  She was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of her.

"Mike tells us that you've been talking about us," said Steve, smiling at me.

"We have," she said.  "Come. Sit down."

"First of all," said Mike, "congratulations, boys. I'm happy for you both."

"Thanks, Mike," said Steve.

"Thank you," I said.  I wasn't going to let my guard down so easily.

"We wanted to talk to you both, because you're both very good friends with Nick," said Sharon.  "And we love you both and worry."

"You don't have to worry about us," I said, surprised at how natural my voice sounded when I said it.

"Well, that won't stop us from worrying," she said.  "We think of you as our own children."

"Thank you, Sharon," said Steve.

"What we wanted to do was set a few rules for when the two of you spend nights here at the same time," said Mike.  "We just don't want anyone to get embarrassed unnecessarily."

"Exactly," said Sharon.  "Your mom told me that she's set similar rules for you at home, Tommy. Ours won't be any worse than hers."

"Thank you," I said again.

"Tommy, you don't have to be on guard with me," she said.  "I'm really not against you at all. I think its great that you and Steve have found each other."

"Thank you," I said again.  "I'm glad we have, too."

"We just don't want you two to be uncomfortable over here," said Mike.

"Your mother said that she didn't want to see you boys doing anything that a boy and a girl wouldn't be allowed to do within reason, right?" asked Sharon.

"That's what she said," Steve agreed.

"Well, the same goes for over here," said Mike.  "Hugging, kisses that don't last for more than about thirty seconds, holding hands and putting your arms around each other is just as acceptable over here as it is at home. Just don't go overboard, boys."

"We won't," said Steve, blushing.

"I'm going to ask that if you two have a problem that you settle it on your own," said Sharon.  "Don't put Nick or anyone else in the middle of it."

"We wouldn't," I said.  "We talked about that last night on our own."

"Good," she said.  "I see that communication comes natural. That's a good sign."

"We don't want you to show any type of affection toward each other when we have adult company," said Mike.  "You know who you shouldn't do anything in front of in your own age group, so we'll leave that up to your discretion."

"We're not saying that we're ashamed of you at all," said Sharon, looking at me.  "We're just worried about what certain people that come to the house would say to you."

"It isn't that we wouldn't defend you," said Mike.  "We would rather just spare you from experiencing any kind of malice in our home."

"Thanks," said Steve.  "We appreciate that."

"Yes, thank you," I agreed.  "We wouldn't do anything in front of any of your guests that we wouldn't do in front of people we don't know or people that we don't know what their reaction would be."

"That's a good way to look at it, Tommy," said Mike.  "Very mature."  He was about the only person I knew that could say to a fifteen year old that they were acting mature and not make it sound condescending.

"Well, those are the rules," said Sharon.  "Boys, if you stay together when you stay here, we'll put you in the guest room. There's no need for you to be tempted to do anything with Nick in the room."

"Thank you," laughed Steve.

All in all it wasn't a bad lecture.  Actually, it didn't seem like a lecture at all.  Sharon and Mike kept the tone set more to that of a conversation than a lecture.  I was happy with them for that.  I also changed my opinion of what Sharon thought about me and Steve being together.  She even hugged us both when the conversation was closed.

"Oh my God!" gasped Peter when he saw us holding hands.

We were sitting in Wendy's basement, just hanging out and talking.  When Peter and Jeremy showed up, Steve and I were sitting on the couch in the refinished part of the basement, holding hands.  We'd forgotten we were doing it, but I had intended to tell Peter and Jeremy that I was gay anyway, so I guess it didn't really matter.

"Wow," said Jeremy.

"Yup," laughed Steve.  "He's mine!"

"Stop it," I said, poking him in the side.

"Hey!" he protested, but he grinned at me.

"I didn't know you were gay, Tommy," said Peter.  "I never would have guessed."

"Me either," said Jeremy.

"Well, I was going to tell all of you when you got here," I said.  "But holding Steve's hand kind of did it for me, I guess."

"What do you think, Peter?" asked Steve.

"Way cool," said Peter, smiling.  "I'm happy for you both."

"Thank you," I said, smiling.

Wendy came downstairs with a jug of soda and two bags of chips.  She told us that there were cups in the cabinet behind the entertainment center, and we all got a glass of the soda.  Wendy poured the chips into bowls and passed them around as we all sat back down to watch the first of the three movies she'd rented.

While we were watching the first movie, Steve and I went from holding hands to lazily stroking each other's hands.  I wasn't aware of the fact that we had slid sideways, and he was laying almost on me until I noticed Jeremy watching us with interest.  I pretended not to see him, but I kept watching him out of the corner of my eye.  When Steve reached his hand up to pull me down for a kiss, Jeremy caught me looking.

"Sorry," he said.  "I've just never seen anything like that before."

"You've never seen anyone kiss before?" asked Peter from the other side of us.

"Well, sure I've seen a guy and girl kiss before," he said, blushing.

"So what's the difference?" asked Wendy.  "They're just displaying affection for each other."

"They're not hurting anyone," said Nick.

"I didn't mean it in a bad way," said Jeremy, and I could tell he was getting flustered.

"Hey, its ok to look, Jeremy," I said.  "Its new to you, and you didn't know until you got here that I was even gay."

"Nope," he said.  "I seriously thought you were straight. The way Wendy hugs you all the time, I thought you were going to date her."

"I'd have had a serious problem with that," said Steve, making Wendy laugh.

"Yes, you told me that the day I first saw him," she said.

"That was the first day that I ever saw him, too," said Steve.

"So you've liked him since the very first day?" asked Jeremy.

I just sat back and listened to their discussion.  It made me feel good that they all accepted us so readily.  Even though I knew that they accepted Steve's sexuality, I'd still been a bit nervous about coming out to them.  They were quickly calming my nerves, though.  It was easy to see that they analyzed a lot of things, and they talked about everything, but I thought that was probably what made them such close friends.

"What are you thinking about, Bud?" asked Steve, breaking my concentration.

"You," I replied, and he rewarded me with one of those million dollar smiles of his.

"You guys are almost too cute," laughed Wendy.  "I really am glad that you are together, though."

"Thank you, Wendy," I said, smiling at her.

"Hey, if I can't be your girlfriend, then I'll just have to settle for being your girlfriend," she said, and we all cracked up at that.

After that, we all settled in and watched the next movie.  Each one of them watched us for a bit from time to time, each with his or her own smile.  Acceptance was a wonderful thing, and I didn't understand that until that afternoon.  Listening to the way that each one of them sounded off about how they felt about seeing Steve kiss me, taught me that Steve's friends were very good people.  Another thing they were continually teaching me was that they were also my friends.

Later that night, Steve stayed with me again.  This time, Nick stayed with us.  My mom didn't say anything about sleeping arrangements, so we put Nick in a sleeping bag on the floor, and Steve and I climbed into my small, single bed.  Single beds can be great for cuddling, but sleeping with another person in the bed can be a bit difficult.  We managed, though.

When I opened my eyes the next morning, two things surprised me.  The first was that Steve was still asleep.  The other was that Nick was awake already, and he was sitting on the floor, watching us intently.  When he noticed that he'd been caught, he blushed and smiled.  I smiled back.

"You guys are just good together," he said.  I got out of the bed carefully, barely managing to leave Steve in his peaceful sleep.  Nick and I went downstairs to raid the kitchen.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Well, I was there for Steve when he came out," he said.  "I can't tell you anything personal, but it was a really bad time for him. Since then I've watched him like a hawk. He's my best friend, and I try to look out for him."

"That's understandable," I replied.  "I'd do the same to Ben if he were here."

"Well, Steve's been alone for over a year," he said.  "Before that, he had a girlfriend. It was odd to see him with her, even before we knew he was gay. He just didn't look like he enjoyed himself that much when Erica was around."

"I'm glad I didn't have to do that," I said.  "I had a hard enough time accepting that I was gay. Having to deal with the fact that there was a girl involved who would probably be hurt would have just been too much for me."

"Well, I have to admit that when you came over to talk to me the other day, I wasn't really happy about what you said at first," he said.

"I don't understand," I said as we reached the kitchen.  My mom was sleeping in as was her usual for Sunday mornings.  Steve and I had agreed that Sunday was a workout free day, so sleeping in was something that we both were going to work on.

"Well, like I said, coming out was very hard for Steve," he said.  "And events that took place after that, things I can't tell you about without his permission, were awful for him. I was scared for him, Tommy. I was afraid that he'd never be ok."

"I can imagine," I said, thinking about what I'd felt like when Steve had told my mom that he'd tried to kill himself when he figured out that he was gay.

"I don't know how much you know about that time, Tommy," said Nick.  "I can't talk about it with you, though. Information will have to come from Steve."

"I understand that," I said.  "I wouldn't let you tell me about it, anyway."

"Well, what I was getting at is, I was afraid of what would happen to him if you two turned out to be bad for each other," he said.  "But yesterday at Wendy's and watching you this morning showed me that you really do love him."

"I didn't realize that it was love until he was crying in the hall at your house, and you wouldn't let me go to him," I said.

"Yeah, you tried to take my hand off," he chuckled.  Turning serious again, he said, "That was just me looking out for my best friend, though. When he gets like that, he always talks to my mom, and when you wanted to talk to him instead, I guess I just kind of panicked for a second."

"That's just you being a good best friend, Nick," I said.  "I was angry with you for it at first, but then I had a chance to think about it, and I understood."

"Thanks," he said, smiling at me.  "I would never do anything to come between you and Steve."

"I know that," I said.  "I didn't think of it like that at any time, Nick. It was just a strange situation."

"Well, I really shouldn't have worried about you and Steve being together," he said.  "After hearing from you and your mom what happened around the time that you came out to her, I should have understood that you aren't much different than Steve."

"I don't know much about how other gay kids come out of the closet," I said.  "I can't tell you if what I went through, or what Steve went through is normal. I do know, from reading things and talking to people online, that I'm lucky. My mom accepted it without having to think about it. That's not the normal way that parents react. Steve's parents reacted about the way most parents react to finding out."

"Well, it won't be a secret that none of us like Steve's parents," he said.  "They don't bother him, or us usually, though. So we rarely ever have to deal with them."

"Morning, boys," yawned my mother as she came into the kitchen.  "You're up early, Nick. Where's Steve?"

"Steve's still sleeping," I said.  "Nick is full of surprises this morning."

"I see," she said.  She wasn't completely awake.  She wouldn't be until she'd had her coffee.  She started a pot before sitting down at the table.

"I came out to Peter and Jeremy yesterday," I said while she yawned again.

"You did?" she asked.  I could see a little anxiousness in her eyes, but I smiled, and it went away.  "How did it go?"

"Well, it went just fine," said Nick.  "Then Steve kissed Tommy while we were watching a movie, and Jeremy found it interesting."

"Oh?" she asked.

"Well, he'd never seen two guys kiss before," said Nick.  "It sparked a little discussion about attitudes and acceptance."

"I learned a little bit about each of my friends," I said.

"That's good," she said.  "Its important for a group of friends to really get to know each other."

"I told you that they're a really great bunch," said Nick.

"You did," I agreed as I got up to get a bowl of cereal.

"Wait, Tommy," said Mom.  "I'll get up and fix something for you guys in a second. I'm just trying to wake up."

"You don't have to cook," I said.

"But I'm going to, anyway," she said.  "I'm hungry. So sit your butt in the chair and give me a break."

"She's tuff," chuckled Nick.  "Don't mess with her."

Mom gave him a mean look, making both of us crack up.  Her coffee was ready, so she sipped a cup for a few minutes before getting up to fry some eggs.  Nick handed her the bacon from the fridge, and I set the table, using four settings, because I planned to wake up Steve as soon as breakfast was ready.

"I thought I smelled food," said Steve, coming into the kitchen and spoiling my great wake up plan.

"Morning," I said, hugging him.

"Morning, Bud," he said, flashing me another of his patent smiles.

"Eat, boys," said Mom, breaking up our moment.

We all sat down to eat, and Mom filled us in on a new case she'd gotten.  She said that jury selection was set for tomorrow, so she'd be working long hours again soon.  I groaned.  She'd just gotten done with a case, and she was exhausted from that one.  Now she'd be working the same hours, putting in the same days and driving herself too hard.  I wished that she could have a longer break.

"What's wrong, Bud?" asked Steve, a troubled expression on his face.

"Nothing," I said.  "I just wish that my mom could have a longer break from working so much."

"Thank you for thinking of me, Tommy," said Mom.  "I know you worry, but I'll be ok. This is what I wanted in Florida, remember? I wanted to be successful. After winning the last case, I'm gaining success. This comes with it."

"I know," I said.

"Don't worry, Bud," said Steve.  "She'll be ok."

"Yeah, she will," said Nick.  "And you can stay at my house."

"Or, we could stay here," I said, smiling.

"Thomas," said my mother.  "I'll trust you until you give me a reason not to. That goes for you, too, Steve."

"Yes ma'am," we said in unison, making Nick giggle.

After a very conversation filled breakfast, we all went next door to Nick's house.  When we got there, Mike was explaining that he had a new case as well.  When he saw us, he smiled and asked me how my mom was celebrating having her first very own case at the firm.  I told him that when we left her, she was having an extra helping of bacon.  Sharon and Mike laughed.

"So will you be spending time with us again when your  mother starts working?" asked Sharon as we all sat down in the living room.

"Well, my mom said that I can stay home as long as I don't give her a reason not to trust me," I said.  "But knowing that you are right next door, I'll come to you if I need to talk or anything."

"And I'll be here for you," she said, smiling.  "What are your plans for today?"

"Well, I thought I'd take Steve up on his offer to take me along to a poker game today," I said, glancing at Steve.

"Really?" he asked, smiling at me.  "I thought you weren't interested."

"Well, I wasn't at first," I said.  "I was having a hard time being around you so much. Now that everything is out in the open, I don't have that problem."  It amazed me just how much you could figure out about past actions when you didn't actually think about it and just let your heart use your mouth to speak its truth.

"Jeremy was over for a while last night," said Sharon, watching us for a reaction.

"I'm guessing he had some questions for you about homosexuality and what is normal," I said, returning her intent gaze.

"Yes, he did," she said.  "I helped him see that, even though he accepts that you two are gay, he hadn't ever really thought about you actually being together. I think I helped him understand that its ok for you two to love each other."

"Thank you, Sharon," said Steve.  "We all talked about this at Wendy's yesterday. Jeremy saw me kiss Tommy, and he had a few questions."

"Just remember what he's been through, Steve," said Sharon.  "It might take him a little bit longer to get a grip on how he feels about this."

"I know," said Steve, putting his head down slightly.  "I hate what they did to him. He was a completely different kid three years ago."

I knew that they were purposefully leaving out what had actually happened to him, and I wasn't going to be rude and ask them what they were talking about.  I just let them talk.  I'd already figured out that something bad had happened to Jeremy.  He was very uncomfortable with any sort of human contact.  Naturally, he wouldn't understand about me and Steve at first.  That was why I didn't get upset when he seemed to think that Steve kissing me wasn't normal.

"Well, what time is the game today?" asked Sharon, changing the subject.

"I don't know," said Steve.  "I wasn't planning to go today."

"Why not?" I asked, turning to face him.

"Well, I sort of just got my friend back, and then I found out that he likes me as much as I like him, so I thought I'd spend the day with him," he said, smiling.  "We've been getting to know each other a little better, and I wanted to keep that going."

"That's nice of you," I said, smiling back at him.  "Don't push your other friends away just to spend time with me, though. We have plenty of time together."

"Well, thank you, Bud," he said, and then he kissed me lightly on the lips.  I blushed when I saw that Sharon was watching us intently.

"Don't be embarrassed, Tommy," she said.  "Watching and listening to you both has made me understand just how much of a handle you have on this."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, Steve was trying to sacrifice a bit to spend some time with you," she said.  "That shows me that he's taking your relationship seriously. Then you let him know that you can have friends and still spend time together, and that shows me that you are taking your relationship seriously. It also shows me that you have a very good head on your shoulders. I knew that already, though."

"Thank you," I said, smiling.

"Don't thank me," she said.  "I'm just being a pesky mother type and looking out for you."

"Thank you for that," I said.  I got up off the couch and gave her a hug.  She hugged me back tightly.

"I really do think of you as my own son, Tommy," she said.

"And I'm starting to think of you as a second mother," I said.  "I owe you an apology."

"For what?" she asked, looking at me like I'd said something silly.

"The other day, when you were trying to explain to me that I was a bit too excited to really think about what my mom might say, I got angry with you," I said.  "I thought that you were just trying to put a stop to me and Steve for some reason. Now I understand that you were just looking out for us, so I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions."

"You're forgiven," she said, hugging me again.

Steve called Dustin to tell him that we'd both be at the poker game, but Dustin wasn't going to be having a game that day.  He told Steve that he and his family were having a talk about colleges and tuition, so the game was off.  That left me and Steve with no plans, so we decided to just hang out with Nick for the day.

We hung out in his room for a while, playing video games and just talking about school and stuff.  Steve told Nick that he and I were going to start taking karate for self defense.  Nick actually thought it was a good idea, and he said he wanted to talk to his mom and dad about maybe joining us with the classes.  It sounded good to me, and Steve seemed pleased, too.

After we'd spent some time with Nick, we went next door to spend a little time with my mom.  She was happy for the company, and we played a game of Scrabble.  She asked again if we were serious about taking the karate classes.  We assured her that we were and told her that Nick was interested as well.

"If Sharon and Mike will give him permission, I think its a good idea," she said.  "All of you need to know how to defend yourselves if necessary."

"We're not planning to out ourselves in school," I said.  "But you never know about things like this. Innocent encounters can be taken the wrong way, so I think its good idea that we be prepared just in case."

"Even if the threat comes from within the home," mumbled Steve, and Mom and I froze.

"Steve, is something bad happening in your house?" asked my mother.  She has a way of being blunt.

"It isn't so bad now," he said, and I could see the pain in his eyes.  "Now they just ignore me completely. Before Vince . . .did what he did, things were really bad at home. Its hard to talk about."

I put my hand on his knee and squeezed just to let him know that I was there for him.  He looked at me, and for the first time, I didn't see the Steve I knew.  What I saw was the scared, fearful boy that had been wronged by his parents somehow.  I didn't know exactly what had happened, but judging from the look on his face, it had been very bad.

"If you need anything," said my mother, reaching over to take Steve's hand.  "You come to me."

"Thank you," he said.

We finished our game of Scrabble, but Steve's heart wasn't in it.  I wished that there was something I could do to put the smile back on his face, but he was sort of closed off and inside himself, dealing with his personal demons.  There was no way that I could think of to get him to let me in to help.

Mom noticed it, too.  When Steve excused himself to use the bathroom, Mom told me that the best way to help him was just to be there for him.  If he talked, I should listen and not say anything unless he asked me a direct question.  She told me that Sharon had told her that Steve may open up to us about his past, but she hadn't told her anything about it.  She said that Sharon was keeping Steve's confidence.

He was kind of quiet through supper that evening, but he was trying to be more talkative.  He had a pretty good conversation with my mom about the karate classes.  He told her that Vince would probably take us back and forth if she was working, and he didn't even argue when she said that she would give Vince money for gas.

We went up to my room to be alone for a few minutes before Steve had to go home.  He put his arms around me as soon as we got in the room.  I held him, and we just stayed that way for a few minutes, saying nothing.  I hated his parents for whatever they had done to him to make him feel this way.  I didn't understand why parents weren't more careful about how they treated their children.  Didn't they know that they could destroy their children's lives? It all made me sad to think about it.

"Sorry I'm not better company," he said finally.

"Hey," I said, squeezing him tighter.  "Don't apologize. I don't think I realized just how much I really do love you until I saw you like this, Steve. I'll be here no matter what mood you're in. If you want to talk, we'll talk. If not, this is fine, too."

"I'm not ready to talk to you about my parents, Tommy," he said.  "I don't want to spend days like this, though, either. I'll think about it for a while, and when I'm ready, I'll tell you everything."

"No rush, Steve," I said.  "Like I said, I'm here for you no matter what mood you're in."

"Thanks, Bud," he said.  "I love you."

"I love you, too," I said.

For the next several days, Steve remained in somewhat of a slump.  Nothing I did could bring him completely out of it, and I blamed his parents for putting a damper on the beginning of our relationship.  If not for whatever they'd done to him, Steve may have responded better to me a lot more.  I'm not saying that he was cold or distant, but he was hard to reach emotionally at times.  I wondered just what it was going to take to get him to feel better.

Wendy told me that there was nothing that could be done.  She said that Steve got like this from time to time, and all any of us could do was be there for him.  She had an advantage over me, though.  They all did.  They knew what was doing this to Steve, and I didn't.  I wasn't jealous of any of them for their knowledge.  I half expected that whatever it was that had affected him this much would be very hard to hear about.  I just wanted to be there for him.

We started our karate classes, and Nick went with us as well.  To my surprise, there was another of our friends in the class, too.  Jeremy had been taking the karate classes for almost a year.  This seemed to surprise Steve and Nick, too.  I wondered why Jeremy had never told us about karate.

Our first class was basically easy.  It consisted of a lecture on fighting.  Our instructor's name was David Merrit.  He wasn't muscular, and he wasn't scrawny.  He looked like he was just about average in body size.  He was at least six feet tall with salt and pepper hair that he kept cut short and dark eyes.  When he spoke, his voice commanded attention, and I paid close attention to what he said.

"Fighting isn't the solution to any problem," he said.  "Fighting is only a way to escalate that problem into something bigger. If you've come to this class with the intention of learning how to fight, you might as well leave now. I will not train fighters. What I do train are individuals who are ready to understand that karate is about respect, fitness of the body and mind, and above all, self defense.

"Self defense," he continued, "isn't about walking up to your enemies and throwing a punch. That is nothing more than stupid, adolescent behavior, and I won't tolerate it. Karate is about knowing your strengths and testing your weaknesses. It is about self respect and respecting your fellow man.

"I will train you to protect yourself. I will also train you to understand that to walk away from a fight makes you the better man. If a man walks up to you and tries to start a fight, you should first try to talk him down. Why? Because violence is not the answer to anything."

He went on to tell us all about the various forms of Martial Arts.  There were several different things that he said that I already knew, but a lot of what he said was new for me.  I left that first class with a lot to think about.  I already believed that fighting wasn't the answer, but I also knew that fighting wasn't always escapable.  I wondered what he'd say to me if I told him that.

We went to our karate classes three nights a week.  Vince drove us and picked us up, and my mom always gave him money at the end of every week for gas.  He only tried to refuse once, and she let him have it.  He learned quick, and I told him that he was lucky.  My mother's lectures could be impossible to get away from.

Steve spent about every other night at my house with me.  On the weekends, we would stay with Peter or Nick.  We never stayed with Jeremy, but sometimes, he would stay with us.  He was a quiet kid alright, but I knew better than to push him to talk more.  Just like Steve, Jeremy had demons to battle.

Steve was completely happy on the nights that he stayed with me, and on the weekends, he was the same Steve that I first met.  It was after his nights at home that he would be withdrawn and quiet.  My mom noticed it, too.  She asked me about him constantly.  I didn't know what to tell her.  How could I tell her that after spending the night at home, we'd come home to my house after school, go straight upstairs, and I would hold him for as long as it took to get him to tell me he loved me and that he was sorry?

He was also slipping out to talk to Sharon a lot, too.  She'd take him out for a soda or something, and Nick and I would work on our home work until they got back.  I was usually finished with mine when Steve would come in, and then I would help him with his.  It became our routine, and it rarely altered.

On weekends, there was always something going on at Wendy's.  Either she'd rent movies for us to watch, or we'd just hang out and play board games and things like that.  She and Steve had their own private talks from time to time, and he would always come back from them a little quiet but nowhere near as quiet as when he stayed home for a night.  I was determined to help him with whatever was on his mind.  I just wished he'd open up and tell me.

Mom's new case wasn't going as well as she'd hoped.  She always came home in a bad mood.  She was never abrasive toward us, but we could both tell that she wasn't happy.  Our first quarter grades didn't even make her very happy.  We'd both excelled in our studies, and all we got for our efforts was a smile and "Good job, boys."  I was starting to get worried about her.  It was hard having two people who were in dark moods all of the time to deal with.  One didn't feel like he could open up just yet, and the other couldn't open up for legal reason.

Sharon told me something that brightened my day a bit.  She had talked to her family in Maine, and she and Mike were planning to go to visit during the Christmas break.  She had talked to my mom about me going with them, and my mom had eagerly agreed.  That meant I was going to get to spend some time with Ben again.  I couldn't wait.

Steve wasn't very excited about me going to Maine for a week, though.  It meant that he'd be without me for a week.  I'd have been happy that he thought that way about it if he wasn't so upset about it.  We still had several weeks before the trip, but I thought that maybe he could go along.  I asked Sharon what she thought about it, and she said that since we'd be staying in a hotel, she didn't see a problem as long as Vince said he could go.

When I talked to Vince, he was all for it.  He said that Steve needed some time away from Storyville, too.  He wouldn't tell me what was going on at their house, but he did tell me that things were bad there again.  I wondered if I'd had anything to do with that.  I didn't know how much about mine and Steve's relationship his parents knew, but it bothered me to think that I was causing his pain.  I hoped that it had nothing to do with us.

Thanksgiving finally came, and I was disappointed that Steve couldn't have dinner with us.  Vince had said that their parents wanted him home for the entire holiday.  No friends or anything like that.  I didn't like it at all.  His moodiness was getting worse, and I knew that his home life was responsible for it.  My mom told me to just try not to think about it, but that's all I thought about the entire time we were packing the food that Mom had made next door to Sharon and Mike's.

"I miss him today, too, Tommy," my mom said as we were about to carry the last of the pies next door.  "I'm worried about him just like you are, but I can't do anything for him unless he asks."

"We don't even know what's going on over there, Mom," I said.  I was about to cry.

"Hey," she said, sitting her stack of pies down on the table and hugging me.  "I know you're scared for him, Tommy.  We don't know anything, and that's even worse. Sharon would have said something if she thought he was in any real danger. She's worried about him, but she says she's only worried about his happiness. She didn't say anything about his physical safety."

"But, Mom, he's so sad when he comes back from over there," I said.  "You should see the look in his eyes."

"I do see the look in his eyes," she said.  "It may not be as bad as it is when you first see him in the morning at school, but its bad enough. Tommy, I want to strangle his parents for making him so sad, but I can't just walk up to them and start screaming. I've talked to Sharon about what's going on, and she says she can't tell me. That's frustrating, but I have to respect it, because Steve is the one who has asked her not to say anything."

"I'm worried about him, Mom," I said.

"I'm worried about him, too," she said.  "But we've got to get over there, or they'll send Nick after us again."

We carried the pies over and stopped on the porch.  Mom gave me a commiserating look, and then we went inside.  After taking the pies to the kitchen, I went upstairs to Nick's room.  He and Jeremy were playing a video game.  It had already been explained to me that Jeremy spent every holiday at Nick's house, but again, no one elaborated on it.  I was just as in the dark about Jeremy's situation as I was about Steve's.

"Hey," said Nick when I came into the room.  "How's dinner coming?"

"I don't know," I said quietly.  "I didn't ask. I just delivered the pies and came upstairs."

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" asked Nick.

"I'm scared for him, Nick," I admitted.

"Has he told you anything about his parents?" Nick asked.

"No," I replied, sitting down on the bed.

"I wish he'd talk to you about this," said Nick.  "Its getting harder and harder not to tell you myself."

"I don't want to hear it from anyone but him, Nick," I said.  "Just like I wouldn't want to hear about your problems from anyone but you."

"Yeah," was all he said.

We were quiet for a while, and I have no doubt that he was probably thinking about Steve.  I know I was.  That's all I'd been able to think about since I'd woke up that morning.  It was hard, because I wanted to share the holiday with my boyfriend, but it was worse to think about how he was spending his holiday with his parents.  Why did things have to be this way? Why couldn't Steve's parents just love him for who he was and not hate him for what he was? Was it so hard for them to understand that his sexuality wasn't his fault? I couldn't stand much more of the waiting.  I couldn't take much more of his sad eyes every time he came back from home.  If something didn't change soon, I thought I might very well go nuts.  I wouldn't leave him over it, though.  I'd never abandon him.  I know that at fifteen, its hard for people to believe that I could have loved him so much, but I swear that I loved him with absolutely all of my heart.

We were all quiet.  I knew that my mood wasn't helping Nick or Jeremy.  I wondered just what Jeremy's story was.  First of all, I'd noticed that he rarely ever looked you in the eye when he talked to you.  He'd also just about freak out if you touched him.  He never said anything about liking a girl, but I knew for a fact that he wasn't gay.  Actually, Jeremy rarely ever said anything at all.  I didn't know anything about him really.  I didn't know what his parents were like, if he had brothers or sisters, I didn't even know where he lived.

I knew Peter's family, because we sometimes spent nights at his house.  His mom was really nice, and she didn't seem to even worry about me and Steve sleeping together in her house.  Peter told me that she knew that we were gay and together, but she didn't care.  His dad was ok.  I rarely ever saw him, because he was a truck driver and never home.  I didn't know if he knew about us or not.  Peter never told me either way.

Of course I knew Wendy's mom and dad.  They were awesome.  I'd never seen a set of parents more involved in their child's life than Wendy's parents.  Her mom was one of the secretaries at school, and her dad was a dean.  For being a dean, her father was really cool.  He told us that if Steve and I ever had any problems at school over our orientation to come to him, and he would deal with the problem for us.

I'd gotten to know Dustin pretty well, too.  His mom and dad were rarely ever around when we played poker, though.  When they were, his mom offered us all soft drinks and chips and stuff, but she never came into the basement.  His dad never spoke to any of us.  He was another lawyer, but he didn't work at the same firm as my mom, Nick's dad and Steve's dad.

Dustin was pretty cool.  He was cute, too.  He had dark brown hair that he kept cut short on the sides and in the back, it was longer on top but not by much.  He always had it sort of spiked, and it always looked wet.  His eyes were grey, but sometimes they turned blue.  He had a smile that almost rivaled Steve's.  He wasn't as muscular as Steve, but he had a good body.  I'd see it sometimes on Saturdays, when he'd come home from working for Mr. Hively.  Dustin did all of Mr. Hively's yard work year round.

His best friend, Keith, was one of the coolest guys I'd met so far.  He and Dustin both knew that me and Steve were gay.  It didn't bother them at all.  Dustin was gay, too, and Keith was his best friend, so it came as no shock that he'd be alright with it.  Keith was almost better looking than Steve.  He had dark blond hair and brown eyes that always had a smile in them.  He was constantly upbeat, and he could cheer Steve up really fast.  Anyone who could do that was an awesome guy in my book.

I was making friends with a few of the boys from our karate classes, too.  I was nowhere near ready to come out to any of them, though.  Steve didn't like it when any of them came to the house, because we had to hide what we were, and that meant that we had to think about it constantly.  We never realized just how much we showed affection to each other until Mark or Rick were over.  Neither of us knew how they would react to knowing that we were gay, so we didn't want to slip either with words or actions.

I was pretty sure that Mark would be ok with it.  I couldn't explain why I felt that way, but there was something about him that made me think he wouldn't care either way.  Rick, I didn't know about.  He was the ultimate jock, and I had always known the jocks to be harder on gay people.  From what I'd seen with my own eyes and heard from other people, jocks were usually not nice in general when it came to gay people.

I wasn't ready to come out to too many people in any case.  I was still getting over the shock that Wendy, Nick, Peter and Jeremy were accepting of our sexuality.  If you'd have asked me before I'd met them, I would have said that it was too risky to even hint that I was gay to any of them.  Sometimes, its nice to be surprised.

Thinking of all of this still wasn't taking my mind off of Steve.  I was still just as worried about him as ever, and I wished that there was a way that I could check on him and see how he was doing.  If he wasn't dealing well, then maybe talking to me would do him some good.  I debated about calling his house just to wish him a happy Thanksgiving, but somehow, I knew that would be the wrong thing to do.

When Nick and Jeremy finished the game they were playing, Jeremy relinquished his spot for me.  I sat down and played the game, but I wasn't paying full attention to it, so I was an easy opponent.  Nick didn't seem to mind, though.  Either that, or he was just not saying anything about it, because he understood.  I imagined that he was just as worried as I was.  He knew what to be worried about, though.  It was really starting to bother me that our friends knew more about my boyfriend's situation than I did.  I mean, he was my boyfriend.  I thought about that until we heard Sharon call us down for dinner.

We got half way down the stairs when the front door opened and Steve walked in.  I was happy to see him until I saw the shape he was in.  When I looked at his face, all of the blood in my body ran cold.