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 6

We were still laughing as we walked into the house.  My laughter stopped when I noticed luggage in the hall.  Steve and I shared a worried glance at each other before we walked into the dining room.  I wondered who was leaving, and why.  What we found in the dining room was the absolute last thing in the world I expected to see.  Talking with my mom and Vince was Ben and Andy.

"Ben!" I cried, as I walked all the way into the room.

"Its about time you got here you pervert," he said, smiling at me.  "We've been waiting for almost an hour."

"Hey, Tommy," said Andy, smiling at me.

"Hey, Andy," I said as I took a seat across from them next to my mother.

"So, how was school?" asked Ben with a huge grin on his face.

"When did you get here?" I asked, ignoring his question.

"Like I said, we've been here for almost an hour," he said, shaking his head.

"No, I mean when did you get to Storyville?" I asked.

"Oh," he laughed.  "We got here when your mom picked us up at the airport."

"Are you guys already on Christmas Break?" I asked as Steve, Nick, Jeremy, Mark and Rick came into the room.

"Nope," he said.  "I've got a surprise for ya."

"What?" I asked.

"We're moving here!" he cried.

"Really?" I asked, looking to Andy for confirmation.

"He's not jerking you," said Andy.  "Mom and Dad both got jobs here. It seems that your mom and our mom have been talking quite a bit lately, and my parents hate Maine, so . . ."

"Well, you're being rude," said Ben.  "Who are your friends?"

"God!" I said, smiling at him.  "This is Steve, Nick, Jeremy, Peter, Mark and Rick."  I pointed to each of them as I said their names.

"Hey guys," said Ben.

"So when are you moving here?" I asked him.

"Are you silly?" he asked.  "Didn't you see the luggage? Andy and I are here to stay."

"Where are your mom and dad?" I asked.

"They'll be here two days before Christmas," said Andy.  "Mom has to finish work."

"So you're Steve?" Ben said, looking at my boyfriend.  "Its good to meet you. I hear so much about you all the time."

"Good things, I hope," said Steve, walking over to shake Ben's hand.

"Well, you've certainly got him snowed if what he told me about you isn't true," chuckled Ben.  "Seriously, though, thank you for being so good to my best friend."

"No thanks needed, man," said Steve.  "I love him."

"Tommy, you and the boys can help Andy and Ben with their luggage," said my mother.  "I told them to just leave everything in the hall until you and Steve got here. I had no idea that everyone was coming. More help."

"Sure, Mom," I said.

"You'll need the airbeds, too," she said.  "They'll be staying with us until their parents get here."

"Cool," I said.

So, for the next several minutes, we all carried bags and suitcases upstairs.  Andy was going to stay in Vince's room, and Ben would stay with me and Steve.  I wondered if he'd be ok with that, but he didn't seem to have a problem with it as we set up the airbed.  He and Steve joked back and forth while we got everything set up, and I was happy that they were getting along so well.

"So what happened at lunch today, Mark," asked Steve once the airbed was inflated and dressed.

"Well, I talked to Mr. Benson about maybe starting a Gay Straight Alliance at school," said Mark.  "My sister is involved with Storyville University's GSA, and she told me that, since we are now all officially out of the closet, it might help to calm the waters a bit."

"Your sister is Maria," said Steve.

"That's right," said Mark.  "Do you know her?"

"No, but my brother does," he said, smiling at me.

"Anyway," chuckled Mark, "Mr. Benson thinks its a great idea, too. He said all we need is a faculty advisor and permission to use one of the classrooms after school."

"Well, Mr. Benson could be our advisor," said Rick.

"I asked him, and he said he would if we had to have him, but he'd like for us to find one of the teachers," replied Mark.

"What about Mr. Himbry?" asked Jeremy.  I didn't know who Mr. Himbry was.

"Yeah," said Rick, smiling.  "He'd do it."

"Who is Mr. Himbry?" I asked.

"The 'gay' teacher," laughed Nick.  "He's not really gay, but you'll understand why some people think so when you see him."

We talked a little bit more about the GSA, and we even called Wendy and asked her what she thought.  She was all for it and even wanted to start right away.  She said that she knew a lot of people who would attend meetings.  It sounded like we were off to a good start so far.  There were other details that had to be planned, but Mark said that we wouldn't be starting anything until after the break, so we had a little time left.  Friday was the last day of school before the break, and classes didn't resume until January fifth.

"Ok, that's settled," said Nick.  "Now let's talk about New Year's Eve."

"What about it?" asked Mark.

"Well, Wendy and I were talking today in Chemistry about having a party," he said.  "We just can't decide where to have it. Its cold outside, so she can't exactly throw a pool party. We have exactly three days to let everyone know about it before school lets out."

"We could have the party at my house," said Rick.  "That is, if you guys want to."

"Yeah," said Mark.  "There's a full finished basement with a bar and everything."

"We won't be drinking," said Jeremy.

"Duh," chuckled Rick.  "My parents wouldn't allow that, anyway."

"Sounds cool to me," said Peter.  "You just live two blocks from me."

"Yeah," agreed Rick.  "And Mark just lives down the street from me."

"Well, we all live pretty close to each other," I said, looking at Ben.  "I wonder where you're going to live."

"Right behind you," he said, smiling.  "Your mom got us the house directly behind you. She's even talking about tearing down the fence and everything."

"Cool!" I exclaimed.  It was going to be so great to have him so close again.

"I'm going to school with you tomorrow, too," he said.  "I'm supposed to observe."

"Then you'll ride with us in the morning," said Peter.  "Car's going to be cramped, but we'll manage. Welcome to Storyville, Ben."

"Thanks," he said.

Ben had changed so much.  He barely looked like the same guy.  His dark hair was now a light brown/dark blond, and puberty had hit him like a madman.  He had a five o'clock shadow that was very prominent, because his facial hair was so much darker than the hair on his head.  He'd clearly kept up with his workouts after moving to Maine.  He was a little more developed, muscularly, than Steve and me.

After everyone had gone home, me, Steve, Ben and Andy sat in the living room talking.  Ben and Andy were getting to know Steve, and I was just catching up with my friends.  I was so happy that they were moving to Storyville.  I still couldn't believe it.  It was like a dream come true.  I'd have my best friend right behind me every day.

"So, how has the response at school been to the two of you?" asked Andy.

"Well, there are four of us now," I said.  "Mark and Rick came out the same time we did."

"Ah," he said.  "I thought those two might be gay."

"That's something I wanted to ask you about," I said.  "Gaydar."

"Oh, that," he said, smiling.  "There isn't really much to it. When you get more comfortable with being out, you'll start to notice little things about the guys around you, and when you pick up on little hints that they might drop, you'll know that they're gay."

"Well, I just remember you telling me that it didn't come as a surprise to you when you found out that I was gay," I said.  "You called it gaydar."

"Yeah, well, with you it was a bit different," he said.  "I'd gone through pretty much the same things that you did when I first figured out that I was gay. I shut my friends out, stopped eating regularly, hid out in my room; all of the things that you did. It just took me longer to actually admit it."

"I did all of that, too," admitted Steve.  "But I started to become physically ill as well."

"I've studied the coming out stories online," said Andy.  "What we all went through is pretty typical. Not everyone has the same reaction to it as we did, but many do."

"I tried to kill myself," said Steve, looking down.

"That, unfortunately, is also very common among gay teenagers," said Andy.  "In Maine, I was volunteering for a help line for gay teens in the area. I got many suicide calls."

"What did you tell them?" I asked.

"I told them that things weren't as bad as they seemed," he said.  "Now, to a person who is in a situation where they think that their only option is to kill his or herself, telling them that things aren't as bad as they think isn't exactly enough. I'm not certified as a councilor, so I had to refer a lot of those calls, and I always worried about the person on the line. Sometimes, though, I was able to make them understand that there were other options available to them."

"What did you say to the ones who called, because their parents disowned them?" asked Steve in a tight voice.  I reached over and took his hand to comfort him.

"Those calls are even harder to deal with, because all you can do is give them information about agencies and other kinds of help lines," he said.  "I worried about those calls just as much as I worried about the suicide calls. Kids who've been abandoned or disowned by their parents and families are also very likely to commit suicide, so there's always a big concern for those kids, too."

"Sounds like your job was unbearable," I said.

"There were dark days," said Andy.  "I can't tell you how many times I went home and cried for hours. There were good times, too, though. There were the days when everything worked out. There were days when every call ended where the person on the other line rang off in a better state of mind than they were in when they called."

"I couldn't do that kind of work," said Steve.  "I have thought about becoming a councilor, though. I just couldn't stand not even seeing the face that went with the voice, you know?"

"I don't recommend volunteering for a help line," he said.  "Believe me, if I'd have known just how hard it was going to be, I wouldn't have volunteered, myself."

"You, my new friend, are awesome," said Steve, smiling at Andy.

"Well, thank you," said Andy.  "I think that judgment is a bit premature, though. Get to know me, Steve."

"I plan to," he said, smiling again.

We sat there, talking about anything and everything until my mom told us to get our butts to the table for supper.  We filed into the dining room and sat around the table and continuing to talk.  Mom looked at me and smiled, and I knew that she was happy to see that Ben and Andy were getting along so well with Steve.  Vince even joined in the conversation when he came in and sat down.  Then, it was time for me and Ben to do the teasing bit.

"So, you have Steve now," he said, smiling at me.  "No more teacher crushes for you, then?"

"I've never had a crush on a teacher," I said quickly, looking from Steve to Ben.

"Oh, you did, too!" he cried.  "You were madly in love with Miss Dracy in kindergarten."

"I most certainly was," I admitted, laughing at the memory.  "You ruined it for me, though."

"How?" he demanded playfully.

"You told me that I'd have to marry her and have all kinds of kids with her," I said.  "Even at five years old, I was disgusted by that thought."

"You told me that you'd just be my friend instead," he laughed.  "I was way grateful."

"Right," I said.  "You told me that you'd have to ask your mom, because she'd always told you to be nice to weird people, but you should stay as far away from them as you could."

"Ha!" he cried.  "I'd forgotten about that. See? If your mom hadn't packed those ham sandwiches in your lunch every day, you'd have been friendless at five."

"Hardly," I laughed.  "I'd have just hung out with Mickey Spruce and Davey Sparks."

"Oh my God," he giggled.  "I haven't thought of those two morons in years."

"They were completely stupid," I agreed.

"Remember when Mickey convinced Davey to eat the super glue, and he glued his lips shut?" asked Ben.

"Yeah, and what about the time that Davey said convinced Mickey that he was from another planet, sent here to spy on Mickey's family and report back to his leader?"

"He said that they were going to abduct the entire family and hold them prisoner on their planet for entertainment!" cried Ben.

"And poor Mickey was afraid to even look at Davey for a week!" I said.

"God, they were goobers," he said.  "But you looked stupid the day you swore you were bitten by a horsefly and ran around the room, trying to get your hand up the back of your shirt."

"I was stung by a bee!" I objected.

"Yes, a sweat bee!" he laughed.

"Oh, well, let's not forget how silly you looked when you lost your shorts on the sliding board and ran all the way home bare assed, screaming for you mom!"

"God, I missed you!" he laughed.

"Yeah," I countered, "you didn't have anyone to pick on!"

"You two sound just like you did two years ago," laughed Andy.

"I was just thinking the same thing," said my mother.

After supper, Ben, Steve and I went up to the bedroom to watch movies and talk more while Vince took Andy around Storyville to show him the city.  Ben dug a video out of his bag, and we both laughed when I saw that it was Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, a film that we'd watched over and over again as kids.  We popped it into my usually unused VCR.  I took my usual place, lounging against Steve while Ben lay on the airbed.

At nine, my mom stuck her head in the door, asking us if it would do any good to remind us that we had school in the morning.  Steve and I had been dozing off throughout the movie, so we promised that we'd get to bed soon.  Ben said that he needed a shower, and he said he was tired from the flight, so he was ready for bed, too.

"So, what do you think of Ben?" I asked Steve after Ben had gone to take his shower.

"He's cool," said Steve.  "Reminds me a little of Nick, but not as much as you said he would."

"Well, I haven't actually been in the same room with him in two years," I said.  "We've both changed a little."

"I got a kick out of the way you two ribbed each other at supper, though," he chuckled.

"You liked that, huh?" I asked, shoving him back on the bed.

"It was nice to see you interact with your best friend, Bud," he said as I lay down next to him.

"I missed him like crazy, and when I thought I wasn't going to get to see him, I was really upset," I said.

"I know," he said.  "He lives here now, though."

"Yeah," I said, smiling.  "Its going to be so cool to have him just across the yard."

"It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to the kids at school," said Steve.

"Yeah," I sighed.  "This isn't exactly a great time for us at school."

"Its worth it, though, isn't it?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow at me.

"Well, yeah, its worth it," I said.  "Now I don't have to hide the fact that I love you, and I don't have to worry about what I say or do with you anymore."

"I'm just glad I don't have to lie to anyone," he said.

"You never actually lied about it, Steve," I said.

"No one ever asked me," he said.  "When someone finally did, I told the truth."

"Exactly," I said.

"Alright, you two," said Ben as he came back into the room, wearing a pair of boxers and a t shirt.  "We're going to sleep, right?"

"What else did you think we were going to do?" asked Steve, chuckling.

"I'm just making sure that you two aren't going to subject me to anything I shouldn't see," he joked.  "I'm a morally adjusted guy."

"Right," I laughed.

"Whatever," he said.  "See you boys in the morning. I'm going to sleep as soon as I get acquainted with the pillow."

That said, he climbed under the quilt and snuggled with his pillow.  Steve and I glanced at each other for a second before sharing a quick goodnight kiss and slipping under our own comforter.  In a matter of seconds, we heard Ben snoring softly.  Not long after, we followed him into the world of dreams.

"Jesus!" cried Ben when the alarm went off the next morning.  "Are you two crazy? What time is it?"

"Five-thirty," I said through a yawn.  "Workout time."

"Workout time?" he gasped.

"Its Wednesday, dude," said Steve as he crawled over me and out of bed.

"So?" asked Ben.

"We work out Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings," I informed him.

"I'm not gonna," he said, throwing his head back down to the pillow.  "You guys are crazy."

We left him to get more sleep while we went out to the garage to work out.  All through our workout, we were both frustrated.  It wasn't like last night was the first time that we'd ever gone to sleep without having sex, but no one would have believed that with the way we were acting.  By the time we got back upstairs to the bathroom, we were practically attacking each other.  We had plenty of time to get ready for school and eat breakfast, so we took our time in the shower.  We made sure that both of us got as much pleasure as possible, and we were finished, thankfully, when Ben knocked on the door to tell us to hurry up, so he could use the bathroom.

Downstairs, he kept giving us knowing looks and smiling at us.  Mom laughed each time she saw it, and Vince just shook his head.  Andy was definitely not a morning person.  He looked like he was barely awake.  I asked him why he'd gotten up so early, and he mumbled something about registering at Storyville University.  I hadn't even thought about his going to college.

Nick and Jeremy filed in through the side door, adding their comments to the college discussion.  Since neither of them knew much about the college, they didn't have much to say.  So, conversation turned to the GSA and New Year's Eve.

"There's going to be a party for New Year's Eve?" asked my mother as she cleared the breakfast dishes.

"Rick's dad said that we could hold a small party at his house," said Nick.  "No more than twenty people, and we all have to help with refreshments."

"His parents are going to be there?" asked my mother.

"Both of them," said Nick.  "They'll be playing cards upstairs with friends."

"Well, then, I don't see why you can't go, Tommy," said my mother.  "Steve, I assume that Vince doesn't mind."

"I wasn't sure if he was planning to ask me," said Vince.

"This has got to stop between you two," sighed my mother, sitting back down at the table in front of her coffee.

"I'm all for putting and end to it," replied Vince.

"I have to get to school," said Steve as he grabbed his backpack and walked out of the kitchen.

"That boy," said my mother, shaking her head.

We all filed out of the kitchen after that.  I couldn't decide if I should say something to Steve about him and Vince or not.  On one hand, I thought that I should just let it be, because Steve and Vince had their own demons to battle.  On the other hand, I agreed with my mother.  Steve, or Vince needed to do something to put an end to this . . . whatever it was between them.  I couldn't exactly call it a feud, because they never said anything to each other anymore.

"You're quiet, Bud," said Steve when we were half way to school.

"Thinking," I replied.

"I'll talk to Vince," he sighed.

"I didn't say anything," I said quickly.

"You don't have to say anything," he said.  "I know when you're disappointed in me, Tommy."

"I'm not disappointed in you," I said, noticing that the car was eerily quiet.  Everyone was paying close attention to our conversation.  "Maybe this isn't the time for this conversation, Steve."

"Agreed," he said, squeezing my hand.

We were silent for the rest of the trip to school.  Ben just watched everything go by through the window, and I silently kicked myself for not pointing things out for him.  I mean, this was actually his first morning in Storyville, and I was too busy thinking of myself to be the proper friend to him.  I'd make it up to him, though.

When we got to school, there was a big commotion going on.  Steve and I looked at each other before going to our locker.  There were so many people staring at us that I was uncomfortable.  Ben looked at everyone with a blank expression, and he whispered in my ear that he really didn't think he was going to make many friends out of the student body.

"Don't go to your locker," said Rick as he and Mark came rushing over to us.  "They had to paint it this morning, and its wet."

"What's going on?" asked Steve.  "Why is everyone looking at us? We didn't even get this kind of reception when we kissed in the quad."

"Bobby Sherman and two of his friends have been arrested and expelled," said Mark.  "They spray painted your locker, and they got both of ours, too. Mr. Benson wants all of us in the office as soon as you get here."

I had to take Ben to the office to register as a visitor, anyway, so he followed us all to the office.  Nick, Jeremy and Peter had to get to their own lockers, so they didn't come with us.  I was getting very upset as I thought about what Bobby and his cronies had done.  Why couldn't they all just leave us alone?

"Boys," said Mitch as soon as we walked into the outer office.  He looked at Ben, and a puzzled look settled over his features.  "Who's this?"

"Mit . . . Mr. Benson," I stammered, "this is my friend, Ben Meyers. He's moving here, and his parents will be registering him when classes resume. He's going to be coming to just get the feel of the school for the rest of the week."

"Well, welcome, Ben," said Mitch, smiling at him.  "I'm afraid that you're coming on a rather unusual day. Why don't you have a seat out here for a few minutes while I chat with your friends? I'll get your visitor's papers all worked out after, ok?"

"Sure," said Ben.

We all followed Mitch into his office, and he sat behind his desk, looking at each of us with a strange look on his face.  I grew more uncomfortable the longer he looked at us.  I got the feeling that there was more going on than just vandalism.

"First of all," he sighed, running his fingers through his dark hair, "I've expelled Bobby Sherman, Lyle Penrich and Donnie Miller for defacing your lockers."

"We heard about that," I said.

"Well, that's not the end of it," he said.  "There've been a few phone calls from anonymous sources since Monday, and threats have been made against each of you. Now, I've held a meeting with my staff and instructed them on how to respond to any kind of trouble, but I wanted to make you boys aware of what is happening, so you'll be on your guard."

"What kind of threats?" asked Rick as all of us looked at each other with worried expressions.

"Well, mostly just the usual stuff," he said.  "Some of them say they're going to 'beat your asses' while others say they're going to just kill you. Now, don't be too worried, as I said, the staff is aware of this, and we are all on the look out."

"What about those on the staff who don't particularly care for our sexual orientation?" asked Steve.

"Well, I've talked to everyone, and I've assured them all that if anything happens on their watch, and they did nothing to stop it, they will be dealt with," he replied.  "Now I can't promise that noting will happen, but I do believe that the odds of something drastic happening are very small. I'm planning to talk to each of your parents about this as well."

"My dad will pull me from school," said Mark.  "No way in Hell will he let me stay if this is going on."

"I'm not so sure that my mom will let me, or Steve stay in school after you talk to her, either," I said.  "This is what she's been worrying about since we decided to come out."

"Well, I will talk to them all, and I'll try to make them understand that we'll keep you safe," said Mitch.

"Can you?" asked Rick.  "I mean, if someone is determined enough, can you really keep us safe?"

"We've alerted the police," said Mitch, "and they're sending a few officers to patrol the school both inside and out."

He told us that we should be on our guard, but he wanted us to not worry too much.  How in the world were we supposed to not worry too much? What was worrying too much when someone unknown to you was threatening to kill you? I was really thinking about just calling Vince and getting the Hell out of there.  There was also Ben to think about.  He was only visiting the school.  What if something happened, and he was the one who got hurt? How would I ever face his parents?

We left the office with Ben in tow a few minutes later.  Each of us had slips to get us into the classes that had already started.  I was nervous the entire way to History class.  Ben knew something was up, but thankfully, he didn't ask any questions.  I didn't know what to say to him if he asked, and I was trying to keep my eyes on everything around me.

I don't know how we made it through first and second hour at all.  Every smirk was a potential threat, and I was a nervous wreck.  I couldn't even imagine what Steve was like.  Ben kept looking at me funny, but he still hadn't asked anything.  I wasn't even shocked when we were called to the office just after third hour.  My mother and Vince were waiting for us when we got there.

"I'm sure that you have everything under control, Mitch," my mother was saying when we came in, "but this is my son, and I would feel much better if I kept him at home. I don't know how long this will go on, and I don't want to have to worry about him while I'm at work."

"You mean you won't worry about him being at home alone all day?" asked Mitch.

"There will be people there to watch over them all day," she said.  "Besides, they know the house better than the school. If something happens, they know the layout like the back of their hands."

"I'll have the police contact you when we have the calls traced," said Mitch.  "Until then, keep a close eye on both of them."

"I plan to," she said.  "Thank you, Mitch."

All the way home, my mom asked me and Steve a million questions about what had gone on during our brief day at school.  She wanted to know exactly what was said, and who had said what.  There wasn't much to tell her.  The rest of the students didn't seem to know that anything was going on, so no one had said anything.  It wasn't as if we were looking for someone to say something to us about it anyway.  If someone wanted to hurt us, the last thing they were going to do was talk to us about it.  I had to admit that I was getting a little scared, and by the way Steve was gripping my hand, I knew that he wasn't exactly care free, either.

"What about karate?" I asked as we pulled into the driveway at home.  "Are we still allowed to go there?"

"Not tonight, you aren't," she said.  "I'll call Dave and have a talk with him about it a little bit later. Right now I have to call Shirley back."

"You called my mom about this?" asked Ben as we all got out of the car.

"Well, you were at school with Tommy, Ben," she said.  "I had to tell her what was going on."

"What exactly is going on?" he asked.

"There were some threats made at school," said Steve.  "Mostly just threats to hurt us, but a few said they were going to kill us."

"Wow," he said.  "I had no idea that things were this bad."

"Neither did we," I said as we walked into the house.

We went into the living room to talk about what was going on.  I was worried about what Vince would have to say, but Steve didn't seem too worried about it.  Andy and Ben sat together on one side of the room, away from all of us.  Unfortunately, they were stuck with this discussion.  They didn't really have anything to say in it, but they had to listen to it.  Steve and I sat on the couch while Mom and Vince took the recliners.

"This is exactly what I was worried about, Steve," said Vince as soon as we were all seated.  He'd said nothing at school, in the car or as we walked into the house.  Now he was verbal.

"Do you think that I'm not worried?" he asked.  "Jesus, Vince, someone out there wants to kill me."

"Tommy, has anyone threatened you since Monday?" asked my mother.

"Just Bobby Sherman," I said.  "If anyone else has made a threat, I don't know about it."

"I haven't heard anything about anyone else," said Steve.  "Bobby and his friends are the goon squad."

"Still," said my mother, "I don't like him threatening any of you. I'm going to talk to Mitch about it."

"Talking to him about it isn't going to change the fact that someone wants them dead, Donna," said Vince.

"Well, what would you have me do, Vince?" she asked.  "Do you want me to pull them out of school, lock them up in this house like prisoners and hire armed guards to circle the house at all times?"

"What exactly did Bobby Sherman say to you, Tommy?" asked Andy.

"He just said the me and Mark were dead," I replied.  "He called us fags and said we were dead."

"What have they told you about the threats that have come in at school?" he asked.

"Just that threats had been made," I said.

"That's all he said to us today, too," said Vince.

"Well, if it is only this Bobby Sherman and a few of his friends," said Andy, "then you need to tell the police what he said. It could be someone different, though. Is there anyone who believes that you've done something to make them this angry?"

"Jason," I sighed.

"Jason Cox," said Steve.  "Tommy punched him and knocked him out."

"You need to tell the police about that, too," said Andy.  "You need to tell them about anyone who has been suspended or expelled, even if it didn't directly involve any of you. There's no telling what some people might convince themselves of when they're angry. I'd like to talk to Mitch, too. I have some ideas about what to do at school."

"Have you been through this?" asked Mom.

"No," he said.  "I have a few friends in Maine who had to deal with a situation a lot like this one, though. I remember how it was dealt with, and I might be able to give Mitch a few ideas."

"I'm sure he'd really like your input," replied Mom.  "I'll call him in a few minutes."

"You're not letting them go back to school tomorrow," said Vince, shaking his head.

"Vincent," sighed my mother.  "I can't keep them out of school. If I did that, the law would certainly have something to say. Your guardianship is shaky at best right now. Imagine what would happen if the courts found out that you kept Steve out of school."

"We could just tell them what is going on," said Vince.  "They'd understand then."

"No," said Andy.  "With everything that Mitch and the other school officials are doing to ensure their safety, social service wouldn't be understanding if you pulled Steve out of school."

"Will it all be enough to make sure that they're safe?" asked Vince.

"Well, from what Mitch told us on the telephone earlier, there will be police all over the school until this is settled," said Andy.  "They have exactly two more days of school until Winter Break, and by the time classes resume, someone should know who is making the threat."

"Then I don't see any reason why the boys can't return to school in the morning," said Mom.

"And I don't see a reason why Ben can't accompany them," said Andy.  "He's going to be a student in January, so he may as well get to know the place."

Andy went on to tell us to always make sure that wherever we went in school that we were not alone.  He said that it was wise to make sure that we always had someone accompany us, even to the bathroom.  He said that if we saw anyone or anything that even looked suspicious, we should tell a faculty member.  In a school filled with kids, most of which were already looking at us strangely, because we were gay, how would we know what was truly suspicious?

My mom called Mitch while Steve, Ben and I ate lunch, and she and Andy both talked to him.  By the time they hung up the phone, they were both feeling better about us being in school the next day.  Vince still wasn't convinced, but he didn't say anything.  We just knew from the look on his face that he wasn't happy with the decision to send us back to school the next morning.  I wished that there was some way that we could just figure out who was making the threats, so we could deal with it and get it over with.

After lunch, Ben, Andy and I taught Steve to play Hearts.  We were all trying to get our minds off of what was going on, and we actually succeeded for a while.  Steve learned quickly, and soon, we had a real game going.  We played until Mom told us to get out of the dining room, so she could set the table for supper.  I hadn't even realized that it was that late.  Nick and Jeremy hadn't even come over to ask us what had happened when they got home from school.  I wondered why.

After supper, we found out why.  We were all sitting in the living room, watching a movie with my mom when someone knocked on the front door.  My mom went to answer it, and when she came back to the living room, Sharon was with her.  Steve and I sat there, looking at her quietly.  I had no idea what to say to her, and I was sure that Steve was thinking the same or worse.  I was still angry with her, and I didn't think I'd ever forgive her for lying to me.

"I've come to apologize," she said when Mom led her into the living room and asked her to sit down.  "Steve, Tommy, I owe you both an apology, and I hope that you will at least accept it."

"When did you get back?" I asked, ignoring her apology.

"This morning," she said.  "Mike and I have been talking things out, and I knew that I had to come over here and talk to the two of you."

"So, you're back to stay, then?" asked Steve.

"Yes," she said.  "I never intended to leave for good."

"Nick and Jeremy should be happy about that," said Steve.  "Nick was very upset over you leaving."

"I know," she said, looking down at her clasped hands.  "I've talked with both of the boys about it."

"I'll never forgive you, Sharon," I said, surprising even myself.

"I can understand that, Tommy," she said.  "I lied to you."

"Why?" asked Steve.  "Why did you let everyone think that you were happy about me and Tommy being together, and then tell me in private that I wasn't ready?"

"I don't have a good answer for that question, Steve," she said.  "I know that it was wrong of me to do it."

"You accused me of trying to make everyone hate Steve, so I'd be the only one he had," I said.  "You said it was my way of keeping him with me."

"That was horrible of me to say, Tommy," she said.  "I never really felt that way, and I shouldn't have said it."

"I don't think I can accept your apology, Sharon," said Steve.  "What you did was just wrong, and you knew it was wrong when you were doing it. I can't forgive you for any of it."

"I can understand how you feel, Steve . . ."

"Can you?" he asked.  "Can you really understand how I feel? I trusted you, Sharon. My life was falling apart, and I trusted you to be there for me. Instead of being there for me, you tried to make sure that I was miserable. You kept me worried about what Tommy really wanted from me, Sharon. You made me doubt my own feelings, and that's just unforgivable."

"I don't know how I'm going to make it up to you both, but I promise to try if you'll let me," she said.

"I'll accept your apology," I said, "but I won't forgive you."

"I guess I can accept your apology as well," said Steve.  "I won't forgive you, and I won't forget what you did. I'll never trust you again."

After she left, Ben and Andy went out to the garage to work out, leaving me and Steve to talk with Mom and Vince alone.  Mom told us both that she was proud of us for accepting Sharon's apology, and she understood that we couldn't forgive her.  She said that she would have thought less of us if we had forgiven her so easily.

"I'm not going to stand for anyone meddling in my life anymore," said Steve.  "I'll be seventeen at the end of the school year, and then I won't need a guardian anymore. Vince, I know that you love me, and I know that you care about me and worry. You and I have some things that we're going to have to work through, but now is not the time, because too much is happening for me to really deal with anything. I will apply for emancipation when I turn seventeen, though. You can either challenge me or support me, but I will apply."

"You're never going to be able to forgive me, either, are you?" asked Vince when Steve was finished.

"I'm not sure, Vince," he said.  "I know that you don't see things the same way that I do, but I can't help feeling the way I do about the things that happened. It still hurts so much that Mom and Dad did what they did, and I hate it, but I still blame you for some of it. I know that it would have happened no matter when I decided to tell them, but if I had waited until I was seventeen, then the mess would have never started, Vince. I could have applied for emancipation and been done with them. It would have hurt me to do it, but it wouldn't have hurt nearly as bad as this."

"Steve, I had no idea that they would react that way," said Vince.  "I knew that Dad would have something bad to say about it, but I had no idea that they would do what they did. You have to believe me. If I'd known, I would have never told you to say anything to them. I would have forbade you to tell them."

"Vince, I just told you that I don't want to have this conversation right now," sighed Steve.  "You don't listen to me, Vince. That's our biggest problem. You think that just because you are now my legal guardian that you can just run over me all of the time. I'm not a little boy, Vince. I'm almost an adult. Treat me like one, and you and I will have far less problems."

"I don't like arguing with you, Steve," replied Vince.  "I hate it that you and I are not as close as we used to be. I know that you blame me for a lot of what happened, and I'm so sorry for all of it. I don't intend to run over you, either. I just worry about you. After seeing what happened at home, I just don't want to see anything more happen to you."

"Don't you see?" asked Steve.  "If I let everyone shelter me, then I won't know what to do when I finally become completely responsible for myself, Vince. Sure, this shit at school scares the crap out of me. I mean, someone wants to kill me. If it weren't for Tommy, standing with me, I'd go insane with fear over it, but you have to give me some slack, Vince. I have to be able to make a few decisions about my own life. If I don't start now with at least some of them, then I won't ever be able to make them with confidence in the future."

"How did you get to be so mature?" asked my mother, looking at me and Steve.  "Both of you show me so many times that you are far more than fifteen and sixteen year old boys. You're young men, and I know that we sometimes over look that. I think that your argument is valid and true, Steve. You should be able to make some decisions about your own life. I also understand where Vince is coming from, because I fear for you and Tommy as well, but I know that if we push too hard, we'll lose you both."

"We became so mature by following the examples that you and Vince show us," I said.  "You both have to understand that we do have heads on our shoulders, and we know how to defend ourselves. I'm not saying that the threat at school isn't real, but we both knew that things weren't going to be perfect when we came out. All we're asking is that you let us deal with things in our way. There are so many people at school who will come to our aid if we need them, but you have to let us stand on our own too feet on this."

"I agree that you both need to stand on your own two feet," said my mother.  "I understand exactly what both of you are trying to say. I am not against you two going to school tomorrow. I just want you to know that if either of you have something on your mind at any time, you can talk to me about it. I know that it isn't always easy to talk, but I'm here for you both."

"Steve, how are you doing with not having Sharon to talk to now?" asked Vince.

"Well, I'm doing much better without her telling me to just give up Tommy and concentrate on myself," he said.  "I talk to Tommy when I get down, and he talks to me. We know that you are both available to talk to, but we count on each other more than anyone else, and that's exactly the way it should be."

We talked for a while longer, and we didn't even stop talking when Ben and Andy returned from their showers after their workout.  Andy told Mom and Vince that he would also be there for both of us when we needed advice on things that neither Mom or Vince would understand.  He basically told them that there were going to be things that he, as a gay male, would understand a lot better than they would.  I almost choked when he said it, but my mom quickly agreed with him.  Vince merely nodded.

Upstairs, Ben had a lot of questions for us, too.  He wanted to know why I hadn't told him how bad it was for me at school, and I assured him that things hadn't been this bad until that day, so there hadn't been anything to really tell him before.  We talked about the fact that Ben would be with me all through the school day, but no one was visiting with Steve, so he would be alone.  He said that Peter was in almost every one of his classes, and Nick was in the ones that Peter wasn't, so he'd have someone to help him if he needed it.

"I'm sorry that this is happening, Tommy," he said when we were cuddled up in bed that night.

"Steve, none of this is your fault," I said, stroking his arm lightly.  "This is their fault. Whoever is making these threats is sick, and neither of us are responsible for it."

"That doesn't mean that I'm not sorry that its happening," he said.

"I know," I stipulated.  "I'm sorry that its happening, too."

"I love you, Tommy," he said, holding me a bit tighter.

"I love you, too, Steve," I said.

Nothing more was said between us.  We continued to hold each other, and every now and then we'd squeeze a bit tighter.  I finally kissed him goodnight and turned in his arms to dive into a surprisingly peaceful, dream free sleep.

The next morning, Vince joined us on our run like he had on Tuesday, so Steve and I said very little to each other.  We knew that Vince was just trying to watch out for us, but neither of us were happy about our private time being infringed upon.  We ended up cutting the run short and heading back to the house.  Ben and Andy were just coming down the stairs when we came in the house.  We said good morning before going up to take our shower and get ready for the day.

"Morning runners," said my mother when Steve and I got back downstairs, freshly showered and dressed.

"Morning," I replied as Steve nodded.

"You two look too happy in the morning," grumbled Ben from across the table.

"When did you become a late sleeper?" I asked as I cut up my sausage.  "You used to get up earlier than I do."

"That was when we were eleven, Tommy," he said.  "Maine isn't Florida."

"Neither is Storyville," I countered.  "Doesn't stop me."

About that time, Jeremy and Nick came in the side door and sat at the table.  Jeremy gave us a smile, but Nick didn't even look at us.  I wondered if he was upset with us over our discussion with Sharon the night before.  It never even occurred to me that she wouldn't tell Nick what we'd said.  I couldn't help the conversation.  I'd only said what I really thought and felt.

"Nick, you don't look happy this morning," said my mother, and we all looked over at him.

"My mother came home yesterday," he said quietly.  "I'm still not sure how I feel about that."

"Well, you know if you need to talk about anything, I'm here," said my mom.

"Thanks," he said.  "I'll be all right."

"So, you guys left school yesterday," said Jeremy.  "What happened?"

"Nothing," I assured him.  "My mom and Vince pulled us out after they talked to Mitch."

"Wendy told us about the threats," said Nick.  "She said that her dad's handling it, though."

"He is," said my mother in her 'that's final' tone.

We were pretty much quiet after that until we got outside to wait for Peter.  It was snowing, so we didn't sit on the steps like we normally did.  The temperature had dropped over night, and Steve and I had figured it would snow.  We were both surprised that it hadn't started while we were running.

"So you're going," said Peter when we all got in the car.  "Hey again, Ben."

"Hey, Peter," said Ben.

"Yeah, we're going," said Steve.  "Just going to have to buddy up all day."

"No problem, man," said Peter.  "I'm with you until gym."

"And I'm with you from gym on," said Nick.  "We'll be your bodyguards."

"Whatever," chuckled Steve.

As it turned out, just about everywhere that Ben and I went that day in school, Doug Harlan or Frank Pierce were right there with us.  When neither of them were around us, we were escorted to class by other members of the football team.  When we got to the cafeteria, we sat at our usual table, and we were surprised when the football team moved two other tables together with ours to sit with us.  They glared at anyone who walked by with a sour look on their face.

"I see the rest of your friends are here," said Steve when he and Don Hammil got to the table.  Don was another football player.

"Look," said Frank once everyone was seated, "we're here to make sure that no one does anything we'll make them regret."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The whole school heard about the threats against you guys yesterday," said Doug.  "It pissed us off, so we enlisted our friends to become your friends. Remember that friendly envoy? Well, it just got bigger."

"We're not letting anyone start anything with any of you," said Don.  "What's going on in this school is bullshit, and we don't like it. Right guys?"

We heard a thundering "that's right" from the football team around us.

"See, just because you're gay, people are getting stupid around here," said Tim Stipes.  "We don't like that. I mean, your sexuality is your business, and no one has the right to even try to make you feel bad about it."

"We have absolutely no problem with any of you being gay," said Frank.  "We do have a problem with anyone who does, though."

For the rest of the day, we were escorted by a football player, and in Gym, there were four of them with us in the weight room.  They must have pulled rank or something to get in there, but I had to admit that I was happy to see them when each of them smiled and waved as they came into the room.  Frank and I worked out together while Tim and Mark partnered off.

That evening, my mother was very surprised to see two football players lounging in the living room with me, Steve and Ben, watching television and laughing about this and that.  She didn't comment about it, but she did ask if they would be staying for supper.  They both thanked her for the invitation and happily accepted.

"Its nice to meet more of Tommy and Steve's friends," said Mom when we all sat down to supper.

"We're definitely getting to know each other," said Doug.

"How is it that you came to be my son's friend?" asked Mom.

"Well, that's kind of a long story," said Doug, looking at me nervously.

"Its all right," I said, smiling.  "She knows."

"Oh, well then, I'm sure you heard about the stuff that's going on in school," said Doug.

"Yes, I have," said Mom, looking at me and then at Steve.

"Well, we don't think its right," said Frank.  "None of us on the football team think its right. They shouldn't be targeted for something they can't control."

"So we've made sure that at least one member of the team is always available to Steve and Tommy," said Doug.

"As well as Mark, Rick, Jeremy, Nick and Peter," said Frank.  "And after the break, Ben will be watched, too."

"What exactly are you watching them for?" asked Andy, making me flinch slightly.

"We're just trying to make sure that no one does anything that we'll make them regret later," said Doug.  "Like the fights that have been going on lately."

"And the threats that we heard about yesterday," said Frank.  "We don't like it, so we're going to hang around and make sure that things don't get any worse."

"We'll stop what's already started, Mrs. Porter," said Doug.

"Donna," she said, smiling at him.  "You go right on and call me Donna."

For the rest of the meal, Vince talked to Frank and Doug about football.  Ben got in on the conversation as well.  I learned that Ben was very interested in playing football, and that he had been playing in Maine.  When Doug heard that, he started to get excited.  He said that he'd work with Ben and get him ready for next year.  He wouldn't be in school next year, but he said that Ben would be, so he'd help him make sure that he made the team.

It was after supper that we found out that Doug just lived behind Nick's house.  That meant that Doug would be Ben's next door neighbor, so they could work on football any time they wanted.  We said goodbye to Doug and Frank and then joined Mom, Vince and Andy in the living room for another television movie.  Steve and I were yawning half way through it, so we went up to bed, leaving Ben to finish the movie.

"It was really cool of those guys to watch out for us today," said Steve as we undressed and got ready for bed.  "I felt better."

"I have to admit that I did, too," I said.  "When I told Mom that people would come to our aid, I had no idea that it would be the football team."

"Yeah," agreed Steve.  "It was cool, though. No one even said a word to me all day long."

"I bet not!" I laughed.

The next morning, I was surprised to find Ben awake and ready for the day when Steve and I got up to work out.  Ben even asked if he could work out with us.  We accepted this quickly and allowed him to join us.  It was difficult to work out with another person, since me and Steve were so used to our own workout routine, but we managed.  It wasn't so bad on the shower part, either.  Steve and I always showered together, so Ben used my mother's shower.

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot and Peter parked the car at school, Doug, Frank, Tim and Don flanked us and walked into the school with us.  Doug and Frank escorted me, Steve and Ben to our locker, and Tim and Don walked the others to theirs.  We all met up again, and were joined by the rest of Storyville High's varsity football team in the quad.  We had a great time that morning talking about just about anything that came to mind, and I noticed that Wendy and Frank seemed to be doing a lot of private talking.

It was Friday and the last day of the semester, so there was absolutely nothing scholastic to be done in any of our classes.  Ben and I chatted through most of them, and when we got to the cafeteria, the same thing happened as the day before.  The football team rearranged tables to sit with us.

Rick told us that his father said the party was still on, and he extended invitations to everyone on the football team.  Most of them said that they had plans, but a few, including Doug and Frank, said they'd be there.  I again noticed that Wendy and Frank seemed to be having a slightly private conversation.  Ben and Doug were talking about what Doug had in mind for Ben's training, and the rest of us discussed the party and all of its details.

The team had practice after school, so our group was alone as we left the building.  It quickly became a problem for us as we were surrounded by six people.  Bobby Sherman, Jason Cox, Phil Norris, Blake Edwards, Danny Orrant and Chad Platt formed a circle around me, Steve and Ben as we walked into the parking lot.  Several people starting rushing around us, but it was clear that none of them were coming to our aid.  We were outnumbered.

"You fags are going to learn a lesson today," said Bobby.

"If you fucking live," added Jason.  "I told you boys it wasn't over."

"You fuckers are dead!" cried Danny as the circle grew tighter around us.

Steve and I immediately found our fighting stances, and Ben put up both fists, ready for battle.  That was when I saw the sunlight reflecting off of the knife in Jason's hand.  He grinned at me when he noticed that I'd seen the blade and actually blew me a kiss.  My heartbeat tripled as more adrenaline pumped through me.

"Hey," said Bobby, breaking the circle as he backed off a few steps.  "You didn't say anything about a knife, Cox. You just said we were going to show them . . ."

"Shut up, Bobby," commanded Jason.  "I told you all that these fags were going to die, and I meant what I said.

"I ain't down with this, Cox," said Danny also backing away slightly.

"You're both pussies," spat Jason as he turned, letting the blade arch in front of him as he did so, to look at his two friends with disgust.

"Think about this, Jason," said Blake.  "Think about what you're about to do, man."

"You three make me sick," he replied, turning back to us.  "You guys are no better than the fags."

That got their attention real quick, and any indecision they'd shared was now resolved.  They rejoined Jason and the others in the circle, and again, the six moved closer.  I never took my eyes off that knife.  I heard nothing but the sounds of their breathing and our own, and I saw nothing but the sun reflecting in my eyes off of that murderous blade.

As I watched, it was jabbed toward me, and I sidestepped it, trying to land a blow as I moved.  Jason was too fast for me that day, though.  He turned away from my extending right fist and tried again to marry the knife with my flesh.  He sliced into my thick winter coat, but I wasn't cut.  I heard Steve growl when he saw the cut in my coat, and he kicked Bobby in the balls, sending the boy to his knees as Jason swung the knife at me again.

Then, from all around us, the entire football team, padded and uniformed, crowded our attackers.  Doug ran his helmeted head into Jason's back.  The impact caused him to lose his grip on the knife, and my gaze followed the shining blade's ascent to the ground.  In a matter of seconds, the six would be assassins were on the ground with knees in their backs.  Doug looked up at me and winked as he ground his knee into Jason's back.

Then the police officers were breaking everything up, and the next thing I knew, the six of them were in handcuffs.  We were questioned as Steve franticly checked me over for any cuts and found none, and it took a long time for the five police officers to get all of our statements.  Peter, Jeremy, Nick, Rick, Mark and Wendy were suddenly around us as soon as the police had taken our statements.  They asked questions on top of each other as they strived to hear the whole story.  I was still too stunned to even say more than two words in response to their questions.

Before I knew what was happening, my mother was there, and her arms were around me in a bone crushing embrace.  Vince and Andy were both with their brothers, and I could hear Vince's voice above the crashing of my heartbeat.  He was practically foaming at the mouth with anger, but he was directing it at Steve.

"Shut up, Vince!" screamed Steve.  "Just shut up! I've had it with this shit. If you can't do more than yell at me after something like this, then don't even talk to me!"

"You're going to get yourself killed!" yelled Vince.  "Don't scream at me for being upset about it!"

"Enough," hissed my mother.  "Both of you stop it. I want both of you in the car, now."

"I'm not riding with him," said Steve.

"Then you get in my car, Steven," she said, and I saw the hateful look in my lover's eyes dissolve into shame.

"Mom, please let go now," I said, pulling away from her.

I ran after Steve and grabbed him once we were next to the car.  He held me tight, and I could feel his body shaking.  I knew that mine had to be, too.  We'd both just been through the ringer.  We climbed into the back seat of the car, and again, Steve looked me over for a cut.  He didn't believe me when I said it was just my coat.

"My God, Tommy," he breathed as he settled against me satisfied that I wasn't hurt.  "He was going to kill you!"

"I'm fine, Steve," I said, kissing his face.  "He didn't get me. Its over, and I'm fine."

Ben, Andy and my mother got into the car shortly after that.  We watched as Vince sped out of the parking lot, and my mother shook her head.  I couldn't believe he'd yelled at Steve after this.  What was wrong with him? Couldn't he just ask his brother if he was ok instead of screaming at him like a lunatic?

"Vince will calm down," said my mother as if she'd read my mind.  "He's just scared."

"I know," said Steve.  "I'm sorry for screaming at him, Donna, but he has got to stop."

"I know," she said.

We were silent the rest of the way home.  Steve didn't let go of me for the entire trip.  I just laid my head on his shoulder and felt the fight slowly fade out of my body.  It left me weak and tired.  I thought about how close that blade had come to actually cutting me and I shivered.  Steve tightened his arm around me, and I sank into him further.

At the house, we all sat in the living room, and once again, we had to rehash all of the details for my mother.  I wished they'd just leave us alone about it.  It wasn't something that I wanted to remember over and over again.  Thankfully, Doug and Frank arrived shortly after we did, so we didn't have to go into too much detail.

Doug wanted to make sure that I was ok.  He said that everyone told him that I hadn't really been cut, but he wanted to see for himself.  After he was satisfied, he and Frank were showered with thanks from my mother and Andy.  They both looked a little embarrassed, but they smiled and said all of the right things to Mom.

Just before supper, Mitch came over.  He wanted to check on us, too, but he had news for us that he said he thought he should deliver in person.  It turned out that Jason had been the one calling in the death threats, and Bobby and Danny had told the police everything.  Jason was being charged with attempted murder, and the others were being charged with assault.

"We'll be changing a few things at school after the break," he said.

"What do you mean?" asked my mother.

"Well, for one thing, three teachers stood by and watched today's event, doing nothing," he said.  "They will be relieved of their positions, and we're going to stress to the other faculty members that this kind of behavior is not acceptable."

"They stood by and watched?" breathed my mother.

"That's right," replied Mitch.  "They've been fired, and we'll start looking for replacements as soon as we can."

"What about the other things that we talked about?" asked Andy.

"That's the other part," said Mitch.  "We'll be holding an assembly the day that classes resume to inform the students of the new rules and consequences of breaking them."

"What kind of rules?" I asked.

"Well, because of today's events, we'll be placing metal detectors at the entrances of the school," he said.  "All of the other doors will be locked, so the main entrance of the school is where all students will come into the building. Security guards and the school's liaison officer will be posted at the entrance to search bags and keep order."

"What about lunch?" asked Steve.  "We've been allowed to eat outside when weather permits. Is that going to change?"

"No," said Mitch.  "We'll have security patrolling the parking lot and the rest of the grounds. Outdoor lunch will not be denied, however, we will now have a closed campus, so you will no longer be permitted to leave the school for lunch."

"That's going to make a lot of people angry," I sighed.

"Well, we'll just keep reminding them that it is for their own safety," said Mitch.

"The football team will be behind you on this," said Doug.  "We'll spread the word that its for our own good."

"Thanks, Doug," replied Mitch.

We talked a bit more about things that Mitch and the rest of the faculty were about to do in school, and then he excused himself to go home and have supper with his family.  Doug and Frank left shortly after that.  We were all quiet as Mom made supper.  I was too busy wondering just what school was going to be like after the break to talk to anyone.  Steve seemed to be lost in thought, too.  Vince just glared at us.

All through supper, Vince gave us his silent stare, and I noticed that Steve was getting more and more agitated by it.  Andy and Ben kept a steady conversation going, so my mother wasn't paying any attention to Vince.  I knew that if he didn't stop staring at us, Steve was going to blow up at him.  I couldn't figure out just what Vince's problem was.  Sure, he was upset over what happened.  We all were, but what else was bothering him?

Steve helped my mother clear the table after supper, and I knew that it was mostly to get away from his brother.  This was going to be bad when it finally broke, and I wasn't looking forward to it.  I didn't know what to do about it, though.  Vince and I weren't famous for getting along in times like this, so I wasn't about to try and talk to him about it.  Steve surely wouldn't talk to him about it.  He'd been completely ignoring Vince most of the time.

Fortunately, Vince said nothing about it for the night.  He left around seven to pick up Maria for a date, and Andy, Ben, Steve and I went to the kitchen table to play cards.  Mom was working in the dining room with all of her papers spread out all over the table.  She told us that she would look into what was happening with our enemies when she got to court Monday morning.

"So how are you guys feeling?" asked Andy when we were into our third hand of hearts.

"Tired," I replied honestly.

"Me too," said Steve.  "I'm just glad that Vince left for a while. He's been staring at me all night, and I don't have the strength to fight with him tonight."

"He's worried about you," commented Andy.

"I know he is," said Steve.  "He just has a really bad way of trying to control me when he worries."

"I've been talking to him about that," sighed Andy.  "I'm not getting anywhere, though."

"You won't," said Steve.  "He's been like this since we were little."

"Well, he's going to have to back off soon," said Andy.  "He's going to have to realize that you aren't a little kid anymore."

"Are we still going to Rick's party?" asked Ben.

"Absolutely," said Steve.  "This doesn't change anything."

"What if Vince tries to pull rank and stop you?" I asked.

"Then I'll just go anyway," he said firmly.

And then we were quiet again.  Steve's mood was getting worse and worse, and I knew that it was just a mixture of the days events with Vince's attitude on top of everything.  I wished that there was something that I could say or do to make him feel better, but I knew that there wasn't anything.  Words wouldn't do anything, and actions might set him off faster.

After the card game, Steve and I went upstairs to go to bed.  Steve asked Andy to try and make sure that Vince didn't go on our run with us in the morning.  Andy agreed to try, but I doubted that he'd be successful.  Ben and Andy stayed downstairs to talk, but I knew that Ben was just giving me and Steve some alone time.  I was thankful for it.

We didn't talk, but then we rarely ever had to talk to each other to communicate.  We slowly got undressed and crawled into bed, and we just let things happen as they happened.  When both of our bodies were spent, we curled up together and let sleep drag us into its dark abyss.

Just before the sun came up the next morning, Steve and I were up, dressed in our running clothes, and down the stairs.  Mom greeted us and commented on the cold weather.  She said it had snowed again, so we went back up the stairs to add another layer of clothes and grab our boots.  Andy was successful in keeping Vince from running with us.

"Damn, its cold," gasped Steve when we took off toward the park.

"We'll warm up once we get into the run," I replied, feeling the bone chilling wind myself.

"You haven't said anything, Tommy," he said after a long silence.

"About what?" I asked.

"Me and Vince," he said.

"That's not for me to comment on," I said slowly.  "You and your brother have to work this out on your own."

"But I know that you don't like what's happening," he said.

"I don't like it, because I see how upset you are about it, Steve," I said.  "Vince pisses me off, too, but I won't say anything about it until you and Vince have your talk."

"It won't be a talk, Tommy," said Steve as we entered the park.

"That's what I'm afraid of," I said.

"He did open an account for me, though," said Steve.  "He's been placing half of the support check that my parents are required to send each week into it."

"That's good," I said.  "You'll be able to buy a car soon then."

"I'm going to look for a job, too," he said as we made it to the pond that we ran around lately.

"Where?" I asked.

"I don't know yet," he replied.  "Peter and I are going to go look on Monday."

"Ok," I said.  "What about karate?"

"Well, I've already thought about that," he said.  "I just have to explain to them that I can't work on karate nights."

"Might be hard to find a job with that condition," I said.

"I know," he replied.

Nothing more was said on the matter after that.  We just got into our run and let our minds wander silently.  I wondered where he would find a job.  Sure, I wasn't happy about spending less time with him, but I wasn't stupid enough to let it bother me too much.  I knew that we had to grow up and be adults.  Getting jobs was a big part of that.

I was also still thinking about Jason Cox and his knife.  I don't know how I was supposed to feel about that, but what I did feel was anger.  I was furious with the whole thing.  Jason couldn't handle the fact that we're gay, so he decided to try to kill us? That was just too infuriating to contemplate.  I just hoped that Jason and his friends got what they deserved.  It would take longer for me to figure out just what I thought they deserved.  Did I want them hurt? That wasn't what I wanted.  What I really wanted was for someone to teach them tolerance and understanding.  Surely somewhere in their backgrounds they were denied those lessons.

I was surprised when I found myself in front of my house.  I'd been thinking so hard that I hadn't even noticed that we'd left the park and come back to the house already.  My clothes were soaked with sweat, so I knew that we'd put in a good run.  My legs ached and my back was on fire.   Running through snow is not pleasant, I assure you.

"You're quiet," said Steve as we stepped out of our boots in front of the door.

"Thinking," I replied.  "I have a lot on my mind."

"That's over, Tommy," he said, putting a hand on my arm.  "They've been arrested, and its over."

"I know," I said, trying to smile for him.  "I just wonder why they did it."

"Because they're stupid," he said as we entered the house.

I continued to think about it all for the rest of the day.  Even while we played cards, I thought about Jason and his friends.  My mother watched me off and on, so I knew that I was being too quiet, but I just couldn't get it out of my mind.  When I was ready, I'd talk to either her or Andy about it, but at the moment, I had too much thinking to do about it all.

Doug came over just after lunch to get Ben for a run of their own.  Steve left with Nick and Jeremy in Vince's car, and I was surprised that Vince allowed Steve to take his car, but I didn't say anything about it.  Vince went back to his room to brood, I imagine, and I stayed in the living room with my mom and Andy.

"Are you ready to talk?" asked my mother as she put glasses of soda in front of me and Andy.  "You've been quiet all day long."

"Yeah," I sighed.  "I just can't keep my mind off of Jason and the rest of them."

"They're going to jail, Tommy," said my mother.  "Charges were filed, and they'll go to jail for what they did."

"That's not what I'm worried about, Mom," I said.  "I was thinking about why they did what they did."

"Tommy, this wasn't your fault," Andy said firmly.  "Those boys took it upon themselves to act on a hatred that you will never understand."

"But why do they hate us so much?" I asked, looking at him.  "What exactly is it about us that they hate so much? I mean, yeah, we're gay, and a lot of people can't handle that, but what exactly about it bothers people so much? It isn't like we run around the school hitting on every boy we see."

"Tommy, you'll never understand prejudice," he said.  "There are no good answers for why people do the things that they do. I could tell you that they were taught intolerance by their parents, or I could tell you that they are all just bad seeds, but we'll never really know why Jason decided to bring a knife and attack you with it."

"Hatred," I said.  "It was hatred, not prejudice."

"Its the same thing," he assured me.

"Tommy, you're going to have to understand that you can't change the world," said my mother.  "People hate people, and there isn't anything that any of us can do about it. What Jason and his friends tried to do to you was horrible, and they'll pay for it, but they won't change, Tommy. Sometimes, its just not possible for people to change."

"People change all of the time," I argued.

"When they want to," said Andy.  "Jason and his friends probably don't even want to change, Tommy. It may be too late for them to change anyway."

"You're going to start the GSA at school," said my mother.  "That will show you who will and who will not be friendly. You've got the football team behind you, Tommy. Don't try to change the world."

"I don't even know if Mitch will allow us to start a GSA now," I said.  "Besides, Mark is the one who is starting that. Not me."

"Mitch thinks its a great idea," she said.  "He thinks its even better now than he did before. And, yes, Mark is starting the club, but you and Steve will be helping him. Tommy, let that be your cause for now. Don't go off trying to change people right now. This issue is too sensitive."

I coasted through the rest of the day with that discussion rattling around in my head, but I was paying complete and total attention to Steve when he came home before supper.  He kissed me and then went to discuss something with my mom.  I wondered what that was about, but I decided to just let them talk.

Ben came home shortly after Steve did, and he wanted me to come upstairs with him to have a quick talk.  I wondered just what he wanted to talk about, and I wasn't looking forward to another lecture on not trying to change people.  I wasn't prepared for what he wanted to talk about, though.  It wasn't the same thing that Andy and Mom had talked to me about, but it was just as challenging to digest.

"Wendy likes me!" he breathed as soon as we were in my room.  "Doug told me that he and Frank have been talking to her about me a lot. She's asking all kinds of questions about me."

"Why doesn't she just ask me?" I asked.

"Frank says that she's afraid that you won't want us to be together," he replied, looking into my eyes with the question in his own.

"Why wouldn't I want you two to be together?" I asked.  "You are my two best friends, and I wouldn't stand in the way of you two doing anything."

"So, you don't have a problem with it?" he asked, smiling at me.

"Hell no," I said.  "If she likes you, and you like her, then I'm all for it."

We joined the rest of the household at the dining room table with big cheesy grins on our faces.  Steve kept looking at us, but he didn't say anything, and luckily, neither did Vince.  The entire meal was eaten in silence.  Mom and Andy watched me and Ben like hawks, but neither of them inquired about our silent smiles.

After supper, I called Wendy to tell her that she had nothing to worry about with me.  I wanted her to know that I thought it was a great idea if she and Ben wanted to be together.  Andy was pleased when Ben announced that he and Wendy were going to a movie after he'd talked to her when I was finished giving her my blessing.

"I thought that Wendy and Frank were going to get together," said Steve once Wendy had picked up Ben.

"I did, too," I said.  "It turns out that she was grilling Frank for information on Ben."

"Why didn't she just come to you about it?" he asked.

"That's what I asked," I laughed.  "She was worried that I wouldn't want them to be together."

"Why?" asked Andy.

"I don't know," I said.  "I called her and told her I was actually very happy about the idea."

"Well, she must have accepted it," laughed Steve.  "They are on a date."

"Yeah, but let's not tease Ben about that when he comes back, please," I said.  "That's kind of a sensitive issue with us."

"Yeah," agreed Andy.  "Just leave him alone about it. If he wants to talk about it, he will."

And boy did he talk about it! By the time we were ready to go to bed that night, I was ready to tell Ben to shut up.  When he went to take his shower, Steve laughed at me.  He kissed me and hugged me, but he didn't stop laughing.

"What?" I asked, pulling back from the hug.

"You," he said.  "Ben is on your nerves, because he is excited about his date."

"Right," I said.  "But not because he's excited. He just won't stop talking about it."

"Right, and how long did you talk about me to Nick before he finally told you to shut up?" he asked, trying not to laugh again.

"Point taken," I sighed, hugging him again.  "Let's go to sleep, and I promise to let Ben regale me with tales of Wendy in the morning."

Sundays being our sleep in days, Steve and I didn't get out of bed until my mother called us down for lunch.  I was surprised that Ben wasn't there, but when Andy explained that he and Wendy were at the mall, I smiled.  For most of the day, we hung out in our room alone, taking advantage of Ben and Wendy's "mall trip".  We didn't bother to tell any of them that the mall was closed on Sundays.

"So, we're alone," said Steve when he closed the bedroom door.

"Yes, I believe we are," I said, sitting on the bed.  "What would you like to do with our alone time?"

"Well, I don't want to watch a stupid movie," he said, grinning at me.

"Oh," I said, glancing at the television.  "I'm sure we can find something more entertaining to pass the time."

We were dressed again and cuddling when Ben bounced through the bedroom door.  He told us all about his day, and we listened to as much as we could before tuning him out a little.  He and Wendy were going out again that night, and that meant that Steve and I would have the room to ourselves for a few hours again.  A devilish smile spread across Steve's face at this news.

At supper, Vince stared at us again, and I knew that Steve was getting closer and closer to snapping at him.  Luckily, my mother sent Vince to the store to get a few things after supper, so Steve and I snuck back to our bedroom to be alone.  We were watching television when Ben came back.  Tonight, he didn't say a word about his date with Wendy, and after a few minutes, I started to wonder if everything was ok.  I didn't say anything about it.  I figured he'd tell me if something was wrong.

Steve and I spent the entire day together the next day.  We stuck to each other like glue.  We did go to the mall with Peter and Marcy after lunch, but we didn't buy anything.  I stopped at the pet store again to look at the cats, and Steve smiled at me kind of strangely.   When I commented on it, he just told me it was nice to watch me watch the kittens.

That night, Doug came over to watch a movie with us, and we lounged in the living room while my mother worked in the dining room.  She'd told us that Jason had accepted a plea bargain, so we wouldn't have to testify against him in court.  He was going to jail right after Christmas.  Bobby and the others had also plead out, and they would each spend a little time in jail, too.  I hoped that they learned from it.

"So Wendy and Ben are doing pretty good, I take it," said Doug after the movie was over.

"They seem to be," I replied.  "We haven't really discussed it much today."

"She's all he talks about while we work out," said Doug.  "Marcy tells me that Wendy talks about Ben all of the time, too."

"You know Marcy?" asked Steve.

"Marcy is my cousin," he explained.  "We talk all the time."

"She's cool," I said.  "She's definitely great with Peter."

"She likes him," agreed Doug.

The next day, Ben's parents arrived.  It had been a long time since I'd seen them, and I was almost as happy to see them as they were to see Ben and Andy.  My mother took them to their house and let them look around.  There furniture had arrived Friday, and I was surprised that none of us knew about it.  My mother had taken care of it all herself.

That night, we all went to Wendy's for her Christmas Party.  She had gifts for each of us, and I was glad that Steve and I had both bought her separate gifts when she handed us both gifts of our own.  We also passed out the gifts that we had gotten for the others, and we all sat down in Wendy's basement to open gifts, drink soda and have a good time.

The gifts ranged from sweaters to books and CDs.  Wendy gave me a ball cap, and I looked at her a little funny when I opened it.  She smiled and said that she thought I'd look good wearing one.  She was happy with the bracelet that I'd bought her, though.  She immediately had Ben help her put it on.

On Christmas Eve, our house was filled with the scent of baked goods as my mother and Shirley, Ben's mom, baked pies, cakes and cookies for the dinner they were planning the next day.  For this holiday, Mike and Sharon would be coming to our house instead of us going to theirs.  I wasn't too sure how I felt about Sharon eating Christmas Dinner with us, but I didn't say anything.

I found it strange when Mom and Steve left together for a little while, leaving Shirley and Andy in the kitchen to watch over the oven.  I asked Ben what was going on, but he was clueless.  They returned about an hour later, but neither of them commented on where they'd gone.  When I looked at Steve, he smiled and shook his head to indicate that he wasn't telling.

To my surprise, nearly every member of the football team came to the door at various times during the day to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Each left with something my mother and Shirley had baked.  Mom and Shirley talked quietly in the kitchen about our "friendship" with the varsity football team, but I didn't feel the need to be a part of that discussion.

That night, first my mother, and then Steve went out to the garage for a few minutes, but when I asked what was in the garage, I was warned to stay out of there.  I didn't know what to think.  Maybe there was a car in there? But that didn't make sense, because I wouldn't be sixteen until June.  It was just something that I was going to have to wait till morning to figure out.  I let my lover lead me up the stairs to our room with no objections.

I awoke the next morning to find my boyfriend more excited than I'd ever seen him before.  He'd warned me about what Christmas with him was like, but I wasn't really prepared for the ball of energy that he was.  Steve loves Christmas! He had us up at seven that morning (we'd slept through our workout and run time in honor of the holiday), dragged me to the shower and practically dressed me himself.  My mother and Vince were sitting in the kitchen, sipping coffee and munch on toast.

"Merry Christmas!" cried Steve when we got to the kitchen.

"Merry Christmas, Steve," said my mother.  "I've checked the garage this morning, but you'll need to figure out how to . . uh . . deliver the package yourself."

"Thank you, Donna," he said, smiling from ear to ear.

"Morning, Tommy," said my mother, nodding at me.

"Morning," I replied, slipping into a chair.

"Not the Christmas enthusiast that Steve is?" asked Vince, smirking at me.

"Merry Christmas, Vince," I said, glaring at him.

After a light breakfast, we went into the living room to open presents, but Steve went out to the garage.  He returned with a cat in his arms.  My mother smiled at me, and Vince grunted.

"Tommy, I noticed that every time we go to the mall, you spend a large amount of time in the pet store," said Steve as he placed the long haired gold and brown cat in my lap.  "Meet Zeus. Your mom and I rescued him from the animal shelter, and he's yours now."

"Mine?" I asked as Zeus began to sniff my fingers and then my hand.  "I can have him?"

"The litter box and food bowls are your responsibility," said my mother.  "Merry Christmas."

"Thank you both!" I cried, hugging the cat to me.  He didn't protest, and when I released him, he settled back down on my lap and commenced to go to sleep.

I got a bunch of clothes from my mother, and she also got me a DVD-ROM and several DVDs for my computer.  Steve got clothes, too, but Vince didn't seem to have a gift for him.  Steve didn't comment on it, though.  I could see the disappointment in his eyes, though.  It wasn't until after Vince and Mom had both opened all of their gifts that Vince finally said something to Steve.

"Steve," he said in such a matter of fact tone that Steve almost didn't pay attention.  "There's something on the tree for you."

Steve looked at him for a second and then went over to inspect the Christmas Tree.  He was standing there for a long time before his eyes zeroed in on a set of keys hanging on one of the branches.  He turned around with the keys in his hands and a slow smile spread across his face.

"A car?" he asked.

"Out front," replied Vince.  "Merry Christmas little brother."

We had to help clean up wrapping paper and boxes before my mother would allow us to get dressed and go for a ride in Steve's new Toyota Tercel.  It was white with burgundy interior.  Steve backed us out of the driveway, and we drove all over the neighborhood.  There was even a CD player, and Steve couldn't wait to crank it up and hear the sound.

"You don't have to buy your own car now," said Vince when we got back to the house.

"Thank you so much, Vince," he replied, hugging his brother.  Their problems forgotten for the day.

"Don't just thank me," said Vince.  "Donna helped."

"Thanks, Donna," said Steve when my mom came out of the kitchen.

Shortly after that, Sharon and Shirley came to help mom with the cooking.  When Sharon got there, Steve and I took Zeus upstairs to our room.  I installed my DVD-ROM, and we started to watch one of the DVDs.  I crawled onto the bed to join my lover and my cat.  With my head on Steve's chest and Zeus lounging across my stomach, we watched Darkness Falls. We were almost to the end of the movie when Ben, Nick and Jeremy came upstairs.

"Dude, I love the car!" cried Nick when he sat down.

"Oh, man!" enthused Steve.  "Its awesome!"

"Here, kitty," called Jeremy when Zeus crawled off the bed.

"Where'd the cat come from?" asked Ben.

"That's what was in the garage," I said.  "We've been speculating since yesterday."

We talked about the gifts we'd each received from our parents and Ben announced that he'd also gotten a car.  He promised to take me for a ride as soon as we'd had dinner.  His car was a Dodge Daytona, and he said it was really cool.  He liked Steve's Tercel, but he loved his car.  We just couldn't figure out when his parents had found time to buy the car.

Christmas Dinner was a bit strained at first with Sharon sitting directly across from me and Steve, but we both did our best to just let it go for the sake of Christmas.  We all talked about various things, and I all but ignored Sharon.  Shirley and Tom told us about their jobs.  Tom would be working at the university, and Shirley would be joining the faculty of Storyville High.  She was replacing a secretary in the main office.

After dinner, we all went to the living room to open the presents that we'd each gotten for the other families, and I was reluctant to even accept the gift that Sharon held out to me, but I took the sweater box and unwrapped it.  Inside there was, just as I suspected, another sweater.  Mike and Nick had gotten me more DVDs, so I knew that at least Mike had been in on the DVD-ROM.  Jeremy got me two CDs.

We gave Thomas his presents, but he was more interested in the wrapping paper.  He tried to save it, so he could make a Christmas collage, he said.  But his eyes lit up when he opened the art set that Steve and I got for him.  I was so happy that he liked it.  He expressed excitement when Ben and Steve announced that they were giving rides in their new cars, but he and Jeremy rode with me and Ben.  Nick looked a little hurt by that, but Steve just smiled.

Ben was ecstatic over his new car, and he showed me every little gadget and button in the car.  He said he couldn't wait to show Wendy, and I laughed.  We drove all over the neighborhood, passing Steve and Nick every now and then.  When we got back to the house, Thomas was clapping his hands.  He'd clearly enjoyed the ride.  The smile on his face was huge, and his eyes were sparkling.  I wondered just how often Thomas got a chance to have that much fun.

"Did you like that?" I asked him as we got out of the car.

"Yeah!" he cried, clapping his hands again.

"He's spending the night with us tonight," said Jeremy as we walked up the walk to the house.  "They said that this is the first of a trial basis, and if he does good, then he can live with us."

"That's great, Jeremy," I said, smiling.  I was really happy to hear that they were considering letting Thomas live outside of the home.

They all stayed for a while longer, and the younger generation stayed in the living room with Andy, Vince and Mike while the women cleaned up the remains of dinner.  Thomas was fascinated with Zeus, and Zeus seemed to like the attention.  Steve thanked Vince again for the car, and Vince gave him a genuine smile.  I was struck by just how attractive Vince really was.  His smile lit up his entire face.

We spent our time divided between watching some Christmas Special on television and talking about the cars and the cat.  Ben and Steve got into the "yeah well mine has . . ." game rather quickly.  I just laughed at them while Nick rolled his eyes.  It was nice to see my lover and my best friend getting along.  This had turned out to be a very good Christmas, but I had to admit that I was happy when they all went home.  I was tired.

For the next few days, Steve and I stayed close to home.  He offered to drive to the store for my mother every day, and twice she took him up on it.  I rode along, but other than that, we stayed at home.  I used the time to get to know my cat.  Zeus had quite the personality.  He liked to play with our shoe strings, which I imagined all cats would, and he loved to attack our ankles when we walked around in our socks.  At night, he curled up at the foot of our bed and attacked our feet through the comforter every time we moved in our sleep.

Doug came over each day to invite us out for this and that.  We declined until Sunday night.  He looked so surprised when we accepted his invitation to hang out at his house that we had to laugh.  He lived next door to Ben, so we just cut through the yard to Ben's house, so we could invite him, too.

When we got to Doug's we could hear the television in the living room, but Doug led us straight up the stairs to his room.  His bedroom had a single bed with a night stand, a small couch, a desk and chair, a dresser and a bean bag.  There was a television on top of the dresser.  Football posters lined his walls, and it was easy to tell that Doug was the typical straight boy.

"Make yourselves at home," he said as he took the chair at his desk.  "My dad's downstairs, so we have to keep it kind of quiet. He worked all day, so he isn't in the best of moods."

"Its hard to believe that we all live so close to each other," I said.  "Mark and Rick both live not far from here, and Frank lives across the street from you?"

"That's right," he said.  "His family is still in Texas, or he'd be here, too."

"Texas?" I asked.

"Yeah, they left two days before Christmas to visit family," explained Doug.  "They'll be back on the fourth."

"Cool," I said.

"So, about the New Year's party," he said.  "What exactly will be happening?"

"All I know is that we're having the party at Rick's," I said.  "I've never actually been to his house before, so I don't know what's going to go on there. I do know that both of his parents will be upstairs playing cards, though."

"As long as there isn't going to be a bunch of drinking, I'll be there," said Doug.

"No drinking," said Steve.

"Cool, count me in," said Doug.  "And that Don will come. Probably Tim, too. He usually goes everywhere that Don goes."

"Well, you guys are definitely welcome," said Steve.  "Especially after what you did for us on the last day of school."

"That was nothing," said Doug.  "Just think of what Frank would have done to Jason if any of you had actually gotten hurt."

"What's the deal with that?" asked Ben.  "He was like outraged over the whole thing. Not that I don't agree that it was outrageous, but he got a little over the top."

"He's just a really great guy who has a big heart," said Doug.  "He likes you guys, and it really pissed him off that you were being fucked with."

"Well," I said.  "Having the football team around us all of the time has made us feel a lot more comfortable. I have to admit, though, its a bit unbelievable."

"Yeah," agreed Doug.  "Normally it would be. But they're a great bunch of guys. We've known each other since kindergarten."

"You've definitely made an impression with Donna," laughed Steve.  "She thinks you guys are amazing."

"Well, after the meal she cooked us the other night," said Doug, "I think she's amazing."

"My mom is a great cook," I said.

"Damn straight, she is," said Doug.

"Wait till summer," said Steve.  "Donna's mean with a grill, and she loves to cook out."

"I'm there, dude!" cried Doug.  "I love cookouts."

"We have one on just about every spring, summer and fall holidays," I said.  "If it doesn't rain on Halloween, we have one that day, too."

"Cool," he said.  "Maybe at the first one of the summer, we can all toss a ball around."

"Football really isn't my thing," I said.  "Hand me a bat and a baseball, and I'm your guy."

"I like stick ball," nodded Doug.  "Not as much as football, but I'll swing a few with you this summer."

When we got back home, Zeus seemed happy to see us.  He tore through the house and pounced on me as soon as I sat down on the couch.  Steve and I laughed at him as he rubbing his head against my chest and began to purr.

"I think he missed you, Bud," laughed Steve.

"Looks like it," I agreed.

We watched a movie with my mother, but before it was even half over, she was yawning.  She had court in the morning, so she had to be up early.  We were going to be working out, so we'd be up early, too, but after sleeping in that morning, we weren't tired yet.  We finished the movie, but opted not to watch the second, choosing bed instead.

The next day, my mother came home in a very strange mood.  She almost look frightened, and Steve and I watched her very carefully.  She went from room to room, locking windows and pulling shades.  She even dead bolted both doors, and then she called Mike.  She went into the kitchen to use the phone, so we didn't hear what she said.

That night, when we were getting ready for karate, she lectured us about driving straight to the center and straight home after.  She even said she was considering making Vince take us.  Luckily, Vince wasn't home, so she didn't have that luxury.  I was surprised that she didn't take us herself.  When I asked her what was wrong, she just told me not to worry.  That only made me worry more.

"What's going on?" asked Steve when we got into the car.  He was looking back at my mother, who was watching us from the door.

"I'm not sure," I said.  "Do you think there's been another threat?"

"Jason's in jail," said Steve.  "Besides, we'd have heard from the police if there was another threat."

"Then what's with her?" I asked.

She was like that all day Tuesday, too.  She didn't even let us go for our run that morning.  I demanded to know what was going on, but she wouldn't tell me.  I noticed that she and Mike stayed home that day, and I thought about going next door to ask Mike what was going on, but thought better of it.  Mom was high strung enough.  I didn't want to upset her further.

On Wednesday morning, she actually told us to lock the garage door while we worked out.  This was getting serious, but she still wouldn't tell us what was going on.  We saw Mike leaving for work, but my mother didn't leave the house even once that day.  When Doug knocked on the door that afternoon, she looked like she was on the verge of panic.

"Dude, what's with your mom?" he asked once we were upstairs.

"I don't know," I said.  "She's starting to scare me, though."

"Something's going on," said Steve.  "She keeps snapping at us when we try to leave the house, and she won't tell us why."

"There hasn't been another threat, has there?" asked Doug.

"We thought of that already," I said.  "Wouldn't we have been notified if there had been?"

"I would think so," he replied.  "Something's up, though."

Whatever it was, she wasn't telling us anything about it.  Wednesday morning, she seemed to be a bit more relaxed.  She let us go on our run, but Vince once again went with us.  I didn't like that, but I didn't say anything about it.  When we got back, she was already gone.  She went to court, so I figured that whatever was wrong was getting better, or it was over, but when we were getting ready for the party on New Year's Eve, she was back to giving us orders about driving straight to Rick's, not going anywhere else, and she told us to call when we got there and before we left to come back home.

"So its like that at your house, too," said Nick when we were all in the car.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, my dad isn't acting as strange as your mom, but he gave me and Jeremy the same kind of speech about going straight to Rick's and nowhere else with anyone," he said.

"It all started on Monday," said Jeremy.  "Sharon's even spooked."

"They'd tell us if Jason was out of jail, right?" asked Nick.

"I don't think they'd be that upset about Jason," said Steve.  "I mean, she'd have told Doug at least. He'd have told us, so I don't think its Jason."

"Then what?" asked Nick.

"I don't know," I said.  I intended to find out, though.

Even with my mother and Mike's apparent psychosis on our minds, we managed to have a really good time at Rick's party.  Ben and Wendy were stuck together like glue for most of the party.  She did let him go long enough for him to play a game of pool with Peter.  Throughout it, she and Marcy chattered away.

Rick's basement was completely finished with carpet on the floor and dry walled walls with wallpaper.  There was a bar at one end, a pool table in the middle and a couch, chair and loveseat at the other end.  A bathroom was located behind the stairs, and there were lights all over the place.  The whole room was decorated for Christmas, and there was a Christmas Tree next to the bar.

"So, your mom is nervous?" asked Wendy when she and I sat at the bar with cokes and pretzels.

"Something's going on," I admitted.  "I'm not really sure what it is, but Nick's dad is a little nervous, too."

"Well, I know that it isn't Jason," she said.  "My dad checked this morning, and Jason has already been sent to DOC."

"I don't know what's going on," I said.  "She's just freaked out about something."

"Have you asked her?" she asked.

"All she says is that she's trying to look out for us," I replied.  "Maybe Vince's fears have finally gotten to her, but even he seems to be worried about her."

"Well, my mom has been talking to her a lot," said Ben who sat beside Wendy and took a few of her pretzels.

"Has your mom said anything about what's going on?" I asked him.

"Nope," he said.  "I didn't even know that anything was going on until I came over earlier today."

"Well, something has to change soon," I said.  "She's starting to make us nervous."

"I hear you," said Wendy.  "Maybe if you and Steve both talk to her about it, she'll tell you what's bothering her. Get Vince in on it, too."

"We can try that," I said.  "Maybe she'll actually tell us something."

Doug, Don, Tim and a few other guys from the football team showed up.  Most of them had dates with them, and we were all introduced.  Doug, Steve, Nick and I played cards on a card table that Rick had set up for that specific purpose.  We played spades, and Steve and I were partners against Doug and Nick.  They beat us fairly quickly.

Around midnight, we all paired off.  At least, those of us with dates or boyfriend/girlfriends paired off for the countdown.  As soon as the clock struck twelve, Steve and I were in a lip lock that rivaled those around us.  No one said anything, and I knew that Mark and Rick were sharing a kiss of their own.

The party wound down around one, and Steve and I, along with Nick and Jeremy, stayed to help clean up.  It had already been decided between Doug's parents and my mom that he would spend the night at our house, so he helped us clean as well.  Rick's parents thanked us all as we gathered our coats and prepared to leave.  Mark was staying with Rick, so the two of them walked us to our cars.  We called Mom on Doug's cell phone to let her know we were on our way home.

When we got there, she seemed to be ok, so I decided not to ask her anything that night.  She ushered us all upstairs to bed shortly after we got there.  She did listen to all of the details about the party, though, and she asked that we not go running in the morning.  Steve and I assured her that we would be sleeping in.  It was after two in the morning already.

We'd aired up the air bed before leaving for the party, so we only had to change and crawl into the beds when we got upstairs.  None of us were even interested in talking, and soon, we were all asleep.

We got up around one that day, and Mom was long gone.  We spent the day lounging in the living room, watching television and commenting on just about everything we saw.  Doug had a real laid back personality, so spending time with him was easy.  He was also very attractive.  He had darker hair than Steve that he kept cut short, but not quite buzzed.  His brown eyes were darker than Ben's, and he was even more muscular.  Steve and I had both commented on Doug's looks, so I didn't feel too guilty thinking about him being sexy.

He left for home just a few minutes before my mother came home from work.  She was in a very good mood, so I didn't bother to ask anything about the last few days.  She even took us out to eat, saying that we were celebrating her successful plea bargain.  When we got back from the restaurant, Nick and Jeremy came over, and Nick said his father was more relaxed, too.  It seemed that whatever was bothering them was over.

Ben hung out with us all day long on Saturday, and we went to the mall, so Steve and Ben could fill out applications.  We ate lunch there, leaving just in time to be home for supper.  He ate with us, and even decided to spend the night that night.  Sunday was our final day of Winter Break, so we were all planning to hang out together that day.  We'd chosen my house, so Mom said that she'd make something for everyone to eat while we hung out.  It was nice to see her so much like her old self after a week of being terrified by something that was completely unknown to everyone but herself and maybe Mike.

The house was as full as it had ever been with Nick, Jeremy, Peter, Wendy, Marcy, Doug, Frank, Rick and Mark hanging out with us.  Don and Tim showed up for a few minutes, but neither of them stayed long.  Even Dustin came over for a little while, but his father didn't like him to hang out with me and Steve anymore, so he didn't stay long, either.  He'd reacted badly to our public display of affection, and Dustin had told us he was nearly forbidden to have anything to do with us.

The rest of us sat around the living room, watching music videos, eating chips and drinking sodas.  We talked about how much it sucked that Winter break was over, but we were all looking forward to Spring Break.  It wouldn't happen for a while, but at least we had something to look forward to.  Wendy and Ben said that they wanted to go to Magic Land the first day of Spring Break, and Steve and I said that sounded like fun.  Everyone agreed, and so it was planned that the first day of Spring Break, which also happened to be the day the theme park opened for the season, we would all be at Magic Land.

Everyone left right before supper time, so Steve and I had supper with Mom and Vince alone that night.  It just so happened that it was also the night that Steve and Vince were going to have their talk, although I don't think either of them planned it that way.  It just sort of happened.  The meal started out with Mom asking us if we were ready to go back to school, and, like every other teenager at the end of a break from school, we responded in the negative.

"Well, I hope that you're both more careful this semester," said Vince, making even my mother wince.  "We don't want any more calls telling us to come to school because of an assault."

"Vince, why can't you just let that go?" demanded Steve, slamming his hand on the table.  "They're all in jail now, and we have more friends than ever. We're not going to get killed at school, damn it."

"You don't know what's going to happen, Steve," replied Vince.  "Everyone that has anything against you has had a long break to think about that, and don't even think that your new friends can protect you all the time."

"Here we go again," sighed Steve.  "I can't believe you. Can't you just keep your mouth shut about this stuff? I mean, why do you always have to bring this up when everyone is in a good mood? Do you really want me to be miserable all the time?"

"You know that's not what I want," said Vince.  "I worry . . ."

"You worry," interrupted Steve.  "Fine. Worry. Just keep it to yourself. Vince, you drive me crazy, do you know that? I don't even like to talk to you at all anymore, because I never know what you're going to say to me. I was starting to think that things were getting better between us, but you showed me just now that I'm wrong."

"I have to keep reminding you, because you don't seem to even care about what could happen to you," said Vince.  "You and Tommy both go around with great big blinders to the world at large wrapped around your heads. Its stupid, and you're both just begging for trouble."

"Wait just a minute," I said.

"Shut up, Tommy," spat Vince.  "You're no better than Steve. Neither of you listen. I asked you not to come out, and you did it anyway. Then you were in one fight after another, just like I said you would be. You didn't listen to me about that, either. You're both just never going to grow up."

"Vince, I think its time that you shut your mouth," said Steve.  "I'm not even going to listen to your crap anymore. I understand that you worry, but the world doesn't revolve around you, and if you ever talk to Tommy like that again, I'll kick your damned ass for you. He's my lover, Vince. Show him the respect he deserves."

"Fine!" screamed Vince, getting up from the table.  "I just won't talk to you at all."

We watched him walk out the front door, and then we heard his car speed away.  My mother looked at both of us, but she didn't say anything.  The silence got so thick you could have cut it with a knife.  Steve's jaw was clenching and unclenching and his hands were balled into fists on the table.  Our plates were barely touched, and I suddenly wasn't hungry anymore.

"Steve, I agree with you that Vince goes overboard," said my mother finally.  "But you two really need to come to an agreement."

"I won't let him talk to Tommy that way," said Steve through clenched teeth.

"I'm not saying a word about that, Steve," she replied.  "I'm talking about your relationship with your brother. Right now, he's the only family you have."

"I know that," he said.  "I just don't understand why he has to bring this up every time something is going good. Its like he doesn't want me to forget anything. I have news for him, I think about this stuff every single day."

"I know you do," she said.  "You need to tell him that, though. He's just worried about you. Now, don't think that because I said that I'm agreeing with him, because I'm not. I've told him several times to let this go, but if you just sit down with him and talk this out, I'm sure you two will come to an agreement."

We tried to finish our supper, but none of us were really hungry after that.  Vince came back a few minutes later, and Steve took him upstairs to talk while I helped my mom clean up the supper dishes.  We talked about my boyfriend and his brother.  My mother was really worried about their relationship, and I hoped that whatever they were talking about would make things better.

"Tommy, I owe you an apology," said Vince, standing in the kitchen doorway.

"You were upset, Vince," I said, turning to face him.  "I understand that."

"That doesn't excuse what I said to you," he said.  "I really am sorry."

"I accept your apology," I said.  "I just hope that you and Steve can work this out soon."

"I think we're getting there," said Steve, coming up beside his brother.  He put his hand on Vince's shoulder.

"We've been talking about it," said Vince.

After the dishes were all in the dishwasher, we went back to the living room to watch the Sunday night movie on television.  Steve and I sank into the couch together, and Mom and Vince took their customary places in the recliners.  Zeus lounged on my stomach, and Steve and I both stroked his soft fur, and the whole scene around me seemed like it was eerily familiar.  I couldn't put my finger on any detail that made me feel that way, but I was getting a strange feeling as we sat there.

"What's wrong, Bud?" asked Steve as we walked up the stairs after the movie.

"I don't know for sure," I admitted.  "I think I'm just tired."

"Well, we're going to bed early," he said.

"Yeah," I replied.

We walked into the bedroom, stripped and climbed under the covers.  I still couldn't shake the strange feeling.  I snuggled into Steve, and even after I heard his breathing go slow and regular with sleep, I still couldn't completely relax.  I must have fallen asleep some time that night, because the next thing I knew I was jerking awake out of a nightmare that I couldn't remember.  Those are always the worst, and I didn't think I would get back to sleep after that, but I surprised myself by slipping off into sleep shortly after that thought ran through my head.

The next morning, I didn't even see my mother once.  She wasn't up when we went out to the garage to work out, and she was gone when we came back in to shower.  Steve and I ate breakfast alone that morning, and the entire time that same strange feeling was nagging at me.  I was starting to get worried, but I didn't know what to worry about.

On the way to school with Nick, Jeremy and Ben in the car, the feeling got worse.  I didn't know what I was worried about, but I was really starting to get nervous.  Maybe I was just reacting to what Vince had said about everyone having the whole Winter Break to think about not liking us for being gay.  That didn't fit, though.  We were safe at school now.  We had the entire football team to back us, for crying out loud.  Still, something was wrong, and I could feel it in my bones.

We sat in the quad with the rest of our friends and the team, but I didn't say much to anyone.  Steve kept asking me if I was all right, but I just told him I was thinking and left it at that.  Ben and I had the same classes for the first three hours, so he was with me for the biggest part of the morning, and even he noticed that I was too quiet.  He commented on it just before the bell for second hour sounded.

We were sitting in third hour, listening to the teacher drone on about what was expected of us this semester when I heard my name called over the intercom.  I was to report to Mitch's office, and then he called for Steve.  Something was wrong, and suddenly that feeling that had been plaguing me since the night before got a lot worse.

"What's going on?" asked Steve when we met up half way to Mitch's office.

"I don't know," I replied.  "I don't like this, though."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Remember that feeling I told you about last night?" I asked.


"Well, it never went away," I admitted.  "Its just been getting worse, and now we're being called to the office."

"I'm sure it isn't anything real bad, Tommy," he said, but as he said it, I saw Vince and Mike standing outside of Mitch's office, and I knew that it was that bad.