The Boyfriend
by Keith Mystery

edited by Rob

Once again, you must be over eighteen to read this, so if you're not... well, shame on you! Hope you don't get caught. Don't blame me if you do.

I hold the copyright on this story. It may not be posted anywhere without my permission, it may not be distributed for charge, and it may not be altered without my express consent. Everyone else is welcome to read it, copy it or download it for their own enjoyment and for FREE distribution.

This story contains information about gay characters and gay sexual situations between teenaged men. If that bothers you, or local laws prohibit you fromreading it, then you best move on. Everyone else is welcome to sit back and enjoy.

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Chapter 8                   "After the Fox"


I stood there in the driveway, just looking. Bright yellow - not taxi bright yellow, nothing that garish, but yellow nonetheless. White roof. And a convertible. I looked at Dave with my lips mushed up, squinting at him. "Are you outta your fuckin' mind?"

David stood there with his hands jammed in his pockets, rocking on his heels, his tongue jammed up in the corner of his right cheek. He shrugged. "We both said followin' Jamie was the best bet. He'd spot either of our cars or even our parents' cars in a second. This is the best I could do."

I shook my head. "It's even got vanity plates - 'LUIGI-S'. Who the hell is Luigi?"

"My Uncle Lou. It's really Louis, but that was taken at the Registry, so he settled for Luigi. It's just Italian for the same name. And the S is for..."

"Yeah, yeah. Sciuoto. I get it." I stood back again and took in the car. I mean, it was nice looking and all, but hardly what you would think of to shadow someone though the streets. A fully restored 1972 Cadillac Seville: eight hungry cylinders. It was the last of the Detroit dinosaurs, at least until people started going nuts for the SUVs. Nice looking car; I could see the leather seats and (for its day) the incredible innovations of the beast, like front-wheel drive and an AM/FM radio with a funny slot in it. Way too big for a cassette. It looked like it would take the six-pack cartridge for my dad's old Pioneer CD player, but when this thing was made no one had ever heard of a CD. Hell, stereo FM was still an innovation.

"What's that thing for?" I asked, pointing at the dashboard. "The big slot in the radio?"

"Uncle Lou said it was an 8-track player. They stopped makin' 'em years ago, but he left it in 'cuz it was original equipment. He does have this adapter thingy that lets you play cassettes, though." He pointed out a long, flat thing about an inch thick with a flip top lying on the car seat.

I stood there, scratching myself again. I'd developed some sort of rash the last few days and it was starting to really bug me. "So, like, what does your uncle do for a living? Pimp?"

Dave's voice was sort of vague. "Umm - well, lets just say it's... a family business."

I looked at him, forming a question. Dave was tapping the side of his nose and then pushed it off to one side like it was broken. My eyes widened.

My voice got very high. "Family?"

Dave crossed his arms and gave me a nasty look. "Look, don't give me any of that 'Luca Brazzi sleeps wit' da fishes' crap. It's a family business, one my grandfather started. He runs a salvage yard in Everett, for chrissake! And he likes to restore old cars. That's it. Mingya - use a word like 'family' and you guys are all over an Italian."

I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot. "Don't get all pissy on me. You're the one that said 'family' and flattened your nose."

David eyed me. "I didn't flatten my nose, I rubbed it 'cuz it itched. Speaking of itches, what's with you? You been pawing your crotch since you got here. You watchin' Eminem videos again?"

I shrugged. "Some kinda rash, I guess. Doesn't matter. So... you're serious, then. You want to follow Jamie in this thing?"

Dave shrugged. "It's called beggars and choosers, dude. No way the old man'll let me touch his BMW or mom's Lexus. So I called Uncle Lou, asked if I could borrow one of his junks. I figured he'd let me use one of his little pick-ups, but he hands me the keys to the Caddy and says 'don't hit nothin'. He said I can keep it till Monday, but I figure it's best to get it back as soon as we're done. Not likely Jamie'll swing by my place, but it wouldn't do to have it sittin' around too long. It kinda stands out."

I smirked. "Yeah... kinda stands out. So, we drive back to Everett after?" Everett was one of the cities that made up the Metro Boston area. Small city, densely populated, and kinda... well, not the best place to live.

David snorted. "Hell, no. Lou lives in Andover. We can pick up my Jetta there."

Dad's BMW, mom's Lexus. And the junkyard guy lives in Andover... where their idea of low-income housing starts around the half-million buck mark. Once again I wondered what the hell David was doing in a public school, and working a part-time job at Border's.

"Okay, so how do we work this? Just park at the end of Jamie's block and tail him?"

David shook his head. "Nope - too easy to spot us. Jamie already begged off comin' over tomorrow morning, right?"

I nodded glumly. "Yeah, says he's got to help his brother with something, which I know is bullshit 'cuz I called the Salisbury PD and they say Officer Cayman is workin' the day shift tomorrow. I gotta believe he's making his move with that guy then, 'cuz he also knows my mom and dad are goin' off for the day and we haven't been able to do anything since Sunday."

Dave gave me a withering look. "You're pissed at the guy, but you're still doing it with him. Unbelievable." He shook his head in disbelief and gave me a look of contempt.

The blood rushed to my face and I felt myself getting flushed. I wasn't proud of it, but I did convince myself that what I was doing was giving Jamie a reason to think twice about having to play around on the side.

I sighed. "Look, it's either Jamie or my hand. Besides, I can't tip him off, right? He's got to think everything is okay between us. And I have never said 'no'," I added emphatically. "He's still my boyfriend, even if he's on probation."

Dave and I had planned to trail Jamie then, but on the Monday after the street fair he told me he was going out to U-Mass Amherst the following weekend to check out the campus. He'd be staying with his cousin Michelle, so I figured he'd be safe. He'd shown up at my door Sunday afternoon, and one thing lead to another, and...

David grimaced. "More like personal recognizance 'til the case goes to court. Okay, okay - I'm not gonna badger you about it."

I was thankful he didn't bring up calling Ken again. I'd thought about it - thought about it a lot. I even closed my eyes with Jamie and pictured Ken's long hair hanging down in my face, me nibbling the ends while he... Uh, oh. That thinking was going to get me in trouble. I could feel something stirring. Think of chemistry. No, better: think of having dinner with my sister and her husband... yeah, that did it - things quieted right down.

"So, how are we gonna manage this thing? I asked. "Just park at the end of the block and wait for him to come out?"

"Not exactly, but close. I'm gonna have Alan in his mom's Escort at the end of his block - less chance of him bein' spotted than either of us. Jamie hardly knows him and never saw the car. Alan's gonna call us on a cell I'll lend him. We'll tag-team Jamie and see where he goes. Less chance of being spotted that way, especially in this boat."

Talk about your shocks! "Alan? Alan has a license?"

Dave shrugged. "Sure, why not? He's seventeen."

Now my jaw dropped. "Alan's seventeen? Damn, I thought he was, like, fifteen or something.

He gave me an evil grin. "Do I look like a child molester? He turned seventeen the end of summer, right after Labor Day and took his test. He's good behind a wheel, and quick," he added pointedly, giving me a side-wise look. "Not like some people I know who spend all their time huggin' the Granny Lane on the highway."

"Hey, I'm careful, that's all," I protested. "And not everyone has a new car. My Tercel's got 150 grand on it and I can't push it. Besides, you're one of the reasons people from out of state call us 'Massholes' on the road."

That was the truth. David would race you the hundred yards to the next stoplight, just to cut you off. He was a natural for Boston traffic.

"Dammit, this itch is killing me," I grimaced, shoving my hand deeper into my groin.

"Don't scratch it so much, then. It'll only make the rash worse. When did that start, anyway?"

I thought about it. "Monday or Tuesday, I guess. Wasn't bad at first, but now it's getting to me. So, what time do we meet tomorrow?"

David gave me a thoughtful look, and I think I saw the beginnings of a smile, but he killed it and looked away when he answered.

"I know it sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, but I figure around six we should meet and get it all set up. I'll pick you up at your place."

"Six? On a Saturday? You're OUT of your MIND!"

"Look, we can't risk missing Jamie on the move; he has to work Saturday afternoon, just like us, and he's working tonight, right? Whatever he intends to do, it'll be Saturday, just because he's had no time to do anything else all week. Plus, he lied to you about being busy with Paul in the morning. That's a dead giveaway. And you always tell me Jamie likes to take his time when he plays, right?"

I blushed my answer.

"Okay. So we start early and get ourselves into position. I doubt he'll make a move until like seven or something, but we have to be ready. The two cars'll trade off tailing him so he doesn't get wise, especially with this thing, and we find out just where he goes."

"Then what?"

Dave wrinkled up his face and shot me a glance. His voice had gone from the little boy planning an adventure to a tired, soft tone. "That's up to you, C. That's totally your call."

I looked away, and I sensed that Dave had dropped his eyes to the ground. I knew what I should do if I caught him cheating, but I wasn't at all sure that I would do it. Part of me still wanted to believe that it was all just a misunderstanding. I shivered for a moment. I suddenly felt very cold.

"Jesus, stop scratching!" he warned. "We better go inside."

"Yeah," I answered. "Don't know why, but the itch gets worse in the cold. Jesus, I hate November."

I followed Dave up the walk and into his house. Not exactly an estate house, but it wasn't your typical development colonial saltbox or ranch, either. This place was big, spacious, and had 'custom job' all over it. It was very contemporary, inside and out; the only thing that seemed out of place was the pink marble floor in the foyer and the Oriental rug. David saw me eyeing it and shrugged.

"We're Italian, remember? Mom's pretty good, but dad pitched a bitch and wanted it. She caved and just covered it with rugs. I remember he wanted a lot of red and gold, but she just talked to the decorator, so the place is livable."

"It really is nice, but, you know..."

David sighed. "Yeah, I know, typical Italian building his old-country palazzo. But I bet your family's got a Bathtub Mary over in Three River, Frenchy, so I wouldn't talk."

I snickered. 'Three River' was the old French Canadian neighborhood, and pronounced 'Tree riv-ER' the way the older Quebecois would say it. Neat rows of triple-decker tenement houses, with large, neatly landscaped yards. French Canadians in Haverhill pioneered lawn ornaments, I think. Drive through what's left of it and you'll see all sorts of decorative windmills and fat ladies bending over a garden plot. The worst of them had a plaster donkey pulling a cart. But they also had a lot of religious shrines, too. The most popular was the Virgin Mary standing in what was supposed to be a grotto, but always looked like an oyster shell. I didn't know what that particular shrine was really called (I don't think anybody did), but most of us called it Mary on the Half Shell.

We French Canadians are noted for our thrift, too, and when my father was a kid, a lot of their parents were modernizing their bathrooms. A glut of claw-footed cast iron bath tubs that no one wanted found themselves buried halfway in the ground, and a cheap statue of Mary was slipped inside. Bath Tub Mary had found her place in the history of Haverhill, and many a family thought they'd found a bargain way of scoring points with God. Plastic flower arrangements were put out year round. My grandmother still had my father over at Christmas to string lights on hers. He shuddered every time he saw it. At least he won the round about the Lawn Jockey at the end of the driveway.

"How come you built in Haverhill?" I asked, running my hand over the smooth, ornate marble border on the wall. "Why not over the New Hampshire border, land of the no-income-tax election pledge?"

Dave shrugged. "I asked that once. Dad said you had to be crazy to do that. His law practice is still in Massachusetts, so he still pays the income tax. Plus, the property taxes up there are out-fucking-rageous, and no services whatever. It's the only way they can pay for the school system, since the state never has any money. It all works out worse than anything in Mass. It's the same reason he wouldn't build in Andover or North Andover - big taxes, over-priced land, and nothing but a fancier address to show for it."

"At least their school's ain't ready to lose their accreditation, like Haverhill."

"Haverhill's smarter than Lawrence. They'll fix everything before the state steps in like they had to there. Besides, Haverhill High isn't that bad if you do the work, and I don't really mind the work."

I looked around. I'm no expert, and my parents buy nice stuff, but we couldn't touch the furnishings I saw around us.

"Why not Central Catholic, or St. John's, or even Austin Prep? Your dad's a lawyer - you guys could swing it. Hell, mine could."

We were headed up to Dave's room on the second floor. I liked his room, but I always felt nervous there. Everything was so neat, so ordered. Hell, even Dave's books were categorized and alphabetized in the cases. Same with the CDs. It looked like a picture in a magazine. You didn't have to look under the bed to know his clothes wouldn't be there. And if you looked in his closet, everything was laid out in a color code, starting with shirts and ending with a tie and belt rack. Yeah - ties. I tried to remember the last time I'd worn one since I got out of All Saints Parochial, and came up with my grandfather's funeral and my sister's wedding - and both of those were only after an argument.

Dave flopped on the bed with his legs hanging over the side and I dropped beside him. "Screw the snob schools."

"Central and Austin are hardly snob schools."

"No, but I just didn't want to go the private school route. They weren't happy about it, but I think my dad understood. Mom still gripes. 'I don't want you hangin' out with trash!' Hell, it was good enough for her. Why can't it be good enough for me?"

I wondered if I qualified as trash to Mrs. Sciuoto but didn't ask. She'd been nice enough to me when I met her, so I couldn't complain. Actually, she seemed happy. From what I got, David never brought anyone home with him before. She treated me like a prince. Mr. Sciuoto was pretty cool, too.

"Damn, that itch."

David sat up on the edge of the bed. He had a funny look on his face and pointed at my pants, "That does it. Drop 'em."

I sat bolt upright. "Hey!"

He shook his head. "It's not anything like that. Now, drop 'em. Skivvies, too. If you don't, I'll just tear 'em off you."

I fumbled nervously with my belt, eased down the zipper and undid the clasp and let them drop. I tucked my thumbs into my Hilfigers and -

"You're not up to anything... you know - funny... are you?" I asked suspiciously.

Dave shook his head. "No. I am dead serious about my sex. Now, get 'em down. It's not like I never seen it before."

I blushed when I slid them down and my boxers joined my pants around my ankles. I really blushed when he dropped to his knees in front of me. Oh Jesus, and the door was open. Thank Christ no one was home. I felt his fingers probing in my pubes, and of course...

David 'tsked' me. "Don't take much, huh?"

"Wise ass. Feel a hand in your short fuzzies and what would you do?"

"The same thing." He lifted and moved things to one side, then rocked back on his heels looking up at me with a leer. "Damn, this would have been sooo nice last summer. I had a couple sessions that started off just like this."


He closed his hand into a fist, jerking it up and down. Then he got up and walked to his bathroom and I heard the water running. He came back into the room drying his hands and pulled a trash bag out of his desk drawer. He rummaged in the back of a dresser drawer and pulled out a bottle.

"Pull em up, but don't bother hitchin' anything. Go into the bathroom, take everything off, drop 'em in this bag, and get into the shower. Read the directions on the back of the bottle and shampoo your crotch. Pits, too. No chest hair or any trail to speak of, so you'll be all right on that score."

I stumbled, David pushing me forward into the bathroom.

"What is this?" I protested "What are you gonna do with my clothes?"

David was actually giggling now. "Wash 'em in disinfectant, buddy. Just like you're gonna do to all your bedding and all your clothes when you get home tonight. You do your own laundry?"

I nodded as I pulled my shirt off and tossed it by the sink. David picked it up with two fingers and held it at arms length, and dropped it onto the bag.

"Good. So've I since my stones dropped and saw the smirk on mom's face when she checked my stuff. Your parents got a master bath, right? They don't use the same shower? Good, scrub everything down when you get home. And wash everything."

He shoved me into the shower and dropped the bottle into my hand. My clothes were safe in the bag. "I'll call Karen and tell her you had some kind of emergency and won't be in tonight. She'll piss and moan, but the hell with her."

I stood in the shower stall, looking down at the bottle in my hand. Something called Rid. "What's this for?"

"Crotch Crickets, baby. You done got yourself a case of the crabs."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was a hell of a Friday night.

After I left Dave's, I slunk into the house, hoping my parents would do what they usually did on a Friday when I was working, or was supposed to be working - meet after work some place, have dinner, and then go out to some friends' of theirs to play cards. My luck held as I tore through my room, stripping my bed and gathering up everything I had worn for the last week. I wished the washer had a "Boil" selection, but settled for hot, at least for the whites and lights. I dumped in disinfectant. Each full load got done twice. In between, I scrubbed down the bathroom like it had never been scrubbed before. When my parents remodeled the house after my sister moved - creating a full suite for themselves by combining their old room and my sister's and constructing their own private 'dream bath' - basically they never used the original bath again. The half-bath and laundry room combo on the first floor took care of most casual needs until bedtime. It didn't open onto my room, but for all practical purposes it was mine.

I scrubbed it down from the tops of the walls to the old tile floor. Overkill? Maybe. But the last thing I wanted to explain to my parents was the presence of "critters" hopping around the place. After that, I broke out a can of special spray to kill my 'friends' and their eggs by spraying my mattress and my rugs and anything else I couldn't jam into the washer. I debated about the living room couch and rug; I hadn't been down there much during the week, and when I was, I was fully dressed. Still, I gave the room the once over. Afterwards I sprayed everything with a can of air freshener to kill the smell of the de-louser. After that I opened the front door to tone down the stench of the air freshener. I didn't sleep in my bed that night, although I made it up. I slept sitting up in a chair I hadn't seen in months, since it's typically where most of my clothes wind up.

And all the while, I cursed Jamie.

I cursed him for being a slut and a liar.

I cursed him just for existing.

I cursed him for being part of my life.

How the hell could he not know that he had brought home some 'friends' a week later? He never said a word, and I couldn't remember him scratching, even. He'd visited the U-Mass Amherst campus the previous weekend in the far western part of the state, claiming he was going to stay with his cousin Michelle, checking the place out since it was on his choice of colleges. That was the reason Dave and I couldn't check-up on him the week before. He'd made the arrangements to take the weekend off from work a month ago, so I didn't really worry. I remembered vaguely having met a Michelle at Haverhill High, and hearing that she was supposed to be Jamie Levesque's cousin. I had a blurry vision of light-brown hair and faded blue eyes, but that was it. Maybe I was a little suspicious, but I had written it off once I'd had Dave call the Clayman house Friday evening after I knew that Jamie had left, and Phil told him Jamie was visiting his cousin Michelle in Amherst. Guess he just didn't visit that much.

I wanted Jamie Levesque tied to four horses pointing in different directions, then a whip cracked across their hindquarters. No, wait; make that five horses. One for each arm and leg. And another for his dick!

Once everything was washed and put away, I tossed the clothes I'd worn into the washer by themselves and took my second Rid shower of the day. After that I put on a set of warm-ups fresh from the dryer, and settled into my chair. I didn't think I'd sleep much that night, but I was out as soon as I leaned back. The alarm went off at 5:45 and I was ready when Dave pulled into the driveway at six.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The three of us met up at the Dunkin' Donuts, to go over our plan again, which really wasn't much of a plan. Alan was far from the nervous guy I had seen the weekend before Halloween. Literally, he was bouncing off the walls. He loved detective shows on TV, and today was straight out of a re-run of The Rockford Files on TV-Land as far as he was concerned. At 6:45 he jumped into his green Escort and headed down for Jamie's place. David had shown him the way a few days before. We stayed in the lot, ready to roll when the cell would ring and Alan would tell us what was up.

"That kid is just so different from the guy I met a couple weeks ago."

David smiled. "Yeah, I know. Poor guy's been alone so long. We've been together a lot since then."

I saw a thin smile on his face, and a far-away look in his eyes. It was different from other times when I knew he was on a different plane. This was definitely a good far away.

"So, are you guys, you know...," I let it linger.

David grinned and shook his head. "You got a one track mind, St. Jacques, and that track leads right to the crotch." He looked down, and then up to me again. "I want to. I really do. That kid does something for me. Dunno why."

"Not much to look at," I commented.

He was exasperated. "That so doesn't matter. It's him I like, not his body or his... well. It's like - he needs a friend right now, not someone using his body, and if I told him I wanted sex he'd jump right at me, because he'd do anything to keep me happy. Soon, maybe. I just... I just want to make sure of things... you know, make sure that it's the right thing for both of us. I wouldn't wanna lose him just 'cuz I wanted to get off one day, just to find out that we're not right for each other. I want Alan to know it's him I want, for him. And he wants me 'cuz he feels more than just gratitude for bein' nice to him. Or he thinks it's the only way to keep me for his friend."

He paused, then turned to me with a wistful expression on his face. "I'll tell you right now, that Saturday night ridin' in the car with him snuggled up left me feeling better than all the stuff I ever did with Jeremy or anyone else combined." Dave looked me in the eyes, and I caught that furtive, haunted look again. "I want him to tell me he loves me, and know that he means it - not that he thinks I've got a nice face or a good body. I need him to like me for who I am, not what I look like. That's important. I can wait. And if it doesn't happen, then I can still have him for my friend and he can be a part of my life that way. It isn't gonna happen over night. I don't want to be his Jeremy, or like that other kid at his school. The one that used him, then turned on him."

I thought of my own situation. I'd jumped into bed with Jamie for no better reason than I was horny and he said all the things I wanted to hear. Had I been played? Was I just being used? What would it have been like if I had just gotten to know Jamie a lot better before we started having sex. Would we still be where we were now? Or would I have just seen a bad deal and walked away... but then if I had held back, would I have Dave as my friend? I wasn't a leper at school the way Alan was, but I'd distanced myself from a lot of people over the last few years. I really didn't have many close friends left. Correction: besides David, I DIDN'T have any close friends. A lot of casual contacts, but my nights and weekends when I wasn't at work were spent alone before. And all last summer when I trolled around hoping to get laid, a lot of it was because no one else had called to see if I wanted to go out. But then, who had I called?

I watched David staring out the window of the car, studying something off in the distance. He was an important part of my life right now. And if it hadn't been for a Sunday afternoon in Newburyport with my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, we'd still be polite strangers who knew each other's name, worked in the same place, and had lunch together at school. Even when I saw him before, I saw him as someone I might want to have sex with because of his looks - not as someone who might be a friend. And where would I be today without him? Sitting at home, wondering what to do next.

Even though I knew the facts Friday night, when I washed everything I'd come in contact with for a week, I resigned myself to what I had to do. Today was just going through the motions, collecting the rest of the evidence so I might present my case. I didn't even want to go through with the whole thing. David talked me into finishing the deal, so I'd know everything there was to know, and then there wouldn't be any doubt left and I could put it all behind me. He stressed that there could be no doubt remaining. "You have to be able to tell yourself you gave it every chance."

The phone rang and David snatched it up, but quickly pulled the phone back from his ear. I could hear Alan's excited voice but couldn't make out what he was saying. David turned the engine over and we were off.

"Jamie just pulled out of his drive and headed for Water. Alan's right behind him now - I'm betting he's headed for 495."

"You don't think the guy's local?"

David shook his head. "Prob'ly not - one of us would've recognized him, or something about him. He's our age, about. Even if he went to another school, we'd have seen him at some point. It ain't Central, or Alan would've known him. And I don't think he's that far away, either. Jamie starts at 1:00, right?"

I nodded just as we pulled into the exit lane of Dunkin'. There was no guarantee that Jamie would come all the way up to this entry, but I was pretty sure he would. Jamie hated the lights all the way up 125 and the Monument traffic circle, even if it was the more direct way to the highway from his house. He'd head for Main Street, I was sure of it, and even if he went the other way Alan would let us know and we'd be able to catch up quickly in the Caddy. Jamie was like me, and never pushed his old Ford too hard. He couldn't afford to lose the car.

"Okay, so if the guy was, like, from down in Salem or something, it'd be at least an hour down, and more like an hour and a half back with Saturday shopping traffic and all the lights in Peabody and Danvers. I'm bettin' it's no more north than Lowell maybe, and then maybe west to Middleton. Otherwise there wouldn't be enough time, and they'd have set it up for Monday, it being Veteran's Day and all."

"We're supposed to be going into Boston Monday," I put in quietly.

David shrugged. "He'd find a way out of it."

I was going to say something when the phone chirped again. "He's stopped at Tosco's Drugs."

I folded my arms and scrunched up my face. "He's buying rubbers. Lube too, probably."

David stared at me with questioning eyes. "He's that predictable?"

I shrugged. "They're the only ones around that sell Ultra-Magnums."

David gave a long, slow whistle. "Wow. I always figured he was... well. You know."

"Oh, yeah, do I know!" I laughed. "Anyway, Jamie likes going there. There's this clerk he likes to tease. Guy gets kinda big-eyed whenever Jamie flips a box of the Ultras on the counter with the KY. Calls himself Raven. We're like 90% sure he's gay."

"Raven? Like in Raven McCauliffe?"

I shrugged. "Could be. How many Raven's are there? No idea what his last name is. Big guy, little shorter than Jamie. Not fat big, just big. Got blond hair but he streaks blue in it, parted down the middle. Brown eyes, I think. Oh yeah, little goatee and pierced ears."

David snickered. "Sure sounds like McCauliffe - the blue hair's new, though. I'm gonna have to check it out. He used to be one of those Junior Instructors at the Y, taught wrestling. Shit - wish I knew he was gay when he had me pinned to the mat. Would've made things a LOT more interesting."

I gave him what I hoped was a withering glance. "And you tell me MY mind is in the gutter?"

"Here they come!" David shouted, nodding towards the traffic.

We slouched down and sure enough, it was Jamie in Miss Vicky. We needn't have worried; by the look on his face he was a thousand miles away. A few cars back came Alan. He blew the horn and started pointing ahead. Cool move, Alan, I thought. Why don't you just drive up to Jamie at the light and say 'Hey, we're following you.'

David gunned the engine and cut off a Jeep Cherokee who missed us by inches. David didn't notice, or didn't care. The driver leaned on the horn and flipped us off. "Serves him right for damaging the ecology in that gas-guzzling pig," David remarked.

"Like this Detroit Dinosaur doesn't measure yards to the gallon," I said sarcastically.

David shrugged. "It's a piece of Americana," he said matter of factly. "I'm driving the classic reminder of another age."

In the movies and on television, following someone is always a dramatic event. The suspect spots the tail, and a mad chase through the crowded city streets inevitably takes place, maybe ending in a gunfight. In reality, it's hanging back a couple car lengths and watching someone's tail lights. All you have to do is keep them in sight and that's it.

Jamie paused at the red light, and we sat three cars behind. He went and we followed. He got in the lane getting onto 495 South and we followed on the long, graceful loop onto the Interstate. Jamie ignored the 'Yield' sign like every Mass driver and so did we. Of course, the idiot who designed this stretch of Interstate had an exit ramp join the entry lane within a few hundred yards of each other, so we almost smacked into the exiting traffic, which almost always seemed to be out-of-staters who didn't know the unwritten rules of Massachusetts motoring and didn't slow down, since they clearly had the legal - if not the practical - right-of-way.

David cut off a Dodge minivan that almost got rear-ended by a Chevy pick-up and both drivers leaned on their horns as they locked up their brakes. As always, David ignored these minor inconveniences, and chattered happily on the phone with Alan, who actually pulled up beside us using the center lane. Dave was pissed that Jamie was hugging the inside "Granny Lane", and even observing the speed limit. This is something that is just never done. All Mass drivers are genetically programmed to drive at least ten miles over the posted speed limits, with a safe distance between bumpers of about eighteen inches. That includes the Staties, who'll climb up on your bumper and wave you out of the way if you're going too slowly.

We didn't have far to go, just a few exits up the highway, and Jamie got off on Route 110 to Methuen. David told Alan to get directly behind him and we fell back two more car lengths. Jamie may not have been watching for a tail, but a vintage yellow Caddy sort of sticks out if you see it too much. Since he was calling every twelve seconds, David told Alan just to keep the line open and tell us where he turned off, and he was to drive to the next block and then try to double back. Alan howled about going right on East Oak and David veered onto a cut off.

"I've been out this way. It joins up with Oak further up."

It was a snake of a little spur and we passed this small garage that had its door caved in. Someone had missed the snake curve, and more than once, judging by the look of the garage. David raced on, the wheels of the Caddy screeching, and got to a fork in the road and yelled for me to duck. I caught sight of Jamie's Crown Vic passing as David more or less rolled forward through the Stop sign and closed in behind him, falling just far enough back so he couldn't make out who was driving. I stayed low, just peeking up over the dash to see his taillights, and after a few curves Jamie's left signal went on. I heard David curse in Italian and he stopped short. My head smacked the dashboard. Hard.

"How come you're not following?" I snapped, rubbing my forehead.

"Damn street's a circle. He sees us, we got no place to turn off."

We had pulled off onto the side of the road just beyond the turn off. Cars passed us, then a small green Escort pulled up behind and Alan sounded the horn.

"Cool it!" David snapped into the mouthpiece.

I looked behind us and saw Alan's face, looking a little hurt.

"Sorry, baby, but I don't wanna draw any attention to us. Stand by, 'kay hon?" David said into the phone.

Then he turned and looked at me. I had pulled myself back up into the seat from my crouch on the floor, still rubbing my head. Crabs and a concussion in two days, I was doing great.

"This is it," Dave said quietly. "If he was coming out of that circle, we'd've seen him by now. This is where he was going. Do you still wanna go in there?"

No, I don't. I want to go home and pretend none of this ever happened. I want to forget about Kenny's love bites and Jamie wrapping himself around some guy at a Halloween street fair. I want to ignore the fact he's supposed to be in Seabrook helping out his brother. I want to be lazing around the house wishing I didn't have to work tonight and thinking of the hot sex I was gonna have with my boyfriend later. And I want to never have gotten the crabs.

"I just want to make sure there's no more doubt," I said in a soft voice.

David turned and waved Alan into the car. Alan piled into the back seat. He still had that excited, little-kid look on his face. It was still just a big adventure to him. Dave carefully turned the car around, no small feat on that narrow road and in that incredibly long land yacht, and turned into the Circle. He paused at a sharp turn that lead down a steep hill.

"I saw Jamie turn off onto this, but I don't see the car in any of the driveways. I think it might be better if we go down the other way slowly, try to keep some distance from wherever he pulled into."

We rolled slowly down the hill, scanning the drives along the way. The circle was typical for small housing developments that went up in the late sixties and early seventies. Ranch, Cape, Split, Gambrel. One after the other, in that order, each stretch a mirror image of the group before. Colors varied, some had added shutters, but there wasn't any difference to speak of between them. Some attempts at landscaping gave a few a slightly different look from the others, but that was all. The center of the circle featured slightly larger ranch style homes. We crept down to the bottom of the hill and came to a stop. Three houses away was a gray Gambrel. Jamie's car was on the far side of the driveway, parked behind a green Mitsubishi Eclipse with a UML parking sticker in the rear window.

"There's no name on the house or anything," David stated. "I don't see a mail box."

Alan jumped in with his squeaky voice. "This part of Methuen is rural delivery. There's a big row of mailboxes at the top of the Circle. Just get the house number."

David squinted at the door. "It's 48. Now, the two of you duck down while I drive by." I heard a different tone in his voice. He drove slowly by the house as I hunkered down, maybe trying to get a look in a window. He sped up for a bit, and when I figured we were far enough down the road I sat up. Alan popped up from the rear and leaned over the front seat shoving a hand in my face.

"THERE!" he yelled in my ear, pointing to a neat stack of mailboxes at the top of the hill. We pulled up. Number 48 was 'Rurak'.

"Well, that gives me a name, anyway," I said with a sigh.

"So, is that it? We all done? I could check the mailbox; see what the first names are. The flag's up."

David smiled and shook his head. "Don't bother, Alan. Besides, we don't want anyone to see us screwing with someone else's mailbox and calling the cops. We got all we needed. Look, why don't you cross over here and meet me back at my place, okay? Chris and I are gonna drop this pig off in Andover and get my car. We'll be about forty minutes. Just use the key I gave you and let yourself in. I left the alarm system off."

Alan smiled, and David rubbed his hand gently over the kid's arm. He jumped out of the car and happily trotted the few feet to the end of the road, opposite where his car was parked. He stopped, and hurried back to the Caddy. David rolled down the window.

"What's the matter?"

Alan leaned in, mischief in his eyes. Were these the dull stones I'd seen just a week ago? They glittered now. "Forgot something." Then he leaned forward and gave David a quick kiss on the lips before he shot off again for the Escort.

David watched him get into the car and drive off. He had a little smile playing on the corners of his mouth. Then he looked at me and his face flushed.


"'S okay. Just 'cuz my love life's in the dumpster doesn't mean you can't have one," I said with a smile, a real one that wasn't forced. "He's got it for ya, Davey," I said teasing. "And, um - he's got a key? Already?"

David flushed. "He's gonna be spending the day 'till I have to get to work. Figured lending him a key would make it easier. Then I'll be picking him up tonight. He's staying over. The 'rents are gone again."

I raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

David began to stammer. "Um - well... you know."

I nodded archly. "Yeah. I know." I held my closed hand up to my mouth and made a pumping motion, poking the inside of my cheek out with my tongue.

David muttered about us goddam Frog perverts and aimed the car back to 495 and we sped off to the Andover exit.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Bledsoe, you stupid son of a bitch!"

My mother looked vaguely up over her glasses, and shook her head. "I'll never know why he watches the Patriots. It always upsets him when Drew Bledsoe blows a play. Which is about every one, from what I hear."

I was leaning against the doorjamb of the kitchen, definitely not watching football on a cold, drizzly Sunday afternoon in November. Jamie and my father were on the couch together, bouncing up and down like a couple of five year olds. Sunday afternoon games had become a ritual with those two. Whenever he wasn't working the Sunday shift, Jamie came by for some action with my father. NFL action, that is.

It didn't matter whether or not I was working. Jamie started dropping by in September to watch with my father, and the two of them would argue strategies and plays or whatever the hell they argue about in football. I wouldn't know. They were good for each other, since from what I gathered Phil Cayman wasn't much on the sport either, which is why Jamie suddenly got into hanging out with my old man on Sundays.

"That boy's a man's man," my father would boast. "Wonder why he hangs out with you," he'd say to me.

Gee, Pop, I dunno, either. But you should really see your man's man with his heels behind his ears hollerin' 'YEEEHAH! RIDE ME!'

Oh, have I ever mentioned that I loathe the game? Okay, consider it done. About all I did know was that the New England Patriots sucked, and according to my dad and Jamie, Drew Bledsoe sucked more than any quarterback in the league. That's about all I knew, or cared to. But for form's sake, I would hang out nearby, at least for the first quarter. After that I could drift upstairs and screw around with my computer or call David or whatever, as long as I had something to keep me busy. Mostly I just didn't want to think, because when I stopped to think I always came back to the same thing.

Jamie and Ken. And, oh, yeah, the other one - the Rurak guy. Plus David filled me in on a little detail at work that Saturday night. He recognized the green Eclipse with the U-Mass Lowell parking permit. That was Jeremy's car.

I'd been confused. "I thought Jeremy lived in Lowell? Is his family from Methuen?" I never did learn Jeremy's last name.

David wasn't thrilled about having to tell me anything, but I understood why - I really did have to know all the truth. I could never look back on all this and give Jamie wiggle room, wonder if I had blown it by not looking into every angle. But even David had stopped defending Jamie.

"His family lives in Sudbury," David explained. "On the South Shore. They've got money, and they throw a lot of it at him so he'll stay away."

"You mean, 'cuz he's gay?"

"Nah. Just 'cuz he's Jeremy."

I almost asked what the hell he was doing there then, but I just looked at David's pained look and I knew why. Three-way off the highway! Whoever this Rurak guy was, he knew Jeremy. Maybe Jeremy introduced him to Jamie at some point. Or maybe it was the other way around. It didn't matter. Whatever the history, it was enough for Jamie to set aside his dislike for Jeremy enough to jump into bed with him. Guess Rurak must have been that good. Or the whole idea of a sex fest was exciting enough that Jamie didn't care who was in on it.

Something good happened on the tube. Dad and Jamie jumped to their feet and roared their approval. I stuck my hands in my pockets and pushed off the doorjamb and sauntered over to the kitchen table, smiling in spite of the way I felt.

"Jesus, Ma. They're in there doing that toe dance and finger thing together."

My mother didn't even look up over her glasses, just worked at the stack in front of her and went down her list. "Your Dad loves his football. Jamie's good for him - he hasn't had anyone to play in the sand box with since Doug Murphy took that Intel job and moved."

I frowned, watching her, and slid into a chair. "Kind of early for Christmas cards, isn't it?"

She shrugged. "It's almost the middle of November and I'm a realtor. I have a ton of these to do."

"Can't you, like, get a computer list with name stamps? Order the cards with a signature and all?"

Mom smiled. "Honey, I'm one of the best agents in the office for repeaters. I keep the names on file and send 'em personalized cards every year for five years - which is about how long it takes for a client to decide his latest promotion entitles them to a fancier house. No simulated signatures, no name stamps. Whether they realize it or not, they like that personal touch. Or enough of 'em do to want to keep coming back to me."

That made sense, I suppose. My mother was one of the more successful agents for her agency.

Jamie strode into the kitchen and flashed a big grin at us. He opened the refrigerator door and took out two beers. Mom's smile disappeared and her eyes came up over the half-frames of her reading glasses. She looked pointedly at the two beers in Jamie's hands, then at Jamie's face. Her face was blank. Mom would make a good poker player. Jamie caught the look and his eyebrows shot up as he looked at the two cans of LaBatts. He turned back to the fridge, put back a can and turned to her with one beer, one orange soda. Mom smiled and nodded. Jamie's eyes were opened wide as he made a very showy slow-sneak out of the kitchen, back rigid.

The corners of her lips tugged up and she winked at me. I heard my father and Jamie trading words in the living room. Dad came into the room with a snarl on his face and the orange soda in his hand and went right for the fridge. Before he opened it he gave my mother a defiant look.

"Would Jamie rather have a Coke, Rollie?" she asked in an innocent if cold voice.

She narrowed her eyes over the glasses again and looked directly into my father's eyes. No trace of a smile on her lips this time. I could see my dad folding, the defiance draining. He'd seen that face before, and knew better than to challenge it.

"Umm, yeah," he said and swapped the cans. Jamie loathed Coke and my Dad knew it. So did my mother. His fingers fleetingly touched the previously rejected can of beer but I guess he already knew that battle was lost. He closed the door and left the room.

Mom smiled again. "If I go in there, I'll see your father sipping Coke and Jamie sipping beer. Guess I better stay in here for a while." She'd allow my father a small private victory, just not a big public one. I wondered if he knew that she knew.

"I wouldn't worry about it too much, Ma. Jamie doesn't really drink much. Or often."

She knew better than to acknowledge how I would know this, just as she declined on occasion to notice the odd missing can of beer - just replaced it for my Dad, who never noticed at all as long as he had his cold one most every night watching television. Two, on Sundays.

"Glad to hear that. His father loved beer. Drank like a fish."

I knew Scotty Levesque was a drinker from what Jamie told me, and also that my mother knew both his parents. I'd never followed it up before. Maybe I shouldn't have done it then, either. "Did you know them well? Jamie's parents, I mean."

My mother cocked her head, slipped her glasses off. "I don't know Phil, but I knew both Scotty and Jeanette. Jeanette used to be a friend of mine. A very close friend. We went all the way though grammar and high school together. Scotty was a year older than us. Beautiful as Jamie - those eyes, the face, the body... seeing Jamie's like turning the clock back and looking at Scotty all over again. Except the voice. Scotty sounded like a radio announcer. It wasn't like he gave orders, but his voice just had that quality that demanded your complete attention. People just naturally followed Scotty Levesque."

She sighed and shook her head. "Too bad he was such a complete asshole."

I had to chuckle. I'm not one of those guys who would deny my mother knows all the words. She knew 'em, and used a few of 'em if she was pissed. I just never heard her use the word that casually before. I know real well where my sharp tongue comes from. Mom had other ways of calling you an asshole without ever using the word or any other cuss word for that matter. So did I, but I used the words every chance I got, stringing them together in creative ways that I found funny. She's heard me a few times with my sister and even though she chewed me out I could see her fighting with herself not to laugh. I'd heard my Dad chuckle a few times, making the comment that the money he'd paid out for my Catholic school elementary education hadn't been wasted, after all.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

"Ma, you don't usually talk like that. I mean..."

She sat back in the chair, a calm look on her face. "I know what you mean," she sniggered. "But for Scotty Levesque, I'll make an exception. He was an asshole. He made Jeanette's life miserable. He's even the reason she and I stopped being friends."

I leaned forward, wanting to hear more. She read me of course, always could. She set aside the cards and took the glasses off that had slid down to the end of her long, thin nose. Yeah, my nose. But it just looked better on her.

She sighed. "Scotty was a drunk, a liar, and a womanizer. He blew every penny he ever laid his hands on partying or gambling. He wanted to nail anything that wore a skirt. But he was beautiful to look at, and Jeanette couldn't see anything but that when he started asking her out. Actually, he tried dating both of us, but Jeanette wanted him so badly that I took a back seat. I didn't realize what he really was back then, but I found out. A month after they were engaged he started hitting on me again. Said she didn't have to know. Every time he saw me, he was all over me. Hands... and sometimes his body up against mine, the way it shouldn't have been. I never told your father; he'd have gone after him and Scotty would've broken him in half. You may have gotten my height but you got your Dad's metabolism, and he was like a bone back then."

She paused and smiled. "Except for his butt. He had buns tighter and higher than John Travolta back then. He had some great moves on the dance floor, too."

I tried to picture that. I'd seen John Travolta in a movie on cable that week, Michael. Overweight, needed a shave and covered with tufts of black hair all over his back and front. He burped and farted through the whole thing. I shuddered, thinking about him and my dad being similar. My dad is tall and thin, and like me, didn't have much hair on him except on his head, which I thought was good news. I thought of Dave's father and his Uncle Lou. They polished their heads with 'Armor All' and Chamois cloths, I think. I gave Dave a hard time about looking at the future reflected off his old man's head but David pointed out that the female line dictated the gene for baldness, and that until he died his grandfather had a full head and it was just as dark as the day he was twenty, and without a hair dye, though no one believed it. He'd asked about my mother's father and I changed the subject, wondering if I should maybe look into Minoxydol at eighteen.

"So... what happened? Did she find out?"

My mother made a wry face, and her eyes drifted off. "No. I told her. I thought she deserved to know. Dumbest or the smartest thing I ever did, I'm not sure yet. But it was years until she spoke to me again, after they were divorced."

I shook my head at first, and I understood how Alan felt when he ran back to us at the Salem Festival. He hadn't wanted to tell what he saw and heard, we had to make him. And David hadn't been happy about telling me that Jeremy's car was parked in the Rurak driveway, IN FRONT of Jamie's car, so Jamie had to know he was there.

"Why'd you tell her that?"

She laid her hands on the table, and pressed her lips together. She looked down at the table at first and then back to me. "Because silence is complicity. If I kept my mouth shut, that would make me Scotty's accomplice - and I couldn't live with that. I had to tell Jeanette if only to maybe save her some heartache, give her some defenses, because when I watched him after that I noticed I wasn't the only one he was making moves on. She accused me of trying to steal Scotty for myself. Which was crazy, because I was already engaged to your father at that point."

I could understand that. I remember the anger I'd felt for poor, gossipy Eric whose only crime was answering the questions I asked. Eric was trying to be funny, since he was nervous trying to make time with David and suddenly being dropped down with his friend who could have been his date for all Eric had known. He'd just found something to talk about that someone seemed interested in. It must have been worse for Jeanette Cayman hearing from someone she'd known most of her life that the object of her affection was trying to mount anything in a skirt. I certainly wasn't crazy about learning that Jamie was a Chip off the ol' Block.

"Anyway, that's enough of the history. I only bring it up because it's pretty clear that things aren't going real well with you and Jamie right now. Want to talk about it?"

I froze in the chair. Nothing was being implied; I'd just heard a statement. My mother knew Jamie and I were more than 'just friends.' I felt her eyes on me, the same yellowy-brown eyes that I had. I saw the same narrow nose, the same lips. What was different was the set of those lips. Mine were pressed thin, and the lower one would quiver if I relaxed it. Hers were curving upward.

"Don't try to bull me, Chris," she said. "I knew you'd met someone when your father and I came back from Winnpesaukee last summer. I just didn't know who until Jamie suddenly started turning up all the time. I wasn't crazy about it, but I've known for years that it was just a matter of time."

To say I was uncomfortable was an understatement. My heart actually stopped for a moment, and I had to keep my hands on the table or she'd see me shaking. I needed to brace myself, I was that shocked. And scared. I knew this moment would come one day. I just hadn't expected it to be anytime soon. Not with my father and my boyfriend sitting on a couch in the living room, watching a football game together, and sitting with my mother at the kitchen table while she addressed Christmas cards to clients. She gave me a break and turned her attention back to that very thing. It was easier with her doing something else besides staring at me with my own eyes so to speak.

"How did you know?" I asked quietly.

She simply continued writing. "Honey, I could give you this long spiel about how a mother always knows these things, and to a point, that's true. When you were thirteen and fourteen, I waited for certain things to happen, the same things I saw happen when my brothers got to be that age. Well, sure enough, I noticed you were doing your own laundry," she said wryly, and there was no missing the smile. "That was right on schedule. But a lot of things weren't. No cheerleader posters in your room. Not even female singers. Backstreet Boys and Hanson, yeah. And the Moffets. I think the O Boys are cuter though, but that's just me. Oh, and Savage Garden. Definitely Savage Garden."

She put down one card, slipped it into an envelope and grabbed another. "And I had a handsome, smart kid on my hands who never went on a date even though girls would call the house. Then you started to withdraw from most of your friends, like you had something to hide. Big shift for someone who liked to be the center of the action when he was little. You were always home alone, or just doing things on your own, and I thought that was sad. I wanted to bring this up before, but I wasn't sure how you'd act. I know you think I'm dumb about this stuff, Chris, but I do know what gay means. Just like I know it's nothing you can control or change. It just is."

I'd regained some control again by now, but I was still shocked, if not exactly scared. She knew about me, and if there was to be a showdown, it would have come months before. But still...

"You don't mind? Me being gay, that is?"

She stopped writing, took her glasses off and cocked her head at a funny angle. "I don't mind? Whether or not I 'mind' something has nothing to do with this, but no, I don't mind. Does it bother me? Yes, it does. A lot. It bothers me because your life'll be a lot harder than it could have been. Certain doors will be slammed in your face for a career, and very unofficially, too. People will laugh and point at you behind your back, and some of them to your face, which means at least they have guts if not much for brains. You're more likely to be jumped and beaten, and less likely to get police protection. You're more at risk for diseases. You can be singled out for derision by people in pulpits and government and too many will applaud the ignorance, and all because you won't be able to live a lie and act the way the majority says you should act."

She sighed. "And on a more personal level, there's the grandchildren. Your sister's married, and you're all but on your own right now, or soon will be. Once you've done with college in four and a half years, I'll loose the baby. I looked forward to your children, because they'd be the normal ones. They'd be the fun ones."

I snickered. "Hey, Donna's straight. She'll have kids."

My mother nodded ruefully. "I figure she'll have three, each with a different father. That poor husband of hers is already starting to wear out. Her kids'll live in therapy and be shuttled around from one house to the next on alternate weekends. And then they'll have your sister for a mother," she shuddered, and so did I. "In case you haven't noticed, your sister is a raving bitch."

I noticed. Everyone had noticed. Except poor Andy, the guy she married. Or, excuse me, Drew as she insisted he be called, even to his own family who pointedly ignored her, figuring she wouldn't be around for long. I remembered Andy's brother Dennis from the wedding. We'd made a bet with his father for five bucks that said they'd be split in two years. All three of us laughed. Then Andy's mother spoke up and said she'd up the ante to a hundred if we could speed it up by a year. My sister didn't hear us but she knew somehow that whatever we were laughing at was at her expense and had given us all deadly looks, to which I was immune after years of repeated exposure. I even gave Dennis tips on little things that would set her off, knowing that she couldn't go after him like she would me, but have to sit there and stew. I liked Dennis almost as much as I felt sorry for Andy.

"I'm sorry, Ma."

She shook her head. "Nothing for you to be sorry about," she said with a shrug. "And don't sit there with that sad puppy look on your face. The only thing I do mind is that you're having sex - pretty risky sex, too - and that you're on the receiving end of the risky stuff."

I felt the color draining from me. I could deal with her springing on me that she knew I was gay. She pretty clearly understood that I had something going with Jamie. I really didn't need to have her pin down exactly what we were doing in bed, or who was doing what to whom.

"At least I know you boys are doing it safe," she said, with a touch of relief in her voice.

It was worth a shot. "So... um... what makes you so sure we're doing anything?"

She gave me a look that from a lifetime of exposure I knew meant 'don't even try to bullshit me' and I knew I'd lost the round.

"I remember sneaking my boyfriends in, Chris. And why."

Ouch. Your parents having sex. Red light! But I did have to laugh. "I just can't see Dad climbing in the windows."

She wrote out another card. "I didn't mean your...oh - right. But don't change the subject. Jamie left a little evidence in the bathroom, right on top of the trash. I found it that Monday morning when I made sure everything went out for trash collection. You always forget that one." She paused. "Well, maybe not so little..." she trailed.

I thought back to that night... Jamie had gone to the bathroom right after. I always figured he'd flushed away the evidence. After he'd seen me use the trash bag that always hung on my closet door, he followed suit. I'd never thought to look in the bathroom trash, any more than I ever remembered to empty it. Still...

"How do you know it wasn't mine?"

I knew the tone of voice, and for the first time I knew the sly look that would spread on my own face when I was about to get a good one in. "The size, dear. I changed your diapers, remember? It always seemed to me you had a lot of potential and a big future ahead of you, but not that much potential, and not that big a future."

"Ma!" I cried, my face burning.

She continued writing out her cards. I did catch a slight giggle. "So... how are things between you two, then?"

I shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. "'S okay, I guess."

She hesitated, but I could feel her looking through me, looking inside me. I always could when I was a kid. I think I always will.

"You're lying, but that's your business. You never were very good at it. Whatever's going on, I want you to remember something, something important: what we call 'love' doesn't last that long. I'm sure at the beginning, both you boys thought it was going to be perfect forever, that it was all going to be perfect in every way. At the start, it is. We look past the flaws, try not to see the problems.

"Well, that doesn't last. One night you crawl into bed and roll over and just go to sleep. Or you're... doing it - and you look at the clock and think you have to be up in a few hours and just WHEN is he going to get finished. You forget that kiss in the morning that was so important. He farts in bed and doesn't even bother to say sorry." She shook her head. "None of those things matter. What does matter is that when all the gushing and everything is over, that you like and respect each other. Your father and I haven't been 'in love' for years, not the way people think of it. But he likes me, and I like him. We have fun together. We respect each other. And - this is the important part - neither one of us takes anything less than we deserve from one another. Your father's never snuck around on me, and I've never done it to him. You can ignore faults and bad habits, the two of you will screw things up over and over again... but when one of you deliberately does something that they know will hurt the other, then it's time to rethink everything and make decisions. When you make a decision that's important, don't just look at what you might lose if the other one is gone. Think about what's inside you that might be lost. It's not being selfish to do that. Never take less than you deserve."

I nodded, of course. I always nod when my mother talks and I'm expected to listen. But this was different. She was advising me, not telling me what to do. The whole conversation was different from anything we'd ever had between us. Let's face it, your mother tells you stuff and you pretend to listen. You 'yes' her to death to keep the peace, then you head out the door with no idea of what she just said, 'cuz it's just Ma sounding off again.

"This is different. The whole thing."

She reached across the table, and her fingers just touched the tips of mine. "You're the baby of the family Chris, but you're not a baby anymore. I can't tell you what to do. I can talk to you. I always knew one day we'd just be able to sit and talk - just Chris and Dotty. I was never able to sit and talk with my mother like that 'till after Grampy died. My Aunt Madeleine came up from the south for the funereal. Remember her? Well, she's not my aunt, she's my mother's cousin; but they grew up together over in T'ree River, and were raised like sisters in Pepe's house. They were sitting there talking, laughing about their childhood. I sat there and they brought me into the place they grew up in, two girls born in the Depression and when things started to look good found themselves in the Second World War, wondering if their brothers and boyfriends would ever come back. They made me part of their childhood, talking about things I had no clue about.

"It was strange to me. It was the first time I realized I wasn't just Dotty, Irene's girl. I was Dorothy, and I was having coffee with Irene and Madeleine and talking about our lives. I was thirty-nine years old, and it's the first time I ever felt like my mother's equal. I always wanted you and Donna to feel like that. I haven't had the chance to talk to her like this, and I doubt I ever will. Donna's always going to need her mother. You're different. You don't need me anymore, so I have to make you my friend and treat you like one if I want to keep you, and that means speaking frankly with you."

You'd have to know my mother to understand her, I think. It was totally not her style to reach out and sweep you up in a big hug and drip tears. But I felt the touch of her fingertips against mine as she leaned forward across the table, and then gently sliding across the back of my hand. I took her hand into mine then, and just squeezed it. I looked into my own eyes and saw fear and joy, the fear of losing me and the joy of finding me at the same time. I felt the same way. We understood each other. I felt her relax, and I relaxed, too. She smiled, and released my hands, and went back to her cards. I leaned back in the chair, and stretched.

"Bledsoe you dumb fuckin' c---!"

I froze. My mother's eyes bugged out. Dad used the 'C' word, the big one. The one guaranteed to send any woman up the walls. I'd only heard him use it once when my mother was in earshot, and he'd paid dearly for that once. She'd taken his blood with one razor sharp swipe of the tongue at a time, over the space of months, gently torturing him in front of his children at the dinner table. My sister never got what was going on, but then, she never got most anything, so that didn't surprise me.

I heard his muffled voice, and Jamie saying, "Yeah, you did."


My father was leaning against the doorjamb now, his face white. "Dorothy? Did you call me, hon?"

My mother gave him her sweetest smile. "No, Rollie, why would I?"

"Um, no reason. I, uh, just thought I heard you call my name. Hey, uh... after the game, how about we get dressed up and have some dinner at Bishop's? We haven't done that for awhile."

She gave him a dazzling smile. "That'd be fun. Place is expensive, but yeah, that would be nice."

I watched him relax, and casually saunter back to the living room. He was sweating. My father hates getting all dressed up after a lazy Sunday.

"How do you think he'll deal with it? I mean... about me."

"Don't worry about it, Chris. Your father is a lot of things, but he isn't dumb and he isn't mean. He may say the wrong things, and he might not have much tact, but your father is not an ignorant man. One of these days, take a look at the bottom of his file cabinet, the one where he hides all his Hustlers. I know you've got the combination. So did he. Go right to the bottom and check out some of the fliers he has on gay youth and support. They started showing up when you were sixteen. He's never said anything to me, but he thinks I'm just a silly woman and I won't be able to handle it. And I remember when we were kids and his cousin Bobby got arrested with another boy for what they called 'gross public lewdness'. Rollie was the only one to stand by Bobby, and he got a lot of crap for it. From his family and his friends."


"Language..." she warned.

"Did I fool anyone? I mean, am I that obvious?"

It amused her, I could see. "No, honey. You're not. You don't swish, or prance, or talk funny, or any of that cliché stuff. He just saw the same things I did, and unlike a lot of men, your father didn't stick his head in the dirt and pretend it wasn't so. Roland's a lot more sensitive to things than you think. He doesn't run a thirty-five-man crew at the distribution center without knowing something about people. Just remember: if they tried stoning you in the streets, your father would cover you with his own body, if that's what it took."

I took it in. She was right about my father. He said things wrong a lot, because he was a plainspoken guy and didn't play with words. But he did know how to deal with people most of the time, and even though he said some things to me others might think were mean, they just didn't know him that well.

I walked to the doorway again, and looked at the backs of their heads from a distance. My father and my boyfriend. If my father knew about me, he had to know about Jamie. It just didn't seem to make any difference to him. I thought about what a good thing that was, and how lucky I was. There's a lot of horror stories you read or hear about. It was lucky that I wasn't going to be in one of them, which I'd always thought would be the case. I smiled and turned back to my chair, and eased myself down.

"You don't like Jamie, do you?" I asked.



She was squirming. I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be able to make my mother squirm. "You'll say it's silly, but Grampy used to tell me the same thing, over and over. 'It don't fall far.' You know what that means?"

I nodded. "It means you think Jamie is the same as Scotty. That he's a bastard."

"I know it sounds like superstitious nonsense to you - it does to me. Sins of the father and all that. It's just... I see Jamie, and I see Scotty, head to toe, and I remember the hell he put Jeanette through. I know Jamie's different - I remember how he spoke up for you when your dad put you down in front of him. Scotty would have just made another cheap joke at your expense. That's what makes me hope I'm wrong, and why I'm being careful of what I say. But just remember what I said. Never take anything less than you deserve, from Jamie or anyone else."

Jamie stood in the door, all smiles. "Game's over, C., beat your old man outta ten bucks. Ready for the movie?"

I checked the clock. We still had almost an hour.

"What're you guys going to see?"

"Up to Chris," he said with a shrug.

"I been hoping to catch Unbreakable before it goes out. I think it's something like Sixth Sense."

My mother shuddered. "Ugh. Bruce Willis. Well, don't be too late anyway. I know there's no school tomorrow, but try to get back at a decent time, okay Chris?"

"Um, we might be going over to my place after," Jamie put in. Not only were Phil and Jeanette away for the long weekend, but they'd taken Lauren with them. "I mean, it's no problem if Chris wants to stay over, right?"

My mother looked at me, then at Jamie, then back to me. "Okay," she said quietly. "But just be careful."

"Always am, Dotty!" he said cheerfully.

"I'll go get my coat. Just be a second."

I went up to my room and pulled out my new leather coat. I reached into the pocket, and took out the little black box I'd stuffed in there, and opened it. It was a gold Claddagh ring, Jamie's size, with the heart set in white gold. Two birthstones had been set in either lobe of the heart. My August peridot, Jamie's November citrine. I'd made the first payment just before my birthday in August, when Jamie and I had first gotten together and he told me his birthday. I'd just finished paying for it this week. I'd been politely informed by the jeweler that since the stones had already been set, and the inscription - just our initials and the date we met - had already been done, I couldn't just cancel and get my money back.

"Hey! Haul it! We gotta move," Jamie shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

I slipped the ring case into the top drawer of my dresser and then I pulled on the jacket and trotted down the stairs. Before or after, I asked myself, looking at Jamie's handsome face, all smiles.

I knew the answer. After. I didn't have the nerve to say what I had to say yet. I hoped the movie would be good; to take my mind off what had to be done for a few hours.

To be continued...

Special thanks to John "The Pecman" Francis for his assistance and advice in the preparation of this chapter.
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