The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 8, pt. 1

Marcus: "You okay?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm fine."

We were headed to the mall to meet up with Daniel to get some last minute things for a camping trip they were all going on. Mussa Sporting and Fishing Goods, Co. was a big sporting goods store connected to the mall and they were looking to make sure they had everything they would need. The trip up to their cabin was to last the whole weekend, so they were buying new hiking boots and extra supplies. Apparently for generations, the Evans family had owned the small spot of land and it was always open to them to use.

It had been three weeks since Lee and I had our "talk" and things had been surprisingly relaxed. I knew that our truce was balancing on a needle point, but for now, I couldn't help but be grateful. I never knew how much I stressed about Lee and always having to worry about him possibly tormenting me. Knowing that I had this reprieve, however brief it was, was something I didn't take for granted.

Marcus: "You're sure you won't change your mind?"

"Change my mind about what?"

Marcus: "Coming on this trip with us. It's going to be a great time. It's the only weekend we'll get before Winter starts. If we go any later, it'll be too cold to do anything."

I knew he was exaggerating. Our winters were never as bad as some places. We'd get snow every now and then, but for the most part, it was dry ground and more than likely just cold as hell outside.

"No, it's fine really. I don't want to intrude."

Marcus: "You won't be intruding, Ashton. I want you to be there. It would be great if you got to experience this with us."

"I don't want to send Lee over the edge. I mean, he's been true to his word, he's left me alone... But, I just don't want to risk it."

He looked exasperated, but I couldn't help how I felt. I didn't want to make Lee uncomfortable, especially on a trip that had been planned far before Marcus and I had even become friends.

Marcus: "Lee won't bother you, Ashton. I told you, he's done with all of that now."

"I hear what you're saying, but I just... It's okay, really. You guys will have a blast."

He looked defeated, but as we pulled into the parking lot of the mall, I knew he would leave it alone for the time being. A part of me really did want to go with them, but there was no telling what reaction my being their would get from Lee. More so than not wanting to upset him, I didn't want to be uncomfortable, especially that far away from home.

Sometimes I had to tell myself over and over again that I trusted Marcus, and that he wouldn't let anything bad happen to me. I knew that was the truth. But, every now and then, there was a nagging suspicion, a pure moment of doubt where all of my fears about our friendship danced in my thoughts. It was terrifying.

For a moment he just sat there and looked at me. I'd be lying to myself if I said he wasn't aware of my doubts. Most times he would hide his hurt, but every now and then I'd see. In those moments, his heart was literally on his sleeve, his pain very raw and very real. I hated that I couldn't help how I felt, but I was a work in progress. I appreciated that he never made me feel like that wasn't enough.

Marcus: "We better get in there."

I took off my seatbelt and exited the driver's seat. Marcus had been slowly teaching me to drive over the past few weeks and he had deemed I was no longer hazardous to other drivers. My first few attempts had been rough, but now I was getting the hang of it. I tossed him his keys and we headed into the mall.

I couldn't even remember the last time I had come here. We never had money to spend on things here and honestly, I had always associated the mall with a place to spend time with your friends. It was somewhere everyone could go and just walk around and waste time and money. I had never had any friends, so coming to the mall was never a priority.

Once we walked in the doors though, I could see just how much I had been missing. There were stores upon stores with everything you could think of. My eyes were wide open the whole time we were walking to meet Daniel. He had told Marcus that he was in the food court and that's where we were heading now. I wanted to stop into a few of the game stores, another passion of mine, but Marcus said we would be able to do a full walkthrough later.

It didn't take too much longer to find Daniel. He was happily chatting on his cell phone when we walked up to him and after saying "goodbye" and "love you too" to whoever he was talking to, he hung up the phone.

I wouldn't say that Daniel and I were friends now, but it was good seeing him. I definitely preferred him to the alternative and as he embraced Marcus and then shook hands with me, I could tell that he felt the same way. It was just a good feeling that Daniel, at the least, tried to make me feel welcome and not like a bother whenever we were hanging out.

Marcus: "I hope we aren't too late."

Daniel: "Naw, you guys are right on time. I was just talking to Eian while I waited."

A look passed between them, almost too quickly for me to catch it, but at the blush on Daniel's face, I could pretty much figure it out. I wasn't entirely sure why, but Daniel had told me about a week and a half ago that he was gay. To say I was shocked was an understatement, but it was also nice to know that I wasn't the only gay person in my school.

It's not like we talked about it together or anything, but it was just nice that I wasn't alone. I couldn't even be mad at Daniel about everything that happened to me before. He had never made it a point to be mean to me and I would never have expected him to stand up for me. But, knowing that there was something in common with the two of us, it just made things a little easier to deal with.

Marcus: "Right on! Well, let's get this shit done."

Daniel: "Uh, just a head's up... Lee might be joining us a little later..."

Internally I flinched, but I kept my face a perfect mask of disinterest. I didn't want to stir the pot, especially with Daniel being here. I don't know what the universe was up to, but I had seen Lee more in the last few weeks than I had in our whole time at school together. It was great that we were avoiding an issue with each other, but I felt like we were tempting fate.

Marcus: "Have you two finally...?"

Daniel: "Uh, no... My mom called me and told me that he said he might be stopping up here to see you. He hasn't talked to me... ya know, since... I... You know..."

Marcus: "He'll come around, Daniel. I'm sure of it."

Daniel: "Yeah, I hope so."

I stood off to the side while they had their moment. Marcus threw his arm over Daniel's shoulder and it seemed like that bit of contact was the only thing keeping Daniel from bursting into tears. Marcus hadn't divulged any details, but from what I could tell, Daniel's coming out hadn't received the warm welcome he had been hoping for. At least not from Lee, the person that mattered most to him.

It was quiet as we made our way to the store and thankfully it wasn't too far from where we had come in at. I had no idea what they were going to need for this trip, so while they went back and forth with a sales associate who had come over to help us, I mostly stood off to the side.

I had never been on a proper camping trip. After my dad went to the military, we would sometimes bunk out in a tent in the backyard, just my mom and I. I knew now that she did it so I wouldn't know that our lights were off for the night, or some other utility. She'd make it into a game, just so I wouldn't know how bad we were off. My grandparents had money, but once she moved us out of their home and got her own place, she was mostly on her own.

In all honesty, I did want to go. It would be a new experience. An opportunity to see the beauty of nature and all of that, but I just couldn't get over my fear of Lee. It was like this presence that just loomed over everything and even Marcus' encouragement wasn't enough for me to dispel it.

I did my best to stay out of the way, but we moved around the store a lot more than I thought we would. It had never dawned on me that Marcus was a guy into nature, but looking at how excited he was for his trip was enough to make me smile. It was just another piece of the puzzle that was falling into place and as he stood there with Daniel at his side, I could see just how comfortable they were with each other.

Even now, Marcus was sometimes still guarded with me. He was definitely a lot more open than before, but looking at him and Daniel, there was no need for him to put up his normal facade. He had told me more than a few times that Lee and Daniel were some of the most important people in the world to him. Just looking at them now, no one would ever be able to doubt the sincerity in his words.

They had been getting a bunch of information about the equipment they were buying, so it took a lot longer than anyone had planned. We had been in the store a little over an hour and it looked like we were just about to finally wrap things up, when Lee showed up. He had clearly just left the gym as he still had his gym bag with him and he looked freshly showered.

Looking at Lee now, he really wasn't bad looking at all. Daniel either. They were both lean, but muscled and though they kept their hair slightly different, they looked almost identical. Lee was a little stockier because he played football, as well as basketball and Daniel more lean because he played tennis in addition to basketball.

Lee kept his hair short with a fade, and everything about him read bad boy. He didn't wear baggy clothes and oversized t-shirts, but there was a definite edge to the way he carried himself. They were both a shade or two darker than Marcus, but would still be considered light-skinned.

Daniel on the other hand, he kept his hair slightly longer and curly. He had dyed it a while ago to a brown/blonde color that really worked for him and set off his hazel eyes. They both had beautiful eyes.

For the most part they all had the same style of dress. Polos, button-ups, t-shirts and pants that fit. Never baggy, but not tight either. It was an urban prep look that worked for all of them. Myself, I just was a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Simple and sweet.

As Lee embraced Marcus in a brotherly hug, it was weird to see the play of emotions on Daniel's face. Lee had barely even acknowledged him and spent most of his energies catching up with Marcus. It was hard to watch. More so for Daniel to deal with, I could only imagine.

Daniel: "I'll be right back."

He didn't turn around fast enough for us not to see the tears forming in his eyes, but he didn't look back or wait for any comments as he strode away. I knew he wasn't mad at Marcus, but I just couldn't imagine my own brother, my twin for that matter, not wanting to speak to me. I could only hope that sooner rather than later, Lee would come around.

Marcus: "Really, man?"

Lee: "I don't know what to say to him, Marcus. Okay? I just can't even look at him without thinking about..."

I didn't expect Lee's gaze to fall on me, but I guess I was the only other gay person he knew. Not that I was entirely uncomfortable, but if they were going to have a heart to heart, it wasn't going to happen with me standing here. It wasn't my place, but right now, I'm sure Daniel could use a friend.

"I'm going to go check on Daniel. Be back in a moment."

They both looked grateful and honestly, I didn't want to hear whatever was going to be said anyway. Marcus knew Lee better than I did, but I didn't want to be around to hear whatever ignorance might possibly come out of his mouth. Instead, I made way around the store in the hopes of spotting Daniel.


I couldn't help being slightly pissed at Lee. Mostly it was because he was hurting his brother, my other best friend. I hated that they were in a spat right now, but I was hoping that Lee would be able to look past what he didn't understand. On the other hand, it made me nervous to think what would happen to our friendship if and when I told him of my feelings for Ashton.

I had no intention of losing Lee as a friend, but if my being interested in another man wasn't something he could or would look past, I didn't know how our friendship would continue on. As much as I loved him, Daniel was his brother and always would be. We had been through a lot of shit together, but at the end of it all, I wasn't his blood.

As we doubled back, grabbing stuff for Lee, I tried to reason with him.

Lee: "I just don't understand it, Marcus. He's never even showed interest in men! Never."

"Lee, he's never showed interest in girls either. It's not that big of a deal."

Lee: "Not that big of a deal?! My brother is a fucking fag, Marcus!"

"Don't call him that! He's your brother and you need to start acting like it!"

Lee: "Excuse me."

"You heard exactly what I said, Lee. Daniel loves you to pieces. You're more important to him than anyone and you're breaking his heart right now."

Lee: "You don't get it. Ever since Ashton, you've got some like soft spot..."

"It's not a soft spot, Lee. It's maturity. It doesn't matter and it shouldn't. Daniel being gay doesn't say anything about you and it doesn't affect you in any way. So, why can't you just be happy for him?"

Lee: "Happy? Marcus give me a break. You might be able to look past him wanting to fuck dudes, but I can't."

"Are you really ready to lose your brother over this? After everything, Daniel being homosexual is what you're going to let drive you guys apart? That's insane, Lee."

Lee: "Whatever, Marcus."

"No, Lee. Listen to me. Daniel is your brother, your twin brother at that. At the end of the day, he's the person that you're always going to be able to count on. He's always going to be the person that is there for you no matter what, the person who loves you no matter what. Daniel has put up with a lot of shit from you Lee, from both of us, that normally a person would be ready to walk away and wipe their hands clean. You have someone who's stuck it out with you through everything, whether he's your brother or not, and you're seriously going to let the fact that he is gay destroy that? Use your head, Lee. It doesn't add up and it doesn't make sense."

I sighed as he moved away from me, putting distance between us. I knew that Lee had a lot of issues with gay people. His parents had never had any issue with sexuality and mostly just wanted their kids to be happy. Where Lee got his abhorrence for gay men was a mystery to me. I assumed it was mostly just not understanding, but it was something he seriously needed to get over.

We walked several more aisles in silence while he angrily threw stuff into his cart. For him to be this quiet for this long, I knew my words were having some effect on him. Lee might be hard-pressed to admit it aloud, but Daniel was and had always been the only person he ever looked up to.

Though Daniel was older by a mere five minutes, that was enough for Lee to look up to him as a big brother. Everyone thought that Lee was the older of the two because of his more brash behavior and outspoken personality, but Daniel was actually the oldest. It wasn't something he played up, but for Lee, it had always been something between them that he cherished.

When their parents couldn't get Lee to see reason, a few words from Daniel and Lee would come around. Or the fact that not even I could get Lee to change his mind on certain things, but a few conversations with Daniel and Lee would have a change of heart. It was just the relationship they had and I could see it falling away by the second. Worse, I didn't know what to say to Lee to make him put things right.


It only took me a few minutes to find Daniel. The sounds of sniffling weren't hard to locate and as I turned into a dead end aisle filled with hockey equipment, there I found him. He didn't notice me until I was almost right in front of him and he seemed shocked to see it was me that came to find him.

"Are you okay?"

Daniel: "Yeah. I just needed a minute, y'know?"

"Believe me, I do."

For a while I just stood there, content to let him get his bearings together. I didn't have any idea what I was supposed to say in this situation, so for the time being, I said nothing. I wished I could tell Daniel something to make him feel better, but the only person I had ever really needed to come out to was my parents. My mother and father had both been extremely supportive, but I counted myself lucky in that aspect. I knew what it felt like to lose your family and I really hoped that Daniel would be spared from that.

After a few minutes he wiped the last of his tears away and we started looking around for the guys. Daniel still wasn't back to his regular upbeat self, but I knew that what he was going through wasn't easy. It was probably one of the hardest things in the world to do and on top of that, Lee was his twin brother.

Daniel: "You're out to your family, right?"

"Yeah. My mom and dad know."

Daniel: "What about the rest of your family?"

"Uh, yeah... They know. My mom doesn't really have a lot to do with her family and my dad grew up in foster care. My mom and dad are the only family I really have."

Daniel: "How did they take it when you came out?"

"I came out to my mom when I was eleven. We had been back here for about four years and things were decent. My grandparents live a few towns over, so it was nice having them so close. I had known for a long time that I might possibly be gay, but I was too afraid to tell my mom. We had already been through so much, but I couldn't stand feeling like I was being dishonest. So, one day I told her. I just blurted it out while we were talking about something completely unrelated. It just spilled out of me."

Remembering even now brought back memories of those days. Not everything had been as painless as I made it out to be. Coming out to my mom had been great, but I still dealt with the price of that decision to this very day.

"I thought she would cry or do something, but for a while she was just quiet. I was nervous, I thought the storm clouds were moving in. But, my mom, she's not like that. She pulled me into her arms and told me that she 'loved me' and basically whatever made me happy was going to make her happy. Ever since then, it's something that we've been able to openly talk about.

A couple months later she told my grandparents. I sat at the top of the stairs while she sat them down. It was the longest five minutes of my life. All in all, they were maybe there for ten minutes and then they were gone. For a while I didn't even cry. I can't remember how long I sat at the top of those stairs, staring at the front door, hoping my grandparents would come back, but they never did."

Daniel: "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I beat myself up about it for a while. If only I was normal or straight, my grandparents would still love me. But, what kind of love is that? If they really loved me, they would have accepted me like my mother did. I miss them all the time, but as much as I loved my grandparents, that forever changed how I saw them."

Daniel: "What about your dad?"

"I came out to my dad two years ago, when I was fourteen. My mom would send me to wherever he was taking his leave and we'd just spend all our time together. I'm sure my mom had already told him before, but when I came out to him, he just sat there and listened to me. By that time, I had had three years to get comfortable with it. When I told my mother, I was nervous, but when it came to my dad, I just knew that everything would be okay. My parents have always put me before everything. We talked for hours after that, just being open with each other. It was what I needed."

Daniel: "Wow. You're lucky."

"So are you. I mean, you have people in your corner, for sure. Your parents didn't react badly, did they?"

Daniel: "Uh, no. My mom was like completely cool with it. Said she had suspected as much anyway since I never brought girls home. My dad, he took it a little harder. After I told him he said he had to take a drive. That hurt a lot, but when he came home he came to my room and he just told me how much he 'loved me' and that he was 'proud of me.' He said the rest would fall into place eventually. That's better than some people get."

"He'll come around. I mean, the hardest part is accepting it, right? Besides, he loves you and he said as much. It's just now about finding a balance and getting back to how things were before."

Daniel: "If I don't have my brother, I don't know how that's even possible."

His mood went somber again, but he didn't shed any more tears. I wanted to reach out to him, hug him or something, but I didn't feel like it was my place. At least Daniel had friends to take some of the sting away from his brother's rejection. When my family turned their backs on me, I had no one of my age to relate to.

We walked in silence until we finally found Marcus and Lee. They had already cashed out and were waiting with their bags at the door. Daniel was looking a lot better now that he had had a chance to clear his thoughts and I was happy that I had helped in some small way.

Daniel: "Who paid for my stuff?"

Lee: "I did. It goes on the same bill anyway."

I thought for a second that maybe Marcus had talked to Lee and turned things around, but that wasn't the case. Before Daniel could even say "thank you!," Lee was heading out the door. It was a tense moment, but Daniel squared his shoulders, put his head high and followed behind his brother.

Once we were done at Mussa, we made our way around the mall popping into stores at our leisure. All of us ended up leaving out of the game store with something and Marcus ended up buying a few CDs to add to his already crazy collection. There was definitely a lot of stuff that wasn't my taste as far as the available stores, but once I found an Art store in the mall, I had to check it out.

I told everyone I would catch up with them at the Food Court, since that's where we were headed next, but Lee broke off from the group as well and followed me in. I tried not to pay attention to that and spent the next few minutes wondering around the store, taking stock of what they had to offer.

I had been intending to buy some new brushes and paint anyway and now that I was picking up actual hours at Fromran's, I had a little pocket money to spend. I had been working on a painting for Marcus, since he had said he wanted to hang something of mine up, and a few other projects, so it was definitely time to stock up.

I stopped myself before I ended up spending too much, but I made it to the register with a new paint brush set, several paints and a new sketch book, since my old one was almost filled up. I thought that Lee had come in and out, but I saw him talking back and forth with one of the sales clerks over two different sets of pencils, before finally deciding on one and heading to the register as well.

I couldn't help but eye his purchases, never taking him for one to be interested in art. I could guess by the look on his face, the same would have been thought about me.

"I didn't know you were into art."

Lee: "I'm not really. Just, like comics and stuff."

"That's pretty cool."

Lee: "It's a stupid hobby, but my Uncle got me into comics before he passed away, so..."

I wanted to tell him I didn't think it was stupid at all, but from the look on his face, I knew he wanted to stop talking about it. Luckily, the cashier had finished with the customer in front of me and I was able to put my things down for her to ring up.

"Are you buying those?"

Lee: "Huh?"

I had watched him read and re-read the information on the pencils he was buying, and I could tell he wasn't sold on them. If he was interested in drawing for comics, then those were definitely not the ones he wanted to go with.

"The pencils. For your comic?"

Lee: "Yeah."

I told the cashier to hold on a moment and then had Lee follow me. He looked skeptical for a second, but then he reluctantly followed me back over to the pencils. Not that I had ever had any interest in comic writing, but I did have a pretty good scope on most of the materials needed.

"Those are pretty good pencils, but you don't get the variety. There's only four sizes and for your comics, you're going to need big and small lines or pencils that put more down on the paper."

It took a little bit of searching around, but I found a better pack of pencils for him that had multiple sizes, types and it was cheaper than what he was going to get.

"These are going to be better for you. You'll be able to do hard and soft lines and not have to do so much erasing. And, it'll save you two bucks."

It looked like he didn't know what to say, but as the cashier called me back over, I stepped away from him to finish my transaction. It took only a few minutes and then I stepped to the side so she could ring Lee up as well. He looked a bit surprised that I waited for him, but we were both headed in the same direction anyway. To me it just made sense.

Lee: "Thanks for that."

"No problem. They try to sell the most expensive stuff in places like those, but you can usually find a better bargain for cheaper."

Lee: "I'll have to remember that."

It was a slow walk to the Food Court, and surprisingly Lee and I talked the whole way.

Lee: "You draw?"

"Uh, yeah. I do a little bit of everything. Mostly painting and photography though."

Lee: "I see."

"And you?"

Lee: "Mostly just sketching and stuff. I have some concepts, but I haven't been able to really move forward with anything."

"Well, just give it time. One day, things will just start to fall into place and you'll be ready to go full steam."

It took us only a minute to spot Daniel and Marcus, both waiting in line for Subway. I had no interest in going there and by the groan Lee made when I pointed them out, he didn't either. We walked around together a little longer, settled on Five Guys and once we had our food, we went and sat with the others.

Everyone was shocked that we were actually having a conversation, no one more than myself, but it was nice to be able to talk to someone who was into art as well. I downplayed most of the compliments that Marcus sent my way, but I also told Lee that one of these days, I'd show him one of my sketch books.

This was the first time that I had really been around Lee and wasn't intimated by him in some way. He was completely relaxed right now and even though things were tense between him and his brother, they had even been able to carry on some conversation between each other. If it was one thing I noticed about Lee, if he was able to have a conversation with you, half the fight was over.

Lee: "So Ashton, are you coming camping with us?"

We all stopped and looked at Lee as if he had lost his mind. I tried to keep my face neutral, but I was just as shocked as Daniel and Marcus.

"I wasn't planning on it. I know that's a thing you guys usually do, just the three of you. I wouldn't want to impose."

Lee: "I mean, I think it'd be alright. We already have the cabin and a fourth wouldn't muck things up too much. All you'd need is some hiking gear. Have you been camping before?"

"I've never had the chance."

Lee: "Well, the invitation is there. I doubt Marcus will have a problem and I know Danny's cool."

"I'll think about it. For sure."

I made eye contact with Marcus and I knew that my last line of argument for not going had just gone down in smoke. I really did want to go, but doing that would be so far out of my comfort zone. Not only would I be going hours away, but we were also staying in an unfamiliar area and I was going with people that just a few short months ago hated me. It would be a big step for me to trust in that change completely and I didn't know if I was ready yet.

I was still heavily in thought when we all said our "goodbyes" and Marcus and I walked to his car. He was content to let me have my moment to think, which I was grateful for. I wanted to share my thoughts with him, but they were going a mile a minute.

Even as we drove, the music was off and nothing was said between us. Marcus would glance over at me every now and again, but we continued on in silence, making it all the way to my house before we spoke.

Marcus: "What are you thinking?"

"Part of me thinks that I shouldn't trust this. Any of it. That this is all some elaborate set up to humiliate me."

He looked hurt. He looked like I had literally just pulled his heart out and kicked it down the street for good measure.

Marcus: "You really think I'd do that to you?"

"No. I know that you wouldn't. That's where the other part of my head is at. Time and time again, you've proven that all you want to do is be my friend and be there for me. I've just been hurt a lot and it scares me to think that there is someone who really does care about me."

Marcus: "Look Ashton, I don't care about this trip. If you don't want to go, then that's fine. But, you have to know that I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. If I thought for a second that anything would happen to you, I'd barely be able to contain myself. You're safe with me. Okay?"

Sometimes in the way that Marcus said things, it felt like there was more meaning behind his words and I just wasn't picking up on it. There had been so many times when he'd say something to me and hours later, I'd be picking back over what he said, trying to decipher what he could possibly have meant. It was draining, but he and now, I was okay with knowing that I just had someone who wanted to see me happy and wanted to be a part of that.

"Okay. And... I do want to go. It sounds... fun."

Marcus: "There we go."

His smile was infectious and soon, I was grinning ear to ear as well.


Lee: "Alright, so we'll pick you guys up in about an hour. Then, we'll grab some food and be on our way."

Marcus: "Sounds good."

I nodded my agreement and then we all went our way. Marcus and I walked over to his car and proceeded to leave while Lee stood outside and waited for his brother. Though things were still kind of rocky, Lee had definitely got over most of his anger with Daniel. No one would begrudge him the time he needed to feel alright, but at least he was moving in the right direction.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I could see that Marcus was barely containing his excitement. This trip was all he had been talking about the last few days and I was more excited than ever that I was going. It had been a great week at school and now, I was hoping that would carry out through the weekend as well.

Marcus and I talked the entire drive to my house, going over what we could be expecting to do on this trip. I had never been hiking before, so I was a bit nervous, but Marcus said we weren't doing any of the more risky trails, so that quelled most of my fear. Other than that, he said there were some great places to go swimming and the cabin was right on a beautiful lake.

Once we made it to my house, I made quick work of getting the rest of my things together. When I told Marcus that I was going, he took it upon himself to get the same gear for me that everyone else had. I was a little put off by that, but he said it was no big deal and I didn't dwell on it. So, the only thing I really had to make sure was ready was a jacket in case it cooled down and extra toiletries and such.

"So, how far away is this place?"

Marcus: "It's about a three hour drive. Lee will take the first stretch of the trip and then either myself or Daniel will take over from there."

"Wow. I've never even been to a private lodge before."

Marcus: "You'll have fun. We make a good time."

I couldn't help but laugh with him. Marcus had a way of making me feel comfortable about most things, or at least getting me to feel better. It was how he naturally was, trying to make everyone feel at their best.

We had all of my things downstairs waiting at the door and we were just waiting for Lee, when my mom came home. She only worked a four hour shift at the restaurant today, so she was going to be able to see me off on my first trip.

I could tell she was a little exhausted, but she made small talk with Marcus for a bit and then we went into the kitchen to have some "mother-son talk." I knew she was nervous for me, more nervous than even I was, but she trusted me to make these decisions.

Mom: "You have everything you need?"

"Yeah. Marcus hooked me up with most of my gear, so I'll be good. They've done this loads, so I'll be fine."

Mom: "And you said Lee and Daniel are both going?"

"Yeah, Mom."

Mom: "You're sure about this?"

"I'm sure, Mom. I trust Marcus and I like Daniel. He's nice. Lee's been nice too. We've talked about art and stuff, so I don't think it will be bad."

Mom: "As long as you're sure. I want you to have fun. Just be careful out there."

"I will, Mom."

We hugged for a moment and then headed back to the living room. Marcus was just wrapping up a call and he said that Lee would be pulling up in a few minutes. My mom made him promise to keep an eye on me and then that was that. Lee sounded the horn, we packed up my things since Marcus's had been loaded last night, and then we were off. My mom was okay with Marcus leaving his car in the driveway, so once we got something to eat, we could get on the road.

We made a quick stop at Kingston & Evans for lunch, where I got to meet Daniel and Lee's parents. They sent us off with well wishes and a few snacks and sandwiches for the road, then we left for the cabin.

The ride up itself wasn't bad. Lee drove for the first half of the trip and then Marcus took over from there. It gave me an opportunity to talk and get to know Lee and Daniel both a lot better. Even though they were twins, they were very much night and day as far as personality. Daniel was a lot more laid back, whereas Lee had a more outgoing personality. It was nice to see them in their element and it felt good to be able to be included.

From what Marcus had told me, I was already expecting the cabin and everything to be beautiful, but I wasn't prepared for how beautiful it was. When we pulled up into the short gravel driveway, I couldn't even see the cabin through the wall of large trees, granting some privacy from the moderately travelled road. Once the cabin came into view, looking at it sitting there in front of the water was like a picture out of a movie.

It was clearly an old cabin, but someone had taken time to modernize it and expand, giving it a more welcoming look. As the guys pulled everything from the car, I made my way around back towards the sounds of water. Whoever had built on these grounds originally had found the perfect spot.

Not only was the cabin sitting right on the water's edge, but there was a small waterfall and even some rocks that I'm sure had been used to jump off of before. It was breathtaking. A perfect little corner of paradise that someone had been able to make their own.

I didn't want to not pull my own weight, so I made it back to the car and helped get things into the house. It didn't take us long at all and once everyone had sleeping arrangements down, Lee only wanted to share a room with Marcus, we went about setting things up for the night. I was grateful that after that long drive no one wanted to do any hiking or anything requiring much energy. I hadn't done any driving, but even I was ready for a nap.

Our plan for the rest of the day was simple. Since it was already about three in the afternoon, we were just going to stay close to the cabin. Lee had said that he may stop in to see an old friend of his, but for the most part, we were staying put.

We all sat around for a late lunch, the sandwiches Mrs. Evans had wrapped for us, then everyone took some time to unpack and relax. I actually didn't mind being in the room with Daniel, but I couldn't help but start to feel as if I was in the "gay" room, and Marcus and Lee were in the "straight" room. It was a stupid thought, but from some of the conversation I had with Daniel, it seemed to be a shared thought. I wasn't going to let that dampen my spirits though and my thoughts moved elsewhere.

I couldn't help wanting to pull out my sketchbook and try and capture as much of this scenery as possible. It would be one of the first times I would truly be able to do a "Life Drawing." There was so much to take inspiration from. The lake, the rocks, the beautiful cabin that we were in. Even watching Marcus and the Evans brothers interact held a special magic for me, something that should be documented.

I had wanted to leave my comforts at home, but I had purposefully packed my SLR in the hopes of capturing some of these moments. I wanted to be able to remember this moment and this trip. Not only was it the first time I had done something like this, but more than that, it was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. In all of the clubs I had joined, in all of the groups I had tried unsuccessfully to be a part of, this was the first moment I truly felt welcomed somewhere.

Despite whatever misgivings I had about Lee, over the last few days at school, he had been nothing but nice to me. He had dialed back a lot of the sarcasm that he generally threw my way and his overall demeanor towards me had changed. I don't know if maybe Marcus had talked to him again, or just over time he had maybe a brief change of heart, but whatever it was, I was grateful.

I wanted to soak up every ounce of the experience here. I wanted to embrace this moment and cherish it, as something like it could possibly never happen again. As I pulled my equipment out of my bag and laid it on my bed, I couldn't help the smile on my face. All in all, I was just happy to be here.

Lee: "Come on, Daniel."

Daniel: "Lee, I'm coming. Fuck!"

I couldn't help but chuckle as Daniel rolled his eyes towards the door. Lee and Daniel had just gotten out of the shower and dressed, both of them going to see whatever "friend" Lee had mentioned earlier. Marcus didn't seem very pressed to go, so I didn't feel like it was someone I needed to meet, so we were staying behind.

Daniel had stylishly dressed in a pair of white skinny jeans, a plaid shirt, and a cap turned backwards to cover the length of his hair and he was clearly concerned about looking perfect. I had never seen this particular side of Daniel and it almost reminded me of Marcus. Some things with him had to be extremely particular, and it just really highlighted similarities they all shared.

I followed Daniel out of our joint room and snapped a picture of him and Lee at the door. They had all gotten over their annoyance at my snapping random pictures of them, but I couldn't help it. After showing them some of the better photos, they acquiesced.

The two of them had slowly been making more and more progress as the day wore on and it was good to see that. Also, the fact that they were both good looking and dressed immaculately proved good for picture taking too. With a few adjustments, I could even put some of these in my photography portfolio.

Marcus had a brief conversation with the two of them at the door, then they headed out and it was just the two of us. I couldn't help but count of my blessings at getting an opportunity to be alone with him. I would never tell him, but they were moments in the day that I had become to cherish. I had no allusions about Marcus and I ever happening, but I was happy with the little moments I could secure for myself.

It had taken us this long to finally get comfortable with each other and our quirks, something I thought would never happen. Who knew that when Mrs. Elcide gave us that God-awful project, that it would change so many things? I would have never been able to learn the things from Marcus that I had if it wasn't for her. We wouldn't be here now and we wouldn't be friends. It was a sobering realization, but a good one. Things definitely happened for a reason.

Marcus: "Why are you so quiet?"

"Just thinking."

Marcus: "Good thoughts, I hope."

I couldn't help but smile. Even now, he was worried about me having a good time. It was charming.

"Yes. Just thinking about Mrs. Elcide and her project."

Marcus: "It was her worst idea."

I flinched at that, but he continued on.

Marcus: "Who would have thought though? If she hadn't put us together, you wouldn't be sitting here right now, and I wouldn't be having the time of my life. The three most important people to me, having a weekend in the woods together. It doesn't get any better than this!"

His excitement carried him outside, and something about needing firewood, but his words were still going through my head. Being counted as someone special to him was enough to get my heart going, but I kept my composure. At this point, I'm sure Marcus knew that I might have a crush on him, but I didn't want to fuel those fires.

Instead, I took out my sketchbook and went back to a project I had started once everything was put away. I had started a few different sketches, but I wanted to do a drawing of the three of them together. They had all been standing around in our small kitchen, just talking and messing around, but something about watching them was enough to inspire me to draw. I hadn't showed anyone and didn't know if I planned to, but it was definitely something I wanted to work on.

Marcus had come back in with an armload of firewood and after grabbing an energy drink from the refrigerator, he came to sit down beside me. Even though there was more than enough space, he sat close enough to me that I could feel the warmth radiating off of him. I didn't know if he had just sat down, or if he was trying to peek at my work, but the smile on his face brought a smile to my own.

Marcus: "What are you working on?"

"Just a drawing. Nothing really."

Marcus: "Can I see?"

"Uh,... Yeah. Sure."

I rarely let anyone see my art when it wasn't complete, but what was the harm? I wasn't sure how to feel really, but I moved a bit closer to him and laid my sketchbook down between us.

For a while, he didn't say anything, but his eyes were constantly roaming over the page. I had rendered their forms and most of the kitchen, just wanting it to be as life-like as possible. I would finish fleshing it out, lay my lines down in ink, and then I'd either color it in with pencils or paint.

Marcus: "This is amazing."

"Thanks. It's not finished though..."

Marcus: "Still. It's amazing. Really."

I wanted to lean into him. I would have loved nothing more than to press my lips to his and secure that one moment for myself. I was obviously going insane, but it was a desire pulsing inside of me. I wanted to follow through and I wanted to take whatever came of my actions. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

"We should probably get started on dinner, huh?"

Marcus: "Yeah. I guess we should."

His eyes seemed lost for a moment as he went to stand up. I was always so unsure around Marcus. A deep part of me wondered if he felt the same as I did. Was there something going on and I was just the last one to know? Or was it just my imagination?

As we set about pulling out the steaks they had gotten from the restaurant and getting the fixings together for later, I couldn't shake the feeling that things were starting to change. It wasn't a bad thing, but it felt like everything from this point forward was going to be like nothing I'd ever dealt with before.

One glance in Marcus' direction, his eyes meeting mine, and I was ready. I didn't know what the future held, but I was prepared to go the distance and figure it out. Whatever happened, I would face it head on and Marcus would be at my side. That much I was sure of.

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