The following story is for adults and contains descriptions of sexual contact between teenage males. If you are a minor it is illegal for you to read, or if you find the subject objectionable, read no further. All the characters, events and settings are the product of my over-active imagination. I hope you like it. Mail me or if literary analysis interests you visit Eliot's Space.



by eliot moore

Chapter Seventeen



It's a matter of faith, Friday, February 11th

Daniel lay on Denver's bed and watched Denver work on his laptop. They had been like this since Daniel dropped in uninvited half an hour before. From Daniel's vantage point he could see Denver's profile and the laptop display. Denver seemed to be rapidly switching back and forth between multiple browser windows and a rapidly expanding document. From Denver's vantage point he could see Daniel stretched out while he flipped through magazines.

"Ms. Canon said copying and pasting stuff from the Internet was wrong. She showed us how easy it was to get caught."

"I'm still researching." Denver replied mildly.

"Do you have your foot notes?"


"What are you writing your report about?" Denver took his hands off the keyboard and sighed.

"Do you really want to know?"

"No, I guess not" Daniel discarded a guitar magazine and reached for another. It was more promising. Denver noticed it was a Penthouse. The fourteen-year old absorbed the pages for a while. Denver sank back into the complexities of Islamic Fundamentalism. He was going to get creamed if he didn't find some print resources, but it was just too easy to pull everything off the web. For a time each pursued his own thoughts content with the other's silent company. "Do you think a chick would really let six guys do her in the back of a bus?"

"Sounds like rape to me." Denver noticed Daniel's tent.

"This guy is twice as big as me. Coke can... shit."

"In his dreams; look kid, I chased everyone away tonight so I could get this done. I have to work all day tomorrow; Karl has an appointment or something."

"Sorry" Daniel absently flipped a page, studied it, and slipped a hand down his pants. Denver went back to his paper. He needed to concentrate. He never listened to music while he worked; any noise in the classroom drove him crazy. The bedroom room was hushed except for the cadence of Denver's key strokes and Daniel's breathing.

Denver paused in annoyance. He had finally found a credible Arab source in English and he would have to deal with some obvious contradictions. He sat back to think. Daniel's activities intruded. "You can't seriously be jacking off on my bed while I'm doing homework." Daniel's hand stopped moving and he slowly pulled it out.

"Sorry, these stories are tripping." Daniel tossed the temptation on the pile and reached for a new magazine. Denver watched him for a while before turning back to his laptop. This was manageable, all he needed was a good segue, something pointing out varied political agendas. These advance classes, Daniel and Karl were killing him. Then of course there was the whole matter with Mark.

Daniel flipped through the magazine quickly and then turned back to the main feature. The men seemed really old to him. It was like getting turned on by Ms. Canon, kind of gross. "This guy is old Denver." He wondered why his senior found the man a turn on. Denver glanced at the cover.

"That's Mark's."

"Oh" Daniel felt oddly relieved. There was something creepy about sex with older men. Denver was eighteen, but he still looked young to Daniel. Even Cam seemed a little too old to consider sex with. The men posing in the magazine looked really old, maybe like his mom. "Mark likes older guys?" It would be like Denver getting turned on by his mother.

"Show me the picture." Daniel held it up for Denver. "He's not that old, maybe twenty-five or so" Denver turned back to his keyboard.

"That's like my mother Denver. This guy should be dating my mother." Shit; that was an ugly thought. Daniel tried not to consider the man's impressive penis after making that unfortunate connection. The pain returned and tried to shift into a more comfortable position. "What does Mark see in them?"

"Ask Mark sometime." That wasn't going to happen, Daniel replied silently. He considered the men. He thought the smooth ones were better looking. The men with hair and beards just looked like, well, men. Daniel studied the trails of hair and ran his fingers around his belly. Arlo was going to be a hairy beast. His dad was. Daniel's granddad had hair too. Daniel remembered his neatly trimmed beard. A little more wouldn't hurt me, he reflected. He would kill to have sideburns like Vincent. Carlos had a decent goatee. There were no teenagers in the magazine. The Internet was better.

"I don't like them."


"The men in these pictures."

"Well that's not much of a surprise. You're all about the girls." Daniel rolled on his stomach thinking it might be easier and picked out a new magazine. He held it up so that Denver could see the cover. It seemed to be a question. "That's Mark's too." Daniel sighed and flipped the magazine open. Denver watched the back of his head and then wandered down to admire the boy's firm buttocks. "What's on your mind?"

"I don't know what to think anymore. Maybe I'm just kidding myself." But Daniel was not sure what he was kidding himself about. Did he just think sex with guys turned him on because Denver did? Sometimes he worried that he was gay and that his feelings for Mandy were just a cover. Maybe he was just a twisted pervert ready to screw with anything that would get him off. He whacked off constantly and it did not seem to matter if the tight ass was heart-shaped or a set of firm bubbles. "How do I know if I am gay?"

"You're getting freaked about nothing."

"What am I Denver ?" Denver felt the stress in his young friend's voice.

"You're you Daniel. I told you a long time ago that you shouldn't worry about labels."

"Simon or your friend Troy..."

"He's not my friend."

"... whatever; they know who they are. Simon would rather get the shit beaten out of him than kiss a guy. He said he actually puked. Mark is totally gay. Look at these pictures; it gives me the creeps just thinking about one of these guys touching me." Denver almost pointed out that Daniel was just a kid and that all things considered it was a good thing he did not want to have sex with older men. Daniel was sensitive about his age and apparently still unconscious of his beauty. Instead he stated the less obvious.

"Little Dude" Denver could not resist slipping in a reminder, "you don't have to like everyone. Do you want to screw every girl you see?"

"Simon does." Or he said he did. "No I guess not." The school was full of unattractive girls. The pretty and stuck up bitches were a turn off too, though Daniel figured if he closed his eyes in a dark room he might be up for almost anyone as long as he did not have to be nice to some of them afterward.

"Simon will grow out of that. You hounds would make it with a hole in a tree if it was shaped right." It was the wrong thing to say, Daniel silently flipped pages while Denver considered a different reply. "It's personal Daniel and you can't always understand the chemistry. I have a friend who believes in reincarnation. She told me that some of us are old souls, we have been reborn many times and not always as men or women."

"Yeh, I know, we studied that. If you're bad you can come back as a snake or something."

"Yes if you have bad Karma."

"I must have been a shit in my last life to have to put up with everything now."

"It's just a year Daniel." Daniel shrugged away the comment. Denver did not understand how he felt. It was not just being a stupid freshie. That was bad enough, and up until that week Daniel had clung desperately to the thought that there were only four months left and things were getting much better. He was really thinking about his grandfather, dead just when he needed him the most. It was not being good enough for his missing father. It was quiet Christmas mornings alone with his mother. It was the lonely nights that drove him out of the apartment and on to the streets to walk the long windswept blocks to Denver's house. "But the point is sometimes we are born as men and sometimes we are born as women."

"So last time I was a chick?"

"Maybe; anyway her point was that sometimes we recognize somebody from one of our previous lives: maybe a lover or a brother or sister. That's why we are attracted to them."

"That's tripping." Daniel considered it while he studied the huge cocks in the pictures. "It makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, you sit in a class full of people and someone pops out for no particular reason. Sometimes I talk to someone for a few minutes and its like, hey, I really like this person." There were no pictures of sex in the magazine and Daniel lost interest in it. He tried another one and found it was a Playboy. "What do you and Mark do in bed together Denver? You have a lot of magazines here." Denver did not seem inclined to answer that. "When I met Mandy we kind of hit it off right away. We were too little for sex, but we liked each other. Maybe she and I were together before." Daniel turned around to look at Denver. "Hey, maybe you and I were brothers once." Or lovers they both thought silently. Their eyes met and then Daniel turned back to his magazine. I never thought it would happen to me but....

"Sometimes there are new friendships to make too." Denver glanced at his incomplete essay. He was not sure if Daniel was still listening.

"Like Simon. I thought he was a dick in elementary school, now we're friends. Sometimes I meet someone and don't give him much thought. I guess the guy is just in the background all the time doing his own thing and then suddenly, bam, I'm really noticing him... or her." Daniel glanced at Denver before returning to the story... She invited her sister into the cell and I watched as Mindy handcuffed Cindy to the bars before stripping her taut uniform back to reveal her lush breasts for my inspection. Even though I had just left a pint of my salty love-juice in Mindy's hot... "So you mean I'm attracted to guys because I knew them before?"

"Well it's just one way to explain it. I don't know why I like some guys, I just enjoy it. I used to worry about that too. Now I just try to accept that I like sex with guys."

"It's not wrong?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well it's kind of perverted don't you think?"


"Well, it's not natural is it?"

"Lots of stuff isn't natural. Do you like drinking coke, beer, how about watching TV? None of that is natural Daniel. Or maybe it's all natural Daniel; what makes a beaver dam or a bird's nest natural but a condo not? People get really hung up on words like normal, organic, and natural. You slap the word organic on something and people worship it."

"Sometimes I think I'm a little twisted. Like that Rocky Horror show or that song."

"What song?"

"A thrill"

"A thrill's a thrill"

"Right, so is it wrong?"

"Who are you hurting? I only care about how what we do affects other people Daniel, so who is getting hurt?"

"Well gay guys get beat up all the time at school." Daniel thought of Simon. Straight guys got beat up too. That thought brought back the pain and reminded him of the stiffness in his back.

"So they are hurting themselves?"

"I suppose."

"Do you enjoy it Daniel?"

Daniel had never really talked to Denver about this side of him. He found there was no threat sharing his confusion with his older friend. "Sure, I guess. I don't have any friends though. Sometimes a guy interests me, but most of the time..." It was not like Jake even tried to be nice about it.

"It's not fun."

"Yes" Daniel was buried in the magazine. He wouldn't look at Denver as he said this. He was still working through it in his mind and he did not really know what it said about him. "It's not like I want to do it all the time. You won't tell anyone will you?" Daniel turned back to look at Denver finally. His face flashed in a spasm of pain. "I'm not gay and I don't need things to be worse than they are already." Daniel was pretty sure Simon knew he was a little AC/DC, but he trusted Simon to keep it to himself. They had history now, moments of pain neither could hide. Arlo was going to talk some time and he did not know what to do about that. As soon as hounds like Carlos and Victor got the word he was a fag they would move in for the kill. He would lose Mandy for sure.

Denver felt for Daniel. It had been harder than he thought it would be coming out with Mark and he still made Mark keep a low profile. Daniel had years to work things out in his mind. His desires might swing back and forth many times. Denver knew there was nothing he could do to rush it. He stood up and stretched. He looked down at Daniel affectionately. The dark cloud of Daniel's trials as a freshie could not cover Denver's joy; Daniel filled an empty space in his heart and love was not too strong a word to use. The little guy was so sweet and open. Even their night together had not shattered the friendship that had grown between them. The night with Daniel was sharp in his memory, but he had dominated his feelings. It wasn't going to happen again; Denver understood the imbalance of it all far better than Daniel. He remembered his own ninth grade and how easily the older boys had used him. He had hated them for the most part but he had been so anxious to follow their rules, so certain that it would end well. Denver had dispised the larger boys with their arrogance and certainty and let them manipulate him anyway. How much easier to use someone who thought you were his friend?

Denver came and sat on the bed beside Daniel, he could probably spare a few hours now. "Okay you little pest, how about a soda and we'll watch Team America again? Dirka, Dirka, Islamic Jihad" He gave Daniel a hard slap on the butt to get his mind off the porno. Daniel's body recoiled off the bed and he twisted away from Denver.

"Shit that hurt! Watch out." Denver laughed and reached out to rabbit punch him in his tight belly. "Stop, really, it's not funny." Daniel loved to be tickled. He would fight Denver off and then launch himself back into the combat for a second round. Denver could reduce him to hysterical fits of laughter. Denver grabbed him and dragged him onto his lap before attacking Daniel's sensitive ribs with his fingers. Daniel clawed at his hands trying to pry his strong fingers off. "Cut it out" the boy doubled over trying to protect his body. Daniel started to kick his feet into Denver's legs and pull out of his hold. Denver squeezed an arm around Daniel's slender waist to hold him still while he dug his fingers lightly into Daniel's back. "Fuck off Denver that hurts." Daniel's voice was high-pitched and desperate. He suddenly elbowed Denver in the eye and rocketed out of his grasp.

Denver watched him in surprise. Daniel leaned against the dresser and struggled to get his breath back. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just fooling around." Denver was bewildered. It was an old game. They had played it many times.

"Fuck, I told you it hurt. Why didn't you listen? Jesus, sorry, I guess you just caught me by surprise. I'll be okay." Daniel did not look okay.

"Are you alright? What's wrong kid?"

"I'm fine, don't worry about it. I must have a cramp or something."

"Bullshit, come here a minute."

"Just leave it will you? Let's watch the movie."

"Fuck that" Daniel did not move away when Denver approached him. He lifted the boy's loose shirt and examined the bruises on his back and torso. "God Daniel, who did this to you?" The ugly marks looked fresh. Daniel rotated passively to let him get a better look at his back. Denver traced a couple of the marks gently with his fingers. "Do your ribs hurt?"

"Yes" Denver noticed an angry line that traveled along Daniel's waist band and seemed to dip into his boxers and pants. Daniel tried to stop him from opening his pants. They struggled silently for a moment until Daniel finally gave in and let Denver pull his pants off. Daniel stepped away from the jeans and allowed Denver to lead him to the bed.

"Who did this?" There was an edge to Denver's voice, something cold that reminded Daniel of his senior confronting Troy in the furnace room. Daniel allowed Denver to pull his boxers down slightly for a look at the angry welts. Denver tried to pull him back down on his lap but Daniel pulled away from him and sat next to him. "Do you know the guys Daniel?" Daniel pulled himself over the bed and pushed the magazines on the floor before stretching out. He seemed thin and vulnerable when he put his hands behind his head on the pillow. The bruises covered his ribs and the soft hollow of his belly.

"I'll be fine; you can't do anything about it Denver. It won't stop them." Despite his words a tear escaped and Denver watched it as it slid across his face.

"Tell me about it kid." Denver whispered. Daniel flinched when Denver put a hand on his chest. He closed his eyes and tried to feel reassured by Denver's concern. Daniel was miserable. He did not want Denver to know. The lanky senior always felt that he should do something or prevent the seniors from getting to him. It just did not work that way. The eleventh and twelfth graders who had jumped Simon did not care who Denver was.

It made no sense. Simon kept a low profile and mostly slipped past trouble like a thief. He had been on his way home when the group of four boys had pulled him into someone's back yard. Simon would not tell him exactly what happened. Daniel asked him once, but his friend would tell him nothing. Freshie stuff was private. Your friends did not need to know the details. You never looked good. Simon had his dark side and Daniel was used to it. He gave Simon his space. Simon never talked about it and a few days later he was back to his usual self. The whole thing faded from Daniel's mind until Wednesday during one of their rare lunches together. Simon simply dropped his sandwich and slammed a tray into the back of an older boy's head. Daniel was taken by surprise. Someone else pushed Simon into a table. Daniel had tried to get between them and found himself on the floor. A supervisor stopped Simon from coming back for a second try at the boy. Daniel had been furious and while they were marching Simon away Daniel had told the older boy Simon and he would get him. It was stupid and he knew it as soon as he said it. Simon was suspended; grounded by irate parents far too familiar with his abrasive personality. Daniel could not even speak to him. Daniel got his later that day on the way home from school. As soon as he saw Todd on the bus he knew he was in trouble. It had reminded him of Troy, only in the snow drifts of the alley near his bus stop there had been no Denver to step in. "Daniel, please, let me do something."

"Leave it Denver, its over." Daniel rolled over and curled up on the soft bed that smelled like Denver. He felt so empty. Denver scratched his back and there was silence between them.

Denver sat with Daniel for a while until he realized the boy had fallen asleep. Denver considered the situation for a while and then shifted his young friend around until he had him under the covers. He went back to his laptop and after a while groped his way back into his topic. Some part of him continued to simmer and when he had fleshed out the main body of his paper he turned back to watch Daniel. At some point he had turned and now lay stretched comfortably with his face turned toward Denver.

Denver sat beside the bed and studied Daniel's features. The boy's face had relaxed into an untroubled sleep and one hand curled around the corner of the pillow. Denver leaned close and lightly kissed Daniel on his slightly parted lips. Daniel opened his eyes and smiled slightly before settling back into his dreams. Denver sat near the battered boy until he was sure he had drifted away. He checked the blanket covering Daniel and then slipped from the room. He spoke with Karen Murrell for a few minutes unconsciously continuing the flirtatious byplay that had crept into his relationship with her.

When Denver returned to the room he slipped into the bed beside Daniel and pulled him gently closer. Daniel's scent and warm body overwhelmed him. Before long Denver's cock was stretched hard against Daniel's back. Denver allowed himself to run a hand over Daniel's smooth thigh. Daniel's head stirred on the pillow, "Sorry."

"I don't mind." Denver felt a small pressure against his crotch. He let his hand brush past Daniel's erection before cradeling Daniel close. Denver kissed a bare shoulder and then the back of Daniel's tangled hair. They lay spooned together until Daniel's breathing became regular. Denver turned it all over in his mind and after an eternity pulled himself away from the boy's side.

He could not ignore this any more. After pacing the living room floor for a while he finally sat and picked up the phone. "Hey, it's me... Yeh, same here... Look, I'm phoning for a favor Troy. I need to track down some assholes. I might need some more help after that."


Confession, Sunday Morning, February 13th

Laine was alone. He would not be noticed for a while. He needed the space. He sat looking at the crucifix. It was the same one he had looked at as long as he could remember, but this time the figure seemed more real to him. He felt empty. Is this the punishment for being me, he wondered. I gave my heart to a boy and let him have sex with me. Two strikes against me. Laine shifted in his chair. Well I paid for that too. I'm still doing penance. Somehow I can't forget the joy I felt with him. Is being gay so unforgivable that I'm not entitled to even friendship? He had realized how unhappy he was at Hank's house. The three other boys satisfied his lust, but as soon as it was over there was nothing. Nothing to touch his heart. No welcome flutter of joy in his chest. No sunlight piercing the blackness. No moon to gild the contours of the path ahead. It was a purgatory where he counted out the empty days in solitude.

"Laine, is there something on your mind?" Laine looked at Father Justin. He was as familiar as the crucifix. "Everyone is down stairs." Laine had not planned on talking with anyone, least of all a priest. It made him uncomfortable. Father Justin sat down in a seat in front of him and turned to him with a smile. "School going well, are you still playing... what was it?"

"I run."

"Right; so is there anything I can help you with?" Laine had been avoiding the priest. His father and mother were on his case about confession. He had only gone once since Christmas, Hank, Peter and Evan never entered the discussion. Laine had a good idea where that information would lead.

"Things are fine father." What was he supposed to say? I spent the service thinking of Dane Keeler.

"You are fourteen now aren't you?"

"Almost fifteen"

"An important time, so many changes, so many temptations" He reached over the back of the chair and put his hand on Laine's knee. Laine shifted uncomfortably. "You're one of the nicest young people I know. Tell me what is on your mind. Most people your age bolt the moment the Mass it over. When they stay, something is on their mind."

"You didn't go down stairs either."

"Let me let you in on a secret, I'm bored to tears with going down to make small talk with the church ladies. Now you tell me a secret."

Laine smiled at the priest. "I wasn't listening to you during the Mass. "

"Not fair, tell me something I don't know."

"I masturbate." Laine watched the priest for his reaction. Father Justin frowned slightly.

"What, still?" He glanced toward the door. "I think you first told me that one two years ago. This is what keeps you sitting here with the long face?" He seemed to be so relaxed and open. Laine wondered how he could approach his problem. He leaned forward and focused on the carpet.

"I met a friend. He wants me to do things with him."

"Laine, is this someone older than you?" Laine was startled by the question and stared at the priest with a blank stare.

"He's fourteen Father."

"I see. These things... he is a homosexual."

"I guess so. Do you think it is wrong?" Father Justin clasped his hands together, closed his eyes and seemed to meditate on the question. Laine was sorry he had started into it. Somehow he was always exposing himself and it never went well for him.

"So are you embarrassed by his interest?"

"I don't know" Laine struggled with the twist this was taking. "He's my friend. He likes me. Is it so wrong for him to be attracted to me?"

"The Church believes that a homosexual orientation is unchosen and thus is not, in itself, sinful Laine. Your friend needs counseling. Homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option. Those who behave in a homosexual fashion shall not enter the Kingdom of God."

"You're saying being gay is a sin and my friend is going to hell. So what if he can't help it? What if that is just the way he is?"

"It's not being Homosexual that is the sin, it is engaging in... well I think you see my point. You friend would be right to pray for God's strength. If your friend shares your faith you should tell him to go to confession and seek help. Do you understand?"

"Yes" Laine answered softly and dropped his eyes again. They sat in silence for a while both aware of the faint noise drifting up from the basement.

"You understand that your friend may just be confused. At your age many people experiment. Sometimes it is easy to take the wrong path you see. Girls can be such mysteries. Even for a man my age. Your friend probably finds it easier to relate to other boys, don't worry about your friend too much. His fascination with boys will likely pass when a pretty girl shows an interest in him. If he is as handsome and athletic as you are I'm sure it won't be long at all." He patted Laine on the leg again and then he stood up suddenly. "But remember this son; God is understanding. He forgives our thoughts and desires. Even the worst of them. But chastity is a virtue no matter who your partner is. Self disipline makes us stronger. Well I think I am up for a cup of coffee and a cookie, how about you?"

"In a moment" Father Justin hesitated a moment before leaving him. Laine stared at the front of the church without really seeing anything. I have a friend... that was so lame. Father Justin was wrong. Pretty girls had shown more than a little interest in him. He was not interested. For better or worse it was his nature and he was not a virgin and when he found someone he trusted he would have sex again. I have a friend; I wish I had a friend.

His mother found him in silent reflection. Laine barely noticed when she sat beside him. "We're ready to go Laine. Father Justin said you were having a little chat."

"Yes" Laine found it difficult to hide his misery.

"He's a good man, but he doesn't understand everything you know. That might be asking a bit too much of anyone Laine." She touched his hair with a little gesture. It was a measure of his misery that he didn't flinch away with his usual annoyance. Her voice trembled as she continued. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You have so much to offer people. It makes me so...You are a fine person and I'm so proud of you. I've seen how sad you have been these last two years and how disappointed you were when things didn't work out. I know you will find friends at school and someday love too." Laine finally looked at her and smiled a little. She rose and he followed her out of the sanctuary. He paused to look back at the cross, enough of that, he was not going to church next week.


Mall Rats, Sunday Afternoon

Money was tight his father would say. Laine shifted his legs wearily while he leaned against the railing. Nick bumped against him as he swiveled back and forth in frustration. Laine met each contact with a subtle pressure that sent the boy back until he returned to test his weight against the muscles of his older brother. It was a game Nick enjoyed. "Let's get a burger. They can meet us at the food court."

"I told you, I don't have any money." Laine gave Nick an extra bump and his brother giggled.

"Ask mom, she'll give you something." Nick turned around and scanned the store. Laine wasn't wearing a watch, but it had not been long enough. The ten-year old gave up looking and returned to his game. "Let's go over there." Nick nodded at the game store. They had already been in there and since neither of them had any money Laine was not interested. Stupid computer was only good for MSN and that only reminded him how few friends he had. By the time he got an X-box everyone would be on to something new.

"Just wait for mom and dad." He snapped the words out and then cursed himself. He should not take it out on Nick. "Look, when she is done I'm sure we'll get something to eat." Malls were for girls he thought. His eyes returned to wandering up and down the mall. He recognized a few people here and there. Lots of the people at Riverview lived near the mall. His family did not come very often. Usually they went to the big box stores. He automatically catalogued the guys nearby. He had been passing most of his time thinking about an older man, maybe a university student. He had really short hair, sideburns and a lightly muscled body. He had taken his heavy jacket off and from where Laine was he could admire his narrow waist and package. He was sitting on the arm of a bench chatting up a woman about his age. She was probably his girl friend, but that did not matter; Laine could still admire him.

He felt Nick reach into his pocket where he kept his wallet. "Get away; I told you I didn't have any money." Laine twisted away and gave the little thief a shove.

"Mom gave you ten dollars yesterday."

"That has to get me through the week. What happened to your money?" Nick got the same allowance as he did; just another injustice. Two dollars a day, Peter and Hank bought junk every day at lunch. When he looked back the guy was gone. The mall was not very busy. He leaned back on the railing and let his chin drop to his arms. Some grungy boys wandered past and he thought wistfully about hanging out in the mall with friends. Just bullshitting about nothing, arguing about which games were best, checking out the people and laughing at the way people dressed or looked. You could camp at a table with a drink and some fries bored to tears, wishing something interesting would come along, but thank God, not alone or with your little brother. Christ, your ten-year old brother, and he was probably your best friend.

It was a flash of color below him and a light laugh followed by some movement and a loud comment that caught his attention. Laine was always tuned to the boys and girls his own age. They were a tribe apart from the rest of the crowd. He focused on the pair below him and when one of them turned his heart jumped into his throat for some reason. It was him, Arlo's friend. He was with one of his friends. The friend was making all the noise while Daniel stood and watched. Laine was not sure of the friend's name; Arlo had disliked the boy, which disposed Laine toward him. He studied the boy for a moment. The boy was one of those small energetic types. He had pulled out a cigarette and while Laine watched he lit it with a practiced movement. Smoking laws need not apply he seemed to be saying. Laine could not hear what he was saying. He watched as the guy waved his arms around. His coat was old and he still had a long muffler wrapped around his neck and a toque pulled down over his long blond hair. He would pause occasionally and glance at a passing girl or woman. He had the look of a happy player. Laine shifted his attention back to Daniel.

The boy had shifted slightly while he had been studying his friend. He looked more serious and he had his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. The coat was nice. Underneath he was dressed much like Laine was except Daniel's shirt and t-shirt looked like they had been bought here in the mall. His pants were loose and a thick band with Tommy Hilfiger flashed seductively. It was an invitation for exploring fingers. His head was bare and Laine had a good view of his face. He had a nice face framed by blond hair. His lips curled into a smile when he reacted to something his friend said. Laine envied the boys.

"Who are they?" Nick intruded in his thoughts.

"Just some guys from school"

"Hey, the guy in the yellow jacket looks like you."


"Sure he does. If you cut your hair again. He has my hair color though." That is what it is; Laine realized irritably, he does look a bit like Nick and me. He suddenly felt angry at Arlo. Cut your hair Laine and dye it blond, you would look so hot. The cheating bastard, he must have seen the similarity that had eluded Laine the whole winter. What was Daniel like? Laine tried to remember their one conversation at the Halloween dance. All Laine could remember was the bad fight that had followed. Daniel just seemed like an average guy. He realized was being drawn to the boy. It was something very different from what he had felt for Arlo. Arlo had been something overwhelming. He had let Arlo in to far and too fast and that bitter wound still hurt. Arlo had been like a glorious flight that had crashed and burned leaving a raw scar across the landscape of his heart. There was something easy and right about the boy below him. Perhaps it was the skylight above them or the massive fig tree near by, but Daniel reminded him of sunshine on a hot summer day.

As he watched the two boys were joined by three girls. One of the girls carried a bag. He recognized her from his English class. She was okay, but like most of his classmates she mostly ignored him. He wished he was in Daniel's learning community. He was Arlo's friend. Arlo had said they slept together. Not a very happy thought and it reminded Laine to be cautious about his daydreaming. Arlo was full of shit too. Daniel was probably straight but maybe if he was Arlo's friend that meant he would be okay about Laine being gay too. Daniel laughed at something the other boy said and flashed a real smile. It made Laine feel hollow. He felt like he was invisible. "Laine, this sucks, come on let's do something."

"They'll be done in a minute." he replied absently. Daniel moved closer to one of the girls. Laine remembered her from the Halloween dance. That is his girl friend. His thoughts were confirmed when Daniel slipped his hand quickly into hers. Laine watched the byplay mostly trying to gage Daniel from the way he responded to his friends. It was easy to fantasize he was part of the group below.

I am your friend. You really like me. Sometimes I come over to your house and we talk for hours. We go to parties all the time and share secrets. We trust each other. You know I'm gay and it doesn't matter to you; and maybe.... Laine concentrated on the scene below throwing himself into their company, just another guy accepted by everyone.

"Are we going to eat now?" Laine was about to answer when he realized his mom and dad had finally immerged from the clothing store.

"Alright Nick, we can go to the food court." Laine straightened up. Below him the three girls broke away from the two boys and headed away. The other boy began to slowly follow after them. Daniel was momentarily left alone staring after them.

Then it happened. An older boy, maybe sixteen, walked past Daniel. Laine stepped back toward the railing and gripped it. Daniel's head had turned to follow the retreating youth. Laine shifted his eyes to the attractive sixteen-year old. Daniel was checking him out. Laine knew the move too well to mistake it. Maybe... Laine looked back at Daniel and found Daniel had turned back and was looking up at him. The moment was electric. Romeo in a mask and five month's worth of hair styling changes suddenly dissolved. The lost feelings suddenly came back. They burned with the strength of a hot summer sun and excited him with the exquisite magic of pale moonlight. Laine's fingers squeezed the railing and he gave himself over to a warm rush that sent a flight of excited dragonflies skittering around the depths of his chest; you... it's you! Sense returned, it was a very foolish thought. He considered the pensive face staring up at him. Laine sighed with a flicker of regret. He was reluctant to let the thought go. Well if you're not really either of them, he explained to the boy below him, it does not matter because you should be them. It had a rightness Laine could trust.

"Come on Laine, we're ready to go." His dad's voice was insistent. Laine stood transfixed eyes locked on Daniel's. Daniel finally pulled a hand out of his pocket and sketched a small wave in his direction. Laine lifted a hesitant hand back. It brought a smile to the other boy's lips. Not the big smile, just the little one Laine found so appealing, the one he wished was just for him. For the first time since church Laine smiled.

He watched Daniel shove his hand back into his pocket and then Daniel ducked his head as if he was embarrassed by something. He headed off after his friends. "Laine" his dad was waiting.

Laine finally turned and followed his family. He smiled broadly at his mother and she cocked her head as if to ask him why. All he could do was shrug his shoulders and let the smile spread across his face. It was not something he could explain to her. She would not understand. He caught up to Nick and put him into a head lock. He let his brother break free and the brothers ignored their parent's exasperated threats as they took turns taking feints at each other. Thinking about Daniel eased the ache Arlo had left in him. Something had filled the hollow in his soul.


Vengeance, Wednesday, February 16th

Denver met Troy in the library. They sized each other up before speaking. In the months since the start of school their truce had held, but Denver had only made a little progress. They shared Chemistry together now and by tacit agreement they had become lab partners. They made an odd pair. There was little conversation between them. The groups around them assumed Troy had picked Denver as a partner because of his grades. They rarely found themselves at the same parties and when they did they kept their distance. "Here's your lab book. Thanks for covering for me yesterday. Your rough draft looks okay to me, but your guess is as good as mine as to what Geddes is looking for. I found a couple of web sites you might want to look at." Denver took his lab book and glanced at Troy's notes on his paper.


They let the silence stretch out. They had not found a way back to their old friendship. "It's just some hard knocks Denver. Isn't it better to let him handle it his way?"

"This was no swirly, they hurt him."

"He's a cocky little dude. I told you that. They were just reminding him to watch his attitude."

"You were just like him Troy."

"Yeh, I can see that. He's tough. I'll give him that. Have you turned him into a fag yet?"

"Do we have to do this?" Denver looked across the room to where Duncan was waiting for him. "Can you help me?" He waited patiently for Troy to make his decision. It was a question of loyalties.

"Look, one of these guys is a friend." Denver wanted to ask if they had practiced whipping boys together, but he swallowed the words. "He won't tell you himself will he?"

"I don't think they introduced themselves." Denver knew Daniel could have told him if he wanted. "Maybe I have to do this for myself." He knew he was practically begging now.

"You know Nathan Turner and his brother Todd?"

"Nathan I know."

"My friend says they hang with a low-life pimp named Donald Hanson. So Todd was bragging up jumping some freshie in the cafeteria. The kid goes psycho on him and lays him out with a fucking tray."


"No, someone else; your sweetheart steps in and that pissed Todd off. Todd and his brother decide to give him a reality check on the way home."

"And your friend?"

"He was just hanging out with them. It was their show."


"Hey shit happens." Denver started to go. He should have thanked Troy, but he could not shake the feeling that Troy was covering for his friend. Troy called out and he turned back.

"The curtain rod was Nathan's idea." Denver cocked his head and Duncan drifted over. The two eighteen-year olds stood looking at Troy until he got a pained look on his face. "Jesus Christ Denver, what the fuck are you two jocks trying to get me into?" Denver waited patiently until Troy started to follow him out of the library.

"So how's that girl of yours?"

"Safer than yours, she's hanging out with some cocky little prick."

* ** *

The Troy and Denver sat in the Echo surrounded by the debris of Burger King and the echoes of a conversation that had been going in circles for the last hour. Denver's little mission had stretched into the night and Duncan had gratefully left the bickering pair. Troy had not been able to talk Denver out of his plan. It was all so futile. He was confused about why he was still sitting in the car with Denver. "So how's your love life?"

"What do you care?"

"Fuck, what else is there to talk about? You have me sitting around all day trailing this guy like we are mob hit men. There's nothing to do except smell your gay farts." Troy's sharp response initiated a long silence between them. Troy closed his eyes and let his head fall back. It was Denver who finally broke the silence.

"What exactly is a gay fart?"

"A gay fart is quiet and smells fruity."

"Jesus" Someone came out of the gas station and Denver tensed up for a moment until he realized it was a woman. They lapsed back into silence. They went back a long way. Nobody had been tighter than them. They had kept each other going through ninth grade. It had all gone south when Denver had confessed he was attracted to one of their friends. They had barely spoken to each other for over a year. "It's not going well."

"What's not going well?"

"Never mind" Troy opened his eyes and looked over at Denver. Denver was staring out the window. It had been hard to get rid of Denver. He had friends from junior high he had not talked to in years. They passed like strangers in the halls; not Denver. Every time he saw him the sickening feeling of betrayal washed over him. He remembered sitting in Denver's bedroom listening in disbelief as Denver confessed he had just made out with Luke Palmer. It was like he had given in to everything they had fought against in ninth grade. They had even promised each other that the worst of it would stay a secret between them. Troy had left after some bitter words and over the next few years he had watched Denver move back and forth between boy friends and girl friends until he settled on the artsy Mark. The feeling washed over him again, but it had dulled with time and now the rage had been replaced with an ache. Denver cleared his throat, "We're not doing well."

"Who, you and your girl friend?"

"His name is Mark." There was annoyance in his voice. Denver sighed and ignored the jibe. "I guess I just can't see where it is going. Dad went all hurt and fatherly on me when I tried to tell him I wanted to stay here for another year instead of going to Yale. Mark, well Mark thinks we are ready to make this work. I just don't know."

"Shit, I'm surprised it lasted a year. What did you think was going to happen? Did you think you were going to get married and he was going to put a baby up your ass?"

"I hear that crap all the time. It hurts when it comes from you." Denver snapped back at him. Troy ground his teeth together to stop his first retort. It hurts when your best friend decides to be a faggot Troy thought bitterly. Denver continued, "That's part of it I guess. He wants the commitment."

"Chicks want commitment, I thought you guys were supposed to be sluts." Denver did not answer right away so he continued, "So you haven't changed completely, you still like to play around." Denver was not interested in telling Troy about his love life.

"When was the last time you had a girlfriend?"

"I know it takes one to know one. So do you have a new boy friend? Is it your little bum buddy? Is that why you want to beat the shit out of this guy? Somebody break your new toy and Den-Den needs to throw a tantrum?" He could not get a rise out of Denver.

"He's a good kid Troy. He just wants to get through this year in one piece. He has a huge crush on a girl in his class, its kind'a cute." Troy caught Denver's envious tone.

"You're thinking of switching teams again." He looked for Denver's reaction. "How the hell can you do that all the time?"

"I don't switch teams Troy. I have my own team and we play in our own league and there are a lot more of us than you imagine."

"Well don't plan any exhibition games in my ball park."

"I never wanted to." All Denver had wanted was a friend to back him up.

"Fuck me" Troy winced at his slip of the tongue and waited for Denver to take advantage of the opening. The conversation was so like the month they had argued bitterly over who was responsible for leaving the empty beer bottles in Troy's basement when they were in grade seven. Neither giving ground, both more hurt with the breach than the actual disagreement. Denver was so unreasonable. "I went up stairs to take a leak. You locked me out of the bathroom."

"I was horking beer, you knew that. I did not need you pissing in my face too."

"Right and I told you to get rid of the bottles."

"My head was in the fucking toilet Troy, how could I hear you tell me that? You were giggling like a little girl after your fourth beer."

"They were your dad's beer."

"The first four, the rest were your dad's."

"You stubborn bastard, that was not the way it was."

"My God Troy "

Troy muttered quietly, "I know somebody told somebody to hide the bottles. Dude, stash the bottles... how hard is that to understand?"

"There he is. Shit, I was beginning to think he'd decided to quit smoking." Denver got out of the car and suddenly stopped. He leaned back in through the open door and growled at Troy, "You couldn't even say your name, let alone say stash the bottles." he moved quickly toward the figure by the door. Nathan's face was briefly illuminated by the flame. Troy scanned the area behind the Blockbuster for company and decided to follow Denver.

Denver had thought about what was going to happen next for a long time. As he watched Daniel sleep in his bed he had debated whether he should do anything. He wanted to ask them why they had done it, but he really knew the answer to that. In the end he decided there was not much point in conversation. Nathan glanced at him just before Denver's fist connected with his mouth. Denver felt the shock travel up his arm and that sparked a burning surge of adrenalin through his body. He followed it up with a quick series of blows that left Nathan doubled over. Denver pulled his victim up by his coat and kneed him hard in the stomach twice before driving his leg into Nathan's groin. He took another shot at the side of Nathan's head and felt a pain in his hand so he ended it by pushing Nathan into the snow beside a rusting dumpster. It had ended quickly and he panted as he watched the battered youth collapse beside the metal bin.

Denver leaned down cautiously, aware of the possibility that Nathan might recover his wits and lash back at him. "You messed with my friend. Understand that there won't be a next time." He swung around and faced Troy. They looked at each other still antagonists, still unable to forgive, but bound to each other.

"Hey Denver..." Troy nodded in the direction of the fallen youth. Denver looked around and pulled the board out of Nathan's hand before pushing him back down. He bent down again and pressed Nathan against the wall.

"You like to hit people with toys. It's a bad habit. Remember what I said: back away from my friend."

"Fuck you" Nathan hissed. Denver could see the fury in his eyes. You could not win with some people.

"It hurts doesn't it? Now you know how Simon and Daniel felt. Next time I'll go to the police." Denver turned away and stalked back to his car. It was an empty threat. He only hoped Nathan would not realize it. He tried to ignore Troy as he walked beside him.

"It's useless Denver. Didn't you learn that in grade nine?" Denver did not want to believe that. He had to believe he could make things better for Daniel.


Cycles, Thursday, February 17th

Daniel noticed the boy from the mall. He checked out the lunch room and veared away from his favorite spot and settled across the cafeteria by the window. He leaned against the brick wall positioning himself at a convenient angle where he might accidentally see the boy while he was eating. He pulled a roast beef sandwich out of his bag and cracked open the drink. He liked eating in the cafeteria, but he had been mugged getting off the bus the day before and he did not want to admit it to his mother. He could handle a couple of days eating out of a bag, Simon and Mandy did it all the time. He combed the cafeteria but neither of them was in sight. He took a bite and let his eyes drift over to the boy. After a moment the name came to him, Laine something, Laine Bryan.

Laine was sitting with three other guys. They were probably ninth graders like him, but Daniel did not know them. It was a huge school and they were all in a different learning communities. Laine appeared to be listening to the other boys' conversation. Occasionally one of the boys would turn to Laine and say something. He would reply with a smile and the conversation continued. None of them seemed concerned about the older students passing by. Laine was another one of those ninth graders who seemed to be free of freshie hazing. He had friends and he was not afraid to sit with them. Daniel shifted his eyes before Laine could catch him staring.

What had prompted him stare and then to wave at the boy? If he had not been feeling guilty about checking the guy out then he would not have looked around. When Laine had caught him looking at him the only thing he could think of was waving at him. Laine must have thought it strange. They were not friends. He took another look. Laine had nice hair. It fell over his eyes and touched his shoulders. Daniel had not remembered his hair being that long. The T-shirt showed off his body too. One of the boys gave him a playful push and Laine almost lost his seat. Daniel smiled to himself before taking another bite of his sandwich. Laine had pushed his long dark hair back with one hand and frowned at his friend. The gesture tickled Daniel's memory. It emphasized how hot Laine was. He had a really nice face. Daniel was not sure why he had not noticed Laine in the lunch room before.

Laine was furious with Evan. He had been day dreaming about Daniel, hyper conscious of his presence just across the way, and Evan had caught him off guard. Damn, Daniel was going to think he was a klutz. He snuck a peek. The boy was looking out the window. His short blond hair seemed to glow in the sunlight and Laine admired the casual way he sat with one foot up on the bench. He could imagine the point where Daniel's cock would be nestled along his lowered thigh. He could imagine Daniel's sack pulled heavily down by the soft orbs. Daniel had darker eyebrows... his pubes would be brown. Laine tried to shake free of the image. It was making him hard. Laine wished he could be that relaxed. Daniel was not afraid to be by himself. He didn't cling to people he didn't really get along with just because he had no friends. I could just walk up to him and sit down and talk, Laine scolded himself.

Laine's determination vanished when an older boy sat down next to Daniel on the bench. Daniel gave the boy a friendly nod. Laine looked down at the floor and when he looked back at the two boys they were in a conversation. Laine vaguely recognized the older boy from his brief time with the drama crowd. If Daniel had any interest in guys then he would probably be attracted to the impossibly handsome boy hitting on him there in the sunshine.

Daniel was surprised that Victor had joined him. He tried to keep his fears to himself and relax with his rival. Conrad annoyed him with his clumsy plays for Mandy's attention. Daniel had convinced himself that Conrad was not the problem. It was these other two. Victor's smile seemed calculated to him. It was like he thought he could afford to be nice to a younger rival. Victor was older, confident and handsome and Mandy clearly liked Victor. Muscles, car, facial hair, Daniel was at a serious disadvantage here. "You're always by yourself; you should come and sit with us." He made eye contact with Daniel and Daniel felt like he was being weighed in some way. Victor changed direction suddenly, "So are you really serious about Mandy?" The question seemed to challenge their relationship and it put Daniel on the defensive.

"We've known each other a long time. We like each other. I like her a lot." Daniel felt like he could not speak for Mandy. He could only tell Victor how he felt. It sounded stupid when he said it. He knew for a fact that Victor had taken her out almost as much as he had since September. He rode the bus or let their parents drive, Victor took her in his car.

"I can see why. She's amazing. Beautiful too, I can see why you would like her." Victor shifted a little closer to Daniel. Victor's shirt was open and his maturity seemed like a taunt to Daniel. "Yet you seem a little shy around her."

"Well, we do our own thing sometimes." Daniel did not want to try to explain his dilemma. If he hung with Mandy and someone hazed him, he would look bad, or worse, drag her into it with him. When he watched her across the room, she was almost always left alone if she sat with the older boys. "Ah, but I see you watching her" Daniel shrugged, "and sometimes I see you watching Carlos and me. Conrad, you don't watch." Daniel could feel his face burn. He tried to be discreet. Clearly Victor knew he worried about him. Victor knew he was not confident. He needed to be more confident damn it! Mandy had never given him a whisper of doubt since they had gotten serious in September. He should at least pretend to laugh off Victor's attempts to steal his girl. He looked away for a moment and noticed Laine. Their eyes met for a moment and he unconsciously smiled at the boy. Startled by that, he quickly shifted back to Victor. This was not the time to get confused about his feelings.

"She said you didn't like going to plays."

"Well, I guess not." It was a weak spot, Victor could see that. He went when she asked and never complained like Greg had. She did not ask him anymore now that Conrad, Victor and Carlos were willing to take her. He had been relieved to be free of it at first. Daniel saw his mistake, but it might be too late now.

"But you did a wonderful job this fall." The more experienced actor said it like he really meant it.

"When I have to" Daniel laughed despite himself. It had just been a way to be close to Mandy. It had been a way to make her happy.

"You should laugh more often. You have a nice smile." Victor smiled back. "Mandy says you prefer sports; all the rough stuff with the guys." That made Daniel defensive again. Mandy's theatre crowd seemed to think he was a dumb jock. Daniel got the plays. Even the really boring stuff with lots of talking made sense to him. The plays were just too slow. Daniel respected acting though. He knew it was not easy too. He had practiced with Mandy for years. Daniel knew anything you did well took work.

"Well, I swim." It always sounded lame to Daniel. He loved swimming, but it was not a really masculine sport like football, hockey or basketball. He had shared that thought with Cam one night at the pool. People actually went to watch football.

"Swim?" Victor seemed taken with the thought. "Sure, you would be good at that. You have the perfect body for it, the tight Speedo, you seem so graceful." That sounded like another slam about being gay to Daniel. Victor looked down at himself, "What about me? Do you think I could be a swimmer?" Daniel was not sure how to respond to that. Victor was a little too thin for swimming. He was definitely not going to comment on the older boy's appearance. "No? Well you're probably right. How old are you?"

"Fourteen" Right, Daniel thought, rub it in. Mandy was fifteen.

"You seem older. I was a shrimp when I was fourteen, so small, Victor smirked at him, well not everything. Daniel was not going to even let on he understood Victor's meaning. You should come out with us. I mean Carlos and me. You know Mark don't you?"

"Sure, he goes out with my senior Denver." Daniel felt uncomfortable bringing Mark into the conversation. It was obvious that Victor wanted to connect him to the handsome gay in some way that would add to his disadvantage. He realized he was not holding up his end of the conversation very well. If he said he liked Mark he might sound gay. On the other hand if he said he did not like Mark it might sound like he was jealous of Mark's relationship with Denver. He supposed Victor might simply be making small talk, trying to be friendly to a ninth grader who seemed shy. "Mark is cool." Victor glanced in the direction of Laine and his friends. Daniel tried not to follow his lead. He sensed Victor was trying to get around to something.

"Hey guys, what's up?" Mandy stood between them clutching a binder and her lunch to her chest. She looked back and forth between Daniel and Victor with what seemed an anxious look to Daniel. It set him on edge again. He did not like the way Victor smiled at her. Victor beat him to an answer.

"I saw Daniel eating by himself and stopped to ask him if he wanted to go to the movie with us tonight."

"You're going to a movie tonight?" Daniel realized his voice sounded a little tight. She had not told him about it. How often did she do it? Crap that was such a Greg thing to say. He knew immediately that she had noticed it too.

"It's just a Japanese film at the library." She said it as if it was not a big deal. "You told me you were going to try and swim after supper."

"Yeh" She was right, and she also knew he would not tolerate two hours of subtitles. "Is it a Samurai movie?" Daniel asked hopefully. Cam would understand if he changed his mind. They were both busy some times.

"Seven Samurai" Daniel eyed Mandy for a moment and smiled at Victor.

"Sure that sounds like fun." He still could not read Mandy's expression. Over the years he had learned her moods and he could tell she was not sure of something. She sighed suddenly and seemed to relax. "Sit down" he put his leg down and started to move into the middle of the bench. She slipped between them and dug into her lunch. Victor and Daniel eyed each other across the graceful curves of Mandy's face.

Daniel was not surprised that the conversation revolved around Mandy after that. Victor volunteered to pick up Daniel after he had picked up Mandy. Daniel relieved Mandy by turning him down. He lived close to the library and told them he would walk. Daniel was willing to concede that victory to Victor. He was not going to get trapped in the back seat of a car by himself while he had to watch Mandy sitting beside Victor. Victor seemed mildly disappointed. Daniel sat with increasing impatience as he watched Mandy manage a conversation with both of them. Finally he tired of it and told Mandy he would see her in class. She surprised him with a public kiss. As he walked down the hall he smiled at his small victory over Victor. It was not until he was out of the cafeteria that it occurred to him that he had left Victor time to work on her and maybe earn his own kiss.

He was so upset he did not notice the brothers trailing him down the hall. They watched as he stopped suddenly and punched a bulletin board before moving down the hall in an almost aimless trek. Girls were a lot of trouble. Being friends was easy he thought. Love, he stopped walking at the word, then started again; well why not love? Love was hard. You were playing for big stakes there. If you messed up you lost big. He could not afford to mess up. You lose a friend it makes you sad. He was sorry things were bad between Arlo and him. You make new friends though. Simon was a friend. There could be others. But Mandy was different. Like Victor said, Mandy was special. Mandy was worth passing on Daphne.

Daniel was caught off guard when he was suddenly forced through the bathroom door by a heavy hand. The door caught him on the forehead and he was suddenly blinded by the pain as he cannoned into the hard wall. Whoever had him, kept pushing him into the room. When he stumbled into a sink he realized he was back in a washroom. Someone grabbed his shirt and swung him around in an arch that sent him stumbling again until he smashed through a metal door and fell against the toilet. His hand slipped into the water before he gained control of his fall. They left him there for a minute and as he heard the voices of other students leaving the bathroom his vision slowly cleared.

When the stall door opened Daniel recognized the senior glaring down at him. The ugly bruises on his face told Daniel the story. His well-meaning senior had worked him over and now Daniel was going to pay for it. He felt ill. Daniel eyed the gap beneath the partition. If he slid under he might be able to lock the door before the guy could stop him. It might only delay things for a bit, but something might come along. His wrist hurt a little from where it had connected with the toilet. He remembered the pain in the alley. Maybe if he just let the guy humiliate him he would be satisfied.

The decision came without thought. The senior took a step into the stall and Daniel slid across the damp terrazzo floor. The senior grabbed his ankle in a crushing grip and he kicked at him wildly with his free foot. When he slipped free he barely noticed the wrench to his shoulder as he jarred it squeezing past the toilet on the other side. Some instinct led him to seek higher ground and he barely scrambled over the far partition and into the third stall before the angry senior slammed through the door. Daniel ended on the toilet, his heart throbbing, gasping for breath. He suddenly slid down on the seat and forced the door closed with both his feet just as the senior tried to push through. He heard the guy curse as he was pushed back unexpectedly. Daniel surged forward and slammed the bolt home with the palm of his hand. With the door secure, he sat back to consider his situation. The guy shouldered the door once and Daniel quickly braced his feet against the door and gripped the toilet with his hands. Daniel heard a little muttering. There were two of them. It was only a temporary stand-off, Daniel knew that either the door wouldn't hold or one of them would come in over the partition.

"Okay you little pussy, you know we are going to get you soon enough." Daniel tensed his legs and listened to his own breathing. Someone slapped the door with his palm and the frightened ninth grader jumped on his seat. They had hurt him in the alley. Denver had said it was all about hurting people and Daniel knew these two would do it again. If his friend had only let things alone, "If I have to go over you are going to be a stain on the floor." Voices interrupted the guy as a few boys came into the rest room. Somebody went into the stall next to Daniel and everyone was treated to a malodorous smell.

"Oh man, that's just nasty." Daniel thought it was the younger brother. "Check and see what he's doing."

"The floor is disgusting." Daniel peered at the floor apprehensively. "He's not there!"

"He has his feet up against the door."

"What the fuck are you doing?" a different voice broke in.

"What do you care?" Daniel dropped his feet and carefully got down on his knees to look under the wall. One of them was leaning against the door and the other's feet were lost in a sea of legs. His neighbor stopped the conversation with an explosion of farts. "Just shake your dick and get out of here."

"You talk scary for a guy who probably got bitch slapped by his little sister." Daniel slipped silently onto his back and pulled himself under the partition. When his head was clear he appealed to the surprised boy. The boy looked like a tenth grader and he smiled before lifting his legs. Daniel pushed himself across the sticky floor and on into the next stall.

"Very funny" Daniel sensed his time was running out, people were beginning to leave. "Don't you have a class to skip?"

"I'd rather stay here and watch you check out the dudes shaking their dicks." Daniel squirmed his way into the last stall and stood up. Should he leave right away or wait? He would be alone when the bell rang. He did not want to face them. "You freaks can go back to your sick games." The older boy's voice was near him. Daniel wondered if he would help him if he came out. He was afraid to trust a stranger. The rise in hallway noise signaled his departure. Daniel wasn't sure he was alone until things broke open at the other end of the stalls.

"Son of a bitch, he's not here." Daniel bolted for the door. He lost precious time trying to pull the hallway door open and a heavy hand caught his shoulder and clawed at his shirt. He had a flash of regret when the fabric parted as he twisted wildly away before sprawling wildly on the floor of the hallway. He started back peddling across the floor; his eyes on the angry boys at the restroom door. He stopped moving when he bumped into a pair of solid feet.

Daniel looked up to see who he had bumped into. Fire; it was Troy. His enemy looked at him with a frown and then reached for a handful of shirt and hauled him roughly to his feet. Daniel stumbled as Troy dragged Daniel over to the two brothers. The older brother back handed the side of his head and Troy pulled him away slightly. He held him to one side as he leaned in toward them. "Todd, Nathan you didn't get the message. Well you didn't listen to Denver, so now I want you to listen to me. Leave it alone. You had your shot at the kid here; now move on. If you don't, then I won't be just watching Denver slap you around, I'll be right in there with him kicking the crap out of both of you."

Troy did not wait to hear the brother's response. He pulled Daniel away and after a few steps he let go of him. Daniel stopped walking. He was confused by Troy's words, and he still did not trust him. Troy swung around and grabbed him by the shoulder. He pulled him close and gave him another angry look. "I want to talk to you so stop pissing around and move it." Daniel followed reluctantly.

When Troy had put some distance between himself and the brothers he stopped and pushed Daniel against the wall. He held them there with a slight pressure. Daniel was tired of the older boys handling him. He was glad Troy had stepped between him but he had not forgotten the beating Troy had given him. "You have to stop going to Denver with your problems. You are just making it worse on yourself. Haven't you learned anything yet? If you would just suck it up and try and get along with the seniors they would have left you alone months ago."

"I do what they ask." Daniel thought Troy was not being fair to him. Over and over again he let them humiliate him.

"Everyone knows you think you're too good to be a freshie. Now you have Denver fighting your battles for you. He might have got the best of that fool Nathan, but he can't fight everyone."

"I didn't ask him to do that."

"Sure you do. You think you're precious. You expect people to be on your side all the time. He won't be around next year to cry to so you might as well suck it up and take care of your own problems. Jesus, you were crawling around the floor, just butch up. Denver says you are not a homo, so stop acting like one." Troy gave him a small push and walked away without another word.

Daniel watched him go. He pulled his shirt off and looked at it before throwing it in a trash can. The adrenalin and fear were gone and they seemed to have been replaced by uncertainty and disappointment. The hallways were filled with students heading back to class. Despite the crowds he felt alone.

Troy's words stung. He did take care of himself. The things he had put up with. School was always a mixed bag of people. Elementary schools were where people learned to be punks, freaks, psychos and pervs. They just got bigger in high school. He was handling things.

Daniel picked up his afternoon binder and stuffed it into his bag. After he had closed his locker he fiddled with his lock. It was hard keeping things from Denver. He needed someone. He could not tell Mandy or his mom. Simon was getting to be a good friend. They had kind of an agreement though, no details, and definitely no tears. So sometimes he let Denver know how bad things were.

He did not hear Mandy call his name as he started up the stairs to English. He worried that Troy was right. He had to try to go it alone. They had come after him again because Denver had stepped in. "Hey there." Daniel turned at the top of the stairs and saw Mandy in her dumpy top and heavy glasses peering at him. She responded to his mood immediately. "Are you okay?"

Daniel forced a smile, "Sure, just tired I guess." Nothing had happened, he was in control. She joined him and they walked into the zone. That was what Daniel had come to think of the stretch of hallway patrolled by Ms. Cannon. There she was now, watching them. He had been trying hard not to smile and joke with her. Every so often he would let it slip and he would recognize that he was being the teacher's pet. Got to be charming, got to please everyone; Troy was right, he needed to change. Then he was in the classroom and the thought was forgotten. Simon made a joke and Daniel laughed. Mandy took her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose before she smiled at him.


Full circle, Thursday night

Arlo was startled when the senior actually grabbed Donald's arm and shook him. Donald did not look happy. He had said the younger brother was a friend but he was just as pissed off. Donald broke free and the three boys argued for a few more minutes. It ended when the senior gave Donald a small push and turned away. Donald watched the brothers walk away for a second and then walked back to the booth where Arlo waited.

It was late; maybe ten. Arlo did not really care. He probably had homework and his parents would try to ground him when he got home. Donald had wanted to go out and Arlo had been happy to go with him. He took a sip of his Coke and looked up at his friend. "What's the problem?"

"We owe those guys fifty dollars."

"Did they hook us up?"

"Yes, kind of"

"So what are we going to do? I don't have any money."

"Me either" They sat over the last of their food. Donald pushed a fry around the ketchup as they pondered the problem. "Keith's friends gave us forty dollars." Arlo did not like to remember that. "What do think?"

"What are you thinking? We should get them to screw for money again? Isn't that like prostitution?"

"That's whacked Arlo. First of all they are just little boys, not men. Secondly you are not some pathetic kid trying to live on the street. It's not like you need to do it for the money."

"I thought we did need the money."

"Well... yeh, sure we need a little money" Donald looked exasperated for a moment and gave Arlo a look like he was being dumb about it. "You're looking at this all wrong. We are just ripping these kids off." Donald looked around the room as if he wanted to keep a secret before continuing. "Look, do we pay each other for sex?"

"No, of course not"

"Exactly, shit man, don't you see it yet?" Donald choked on the thought, it was so funny, "These kids haven't figured out they could be doing each other for free."


"Ah yes, the penny finally drops. They are stupid enough to give us their money."

"It was too weird though. It was a bit creepy doing it with all those boys."

"I envy you, five cherries. Man I never got that many when I was in ninth grade."

"Well why don't you do it then?"

"It wouldn't work. I would scare them. They want your hot young ass. I'm too old for them. I wouldn't mind though. Some of those guys looked hot enough to eat if you know what I mean."

"I guess" Arlo thought about it. "Still, fity dollars, what did they pay last time?"

"I ripped them off for eight dollars each."

"Forty dollars, man where did that go?"

"Up in smoke boy, up in smoke."

"Why don't you just sell them some weed?"

"I'm not a dope dealer Arlo; don't talk that shit to me. Getting started into that would get me really fucked up."

"Sorry, I didn't think about it that way." It was a dangerous thought. He wasn't using his head.

"Man you piss me off. I thought you had my back Arlo. Where did that shit come from? Is that what you think I am? Some low life drug dealer? It's one thing to pocket a little of their money, but... I'm just hurt bro."

"Don't be mad Donald; I don't know where my head was at."

"Look, I'll cover this myself if it's going to put you out or anything. It's cool. I'll figure out something... keep you clear of those guys." Donald turned away and looked out the window at the snow scudding across the parking lot. Donald was being a stand-up guy. Arlo felt shitty about it.

"No, I'm with you Donald. I was out of line. Let's forget I said anything, okay?" Donald glanced at Arlo and smiled. Arlo knew he had been forgiven.

"No problem bro; hey, lets head over to my house. Keith has a couple of dorky friends over."

"What, now?"

"You bet; if we wait too long one of them will figure out that sex is actually free. We need to keep them distracted. Come on, before their mommies send them off to bed."

Arlo gave Donald a blow job as they drove to Donald's house. He needed to make up for insulting him.


Duffer, Friday, February 14th

"I'm getting tired of this swamp. We should just stop and set up camp."

"Where? There are no good camp sites." Daniel felt annoyed with Arlo. He didn't know how to hold the paddle and he kept trying to steer the canoe in the wrong direction. Normally he was patient with his partners but he was weary now. Paddling was hard. The water seemed deep but every time he dipped the paddle into the water it sank into a noxious sludge that bubbled up with the pungent odor of an unflushed toilet. He felt he was barge poling the canoe along.

"I have to rest."

"If you rest they will catch up to us." But Arlo leaned back and closed his eyes. Daniel could see the outline of his long penis through the thin fabric of his Speedo. The others had stopped ahead at a huge log jam. He was sure he couldn't do it by himself. It was hot under the tarp, the fabric tangled around him and tugged at his hands. He needed to sleep too and it was hard to keep his thoughts straight.

He looked anxiously behind him. He couldn't see anything but they were there, moving closer. He could not remember how long they had been running from them.

When he reached the log jam Arlo would not get out of the canoe. "Where's Mandy?"

"She went ahead with Victor."

"You let them go by themselves?" Daniel was anxious; she needed to stay close to him. "She could get into trouble."

"Victor will take care of her." Arlo said from the front of the canoe. The warm water wrapped around Daniel's legs and he tried to push the heavy load up onto the logs. Troy was talking to Denver and it bothered Daniel that neither one seemed to care that he had to do it all by himself. It was hard pushing the dead weight. He felt weak and sluggish. It would be easier if he could just get behind the wheel and drive. "You don't have a license Daniel." It did not make him feel good. Victor probably drove Mandy across. Daniel kept pushing the canoe through the tangle of logs. It looked impossible, but somehow he found the gaps. He should be happy that Mandy was back on the water. Maybe she was at the portage already. He had been planning to show her that he could carry the canoe by himself.

"I can't do this anymore." It was too much. Daniel looked at Laine. "Will you help me push?" The other boy did not answer, but he took the other side of the canoe and together they pushed it along. Daniel felt relief wash over his body.

Daniel woke with a start. There was a whisper of wind, otherwise the apartment was still. He pulled his legs free of the tangled sheets and sat up on the side of his bed. He was not sure what had woken him. A stray memory from his dream left him lonely and depressed, but he could not pull enough of the dream together to understand it. He decided he must need to take a whiz.

Daniel let the stream play along the side of the bowl. His grandfather had teased him into the habit. When it was brought to your attention, you noticed the noise. With a few squirts he pushed the last of the urine out. His fingers played lightly along the soft shaft. Thinking of Mandy simply depressed Daniel. He turned his thoughts to Laine instead. He turned toward the door shutting the world out as he began to massage his cock.

Afterward he wandered into the living room. He held his cock absently. His finger probed at the little mouth rubbing the last drips of his cum around the still sensitive head. The clock in the kitchen glowed 3:47. Outside it was clear. He studied the city below. The wind moved small drifts on the apartment roof tops below. The temperature was down and the wind was still strong. It seemed like Friday was building into as harsh a day as Thursday had been. The discouraged fourteen-year old sank into a chair and stared at the phone. He needed to talk to Mandy.

The night had not gone well. He simply did not understand where it had gone wrong. He considered the phone. Mandy's mom might answer. That would be embarrassing. Still she might be on the graveyard shift. Daniel could not remember if Mandy had said anything about that. He picked up the phone and toyed with the buttons. With a sudden determination he started punching. The phone rang for a while and after each buzz his finger pressed lightly on the off button. The eighth ring was interrupted and Daniel was relieved to hear Mandy's voice.

"Hello, this is Mandy Cole, what is it?" There was a tension to her voice. The Cole's had call display but Mandy clearly had not checked it.

"It's me."

"Oh Daniel" She sounded relieved. "I thought it was the station." Daniel realized he must have frightened her.

"Is your mom working?"


"I didn't think about that."

"That's okay." They both let the silence drag out. Finally Daniel worked up his courage.

"I'm sorry" he whispered it into the phone.

"It's okay"

"No it isn't."

"What happened? Did you have a bad day?"

"No worse than usual. I mean it was okay." Thursday had been the pits. He felt cut off from Denver now. He could not tell her about it. Even if sitting with her friends at the movie had been the last straw, he still could not dump everything on her. He needed to make things right with her. He needed to know she was still his girl, but he was afraid to challenge her close friendship with Victor and Carlos. He was not sure he would win. Mandy's silence might have meant she did not believe him. "It's just the same stupid stuff, nothing I can't handle." It had not come out right. It sounded a little hollow to him. Daniel suddenly wished he had not made the phone call.

"Don't go away; I'll be back in a minute." She left him hanging. He listened to the wind. It whispered cold to him. Denver would be happy. He wanted to snowboard on the weekend. Daniel thought about going with him. He had not been out since Christmas. Arlo might have gone with him, but he could not ask Simon or Mandy. Money in the Cole and Marks homes was tight. "Sorry, it's cold." Mandy's home was cozy, but it was old.

"I screwed up your movie." he did not want to call it a date. That would push their relationship to a crisis.

"You didn't like the movie."

"The movie was okay. Actually it was the first one I liked." It had been too slow and the fight scenes were too short. Even so it had been easy to follow.

"You just don't like Carlos."

"Well he comes on strong."

"He said he was sorry about it. He thinks you are okay."


"It's fine Daniel. You don't have to like them. I understand. You don't have to be like them."

"What do you mean?"

"I like you Daniel. I like who you are. I like going out with you, really." She rushed through the next few words. "But I'm your friend even if you like Victor." Daniel missed her last comment as he tried to find a way to say he loved her. They were hard words for him to say.

"I like you too. I like being with you." Tere were times when it still hurt to breath when he was around her. He was still not sure if she felt the same way. How do you tell somebody that it hurts to see another boy put his arm around her and whisper secrets in her ear? She was supposed to be his girl.

"Tell me what you're thinking." Daniel sighed. If he told her what he was thinking then there would be a fight. He would sound stupid. "Okay, I'll tell you something I'm thinking."


"I think it was sweet of you to phone me." It made him choke a little. "Why did you get so mad at Carlos?"

"He was moving in on you." There, he had said it. Now he was just like Greg.

"That's silly. You can't mean that."

She just dismissed his fears. It suddenly irritated him. He knew what he had seen. The two of them had played him from the moment he had met them outside the auditorium. Carlos had made a play for Mandy and Victor had done his best to distract Daniel. Victor had done everything but wrestle him to the ground to keep him from noticing what Carlos was doing. "Carlos and me are just friends." how typical.

"Fine" Daniel hung up the phone and instantly regretted it. Stupid, stupid, stupid, now he was really screwed. His heart pounded against his chest. Please don't let it end there. He answered the phone before the first ring ended. "God I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get mad. I'm so sorry Mandy."

"It's okay"

"No I'm acting stupid. I promised myself I wouldn't be like that; Greg"

"You're not like Greg."

"Sure I am."

"You don't see it do you Daniel?"

"See what?"

"You surprise me." Daniel was so relieved she was still talking to him. "What do you really think of Denver and Mark?"

"I guess it's their business."

"Does it bother you that they are gay?" The question confused Daniel. She was always nice to them and she still spent time with Arlo.

"Denver is bisexual. I think he still likes Beth."

"You keep saying that and no, Beth said he doesn't. Not like that anyway." This was news to Daniel.

"Well I just mean that he's not gay."

"But you like being with him don't you?"

"Sure" Daniel tried to be honest. "Its different I know. I'm used to them. You must have gay friends, I mean besides Arlo."

"What, because I'm in drama?" She seemed to find his comment funny for some reason. "You are such a boy."

"You mean I'm immature?" Not mature like Carlos or Victor.

"No, you goof, just forget about it."

"So you really like Carlos?"

"Yes, and Victor; they have been nice to me. You shouldn't worry so much. You keep care of yourself?"

"It's late, I should let you sleep." But they didn't sleep, it excited them both to sit and touch each other with soft voices. Daniel felt better, but he had not been completely honest. He didn't trust Carlos and Victor and he couldn't tell Mandy that sometimes when he saw a boy it took his breath away.



(to be continued)


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