If you don't like stories involving gay male characters, this story isn't for you. If you're a minor or if it's illegal for you to read these stories, you are not encouraged to read them and the author takes no responsibility if you do. Also, the story, and all characters in it are FICTIONAL any resemblance to real life or someone you know is a coincidence. The characters and story are the property of the author, and while I don't care if you print chapters out for your own enjoyment, please don't sell or post elsewhere without permission. This includes "borrowing characters" for your own story. If you want to do it, ask first. Any comments, questions, please send to Dluka1983@hotmail.com or post them in the forum at the website here: http://domluka.gayauthors.org/

Chapter six: Try that again

A/N: thanks to Jim for editing!

I held the phone away from my ear, just enough to hawk up enough mucus to cough with, and then did so. "Sorry, Caleb, I can't," I said into the receiver. "I think it's that flu I came down with a few weeks ago. Who knows if it's contagious."

"Shit, dude," Caleb responded, sounding troubled. "You need me to bring you anything?"

"Nah, I'm okay," I insisted. "I think I just need a nap or something"

"Okay," Caleb replied, sounding uncertain, and I felt a moment of guilt for what I was doing.

"Call Joe," I suggested. "He'll go with you."

"Nah, he's doing his community service thing."

"Then call Haily."

"Yeah, I was gonna, anyway. Look, call if you feel better, alright?"

"I will," I assured him, and after another forced cough I hung up the cordless phone and dropped it carelessly on the mattress as I sat up on my bed. I felt guilty. I wasn't used to blowing Caleb off. Actually, I never blew Caleb off. It felt terrible, but necessary.

It was just past noon on Monday--morning for Caleb, who'd called to ask if I wanted to go to the park for a while, and maybe find something otherwise more entertaining to do. His sister was due to give birth any day now, and driving him crazy. Her husband was finally with her, but it seemed that Julie preferred to lean on her parents and Caleb. He'd hardly woken up and already she was ordering him to help her to figure out how to put together a breast pump. As Caleb explained it, he was a large fan of anything and all things breast, but the mention of anything to do with his sister's and he was out the door. He didn't even want to go home until Julie had the baby at this point. Any other day, I probably would have offered Caleb safe harbor and free meal tickets to boot; and in all honestly, I probably would later.

After Milo came over.

Because Milo was going to come over. We had no plans set in stone, and there was a possibility that he wasn't going to show up. But I was confident. He wanted to talk to me. He didn't have to say that for me to know it. Any resentment I might have had towards him due to our previous encounter was gone. Almost gone. Frankly speaking, he'd hurt my feelings, as stupid as that sounded to me. But I had that hope back again, and for now, I could forget about feeling bad. I was way more interested in what Milo had to say to me. And he'd better have something to say to me, because if he was really just coming over here for a stupid notebook I'd have to beat him over his stubborn head with it before I ever let him leave.

I pushed myself off my bed and straightened my blue-and-white button-up shirt. It was the one my mom liked me to wear on Sundays, and Leanna always said it looked nice on me. I'd been thinking of Milo when I got dressed that morning, but I'd likely deny any and all claims that I was dressing up for him. Same went for cleaning my room. I'd vacuumed, made my bed. I'd even dusted a little bit. What I didn't do, however, was try to hide anything. My sketch books were in their shelves, right where they always were, some with sketches of Milo right on top. I didn't have any of him on my walls, but I did have some comic drawing of my friends tacked up; and of course, the scarecrow painting was still there.

I pushed off my bed and headed up the stairs. The rat was out again. I put it away and refilled the parrot's water, when he kept dumping his bowl, because, as my mom put it, he was in a mood. Walking through the house, the closer I got to the kitchen, the more it smelled like tacos. My parents had left yesterday afternoon for an overnight date, location unknown. They did that every once in a while on a long weekend, leaving one phone number for emergencies but not much else. They'd be back later tonight. I'd heard Chad and Leanna come in about forty minutes before, shouting through the house that they were there to baby-sit me. I'd been busy cleaning my room so I opted to ignore it. But now, I was interested because they had food. I was somewhat hopeless when it came to cooking for myself. The only time I ever did it was in the bakeries, and that was hardly like cooking over a skillet, which my brother was doing now, browning a pound of ground beef over the stove. Chad's hair was as pink as ever and piled in a pony tail on top of his head. Leanna was facing him across the round counter as she carefully diced an assortment of peppers near a food processor. Tacos and salsa. I decided right then that both of them could stay.

"Hey!" Leanna objected when I reached around her, and popped an entire jalapeno into my mouth, making a face as the heat caught up to me. She laughed and tugged on one of my pierced ears. "You're turning red," she observed. "Go get something to drink."

"I'll take a soda," Chad said, glancing up from the meat he was browning as I headed towards the refrigerator. I just nodded, sucking in a breath against the pepper burning my mouth as I rolled back my watery eyes. "We didn't know if you were home."

"I was busy," I replied. "What are you guys doing here?"

"I have nothing to cook with in my kitchen," Chad said, as if this were some mystery he'd just figured out.

"I think my roommate's having sex in mine," Leanna commented.

I snickered. "That's kinda gross." I'd never actually met Leanna's roommate, but I'd heard Leanna complain on occasion that the girl was always bringing home various guys, and more often than not, Leanna had no idea what she was going to walk in on. I always figured that Leanna and Chad would be moving in together sooner or later, if only Chad wasn't so attached to his own roommate, Greg Hugh. "Are you guys gonna be here long?" I asked.

"For a while," Chad replied, and then looked up to raise a blond eyebrow at me. "Why, are we cramping your style already?"

"No," I replied as I brought three sodas back to the counter and hastily downed one. "I'm just curious." I lifted a block of cheese and the grater, and decided to put myself to work next to my brother's girlfriend. "Hey Leanna, can I ask you something?"

"Uh-huh," she replied, throwing a sideways glance in my direction.

"Okay, if there was a guy you liked..."

Chad cleared his throat. "Excuse me?"

"It's hypothetical," I assured him, and Leanna smiled as I turned my attention back to her. "If there was a guy you liked, but he wasn't really into you; I mean, he liked being your friend, but he didn't have the same feelings that you had..."

"Why wouldn't he be into her?" Chad asked, looking offended on behalf of his girlfriend.

Leanna shushed my brother. "It's hypothetical," she reminded him, seeming amused.

"Well, how would you want him to tell you?" I asked. "That he's not interested, I mean."

"Is this about Haily?" Leanna asked. She could be a perceptive little thing behind those thick glasses.

"She wants me to take her to homecoming."

"So take her," Chad said, shrugging. "What's wrong with going as friends?"

"It wouldn't be leading her on?" I asked.

"Not if you make sure she knows you're going as friends," Leanna said. "If you tell her you're not interested she's going to want to know why, Nelson. I know I would. Plus, it's Haily. When you tell her, you're going to owe her an honest explanation, don't you think?"

"Oh," I replied, feeling somewhat put out. I understood what Leanna meant by honest explanation. I just wasn't sure that giving one of those to Haily was possible. My brother and Leanna disagreed, though, as they flashed me pointed looks and smiled at each other. I frowned. But, whatever annoyance I was experiencing was short-lived when the doorbell echoed through the house. I dropped the cheese grater. "I've got that!" I announced, and before they could say anything, I was moving through the house, eager to get to the front door.

Maybe I was eager, but I wasn't prepared. I think I'd fully expected to experience one of those disappointing moments that occur when someone expects to see someone particular on the other side of a door, but ends up facing someone completely irrelevant instead--like a troop of girl scouts or a Playboy bunny who somehow managed to lock her keys in her car, right there in suburbia. It didn't happen, though.

Milo had his hands tucked away in his jeans pockets. It was still cold, but he'd left his red coat at home, and now he was facing me in a v-neck black sweater. I didn't care for v-necks, but I immediately decided that I liked them on him. And black. I'd noticed that the darker the colors were that he wore, the more his eyes stuck out. His hair seemed shorter today, but that was probably because there were more waves in it, due to the humidity in the air. But his stubbornness, it seemed, had not quite evaporated yet as he regarded me expectantly.

"I can't stay long," was the first thing he said to me. "Do you have that notebook?"

Whatever kind of smile that had worked its way over my face fell, and I stared at him for a full moment as I wondered if he was trying to earn himself a gold metal for jackassism. If he had any interest in having a civil conversation with me whatsoever, he was simply going to have to drop the attitude. I considered myself a patient person, but hell if I was going to be his doormat. It was my frustration with him that had me slowly closing the door in his face, and once it was between us, I turned around to lean back on it, waiting. I suppose there was a possibility that I'd hear his car, leaving, in a few moments. But, I was still confident. I just hoped that I could get Milo housebroken before I invited him in. At least he could take a hint, because the next thing I knew he was bypassing the doorbell, knocking softly.

When I opened the door this time, it was just enough to look out at him, waiting to see what he had to say for himself. He had the nerve to still look annoyed.

"I said I couldn't stay long," he said. "I didn't say not at all." I watched his expression soften, and he looked somewhat sheepish as he avoided my eyes. "Can I come in?"

I raised an eyebrow, opening the door a little more.

"Why do you do that?" I asked curiously.

Milo shrugged, subtly shaking the hair from his face. "I'm not really comfortable around you," he admitted.

That wasn't a response that I was expecting, but the honesty behind it did get my attention, and I opened the door and stepped back as I waved him into the house, where he stopped, and took a nervous look around.

"This is where you live?"

"This is where I live," I replied, cracking a small smile. He moved aside so I could close the door, and then I nodded for him to follow as I turned to move into the house. But, he didn't, and I paused to look back at him, still standing there in the doorway. "Do I need to carry you?" I remarked, and Milo raised an eyebrow at me.

"I really can't stay that long," he reiterated, and then finally stepped away from the door.

"No problem," I replied. "We don't usually take our guests hostage and refuse to let them leave until the third visit, at least."

Milo didn't bother to respond to my joke as he caught up to me. I guess he really was uncomfortable. He certainly looked it as his eyes wandered, seemingly taking in everything in my house as we moved through it. I wanted to tell him to relax, but then decided to hope that he'd do that on his own. It didn't quite happen when we reached the kitchen, though. He paused, his eyes drifting to the large windows facing the field. Most people looked there first. It didn't surprise me that Milo did, too. But, when his gaze focused on what was in front of the windows he took a step back, seeming startled when he saw that we weren't alone with Chad and Leanna there, now putting together tacos.

"Milo," I said, loud enough to get my brother's and his girlfriend's attention. "That's my brother, Chad, and that's Leanna."

"Milo?" Chad repeated, regarding me curiously.

Leanna looked as startled as Milo did, but at least managed to smile. "Hi," she said.

Milo gave her a nod. "Nice to meet you."

"You didn't say you were having someone over," Chad said, looking at me suspiciously. He had a right to, I guess. The last he'd heard, I was worried about Milo Trust outing me. "Are you guys hungry?"

"Are you?" I asked, turning to Milo, who quickly shook his head.

"No thanks. I just wanted to get that... book." He looked nervous about saying that to me after I'd closed the front door in his face, but this time there was something behind his words that I could actually understand.

"Sure," I replied, and then faced Chad and Leanna again. "We'll be in my room."

"Okay," they both said, still giving Milo and me funny looks. I turned away from them with Milo, but couldn't help throwing a goofy smile over my shoulder, aimed towards my brother, who simply shook his head at me. But that was okay. He could ask all the questions he wanted to later. Right now, I was busy. With Milo. Who was in my house.

The first time I'd entered Milo's room it had been because of a misunderstanding, but I still remembered the moment everything hit me. Not just all of the paintings, but the fact that I was in Milo's room. For at least a brief moment, it had me feeling a little closer to him. I gathered that the reason was because a bedroom was a personal thing, and at the time, just standing in it had been the closest I'd managed to get to being personal with Milo. It was his room. He slept there. He dreamed there. He created beautiful images and kept things that were personal to him in that room. He most definitely kept his secrets there. It had been kinda thrilling, just to stand amongst all of that. The feeling that came with having Milo in my home was similar to that. Only here, I was comfortable, and in my element, and ready to discuss some of those secrets that Milo kept. It was only fair. After all, we'd already talked about my secrets. I was hoping that Milo was ready to tell me some of his, without me having to confront him. I was sort of in a hurry to get to my room because of that. But I lost him when we reached the family room and he noticed the animals. He went straight to the African Grey and knelt down in front of the large cage, placing himself at the bird's level, and I watched as the parrot climbed from his perch, and then over the bars to face Milo, where he made a loud belching sound directly in my guest's face. Milo laughed, and I found myself smiling as I moved up behind him.

"He only does that to people he likes," I told Milo.

"You talked to them about me," Milo replied, without turning around.


"Your brother and... sister?"

"Leanna's Chad's girlfriend."

Milo was silent for a moment. "You talked to them about me," he said again.

"Yeah," I replied, completely unapologetic. Milo straightened, and looked over his shoulder at me, as if he expected me to say more. I smiled. "Come on."

I turned, and moved towards the stairs, stopping at the top to let him go ahead of me. He'd made it down one step before he took in the full effect of the creepy, narrow passage and froze, placing his hands on the wall as if he thought I'd push him.

"Where are we going?" he demanded.

I laughed. "My room."

"Your room's down there?" he asked incredulously. It seemed that he didn't approve.

"Just walk," I insisted, placing a hand on his shoulder only briefly enough to get him going again. We made it through my door, where he paused again, immediately met with his own art work. His eyes didn't dwell on the scarecrow for long, though, as he took in the rest of the room. Any shyness that Milo might have displayed upon entering my house abruptly disappeared, and I watched with entertained fascination as he very boldly moved into my room and looked around, taking in everything from the sketches I kept on my walls to where I kept my homework on my desk. He even paused to open the top desk drawer and look down at the loose pencils and markers I kept in there. I leaned against my doorframe, still watching when he made his way to my shelves where he lifted one sketch pad after another, flipping through them, pausing every so often, his back to me. He didn't have to be facing me for me to figure out that he'd stumbled upon various sketches of himself. When he flipped through one of my older books he finally looked over his shoulder to see where I was. I raised an eyebrow at him.

"Are we even yet?" I asked.

He put the book back but not before removing a loose piece of paper from it. He turned around, shaking his head as he held up the comic-like picture I'd done of him long before I'd ever spoken to him, the one where he had a cape and slicked-back hair. And a bulge in his pants. "Not even close," he responded, but sounded more amused than anything.

"I did that one months ago," I said, moving further into the room. "Last year, when school got out, I..."

"You saw me when I was picking up Jame."

"You remember that?" I asked, genuinely surprised.

Milo shrugged, as if it was no big deal. "I remember faces." He turned to place the drawing back on the book, and when he took a seat in my standard black desk chair I seated myself on my bed, seemingly unable to keep my eyes off of him. "Do your friends know?" he asked.


"What you told me," he replied. "Being... gay."

"Oh. No, they don't," I replied. "Just my family. And Leanna. And you."

"You told me but not your friends?" he asked skeptically, to which I shrugged.

"You're different."


"I think you know why," I said pointedly, and Milo's eyes dropped to the floor momentarily as he pursed his lips and studied his hands. When he looked up, it was determinedly.

"None of my friends know," he said quietly, and I leaned forward, interested enough to soak in every word that was coming out of his mouth. "I couldn't even think about telling my dad. He's all about image, he'd..." Milo stopped for a moment, swallowing. "You're not going to tell." It was more of a statement, than a question.

"No," I agreed, and then smiled at him. "I sort of thought you would tell Ass...eh, Jame, about me."

"Is that why you didn't come back to school that day?" he asked, meeting my eyes again.

"Part of the reason," I admitted.

"Oh." We fell silent for a moment while I continued to stare at Milo and he looked at anything but me. I think he felt awkward. I didn't. Not at all, in fact. Excited was a better word to describe it. I just didn't think he'd appreciate it if I jumped up and down and declared it, that's all. If it was even possible to feel better than I did, it happened when Milo kept talking. "I wouldn't have told Jame," he said, and I believed him. "When you didn't show up for school, I kinda felt like shit. I was going to try to talk to you then, in class. I mean, I wasn't going to tell you... actually, I wasn't going to tell you anything. I just wanted to apologize, for..."

"Overreacting?" I offered, when Milo came up with nothing. "Calling me a stalker... a sick fuck..."

"Okay," he snapped, sounding defensive. "You know, I didn't say that stuff because you said you were gay or anything. You just--you were creeping me out. But yeah, I was going to apologize. But then you didn't show up, and the next day you stopped talking to me."

"You told me to," I quietly pointed out. I was troubled again. It was an unsettling feeling to have when I was supposed to be excited, thrilled and perfectly happy. But I couldn't help it, not when some of the feelings that I'd had the day he blew me off were resurfacing. They seemed a lot harder to push down with Milo staring back at me. "I creep you out?" I asked.

Milo cocked his head at me. "No. It's not that you creep me out. You were creeping me out. I mean, all through community service you kept acting like we were friends or something. I didn't know what the fuck your deal was. I mean, dude, I sorta thought you might have hit your head too hard when I was beating the shit out of you that night."

This made me laugh. "You didn't beat the shit out of me. I was drunk, and I tripped."

"Whatever; when I beat the shit out of your drunk ass, then," he replied, as if to appease me. "And even when I tell you to back off you show up at my house, go in my room--and you freaked out Juanita!"

"No. She..."

"And just when I think you can't get any weirder, you ambush me at the lake and start asking for a nude portrait for your girlfriend! What did you think you were doing when you came out and said you were gay--and then accused me of it? I didn't know what the fuck your deal was!"

I opened my mouth, meeting Milo's eyes. There were so many ways to respond to that. But instead, I found myself shaking my head. "Do you know what my deal is now?" I asked him.

He sat back in the chair and studied me for a moment. "Not really," he admitted. "But after you told me...you know, I kinda figured out what you were doing." Milo let out a breath and I watched as a pink tint crawled over his high cheekbones. "I'm not... I don't know about this stuff, okay? Girls come onto me all the time, but I figured you just had a mental handicap or something. I mean, you just didn't quit."

"Yeah, I figured you'd take a hint," I responded dryly, and then regarded him seriously. "So does it freak you out?"

"Does what freak me out?"

"That I'm attracted to you... interested in you. That, and maybe I like you. I'll drop the maybe if you stop being a prick to me. It stopped being cute a while ago. You're still hot, though."

Milo was incredulous. "Are you kidding me?" he demanded.

"Well, it's not like I was trying to get your attention because you won me over with your charming personality," I remarked. "Not that I think you don't have one... you just need to, maybe, work on it."

Milo once again raised a sharp, dark eyebrow. "Are you always so blunt?"

"Blunt?" I scoffed. "I've been beating around the bush ever since I met you." I lifted a hand to tug on the stud in my left ear for a moment, and let out a breath. "Milo, when you're not acting like you hate my guts, there's... something there. I like you, and we're both gay, so maybe you and me could..."

"Whoa," he cut me off, straightening in his seat defensively. "Just because we're both... you know, I don't even know that I like you."

"Because you keep telling yourself that you hate me," I responded boldly. "I'm still the only gay guy you know."

Milo laughed, but it wasn't exactly full of humor. "Are you actually suggesting that just because you're the only queer I've ever met that you and me should hook up or something? Because why? We're each other's only option? That's completely fucked, you know that? I plan on meeting plenty of guys sooner or later."

"Yeah," I responded conversationally. "But you could have sex with me sooner."

Milo's jaw dropped about the same time that he stood up. "Okay. I think we've done enough sharing for today."

I couldn't help the way I cracked up at the expression on his face and I stood, just in time to cut him off as he turned towards the door, holding my arms out the way I would to fend off a charging animal. "I was kidding Milo. Kinda. Look, all I'm saying is that I want to get to know you. Maybe hang out sometime. And, no, it's not just because I wanna hook up." Milo pushed his dark hair back and crossed his arms. He didn't look very pleased with me, but at least I had his attention. "I just wanna know what it's like to talk to someone... who knows what it's like. There, okay? That's what I've been after. Now it's your turn."


"Why are you here?" I asked. "And please, don't say it's for a stupid notebook."

"I felt bad about what happened, at my place," he said, without hesitation.

"So that's it? You just came to tell me that?" I was having trouble with that explanation, as nice as it was to hear that.

"Yeah," he replied. "And maybe... you could take your seat back in Mrs. Bates's class." He sighed, and then continued, before I could even respond to that. "I sorta meant it when I said I couldn't stay long," he said, pushing his black-sweater sleeve up his wrist to glance at his watch. "I have a meeting with my dad."

"A meeting?"

Milo met my eyes. "Yeah. I have to go."

"I'll walk you out," I offered, disappointed. I suppose I could admit that I'd accomplished enough for one day when it came to the questions I had about Milo Trust. But now that I had answers to some of those questions, all I wanted to do was to keep talking to him. At least long enough to work up the nerve to tell him that I'd discovered the painting he'd done of me. But, when Milo nodded, I started towards my door before I abruptly turned back, facing him. "Your notebook..."

Milo lifted his hand, very briefly touching my shoulder to stop me. "I didn't really want the notebook back," he admitted.

I smiled. That was probably the nicest thing he'd ever said to me.


Chad was wary, while Leanna was encouraging, when I told them how Milo Trust had ended up coming over. I didn't deliberately tell either of them that he was gay. But, I didn't really have to. Leanna told me that I should be patient. She thought it was a good thing that he'd asked me to reclaim my seat in parenting class. Chad saw it as a good sign, but he still remembered how I was worried about Milo trying to fuck me over before, and he thought I should use some caution. It was the big brother in him speaking, and I appreciated it, but the truth was, I didn't think that Milo had ever been a threat to me. That was just me, freaking out.

I did feel that I needed to be careful when it came to Milo, though. I could admit that some of the things I'd said to him were a little bold, whether or not they were harmless and meant to lighten the mood. If I wanted to get to know Milo Trust, I'd definitely have to stop scaring him away. I told myself that I'd work on my tactfulness when I saw him in class the next day.

In the meantime, I thought it would be best to distract myself from Milo Trust. Only this time, it wasn't because he was a jerk. It was because I felt that our conversation had been cut short. This whole situation with him felt unsettled, and I needed to tell myself that showing up at his house uninvited would not be a good idea. Besides, distracting myself made it easier to not think about how strange I felt, wanting to know everything about Milo again when I'd just spent the last few weeks pretending that he didn't exist.

Caleb was impressed when I found him at Haily's house, after recovering from my flu in record time. I didn't bother to call. I just went out looking for my friends, leaving the house to Chad and Leanna. Haily's mom made Caleb and me get up on her roof to clean her gutters while we were there. After that, Haily feared her mother would find more chores for us if we stuck around, so the three of us took off together, originally heading towards the city park because it was close by; but when I turned up the heater in my car on the way there, it was decided that none of us wanted to be outside in the cold. So we went to the nearest deli that served hot soup, instead. Chicken noodle for me, broccoli-cheddar for Haily, and Caleb had a suspicious-looking clam chowder as we sat down for thirty minutes and discussed whether or not we were bored enough to go visit Joe during his community service. We weren't really sure if we wanted to do that, but we decided that we were bored enough to at least drive down to the sheriff's department to find out where Joe was working. Of course, when we got there, Ray told us that we couldn't bother Joe while he was working. But, he also said that Joe was almost done for the day. That brought us to hanging around the police station for a good thirty minutes. It wasn't a very busy place, but we stayed mostly in my uncle's office, telling him how we'd been since school started.

Being in his office now was a lot different than being in it had been when I'd been in trouble. Uncle Ray was definitely smiling more. His office was still as bland as ever, but he did have new photographs of my cousin Jay in his wallet. I hadn't seen the chunky little guy since my birthday barbeque, and it looked like he'd actually doubled in size. The photograph of Jay sitting in a little red wagon with a ridiculously happy smile on his face was enough of a reminder that I needed to go visit, soon. I only felt guilty when Uncle Ray announced that Chad had made a point to stop by at least once a week after his classes. Sometimes I really didn't understand how my brother could be twice as busy as I was and still make time for things like that. At least so far everyone just liked to point it out to me, and didn't expect me to be like Chad.

When Joe arrived at the station, he wasn't very happy. It seemed that his hands were full of splinters from chopping wood for two elderly citizens who, in Joe's opinion, belonged in a home. Before Joe left with us, Officer Trujillo was there to tell him that he was a selfish, lazy, brat. But Joe looked more insulted when Trujillo asked my uncle Ray for permission to shoot him. My attractive friend went into an entire speech about police brutality and abuse of power that Uncle Ray didn't find funny at all. That's when we took Joe and got out of there.

Together, the four of us went back to my place for a while. Chad and Leanna were still there and for the rest of the afternoon they taught us how to play Hearts, until Haily's mom came to pick her and Joe up. Caleb still didn't want to go home, and he didn't have to. As soon as my parents got back from their trip they offered him our guest room upstairs. The two of us stayed up a little too late watching a comedy, and in the morning I got Caleb home just in time to grab his stuff before we went to pick up Haily and Joe, and all of us went to school together. By lunch time, the four of us were sitting in one of the white Hollander booths, me next to Haily and Caleb next to Joe, and once again I was faced with my homecoming dilemma.

"I don't even know her, Caleb," Joe said irritably as he looked across the bakery to where a sophomore girl from our school was sharing a ham sandwich with one of the several girls in her group. She was just Joe's type, too. Platinum blonde hair, manicured nails, thin, pretty. Extra bubbly smile. Joe had been checking her out ever since we walked in, and as a result, Caleb was pressuring him to ask her to homecoming, since he'd lost his date.

"What's your point?" Caleb responded, and I was inclined to ask the same question. Considering that I was someone who'd thought Joe was the hottest thing to touch our school until Milo Trust walked into it, and since Joe had never seemed shy around girls before, I didn't see what his problem was.

"Homecoming is three weeks away. She probably already has a date. I'm not going to embarrass myself."

"What me to embarrass you then?" Caleb responded, a sly smile curled over his mouth.

Joe raised an eyebrow, returned the smile, and gave a slight nod. "Go for it."

Haily groaned, and then sipped my soda because she'd downed all of hers. "Caleb, don't; you're going to end up embarrassing you, not Joe. Besides, he'll find his own date. He always does." She flashed her cousin a look that dared him to argue with her. Joe just smirked.

"Well, I'm the only one who has a date to homecoming," Caleb replied. "Someone's gotta fix that."

I just rolled my eyes as I picked a piece of cheese off my roast-beef sandwich and watched as Caleb left the booth and sauntered right up to the table that Joe's blonde interest was sitting at. He tapped her on the shoulder and when she smiled up at him he took a seat on her table and looked down at her, as the rest of her friends pulled their food aside to make room for him, falling silent and blushing all at once. Caleb could have that effect on girls. He was only focused on one, though.

"You're very fuckable," Caleb declared, an when the girl predictably looked horrified he quickly added, "That's a compliment, I swear."Joe shook his head, and Haily rolled her eyes. I just cocked my head at the way that Caleb was over there, deliberately licking his lips like a wild dog anticipating its next meal. It was rather disturbing, really. But, the blonde girl, whose name was Kelly, I'd later find out, blushed up at his smile while her friends seemed rather amused. Caleb suddenly pointed to our table, directly at Joe. "But, sadly, I'm not currently available. Do you wanna go to homecoming with my friend? I'm sure he won't step on your feet or anything. If he does, you can come find me. I'll take care of you."

Kelly looked over, saw Joe, and blushed again. Joe didn't notice. He was too busy glaring at Caleb, so I kicked him under the table, bringing his attention to me.

"Dude, you might wanna go rescue her from Caleb if you actually want to go with her," I pointed out.

Haily nodded to agree. Joe didn't argue with us, and lifted what was left on his lunch tray to trash in the wooden-framed bin on his way over. As Joe left, I found myself turning my head to face Haily as she tapped the straw from my drink to her lips where she was slouching in her seat, looking straight ahead.

"I guess that means it's our turn to find someone," she commented, and I sighed.

"It's not like we don't have time," I said.

"For you maybe. If I'm gonna find a decent dress, I'm going to have to start looking soon."

"You don't like dresses, anyway," I pointed out, and she shrugged, knowing this was true.

"I'll wear one for homecoming."

Haily sent a sidelong glance in my direction, and I forced a smile in hers. "I don't really feel like looking for a date," I said, after some careful consideration.

"You don't?" she asked, granting me her full attention now as she pulled her braid in front of her to fidget with it.

"Nah. I'm just going because you guys are going," I explained. "It's not like I want a girlfriend or anything."

"Oh," she said quietly, and I felt bad as soon as I saw the corners of her mouth curl down. But she hid it quickly, and smiled in my direction. "I know what you mean. It's kinda stupid. All the fuss about trying to find a date for just one night. And, the dance isn't even really fun."

"Yeah," I agreed. "It's the parties afterwards."

There was a genuine smile on her mouth this time. "Very true," she agreed.

"So, you wanna be my date?" I asked her. "We can go as friends. And if you find someone else before homecoming, I won't get upset if you back out."

"Yeah," she replied. "That sounds good. And... you, too. I mean, if you decide you want to go with someone else, I'm okay with it."

"Don't worry about that," I assured her. "Go ahead and get your dress."


It was the first time in weeks that I was looking forward to walking into my parenting class. I didn't realize that I was nervous, too. Not until I got there. Milo had been so unpredictable in the past that I wasn't really sure what to expect with him. I think when I went into the classroom, I half expected him to end up ignoring me again. I made sure to get there a little late. That way, he'd already be seated, and I was hoping I could read him easier. I was comforted when he looked up from his seat as I walked into the classroom, and pulled out the seat next to him, just as I'd done the first day that he walked into the classroom. As always, I stopped to say hi to Haily before I walked around the table. Milo seemed to be finishing up his homework from the night before when I slid into the chair next to him, but he glanced at me, if only briefly. Rather than speaking to him, I looked across the table and made friendly conversation with Tim, the blond freshman who looked a little put out by my move. For the last few weeks, I'd been talking to him, and there was no sense in letting him think that I was blowing him off. But even as I talked to Tim, asking about how his weekend had been, I made myself aware of all things Milo.

He was there next to me, seemingly concentrating on his homework, but most definitely listening to every word I was saying to Tim. Beneath our table, his knee, the closest one to me, was ever so slightly extended in my direction. There was less distance between our seats than between Milo and the free chair on the other side of him, and the faint scent of sandalwood coming off his clothes made me think of his empty bedroom. When I did take brief glances in his direction he'd meet my eyes every time, glancing from beneath his dark lashes. And most importantly, he wasn't glaring at me. When Mrs. Bates started her class, and Tim went to pull out his book, I finally allowed my gaze to drop on Milo, where they lingered when I was faced with green ones looking right back at me.

"Hi," I whispered, not wanting to draw attention from Mrs. Bates. The corner of Milo's pink lips curled into something akin to a smile, and then he turned and opened his parenting book to the page Mrs. Bates was instructing us to read. I sighed, and did the same, and for the next fifteen minutes we were silent, simply aware of each other's presence as Mrs. Bates circled the room, calling on different people to read. When she paused to hand out a worksheet, there was a low rustle of voices around the classroom, and my voice was amongst them as I faced Milo again. "It would be easier to talk if you'd meet me outside of this classroom," I remarked. As if making my point for me, Haily suddenly looked back at us with a strange look on her face. I flashed her a reassuring smile in return.

"Anything you have to say to me you can say here," Milo responded stubbornly. But, there was still a hint of a smile on his face.

"What? You need witnesses?"

Milo raised an eyebrow at me, but didn't respond for another twenty minutes as class continued. Not until Mrs. Bates stopped to tell us that we'd need signed permission slips for some movie that she wanted us to watch.

"Is your family okay with it?" Milo asked in a hushed voice.

It took me a moment to catch his meaning. "They always have been."

"How did you tell them?"

I turned my head in his direction, regarding him curiously as he faced one of his notebooks, rather than me. "Are you thinking about telling yours?" I asked.

"No," he said quickly. He sounded like he thought the very question was something worth laughing about. "I was just... wondering."

I nodded, and then told him, the very next chance I got. When I got to the part where Chad caught me spying on his best friend, Milo snorted, drawing attention from the whole class. He blushed, and I tried not to laugh before we went back to paying attention to Mrs. Bates.

For the entire hour and twelve minutes that Milo and I sat next to each other in class, I probably only talked to him for about fourteen of them. And he talked to me. He seemed a lot more relaxed than he'd been sitting in my room the day before, and seemed more interested in my family's reaction to me than anything else. He asked me a question that I never even would have considered before, like what I would have done if my parents had said they didn't like that I was gay. I, of course, had no idea how to respond to that. Actually, the question itself made me downright uncomfortable because I didn't even want to think about what if in that situation. Milo let it drop quickly enough, though, and when he spoke again he was asking me about Chad and Leanna, wanting to know if they lived with me, and what my parents did for a living. All of his questions didn't leave much room for me to ask any of my own. But, I still enjoyed talking to him. Just sitting there with him while he was open to my presence was a good thing. My only disappointment was when the end of class came and Milo left just as quickly as Haily came to stand in front of our table.

Milo and I had even less time to talk on Wednesday, but on Thursday, Mrs. Bates split us up into pairs again. I partnered with Milo, but we didn't talk about anything personal at all. Instead, we did something better. We laughed. We shared a notebook. We made fun of the way that Mrs. Bates kept lifting her hands to her chest whenever she started to talk about breast feeding, and ended up cupping her own. At one point Haily turned around to see what we, and most of the other guys in the class, thought was so funny, and I was surprised when Milo took it upon himself to fist his hands beneath his forest-green sweater, as if they were supposed to be breasts, and only laughed at me when I grabbed one of them. Haily wasn't the only one in class who found this somewhat amusing, and as a result Mrs. Bates had us reading silently through the rest of the period. But, I hardly did any reading. I was too busy glancing at Milo, meeting his eyes, smiling, as if we were sharing an inside joke of some sort. He elbowed me twice, and once I leaned into his shoulder--a small nudge, just for the sake of contact.

On Friday, after school got out I asked Milo if we could meet over the weekend, and I was somewhat put off when he said that he had plans. I was pretty sure that his plans wouldn't last him all weekend. I told him so. He responded by looking generally uncomfortable before he told me he'd see me later and took off.

I missed seeing Milo over the weekend. But, on Saturday the cold front that we'd been experiencing diminished for a day, and with temperatures hitting the mid-fifties, Caleb, Haily, Joe and I went to Hangman again, where I watched Caleb make out with Rebecca Spade for a good hour while Haily and I tried to convince Joe that Officer Trujillo was not really going to shoot him. Joe was skeptical. He cheered up later, though, when Rebecca invited us all to a party that her friend was throwing. After a night of socializing with a bunch of seniors and dancing with Haily, I woke up on Sunday at Joe's house, where Caleb and I had stayed the night. Haily must have driven us there, because all three of us were nursing hangovers, and it turned out that my car was at her house a few blocks away.

I spent most of the rest of the day shopping. We all did. Actually, Haily was shopping for a dress and she'd recruited the three of us to go with her. I'm not sure why, though. She refused to let us see her in any of them. She seemed happy when she found one, though. Then, she said she needed shoes, a task which occupied two very long hours of our time.

For Caleb, Joe, and me, finding a suitable wardrobe for homecoming was a lot less complicated. It was traditional for the guys at my school to attend in jeans, so long as they had some sort of formal jacket. Except for the football team. They tended to go all out.

I parted with my friends early on Sunday night to go home because my parents had invited Uncle Ray, Aunt Patty, and little Jay over for dinner. It was a nice visit, but when Jay became cranky halfway through it and I volunteered to take him, I discovered that I just didn't have the same special touch that Caleb had when it came to small children.

On Monday afternoon, I was back in health class with Milo again. He seemed to be in a somber mood. He wasn't rude to me or anything. Just, quiet, I guess. I worried that whatever chemistry we'd shared the previous week had diminished on his part, and it left me feeling so down that I didn't even want to go out with my friends that evening. But on Tuesday, he changed again, and through the class we both talked with Tim, discussing how none of us had even signed up for the class, and Milo told us how at his last school, electives were decided by some sort of personality test they took at the end of each year. When Tim was busy talking to other guys at our table, Milo and I were whispering again as he told me that he'd known he had a preference for guys for as long as he could remember, but he was even worse than I was when it came to wanting to hide it from the people around him. Apparently, a while back he'd gone through a phase of dating every single girl at his last school when he feared one of his friends had suspected him. Now, he knew that he'd just been paranoid, but he wasn't sure that he'd change his behavior if he had it to do all over again. I doubted that he would, given the way that he could hardly tell me about it without constantly looking over his shoulder.

On Thursday afternoon, I wished that I'd been paying more attention to the permission slip I'd brought home for my mom to sign the previous Tuesday. There were certain things that I had no desire to ever do in my lifetime, and one of those things was to watch a live birth via video tape in a trailer behind the school. Honestly, I could respect the miracle of birth and all that, but I didn't see why I actually had to see it happen. Close up images of... really gross things. I guess I hadn't expected it to be so... messy. For the most part, our class handled it well, I think, except for one of the expectant mothers, who burst into tears during the video and had to leave. The guys seemed uncomfortable. I knew I was. I'm sure a few of the others were reevaluating what they expected to do with their dates after homecoming. And then, there was Milo. He couldn't seem to decide whether or not he wanted to look at the screen. When he did, it seemed to take a great deal of effort on his part. Frankly, I was getting worried, because it was clear that it wasn't discomfort that was plaguing him. Even in the dark, against the glow of the television, I could see that he'd grown pale. Small droplets of sweat had broken out over the side of his face and he kept swallowing, as if his mouth was terribly dry. That's when I'd given up on even trying to watch the video and focused all of my attention on trying to distract him from it.

"Andre Lour," I whispered. "And Brandon Sholer."

"I know who Brandon Sholer is," Milo replied. "He's not bad... um...Daniel Atkins, he went to my old school. Oh, and the guy that works at Velda's... that cafe, he's the one with the red hair..."

"Really nice ass?" I asked, lowering my voice even more. "I know the one."

We were naming off all of our past crushes, and it seemed to be working well enough as Milo cracked a small smile.

"I've had a huge crush on my friend Joe, like, forever. I thought he was king shit... until I met you."

Milo smirked, and turned towards me. His eyes seemed half closed as he held his head up. One glance at the television screen, and more of a woman's labored sounds, and he was swallowing hard again, but attempted to maintain.

"I'm king shit now?" he asked blankly, and I stopped smiling as I leaned towards him.

"Milo, are you okay?" I'd avoided asking until now. He obviously didn't want to draw attention to himself, and he seemed a little embarrassed over the reaction he was having. He frowned, but nodded, right before he crossed his arms on the table in front of him, and put his head down on them. My hand moved to his shoulder. He felt warm even beneath the thick fabric of his knit sweater. "Milo?"

He mumbled something into his arm, and I worriedly moved my hand to the back of his neck for a brief moment, finding it damp with sweat as he shivered beneath my fingers. I frowned, and looked across the classroom where Mrs. Bates was watching the video, and rather than calling for her, I raised my hand into the air, where it remained as I kept one eye on Milo, until Mrs. Bates approached us almost five minutes later. She didn't have to ask me what was wrong as she took in the sight of Milo and shook her head disapprovingly.

"Mr. Trust?" she asked, leaning over him with a hand on his back.

Milo lifted his head, still swallowing hard as he looked up at her.

"Sorry, Mrs. Bates," he said quietly.

"There's one every year," she commented, patting the top of his head. Poor Milo didn't even have it in him to object to that. "Can you get up, Mr. Trust?" Milo nodded, and started to stand, but Mrs. Bates stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Just a moment."

As soon as Mrs. Bates walked away, Milo's head was back down on the desk and when she returned, it was to me that she was handing the long eraser that served as a hall pass. "Mr. Larmont, will you please walk with Mr. Trust to the nurse's office?"

"Yeah," I said quickly, but Milo lifted his head at that.

"I don't need a nurse," he said firmly.

"I take it you're well enough to watch the rest of the movie, then?" Mrs. Bates asked challengingly, still managing to maintain the friendly smile on her face. Milo glared at her.

"Come on," I insisted, tapping his arm as I stood up. Impulsively, I wanted to reach down and help him up, too, but something told me that he wouldn't appreciate that as he stood slowly. I guessed that Mrs. Bates didn't expect him to come back, because she gathered his things. When Mrs. Bates held out his backpack to me, Milo indignantly reached for it, but I got it first and flung it over my shoulder. I earned myself one of his glares doing that, but this one I found I could smile at.

Milo led the way out and I followed closely behind him. We didn't go without drawing attention from some of our classmates, either. Haily looked at me inquisitively as I left the trailer, but all I could do was force a smile and close the door behind Milo and me as the cool air outside hit us. I felt a light breeze brushing over my short hair and sending a chill down my spine. But rather than going back in for my jacket I turned to catch up to Milo. It seemed that wasn't very hard to do, since he'd decided that the short metal ramp leading down from the trailer was the perfect place to sit down and rest his head on his arms, which he'd folded over his knees.


I knelt beside him quickly, placing a light hand on his back.

"I can't... I don't... I don't do..." he mumbled into his arms. "It's not just the blood..."

"Yeah, I kinda got that," I cut him off, moving my hand gently between his shoulder blades as I took a seat beside him and placed his bag on the other side of me. "Don't think about it, okay? He nodded into his arms while I looked on worriedly, not sure what to do as I listened to his ragged breathing. "Maybe I should go get the nurse and bring her to you," I suggested.

Milo shook his head, and then turned it, still resting on his arms, but facing me now. "Jake Armstrong," he said quietly, and when I raised an eyebrow, he added, "That was my first crush. He's really fat now."

I smiled, and then playfully narrowed my eyes on him. "I think I'm the only one who's not on your list."

"Are you fishing for compliments?"

"Of course," I responded, and Milo looked like he was going to smile, just before he faced forward and swallowed hard.

"You okay?" I asked.

He was silent, but forced himself to nod, then he tried to stand up, moving away from me in the process.

"Hey," I objected, not liking the way he seemed wobbly on his feet. The last thing I wanted to do was watch him faint. I reached for his arm, but Milo pulled it away.

"I'm okay," he stated. "Just kinda... dizzy."

"So let me help you," I responded irritably. Now, was not the time for him to be stubborn. "Shit. I won't bite unless you ask me to, okay?"

Milo cocked his head at that as his hair blew into his face, and then he released a small chuckle. "I can walk by myself."

"Alright," I agreed. "You walk, and I'll make sure you don't fall on your face." I lifted his bag from the ground, and Milo jumped when I moved my hand to his back again, resting just between his shoulder blades. He tried to step away from it, but I followed, and met his glare with a stubborn look of my own until he lowered his head and walked down the ramp, no longer objecting to the way I walked close to him, touching him.

"If I pass out..."

"You think you're gonna pass out?" I cut him off, gripping the back of his shirt, alarmed.

Milo glanced at me. "I said if. If I do, just tell everyone you hit me or something, okay? At least that'll sound like a good enough reason for why..."

"You should relax," I insisted. "I pass out when I see a little tiny needle, okay? I could cut myself and bleed buckets, but I've never been able to have my blood drawn without someone holding me down. So... just don't worry about it. Besides, if I said I hit you, I don't think it would be very convincing. I doubt anyone would believe I mistook you for Jame... better yet, just don't pass out."

Milo sighed, and as we slowly made our way towards the gym he started to look a little better. At least, it seemed that way. His color wasn't exactly back, but his breathing was growing normal and the cool air warded off the sweat he'd broken out in.

"You're on my list," Milo suddenly said, and I glanced at him while he continued to concentrate on where his hiking-boot-clad feet were going as we moved across short-cropped grass, green and still moist from the last time the field surrounding the school had been watered. "But, don't let it go to your head or anything."

I smiled, really hoping that he wasn't brave enough to tell me that only because his brain had been deprived of oxygen and he was about to pass out. "Don't worry, I kinda figured that," I replied.

Milo regarded me with interest and my eyes moved to the strand of hair that had blown into his face. I found myself tightening my grip on the back of his sweater, resisting the urge to pluck the dark lock away from the corner of his mouth as he wet his lips. "Why would you think that?" he asked.

I released a small laugh. "Dude, do you really think I ever would have told you I was gay if I didn't think you might have at least a small thing for me? I'm really not that brave, you know."

"But why would you think I had a thing for you?" Milo asked, making a face at me. "I don't even remember being nice to you."

I regarded him for a moment, and then smiled. "I don't think I should tell you right now. I mean...here."

He was suspicious. "Why?"

"Let's just get you to the nurse," I said, and he frowned at me. "I'll tell you later," I promised. And, I meant it. I just wasn't sure how upset he was going to be with me, and I hardly thought school was the right place to explain things to him.

"Drinking fountain."


"There's a drinking fountain in the gym," he explained. "I think I'll feel better if I just get some water. And you can let go of me now."

I ignored that last thing. "We can stop in the gym," I agreed, and as we neared the large sand-colored structure that matched the school I looked at Milo and walked even closer to him, so I could feel the heat emanating from his body against my side, even through the cold air surrounding us. "If I'm on your list, why won't you meet me outside of school?" I asked, and the corners of his mouth curled down, just as they had last Friday when I asked him to meet me over the weekend. "I'd settle for outside of class," I added.

He turned his head slightly, his eyes drifting to mine and I waited for a response as I noticed his steps becoming smaller, slowing us down until we'd stopped completely. "When are we supposed to do that?" he finally said. "When you're with your friends, or I'm with mine?"

"What do our friends have to do with anything?"

"It would be weird if we just started hanging out."

"Why?" I asked, confused. "There's no rules saying that we can't be friends. That's stupid."

"People would talk."

"I think you're being paranoid," I remarked, dropping my hand from his shirt. "No one's going to care if we hang out, and if someone does, who cares? Besides, you like me. You said so--can't take it back now. Just say yes."

"I can't. I don't know what I'm saying yes to."

"You're saying yes to... sacrificing a few moments of your obviously precious time spend it with me. To letting me meet you in the halls before a few of your classes or, coming over to see the goat. Did I tell you we have a goat? Or... giving me an actual invitation to show up at your house. I don't know, Milo. Anything. Preferably something that involves you letting me kiss you, but for right now I think I'd settle for you showing up at my locker just to borrow a stupid pencil."

Milo's jaw dropped as some of his color came back. I think it was just because he was blushing.

"Do you actually think before you let words come out of your mouth?"

I frowned at him. "When I'm around you, I get to be honest. Most of the time, like, around my friends... around almost everyone, I'm just a liar."

His eyes narrowed as he lifted a hand, lightly scratching at his brow. "You make me..."

I took a step closer, waiting for him to continue, but the sound of loud footsteps, quickly padding over the grass and the gangling of keys had me looking back, just in time to see Caleb jog right past us as he headed towards the trailers.

"Caleb?" I curiously called out, and my best friend spun around with windblown hair and a red hue to his cheeks, clearly winded. His eyes focused on me, seemingly confused as he glanced back at the trailer, and then me again. When he suddenly clapped his hands together and took a step forward, I straightened, lifting a curious eyebrow as Milo took the opportunity to move back behind me.

"I'm an uncle," Caleb announced, sounding as if it took a great deal of effort to get just those words out. "I mean, not yet--I'm gonna be. Julie's in the hospital, and I need you to take Joe and Haily home so I can go." Caleb's face lit up. "She said after all the shit she gave me I can tape the birth." Caleb laughed to himself, obviously amused by this. "Pretty sick, huh?"

I heard Milo inhale a deep breath behind me and glanced back. His eyes were closed again and he looked like he was trying very hard not to hear what Caleb was saying.

"Milo?" I asked, ignoring the funny way Caleb looked at me when I turned away from his news to touch Milo's shoulder. His green eyes snapped open and the next thing I knew he was reaching for his backpack, pulling it off my shoulder and leaving me with just the hall-pass eraser.

"I'm gonna get that water now," he told me, and I nodded.

"I'll be there in a second," I told him, and as Milo headed into the gym I faced Caleb, smiling. "Yeah, I can get Haily and Joe home. No problem," I insisted. "Go."

Caleb's brow was frowning as he looked behind me, in the direction Milo had gone. "Dude, what was that?"

"Oh, he's sick," I replied. "I'm walking him to the nurse's office. Hello, Julie--having a baby?"

Caleb's attention snapped back to me and his expression went back to being excited. "Yeah, do you know what that means? She's gonna have to move back into her own fucking place, and she has to be nice to me or I will never baby-sit for her."

I smiled at him. "Are you really gonna tape it?"

Caleb made a face. "No. Not really. Don't even know if I wanna watch it yet."

"If you're interested there's a sneak preview going on in parenting class," I remarked, and he cocked his head at me, just before he straightened.

"I have to go!"

"You have to go," I agreed. "Congratulate Julie for me."

"Yeah, yeah," he responded, turning back towards the school. "Call you later, Nels!"

I smiled after him, hoping that things at home would get easier for him. Julie's husband probably would want her to be back in their own place now, as soon as she recovered. But, without him around, I saw her doing that just about as much as I could see Caleb refusing to baby-sit, especially when the new baby was his niece or nephew.

I turned towards the back entrance of the gym and opened one of the purple, double doors that Milo had gone through, placing me in the wide hall with marbled black-and-orange tiling and fluorescent lights, right next to entrance to the guy's locker room. It was warm in the hall, muggy from the nearby showers, and the scent of deodorizers and musk pleasantly hit my nostrils, tempting me to take a peek into the male shower room. The only thing that stopped me was thinking that I should invite Milo to come, too. Only, as I looked down the hall, to the left of the door leading into the gymnasium where I could hear basketballs thumping on the court and echoing through the building, there were two drinking fountains, and Milo wasn't near either of them.

I didn't have to look around the gym to know that I wouldn't find him there, but I did, anyway, feeling disappointed. Not only had Milo ditched me, but there wasn't a single naked body to be found in the locker rooms.

After walking all the way to the main building, and discovering that Milo hadn't even been in the nurse's station, I made it back to Mrs. Bates's class just in time to gather my things as the bell rang. I returned the hall pass and lied on Milo's behalf, saying that he got to the nurse just fine. Haily wanted to know what was going on, but she couldn't have cared less about what happened to Milo as soon as I told her that Caleb's sister was having a baby. I took Haily home before I drove Joe directly to the police station for his community service. He'd planned to just work mostly on weekends, but since his parents had made him give up his job at the gas station when school started, he decided to try to get his community service over with faster by putting in a few hours every day after school. To my surprise, he didn't complain about Trujillo at all on the way over. Instead, he was talking about Kelly Down, the girl he was taking to homecoming. It seemed that he liked her enough to ask her out over the upcoming weekend, too.

"You're taking Haily, right?" Joe asked me.

"As friends," I replied.

"Good. I don't think you should be anything more than that, anyway."

"Because you don't want me fucking your cousin?" I asked, glancing at him sidelong from the driver's seat.

"No, I don't care about that," Joe responded, as if it were obvious. "It would screw everything up if you and Haily got together. I'd be stuck hanging out with Caleb all the time."

"Is he still pissed at you?" I asked.

"Because he got community service? Nah. He's been better ever since I got it. But whatever. It was all fucking bullshit, anyway."

"Joe, you tried to run down two people and you destroyed Milo's paintings," I replied, feeling irritated with his attitude. That's probably why the subject didn't come up very often.

"Like he can't color more pictures," Joe responded, rolling his eyes. "Besides, it was an accident. Everyone just needs to get over it."

I frowned, but didn't comment further. It was easier to just drop Joe off and hope that Trujillo gave him an extra hard time today, than try to tell him that he was being a prick. Besides, I was in no mood to be in a bad mood. While Caleb was finding out first hand what a live birth was like, and Haily was doing her homework, and Joe going off to hopefully get more splinters, I had some unfinished business of my own to take care of.

There were no cars parked outside of the Trust residence, and as I became brave enough to knock on the front door, I could only hope that Milo's car was the only one parked in the garage. When it was Juanita who answered the door, wearing a simple black dress today, with her hair pulled back, I was half tempted to forget about why I was there and run away. She took one look at me and released an exasperated sigh.

"Milo... please," I said, as I waited for her to slam the door in my face. But instead, she rolled her eyes and waved me in.


I couldn't decide if I wanted to be nervous or grateful to discover that she wasn't very chatty today. She called Milo twice from the bottom of the stairs while I eagerly waited in the many shadows that his house seemed to be full of, but no response came. I was disappointed, but I felt a lot better when Juanita waved for me again, and I followed her up the stairs. Milo's door was cracked open this time, and Juanita looked in first before she turned, rolled her eyes, and walked away shaking her head, leaving me no more instructions. I looked after her curiously before I turned towards the door and took my own peek into the room. I smiled.

The walls were still empty, but that didn't seem to matter much now as Milo lay beneath the ceiling light, face down on his bed facing the pillows with his bare feet hanging off the edge of the bed as he wriggled his long toes. From the angle, his jeans seemed to hug the tight lift of his ass snugly, and his tan, shirtless back seemed flexed as he held himself on his elbows over an opened book, spinning a pencil in the air between his fingers as he bobbed his head to the music coming from the white headphones plugged into his ears.

I glanced over my shoulder, making sure that Juanita was gone before I slowly pushed open Milo's bedroom door and then closed it behind me. The well-oiled hinges weren't a problem as the bottom of the door slid along the rugs beneath my feet, and then clicked as it shut. When I turned back around, Milo hadn't moved, obviously not noticing anything amiss. I waved away some smoke coming from burning sandalwood and then made myself comfortable, removing my jacket and hanging it on the doorknob. I straightened my long, white shirt sleeves as I moved towards his bed. I wouldn't say that I snuck up on him, exactly. I just didn't do anything to draw attention to myself as I looked over his shoulder to see that he was working on history homework from Mr. Danner's class. When I moved to the side of the bed and turned onto the burgundy spread, stretched out on my side and propped up on my elbow, I got his attention.

Milo jumped, his eyes widening as he turned his head to face me, just as I plucked one of the headphones out of his ear. He opened his mouth, a few sounds escaping him as he struggled for incredulous words.

"You didn't finish what you were saying, back at school," I said calmly, as if I wasn't the crazy blond boy who'd just snuck into his room and jumped in bed with him.

He looked exasperated. "What?"

"You said, I make you... what?" I asked.

Milo stared at me for a long moment, his tongue appearing to leave a moist strip along his top lip while he gathered himself and did his best to look less startled as he slowly removed the second headphone from his ear. "Uncomfortable," he finally said, his eyes boldly facing mine. "You make me, uncomfortable."

I thought about that for a moment as I took in the current situation. I'd just startled him alone in his room. On his bed.

"I think I can understand that," I admitted reasonably.

Milo simply nodded. "What are you doing here?" he asked, but none of his usual animosity seemed to be behind it.

"Actually... I just wanted you to finish that sentence," I admitted, finding it a lot more foolish now than I had when I'd knocked on the front door. "So are you feeling better? You didn't go to the nurse. I checked."

"I just went home," Milo replied. "I'm better. Someone's having a baby?"

"Caleb's sister."

"Oh." Milo folded his hands over his book, and stared down at them for very long moment. When he didn't say anything, I took in a deep breath, braced myself, and kept a promise that I'd made earlier.

"I figured out you were gay..." I paused when Milo instantly looked up at me, his emerald eyes seeming inquisitive. "I mean, I sorta figured you might be..." I sat up, and let out a frustrated breath. "Look, I know you think about me naked, okay?"

Milo, seeming somewhat alarmed, turned onto his side to better face me, and I got distracted when I allowed my eyes to wander over his bare chest, looking defined, with one arm crossed over it as he braced himself. His dark nipples looked hard against the cooler air in the room and I found myself tempted to reach out and trace the thin trail of hair that led from his navel downwards, disappearing into his faded jeans which were unbuttoned, allowing me a narrow glimpse of white boxers. Milo must have followed my eyes because he was suddenly sitting up and buttoning his pants as he moved to a cross-legged position on his bed.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" he demanded, now crossing his arms over his bare chest as his somewhat messed hair fell over his face. "And stop doing that!" he added defensively as a warm blush colored his cheeks.

"What?" I asked, looking around as I tried to figure out what was offending him.

"You're staring," he informed me.

I looked at him for a moment, warding off my own blush because he'd been inconsiderate enough to actually point that fact out. "So it's okay when girls do it, but not me?" I responded dryly, and then narrowed my eyes as if to catch him with them. "And how long did you look at me after you were done painting yourself some Nelson-porn?" I retorted, lifting an expectant eyebrow in his direction.

Milo cocked his head at me for a brief moment as he took in my words, and then he was slapping his hand over his mouth as his eyes widened on me. I just nodded, feeling self-satisfied as I confirmed that whatever he was thinking was in fact, correct. But I nearly fell back off his bed when he lowered his hand and glared at me so hard that I thought vein might pop right out of his forehead.

"You fucking asshole," he hissed at me.

"Hey, I found it by mistake," I said defensively. "It was when I came to drop off the scarecrow painting--you can't get mad."

Milo swallowed hard as he suddenly tore his eyes from mine and I watched him stand right up on his bed. "I'm not mad," he said quietly, and I stood as I watched him march right off of his mattress onto one of the rugs covering the floor. He paused there, holding his head for a moment as I walked around him enough to see that he really wasn't angry. In fact, it was worse.

His face was as flushed as a bad sunburn would be and his eyes had glassed over, and did everything they could, to avoid me. Milo Trust wasn't mad. He was humiliated. I took a step towards him, not wanting him to feel bad at all, but he immediately backed up.

"You need to leave now," he stated.

"Milo, come on. It's not a big deal, okay? I mean, how do you think I felt when I saw it?" I blushed even thinking about it. He looked at me then.

"Which one did you see?" he asked.

That took a second to sink in. "Which one?"

While I tried to figure out how many naked-Nelsons were floating around his canvases, Milo groaned and shook his head. "Never mind. Get out. Seriously, I can't... you have to leave." He pointed to his door and I frowned, but I didn't go towards it. Instead, I moved towards him.

"Look, I didn't go looking for it, alright? And you know I'm not going to say anything to anyone," I gave him a smile as I got closer to him, glancing down at his bare feet as I cautiously lifted my hand to his arm, just above his elbow where I let my fingers rest lightly over his muscle there. I brushed my thumb over smooth warm skin as I tried to meet his eyes. It would have been easier if he wasn't avoiding mine as he pursed his lips. "I'm sorry, I didn't know how to tell you about it before. It really isn't something to get upset about, Milo. I mean... after I stopped freaking out, I kinda liked it," I admitted. "And, I'm glad I found it, otherwise I never would have known..."

"You don't understand," Milo cut me off, suddenly facing me directly. He looked agitated, but didn't pull his arm away from my hand. In fact, it felt like he moved further into it. "I'm not glad that you found the stupid painting! And it's not even about the painting, I can't...." He stopped, taking in a few deep breaths. "If you found it, it could have been anyone..."

"Well, when it's sitting right there next to your closet..."

"No, I mean, I don't do things like that, ever. You might be okay with your family knowing, but I'm not like you, okay?"

"Hey, I know what it's like not to be able to tell people you care about," I interjected. "But no one's asking you to do that. I wouldn't."

Milo dropped his eyes and shook his head some more, obviously having trouble with something. Honestly, I really didn't understand this. I could understand him being embarrassed, but if he was worrying about someone else finding that painting... or, paintings, then it wasn't like he couldn't hide them. Or, even get rid of them. It was true that I liked the one I saw... or more specifically, I liked the way that Milo seemed to see me. But, I wasn't exactly in a hurry to let anyone else set eyes on it, either. That didn't mean that whatever problem he had about the paintings couldn't wait, though. I was more interested in wiping that frown off his face as my stomach knotted over whether or not this encounter was going to once again change the way we interacted. I wasn't sure that I could handle going back and forth with his obviously mixed feelings towards me in play. I moved my hand from his arm to his back, my attempt at a comforting gesture.

"If you don't want... I know you don't want me here, but why don't you get a shirt, and we can go somewhere and talk," I suggested, allowing my fingertips to trace down his spine. I felt goose bumps appear there and he sucked in a breath as he lifted his eyes to mine again, still looking troubled.

"I think talking to you is part of the problem," he said quietly, and I frowned at him as my eyes drifted to his lips, waiting for them to tell me to get out of his house again.

"I don't understand," I admitted. "If you didn't want to talk to me, you wouldn't. You keep playing these games..."

"I'm not playing games," he hissed. "I'm trying to be... I just want to be like everyone else."

I met his eyes again as I wet my lips. "So do I, that's why I'm here." I didn't see what the problem was.

"If I let you kiss me, will you go away?"

My eyes snapped to his. I cocked my head at him, and then shook it. "No."

Milo regarded me stubbornly, but I didn't really pay attention to it, not when I was so focused on the suggestion he'd just planted in my head. I glanced over at my hand, moving from his back to his side, leaving a trail of goose bumps until it came to rest on his side, where I traced his rib with my thumb through a layer of tight flesh. Milo trembled, his body stiffening against my touch, but he didn't move away.

"Then you can't..." he started to say, even as my eyes dropped back to his mouth.

I think I was the only one who really moved forward, my free hand going to his other arm as he seemed to come closer to me. It was me, leaning towards him. I just didn't notice the difference as I gently came into contact with him. His mouth felt soft beneath mine as I grazed it. So close, I noticed that Milo had closed his eyes. I did the same as I leaned in further, cautiously releasing my tongue against his lips, sampling the soft, smooth texture of them. My hand climbed up his arm, feeling his muscles flex as he reached out and took hold of my shirt, if only loosely. I didn't know if he meant to push me away or pull me in, but as my fingers rounded his bare shoulder and climbed his neck to trace his ear I stepped in closer, satisfied with the way I could feel the heat from his body through my shirt. I sighed when he parted his lips beneath my gentle coaxing, and I sealed my mouth over his, my tongue delving into his mouth, tasting and exploring warm, sweet territory. I felt his hand firmly grip my shoulder, pushing at me; but at the same time, his tongue came against my own, meeting my exploring rhythm and jarring me from curiosity and caution to excitement as I slid my hand to the back of his neck, holding him tighter to me. My nose fell alongside his as I deepened the kiss, enjoying the way that his breath hit my face and his hand moved loosely to my side, while my fingers explored the bare skin of his, all the way down to where his narrow waistline disappeared into his jeans. We were broken apart abruptly when Milo pulled back, and when I opened my eyes, all I saw was a deep green before I closed them, leaned forward, and kissed him all over again.