Here's Chapter 4.

Thank you to all the people who've written. I've tried to reply to everyone and to answer questions as best I can.

I'm sorry if the story hasn't moved as quickly as some people would have liked. I haven't edited down as much as I at first intended. I've been leaving the drafts more or less intact and letting the story have its own pace. I hope that as things go on people think that it's worth sticking with it.

As usual there is no sex.

Chapter 4

I woke up the next morning to find David squatting next to my bed shaking me gently.

6 o'clock, J, time to get up,” told me quietly. I frowned at him and stretched my arms over my head. David laughed, reached out and messed my hair. “I've finished with the bathroom. Get washed up and we'll get down to the kitchen.”

I dragged myself out of bed and grabbing a towel went next door to the bathroom. I felt great – I'd slept like a baby – but I was a bit disoriented waking up in a strange room with a stranger messing my hair. The memory of David rubbing my head made me smile. As I brushed my teeth I reflected on our short-lived falling out yesterday. For a moment I imagined what it would have felt like if I hadn't been able to make peace with him and I shuddered. He is just such a nice guy. Yesterday I'd been preoccupied with his looks and I'd stupidly allowed that to colour my judgement of him too much. But as happens, even though my lack of mindfulness led to me getting angry, in the end there'd been a way to put things right and the result had been good. We'd both ended up learning something about ourselves and each other and we'd both had cause to reflect on our attitudes. Not bad really.

Then Ajahn yesterday evening: that was really something. I hadn't had much time to think about the words of the Buddha that he'd directed me to, but I thought I understood him. He knew that David could be a good friend to me – a dhamma friend, someone who could encourage me to live the way the Buddha taught; the way I wanted to live if I could. Did he understand that in a strange way that had already started? He couldn't of course. But, I had the strongest feeling that David would be my kalyanamitta – my admirable friend; my dhamma buddy. How was that going to work out if I also wanted something else, another kind of friendship from him?

I looked at myself in the mirror above the sink. Not much to look at. 5' 8”, 155lbs or so, black hair and brown eyes. It was like I was the default model of a teenage boy. Nothing custom; nothing out of the ordinary. All nicely symmetrical and with no visible blemishes. But, ordinary. Which is OK. I like being ordinary. I stepped into the bath and turned on the shower overhead, closing the curtain around me – I liked a blast of cold followed by the gradual warming of the water. I wanted to be out of there quickly so the shower was purely functional no luxuriating for me. A minute or two was all it took to soap, rinse and get out to towel myself off. Then, I pulled my boxers back on just in case I met anyone on the landing and went back to the bedroom.

David was dressed and sorting laundry when I got there.

Great, we need to get moving,” he told me as I pulled on cargoes and t-shirt. The fact that he seemed to want to hurry discouraged me from even having my usual two minute internal debate over quicksilver or billabong and I was following him out of the door and down the stairs before I'd even spoken to him.

What's the rush?” I asked him.

The bhikkus finish their morning meditation by 6:30 and I want to have their breakfast ready by then,” he explained.

We're making breakfast?” I asked him as though he hadn't in fact just told me that.

Yeah, I kind of volunteered us for that one. I hope you don't mind!”

I laughed out loud.

No, I don't mind. We should get some t-shirts with Dek Wat” Thai for 'temple boys' “printed on them. So what's for breakfast?”

Congee, pickled veggies, toast and stuff, and coffee. Usually the bhikkus do breakfast by rota and we could have just joined the rota but...”

But you signed us up to get up at 6 to make breakfast for 12 every day?” I asked David my face wide, grinning astonishment. David glanced at me over his shoulder as we passed through the corridor to the kitchen.

It took quite an argument. Ajahn Arieysako and the other bhikkus really didn't want us doing it every day. But I thought, we'd probably be getting up early anyway and even if I didn't know your habits I knew that I could manage breakfast. It's straightforward stuff. If you didn't want to or if you wanted to chant or meditate then, no problem.”

Nah, D. It's a really nice idea. Tell ya what, we can make it our own 'making breakfast meditation'. It's nice to do something for the sangha. Do people ever bring food offerings?”

Occasionally, usually they'll have called ahead and let the bhikkus know that they're going to make a food offering. But it's not happening today bud so it's to the vats and stove with us.” He pushed me gently through the kitchen door and over to the sink. Two minutes after showering I washed my hands again before we started getting food ready. David had made a mass of congee – rice porridge - the day before so he put it on to heat and while it sat glooping gently he got ready bowls of vegetables fresh and pickled, soy sauce, fish sauce, chillies. I started on the toast taking slices of wholemeal bread from a loaf David had given me and grilling six at a time. There was an electric toaster but it would only toast four slices at a time so this was quicker. When the congee additions were done David set a huge filter machine making coffee and got margarine out of the refrigerator and jam, honey and vegemite from a cupboard. When we were done we had a rather strange mix of a western and typical Asian breakfast on the table.

Just at that moment the bhikkus came into the kitchen and led by Ajahn Ariyesako sat down around the table. The abbot led the grace before meals starting Namo tassa arahato bhagavato sammasambuddhassa 'I pay homage to the enlightened, the noble lord, the supreme-awakened' and the monks took up the short chant before they turned their attention to the food. David and I handed round bowls of congee, I put a pile of toast in the centre of the table and David brought the coffee pot over before we sat down ourselves at the far end of the table from the abbot to eat breakfast.

The meal passed in silence and afterwards the monks helped us to clear the table, fill the dishwasher and then filed out to get on with their day – the first order of business being the morning puja then to meditation or to study or whatever they had to occupy them. David and I went after them to the shrine room for the morning service and sat mostly in silence occasionally joining in the chanting. Afterwards we sat for a few moments in silence, alone now. Then, as the moment seemed right to both of us and in someway we both knew it, we stood up and made our way back to our room.

So dude, you want to plan the day or go with the flow?” David asked me and it made me smile that he shared my assumption that whatever we were doing we were doing it together.

Anything you have to do?” I asked.

Yup. Yesterday I was supposed to drop a bag of clothes over at the shelter and I didn't get round to it. And I want to phone home sometime today but that can wait till evening.”

Did we say we'd see Martin at 12?”

We did. After his shift at the store. So, we could drop the clothes at the shelter first, go collect Martin and then hit the Mall to look for a TV.”

Lunch – don't forget lunch in this plan D,” I interjected with mock urgency.

Hey,” David exclaimed, “we have plenty of time before we need to leave for town so how about coming to see the creek?” I thought for a whole two seconds before agreeing. “Do you have swimsuit?” David asked me.

Yeah, sure,” I replied.

Well there won't be anyone around. Get it and we'll go down to the creek and change and then we'll take the dinghy out for a bit.” I searched through my pack for the pair of long swimming shorts I'd brought down with me and having found them grabbed a towel as well.

When I had that, David already had a towel round his neck and we went down stairs and out the door in the kitchen onto the wide lawn. The grounds of the vihara were beautiful. There was a magnolia tree on the lawn and a large stand of rhododendrons; clumps of pampas grass and to one side a small orchard. I found out later that it was mixed orchard fruits: a couple apple trees, pear trees, a peach and a plum. The grass was still dew wet and I for a moment I considered taking my shoes off and going barefoot but David had already set off· I followed him out across the grass towards the water and next to a clump of reeds we found a small row boat.

Can you row?” David asked.

I live by a lake. I can row and sail.”

Great stuff. Get in and I'll show you one of my favourite spots. We can swim there safely enough it's shallow all around here for quite a way and very lazy water.” David got into the boat and took the oars while I pushed off and jumped in getting my sandals wet and rocking the boat a little. The water was beautifully clear. I remembered as David's effort pulled us away from the shore that somewhere around Crystal River you could go manatees and take snorkel trips. I watched David's arms as he pulled on the oars, looking over his shoulders from time to time to check on our direction.

We didn't speak until David pointed out our destination to me.

That small island there. There's a cove on the far side with a small sandy beach. I've been coming out here for the last two summers and I've never seen anyone else there.”

Who owns it?” I asked as I scanned the small scrub covered island.

Dunno. Probably state or city property.” He pulled around hard and took us around the islet and the small sandy cove he'd told me about came into view. We beached the boat, me jumping out again to drag the dinghy out of the water. I stood and looked around. The sun was climbing slowly in the east and the air was warm and still. The crystal clear fresh water was still around my feet.

It feels a million miles from anywhere here somehow,” I whispered almost as though speaking to myself. David looked at me oddly then picked up our towels and a little way from the waters edge spread them both on the sand.

Let's swim,” he commanded and pulled off his t-shirt, kicked off his birks and then started to take off his khaki fatigues. Although modesty seemed false since we were sharing a room and had already changed in front of each other, I felt my self blush a little and turned slightly to undress myself out of the direct line of sight. We were both in our swim shorts soon enough and David suddenly became more animated breaking the air of calm that had so far pervaded the day.

Yaaaaaaaaahooooo!” he all but screamed as he dashed ten yards into the water and then threw himself in. I follwed him and soon we were splashing about, ducking and diving and chasing each other. The creek bed was sandy and my feet were tickled by the fronds of long, dark green sea grass. We horsed around for a while ducking and chucking each other until I decided I wanted to swim.

I'll race you around the island,” I called out to David and grabbing my self an advantage I set off without waiting to hear his reply. Circumnavigating the islet would only involve swimming a few hundred metres but I didn't push myself nonetheless. I heard the Steady slap of David's strokes as well as my own so I knew without looking that he couldn't be far behind me. I put on a short burst of speed. I didn't care of course about beating David but I was enjoying the race just for its own sake. I followed the outline of the island and turned round a tiny headland that marked the further end. After this I would be on the home strait, so to speak. I felt a tap on my ankle and realised that David really had caught up with me this time and was letting me know it. I wanted to laugh but I couldn't laugh and swim without risking a lungful of water so I pushed away again and made for our beach. I dragged myself out of the warm water, David just behind me. I dashed the short distance to our towels and just as I was about to step onto mine I felt David push me from behind sending me sprawling onto the fine soft sand.

Yes!” he shouted. “First back to my towel. I rule.” I laughed out loud at the patent daftness of this tactic of despair.

We didn't start from the towels dude, we started in the water.” I brushed sand from my body where I'd fallen. “I guess now anyway we're even. I took you down yesterday; you took me down today. But don't let your guard down: you could be taken down again any time bro.” I was grinning all the time I spoke. David lay on his towel looking at me through half closed eyes his mouth curving up just slightly while his hands played idly with the grass on either side of him.

You won't come after me,” he said with confidence. “I'm perfectly safe when you're around.” I looked over at him trying to work out just what he was saying but there was nothing to give away more than his words. Of course he was safe. I wouldn't hurt him but that couldn't have been what he meant, could it? The other interpretation of 'come after me' leaped to the front of my conscious attention and I winced. He couldn't mean that? I decided that whatever David meant I shouldn't worry about it. Over interpreting his remarks would do me no good. I settled on to my towel to enjoy the sun on my body before the day got too hot. I wondered after a minute or so whether I should be wearing sun block. I supposed that David being a native would know. He wasn't wearing any but his skin colouring probably protected him.

David?” I queried, “should I be wearing sun block? It just hit me how much more sun there is here even this early in the day than there would be at home this time of year.”

Well you Great Frozen North dudes probably should cover up a bit, but you should be OK until about mid-morning. We'll be heading back before it gets risky. But you should see some of the sights I've seen on the beach. Guys falling asleep mid-day with no protection and waking up lobster coloured and hurting! Don't fall asleep J!” I laughed. The truth was that at that moment it was so peaceful and warm that I could easily have fallen asleep. To avoid that I sat up and scanned the horizon. As I looked out across the water towards the farther shore I saw a bird – a beautiful, white bird, long legged with a long orange bill.

David, look man, a stork!” I whispered urgently. I was excited enough that I hadn't calculated that the bird was too far away to hear my voice. David sat up and followed my gaze. He chuckled.

It's an egret J dude. They're a kind of heron. They're all over the place in Florida and you know what, they'll eat out of your hand. Sometime you'll see that if any come onto the vihara grounds when there are people about with food.” I wasn't concerned at his casual lack of interest. The bird was magnificent. OK, I'm a city boy more or less, so I don't get to see much wildlife in the normal run of things but that wasn't the only reason for my awe. The bird was tall and snow white with a vivid orange tapered bill and long back legs. It stood in the water its neck crooked, still as though carved out of wood. David was sitting watching me watch the bird.

Jakob we'll have to take you to see the manatees if you're gonna be all awe struck by birds and stuff,” he teased me gently.

Hey, I want to see them, believe me. I guess you natives think they're about as exciting as Disney World but I want to see them. I thought manatees were only here in the winter though.” I turned to look at him expecting that he'd know somehow.

In the winter they come up creek for warmth and in the summer they're mostly further out. Sometimes if it's hot they even swim up the Atlantic coast. But there are refuges all around this area and you can see manatees this time of year. We really should go on a snorkel trip if you really want to see them.”

Yeah it would be nice. I'm soft for cute animals.”

And cute boys?” David responded quick as you like. I blushed when he said it but I soon found myself laughing.

If I see any cute boys I'll let you know my reactions straight away D dude,” I told him in mock serious tone. He looked at me in exasperation then stood up and brushed sand from his body.

I'm going back in the water J. You coming. We want to head back sometime soon.”

Nah I'll just sit and watch guy. You go splash around.” As if I'd given him permission David walked into the water until it was at his waist then fell forward. He swam a stroke or two then flipped himself onto his back and floated lazily, occasionally moving his arms and legs to propel himself nowhere in particular. I left him to his waterbaby fun and lay back my arms behind my head watching the clouds and enjoying the moment. Hearing David splashing quietly nearby was enough of a reminder of my new friend to warm my thoughts and feelings a little. Our simple plans for the day seemed good enough to me. We'd have fun. I decided that the nagging question of what I wanted from David could nag and be more or less ignored. I realised that he would make such a good friend that I shouldn't worry or feel resentful if there was nothing more there. I also tried to be honest with myself that the anticipation of something more was still driven as much by his looks as his character.

In the calm of the morning, in the bright sun surrounded by the meandering still water, it was easy to let the anxieties go. Tread lightly and all will be well, I told myself. Be satisfied; don't hanker. No point at all in working myself up about nothing. Even if the nothing in question did happen to come in the absolutely most beautiful boy package ever. I laughed at myself quietly. It's as good to remember, I thought, that if you are cool then something more, something more intimate and deeper might happen. Who knows?

It wasn't long before David was back on the beach towelling himself dry. I allowed myself the luxury of watching him rub his body with the towel for a moment before I stood up and brushed myself down with my own towel. I turned my back on him, removed my swim suit and pulled on my fatigues and t-shirt. I slipped my sandals onto my feet and made for the dinghy.

I'll row us back. You push off,” I told him. I pushed the dinghy just into the water, jumped in and settled the oars into the rowlocks. David grabbed the stern of our little boat and while I held the oars out of the water pushed it into the still blue water. I waited until he had jumped into before dipping the oars, took a look over my shoulder and marked a course in my mind back to the stand of reeds that I thought marked our destination.

A few minutes later we were walking back across the lawn and were through the kitchen doors and on our way back to our room. We'd been bathing in what was essentially part of a huge estuary of fresh water and so there was no salt dusting as a result, but still I wanted a quick shower before we set off and so did David. This time David came into the bathroom with me and while I got under the water first he brushed his teeth. When he got under the water I sat on the toilet and talked to him.

Tell me something, does Martin visit the vihara? He seemed to know Ajahn Ariyesako.” Over the rain-on-tin-roof patter of the shower's water, David replied:

Martin visits a lot. He's always with his family for Uposatha days. Sometimes his mom makes food offerings that the family bring to the vihara.”

Cool. The first two guys I meet in Crystal River are Buddhists,” I mused. “So you know Martin from the vihara, yeah? Or did you know him from school or something?” I suppressed a fleeting thought that I was being nosey. David spoke from behind the shower curtain again.

No I knew Martin before we started to visit the vihara. We were at the same school and we went to the same youth group for a while. But I didn't really know him well until after I came out.” I wondered for a moment about that remark and decided that the easiest thing to do with my curiosity was to ask.

Why was that?”

I got some hassle at school for a while. Nothing major – well there were nasty threats a few times but mainly just being jostled, baited and stuff. Martin saw it happening one day and he got in the way.”

He got in the way?” I asked, puzzled.

Yup. One lunch time a group of jerks were baiting me just outside school and Martin saw them. He came over and he just stood in front of me and wouldn't get out of their way. They tried to make him argue or fight or whatever but he just wouldn't. He just kept telling them that he was sorry but he couldn't get out of their way.”

Oh man that is cool!” What David was describing was a typical non-violent tactic. The idea that a high school kid in Florida would use it to stop fag-baiting in school was amazing. “So after that you got to know him?” I asked.

Yeah, I had to. I was so impressed by him. I found out it was typical Martin as well. He never shows off, he's not boastful but he does the right thing. I know that he'd done it when he'd seen racism at school too and I've seen him do it to stop fights. Sometimes I think there's something special going on because I've never seen anybody respond violently to him. They don't punch him out and carry on. They might insult him but that's it.”

Way cool. And cool job at Wild Oats.”

Yeah his family own it,” David explained. “Right I'm done let's get dressed and out of here.” I followed him out of the bathroom, quietly enjoying the view of his naked back and towel wrapped butt. 'How can a boy's back look so good?' I asked myself. But who cares. He did look good and that was that.

We dressed quickly and it was not time before we were on the road into town. We kept the windows down and spent the ride singing along to whatever was on the radio. When we hit the town centre David parked in front of a building that looked like a small warehouse in a side street off the main drag. I got out of the car and wondered where we were until I saw David opening the boot and pulling out a large black plastic bag that I knew was full of clothes donated to the shelter. I followed him to a double door and we waited after David pushed the buzzer until it was opened by a tall young black man.

David!” The man exclaimed and threw his arms round him. “It's good to see you come in! Who's your friend there?” he asked as I followed the two of them inside.

Edward, this is Jakob, Jakob, Edward – he’s our volunteer co-ordinator. Jakob's staying at the vihara for the summer and helping out here. Didn't anybody tell you?” Edward's eyes widened for a moment and after a second's reflection he replied.

Well they did tell me! Ajahn Ariyesako told me. So this is Jakob? I'm pleased to meet you. Come and sit down for a moment. I'll put these clothes away and we can get introduced.” With that he took the bag from David and went off somewhere presumably to stow it and while he did I followed my friend into a room off the corridor that held a dozen or so slightly institutional looking four seater tables and lots of chairs. There was a counter to one side with a large urn on it and next to it a filter coffee maker.

You want coffee?” David asked me as he helped himself to a cup.

No, not for me thanks D. I'm fine.” David dropped a few coins into a box on the counter and we sat down just as Edward came back in.

The abbot told us to expect you on Monday Jakob, but it's very nice to meet you. As soon as you're ready we'll work out a schedule for you,” Edward told me.

Thanks, Ed. If it's OK I’ll come in Monday to do that. Should I ask to see you?” I asked.

Well David will be bringing you in I guess. He’ll know where to find me. How are you getting here from the vihara?” he asked me.

David’s driving me I hope so we’ll need to schedule our time so I can get rides from him if it’s possible.”

It will be. Davids doing three days and two nights and one every other Saturday. That should be more than enough for you too I’d guess,” Edward said. We decided to leave the detail until Monday and we sat and made small talk while David finished his coffee, or rather Edward and David talked while I listened and watched the volunteers coming and going about their business. A college aged girl was sitting at a table by the window sorting a bag of socks into pairs and from somewhere else in the building I could hear a woman singing a Janis Joplin song. The song reminded me briefly of my mother and I thought about calling my parents later that day, maybe after David had spoken to his.

I didn't try very hard to follow the conversation: it involved far too many people I'd never heard of but I did pay attention suddenly when I heard the word demonstration.

What are you demonstrating against?” I asked Ed.

What have you got?” he quipped back at me. “Actually we're demonstrating for not just against. For peace, against war.”

Who's we?”

The local Peace Coalition. Churches, student groups: all the usual suspects. We're going to leaflet the town center in the morning and have a concert in the park in the afternoon. You should come.”

We should,” I responded. “When is it?”

Next Saturday. What say David? Will we see you there?” I looked at David expectantly, hoping he was going to agree.

How could I not go,” David responded. “I suppose that Martin already knows?”

Sure. They've put up posters in the shop window and Martin's going to play in the park,” Ed explained.

Then we'll be there too. We should go J. I thought we'd leave the car parked outside and walk if you don't mind?” he asked me.

I didn't mind walking at all. Sometimes I thought I was the only teenager in America who didn't want to drive everywhere. As we left the building, walking out into the bright sunlight, David put his arm across my shoulder and leaned in to talk to me.

So the order of play is we go collect Martin, then we feed ravenously-hungry-dude and then we have a look around for a TV. Anything else you can think of?”

No but I wish I had a board. This is a day made for skating. It must be so cool living in the sunshine all the time. But, I guess you don't get snow days off school.”

Well we could pull by the park and watch some skating later anyway we'll probably meet some of the guys there and we can introduce you. But you know Martin has a board. Why don't you ask to borrow it.”

I might do that. Let's see how long things take and decide as we go.” All the time we were talking I was lazily aware of the warmth of David's arm on my shoulders and neck. I wondered vaguely what people who saw us walking like that thought anything of it. Did we look just like two friends or would people looking at us think we were more? The answer didn't really matter though: I was just happy that we could be close like this.

We arrived at Wild Oats soon enough with about 10 minutes to go before Martin would be finished his shift so we bought fruit juice and sat outside waiting in the sun. Martin's father came out and talked to us for a while.

Hola David! How's it going?”

Hey Sr Loyola, I'm fine thanks. This is Jakob by the way, he's staying with us out at the vihara.”

Hello Jakob, hope you're liking Crystal River so far,” the tall black haired latino man addressed me.

I'm having a great time,” I replied. “I only got here yesterday but so far it's been really fun. You got a poster up for the Peace Coalition thing next weekend,” I pointed out.

Yes. We're all hoping it will be a great event. But to be honest there's almost certain to be some opposition. Last time we advertised a PC event the window got painted over.” David sighed loudly.

I hope nobody gets stupid,” he said. “Last time there was a march in St Petersburg a group of demonstrators got into it with some of the public. It was totally stupid.”

I don't think anything like that will happen David. I think everyone in the Coalition is properly prepared,” Martin's dad told him.

At just that moment, Martin came out of the store to join us. He threw David and me an apple each and giving his dad a hug said

Come on guys. I want to get right out of here right now. No more organic veggies till Monday!” We both stood up and shook Sr Loyola's hand and then we set off David and I following Martin down the street.

Martin, J wants to go skating sometime. Can you lend him a board maybe?” David asked.

Sure thing. I got a couple of old boards hanging around at home. Why don't we swing by my place later and pick one up?” Martins' ready generosity impressed me. Meeting David looked like it was going to lead to meeting other good guys.

Thanks Martin it's really cool of you. So where are we going to look for this TV guys?” I asked the pair. At that moment David stopped for a moment and unzipped the bottom of his long boardies to get some sun on his legs. I tried not to stare at his legs: muscular and covered with a fine golden down I could easily have spent a long time admiring them. Martin woke me from my indulgent moment.

We should have a look at Kelmart. They're sure to have a really cheap TV.” David shook his head.

We don't shop at Kelmart bro. Union busting company,” he told his friend. Martin's mouth fell open leaving him catching flies.

You're boycotting Kelmart? For political reasons? OK what have you done with David? Where's my friend gone? The one who thinks that political activism is pointless?” Martin teased.

Whatever Martin. I got a political conscience,” David laughed. “Anyway we're gonna check out W-mart first. There's one in Fairview Mall so let's get over there.”

I followed the pair of boys down the street until out of nowhere I heard a shout:

Fag boy!”

I was suddenly alert checking out David and Martin quickly. Martin's face was dark as a thunder cloud and David suddenly looked incredibly weary. I followed their gaze and it rested on a pair of boys our age, one dark, one fair, sitting on the kerb with slushie's just a few yards away.

Heard you were back faggot. So which of these two is your boyfriend?” The speaker was the dark haired boy.

Hello to you too Mitchell,” David ignored the question. He turned to me and Martin. “Let's get to the mall guys. Sorry Mitchell, no time to chat.” David had only taken a step or two before the dark haired boy spoke again.

You're not gonna tell us whether it's the spic or the skater fag you're dating David? Come on, surely you wanna show your boyfriend off.” My face reddened and I saw David was taking deep breaths and visibly restraining himself. It was Martin who responded.

You wouldn't understand Mitchell. You see, David just can't make his mind up so guess what? We share him.” The remark was so outrageous I laughed out loud and David joined me. The fair haired boy muttered under his breath.

That is disgusting man. Fucking nasty.”

No Darren, what's disgusting is your shitty attitude. It's what comes out of your mouth that's disgusting. Didn't you hear that lesson in Sunday school?” David asked the boy. Without waiting for a reply, he turned to me and Martin again and said, “Come on. Let's go. Nothing to see here folks.” The three of us set off walking again ignoring the muttered obscenities behind us.

What's their problem?” I asked as soon as we were far enough away.

Standard issue bigots,” came the answer from Martin. “Racist – though they'd actually deny that one – homophobic, sexist: you name it Mitchell and Darren hate it.” Nice guys I thought to myself. I noticed that we were passing the Orc's Nest and I saw they had a large poster advertising the Peace Coalition event in the window. How could we lose with Goths on our side I joked to myself.

A while later we arrived at FairviewMall and were soon out of the heat and sun and into the comparative chill of the airconditioned shoppers' paradise. As always the mall gave me the creeps. I always imagined someone in uniform would spot me and I'd be escorted out with a “your type don't belong here” speech. I can never shake the apprehension that I really don't belong in shopping malls. David scanned a board that listed all the stores.

W-mart is on the first floor but there's a place listed here called Bob's Boxes that it says sells audio and video gear so I say we look at both,” he suggested.

Lead on D. Let's compare prices at least.”

We went first to Bob's Boxes. It was a small shop front crowded with sound systems, TVs, VCRs, DVD players and a whole bunch of mixed electronic gear. We went inside and saw Bob behind the counter poking around inside a case of some kind. I knew it was Bob because his t-shirt said 'I'm Bob'. He looked up at us as the three of us swung our eyes around the shop quickly.

What can I do for you guys?” he asked us.

We're looking for a TV with a built in DVD.” I told him taking the lead. “We're price shopping first. We thought we'd see what we could get for our bucks.” Honesty is the best policy as they say.

Where else are you going to look?” Bob asked me.


Don't bother,” Bob said. “I know their stock and their prices and I'll do you a better deal. They have a 19” combo for $165. I don't have anything new for that money but for $150 I can give you a reconditioned 22” TV and a reconditioned DVD player. I'll give you a one year warranty for parts and labour too.” I looked at David for a second and he shrugged. The man seemed to be playing it straight with us. I got no sense he was trying to play us for fools. I decided that we should do this deal. Watching David's face I spoke again.

OK, we'll need to go get the car though. Could you box it up and we'll collect it later? We'll pay for it now of course.”

I'm open till 9 tonight. Be back before then and you can take it away today.”

I got my wallet out took out $150 and handed it over to Bob. We all thanked him and then we were out of the shop and heading out of the mall. When we got outside David turned to speak to me and Martin.

We don't all three need to walk back to get the car. Martin, would you do me a big favour? If you'd go collect my car from outside the shelter I could take J here to have a look at the park and see what the skating action's like?”

No problem bro,” Martin agreed warmly. “Take some time to show him around. I'll be back and we can get lunch and go find a board at my place.” He held his fist up for props from both of us and with out any more being said he took the keys from David and started to jog back in the direction we'd come from earlier.

David and I set off in a different direction and in a few minutes he was leading me into a large grassy park. There were kids everywhere, all ages, playing tag football games, soccer, frisbee. I followed David a short way thru a small wooded area and we came out to see the skate park. There were ramps, tubes, half pipes – the poured concrete lunar landscape of the skaters' paradise. All around the place were boys – and a few girls – with boards, or in-line skates. Most were helmeted and padded a few weren't.

Wanna sit and watch for a while?” David asked me. I nodded at him and I saw a low wall nearby. I went over and sat with my back to the wall facing the skate park. David was just behind me until I sat down and then to my surprise, instead of joining me on the floor, he sat on the wall directly above me, one leg on either side of my body. I was so surprised that I looked directly up at him to find him looking down at me.

You all right there bro?” he asked me smiling.

Sure I'm fine D,” I managed. I pulled my gaze away from his face my heart pounding far more than was ever necessary. As I turned away I felt David's hand ruffle my hair. That boy was developing a habit and I liked it. As I tried to settle to watch the skaters. I felt David's hands on my shoulders and he pulled me back slightly so that his hands were clasped in front of my chest. My stomach almost turned to water. Without conscious intent I turned my head slightly wanting to look at him again and as I did my face brushed his thigh. I looked up and he was smiling down at me again. The hundred questions in my heart must have shown on my face because David spoke and I thought he answered one of them.

J? Can I take you to a movie later?” He asked me softly. I knew I was blushing but I was smiling too. I remembered that we were in public but I wanted to touch him so I put my hand on his arm as it circled my chest and rubbed it gently.

Are you asking me for a date bro?” I asked him squinting slightly at him.

Yeah I'm asking for a date, bro. Do I get one?”

I dunno. We spend so much time together anyway,” I teased him.

Yeah but this would be date time. Quality time. Not making breakfast, or shopping...”

Or early morning swimming?” I asked.

You, me popcorn, cokes, a movie. Darkened theatre. I hold your hand. You understand now?” He grinned at me.

I don't know what brought this on D but I like the plan yeah.”

At that my new date leaned forward and rubbed his face in my hair and I turned to face him just enuf that with a little stretch I could brush my lips against his. The moment seemed suspended and to last far longer than it could have. We were brought back to earth when a voice very close said

Wow. Kodak moment!”

We both looked up quickly and standing next to us were Martin and another latino boy a year or so younger, holding a board by its nose. Martin was grinning like he'd won the lottery.

Good!” he exclaimed, “glad that ones sorted out.” I hadn't a real clue what he meant but he was obviously talking about David and me. I coudn't figure it. I mean, after all even if we'd just had a little intimate moment it was only a kiss and the promise of a date so far. What the hell did that sort out? In my new chilled mood I didn't really care. I was still feeling the warmth of David's arms and of his legs against me and I was enjoying it. The new boy spoke.

If you too have finished eating each other's faces we're going to lunch,” he said. I laughed and David gave a yelp of outrage.

I so was not eating his face!” he protested. “Anyway I can eat face and lunch in the same day!”

Then let's go and get the lunch. Jakob, this skater rat is my brother Joaquin,” Martin broke in. “Joaquin the cool dude is Jakob. You know the other loser.” He was still smiling at us. David stood up and reached down to grasp my arm and heave me off the floor.

Guys,” Joaquin moaned, “let's go. I wanna eat. Where are we going?” It was David who answered him.

Choices I say are: pizza or the chinese buffet” he said. Now what teen in the world isn't going to choose pizza over almost any other food on offer. Joaquin apparently for a start.

Chinese. Let's go to Wu's and hit the all you can eat. It's got great vegetarian choices,” the kid explained.

Martin?” David asked.

Chinese is fine by me too. Pizza is like grease city man, I only want it once a week.”

Settled then. Jakob you don't get a vote coz you're two new to be a voting member,” he joked at me. Then he put his arm round my waist and pulled me close. “Let's get to the car guys. I can smell the chow mein from here.” I felt like my hole body was full of sunlight and laughter as we walked off following the two brothers ahead of us. The idea growing in my mind and the feeling in my heart that David liked me in a more than friendly way was enough to light up my whole being.