SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.

AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: This weekend Americans will observe Memorial Day. If you would like to know more, I've posted some thoughts about this holiday on my blog. It seems to me that's only appropriate because Connected is fundamentally my way of trying to honor those who have died for America, especially those who have died in unnecessary wars concocted by foolish leaders. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.

THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 48, Andy goes back to the office and finishes up some work while trying to figure out how to tell Tommy about what he’s learned from Josh and Nolan. Eventually he goes looking for Tommy, but decides not to tell him what’s happened right away. Instead, he asks Tommy to help him move into his new place in downtown Washington. Tommy agrees to do so and enlists Sean and Teddy to help as well. On Friday of Labor Day weekend, the three of them spend the day helping Andy to move in. Later they go swimming in the pool, have dinner and end up getting high. Andy wakes up in in bed with Tommy the following morning without being able to recall very much from the previous evening. The boys play a joke on him. While Sean and Teddy take a shower, Andy asks Tommy to explain how Teddy got his nickname. Tommy tells Andy a little about Teddy and how he came to be known as Miss Teddy. Eventually he explains why Sean and Teddy can’t be a real couple even though they love each other very much. The two boys can’t live together as a couple because they don’t have the money or jobs to do so. Andy mentions he has been thinking of inviting Tommy to move in with him and that perhaps Ray would let the Sean and Teddy live at his place if Tommy took Andy up on his offer. He also mentions the possibility of all four of them living together. The chapter ends without any resolution of these issues.


Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private

Chapter 49

After Tommy and I had finished showering that morning, I took the boys out for breakfast. I remember thinking Tommy and I had grown closer the last couple of weeks and that made me happy. In fact, it seemed to me I was a lot happier now than I had been for a long time. To me a big part of that was Tommy and he seemed pretty happy as well.

Later, after we dropped Sean and Teddy off back near the Palermo, I looked over at Tommy.

“We should do something special today to celebrate my new place,” I said. “What would you like to do?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “We could do anything, I suppose, but something different would be nice for a change. Do you remember that night you took Sean, Teddy and me on a tour of the city?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I enjoyed doing that.”

“Me too,” Tommy responded. “It was fun. I remember you saying you would take us to see the homes of those Presidents, Washington and Jefferson, some time. Are either of those near Washington? Maybe we could do that.”

“Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, isn’t that far away, Tommy,” I replied. “We could do that today if you want.”

“That sounds good,” he replied. “Let’s do it. I’ve never been there and I’d like to get out of the city for a change. It seems like I spend all of my time here and I get sick of it sometimes.”

So that’s how we spent the rest of the day, touring Mount Vernon. It was a beautiful day and both of us had a terrific time. Tommy seemed to enjoy just walking the grounds together with me and the two of us spent a lot more time at the place than I had expected originally.

I had brought my camera along and remember taking lots of pictures that day, mostly of Tommy. Eventually, when he caught on I was taking pictures of him more than Mount Vernon, he started to laugh and began striking a variety of poses for the camera like he was some kind of fashion model.

He loved posing for me as much as I loved taking pictures of him. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

When we got home that evening I was tired and collapsed on to the couch. Tommy must have been tired as well because he collapsed on to it right next to me.

“I had a terrific time today, Andy,” he said, smiling. “Thank you for taking me there.”

Then he leaned over and kissed me gently on the cheek.

Although his kiss was entirely chaste, it gave me an instant hard on and I guess that didn’t surprise me. But as much as I was tempted, now seemed like the perfect moment for something else entirely.

“Look, Tommy,” I said. “There’s something you need to know and it may come as a shock. The thing is, I met someone Wednesday who knows you.”

“Oh, yeah,” he asked, “who?”

“I hope it wasn’t an unhappy customer,” he added, grinning. “Was he friendly or not?”

“He was definitely friendly,” I replied. “And not a customer either. His name is Josh and he says he’s from the same town in Vermont as you are.”

At the mention of Josh’s name, Tommy looked stunned. He just sat there for a moment staring at me in disbelief.

“Um, what, umm, ah . . . Josh? Um, what do you mean, you met Josh?” he finally stammered. “Where? What’s he doing here? In Washington I mean? Does he know I’m here too? Does he know about me being, umm, I mean, well, exactly what does he know about me?”

He was pretty nervous, that was for sure, so I proceeded to tell him the whole story, from my very first meeting with Nolan to my latest conversation with the two of them. It came as a shock to him they were living in Washington together and that both of them knew pretty much everything about him. And once he recovered from the initial shock, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to talk to Josh either, let alone meet with him.

“I dunno, Andy,” he finally said to me after thinking about it some. “There’s a part of me that wants to meet him a lot. But, the thing is, he knows, umm, well, I mean, umm, he knows all about me and what I’ve been doing. I’m sure he must be ashamed of me.”

“Why would he be, Tommy?” I replied. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You did what you needed to do to survive. So, no, Josh isn’t ashamed of you, not at all. No one who’s a real friend of yours would ever be ashamed of you.”

“The fact Josh already knows all about it and still wants to see you tells me he’s a really good friend,” I continued. “If you had been there with me Wednesday evening, you would have seen that too. He’s just very concerned about you, kind of in shock almost, just like you are right now. If it was me, I would meet him. But everyone is different. You need to decide what’s right for you.”

He thought about it for the rest of the evening and then talked to me just before bedtime.

“If I call and he still wants to see me, could you be there with me, Andy? I’m not sure I want to do this alone,” Tommy said.

“I’ll do whatever you want, Tommy,” I replied. “You know that. But where do you want to meet him? We could invite him over here for dinner some evening, perhaps with his boyfriend. The two of you will have more privacy that way. Or the four of us could have dinner someplace else, then the two of you could wander off if you want.”

“I dunno,” Tommy replied. “If we meet here and it doesn’t work out, how would we get rid of them? If we meet them at a restaurant on the other hand, it would be hard to have any privacy.”

“They don’t know you live here, Tommy,” I replied. “And the truth is you don’t, at least not yet. I know you’re still thinking about that. So I can honestly tell them you don’t live here if they ask. And if it isn’t working out, well, you can just leave and go back to the Palermo or to Ray’s place.”

“That probably makes the most sense,” Tommy said. “Can I use your phone to call him right now?”

“Of course,” I replied. “Why don’t you invite them over for dinner? It could be either tomorrow or Monday evening. It’s a long weekend, but I think they’re planning on being in town.”

Tommy and Josh didn’t talk all that long, which kind of surprised me. I wondered whether things had gone badly. But Tommy said no, everything had been fine and that Josh and Nolan would be coming over Sunday evening for dinner.

“Make something special,” he said, looking over at me. “You’re a really good cook, Andy. That’s the only reason I’m thinking of living here at all, you know. You would make someone a really fine wife,” he added.

He was smirking at me when he said it, but then he realized what he had said and his face suddenly turned pale.

It was the first time he had said something like that since we got back from the beach; and while I was a little surprised, I was glad as well. Tommy had always liked playing with me like that and by then I was tired of seeing the poor kid walking around on tenterhooks. I knew how I responded would be important.

“Yeah, sure, promises, promises,” I responded, picking up on his banter. “You talk a good line, Mister, but I think the only reason you say things like that is just so you can get me in bed and do nasty stuff to an innocent girl like me.”

He didn’t say anything in response, but I could tell he was relieved from the look on his face. I was relieved as well. Still, I had to laugh at the request. My cooking skills were very basic at best. There were a few dishes I did fairly well, but almost anything I cooked looked terrific to Tommy. His idea of a gourmet meal was straight out of McDonald’s.

I called Nolan the following morning to confirm and told him we might have to carry the conversation, at least initially. I explained how I thought Tommy might be nervous in the presence of Josh. Nolan said he was concerned Josh might be nervous as well and agreed we should be prepared to help out if need be.

Josh and Nolan arrived at the appointed hour and handed me the bottle of wine they had brought with them. It was a good fit for the meal I had planned, a pasta dish with a special homemade sauce of mine that was already simmering. It wouldn’t take long to cook and I planned to serve it with salad and bread.

To help everyone relax, Tommy and I took the two of them on a tour of the building, then of my place.

“This place is incredible,” Nolan said at one point. “You guys must love living here.”

“Tommy doesn’t actually live here right now,” I replied, sticking to the story we had agreed on. “He has his own place, which is also very nice, and is still trying to decide whether he wants to give that up and share this place with me. I just moved in here on Friday so both of us are still getting used to it.”

When we were done with the tour, we sat down in the living room and chatted a little while. Then I left the three of them alone and went over to the kitchen to start getting things ready for dinner.

Nolan popped in pretty quickly after that with an offer to help, which also had the advantage of giving Tommy and Josh some space. I asked Nolan to help me set the table upstairs. When I looked down, the two of them were settling into chairs pulled closed to one another and talking quietly.

“So how are you, Tommy?” Josh finally said. “You’ve changed so much since the last time I saw you. I mean, you’re looking really good. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown.”

“Thanks, Josh,” Tommy replied. “You’re looking pretty good yourself.”

“You don’t know how glad I am to see you after all these years, Tommy,” Josh said, suddenly turning serious. “I mean, after you disappeared, I never stopped worrying about you, wondering where you were, wondering if you were okay, even wondering sometimes whether you were alive or dead. I mean, it’s been hard because I feel like I was the one who made you run away.”

“Well, I suppose you were in a way,” Tommy replied. “If you had never told your Mom what was happening, she would never have talked to that lawyer and the Sheriff would never have gotten involved either. But then Coach would have continued abusing me, at least until I could have run away later like I was planning to do.”

“I was just waiting for the weather to get a little better before I did it, Josh. I had already made up my mind to run away so it wasn’t really your fault.”

“By the way, what ever happened to Coach?”

“He pleaded guilty to a lot of charges and got sent away to jail for a long time,” Josh replied. “As far as I know, he’s still in jail. I’m sure my Mom would have let me know if anything had changed on that score.”

“Well, at least that turned out okay,” Tommy replied. “That dude was really creepy.”

“Tell me about it,” Josh replied, sighing. “If he never gets out of jail, it’ll be too soon for me, that’s for sure. But let me ask another question, Tommy. Exactly how did you get away? I mean, everyone was out looking for you as soon they found out you were missing. And I do mean everyone. The State Police in four states were involved big time and we kept hearing these rumors during the first week they had found you. But they never did. How did you elude them?”

“I guess it was mostly just luck, Josh,” Tommy replied. “I hitched a ride over to that restaurant in Rutland where all the truckers hang out to eat. I was out there half the night freezing my ass off. Man, it was cold out there, really cold. But finally one of them took pity on me and gave me a ride all the way to Washington. I could have gone on to Memphis with him, but I really didn’t know anything about Memphis. So I just stayed in Washington all these years.”

“And then what?” Josh asked, innocently enough.

“Well, you already know the answer to that, don’t you, Josh?” Tommy replied, looking away. “Andy told me you pretty much knew the whole story.”

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Josh responded softly, burying his face in his hands. “Oh, Tommy, I’m so sorry for what I did. None of this would have happened if I had minded my own business. I feel so guilty about everything you’ve been through. It’s all my fault,” he added, and by then tears had started silently streaming down his face.

Tommy leaned across the space separating the two of them and gently brushed the tears away.

“It’s okay, Josh,” he replied. “I don’t want you to cry about it. Like I told you, I was going to run away no matter what. And, really, things didn’t turn out so bad for me. I was actually lucky because I ran into this boy named Danny when I arrived in Washington and he turned out to be a really good friend. He let me stay with him that first night and then for the next few days. And that was really helpful in terms of figuring things out. What I was going to do and such.”

“If I had run away later,” he continued, “God only knows what might have happened. And, like I said, things didn’t turn out so bad. Oh yeah, sure, I’ve done some things I’m not exactly proud of over the years. But if I had stayed in Vermont, who knows? My father was getting more and more frustrated every day. I think the man probably would have ended up killing me eventually if I stayed. Do you know what happened to him and my mom, Josh?”

Josh struggled to choke back the tears.

“A little,” he finally responded. “Your Dad, well, he just up and took off about two months after you did. No one ever heard anything about him again. Your mother still lives in town. From what my Mom tells me, she’s not doing all that well. I guess she drinks a lot. I’m sorry to have to tell you stuff like that. I really am.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Tommy replied, “not in the least. My mom? Well, her parents were alcoholics, just like she was, and they treated her about the same way she ended up treating me. I suppose it wasn’t her fault. And my father, well, let’s just say the Taylors were white trash from way back; always have been. I guess it runs in the family. I’m just the latest.”

“Oh, Tommy, don’t say things like that,” Josh replied, upset, “don’t even think them. You’re not white trash! Not at all. You’re just someone who’s never really been loved. The thing is, I never really got to know you in school until everyone started picking on you, and even then I only got to know you for a short time. But I liked you a lot, Tommy. I really did. I wanted to help you so much and I just screwed everything up.”

“You didn’t, Josh,” Tommy replied. “The thing is, well, once the Sheriff got involved, I didn’t really have much choice. Because I knew once they started investigating they would never let me stay with my parents. They would have had me out of that place so fast it would make your head spin. But there was no one they would have been able to place me with, no family at least. So I would have ended up in some state run facility. And that would never have worked out for me.”

“Because, I mean, really, I had been on my own for most of my life by that time. It’s not like things just went bad at home the last year or two. They were always bad. I was fourteen years old when I left, but my whole life had been terrible; and the only way I could deal with that is by pretty much living alone by myself.”

“I mean, yeah, I lived in the same house with my parents,” he continued, “but they just left me alone when they weren’t beating me up and I liked it that way. So I was use to that and could never have adjusted to being in some state facility with a million rules. It would have killed me I think.”

“And it’s not like they would ever have found foster parents for me or anything like that. Christ, I was fourteen years old. Who wants to adopt some fourteen year old queer boy? So I had to get away. I just had to. And see? Here I am, Josh, five years later. I survived just fine and here I am, none the worse for all the wear and tear.”

“Can I tell you something, Tommy?” Josh said. “We didn’t want to tell you at the time because we were afraid we would get your hopes up and we couldn’t promise for sure. But my Mom was willing to take you in and even adopt you if you wanted that. That was the plan we were working on. If we had told you about it that night, would it have made a difference? Because I’ve beaten myself up a lot about that, about not telling you what we were going to try to do.”

“I don’t know,” Tommy said, looking down at his feet. “Maybe; if the lawyer and the Sheriff had told me I could move in with you and your Mom right then, that evening, it might have made a difference. My life sure would have been different if that had happened,” he added, sighing. “But they probably couldn’t have told me that, could they, Josh?”

And now Josh was the one staring down at his feet, unwilling to respond to the question because he already knew the answer.

“And maybe that was for the best after all,” Tommy finally continued. “Because we’ll never know for sure, will we? The only thing I can know for sure is if I had stayed in Vermont I would never have met Andy or Teddy and Sean or Danny and all the rest of my friends here in Washington.”

“I mean, the thing is, that lawyer was talking about getting my family some counseling and that’s all I needed to hear to decide I was going to run away that evening. Counseling? Give me a break! My parents were never going to change. No way, no how, forget about it!”

“I was really scared the Sheriff was going to go home with me that night and tell my parents what had happened. My father would have beaten me within an inch of my life knowing what I had been doing. I couldn’t take that kind of chance. I just couldn’t.”

“I’m sorry to hear about all of that, Tommy,” Josh replied. “I guess none of us knew just how bad it was. The thing is, no one should have to go through what you’ve been through; and now that I’ve found you again, I really do want to help out in any way I can. I hope you’ll let me, Tommy. I’ve always wanted to be friends with you. I know I wasn’t a real good friend in the past. But maybe we could be friends now. I hope we can be.”

“Sure, whatever you want,” Tommy replied. “But can I ask something, Josh?”

“Sure, anything, Tommy,” Josh replied.

“One of the things I’ve thought about a lot is what would have happened between us if I had stayed in Vermont and none of this had ever happened,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I know, but I’m more interested in what you think. Did you ever think maybe we would have become more than just friends if I had stayed?”

“I don’t know, Tommy,” Josh replied. “I mean, by the time I met you, Nolan and I were already best friends. And then both of us got into Williams and we were planning to be roommates in college. If I had never met Nolan, I don’t know. Maybe it would have happened.”

“I mean, the thing is, after the gossip started going around the school and I finally took a good look at you, well, yeah, I’ll admit it, I was attracted to you. A lot. But back then I could never bring myself to admit I was gay, at least not until I met Nolan. So I don’t know.”

“Maybe if I never met Nolan I would have been just like all the other kids in school and just picked on you to deflect attention away from myself. I just don’t know what would have happened. It’s so hard to know. The only thing I know for sure is I wanted to be your friend back then a lot and I still want to be your friend today. I just hope I can be a better friend now than I was back then.”

“You were a pretty good friend back then, Josh,” Tommy replied. “You stood up for me in school when nobody else would. I mean, hell, you were even willing to fight Wayne because of me. That totally shocked me when I heard about it. I mean, I had never had a friend like that before.”

“And you did what you thought was the right thing for me and it probably was the right thing. So, sure, I would like us to be friends; and the truth is, I’m really glad to find out you and Nolan are still together after all these years. You don’t see that too much. It kind of gives me a little hope maybe I could get lucky like that too.”

“I know you can, Tommy,” Josh responded. “I mean, it’s none of my business, but are you and Andy best friends too? Do you like him the same way I like Nolan?”

“We’re not all the way there yet, Josh,” he replied. “I mean, I know he loves me; God only knows why, but he does. And I do like him a lot, even more than I liked you back in Vermont and I liked you a lot back then. But I worry a lot about screwing things up and I don’t want to do that to him.”

“He’s such a terrific guy, Josh, and he really tries so hard to do the right thing. He’s trying to stop this war in Burkistan and I don’t really know as much about that as I should. But if it stops more kids from dying, it must be the right thing to do and I just don’t want to screw the guy up.”

“He is doing the right thing, Tommy,” Josh replied. “I know that, just like I know the two of you would make a great couple. It’s not my business, that’s for sure. But, you know, just from talking to him I think he probably needs you as much as you need him; maybe even more.”

“Do you really think that?” Tommy asked, looking at Josh closely, as if he didn’t believe what he had just said.

“I mean, I’ve never understood why someone like Andy would ever need someone like me.”

“I really do mean it, Tommy,” Josh replied. “Andy is one of those people who desperately needs some purpose in his life. That’s why he works so hard on that amendment. But, as far as I can tell, he’s never really had any purpose in his personal life and you give him that. You fulfill him somehow. Like I said, I think he needs you more than you need him.”

“But I’ll tell you this. There aren’t many guys like him in the world either. I think you’re lucky to have found someone like him. Of course, what I think isn’t really important. It’s what you think and what you feel that’s important. For it to work, it has to be something you want more than you’ve ever wanted anything else before in your life.”

“I do want it, Josh,” Tommy responded. “I just worry about screwing things up and that I’ll never be able to live up to his expectations.”

“Listen, Tommy, just from listening to him talk about you on Wednesday and then again tonight, I know he worries about those very same things. Nolan and I worry about those things every day. Everyone who loves someone does. Andy loves you Tommy. Nothing you do is going to change that. Will you make mistakes? Sure. Will he? No doubt about it. We’re human beings, not saints.”

“Forget about that and focus on what’s important. Do I want this dude next to me when I go to bed every night? Do I want him next to me when I wake up every morning? Is he the most important thing in my life, the one thing I never want to lose?”

“He is, Josh. You know, I try not to think about it a lot, but I’ve never had very much in my life, Josh, things other people take for granted; parents who loved me, friends at school, not even a real boyfriend who could comfort me when I was hurting because they were as bad off as me, maybe even worse off.”

“I’ve lost out on a lot all my life, but I don’t want to lose Andy, Josh. I don’t. It would kill me to lose him.”

“Well, there you go,” Josh replied, smiling. “Stop fighting what you’re feeling and tell him that. And tell him you’re scared as well. He’ll understand because right now he’s scared about losing you too.”

For a moment the two of them just stared at one another in silence. Then Tommy sat down next to Josh and hugged him.

“Thanks for telling me that, Josh,” he said. “Of course, the last time I took your advice it got me into a heap of trouble,” he added, grinning.

That caused Josh to blush.

“Hey, what the hell is going on here?” Nolan said, striding into the room. “In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never, ever, seen Josh blush, not even once,” he added, mocking his best friend.

“Well, no, that’s not exactly the truth, I suppose. Maybe I’ve seen him blush once or twice, but the point is Andy and I leave the two of you alone here for a couple of minutes and here he is blushing just like a baby. Are you putting a move on my babe?” he added, smiling at Tommy.

“Maybe,” Tommy replied, grinning and looking up at Nolan. “But you don’t have anything to worry about, Nolan. In spite of my best efforts, Josh won’t let me seduce him. Just like when we were back in Vermont.”

“Between you and me, Tommy, that was always his problem,” Nolan replied. “The guy was just never smart enough to take a hint. Why I practically had to rape him before he even noticed me.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Josh responded, quickly, “this from the guy who practically drowned himself in order to blackmail me into being his boyfriend.”

“Really?” Tommy said, his curiosity aroused. “That’s a story I want to hear about.”

“Okay, dudes, enough of this chit chat,” Nolan finally said. “Andy sent me down here to tell the two of you that dinner is served.”

Later, after we promised to have dinner at their place the following weekend and after Nolan and Josh had left, I asked Tommy how his conversation with Josh had gone.

“Not that you have to tell me,” I added. “I know some of it may have been personal and just for the two of you.”

“I’m really glad I decided to see him, Andy,” Tommy replied. “Josh helped me to clear up some things, about what happened to that dude who molested me, what happened to my family, and some other stuff too. It was kind of painful in a way, but I think it helps knowing the answers to some of the questions I’ve thought about over the years.”

“And just seeing Josh after all these years,” Tommy added, his face brightening, “that was really awesome too. I mean, I kind of had a crush on him back then; not that we ever did anything about it. But I liked him and I still do. He wants to be friends and I hope we can be now that he’s living in Washington.”

“Did you know Josh teaches at a high school over on Capitol Hill?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t,” he replied. “I mean, we spent so much time catching up, I never even got around to asking him what he and Nolan are doing in D.C.”

“Yeah, he teaches,” I replied. “And one of the things he told me tonight was that he’s working with the school system to set up an outreach program near the Palermo for boys who are interested in getting their high school degrees.”

“Are you kidding?” Tommy replied.

“No, I’m not,” I said. “He hopes to get it up and running by next January, and he thinks it would help a lot if the boys they’re targeting knew some other guys had already signed up for the program. I think he’s hoping you’ll participate, and I mentioned Sean and Teddy to him as well. He’ll probably be talking to you about all of this when he gets things firmed up. I just wanted you to know what he’s doing so you could think about it.”

“Is that what you want me to do?” Tommy asked, looking at me. “I mean, I was never that great a student, Andy.”

“It isn’t going to be like a traditional school, Tommy,” I said. “It’s all going to be geared to the boys. For example, they’re going to teach practical math so they boys don’t get cheated by their customers and figure out how to make their money go further. It sounds really creative. But, as far as what I want, I want whatever you want. I would like you to think about it, however.”

“Okay, that’s cool,” Tommy replied. “I’ll think about it. Should I mention it to Teddy and Sean?”

“If you want,” I responded, “sure. Just be clear it’s not a completely done deal right now. Josh is working hard on the whole thing, but he won’t know for sure about it until the end of September.”

We sat and talked for a little while longer. By then it was starting to get late.

“I guess I should drive you back to Ray’s place,” I finally said.

“Is that what you want to do?” Tommy asked, staring at me.

“No,” I replied. “I don’t. I just thought you would want to go back . . .”

“I can think for myself, Andy,” Tommy replied, smiling. “You don’t have to do all the thinking for me. And I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind staying here tonight.”

“Oh my,” I responded; “three nights in a row. What will the neighbors think?”

“You don’t have neighbors yet, Andy, you doofus,” Tommy replied. “Remember?”

“Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting,” I said. “Well, I suppose everything will be fine in that case, at least as long as your intentions are honorable.”

“And if they’re not?” Tommy replied, smirking.

“That will be even better,” I responded, smiling at him.

“Why don’t you put some music on,” I suggested, “while I take a quick shower. Unless you want to take a shower with me?” I added.

“Maybe later,” Tommy said.

“Oh, sure,” I replied, disappointed. “Well, I’ll be right back.”

I was headed for the shower when he called over to me.

“Andy . . .”

“What?” I asked, turning around and looking at him.

“I just wanted to tell you that I, well, um, I . . . I, ah, I’m not really good with words, um, but what I mean is you’re really important to me, Andy, more important than anything else; and, well, that scares me sometimes because I worry you might go away and I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose you ever.”

I remember walking over to where he was standing and wrapping my arms around him.

“That’s exactly the way I feel, Tommy,” I replied. “And you said it better than I ever could have.”