Brian and Pete
Chapter Twenty-Four
Surf's Up
Copyright Notice - Copyright 2000-2004 by DeweyWriter Ltd.

    This story is copyrighted by the author and the author retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form, physical, electronic, audio, or other forms known or unknown without the author's express written permission. All applicable copyright laws apply and will be enforced.

    Characters from A New Life used with permission. 2003 by TheEggman

    The evening spent in Juan and Chen's company was enjoyable. After dinner, we all settled in and talked for a while. Both of the older men gave us plenty to think about. The Taiwanese man spoke about focusing one's attention on what is important in life. Tony added that sometimes one had to look beneath what was happening in the moment to see the truth of a situation and deal with it. Everything they said seemed like common sense, but it was the type of common sense that was usually left unspoken and unconscious. Bringing it to light lent the concept a new weight in my mind.
    Pete, Chris and Juan spoke as my conversation with Tony and Chen continued, ranging into what it was like to be different, to be set apart from other people by our intelligence. At first I denied that it applied to me, that I had not been separated by my peers, but as the conversation when on I began to realize that I was wrong. It was nothing overt or obvious. It manifested itself in the way I related to my peers and my attitude toward what I thought of as childish. One thing Tony said that stuck in my memory was that, even though we were smart, it didn't follow that we had to be old. Chen cocked his head as Tony spoke but said nothing in response. It took me a moment to understand what he was saying.
    "I've always been old," I complained. "Even growing up when I was little I was old. I remember people calling me a little adult."
    "Does this mean you can not reclaim part of your childhood?" the slim Asian man asked.
    "That's just it, Chen," I explained. "I don't know how to be a kid. I never had that chance."
    "If I were ninety, how would I look at you?"
    "Yeah, I'm still a kid, I guess," I agreed. "The problem was what I felt my parents expected of me. I thought that I had to be adult about things. I never really had friends when I was little. I didn't have a good friend until I met Pete. And Chris, but we weren't that close until I started living there."
    "What? You guys talking about me?" Pete called from where he sat with Chris and Juan.
    "Yup," I responded with a smile.
    "Oh. Okay then." He grinned before turning back to his conversation.
    "B-Brian... it's what you want to be," Tony commented. "B-being s-s-smart doesn't... mean you can't have fun."
    "It always seems like there is something going on, something that gets in the way," I carped bitterly. "First it was Pete leaving and what happened after, then it was me being an ass, then my grandmother dying, then Sharon leaving..."
    "All things have a time and place," Chen said thoughtfully. "Tony and I talk often of complex items, and still the human tree is there to make me see a difference. All moments should not be the same."
    "How do you do that, Chen? Everything is so wrapped up together. Like I said, I don't know how to be a kid."
    "You t-take life too seriously, B-Brian," Tony pointed out. "You... don't have to worry about everything all the t-time. If it ain't gonna k-kill you, then let it g-go. Relax."
    I snorted. "Don't know how to do that either."
    Chen abruptly stood. "Peter, may I have use of your boyfriend?"
    "Sure," Pete replied. "Just bring him back in one piece."
    "Of that you may be certain. Come with me," Chen said, and directed me to the spare bedroom. "Please sit. I will return shortly."
    My curiosity had been piqued. I wondered what Chen had in mind while I waited for him. When he returned, he was carrying two large floor pillows and a taper in its holder and a plate. He handed me one of the cushions and placed his on the floor near the door, shutting it as he did so.
    "Sit here," he said and pointed to a cushion. "You do not relax because you think it a process. It is not. It is an art one learns."
    Chen placed the plate on the floor and then the candlestick on the plate.
    "Much has been done to discredit meditation," he stated bluntly. "For my people, it was once as easy as watching television. Have you tried meditation?"
    "Not like you mean, I don't think. Sometimes I blank out when I run. Chris says that's a form of meditation, but when I come back it seems like nothing has changed."
    "It may be what you gain you lose because you cannot see the value of it," Chen said while lighting a candle. After turning out the lights, he sat on the cushion opposite mine with the candle between us. His legs folded easily into the lotus position. "Water flows down hill so it may find a pond where it can be still. Think of your mind as that. Let the thoughts flow until they find a place where all is calm. One cannot make the waters be still when on a hill. Find that place in your mind where the thoughts may spread and be at peace."
    Chen was silent for a few moments as I attempted to do what he asked, and I was wholly unsuccessful. When I was about ready to throw in the towel, the man spoke again.
    "Some people find it helpful to focus on their breathing, minding the rhythm and depth of each breath. Still others find soft music achieves the same goal of letting your mind focus on one thing only, allowing it to relax."
    I took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. I had little patience for this eastern mumbo-jumbo, but I liked Chen and I didn't want to be rude, so I closed my eyes and tried his suggestion of concentrating on my breathing, trying to make each one the same.
    A few moments later, Chen spoke again in a soft, distant voice. "You are like frozen water, Brian. Your body is rigid and tense like ice. When the ice feels the sun, it forgets to be rigid. It becomes water again. Do not think on the stiffness, think instead of the sun. Let your body melt into peace."
    Chen continued, instructing me to focus on each body part in turn and consciously tell the muscles to let go of their stress. The visualization of the ice helped. I could feel it, and myself, melting. By the time we were through, I was content to sit there, simply breathing.
    "When you are ready, Brian, please join us in the front room. There is no hurry."
    The man left me alone in the room illuminated only by the flame of the candle. I kept my eyes closed, but I could still see it through my lids. A few minutes later, I decided I was ready to join the rest of the gang. I opened my eyes and received a shock. The candle had burned about a third of its length. I had no idea how long it took a candle to burn that far, but I had spent far longer in the room with Chen than I had thought.
    Slightly disconcerted, I rose and opened the door, snuffing out the candle as I did so. In the living room, everyone was seated somewhere watching the beginning of a show only Tony and Chen could have chosen. It was about the Theory of Relativity and Einstein. I found it interesting while our boyfriends seemed to be either bored or lost. When it was over, Chris loudly protested Tony's suggestion to watch another show on the Manhattan Project and instead popped in a video that Juan had rented, Good Will Hunting. That film made me think too, and Robin William's character reminded me of my own counselor, Will. When the movie ended, it left me in a pensive frame of mind.
    We finally crashed about midnight. Chen led Juan to their bedroom and Chris carried Tony to the guest room, leaving Pete and me the living room floor. We fell asleep in each other's arms and woke up the same way the next morning with Tony and Chris slouched on the couch next to us. They seemed lost in one another's eyes, communicating by thought and expression rather than words. It was a condition Pete and I found ourselves in regularly.
    Juan fixed us a nice breakfast the next morning before Pete and I returned Chris and Tony to the Braden residence. We took some time to go inside and bid farewell to Tony and his family.
    "B-bye, Brian," Tony said with a smile from the couch. "Thanks f-for... coming down to s-see us."
    I walked up to the recovering young man and hugged him gently. "Nothing could keep me away. Take care of him for us, okay? And get yourself well again. We'll be back in a couple weeks for a few days."
    "Cool. Take care, d-dude." Tony squeezed me with his one free arm. "D-don't worry. I'll k-keep him safe."
    "I love you, bro."
    "Yeah, b-back at y-you, B-Brian." Tony's words were sincere and heart-felt.
    I released Tony and walked back to the entry way. Chris caught me in a tight embrace while Pete was talking with Mr. and Mrs. Braden.
    "It's been so good to see you, Bri. I miss having you around."
    I hugged him back with as much strength as I could muster. "I miss you too, Chris. I miss both you and mom, but..."
    I looked up and saw a smile on the young behemoth's face. "But you have Pete now. I know. That still doesn't mean you can't pick up the phone once in a while or write an e-mail."
    "Yeah, I know," I apologized as I pulled back a bit. "I'm sorry about that. Sometimes... sometimes it hurts not having you in the next room to talk to. I love Pete, but he wasn't with me when I tried to starve myself. You know things he doesn't know."
    "You haven't told him?" Chris asked with narrowed eyes.
    "No. What's the point, Chris? I'm okay."
    Chris shook his head. "He deserves to know, Brian. You owe it to him. He's going to find out anyway sooner or later, and it will be better if you tell him rather than him figuring it out. You can't hide it forever."
    "I'm afraid of what will happen, Chris."
    "Ready, Brian?" Pete's voice startled me so badly I jumped.
    Chris hugged me tightly once again. "You can call me any time, Brian. Day or night, okay?"
    "I might take you up on that," I said into his chest. I savored the feel of his body next to mine for a moment before pushing myself away. "I love you, Chris."
    "I love you too, Bri. Don't be a stranger."
    "You either." The urge to fall back into his embrace was almost overpowering, but Tony's eyes watched our exchange knowingly, and Pete was right behind me. Instead, I said my good byes to the rest of the Braden clan and hurried out to the car before I broke down and started crying.
    Our next stop was the Forn house, to gather our things and say goodbye to Kathlene. She was sure to remind us that we were to stop by if we came back through the Bay Area on the way home. Pete promised we would as long as we could spend the night. She laughed her agreement, hugged each of us and sent us on our way. We pulled out onto Interstate 280 just before noon on Tuesday, June 30th, 1998.
    Our time in the San Francisco area had been eventful. So much had happened that I couldn't keep everything in perspective. Pete had also been disturbed by all that had occurred. As we made our way south of San Jose on US101, we remained silent and came to the tacit agreement that we would leave the traumatic events behind us and not dwell on them.
    Pete reached for my hand and grasped it in his own. I looked at his face and saw that his expression had relaxed for the first time since finding out his parents were back together. The amount of stress the discovery placed on him, and us, had been unbelievable. He glanced at me with a smile and squeezed my hand painfully.
    "I'm glad we're on the road again, Bri," Pete said, as if confiding in me. "I love Chris and Tony and the family, but..."
    "I know. Me too," I agreed. "So where do we stop for tonight?"
    "I was thinking we could get a room early and then head to the beach. Check out Malibu or something. Maybe we can get a surfing lesson!" Pete seemed excited at the prospect.
    "Sure. Why not?"
    I had no special desire to ride waves, but I'd try anything once if it was going to make Pete happy. An evil grin crossed my face as my hand crept closer to my boyfriend. Pete caught it out of the corner of his eye.
    "Brian, what... no." I reached over and put my hand on his thigh. "No, Brian!"
    I laughed at him and squeezed his crotch gently and then retreated, taking his hand in mine. He squeezed gently and I watched him smile.
    "We'll have time for that when we get to the motel," Pete assured me. "It's only another four hours."
    I whined, "I don't want to wait that long, though!"
    "You're so cute when you're annoying," he replied with a grin.
    I tightened my grip on his hand to an almost painful level before easing up. He responded in kind and we settled in for the remainder of our drive south.
    By the time we made it to the Los Angeles area, it was the beginning of rush hour. Pete took us into the hotel parking lot just as traffic began to slow to a crawl. It was located on Ventura Boulevard off of Winnetka, just south of the 101. As I warned him on the trip down, he did not make it out of the room until we went out for dinner, and not again until the following morning. It was something we both needed to affirm our relationship was still solid; something we could count on while things were rough and unsettled in our lives.
    After cleaning ourselves up, we dressed for the beach. Malibu was about twenty minutes away. When we got there we were pretty disappointed. The beach was nice, but it was very crowded, and so we decided to head up the coast and see what we could find. Five or ten minutes later we saw a small surf shop on the ocean-side of the road and decided to stop and see what information we could get. It was little more than a large shed, really, painted with palm leaves to look more like a hut. Pete pulled off the road and parked nearby.
    I stopped at the front of the car and took in the view in front of me. The sun was bright and warm. A light sea breeze brought the scent of saltwater to my nose and I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. I heard Pete stop next to me.
    "Are you okay, Bri?"
    "Yeah," I said through a satisfied sigh. "Just enjoying the sun."
    He waited a moment more and then grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me toward the shop. "C'mon. Let's see if we can find a beach."
    I resisted the powerful urge to put my arm around his waist. After being with Chris, Tony, and their families I was finding it difficult to get back into the habit of censoring what I did in public. It was an unwelcome change.
    As we approached, we noticed a couple of guys our age checking out some of the surf boards on one wall of the shed and speaking to an older man dressed as a beach rat. He excused himself from the conversation to greet us.
    "Morning, gents," he said cheerfully. "I'm Russ. What can I do you for?"
    "Hi," Pete responded. "We're in the area on vacation and we wanted to get - hey, you give surf lessons? I've never tried it and I want to."
    "Yup, I give lessons, but I'm booked up."
    "Damn," Pete replied ruefully. "If I'd known you were here, I would have called last week to schedule one. Anyway, we're here on vacation for a couple days and wanted to find out where there's a good stretch of beach that isn't too crowded."
    "Sure. Head north another five or ten miles. You'll come to Zuma. It's not as popular as Malibu, but it's got some nice beaches."
    "Hey Russ?" Called one of the guys. He was about five-foot-eight or so, had light brown hair, and weighed about one-sixty. "We'll take a long and a short, okay?"
    "Sure," the man answered. "Say, you boys heading up to Zuma?"
    "Um, yeah, we'd planned on it. Why?"
    "Feel like giving some lessons? These two are in from out of town and wanted to take a shot at some rides."
    The young man looked at us and his smile grew wider as he sized us up. He glanced at his blond friend.
    "Whadaya think, D?" He asked loudly. "Up for watching some noobs soak?"
    A closer look revealed that the blond was stunning. He stood just shy of six feet and had a great body. The guy looked us over much as his friend did and then shrugged. It took me a moment to pull my eyes away from him.
    "Can't be any worse than Prez was when he started," the first said. "You guys'll need a board and a shortie. The water's warm, but not that warm. I'm Mike." He offered his hand to Pete, who shook it. "The mime behind me is Derrick," he continued as I shook with him. It was a firm handshake but not crushing.
    "Shut up, Mike," the taller of the two said as he approached to greet us.
    "I'm Pete, and he's Brian."
    "Nice to meet you, Pete, Brian."
    "How much for the lessons?" Pete asked.
    "I dunno," Mike said uncertainly. "What do you think, D? Twenty-five a piece?"
    "I charge fifty, so that sounds about right," Russ commented, "at least for you two jokers pretending to be instructors. Gear will run you twenty for the afternoon."
    "Sweet," Pete replied happily. "Take travelers' checks?"
    "Of course," Russ replied.
    "Nah, dudes," Mike interjected. "I only take cash- unless other arrangements are made beforehand." He glanced at Derrick and wagged his eyebrows, causing Derrick to unsuccessfully fight off another grin.
    "Shut up, Dude!" Derrick chuckled. I got the impression that there was an inside joke hidden in Mike's words.
    Pete settled up with Russ while Mike pulled a couple of short wetsuits off the rack. "You're about my height. How much do you weigh, Brian?"
    "About one-fifty," I replied.
    "You don't look one-fifty," Mike commented.
    "You haven't seen his body," Pete chirped proudly.
    "It's nothing special," I protested.
    "Yeah, right," my boyfriend said with complete sarcasm. "Face it, Bri, you're cut. Even if you were eighteen you'd be cut."
    Mike chuckled and Derrick shook his head at Pete's statements. It was like they were laughing at me and it pissed me off.
    "Knock it off. Are we ready to go?" I inquired sourly.
    "We got your gear, so we're good to go." Mike responded. "Make sure you get some water and sun block though. Saltwater will dehydrate you. And you'll probably be spending more time in the water than out of it." Mike smiled widely, showing me he meant it as a joke. If he hadn't I probably would have walked out and told them to forget it.
    "Think we can manage one car?" Pete asked. "We have to come back here to return the boards anyway."
    "Sure," Mike agreed. "Don't see why not. It'll be crowded with four boards though."
    "It's only ten minutes, right?" Pete inquired. "I think Bri and I can survive, right Bri?"
    I shrugged, still a bit ticked that I had been the object of a joke.
    "Brian, lighten up," Pete chided good-naturedly. "You have the body, you should be proud of it. I know I am."
    "Yeah," I quipped. "Proud enough for both of us."
    Too late I realized that our comments had outed us if they were paying attention. I looked at my boyfriend and then at our new instructors. They shared an inscrutable glance but said nothing.
    Suddenly feeling paranoid, I suggested, "Maybe we should take two cars anyway."
    "Nah, dudes, one car'll do it. Makes sense anyway. Saves gas. Besides, I don't think you'd have an easy time carrying the boards on your Malibu." Mike gestured to Pete's car. "The 442 is a convertible. Much easier."
    I glanced at Pete again and received an imperceptible shrug in return. I could tell by his expression he was aware of my concern.
    "Okay," Pete answered, his voice somewhat tentative.
    "It's cool, dudes," Derrick said softly. "Nothing to worry about."
    I stared at the guy for a moment through narrowed eyes, and then realized that if they hadn't caught on to our slip my added scrutiny was going to make them suspicious. We followed them to their car and helped attach the boards and put the suits in the trunk. In no time we were back on Highway 1 headed north. Derrick drove silently while Mike led the inquisition.
    "So where are you dudes in from?" he called over the sound of the rushing wind.
    "We just came from the Bay Area," I replied loudly.
    "Cool. Derrick and I want to make it up there sometime. See the sights, ya know?"
    "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there," Pete said cryptically.
    Mike inquired, "You guys don't live up there?"
    "No, not any more," I informed them. "Used to, but we moved. That's what we were doing while we were there. That and visiting some friends."
    "So where are you living now?"
    "Cool. Never been there," Mike replied. "Hear it's nice. Not nice like San Francisco, though."
    "Portland's nice enough," Pete replied somewhat defensively. "I've had enough of the Bay Area. Nothing but bad memories now."
    "How long have you lived up there? You said you just moved?"
    "I've been there since June of ninety-five. Bri's..."
    I quickly slapped Pete's leg before he gave away any more.
    "I was up there living with his family while my family finalized things down here."
    "How'd you two hook up?" Mike asked. It was hard to be sure, but I thought I caught an emphasis that shouldn't have been there.
    "Pete and I were best friends for sixth and seventh grade, and then he moved. We just got back together. My dad found a job up there."
    We pulled into the parking lot at Zuma Beach a few minutes later. We unpacked and then headed for the restrooms to change into our gear. For some reason I was surprised when the two changed right there in front of us. I didn't know why, but I thought they'd get a stall, but they didn't. Seeing that it didn't bother them, Pete and I stripped down and donned the unfamiliar gear. I could feel their eyes on me as I did so. Mike and Derrick had a few minutes outside waiting on us by the time we were done. I thought I had heard them murmuring between them while we finished, but I couldn't be certain. My paranoia was kicking in again.
    "Bri," Pete whispered as I turned to exit.
    I stopped and Pete came up to me so he would not be over heard.
    He mouthed, "Those guys are gay!"
    I cast an incredulous glance at him, not sure how he could know that about them.
    "When we go out," Pete whispered, "check out their ankles."
    "Okay," I replied aloud, both to let him know I understood and to let our instructors know we were ready.
    Like an idiot, the first thing I did was look down to confirm Pete's observation. Sure enough, each guy sported a somewhat tattered rainbow bracelet.
    "Like the bracelets?" Derrick asked in his soft way.
    "Uh..." I stammered.
    "Yeah, their cool," Pete said nonchalantly. "I've seen a couple here and there. Mostly in the Castro District in San Francisco, but other places too. A lot of gay people wear them." I wanted to kill him. Pete continued, "You know that, right?"
    "Yeah, we know," Mike said with a grin.
    "So you two are gay?" Pete asked in the same unconcerned tone.
    "Is that a problem?" the dark haired boy asked, steel behind his light tone, his eyes cutting to me. He obviously expected me to answer him.
    I met his gaze for a moment, made the decision, and then shrugged. "It's always nice to meet family."
    "Told you!" Mike crowed. "You owe me ten, bud."
    "Don't have it," Derrick said with a shy smile.
    "Guess I'll have to take it out on your body then."
    Derrick chuckled and nodded his head.
    I asked, "You two are together?"
    "For over a year now," Derrick replied, his apparent confidence growing a bit now that everything was out in the open. "You guys?"
    "Yeah. We've been together this time for about... eight months, I guess," Pete answered them. "It's a long story but I want to go get soaked. Waves first, chat later?"
    "Sure thing, dude. Let's go surfin'."
    I'm not sure what I did could be called surfing exactly, but I did have fun trying. I was certain I could get better with practice if I had the time, but we were to be in L.A. for just a few days. If I didn't get the hang of it while we were here, then there was no way I would. I'm not about to go surfing on the Oregon coast, summer or not. I'd have to wear a dry suit to keep warm, and then I'd still freeze my balls off.
    Pete, on the other hand, took to the waves as if he were born there. From the first ride he was in control, and from the second ride he balanced with what looked like practiced ease. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn he had surfed before.
    As our time on the beach grew short, Derrick and I came ashore to dry out while Pete and Mike took advantage of every second available. Derrick was a quiet person. He seemed shy but wasn't afraid to joke around either. As the afternoon had worn on, he opened up with me. We had an easy conversation, telling each other a bit about ourselves. He told me he was going to be a senior, played in a band with Mike, three other guys and a girl, and that they played a mix of music.
    He kept mentioning two other guys named Keith and Prez. What he told me about them made them sound like some cool people to have as friends. What caught me by surprise was the invitation to follow them over to their place. I told him I would have to talk to Pete.
    "Mike's already talking to him," he said.
    I asked the single-word query, "Why?"
    "Why?:" Derrick repeated. "Why ask you over? You seem like nice guys, and you don't know anybody down here, so why not come over and hang with us and Keith and Prez? We're going to jam for a while tonight and then probably eat and watch a video."
    I watched Derrick for a moment, trying to read in him something more than he was saying. When he began to seem uncomfortable with my scrutiny, I shook my head.
    "Sorry, Derrick. I... I've had a rough time for the last few years. It kind of made me suspicious."
    "It's cool, Brian," Derrick replied with understanding. "I want to tell you that there's nothing hidden in our invitation. You're free to come over or not, and leave when you want if you do. Seriously."
    "Okay. If Pete wants to go, we'll go."
    Derrick grinned. For some reason I felt an attraction to him, but not in a romantic way. Derrick and I seemed like kindred spirits of a sort. He was quiet and thoughtful, slow to open up, honest and sincere. It was the last that drew me to him.
    "Um, Brian?" Derrick began, startling me slightly. "You're staring at me again."
    I shook my head again. "Sorry. I was thinking. It's weird. For some reason, I have this feeling that you and I could be good friends. If you could put up with all my shit, anyway."
    He chuckled. "Are you kidding? Look who my boyfriend is. I put up with his shit all the time."
    "How can you be so open?" I asked seriously. "I mean, we're in public. Aren't you afraid that someone might say something? Or do something?"
    "No," Derrick responded, "we're not afraid. We're still careful, but none of us go crazy about it. Maybe it's just where you're living? Although it seems like San Francisco would be more accepting."
    "Like I said, it's a long story. We'll tell you guys tonight if you still want to hear it. It's not pretty."
    "Okay." He pointed toward the water. "Here they come."
    I watched Pete ride in to the beach with Mike. I could see him smiling from where I sat.
    "Looks like he enjoys surfing," Derrick commented.
    "Yeah. I do too, but I don't have the balance for it yet, and I don't think I'll have enough time to get it down."
    "I think we can talk Keith and Prez to come out with us tomorrow. We'll get you some more board time, Brian," he assured me. "Don't worry."
    "As long as Pete's happy, I'll be happy."
    "That's the way I feel about Mike, too," Derrick replied.
    "Are Keith and Prez, you know, gay?"
    "Yeah, and a couple others. They've been together since Prez moved here in the summer of `97. I'll let them tell you how they met."
    "Okay. I guess I'll tell our story after they get there, that way I don't have to repeat it. It's a long story."
    Derrick looked at me for a moment before returning his attention to the beach. Pete and Mike were drawing closer. I smiled as I watched my boyfriend plod toward us, his face plastered with a grin wide enough to split his head in two.
    "Hey!" Mike called. "You guys gonna sit there all day?"
    "No, we're just waiting for you fish to get done," I quipped. "You are done, aren't you?"
    "What time is it, D?"
    "Quarter after four. Prez and Keith will be at the house by six."
    "Okay," Mike acknowledged with a nod. "So what's it going to be, guys? You comin' over or what?"
    Pete arched an eyebrow, waiting for me to answer.
    "Do you want to, babe?"
    "I'd like to if you want to go. We don't have to." Pete shrugged, trying to seem unconcerned, but I'd seen how much fun he was having being in Mike's company. I wanted to get to know Derrick better too.
    "Yeah. Sounds like fun."
    "Sweet!" Mike exclaimed, acting like a giddy child who had just been given his birthday present.
    "Is there anything we can bring?" Pete inquired.
    "Just your buns," Mike informed us. "Do you need to go back to your hotel?"
    "Not unless we're going to crash at your place," I replied.
    "Could happen," the dark haired young man replied. "Might have a couple of beers, if you're into it."
    "Okay. Are you going to follow us to the hotel or do you want to give us directions?" Pete asked.
    "Where you staying?" Derek requested. "If it's not too far out of the way we can follow you."
    "Winnetka and Ventura."
    "Cool. We'll follow you," Derrick confirmed.
    "Cool," Pete nodded and then said, "Lets get moving, then."
    It took us a little time to get changed into dry clothes. By the time Derrick got us to Russ' shop, it was ten to five. Pete told the man we'd be back the following day and asked him to set aside the gear we had been using. He was happy to do so. We completed our business in no time and started the drive through Malibu back to Topanga Canyon Road and then the 101.
    "What do you think, Bri?" my boyfriend asked me once we were on the road.
    "I wasn't sure at first, but I like them. Derrick and I could be good friends."
    "Oh really? " Pete arched his eyebrow again and grinned to let me know he was joking.
    "Yeah, really! But not the way you're implying. I feel like there's a connection there, like we have something in common. I can't quite put my finger on it though."
    "Mike's a fun guy, Pete said. He kept me laughing all day." A few seconds passed before he added, "I wish we knew someone like him in Portland. We don't laugh enough."
    I hummed my agreement. "Did Mike tell you anything about Keith and Prez?"
    Pete answered, "Not really. He just said we'd like them. You aren't disappointed we won't be alone tonight, are you?"
    "No, not really. It'll be nice to get out and hang with complete strangers for a while. Seriously though, this'll be fun. It'll be nice to hear how they deal with school and being openly gay."
    "You're thinking of coming out again, aren't you?" Pete asked accusingly.
    "The thought had crossed my mind," I said in an airy, unconcerned voice.
    "Brian, I don't think it's a good idea," Pete commented. "Look at what's happened. My mom, Curt, Jared, the gun, the fight at the theater... and Tony!"
    "Pete, babe, I'm the paranoid one, remember?" His expression darkened. I hurriedly continued, "We can't live our lives in the closet, Pete. People were already starting to get suspicious about us when school let out. We have a lot of friends, and the vice principal on our side. We'll be careful, and we'll be safe."
    "I don't know..."
    "Pete, doesn't it ever bother you that we can't even hold hands at school because some one will think we're gay? Doesn't it make you angry when you see straight couples kissing in the halls and we can't do the same thing?"
    "Straight couples don't have to worry about getting bashed or killed, Brian."
    I knew that nothing I said would budge him, so I let the matter drop. The resulting silence stretched on until we parked at the hotel. Pete turned off the ignition and sat still for a moment.
    "I'll think about it, Brian. Okay?"
    "Okay. I'm sorry I pushed you," I said earnestly.
    "That's okay. Maybe it's something that I should think about. We can't keep our secret forever," he observed.
    Mike and Derrick pulled up along side of us as we got out of the car.
    "You guys can come up if you want," Pete said. "I want to take a quick shower and get some clean clothes before we go."
    Mike replied, "That's fine, as long as I can call Keith and let him know we'll be a little late."
    "No problem."
    Pete led the way to our room. As soon as the door was open he dragged me to the bathroom with him. He told our friends that we'd be out soon as he shut the door behind us. He wasted no time in stripping off his clothes as I started the water, and the he helped me remove my clothing. While we waited for the water to warm up, Pete pulled me against him and kissed my forehead.
    "I love you, Bri," Pete murmured. "I get scared when we talk about coming out because someone might do something and I'd lose you."
    I squeezed him tighter, pressing my whole body against him. "You won't lose me, Pete."
    "Chris came close to losing Tony," my boyfriend reminded me.
    "But he didn't," I said in rebuttal. "And I'm not Tony. We have to live our lives, Pete. I don't want to go through life having to hide the way I feel about you from everyone. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to me."
    Pete hugged me tightly and then disengaged to adjust the temperature and redirect the water to the showerhead. We climbed in and scrubbed each other down with a minimum of play, and were out and dry within ten minutes.
    Someone had turned the television on to MTV. Derrick was on the couch, drumming on his knees as he listened, while Mike had slouched next to him, watching the video with interest.
    "Did you have fun?" Mike asked with a knowing expression.
    "Didn't have enough time." I felt my face grow warm as Pete said, "I hate being rushed when I'm playing."
    Mike and Derrick both nodded in agreement, then Mike added, "Although there is something to be said about an occasional quickie, ain't that right, bud."
    Derrick blushed a bit. "Yeah. Those can be fun."
    While Pete and I dressed, Mike and Derrick continued watching the tube. Some rock band was in the video MTV was showing.
    "We could do this song, D. We have the two guitars. Should be a piece of cake."
    "Yeah. We'd have to change the key for Keith, though. I don't think he can reach that high."
    "You'd be surprised. We haven't done anything to challenge his range lately. We could always just tell Prez to grab him. That would raise his range," Mike said with a devilish grin.
    "You are so bad," Derrick said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't put it past him, though."
    Five minutes later, we were heading out the door. Derrick and Mike led us north on 101 about five miles. They exited at Kanan Road and turned right. We passed a McDonald's then a strip mall on the right, and then a larger shopping center on the left. We made two right turns into a residential area. From the street we could see a high school football field to our left and up a hill. Coming up to a large park, we then turned right again and soon were pulling over to the curb.
    A Toyota Four-Runner was sitting in the driveway when we arrived. Mike and Derrick parked on the other side of it. Two guys got out as soon as Derrick's 442 was stopped. They were about our age, a couple inches shy of six feet tall and weighed about one-fifty. One of the guys had fiery red hair while the other guy had brown. Pete and I could hear them laughing from behind the truck as we got out. We were walking toward them just as Mike stepped out from behind the four-runner.
    "Prez, Keith, meet Pete and Brian. Pete, Brian, meet Keith and Prez."
    "Nice intro," the brown-haired guy said. "I'm Keith. This is my boyfriend, Preston."
    "Howdy, y'all," the red-head said in a thick Texas drawl, obviously exaggerated for Mike's, Derrick's and Keith's benefit. "You can call me Prez."
    He offered his hand to me and I took it. His grip was firm as we shook. Keith and I shared a firm shake while Prez and Pete took stock of each other.
    "Let's get our buns inside. I'm hungry!" Mike exclaimed while rubbing his belly.
    "You have the keys, Mike," Keith observed with a grin.
    "No, actually I don't. D has them. Derrick, what's taking you so long? Let us in the house already!"
    Derrick's expression when he looked at Mike spoke volumes, displaying bemused defiance.
    "Please?" Mike asked plaintively.
    "That's better." Derrick grinned at his boyfriend and led us to the front door.
    Prez asked us, "You guys are together?"
    "Yeah," I confirmed. "It's a long story. I promised Derrick I'd tell you guys tonight."
    "Derrick?" Prez asked, seemingly surprised. "What did he do to get you to promise that?"
    "He asked," I said simply. "I told him I'd rather tell the whole story once rather than tell it two or three times."
    "See?" Derrick said from the door as he opened it. "I'm not a total closet case."
    "You better not be, dude," Mike responded, "or I'll have to drag you out kickin' and screamin'."
    "There you go with the screaming again," Prez quipped as we walked into the house. "That is why you two are staying here, right? So your screaming doesn't wake up your mom and sister?"
    "Shut up," Mike shot back. "You're one to talk Mr. Oh, God, yes, harder Keith!"
    Prez blushed so red I thought his face was going to start bleeding. Keith and Derrick were laughing and soon Mike and Prez joined them.
    "Touché," Prez replied.
    Pete and I watched the entire exchange from the door. I was a bit taken aback at the way they casually spoke of intimate details of their private lives.
    Noticing our discomfort, Keith said, "You guys aren't really out, are you?"
    "Family and a few friends," Pete supplied, "But other than that... we were talking about it on the way home from the beach."
    "Well, you're among friends here, dudes. Go get your stuff and get comfortable. You're going to be here for a while."
    "I'll get our bags, Pete."
    "Okay, baby."
    I stared at him for a moment, and Pete looked like he didn't understand. He'd called me baby. I turned and walked out the door, angry with myself for even worrying about him using a pet name for me in front of four other gay boys.
    I retrieved our bags and hurried back inside. No one was in the front room, but I could hear a guitar being played in the back of the house. Following the strains of music, I found everyone in a bedroom furnished like a studio. Guitars, synth-drums, amps and the associated debris littered the room. A computer was set up to one side. When I walked in, Mike was picking out a tune that was familiar. When Keith and Prez began to sing, I recognized it as Teach Your Children Well. When the chorus came around, Mike, Derrick, and to my surprise, Pete joined in.
    When the final chord died out, Mike said, "You sing pretty well, Pete."
    "Thanks," Pete replied, acknowledging the compliment. "I enjoy it, but I've never taken lessons or choir in school or anything."
    Mike snorted as he put the guitar back in its stand. "Sounds like Keith. It's the same for him. You don't sing, Brian?"
    "Sure I do, but I want to keep the glass intact," I retorted.
    "You aren't that bad, Bri," Pete said as he put his arm around me. "You sing pretty well. You can carry a tune, anyway."
    At first I flinched away from him, but when I noticed Prez and Keith sitting really close to each other and Derrick's hands on Mike's shoulders, I tried to force myself to relax.
    "Sorry," I whispered.
    "Sorry for what, Brian?" Keith asked. I hadn't meant for him to hear me.
    I sighed. "Sometimes being... affectionate in public freaks me out."
    "But you're not in public, Brian," Keith answered. "The only people that will see are us four, and we don't care."
    "I'm sure that's true, but we did just meet."
    "You're afraid we'll do something like jump you?" Prez inquired.
    I shrugged. I didn't want to answer that question because the thought had already crossed my mind.
    "Looks like we're going to have to prove it's all good," Mike commented. He turned so he was facing Derrick. "Kiss me like you mean it, D."
    "I always mean it, Mike."
    "Yeah, yeah, just kiss me."
    Keith and Prez chuckled at Mike's choice of words, and then followed Mike and Derrick's example and kissed. It wasn't a chaste kiss either. Pete pulled me closer to him and hugged me from behind.
    "See, Bri? It's okay. We're safe here."
    I watched while the two couples continued to kiss, and I became embarrassed as time passed without a pause. Turning to Pete, I simply hugged him and rested my head on his shoulder. I was so angry with myself.
    Why can't I relax and enjoy this time? I wondered.
    "Okay!" Mike said suddenly. "Uh, dinner. Yeah, that's what we were doing... dinner. Then the jam, and then the making out. And then, the oral sex!"
    We lost it. Mike's Monty Python reference was so outrageous and appropriate, for that could very well be what was going to occur later in the night.
    Mike continued, "Keith, let Prez go so he can help me burn dinner!"
    Keith and Prez parted slowly, almost unwillingly, but their eyes promised more of the same later.
    "I can cook too, Mike," Pete volunteered. "I can help if you want me to."
    "Sure!" Mike said happily. "I can always use another scapegoat when it comes to cooking."
    "Refusing to take responsibility, Mike?" Keith said, obviously baiting him as we walked into the front room.
    "I take responsibility for what I'm responsible for. You know I can't cook, so that makes y'all responsible for what happens to your guts, not me."
    "Mike, sit down already!" Prez barked with mock irritability. "Pete and I can cook dinner, but you get the dishes!"
    "Fair enough," the boy said, "but don't go making more of a mess than necessary."
    Pete and Prez glanced at each other and then cast the same evil smile in Mike's direction.
    "Oh shit. Don't make me take this out on your boyfriends!"
    "Yeah, like there's a chance in hell of that happening," I commented dryly, and Mike's eyes widened a bit as if something had startled him.
    Keith chuckled his agreement. You're on your own, Mike. That's what you get for bitching.
    "Bri?" Pete called my name from the kitchen. "Everything okay?"
    "Huh? Yeah. Sorry."
    Mike gave me a measuring look. "You look like you know how to handle yourself, Brian. You scared the shit out of me just now! Did you see his face, Derrick?"
    "Guys," I replied when Derrick nodded his head, "Really, I don't mean anything. It's just me getting all fucked up in the head again. After what we've been through, I have to constantly remind myself that everything's cool."
    "Maybe you could tell us your story now, Brian?" Keith asked gently.
    "Yeah. Let's make sure Pete and Prez can hear. I don't want to have to repeat anything, and Pete might have something to add."
    We moved into the kitchen and sat around the table while my blond and Keith's carrot top planned our meal. I looked around the table at each person, and they watched me closely.
    I warned them all, "I can get pretty intense when I tell our story to people. I wanted to let you know."
    "Bri, I can tell them if you want," Pete offered. "I know how upset you can get sometimes."
    "No, that's okay, babe. I'll do it. Maybe I need to. Where to start...
    "We met in sixth grade," I began. "We became best friends shortly thereafter until Pete got a girlfriend in seventh grade. That's when he figured out he was gay."
    "Actually I knew I was gay, but I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't," Pete explained.
    "I caught him at his locker one day, and he was really upset," I continued. "He and his girlfriend had the opportunity to play around, and it didn't go well. When I asked him if he wanted to talk, he said yes, so we skipped the last class of the day and went out to the bleachers. He came out to me right there. He told me he loved me, and I realized I loved him too."
    "That's so cool," Mike said through a smile.
    "Yeah," I replied, "but over the next four days, Pete came out to his mom, his father attacked us and almost caught me as we ran out the door, I came out to my parents, and then when it looked like everything might calm down, Pete's mom took him away from me. She flew him to Portland. That was the last time I saw him until last November."
    Everyone in the room was silent. Pete and Prez had stopped moving in the kitchen. Everyone was looking at me. Uncomfortable with the attention, I dropped my eyes to the table and continued.
    "I lost it when he was taken away. I spent a couple days in the hospital. We'd only had four days, but it felt like a lifetime, and when he left, my life left too. My parents knew that he was going to be leaving and they didn't tell me. I hated them for that. I hated them so bad that I moved out into a friends house. Chris. His mom took me in and agreed to take care of me. I don't know what was between her and my parents, and I don't care.
    "I stayed with them for two-and-a-half years. I did a lot of stupid things. I started working out with Chris, and that became an obsession. In the two years after Pete left I went from a ninety-five pound weakling to a 145-pound muscle-bound menace. I did everything I could to avoid thinking about Pete. I threw myself in to the workout, went out for football and wrestling, changed from baseball to track so I could get the longer distance runs in, anything to punish my body. I was working out seven days a week and running at least ten miles a day. And it still wasn't enough.
    "I threw myself at school too, and earned a four-point. With all I was doing I think I got between four and six hours of sleep a night. Sometimes less. I started having nightmares every night. It got to the point where I was afraid to sleep. I still have the dreams sometimes, but being with Pete helps.
    "I was growing, so I had a problem keeping my weigh down for wrestling. I watched my diet, exercised even more, and barely kept weight. At some point the school got wind of my schedule and called Kathlene, my foster mom, in for a conference. When I told them what I was doing, they went crazy and slapped all kinds of restrictions on me. They cut my workout time in half, and then only when supervised. Of course since I was burning half the calories, I stopped eating half of the calories. From that point it was all down hill."
    Still they were silent. Pete and Prez had resumed their work, but otherwise the room was quiet. I swallowed and continued.
    "Sometime around March I had some trouble keeping food down, so I modified my diet. I ate a lot of bananas and other bland foods, but even that didn't seem to help. By the end of April I only ate once or twice a day and was lucky if it stayed down. I can remember making myself throw up because I knew I was going to anyway and didn't want to wait."
    "Jesus," someone whispered.
    The kitchen became silent again. Our hosts exchanged startled glances. With a sensation of horror, I realized that I had given out details to these strangers than I had never even told Pete, much less my family. My boyfriend's blazing gaze locked with my eyes, and I could not look away. I also could not stop talking. I continued as I stared at Pete.
    "One morning, I just couldn't get up. I woke up in the hospital a couple days later, three days from poisoning myself to death with potassium from all the bananas I was eating. I realized then that everything I had put my family through, put Chris and his mom through, put myself through, it was all for nothing. I was never going to see Pete again.
    "I moved back in with my parents after I got out of the hospital. My mom went paranoid over my recovery. She wouldn't let me do anything. When she had to go back to work, she left me in Chris' care, and I gradually regained my strength. My mother's attention became more stifling as time went on. I eventually ended up spending the rest of the summer at the Forn house except for sleeping.
    "School started. My parents wouldn't let me play football because of my," and I made quotes in the air, "weakened condition. I didn't fight them. Everything was more or less smooth until the last half of September. My dad called me in and gave me a shoebox full of the letters Pete had sent me, from the day after he left to one that had arrive just before he gave me the box. I had given up, but Pete didn't."
    My eyes, which had been moist, were now filled with tears. I didn't have the strength to wipe them away, held powerless by Pete's eyes.
    "It was the second time my parents had betrayed my trust. I ran away. A friend found me and talked my parents into letting me live with him until it was time for me to go to Portland for Pete's trial."
    "Brian, why didn't you tell me about the eating problem?" Pete angrily interrogated me with both voice and eyes. "All this time and you never told me! Why?"
    "Because it..." I dropped my eyes to the table. "I didn't think you'd want to be with me if you found out the truth," I murmured, bracing myself for the blast I was certain Pete was going to direct at me.
    Pete stomped over to the table, whipped my chair around to face him and knelt in front of me. He roughly grabbed my face and forced me to meet his gaze.
    "Look at me, Brian!" Pete ordered, his voice more intense than angry. "Tell me the truth. Have you ever caused yourself to throw up since you've lived with me?"
    I closed my eyes and tried to nod. "Only a couple times."
    "How many, Brian? How many times?"
    "I don't know! A dozen? Two? I didn't count!"
    "Brian, open your eyes," Pete asked calmly, his hands dropping to my shoulders. "Look around. Tell me what you see."
    On every face in the room I saw disturbed expressions. Keith and Prez looked worried as well.
    "I know," I said with a sigh. "I'm pathetic."
    "Brian," Keith said, surprising me, "you aren't pathetic. You've got a disease called bulimia."
    "I know what it is. I should be able to control it. It's..."
    "A compulsion. An illness," Keith interrupted. "I know something about this. Does anyone know this about you, Brian?"
    "Just you. And Chris and Kathlene."
    Pete pulled my into a tight, long hug. "Brian, I'm not going to let you get away from me. We'll fight this thing together just like we have everything else."
    Tears continued to fall from my eyes as I buried my head into Pete's shoulder.
    "Brian," Prez began, his face tight with concern, "Why tell us? Why now if you've waited this long?"
    I looked at the redheaded teenager, and then around the room again. I could see the same question written on all of their faces, along with a new expression: compassionate understanding.
    "I can't tell you why. I... Once I got started, I couldn't stop."
    Pete hugged me again and returned to the kitchen without a word.
    Keith and Prez shared a meaningful look. "Brian, I'd like you and Pete to come over to our place tomorrow night. I want you to meet my brother and his boyfriend, and if you will, tell them what you told us. You'll probably meet my other brother and my parents, too."
    I stood up and walked to Pete. He continued his task but spared me a glance. His expression was not hostile, but welcoming. I wrapped my arm around his waist, in need of the contact.
    "Why, Keith?" Pete asked.
    "What Brian's done, what he's been through, I want my family to hear it," Keith replied earnestly. "I have other reasons too, but I can't tell you what they are."
    Prez added, "I think it would do them some good to hear what you have to say, too. They're a couple years younger than you are. You're sixteen, right?"
    I shook my head. "Sixteen in September."
    "Drew will be fifteen at the end of August." Keith cast a pleading gaze our direction. "They really need to hear what you have to say, Brian."
    "I guess I can talk to them."
    "Thanks," Keith replied with some gratitude and relief. "It means a lot to me."
    "It means a lot to me too," Prez added.
    "Aw, hell," Mike injected. "It means a lot to all of us." Derrick nodded his agreement.
    Everyone was quiet for a moment. Prez went back to helping Pete get dinner ready, and then asked, "What about you, Pete?"
    "What happened after I was taken away?"
    My boyfriend let the silence reassert itself. Our four friends were beginning to shift uncomfortably when Pete next spoke.
    "Some of it I don't like talking about. It was pretty bad."
    "You don't have to, babe. I'm sure they understand." They damn well better understand! I added to myself.
    "Yeah, Pete," Derrick said softly. "I know what it's like."
    "I'll tell you the gist of what happened. My mother took me to Portland. When we got there, we moved in with my grandparents. I'd only seen them a couple of times. She was really coming down hard on me for being gay. Gramma and Grampa were really cool about it though. They wouldn't go against my mother's wishes, but they weren't phobic. My mother has a brother and sister back east. Both are gay. She'd never mentioned them to me. Ever.
    "Mother got us an apartment after she got a job. When I started school, I didn't really make any friends because she scared them away. I stopped inviting people over."
    Pete was speaking as if this were an everyday conversation, with little inflection or emphasis, while he continued to prepare our food. He looked at no one.
    "She met this guy somewhere. His name was Curt. He hit me a lot."
    Derrick stiffened and Mike put his arm around him.
    "I spent most of my time hiding from him." Pete snorted. "Someone else who lived in the apartment before me was either a dealer or in the same boat as I was. In the back of the closet was a hidden door. I found it one night when I was hiding from one of Curt's drunken rampages. It was two feet wide and just tall enough for me to get through. There was a two by three space in the walls, and a one by five section next to it. I could lay down on my side if I curled up. I managed to get some blankets and a pillow in there. It became my room when I had to be home with Curt and mother was still out. They never did find that place, as far as I know.
    "I met this kid at school when I attended an informal GSA meeting. His name was Ray. He was gay and lived with a foster family because his parents abused him and threw him out. We somehow became friends. I never brought him over to the apartment when I knew Curt or my mom were going to be home. I spent a lot of time at his place though. Mother hated him. Curt..." A pained expression crossed his face.
    "One time when Ray and I came to the apartment, mom was home. She accused me of having sex with him. I wasn't, and never did, with Ray or anyone other than Brian. I laughed in her face, and she slapped me. I got what I needed and left.
    "I managed to convince my grandparents to let me live with them. Mother even signed custody over to them. They didn't have any direct proof of what was happening, but they knew the signs. I lived with them through the end of the school year."
    Pete stopped his narrative and looked up briefly. Our friends were watching Pete, waiting for him to continue, their expressions solemn. I hugged Pete from behind. The contact seemed to release him to speak again.
    "Ray's family invited me to go on a trip with them down the Oregon coast. My grandparents let me go. I was gone for a week. Or was it two? I forget. When I got back, I was informed that my grandparents were in a car accident. They died instantly."
    Pete continued without missing a beat. "I told Ray's foster parents, Kevin and Sharon, that I didn't want to go back to living with my mom, and I told them some of the reason why. Kevin went to court and got a temporary custody and restraining order against my mother and Curt. I went to the funeral with the whole family. Mother yelled at me and told me that Gramma and Grampa were dead because I did it to them. She said I killed them. Curt threatened me right in front of the attorney Kevin had asked to fight to get me away from mother.
    "The will reading was the next day. It was me, Mom and Curt, Kevin and Van- my attorney, and the aunt and uncle I had never met. Gramma and Grampa were much better off than any of us knew. They split their estate: one third to my uncle, one-third to my aunt. The rest of it they gave to me.
    Eyes widened in amazement as surprised glances were shared between our friends. Pete was shaking next to me. He really didn't like talking about any of this because he missed his grandparents a lot.
    "How much?" Mike asked. Derrick slapped the back of his head hard. "Ow! Knock it off. I just wanted to know!"
    "It's okay, Derrick. When they left it to me, it was around three million in property, cash and investments."
    "Holy shit!" Mike blurted, causing Derrick to slap him again. Mike glared and rubbed his head in response.
    "I don't know what it's worth now," Pete continued. "I get a check every month for my own expenses, and I never see the rest of it. I own the house Brian's family will be living in."
    "And he's letting us stay rent-free," I added.
    Pete turned and hugged me, then kissed my forehead. "They're your family, Bri, and that makes them my family too. I don't need the money, and the house is paid for.
    "My mother legally had custody of me after my grandparents died, but Van and Kevin got a temporary custody order to let me stay with Kevin and his family. Van got a court date set for the hearing and sent out a subpoena to Brian."
    "That's when my dad gave me his letters," I said softly. "About a month later I was in Portland, seeing Pete for the first time in two-and-a-half years."
    "Wow," Keith breathed. "That's an intense story you guys have."
    "There's more, but I don't want to go into it," Pete replied. "Excuse us for a moment."
    Pete took my hand, led me back to the guest room, and closed the door behind us. He sat on the bed and pulled me to stand in front of him.
    "You're bulimic, Bri?"
    I shrugged and looked away. "I guess."
    "Why didn't you tell me, Brian?" Pete asked with tears in his eyes. "Don't you trust me?"
    "Yes! I trust you with my life!" I insisted.
    "Then why hide this from me? You don't think I have a right to know the love of my life has a deadly disease?"
    "Oh, come on. You're being melodramatic."
    "Am I?" he demanded. " My God, Brian, it already almost killed you once! Do you expect me to sit by and let it happen again?"
    "No, I don't, because it's not going to happen," I assured him. "No one ever said the word bulimia to me. I figured it out on my own. I didn't tell you because at first because I thought you would reject me. I didn't later on because it wasn't affecting me and we had enough to deal with. I don't even know why I mentioned it tonight."
    Pete stared at me, his face open and full of hurt. "Maybe because you were supposed to."
    Pete shunted my question aside. "Brian, I want you to promise me that you'll come to me if you decide to purge again."
    "No, Pete. But I do promise to tell you if it becomes a regular thing."
    "Why won't you promise me?"
    "Because I can't keep the promise! Sometimes... you wouldn't understand."
    "Then help me!" He cried plaintively.
    "Pete, babe, look at me," I gently directed him. I took off my shirt and dropped my shorts. "Take a good look. Do I look like I'm starving? You know how much I weigh. If I was still purging after every meal, would I look like this?"
    "How would I know? I've only heard about this in the news!"
    A knock sounded at the door.
    "Guys?" It's Keith. "Can I come in?"
    "I need to think about this, Bri. Okay? I don't love you any less, and probably more, but you kept me in the dark about something so important... I need some space to think."
    He hugged me tightly and then released me. I rose, pulled on my shorts and walked to the door. I paused for a moment
    Without turning around, I said in a low voice, "I love you, Pete. You are my life. I'm sorry."
    I opened the door and faced Keith. His expression was tense.
    "You guys okay in here?" he asked, peering over my shoulder at my boyfriend. I walked past Keith without answering. I heard the door close behind me. Keith did not follow me to the living room.
    The three remaining took note that I was alone, and that Keith had not returned. I'm sure my expression told them what had happened. I met the gaze of each of them and then collapsed onto the couch. A moment of silence passed.
    "I didn't tell him because we already had so much going on, and then... I'm sorry to bring you guys down. This always seems to happen to us. Something comes up and drags everyone down with us. With me."
    "It's okay, Brian," Prez said from the kitchen. "Everyone has reasons for holding things back. You say you have it under control? Maybe you do. Who's to say but you?"
    "But Pete..."
    "Will get over the shock," Mike interrupted. "He's a good guy and he loves you. It's obvious that he does. Hell, he waited for you for almost three years! He's not going to dump you over..."
    "I know that, Mike," I interjected, "but I hurt him again, just like I have God-only-knows how many times before. How much can he take before..."
    "Before I dump you because I've had enough?"
    I shot to my feet, facing a smiling vision of beauty. Keith, who was smiling as well, walked up to Prez and kissed him. Pete came to me with out hurry and embraced me loosely. I looked up into his eyes and immediately fell into their depths, finding in Pete's eyes what Chris found so mesmerizing in Tony's amber gaze. Pete's smile slipped a bit as he peered into my eyes, and then he lowered his lips to mine and kissed me hard. Whatever hesitation I had fled the moment his tongue touched my lips.
    Minutes later, Pete was holding me up as I savored the sensation of his arms around me. I looked up at him again, and saw him smiling down on me.
    "What... Why?" I stammered.
    "Keith told me something I know but needed to hear again," he explained.
    "And that was?"
    No matter what happens, no matter where we are or who is with us, we are. You and me. We are committed to each other. I want to hold you in my arms when I'm eighty. I want to soak our dentures in the same glass. I want you with me forever, Brian."
    I could but stare into his eyes. This wasn't the first time he had expressed those sentiments, but it was the first time he had done so publicly.
    "Aw... ain't that cute!"
    Derrick slapped Mike in the back of the head. Hard.
    "Shut up, Mike!"

    Many thanks to TheEggman for the loan of his characters in this chapter.

Comments and constructive criticism gladly accepted. E-mail me at

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