The standard disclaimers apply. Do not read if you are under 18, if it is illegal for you to, or if you are offended by boys engaging in consentual sex. Otherwise, enjoy.


Journey Of Love

Chapter 22


The road we travel is so difficult. Especially when we do stupid things that take us away from the direction we're heading. I keep doing that. I keep fucking up, keep going the wrong way. I get angry and discouraged and I want to run away. But they won't let me. They envelop me with love and care and help. They are patient beyond belief, and they won't let me go. It's not confining, it's comforting.

Okay, so you know what? Nothing happened. I mean, life went on. Danny and I had been convinced that one of two things would happen. Either we would both die the moment his car turned the corner and we lost sight of each other, or the world would simply split apart and crumble into the vast blackness of the universe. Well, we didn't really believe that, but we had sorta hoped. We either wanted his parents to suffer forever with anguished remorse for what they had done to us (our deaths) or everyone else in the world to feel the pain we felt (the world ending).

And the rotten part is, neither of those things happened. Becky and the Kyle helped me for a while. Then Kyle went with his folks to take Becky back to the farm. So I was left alone for a few hours and I didn't die. Oh, my heart hurt and I was pissed off at the world. But I didn't die.

See, here's what we forgot. There are telephones all over the United States. And you can use those telephones to call anywhere in the United States. Heck, anywhere in the world, I guess. And that's exactly what Danny did. He called from some town in Nebraska where they were staying the night. We talked. It was great. He said his parents and his brother were at the pool. I asked him why he wasn't there.

"I wanted to call you and Dad said this would be a good time to have some privacy. I'm going after we're done. I'm all set got my swimsuit on."

"Cool. Thanks for calling. I miss you."

"I miss you, too, Justin."

"So, you just got your swimsuit on?"

"Hehehe. Yep. Swimsuit and nothing else."

"No shirt? No sandals?"

"Swimsuit, period. What are you wearing?"

"Ever since you said hi I've been taking off my clothes. I'm sitting on my floor naked."

I heard a small gasp at the other end.

"Are you hard?" he asked.

"Pretty much. Not quite yet."

"I'm playing with my toes."

"Okay, I'm hard now."

It went on from there. We touched our own nipples at each other's suggestion. We caressed our own butts and told each other. We cupped our balls as the other did. We set a cadence for flogging our dicks, but I was so hot I came before he did. We said we loved each other, and then our time was up. It was almost as bad saying good bye that night as it had been earlier in the day.

I wasn't going to make it.

Danny called the next night, but said he wouldn't be able to the night after that. They'd be in California moving into their new house, which didn't have a phone yet. The day went slowly. Kyle and I were out mowing our lawns. It was a warm day, and both of us were stripped to the waist. Kyle was really handsome, and I understood Becky's attraction to him. Becky. I hadn't talked to her for a few days. I felt sorta guilty feeling about Kyle that way, but he was cute. He had an innie navel, a flat tummy and soft but developed chest with nipples about the size of quarters. Oh, shit. No, this wasn't going to happen. Nope, nope, nope.

We got done about the same time. He put his mower away and walked over to my backyard, wiping his chest with his T-shirt. I grabbed a couple of Cokes out of the fridge and handed him one.

"I don't believe it's so hot this early in the summer," he said.

"Yeah. I hope it's not an omen."

"You wanna catch a movie tonight?"

"No, I can't. No money. I used up my allowance already."

"Yeah, me too, actually. We need to make some cash."

"How? Can't work at the grocery store till we're 16, and I think the older kids have most of the part-time jobs taken up already."

"Well, we don't have to work at a store."

"What, then?"

"Maybe we could mow lawns together."

I thought it over a few moments. "You know, that's not a bad idea. It wouldn't take us long to mow the lawns with both of us doing it, and we'd just split the money. We could sorta set our own hours."

"Yeah. My brother did that a few years ago. Maybe he can give us some names."

As it turned out, it wasn't his brother who gave us the names but his mother. She found the old address book he had kept for his lawn mowing summers he had done it almost five years and gave it to us. We started calling that afternoon.

Two hours later we had 10 lawns lined up. Two a day, five days a week. Each would take a couple of hours to do. Ten dollars a lawn, split between the two of us, was fifty dollars each a week. We would be wallowing in cash. We would have to buy gas for the lawnmowers out of that, but still. This was going to be great.

We shook hands as I walked out of Kyle's house. Life settled into a summer routine, but one that was punctuated by a severe sense of loss. Sometimes Danny's absence was so overwhelming I broke down. It happened when I was along with my thoughts. Even mowing the lawns we had lined up. Usually Kyle and I did these together. Now and then we'd each take a lawn alone. But all the money went into a central fund, from which we bought gasoline, oil and repairs for the mowers. We actually paid ourselves a salary and banked the rest. It was Kyle's dad's idea, and it really worked out.

We walked to our jobs. They were usually within a few blocks of our houses. Hell, damn near everything in town was within a few blocks. We talked about a lot of things, and Kyle was really helping me cope with Danny's loss. It wasn't a total loss, of course. We talked on the phone a lot. Every other night, usually. I'd also talk to Fran, and usually to Charlie, too.

Oh! I got my learner's permit, too. You can do that at 15 where we lived. And get your license at 16. My first venture behind the wheel was moderately successful, a trip to the grocery store with my dad, who was quite businesslike and didn't panic at all. He signed me up for driver's ed for the summer, and that took up three mornings a week. Kyle was taking driver's ed, too, and so we didn't get started with mowing till about 10:00. We were usually done by 1:00 or 2:00, which gave us the rest of the day to play.

And play we did. Our afternoons were about as perfect as things could get. Except Danny wasn't there. We all missed him. I missed everything about him. His laughter, his fun, his love, his body, his eyes, his family, his toes, his concern. Everything. I know the other guys did, too, because sometimes after swimming or a good game of driveway basketball we'd be sitting trying to catch our breath. It would be quiet, and as I glanced around the circle, there would be sad faces. I knew what they were thinking. I was thinking the same thing. Danny wasn't there.

And while the days were perfect, the nights weren't. Every night. I couldn't sleep. Maybe a few hours after the noise died down. Driver's ed was early, so whatever sleep I had got me through that, but I went downhill fast afterward. Kyle began to notice, but I just kept putting him off. Becky yelled at me when I went out to the farm one day.

"You're a zombie," she said.

"I am not."

"Look at you. You barely know where you are."

"Fuck off."

She slapped me. "Now I know something is wrong. You've never said that to me. And I don't believe you meant to."

"I didn't, Becky. I'm sooo sorry. I didn't . . . I can't . . ." Tears began to form, but I didn't want to cry.

"I know, Justin. That's what I mean. You don't know what you're doing."

"I can handle it."

"You can't. No one can. But especially with the added stress. Stay here tonight."

"I can't."

"Why?"

"You're dating Kyle."

"Oh, for god's sake, stay in Jim's room. He's not dating anyone just now."

"Ha-ha."

"At least you'll get a good night's sleep. Why are you doing this? You never stayed there when Danny was here."

"That's just it. He's not here anymore. I have to learn to take care of this by myself. I have to learn to cope."

"Well maybe coping means getting the hell out of there. Maybe coping doesn't mean continuing to live with it. Did you ever hear about the guy who was in the middle of a flood?"

"No."

"Well the flood was rising, and these guys came with a rescue boat. `Get in,' they said, `we'll save you.' But he refused. `God will save me,' he said.

"Pretty soon the water had forced him onto his roof, and another boat came by. `Get in, we'll save you,' they said. But he replied, `No, God will save me.'

"Then he was forced to sit on top of his chimney and another boat came along. `It's your last chance,' they said. `Get in.' But he said, `I'll put my faith in God, who will save me.'

At last the water rose over his head and he drowned."

"Oh, great way to cheer me up."

"Shut up. So the guy dies and goes to heaven, and there's God. `God,' he says, `I put my faith in you that you'd save me. Why didn't you save me?' And God looks at him and says, "What? I sent three boats!'"

"So what's your point?"

"My point is, you think coping is learning to live with all the shit going on at your house." Becky could be pithy. "Maybe you're not looking at it the right way. Maybe coping is learning when to get the fuck out."

Still, I went home that night.

This went on about a month. One day Kyle and I were walking to a job, pulling the lawnmowers along.

"Are you listening?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah, sure."

"Then what do you think? Did I do the right thing?"

"Uh, yeah, absolutely. I'd do the same thing in your situation."

"Justin, I just said I broke up with Becky because I caught her fucking her brother."

"WHAT?? How did . . . are you . . . I . . ." I was at a loss. Of course I hadn't been listening.

"Of course you haven't been listening, you jerk. No, we are not breaking up and no I didn't catch her fucking her brother. Jeez. But I did say that and you didn't even react. Justin, you were almost asleep on your feet. What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, I just couldn't get to sleep last night. Too much Coke before bed."

"Bullshit. You've used that excuse before. It's your parents, isn't it?"

"So what if it is?"

"Justin, you have to get out of there and get some sleep. At least once in a while."

"I can't. Danny's gone."

"Well, pardon me for saying it, but Danny's isn't the only house in the universe. Greg said you could come over there."

"No, I can't."

"Why?"

"Just can't." They didn't know about Greg and Danny, and I was afraid what I might do with Greg, too.

"Then my house. We're partners, we share the work and our money 50-50. I can share my house, too."

"What about your parents?"

"Uh, well, um, actually, see, my mom already knows."

"You told her?"

"Sorta."

"Sorta?? What the fuck do you mean?"

"She started asking questions about you staying at Danny's so much and some of the things she's heard. I just . . ." He stopped.

After a pause I said, "It's okay, Kyle. Don't worry about it. But please don't tell anyone else."

"Well, I won't, but the thing is, after Danny left she asked about you. I said you were handling it, and I thought you were. I don't' think that any more. She said to tell you that you could come over any time."

I sighed. "Okay. If it gets too bad, I promise I will."

He speeded up and stepped in front of me, blocking my way, and looked me in the eyes. He had deep blue eyes, I noticed. Very emotional eyes.

"It IS too bad, Justin. Please don't do this to yourself."

I looked deeply at him, and said sincerely, "I won't. I promise. Thanks, Kyle."

I went to bed about 10:00 that night, dead tired. But about 1 a.m. the noise started, and it grew and grew. The shrieking brought tears to my eyes. I was now convinced they didn't care about me. Oh, they fed me, clothed me, taught me to drive, things they were supposed to. Even said they loved me. But it was hollow. This was not love. Even if their anger was directed at each other, they could not love me and put me though this. They knew it bothered me enough that it forced me out of the house.

That night I reached the end. For the first time in more than a month I got out of bed and slipped on a pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt. Bbare foot, I quietly made my way out of the house and around to the back yard. I looked at Kyle's house, dark, asleep, and realized I didn't even know where a key was.

Still, I walked over, and, hoping against hope, tried the back door. It was open. I crept inside. I'd been in the house and knew it pretty well, but not perfectly. Oddly, there were nightlights in the kitchen, dining room, family room and up the stairs right to Kyle's room. I got to Kyle's door, and slowly opened it.

"Kyle?" I whispered.

"Justin?"

I stood there and sobbed. He came over to me, dressed only in pajama bottoms, and put his arms around me and let me cry. We stood there a good 10 minutes. Wordlessly, he led me to his bed, slipped my T-shirt off me, and eased me in. He crawled over me and got in behind me, next to the wall, then pulled the covers over us.

I lay there in bed. A strange bed. A bed I had never slept in before. Next to a boy I'd never slept with before. Kyle put his arm around me to comfort me, and soon I felt it go limp as I heard his breathing change. But I couldn't sleep. I was so lonely. I ached in my balls and in my heart. It was an emotional and sexual deprivation. I lay there for 45 minutes, watching the numbers change on his digital clock radio. The only way I was going to get to sleep was make myself cum. But I couldn't get out of bed without waking Kyle, because he had his arm around me.

I lay there shaking, afraid of the dark. Afraid of being alone. I was so desperately in need and I didn't know why. I mean, of course I knew why. I didn't have Danny to make love to. But that wasn't unusual for boys my age. Fifteen-year-olds didn't have regular lovers, at least not in our town. I got to talk to Danny on the phone and over e-mail, so I did have someone to talk to. Danny had been taken away from me physically, but I still had him. But now I needed him desperately.

The spirit was strong between us, but we belonged together. It would have been hard if any of us had moved away, but Danny and I had developed the deepest bond you can. It was based on seeing each other. The verbal contact was important and we talked a lot every day about a lot of different things. Just about whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted. We saw each other in school or in our yards. We laughed and played. We rode our bikes around town and went swimming. It was that contact, the physical presence, that I needed. The sex? Yes, I wanted that, too. It was an elixir for me, a tonic that clamed me, because it said someone loved me enough to make me feel that good.

But it wasn't just me feeling good, it was me making Danny feel good, too. That was just as important to me. Danny had to feel good or else I had failed. I wanted him to be as happy as I was. And I thought about ways I had made Danny happy over the past year. Had it been only a year? Yes, just over a year. The void I felt was suddenly huge.

I was hard thinking about it. That was a horrible condition, because I knew I'd never get back to sleep now. There was only one way, and with Kyle in bed next to me, I knew that was not an option. I knew it. But my hand didn't. I was suddenly stroking myself. My hand knew enough to try to be discreet about it to make as little motion as possible, to take it slowly and not disturb Kyle. It would take a long time that way, but I could not stop. I was on the way to an orgasm. I looked down and saw my T-shirt lying beside the bed. That would have to be my cum rag tonight. I slowly reached to get it, moving the bed slightly. Kyle didn't move. His arm was still around me, making this even more difficult. Slowly I rubbed the length of my cock, pulling the loose skin up over the head and back down, wetting my thumb with my precum and spreading across the increasingly sensitive head.

I started to breathe faster and I tried to slow by taking deep breaths. The pressure was building in my balls and my gut. My cock and brain screamed for my hand to go faster, but enough sanity remained in me that I ignored it I would surely wake Kyle. Still, the moment was coming and I grasped even tighter, stroking slowly. My breathing was labored and unsteady and I reached the top. One or two more strokes. And then I felt something. It was Kyle's thumb rubbing across my nipple, taking it between his thumb and finger and lightly pinching it. With a silent scream I held the T-shirt to my cock and shot a sonic boom of semen into it. I held my breath while my balls emptied into the shirt, and still Kyle pinched, rolling the nub in his fingers. I pumped out the last of the orgasm, and let my breath out, still holding the cloth to my cock, which stayed hard. I didn't know what to think. Kyle released my nipple as my breathing slowed. I felt a slight shift, then a gentle kiss on the back of my neck. But he didn't roll over and he didn't take his arm away.

Softly, almost imperceptibly, he whispered, "It's what friends do. They help each other."

"Thank you."

"Justin? Thank you. For trusting me."

He was still holding me the next morning. And the next morning. And the next.

And a month later, he was still holding me when I woke up each morning after spending the night at his house. I had shared his bed with him three or four nights a week for a month. But we never shared that kind of moment again. I'd be at home in the evening and I told Danny about it each time we talked. We ended up crying together. We spent his birthday on the phone, we spent the summer on the phone, and we spent my birthday on the phone. No birthday party, no camp out with the guys. My home had died. My mom had started drinking, my dad had lost his soul, and I had lost everything. But I did get my driver's license

In July something really scary happened. Greg was out driving with his sister on his learner's permit. She was teaching him how to pass on a two-lane road when some drunken fucker pulled out in front of him. They slammed almost head-on. Greg and his sister were wearing seat belts, but the crash was so violent they had to be cut out of the car.

Kyle and I were mowing a lawn when Kyle's mom came by in her car and told us. We just left the mowers where they were and blasted toward the hospital. Greg's sister, Stephanie, was being treated for broken bones. Greg had internal injuries, broken bones and was unconscious. I knew the feeling. The numbness.

His mom was devastated. Kyle and I sat with her as she cried. I held her hand. As night came on Kyle went to get us something to eat. I called home and told my mom I was staying at the hospital, and after we ate, I told Kyle I wasn't leaving.

"You gotta go home, bro," he said.

"No, I don't. You guys didn't when I was hurt. Especially Greg. He and Danny stayed with me."

He just sighed. "I'll be okay," I said. "Besides, I'd probably end up coming over to your house again anyway. It'll be a break in the routine to stay here."

"Honey," Greg's mom said, "you need your sleep. Go home."

"No, Mrs. Faye," I said. "I need to stay here with Greg."

"They won't let you."

"They remember who I am, and they remember Greg. I think they'll let me stay."

And I did. Kyle came by the next morning with some breakfast. He said he'd finish up the lawn we had started the day before, and he'd do the one we had scheduled for today. He also brought me a change of clothes, including underwear, since I now had a stash of clothes at his house.

I stayed at the hospital for three days, except for mowing the lawns. It had made a commitment to Kyle when we formed the partnership, and I meant to keep it. When Greg woke up, I was there. And again the guys rallied around, helping him get back on his feet. His head injury wasn't as bad as mine, but his left arm was broken and his left knee was shattered. They eventually got him stitched back together, and he slowly made the same comeback I had made. We were there all the time for him. It felt good to give back to the gang what they had given me.

About three weeks after that accident, Kyle and I were riding our bikes to the swimming pool. As we were turning a corner we splashed through a puddle. Then just ahead a car backed out of a driveway. I zoomed up onto the sidewalk, but Kyle had no where to go. He squeezed his brakes, but they were wet from the puddle. He headed right for the car, which had seen him and stopped, but stopped right in his path. He turned to try to avoid it, and just then the brakes grabbed, but he skidded into the side of the car. He stuck his left foot out to brace himself and slammed into the side of the car. He went down in a heap.

He immediately scrambled to his feet and then fell back down, grabbing his left foot. The lady driving the car got out and ran over to him. He said he was okay and got up again. This time he didn't fall down. It scared the snot out of me, and I was all over him.

"I'm soo sorry, young man," the lady said. She was, too. "I just didn't see you coming around the corner. I'm soo sorry."

Kyle had caught his breath. "No, it's okay. I'm fine. I should have been watching, too. It would have been okay except my brakes got wet and I couldn't stop."

There was a small dent in the lady's car's back door, but she didn't seem concerned about it.

"Do you want to go to the hospital? I'll take you."

Geez, I thought, if I go to the hospital with him I'll start qualifying for free gifts on the frequent visitor plan. I figured they'd have a name badge made up for me.

"No, that's okay. I'm fine, really. I think I just bruised my foot." We got back on our bicycles and sped off to the pool.

Kyle was fine for the rest of the day, but he was limping when we got back on our bikes. At his house, he took a good look at the sole of his foot. It was pretty badly bruised. His mom walked by just then and asked what happened.

"Kyle kicked a car," I said with a grin.

"You kicked a car? Did you leave a dent?"

"I didn't kick it," he said, throwing me an evil look. "I hit it. And yes, I did leave a dent."

We told her what happened, and she bundled Kyle into the car for a trip to the doc. We had this walk-in doctor who ran his office like a barber shop. First come, first served. People would sit in there for hours hacking and wheezing and spreading disease because there were 10 or 12 ahead of them.

By that late in the day there were only two ahead of him. Mrs. Delmont had offered to take me home before she took Kyle to the doc's, but I said I'd go along and keep them company.

An hour later, broken foot. Not bad, really just a hairline crack. But he'd be in a soft cast for three weeks and was told to stay off it.

"Can I mow the lawns I have?" he asked.

"No, that wouldn't be a good idea. Too much stress. You can go swimming, but no baseball, no hoops, no running, no bicycle and as little walking as you can," he said.

When we got home, Kyle said, "I'm sorry, bud. I'm gonna hafta give up my half of the business."

"It's okay, Kyle. I can do them. None of the yards is very hard. It won't be a problem."

"I know, but I really hate to give up the money."

"Getting you well is the most important thing."

The next morning I started doing all the lawns. It didn't take much extra work. About an extra hour for each one, sometimes not that much. I trimmed, weeded, tidied, swept sidewalks and tried to do as good a job as I could. It meant a lot to me. Once in a while Kyle would come with me and sit on a porch step, really just to keep me company, but only when he could sneak out. Every time his mom found out and he caught hell when he got home.

Three and a half weeks later he was declared crack-free, the cast was discarded and Kyle rejoined me in the yards.

When we got done that first day, he said, "Feels good to be making money again."

"Yeah, I bet. C'mon, let me buy you a Coke."

We rode to the little store, got some pop and went outside to sit. It was getting on in summer, and it was one of those really perfect days. The same streamed through the huge oak trees that lined most of the town streets, making mottled patterns of light and shade on the sidewalk. Ants plied back and forth in the dirt under our feet. Kyle took a long drink of his Coke and sighed contentedly.

I dug into my left pocket and pulled out a wad of bills.

"Wow. So that's what that lump was. I thought you were just happy to see me," he laughed.

We both giggled, and then I handed him the wad.

"What's this?"

"Your half."

"Half of what?"

"The lawn money. It's your share from the last three weeks," I said.

He just stared at it, and then back at me.

"I didn't earn this."

"You're my partner."

"You mowed the lawns. This is your money."

"No. My dad still gets paid even if he's sick. We're partners and we share everything 50-50. This is your share."

"Justin, I . . ."

"Stop. It's yours."

He put out his hand and I shook it. "Thanks, bud," he said. "I don't know what . . ."

"Don't say anything, Kyle. You've done a lot for me this summer. I can't cheat you out of your money."

"It isn't my money, Justin, but thanks."

When school started, I zombied around the building for three weeks. And on September 22, it all shattered.

The arguing had been particularly loud the night before, but I had spent three straight nights at Kyle's and I figured I was pressing my luck. So I lay there and persevered. About 2:00 I heard someone go downstairs, then the door to the garage banged. The garage door opened and then closed, and a car sped away.

When I got up the next morning my mom was up watching TV. She had a glass of ice water with her. I went to kiss her good morning, and I smelled alcohol. It was a bad omen. The ice water was gin.

I slept through my first class, but Greg, fully recovered from the car wreck, kept me awake in math, and Richie kept me going through English and history to lunch. When I got home, Dad's car was in the driveway. He hadn't come home early from the office for a year, so I figured this was a bad sign. As I walked up the drive, he came out carrying a box.

And he told me he was leaving.

He was pretty matter of fact about it. He'd gotten a job in Chicago. He was leaving. He couldn't stand it any longer. He'd call. One day he'd have me come. He was sorry. He left.

I held myself together until I got to Kyle's house, but no one was home. On to Greg's. Oh, please, let there be someone home. I was losing it. I heard movement as I knocked, and I started to hyperventilate. In a matter of seconds I was dissolved into a mess, and Greg pulled me inside and into his arms. I cried and cried and in between I choked out what happened. Suddenly Richie was there with us, and then a little while later Kyle. I don't know what happened the rest of the day. I got fed, moved to Kyle's, showered (??) and into bed.

Ever since the baseball accident I didn't handle stress well. I went sorta comatose. It was almost like I couldn't process the overload of information, and I just shut down while each piece of data processed through. Like sand passing through the middle of an hourglass. Everything got backed up.

I drifted through school the next day, and afterward Becky took me to Kyle's.

"Are you going home?" she asked. "You could come stay with us if you want."

"I don't know. I can't think what to do."

"If you want to go to your house I'll go with you."

"Would you? It might not be pretty."

"It's okay. Let's go."

It wasn't pretty. Nothing had gotten done. My mom was passed out on the couch. She slurred some sort of "hello" to me when I tried to wake her, but she was gone. I gathered up some stuff and got Becky out as soon as possible.

"Sorry," I said as we walked back to Kyle's.

"Don't be. It isn't your fault. None of this is."

"Then what happened?"

"I don't know. Neither of us can know. Only your mom and dad can know."

"I need Danny."

"Call him."

"He's two hours behind us. He's still in school."

"When does he get home?

"About a quarter after five our time."

"Then I'll wait here with you and you can call him then."

"No, I don't want to run up the Delmont's phone bill."

"Then get a phone card."

"Hey, I didn't think of that."

"Got a bike?"

"Yeah."

"Then c'mon. I'll borrow Kyle's and we'll go get you one."

"Let's just walk. I think the little store has them."

"Okay."

We walked, hand in hand, down to the store. I bought her a treat, and bought me a phone card.

"Now, call him tonight and let it all out."

"What if they hear me at the Delmonts'?"

"Jeez, Justin, you can be soo dense. Tell Kyle you're going to call Danny. He'll find a place where you can talk. He will. And if that's not possible, call me, we'll come get you and you can call from my house. You can go out and use the phone in the barn if you want."

"Okay. I don't want to burden him with this, Becky. He's having enough trouble making the adjustment. It'll tear him up that he can't be here to help me though this."

"He'll be even more sad if you don't tell him. And he'll be mad at you. Has he said he's having trouble adjusting?"

"No, he wouldn't. He says things are going fine. Says he's making lots of friends."

"And?"

"What? I think he's lying so I won't feel bad for him."

"God, you two are really a pair. You try to make each other feel better by making yourselves miserable. Why don't you think he can't make friends? Is he that much of a loser?"

"He's not a loser," I said a little more angrily than I meant.

"Okay, then, he can make friends. And if he loves you, he wants to help however he can."

I did talk to Danny that night, and he cried with me. He said not to worry about him, and he'd find a way to get me out of that situation. But I knew I couldn't leave then. As mad as I was with my mom, I couldn't leave. And I stopped going to Kyle's because it was quiet at home.

For two months.

One day I came home after school and was greeted by a man in his underwear.

"Who the fuck are you?" he demanded.

"What do you mean `who the fuck' am I? I'm Justin. I live here. Who the fuck are you?"

"You LIVE here?" He hollered up the stairs. "Marty. There's a kid here. You never told me you had a kid. Get the fuck down here."

I seethed. "You can't talk to my mom that way."

"The hell I can't, brat. She lied to me. MARTY. Get the fuck down here. Now!"

Without taking off my backpack I ran at him blindly, plowed into his belly and pushed him into the kitchen table. I thought I heard a rib crack.

"JESUS CHRIST. Get the fuck off me, kid. Ow. Fuck. Goddam." He swung out and caught me on the cheek with his fist, but not squarely. My mom came staggering down the stairs.

"Justin," she shouted. "Stop that. David's a visitor here."

"Visitor? Did he . . . did you . . ." I couldn't say it. Not my mom.

"Yeah, kid, we did. And we were going to again till you came home."

He reeked of liquor, sitting on the floor. The flap on his boxers was open and I could see his flaccid cock in the shadows. It looked gross.

"What's going on here, mom?"

She was helpless drunk, but looked at me and shrugged. "I needed someone to take care of me."

"I can take care of you."

"Not like I can, buddy," Frank slurred from the floor.

"You can't even get up. Get the fuck out of here."

"You aren't gonna order me around, kid. I'll flatten you."

I was completely at a loss. My brain shut down and I wanted to vomit. So I did. Right in Frank's lap.

He struggled to his feet, the vomit spreading from his navel to his knees, and seeping into the opening of his boxers.

I barricaded myself in my room, too scared to come out. He pounded on the door, and finally gave up. I sat on the foot of my bed and didn't move; didn't make a sound. I stayed there the rest of the night, getting almost no sleep. I didn't take a shower in the morning, just changed clothes and snuck out.

When I met up with the guys, Kyle said, "What that hell happened to you?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? What do you mean?"

"I mean nothing."

"C'mon, Justin. You look like you didn't get any sleep, your clothes are a mess, and your hair isn't washed."

"Back off, fucker," I shouted.

He stopped and looked at me with anger. "Hey. I don't deserve that. I've been trying to look after you. I've been your friend for-fucking-ever. Don't you yell at me or tell me to back off. I'm worried, Justin. Tell me what's going on."

Tears welled up. "I can't."

"You can." He turned around and headed back home, the others watching us go. "You will. Come on."

We walked back to his place, and when we walked inside his mom said, "Kyle? Justin, what . . ."

"Later, mom," he said. "Could you call us out of school for about an hour? Justin and I have to talk."

We went into his room as his mom picked up the phone. And we talked. And I told him everything.

"Jesus, Justin. You've got to get out of there."

"No, I can't. I have to stay. I can't leave. He's going to hurt my mom, and I can't."

"He's going to hurt you. We have to get him out of there."

But we really couldn't come up with a way. We tried all the way back to school, but of course I couldn't concentrate. And so it went. When coach asked me if I'd be helping with the team again, I said no. When I was invited to parties I said no. I pretty much dropped out of school, out of life. Danny was frantic about me, but couldn't' do anything where he was. They were building a new house, a huge one, and he was busy at school, trying to fit in, making new friends.

We do what we have to. All of us. When it comes to family, or friends, we do what we have to. I stayed. Not every night. Sometimes I went to Kyle's. I had also started going to Greg's house and spending the night. But Most nights anymore I stayed home. September, October, November. Christmas wasn't. January.

In February I came home to a dark house. When I went in, candles were lit.

I flipped a light switch. Darkness. Our electricity had been shut off.

"That's it," I shouted at Frank sitting in his shorts at the table. My mom was beyond hope. "Get the fuck out."

"You helpless faggot."

"What? What did you call me?"

"A faggot. I found these in your bedroom today." He held up a couple of magazines Danny had sent me for Christmas. "You're a fag boy."

"Why were you in my room? Give me those."

"Ha ha ha. I was looking for this." He held up my bank book. I paled as I realized what he had. "We needed money. Be good and we might pay you back."

I picked up a clock and threw it at him. "Get out. Get the fuck out."

He just laughed and threw it back at me. I ducked. He went to take a bite of his sandwich, and I took the opportunity to run at him and kick him in the balls. He bend doubled with pain and spit the sandwich out.

He roared at me and came lunging in my direction. He head-butted my shoulder and shoved me back into the wall. As he stood I took a swipe at him and hit his jaw. The pain shot through my fist. Jeezuz, John Wayne never winced when he hit someone. Frank threw a punch at me and hit my left cheek. I stomped on his bare foot, and as he pulled it away I stomped on his other bare foot. In pain he came at me again. I moved out of the way and scrambled to my room. I locked it in terror as he screamed obscenities from outside and pounded on it. I struggled to move my desk in front of the door. I was scared. I grabbed the phone and called Kyle. Gasping to hold back tears of shame and fear, I told him was going on. He said to wait and he'd be right there and to watch for him out the window.

Not more than two minutes later, with Frank still pounding at the door, I saw Kyle, Greg and Richie running into the yard and to the front door. They didn't ring the bell, they just barged in, screaming for me.

The pounding stopped and Frank yelled, "Who the fuck is that?"

"It's us, asshole, your worst nightmare." Well, we'd seen way too many movies.

"Get the fuck out or I'm callin' the cops."

"Fuck off, you drunken prick. You couldn't even find the phone." It was Richie. "But I can. And how would it look to the cops you beating up our friend? A minor."

Frank was enraged. I could hear him move away from the door, and I shoved the desk aside and opened it just in time to see him go running at the three of them. They stood there in a sort of wedge, Richie in front, Greg and Kyle to either side.

"Don't try it," Richie said, but Frank's momentum kept him moving. The tree of them stepped apart and Richie stuck out his foot as Frank barreled toward them. He tripped over the foot, and as he fell, Kyle brought his knee up into Frank's chin. The noise was sickening, and Frank let out a yelp of pain. Blood gushed from his lips where his teeth had buried themselves. He crumpled on the floor and lay moaning. Without hesitation, Greg kicked him in the rib, then Richie grabbed one of my hands and Kyle the other and they dragged me out of the house.

At Kyle's I couldn't stop shaking. They wrapped me in a blanket, gave me hot tea, rubbed my arms. But I wasn't shaking from cold. I was shaking from fear. And adrenalin.

I was charged up because I knew what I had to do.

"I'm leaving," I said.

"You are not. You stay here tonight," Kyle shot back.

"No, I mean I'm leaving town. I'm going to find Danny."

"How?" Greg asked.

"I don't know, but I'm going."

"That sonofabitch took all your money. You can't even buy a bus ticket."

"I don't care. I'll find a way even if I have to hitch hike."

"Bullshit on that," Kyle said. "That's f . . . er, dangerous." He eyed his mom hoping she hadn't heard his language.

"I can't stay here."

"You can stay here, Justin," Kyle's mom called from the next room. "You can stay here as long as you like."

"Thanks, but I can't. I really can't. I need to leave. I fell like I'm dying here. I don't know what to do, but I do know I have to leave."

"How?"

Richie looked at me. "I've got money for a bus ticket."

I smiled at him. "I love you guys. You know that?"

They stayed with me till I stopped shaking. About midnight, everyone left, and Kyle and I got ready for bed.

I lay there in bed alone while Kyle got showered and brushed his teeth before coming to bed. I had a moment to think, and I came to a decision.

When Kyle crawled under the covers he put his arm around me to comfort me as he usually did. He snuggled close, his chest against my back. I desperately wanted to feel him against me. I was lost in the moment. I wanted to feel his hard cock press against my ass. But it didn't. He didn't get hard. He was my friend. My dear, wonderful friend. Not my lover.

"Kyle?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you. You're my very best friend, and I love you."

Embarrassed silence.

"I thought Danny was your best friend."

"He surrendered that role when he became my lover. He's my lover more than a friend. You're more than a friend, too, but I can't think of a better way to say it. You're my best friend. And I love you."

"And you're mine. And you always will be."

We were silent a moment.

"There's just one more thing," I said.

"What is it?"

"Promise you won't get mad."

"Never."

I rolled over so I faced him. He hadn't moved his arm, so it was still around my waist. I looked him in the eyes, in the dim light of the room. They were clear, shining and loving.

I raised myself up a little, then kissed him on the lips. I wanted it to be a kiss of genuine love, thanks and friendship. I pressed my lips against his, mouths closed. I opened my eyes and looked at him. His eyes were closed. I ended the kiss, and gave him one little peck, then lay back down. He didn't move. He had a serene look on his face. Then he opened his eyes and looked at me and breathed the word, "Wow."

I rolled over so he could hold me again, and we fell asleep that way.

It was the last night I spent in that town.

I'm trying to cope with all of this Change is so difficult, but I've had a lot of help. There is nothing better than love. I think people my age think of love as sex. It isn't. Sex is sex. You don't have to love to have sex, and you don't have to have sex to love. I loved Kyle at that moment. That's what the kiss was about. It wasn't sexual. It was love. And I have sex with my lover now, but fortunately, it's with all the love we can show. Is love with sex better than love without sex? I don't know. I could never have sex with Kyle, but I love his as deeply as I love my lover. Of all the things I still have to deal with in my life, that isn't one of them.



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