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 24


Most of the time I can only seem to write late at night, when my lover is asleep. When the house is asleep. I don't know why. I've shared this; it's not like it's a secret. But this time, I'm writing in daylight. They went out, but I asked to stay home by myself. I needed to prove to myself that I could be alone and survive. They weren't sure I should, and I can understand. I haven't been real responsible in the past, but for some reason that all seems behind me. It's getting easier to live with myself, and I think I can do this.

Kevin Wilson was from a poor family. I've never seen a harder working boy. He was 18, in his last semester in high school and working hard at the family truck stop cafe. The truck stop opened at 5 a.m. and Kevin was there at 4:00 every morning to start the coffee and turn on the grill and fryers. He left for school in a beat-up 1985 Plymouth Horizon at 8:00, just after the morning rush. By then he had fried dozens of eggs, cooked several pounds of bacon and slathered enough toast with enough butter to give a heart attack to every man in my home town. Former home town. He had also started the soup of the day from scratch.

He wasn't a good student in school, earning C's and D's, most likely because he had no time for quality studying. His teachers liked him, though. His classmates seemed to like him, too, although they didn't know him very well because he didn't hang out with them much. Right after school he came home for the evening rush. Meat loaf, fried chicken, shrimp baskets, sandwiches, chicken-fried stead, mashed potatoes, gravy and gallons upon gallons of coffee. By the 8 p.m. closing time he was exhausted. And then he went to do his homework, dragged his achingly tired body to bed and fell into a deep slumber until the alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m. again.

His mom was no slouch, either. She arrived by 5:30, worked through the day while Kevin was in school, and finished at 7:00 so she could go home and clean, do the laundry and provide some love for her two sons. Their older sister, Katherine, had left two years ago, off to Las Vegas to find a career.

Jonathan, at 13, wasn't quite as involved in the restaurant. He didn't go to work most mornings. He was allowed to sleep in. But most days after school he was there, bussing tables, and washing dishes.

But Kevin was the one I admired. He did it all.

This was a family of saints and it took about two days to fall in love with them. Maybe not even that long.

Mrs. Wilson came into my room the second morning I was up and about.

"Kin ya help out in the cafe today?" she asked.

"Um, well, sure. I've never worked in a restaurant, though. You'll have to show me what to do."

"Have ya ever warshed dishes? That's what I need."

"I've loaded them into the dishwasher. That was one of my chores."

She laughed a growling laugh. "We don't have no dishwarshing machines. You're the dishwarsher."

My hands were prunes by the end of the day.

That night Kevin crawled into his own bed and I took the sleeping bag on the floor.

"I'm sorry," Kevin said as he undressed. "It's just that, I really need to sleep and the floor is just too uncomfortable."

"Don't apologize," I said, watching him take his shirt off. "I can sleep anywhere."

My god, he was stunning. Blond hair, a beautiful/cute face and a body that well, it was perfect. His shoulders were broad and his torso made a perfect "V" to his 32-inch waist (I looked at his pants one day when he was out). His pecs were defined, but not cut. I figured they were pretty comfortable for a lucky chick to lay her head on. They were set off by two quarter-size dark brown nipples. The center of each was erect even though it was warm, and stuck out about -inch. You could, if you wanted (and oh, my, I wanted), grab one with your teeth and tug..

His chest was covered with the lightest fuzz. It was really nothing more than a sheen that spread lightly across his upper chest and belly. The hair was almost white. From there a light trail continued down into a light, fluffy patch of pubic hair that flared around his cock and spread across his upper thighs. His cock was maybe four inches soft, cut. The shaft was pretty much the same color as the rest of him. The head was only slightly darker.

His butt looked sculpted from marble. The globe of each cheek bubbled from below the waist, made a perfect arc, and ended with a sharp cleft at the bottom where it met his thigh. The crack was deep and held hidden treasure. His legs were muscled but not hard. Yet the sinew was visible as it bulged then tapered back to the knee. His right knee had the tell-tale scar of surgery, and it was an angry scar at that not well tended post-surgery.

Below each knee, more muscles were evident in his calves. His ankles were sharp. The tops of his feet were lined with veins. Tendons reached out to each toe. His toes were long. The big toe on each foot was about 1 inches long. The second toe was just as long. The other three were proportionately shorter but even his little toe had a measurable length to it. The balls of his feet were hard and there was a noticeable callous behind each big toe and each little toe. The soles were tough, too and wrinkled in hard ridges when he curled his toes. The heels were soft, though. These were not juicy toes and soles like Danny's. They were utilitarian feet. And I wanted to lick and such them as much as ever. I wanted to fuck that boy in every way possible.

Of course, I didn't take that all in the first night. It took a week or more of studying that body to comprehend it all.

I slept soundly until Kevin's alarm clock erupted at 3:30. He stepped over me, went to the bathroom to shower, dressed and walked across the lot to the restaurant. I got up, showered and dressed in some of his hand-me-downs, then went to the cafe, too. I startled him when I walked in, but he soon asked me to help make coffee and cut up veggies for the soup stock. We chatted when we could but we were pretty busy. His mom came in and started showing me what I was to do. Wash dishes.

I worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And then Sunday again. Keith worked too, and Jonathan occasionally. Only one other person worked a lady who came in while her two boys were at school to help with the lunch crowd. Kevin and I got to know each other pretty well.

When I say "crowd" you probably imagine standing room only. There were only seven tables and five counter stools. It was busy, but there weren't a lot of people.

Man, I thought mowing lawns was work. I thought my dad worked hard. That wasn't work. What these people did was work. And they had nothing to show for it. How weird. It wasn't fair. I mean, I knew a little bit about unfair. I figured my life was unfair, too, but this this was a whole lifetime of unfair. I figured I had lost my family and my love. These people had never had anything but themselves. And yet they could let me into the family and share what they had.

Cops seemed to eat there a lot. I mean the sheriff and some state troopers. If not every day, then several times a week. About my third day there one of the sheriff's deputies, an older guy with a potbelly, asked me where I was from.

I told him.

"Why are you here?"

"I'm working my way to California."

"How old are you?"

"Eighteen," I lied.

"Uh-huh. What's your name?"

"Justin," I said truthfully. "Roth," I lied. "Justin Roth. And I really am eighteen. Everyone tells me I don't look it, but I am."

"You're not a runaway, are you?"

"Nothing to run away from." I meant it like everything was so good I didn't have to run away. But it was really true what I said. There was nothing at home any more, so I wasn't running away from anything.

"Merle, he's okay," Mama said. "You don't need to worry about him. We're looking after him."

That seemed to be okay with Merle. After that I got to know the cops pretty good. I chatted with them and joked with them. Now and then I'd bring `em pie for free.

On Sunday the restaurant closed at 2:00 and we sat down to our dinner at 4:00, at an old, worn table, on rickety chairs. Dinner was roast beef left over from the cafe.

Mama said grace. "Lord, we thank you for our food. We thank you for our new boy here. We thank you for Jonathan's health. And we ask you to bless us, and to provide for those less fortunate. Amen."

Simple, direct, no-nonsense.

"Well, Justin," she said, "tell us about yourself. We been so busy we don't know about you. You wanna start with why you ran away?"

Not really, I thought as I chewed on a tough piece of roast. But I did. I told about my parents. The arguments. The refuge at a friend's house. Kyle, Greg, Richie. But Danny became a girl named Dani, and I slept in a spare room, not "her" bed. I talked about the baseball accident and Frank and the fear and the emotional hole in me. And what brought me to their cafe so I could barf in the parking lot.

They asked occasional questions, which I answered, and it took most of dinner to get through it all.

"So, can he stay here?" Jonathan asked. I noticed he hadn't eaten much, and he was looking sorta pale.

Mama looked at both the boys. "Yes, we can take in another one."

"Another one?" I asked.

"We get one or two runaways a year," Kevin said. I raised my eyebrows in surprise. "Yah, it's surprising. I guess a lot of kids come south, and this is one of the crossroads they come to."

"Are there any others around now?"

"No. They usually don't stay long. We take them in for a few weeks, and by then they're ready to move on. I expect you'll be the same way. Do you want to stay for a while?"

I thought about it. Danny had moved beyond me, I knew in my heart. I couldn't go there. Not back home. The guys would do everything in the world for me and it wouldn't be fair to them. I'd be a burden just as they're getting ready to graduate next year and go on to college. My house wasn't my home any more. I had no idea where my dad was. This was it. Fuck. This was my new home. And I had no idea who these people were.

"Uh, well." There was an answer to inspire confidence.

"Nah, ya don't have to answer now," Mama said. "You'll be sleeping here tonight and for as long as you like."

"Well, I mean, I don't even know you guys, and . . ." I couldn't think of anything else to say.

"No, that's right, you don't. And we don't know much about you. We'll just have to trust each other."

Well, but, like, can I ask some questions about you?"

"Sure," Kevin said. "That's fair. Like what?"

"Um, I don't know. Let's start with you."

"I'm Kevin."

"Yeah, I know that."

"Hehehe. Okay."

"Well, I don't know, just tell me about yourselves."

"Well, we've lived here all my life. We run the restaurant. I want to go to college but my grades probably aren't good enough, but I like the restaurant so that's okay, I can stay and run it. Other than that, what you see is what you get."

"Clever."

Mrs. Wilson was watching us with a smile.

"Oh. And Jonathan has leukemia."

I gasped. "No kidding." Jeez, what a comeback. Why in the world would anyone kid about that? But the problem is, I don't know how to handle sudden news like that. I'm sort of a loser in that way.

"No kidding. It's been in remission."

"Um, I'm sorry."

"Don't be, Justin," Mrs. Wilson said. "It's a fact of life."

I looked at Jonathan and he shrugged. "I bet you thought I was a slacker by not working in the restaurant a lot," he said.

"No," I said honestly, "I thought you were a kid who didn't have to work in the restaurant a lot."

"Yeah, that, too."

We cleared away the dishes and mama brought out some slices of pie left over from yesterday at the restaurant. There's nothing wrong with day-old pie, but it's not easy to sell in a restaurant.

I didn't find out much more about the family. Not, that is, until we got upstairs. It was just Kevin and me.

"How long has Jonathan had leukemia?" I asked.

"Since he was six. He had it real bad and went through chemotherapy. Then it came back when he was 10 and he had another round of chemo. It really wipes him out. I feel so bad for him. It's been awful. He's been in remission since then. But ..."

"But what?"

"I dunno. I think he's been really tired lately. That's why he's not putting in much time at the restaurant. He just gets exhausted. That's how the other times started. I'm getting sorta worried about him. I don't know if he can stand another round of chemotherapy. I don't know if I can stand it. He's not only my brother, he's my best friend. I love him, and I don't think I can stand to see him go through it again."

"C'mon, Kev, don't give up until you know. It may be nothing."

"I hope it's nothing."

There were a few moments of silence.

"So, Dani must be a special girl," Kevin said.

"Uh, yeah." I know, terrible communicator, but I felt suddenly I was on thin ice. Did he know I was lying about Danny? Did he sense it? Maybe I had slipped at some point and said "he" instead of "she." I desperately tried to remember, but I had to pay attention now so I didn't screw up.

"How long have you known her?"

"All my life. We grew up just a few houses from each other."

"Oh. You been friends all that time?"

"Yep, all of us."

"All of you?"

"Yeah, me, Danny and the other guys. We all grew up in the same neighborhood. Kyle, Greg and Richie. Me and Danny."

"Man, that must have been great. I've never had friends like that."

"Really? I can't imagine not having the group around me. Well, I guess I can now, since none of them is here. I think that's the toughest part. Have you lived out here all your life?"

"Yeah. Long as I can remember. I started working at the restaurant when I was six. It's pretty much defined my life. I work, I go to school, I work, I go to sleep. It never changes. I don't have time to make friends. I don't have time for homework. I've never been to a sleepover. Did you guys have sleepovers?

"Oh, yeah, all the time. We all did. Everyone's birthday was a great excuse for a sleepover. We all did it. And we were all there. Well, not always. Sometimes it was just one of us staying over at someone's house."

"Even Dani?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Well, you all would stay over at a girl's house? Her parents let you? And she would stay at your house? Alone?"

Oh, um, uh . . ." Almost blew that one. I gotta pay attention. "Well, yeah. I mean, when we were kids it didn't really matter. Um, and then, well, they just trusted us. Uh, you remember that show, Dawson's Creek? Remember Joey used to sleep with Dawson but they didn't have sex cuz they were like brother-sister? It was sort of like that with Danny."

"Wow. I wish I had friends like that," he said a little sadly.

I didn't know what to say, so I changed the topic.

"Hey, um, thanks for letting me share your room. Um, I mean, for everything."

"It's okay. I like having you around"

About then Jonathan came into the room. He was out of breath and red in the face.

"Hey, bud, how ya' doin'?" Kevin asked.

"I'm okay. Just real tired. What're you guys talking about?"

"Not much," Kevin said. "We're sorta getting to know each other better.

"Yeah, I'd like to do that, too, but I'm pretty tired. I'm going to bed."

We didn't say much after that. We just got ready for bed. Three-thirty comes early in the morning.

I was horny, there's no denying it. Kevin was simply beautiful, but nothing he had said or done ever indicated he might be gay, and I certainly wasn't going to risk anything. Right now I had a home. It wasn't where I wanted to be, but I knew it was where I had to be. I knew Danny had moved on, and I knew I couldn't go back home. Disaster waited there. They'd be waiting for me, and after a few hugs, off to the hospital I'd go, or worse, for being a runaway. Nosiree, not this boy. I'm gonna stay right here, admire Kevin's fine body, become his friend and figure out my life. Especially if he leaves his bare foot outside the covers every night. Which is what he did. Every night. Just his foot.

Kevin got up at the usual time, and I followed an hour later. He said he liked working alone that first hour. It gave him time to think.

And that set a routine for the next three weeks. We talked a lot during work and as we went to bed. Jonathan would come in to help, but he seemed to tire out pretty quick. Some days he didn't come in at all, and Kevin took it upon himself to work even harder. But as I got to know the routine, which didn't really take all that long, I wouldn't let him take all the burden on himself. This was a lot harder than mowing lawns, but these people were letting me stay in their house. Hell, they probably saved my life by rescuing me from a pool of puke.

Jonathan loved baseball, and when I told him I played in high school he was excited. He wanted to know all the team stats. Jeez, just a little Midwest high school and he wanted to know everything. He was a Diamondbacks fan, and I am a Cubs fan, so we had some excellent chats about talent, since the Cubs had fuckin' given away some of its BEST talent to the D-backs. The Cubs are like the farm team to the whole National League.

The next Sunday we all sat down at dinner again. Mama thanked me for helping out.

"How long are you planning on staying?" she asked.

Shit, I hadn't even thought about that. I can be so dense sometimes. I get all wrapped up on my own problems and don't even realize how it's affecting others. They wanted their house back. I was an intruder, an interloper who was eating up their food and not contributing a thing. Hell, how inconsiderate could I be?

"Uh, I could leave any time."

"That's not what I meant. I'm not throwing you out. I'm asking how long you're planning on staying."

"I hadn't really though about it. I mean, I don't really have any place to go. My friend in California probably isn't real eager to see me. How long can I stay?"

"That's not an issue, son. You've been a big help. It means we won't have to hire a new person to help out. We had a boy quit a few days before you showed up. It's nice to have you around. As long as you don't mind sleeping on the floor, you can stay as long as you like."

"Nah, I don't mind."

"Ma, he could prolly sleep on the couch if he gets tired of the floor," Jonathan said.

"Oh, that's okay. I don't mind the floor. Really." Especially if Kevin is sleeping almost naked there, and that foot is sticking out of the covers.

"What about school?" Kevin asked.

"I don't know. I guess I could call and see if we could get him into classes now. That might be tough," Mama said.

"Don't worry about me," I said. "I can sit out awhile. I mean, I'm a pretty good student and I don't hate school, but don't go to any trouble."

"Well, I'll see what I can do."

I worked the whole next week, and the three of us got tighter. But Jonathan was getting more and more tired. Finally, in Mid-March, Mama said at Sunday dinner, "Jonathan, I have an appointment for you tomorrow at the doctors. I want him to see you."

"Ah, Ma. I'm all right. I don't want to." He said it confidently, but I could see fear in his eyes.

"I don't care. You're going."

Mama was a great boss. She let me and Kevin get away with a lot, but Kevin didn't really try too hard to get away with stuff, either. He was serious about the restaurant. It was their only source of income, and it wasn't much. That place didn't bring in much money.

Kevin was gone as usual when my alarm went off, and I stumbled to the bathroom, showered and dressed. I walked across the gravel to the restaurant and poured myself a glass of milk before I got started. Kevin had the soup going already and was forming hamburger patties. I joined him. Mama wouldn't be in until almost noon because of Jonathan's appointment, so the two of us worked extra hard and extra fast. When Kevin went off to school, it was just me, but then about 11:00 Helen, the lady who helped out, came in.

"Where's Mrs. Wilson?" she asked.

"She hasn't come back from Jonathan's appointment yet."

"So it's just the two of us?"

"Looks like it."

"Oh, god. Oh, we can't do that. We'll have to close up. The two of us can't run it. Not through the lunch crowd."

"Well we can't close it. This is their restaurant. They can't close up for the day. They need the money."

"Well why aren't they here to run it, then?"

"I told you. Mrs. Wilson took Jonathan to the doctor because he's been feeling bad again."

"Again? Oh, lord, not the leukemia again?"

"I don't know."

"Oh, heavens, I hope not. They can't go through that again. Especially if . . . well, if he comes back."

"Who?" I asked.

"Never mind. I shouldn't say anything. Well, if we're alone, we'd better get busy."

Helen took care of the kitchen and I handled the orders and cash register. And I bussed tables. I sort of taught myself as we went along.

The two hours between 11:00 and 1:00 flew by. It is still just a blur. I have no idea how we managed it, but I do recall that the customers were pretty sympathetic, especially when they found out why Mrs. Wilson wasn't there.

Helen and I just slumped onto the stools after the crowd thinned out. We looked at each other for a moment, then at the mess around us. None of the dishes had been done and they were piled throughout the tiny kitchen. There were napkins, silverware, pots, spatulas, and all sorts of other debris scattered around. We each did a slow scan, and our eyes met again. We started to giggle, and then laugh, and then belly laugh. We were almost helpless with laughter. She dabbed a napkin at her eyes and settled back to a giggle. We sat there catching our breath.

"I suppose we should eat something and start cleaning up," she said, getting up.

"I'll just have a hamburger," I said.

She cooked two and a batch of fries. She put cheese and bacon on mine, and we ate in silence. We had to stop a few times to wait on people coming in, but there weren't many. Then, without a word, we started to clean up the mess. It was pretty big, but with both of us working, we had everything under control by 3:00.

At 3:30, Kevin walked in.

"Where's mom?" he asked.

"They're not back yet," I said.

"Oh. That's bad news. It happened that way last time. Oh, shit." He sounded so sad. "So who came in to help with lunch?"

"No one," we both said at the same time.

"Oh, shit. You guys did lunch all by yourselves?"

We nodded.

"Wow. You must be exhausted."

It was just catching up to me. Helen only worked part time, and it was time for her to go home, and that's what Kevin told her to do. I followed Kevin into the back where the freezer and pantry were. He stripped off his shirt and I almost gasped at the perfect chest, the nipples I so badly wanted to suck. I got hard right away, but my jeans and apron hid it. He pulled on a T-shirt and put on an apron.

"You should go to the house and rest for a while. I'm afraid you're going to have to work tonight until mom and Jonathan get home. I have a really bad feeling about this."

I said okay, but I'd only be gone a half hour. I used that half hour all by myself to beat myself off, take a shower, beat myself off again, wipe down and take a 10 minute nap. Okay, so I cum quick. If you'd been fantasizing about those nipples you'd cum quick, too.

We did work through the night shift, and again the dishes stacked up while the two of us tried to handle the orders. We did it, too. As Kevin locked the door, I shut off the lights over the tables. I saw him fall forward and rest his head against the door.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"It's bad news. I know it is. I fucking know it is."

"How can you know that?"

"Because if it wasn't mom would have brought Jonathan home and told everyone. As it is he's either in the hospital already or mom took him somewhere to get his mind off it."

"Maybe they went out to celebrate."

"We don't have enough money to celebrate. She'd only spend money to take his mind off it."

I couldn't think of anything to say. "I'll start on the dishes," I said finally.

Kevin turned around and looked at me.

"Why are you here?"

"I thought I told you."

"I mean really."

"Really. I ran away from home. I was going to go see Danny but I think he's moved on. I don't think he wants to see me."

He got an odd look on his face, then walked toward me.

"I guess you aren't going to tell me, but Justin, I'm really glad you're here. You're already the best friend I've ever had."

I think that was one of the saddest things I'd heard, and I got tears in my eyes. So did Kevin. He came over to me and put his arms around me. Then he lowered his head to my shoulder and let out a sigh. "I'm really glad you're here."

We got the place cleaned up by 9:30, and just then his mom's car pulled up. The two of them got out, and I knew right away it was bad.

"It came back, didn't it?" Kevin said.

"Yes, it did," his mom said. "It's back." Tears welled up in Kevin's eyes. He walked over to Jonathan and enveloped him in a hug.

Jonathan didn't say anything. He just walked up the steps and into the house.

Jonathan went straight up to bed. We stayed to talk to Mrs. Wilson.

"What did the doc say?" Kevin asked.

"He said the leukemia was back. He said it was pretty aggressive, and we had to start chemo right away. I don't know how we're going to afford it."

"What did Jonathan say?"

Mrs. Wilson started to cry quietly, and she sat down on the couch. Kevin sat next to her. I sat on an ancient rocking chair facing the couch.

"He said he doesn't want chemo."

"He'll die with out it."

"He said he'll die with it, and he'd rather not go through it again."

"I'll talk some sense into him."

"No, Kevin. I don't know but that the cure is worse than the curse. You've seen what it did to him last time. He had no life. No life at all. Kevin, he's tired. He's just so tired."

"But, Ma!"

"I know,, honey. But we can't force him to."

"Yes, we can. We have to. He's too young to make a decision like that. He doesn't know what's good for him. He has to get treatments."

"Kevin, listen to me. He does know. He knows better than we do. He's been through this. He knows all the feelings. He knows the pain and the throwing up and how tired he gets. He knows, Kevin. He's more grown up than you think. I think he's thought about this a lot, when he was feeling good. He didn't hesitate for a moment when the doctor told him the cancer was back. He said right away that he didn't want chemo."

"And what did the doctor say?" Kevin asked.

"He was very direct. He said Jonathan would die without it. Jonathan said he knew. But he said he'd die with it, too, and he'd rather just die."

And there was nothing we could do. Jonathan was still awake when we went upstairs, but no matter what Kevin said to him, Jonathan wouldn't change his mind. I was bewildered. I had no idea what I had gotten into. There was nothing at all I could say, so I said nothing. I was exhausted anyway. We got changed and turned off the light. In moments I heard the two of them begin breathing deeply, but I couldn't go to sleep. I guess I was over-exhausted, and all I could do was lie there. Sleep just wouldn't come. Then I noticed Kevin's bare foot outside the covers. It was there for the taking. Not soft, not inviting, but hard and sturdy. He was breathing heavily, and I knew nothing could wake him. My cock hardened, and I didn't waste a moment scooting over and licking ball of his foot. I licked and sucked each toe and in less than five minutes I came a shattering orgasm and shot all over my belly. I cleaned up by scooping the jism on my fingers and licking them clean, and suddenly I was tired. I went to sleep.

The next night we were upstairs after closing the restaurant, talking baseball among the three of us, when there was a sound from downstairs that sounded like the whole front door exploded. Kevin went white and Jonathan dove under the covers.

"Where's that pansy-ass bastard son?" roared a voice from below.

"Oh, fuck, not again. Shit!" Kevin exclaimed as he shot off the bed, through the door and down the stairs.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"It's our dad. He's drunk again. He hasn't been around for about six months, but he shows up now and then, meaner than ever. Justin, go help Kevin. Please?"

"Do what? What can I do?"

"Dad will beat the shit out of him."

"The fuck he will."

Kevin was yelling at the man to get the hell out, and the guy said, "Get out of my way you worthless shit. Where's that dog shit you call your brother? I heard he's sick again. Ain't no son of mine gonna be a pansy-ass sicko. I'll teach him what sick is."

"I'm warning, you," Kevin said is the most frighteningly cold voice I've ever heard, "you leave your filthy hands off him. You've probably had them in some whore's diseased pussy. Get the fuck out of this house."

"Don't you fuckin' talk to me that way. You're worthless. I could squash you."

"You can barely see me you're so drunk. Don't pee your pants again like you did last time."

"Shit."

"Yeah, don't do that, either."

"You fuckin' prick."

"Come get me, you worthless piece of junk."

"Justin," Jonathan said from under his covers, "go. Go help him."

I started out the door and down the stairs when I heard an "OOMPH" and a table break. As the living room came into view I could see the two of them struggle on the floor. The man was much larger than Kevin, and he had him down, pounding on him. Kevin had averted his face, but the flows were landing on his stomach and side. Kevin was yelling obscenities at him as the man flung wildly. Kevin just lay there, taking it, swearing at the man.

"Hit me, you fat son of a bitch. C'mon. Is that all you got?"

He started swinging even more wildly. Mama grabbed me and held me back. The blows began to slow some as the older man tired. When he paused for breath, Kevin sprang up, grabbed the man by the collar and dragged him to the door. He hoisted the man to his feet, planted a foot in his gut and literally kicked him out the door hard. The man fell on his back on the gravel below the porch. Mama let go, went to the phone and called the cops.

The whole thing took less than 15 minutes. Kevin looked at me sadly, brushed past me and hurried back up the stairs.

I waited a few moments, then followed him up. He was holding Jonathan and they were crying together.

"Thank-you, Kevin. Thank you." It was all Jonathan could say.

"Don't worry, sport. He's not going to get to you ever again."

"Again?" I didn't realize I said it out loud and they both looked at me. "Sorry. I didn't mean to . . ."

"It's okay," Kevin said. "He comes back every few months. But we hadn't seen him for about six months this time. Every time Jonathan gets sick again he comes around. I guess word gets around. He's embarrassed to have a kid who's sick."

"He beat me up bad about six years ago. I was in the hospital for a few days. But ever since then, Kevin has been here to keep him from getting me," Jonathan explained.

Kevin calmed Jonathan down, and when the younger boy had gone to sleep, Kevin stood up.

"Time to get ready for bed," he said with resignation.

He pulled the shirt over his head. His stomach, sides and back were already covered with bruises.

"Oh, Kevin," I said. "Here, let me help you."

"I'll be okay."

"I know you will. But let me help anyway."

I took him to the bath room and ran a tub of water.

"Get in," I told him. "Soak for a while."

"Why?"

"It'll help the bruises. Really."

He began to strip the rest of his clothes off.

"Well, wait til I leave," I said.

"No. Stay here. Stay with me." His face began to dissolve into a mask of pure sadness.

He was naked. And then he reached out to me and I held him as he cried out a decade of pain and frustration and fear and hate. He cried and cried on my shoulder, and I just held him, squeezed him gently despite his bruises, and whispered in his ear to just keep crying for a while. He sobbed uncontrollably until his knees began to weaken. I lowered us both to the floor, and he kept crying, soaking my shirt with his sweet tears. I haven't washed that shirt since, and I never will. It holds far too much sadness.

I bet we stayed there for half an hour. At some point I pulled some towels from the towel rack and wrapped them around his naked body to keep him warm. His face was buried in the crook of my neck. Finally the wracking sobs slowed, but the tears still ran down his cheeks. I have never in my life seen anyone cry like that, and I probably won't ever again. Certainly not Kevin. I stroked his hair with my right hand and held him close with my left. Here was a naked, beautiful boy in my arms, his wrapped tightly around me as if he were clinging to a life ring, and it was completely platonic. I wasn't aroused, and I didn't even think of sex. I thought of his life how dismal it must be. A dreary cafe, a greasy job, a drab house, an abusive father and a dying brother. He didn't have time to do well at school, he didn't have time to have a girlfriend, he didn't have time for sports, he didn't have time for friends. He'd talk to them when they came to the restaurant, but that's all. And it wasn't really all that often. He told me I was the best friend he'd ever had, and I had known him only for about a month.

But he was all I had now, too.

At last the crying stopped and he just held on to me a few moment more. Then he realized he was naked, lifted his head from my shoulder and said, "Sorry."

"For what? There's nothing to be sorry for. You're the bravest person I've ever met."

"No, I'm really a coward. If I were brave I'd have the balls to leave all of this and get on with my life. But I can't. I don't know how. I don't know what to do. I'd never be able to make it. I'm scared to death, Justin. The only reason I stay here is because I don't know what else to do. And I want that sonuvabitch to keep his hands off Jonathan."

He stood up, and his beautiful, four-inch soft penis was at my eye-level. "I guess this looks pretty gay, huh?" I flinched a little, but didn't say anything. He hadn't really said it negatively. "I'm sorry for putting you through that."

"It's okay," I said. I tested the water and since it had cooled a bit, I let some out and topped it off with hot water. "Get in the tub and soak for a while. I'll be back for you."

I let him stay in there about 15 minutes, then I figured the water was getting cool again, so I went back in. He was lying with his legs stretched out, his back against the sloped back of the tub, and he was asleep. I woke him, helped him out of the tub, and noticed the bruises were starting to darken. He was almost in a trance. I dried him and helped him into a pair of boxers I had brought. Then I took him to our room, laid him down in his bed and tucked him in.

I lay down on my sleeping bag one the floor and thought about the night. So much had happened. I mean, when Frank tried to beat up on me, I could almost understand that. I wasn't his kid. He didn't bring me into the world. He wasn't supposed to love me. Not that that gives him any right to beat me up, but at least he wasn't trying to hurt his own son. This guy was. He was trying to hurt them both. Where was the love? How could he hate them so much that he could try to kill them? Was his mind so eaten away by alcohol that he was incapable of anything else? Did he ever love them? Were they both accidents of an itchy penis? Had he fucked their mother instead of making love to her? I just didn't see how anyone could have a kid two kids and not love them.

Then I thought about my own situation. My parents had a kid and didn't love him. I mean, sure they didn't hit me, and they provided things for me, but they didn't love me. The things were a substitute for love. They talked to me, they fed me, but they didn't love me. They were too caught up in themselves. They loved themselves and their arguments too much to love each other, or me.

All of this stuff was going through my head. So was Danny and his new relationship, so were Kyle and Becky, Greg and Richie and Charlie and home and Kevin and Jonathan and Mama and the desert and California and, and, and. And I couldn't get to sleep.

"Justin? You're not asleep, are you?"

"No."

"Me, either. You know those sleepovers you said you had?"

Huh?

"Huh?"

"Those sleepovers. You said you had them, right?"

"Uh, well, yeah."

"How many?"

"Lots. Like I said, for everyone's birthday we'd have one."

"No, I mean, how many would sleep over?"

"Oh, usually five. Sometimes six."

"Did you each sleep alone in sleeping bags or did you sleep together in the same bed?"

"It depended," I said. "If we were camping out we each had our sleeping bags. If we stayed like at Richie's or Greg's most of us would sleep in sleeping bags, but there was also a bed, so two of us would share it."

"Even Danny?"

"Yeah. He was okay with it."

There was a long pause. "Isn't that gay?"

"Not really. We never did anything." Okay, okay. So Danny and I did, but I wasn't about to tell him. "We just lay down and talked most of the night before going to sleep."

"Oh." Pause. "You wanna get in bed with me?"

He had a twin bed. That's like, for one person. I hadn't told him these were double or even queen-size (all right, not THAT kind of queen!) beds. I don't know if he could wrap his mind around having a spare double bed. I'd be lying next to him in a twin bed, and we'd have to be touching, really clinging to each other, the whole night.

"Yes. I'd like that very much."

He scooted over to the wall and opened the covers for me. I crawled in, my back to him, he spooning against me. His arm was around my chest, and like that, we drifted off to sleep.

Over the next week Kevin and I talked a lot. He asked me all kinds of questions about my childhood, my home, my friends, my parents. I slipped when I said Becky was a really good friend, my only real girl friend, and he asked about Dani. I did a quick recovery, saying that Becky was my first real girl friend. I was glad I hadn't screwed up sooner. Every night he gave Jonathan a hug at night, then he and I hugged.

The next Friday, something odd happened. Kevin asked if I would work his night shift.

"I have a date," he said. "I don't get many of them, and I really want to go to the dance. Could you please . . ."

"Kevin," I cut in. "You only have to ask once. Of course I'll work for you."

He gave me a hug.

The night of the dance, he put on his best clothes at least a year old and about half a size too small. But he looked good. He left about 7:00. We weren't terribly busy, and by 9:00 everything was clean and in place. Jonathan was in bed when I got up to the room.

"Justin," he said, "can I ask you something personal?"

"Sure, bud. Ask away."

"Have you ever had sex.?"

Oh. Shit.

"Um, well, uh, gosh . . ."

"You haven't, have you? You're a virgin, aren't you?"

"Actually, no. I'm not. I have had sex."

"Oh, wow. What was it like? Did you fuck her or just have oral sex?"

"Uh, well, that's a little too personal."

"C'mon. Who am I going to tell?"

So I told about my sex life, trying to remember that Danny was a girl. I think I did a credible job.

Then he said, "Have you ever had sex with another guy?"

"Why would you ask a question like that?"

"Cuz. Some of the guys at school said it wasn't unusual for guys to fool around. You know, experiment."

I sighed. "Yeah, once. My friend and I did it." I figured it was only a small lie.

"What did you do?"

"Jacked each other off. We tried a little sucking, but we didn't cum that way."

"Oh, cool. Justin?"

"Yeah?"

"Uh, would you do that with me?"

"What?"

"Justin, please?"

"No."

"Justin? I'm never going to have sex with a girl. Or anyone, really, unless it's you. Justin, I've beat off lots of times. I know what it feels like with my own hand. I want to know what it feels like with someone else. Please?"

He wasn't being pathetic. He was being very matter-of-fact.

"Jonathan, jeez, I mean, it's asking a lot. I don't know. I mean, I don't see how . . . I just . . . it's not that . . ." I was being my most eloquent again.

"I know. You don't like me `that way.'"

"That's not it. Well, yes, partly, but I mean, you're . . ."

"A guy."

"Like that matters."

"Huh?"

"No, I mean, no, that's not what I meant. I mean. . . "

"What? What do you mean, Justin?" He was lying under the thin, tattered bedspread and an ancient blanket. It got cool in the evening in the desert, and if the wind blew the room might not as even had windows for all the good they did. The caulking had long since dried and cracked, and the frames had gaps in them. They let the chilly night air in like a screen door.

"I mean . . . (sigh) yes. Yes, we can do that."

"Now?"

"Now, if you want."

"Will you get in bed with me?"

"Yes."

I stood up and took off my shirt. He watched, gazing at me. Then I took off my socks. Then I lowered my blue jeans. Then I slid my underwear off and stood before him naked. He lifted the corner of his covers and slid over to give me room.

I climbed into bed next to him on my back. He moved over, put his arm around my chest and lay his head on my shoulder.

I wrapped him in my arms and let my hand slide down to his butt. It was soft and sweet. I kneaded it gently, and he quietly moaned. His breath teased my nipples, and I hardened against his leg. He moved his hand to my cock and wrapped his fingers around it, softly holding it as if it were fragile. I knew from experience it was not.

My mind flashed to Danny. He was the only other person ever to hold it. To hold it when it was aroused. And yet Jonathan's hand felt so completely natural there. I was getting over Danny, I thought. Just as he had gotten over me. On the edge of my mind I considered that I was cheating my soul mate, but just as quickly I reasoned that I was not cheating, I was moving on, like he had.

I shifted, and as I hoped, Jonathan looked up at me. I leaned down and kissed him, just brushed his lips at first, then, as he got into it, held it longer. He broke it, took a breath and came right back. This time my lips were parted a little and I licked his. He opened up and our tongues found each other. With one hand I reached under the waistband of his pjs and lowed them over his soft butt. He kicked them off his feet.

He moved on top of me and squeezed me tightly. His cock rubbed against my belly, and mine rubbed his ball sac until he skootched a little higher on me, when it popped between his legs and slid up the crack of his sweet bottom. That put his nipples at my mouth, too, and I licked his left one until it was hard. Then I nibbled it and drove him out of his mind. My hands reached down to his butt and I found the little pink pucker that was his most intimate area. With precum leaking from my cock, the area was slick, and I teased around the hole, just working the tip of my middle finger in.

He groaned with pleasure from my tongue and finger, and ground his cock into me. He sat up so my cock went up his back and began to masturbate, but I wasn't done. I rolled him over, hunched between his legs and lifted his bottom up so I could bathe his hole. I slicked it up with my tongue, then dove for his cock. He almost squealed when I sucked him down the root of his four and a half inches. It fit neatly into my mouth, and I worked back and forth on it, sucking the length vigorously. Danny? Never even thought of him. I was overtaken with lust. I was ravenous for this young cock, this sweet body. I sat up, grabbed his ankles and brought both feet to my mouth. I could suck four toes in at once, and I did. They were clean, with just the scent of Jonathan. Unlike Kevin, his feet were soft and pink. I licked the soles, heel to toes, back and forth, left and right. I teased the base of each toe, then made love, pinkie to big toe, each one, on each foot. He was writhing on the bed, his hand working his virgin cock. I could feel him tense, but I wasn't ready. I went back to work on his nipples, greedily sucking each one in and gently biting it. His ass was grinding down into the bed. I pinched each nipple as I returned to his cock, sucking the length, sucking hard. Pinching and kneading with one hand, my other went to his hole, and I eased a finger in, then found the prostrate. I knew he'd last only seconds now, and I pulled back to the crown of his penis, waiting for the blast. I came as his body convulsed and drew him almost to a sitting position. The cum fired at the back of my mouth, and I drank and drank and drank.

He was finally spent. He lay panting on the bed, drained of semen and color.

"Oh, god, Justin, I'll never forget this. Never, never."

"Neither will I, buddy. Neither will I."

"I'm just so tired. I want to do something for you."

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it, if you'll let me."

"Anything."

I scooted down to his feet, and began to jack my cock. I held it against the sole of his right foot and jacked slowly, letting it build, rubbing the underside against that silky skin. I breathed deep and hard, and he raised his left foot to my mouth. Sucking on the big toe as if it were a cock, I increased the pressure on my penis, but not the pace. I stayed like that, sucking and jacking, until I felt it in my balls. Just a little faster, I sucked hard, and spewed a load of cum against his foot in four strong, long spurts. He rubbed the sole of foot the length of my cock, and then grabbed the sensitive head with his toes. That was good for two more sharp shots that oozed between the toes. Then he raised that foot to my mouth, and I cleaned it off, sucking the sole and licking between the toes, swallowing my own cum. Now I had the essence of both of us in me.

I lay down beside him. He was crying.

"What's the matter? Are you having second thoughts?"

"No. Never. I . . . this was the greatest thing. Justin, are you gay?"

"Does it matter?"

"No. Are you?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't know. You said you weren't, so I guess I have to believe you."

"Hold that thought, bud. And I'll hold you."

He drifted off to sleep, and I went to the bathroom to clean up.

Jonathan was asleep when I got back, and Kevin was still out on his date. It was about 10:30, and in case I had to open the restaurant tomorrow morning, I set the alarm and went to sleep in Kevin's bed. I figure he owed me at least that. I went to sleep with Jonathan's cum in my belly and Kevin's scent to comfort me.

At 3:30 the alarm went off. Kevin wasn't home. I got up, showered, and went to open the restaurant. I was learning my way around, but I was a little nervous about the soup. Kevin always started the soup first thing after lighting the griddle and starting coffee, and I didn't know much about making soup.

When I opened the refrigerator I saw cut up veggies and some chickens. Those were for the soup. Kevin had done that before leaving on his date. I threw them into a pot and filled it with water, then put it all on the stove. I was alone, and I knew what Kevin liked about it. It was peaceful and you could think.

Mama came in about 6:30, and Jonathan about 7:00. Saturday was a good day for breakfasts, and we were pretty busy. But then, it wasn't that big a place, so a small crowd seemed big to us. Jonathan had a rosy glow about him, and a smile that wouldn't quit. He kept looking at me with such loving eyes. I had trouble not watching him.

"Where's Kevin?" Mama asked after checking in the back. "Who made the soup?"

"He's not home from his date," I said. "He maybe had a beer or two and decided not to risk the drive home. Or maybe he just got tired and decided not to drive. I made the soup. The veggies were already cut up and he had a couple of chickens ready. I just put them in the pot, added water and put it on the stove. You might want to taste it."

"It needs some seasoning. I'll show you." She put in a dizzying array of salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, basil, a touch of allspice, and a few other things I didn't catch.

Kevin drove up about 10:30, but he went into the house and didn't come back to the restaurant. It stayed busy through lunch so none of us got to go find him. Jonathan was whacked by the time we got done. He was gray and weak in the knees. I helped him to the house and up the stairs. Kevin was asleep on top of the bed, dressed only in a pair of holey briefs. I could see his crack through one of the larger holes, and I stared. Jonathan nudged me.

"What are you . . . are you staring at his ass?"

"No."

"Yes you are."

"Shhhh. You'll wake him."

"Too late," Kevin said. "You guys could wake a whole graveyard."

"Why didn't you come home last night?" Jonathan asked innocently.

"Some of us went out after the party and had a few beers. I figured I better not drive." Just as I had thought.

He rolled onto his back and casually scratched his balls. Then he stretched.

"I suppose I better go get ready for the dinner crowd. Thanks again for helping out, Justin. I really, really appreciate it," he said as he winked at me.

Uh-huh. Beer my ass. I think our boy got laid.

He washed up and dressed, then I followed him down the stairs while Jonathan rested.

"You got laid," I said.

He just smiled.

"You DID. You got some. Your date?"

His smile faded a little. "Yeah. Tonya. I'm no longer a virgin. I got some. We did it three times."

"Kewl," I said and held out my fist for a bump. He did.

"Well, yeah, but she's sort of a slut. I mean, she's screwed half the senior class by now. Well, more than half if she's screwing me."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I'm not A-list material. If she's worked her way down to me she's fucked more than half the guys in it and probably a few juniors and sophomores, too. But she did ask me to the dance and I did want to go and I knew exactly what would happen and it did. I wanted to. It's about the last thing I need to accomplish."

"Accomplish before what?"

"Before I go away, after graduation."

"What? Go away? Where are you going?"

"I'm not at all sure, Justin. I just know I'm going away, and I'll never come back. I just didn't want to leave as a virgin."

"What about Jonathan?"

"Oh, I probably won't go before he does."

That sounded macabre. I didn't even know what to say.

Over the next few weeks we settled into a routine, but it changed a little bit every day. I know, the words routine and change don't belong in the same sentence, but really there was an underlying routine of work, school, sleep that was pretty standard. The changes came with Jonathan. He had good days when he'd go to school, and bad days when he'd stay home. He was on medication, but continued to refuse chemotherapy. Some days he was so weak he needed help to get to the bathroom. Other mornings he was up and ready for school, although he'd be dead whacked by the time he got home. I don't think he went to school two days in a row the whole time.

I didn't go to school at all. I was missing the last semester of my junior year. Mama had told me she'd try to get me in because she was good friends with the high school principal. But she was so busy trying to keep things together at home that she really forgot. I didn't want to make any trouble. I was on my own, I figured, and somehow I'd find a way to finish school, even if I was a semester late.

So Kevin and I ran the restaurant, with help from Mama and Helen.

Spring came, but you can't tell it in the desert. Nothing really gets green. You have to look at the calendar. I thought Kevin was the greatest. He was the brother I never had, and if I could choose, he would be exactly the brother I wanted. Well, at first it was like that. Then he began to change, too. As Jonathan got sicker, Kevin got moodier. He was sad so much, and it was so deep. It was very hard to watch the transformation. I tried to talk to him, and at first it worked. But about three weeks after the diagnosis, Jonathan was getting bad. He needed constant help, even with feeding. Mama finally called Hospice to come help, and they did a great job. But Mama felt a need to stay close to him, and that put the burden of the restaurant on Kevin and me. He was skipping a lot of school, and I think the classes he did attend he mostly slept through .

One day their sister Katherine came. She only stayed a day. She was a dealer in a casino in Vegas, hoping to become a pit boss. She was as cute as Kevin, and seemed pretty smart. But I never really got a chance to talk to her.

Four weeks after the diagnosis, Jonathan was dying. It came so fast. Kevin was almost constantly in tears. He wanted me in bed with him, and he'd cling to me. There was absolutely nothing sexual in it, although believe me I would have been okay with that. I never did anything sexual with Jonathan after that one time, either. But he talked a lot when it was my turn to stay with him. He thanked me several times for making love to him. I told him I'd do it all over if it would make him better, and I meant it.

"So, are you gay?" he asked.

"Haven't we been through that?"

"Yeah, but you never really gave me an answer."

"What did I say?"

"You said `Hold that thought,' after I said you had a girlfriend so you can't be gay. So, are you?"

"What do you think."

"You should never answer a question with a question. But since you asked, I'd say yes, you are."

"What would make you think that?"

"No one could do what you did to me without practice. You've had practice."

I didn't say anything.

"And Danny isn't a girlfriend. He's a boyfriend, isn't he?"

More silence.

"I don't think you realize you've slipped a couple of times. When you and me or you and Kevin are chatting, now and then you say "he" when you're talking about Danny. I thought I'd heard it wrong the first time, but you've done it four or five times since then."

I was beet read. Angry at myself. "So, what do you . . . er . . ."

"No, I don't mind. You're a great guy, and you've been wonderful to Kevin. I think you love him, too. I mean `that way.'"

"Do you think Kevin knows?"

"That you love him? No. That you're gay? I think he suspects."

"Ah. I didn't want him to know."

"It's okay, you know. He doesn't hate gays. I don't think he hates anyone. Anyway, you've become too good of a friend."

"How can that be? I haven't been here more than a couple of months."

"I know. But you've been around him all the time. He's been able to talk to you. You've supported him. You've tried to take care of him. You've shown him respect and even love. And this time I don't mean `that way.' I mean friendship love. You see, he hasn't been able to make friends at school. Ever since he started grade school he has had to work here. He hasn't been able to hang out with anyone. All the other `strays' that have come through this place they stay a week, maybe two, and then move on. You've stayed, for some reason, and you've given your friendship to him. That means so much to him."

I didn't know what to say. I squeezed his hand. Our conversation had worn him out.

May 5. The restaurant closed. We finished cleaning up. Walking to the house was hard. Kevin and I were exhausted again. It was dark, there were no clouds, and the temperature was dropping fast. We walked slowly side by side. I looked up at the window to our room and shivered.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing. I had a shiver."

He put his arm around me and rubbed my shoulder. "Let's get inside," he said.

"The hospice nurse is still here," I said.

"Yeah, I wonder why?"

I could guess, I thought.

We trudged up the steps, feeling low. Mama and the nurse were there. Jonathan was as pale as I'd ever seen him.

"They're here, sweetheart," Mama said, stroking his hand. "They've come home."

Jonathan's breathing was labored. He just lay there, his eyes closed. After a few minutes he opened them and looked at us.

"Hey, bud," I said.

"Hi, bro," Kevin said.

Jonathan blinked.

Kevin sat on the bed and took Jonathan into his arms. He cradled the thin body and stroked the younger boy's hair. I took his hand and squeezed it.

"Love you, bud," I said. He gave me a small grin and pulled me with what little strength he had left. I leaned down close to him and put my ear next to his mouth.

"Please stay with him," he whispered, barely audible. "Be his friend. I can't be any more." His hand dropped from mine.

None of us was crying. It took a monumental effort not to. But Kevin rallied in that dark moment. Still stroking Jonathan's hair, he began to talk about better days. Ball games in the parking lot, a dog they had once had, a trip to Vegas they had all taken. He talked about swimming in a nearby creek that was usually dry but carried water after a storm. He talked about the two of them killing rattlesnakes by the shed behind the restaurant. (FUCK! I didn't know there were snakes back there! I'd never had stayed there if I'd known that).

For 45 minutes Kevin carried on a conversation like that. Jonathan's breathing became more labored and shallower.

Finally, Kevin said, "We've had a ton of fun together, Jonathan. I'm so glad you're my brother. It's been a great life, you and me. I love you more than I can ever tell you, bro. We've done so much, and you've made my life so fun. It's okay, Jonathan. You can let go now. You don't have to keep fighting this for us. It's okay. We're all here and we all love you. You can go, Jonathan. You can let go."

In the silence that followed, Jonathan gave Kevin's hand one tiny squeeze, took a last breath, and left this world for a place that is far, far better than he had ever known.

They say the most important thing is not the destination, but the journey. I look back on this journey and here's what I see: I have gone from a small town to no town, out here in the desert on a dusty parking lot that holds a house and a cafe. From a group of friends to two, and one of them just died. From a lover to a loner. From middle-class to lower-class. From school to dropout. From having parents to having no net at all. From the Midwest to the West. From green fields to sand. That's what I felt just then. I needed love and support, and I thought the only way I can find it was to give it. To show my loyalty and my own undying love.

They're home, I'm still here, and it's time for bed.



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