STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!

Copyright 2002 by Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives to post one copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted on another website without written permission from the author.

Pocketful of Stars

By Nick Archer

Chapter 18

The next morning when I woke up, I was on the couch in the living room in Bloomington. But the couch was the only piece of furniture in the room.

I sat up and glanced around the room. I stood up and walked down the short hall to the kitchen. Every room was empty. The pictures were gone. All the rugs were gone, too, and my footsteps echoed off the walls.

In the kitchen, the appliances were there, but nothing else. The canisters that held flour, sugar and coffee were gone. So were the dishes, towels, kitchen table and chairs. There was a rectangular area on the wall that was lighter than the rest of the wall. That was where the Bloomington State Bank calendar had always hung.

I peered out the window over the kitchen sink. There was a thick fog surrounding the house.

Suddenly, I heard the back door open! I spun around and saw my dad!

"There’s nothing left for you here, Joe," he said sadly. His voice sort of echoed off the empty walls.

I turned back to the room and glanced around it again. "What do you mean, Dad?"

I waited for him to answer me. When he didn’t, I turned around again. But he was gone!

I pushed open the back door, trying to follow my Dad into the fog. "Dad! Dad!" I

called. But he was gone!

I was really confused and disoriented when I woke the next morning. It took a moment to realize I had just had a dream and I was still in Williams Bay.

Troy was holding me, and gently brushing my hair away from my sweaty forehead.

"Hey, buddy," he whispered. "You OK?"

"I just had a sad dream."

"You wanna talk about it?"

I just lay there, enjoying the feel of his hand across my skin and the pressure of his body against mine. I took another minute to gather my thoughts and then described the dream to Troy.

After I finished telling him about the dream, I asked, "What if… what if I made the wrong decision?"

"What do you mean?"

"To stay in Williams Bay?"

He smiled. "You made the right choice."

"I almost don’t want this party to happen. I’m glad you’re going to be here."

He shrugged, "Hey, that’s what friends are for."

All morning we prepared for the party. Dennis, Tad, and Tad’s friend Michael were going to arrive at about two that afternoon. Dad made plans to be out of the house at that time so that they would have time to pack without us being in their way.

If you ask me, Dad didn’t want to deal with Tad. Then again, neither did I. And I surely didn’t want to face Dennis.

Dad set us to work chopping vegetables at the table. There were carrots, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, and green peppers to cut up. He gave Troy and me each a cutting board and a sharp knife and we sat at the kitchen table. In the kitchen, Dad was marinating steaks. When we had cut enough vegetables to provide appetizers for a Caribbean cruise, he told us to stop.

"I’m going to take you to the observatory," he declared.

"Wow! I’ve lived here four years, and I’ve never been inside," Troy exclaimed.

"It’s sort of like living in Chicago and never going to the top of Sears Tower." I, of course, had been there, but it had been several years. It was at a time when my dad came up here to do research at the Observatory. One summer, I came to visit for a few days with my sisters. They had little interest in the ornate building or the huge telescope. In fact, Cindy whined all the time.

Yerkes Observatory was located at the end of a long drive lined with trees. The outside of the building is built with tan bricks and terracotta.

"Notice all the details," dad pointed out as we entered the main building. He pointed to the signs of the zodiac in stone around the arched entryway.

Inside, the floor was covered in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern. There was a long hall with highly polished wooden doors. Above us, there was a dome of stained glass.

"This is so cool!" Troy exclaimed.

Dad took us to his office. His office was very modern looking in contrast to the ornate building and the old-fashioned hallway. There was a small window that overlooked the lake. One wall was lined with books. In a frame on his desk were pictures of me and my sisters.

Tory picked up the picture. "Aww! Wook at widdle Joey!" He pinched my cheek, which was hot with embarrassment. "So cute!"

Then dad showed us the exhibits, including historical telescopes and lenses, a spectrograph, and a micrometer. Finally, he led us down the hall to the largest of five domes.

"This is the largest refracting telescope in the world," he explained as we climbed the steps.

The huge telescope sat in the center of a round wooden floor.

"It looks like a basketball court, only round," Troy observed.

"And it sounds hollow," I added. Our footsteps seemed to be echoing as we walked toward the telescope.

Dad grinned. "That’s because there’s something unique about the floor." On one side of the telescope was a console of controls. He flipped a switch and pulled a lever. The whole floor started to levitate!

"Whoa!" Troy said.

"Way cool!"

"Sometimes we need to do this to reposition the scope to get a better view of a heavenly body," dad explained.

"Not all heavenly bodies are in the sky," I commented.

Dad and Troy laughed.

Dad demonstrated how the huge dome opened, but we couldn’t look through the telescope. It was daytime. "I’ll have to check the schedule to see if there’s any open time. It’s difficult this time of year, because a lot of researchers are trying to get their projects completed."

As we walked across the echoing floor, dad continued, "I’d really like you to see the sky, though. It’s awesome. It reminds me of how small we are in the universe. And yet, we are important and unique."

Tad had arrived by the time we got back. Dad’s smile faded from his face like a balloon with a small hole in it.

Dennis was carrying a box out to Tad’s car.

"Hey, homie," he called out to me.

You! I thought. You fucker! You plastered that centerfold on my door. You invaded my privacy. You played with my emotions. You made me think that you cared about me.

"Hey," I said warily. I had a lot to say to him and some questions to ask, but the driveway was not the place to do it.

It was Dennis’ turn to frown when he saw Troy get out of the back seat.

"Hey, Troy."

Troy didn’t even say ‘hi’ to Dennis. He didn’t smile at Dennis or anything - he just nodded. I almost started laughing.

I hated Tad’s friend Michael the moment I met him. He sat smoking at the kitchen table. He sat ramrod straight with his legs crossed at the knees. When Tad introduced him to me, I shook his hand. He giggled and held his hand out as if he wanted me to kiss it.

"Well, Tad, darling, I can see why you want to come back to the land of the living." He wrinkled his nose at the house.

Tad ripped off a piece of paper towel and wiped his forehead. "It’s really not so bad here. It’s kinda peaceful."

"So is a cemetery, sweetie." He ground out one cigarette and lit another with a lighter that made a loud click when it ignited.

"Are you gonna help me pack?" Tad asked Michael.

Dennis came back in the house for another box. He peered into the refrigerator and let out a whistle. "Look at all the booze!"

"You stay away from the joy juice tonight," Dad warned him. "You guys, too," he addressed Troy and me. He turned his attention back to Dennis. "Do you have everything out of Joe’s room, Dennis?"

Dennis sneered. "Yeah."

"Good," he responded, then added under his breath, "Then there’s no reason to go in there."

Dennis turned to me and said, "You want to ride bikes?"

"No," I answered shortly.

Troy took my arm and led me toward the bedroom. Dennis followed us, Troy shut the door quietly but firmly in his face.

I covered my mouth and laughed. "Perfect timing." It was fun shutting Dennis out. It was even more fun that Troy was on my side. To be honest, if Troy wasn’t there, I don’t think I would have been able to stand up to Dennis. Plus, Troy was able to express his dislikes better than I was.

"I can’t stand him," Troy grumbled. "He’s an asshole."

There’s so much tension around this house, you could spread it on bread. Everyone is mad at everyone else. Dad and Tad are mad at each other. That probably goes without saying. I know Dad was upset about Tad leaving, but I think he was relieved too. Dennis was mad at Tad because Tad didn’t get custody, not that Tad had much control. He was also mad at Dad because he didn’t want to take Dennis as a foster son. Dad is mad at Dennis for treating me the way he did.

Me? The two members of the Balzekas family are on my shit list. I listed Tad because he made Dad miserable. Michael is on my shit list because he’s a bitch. And because he talked to me like I was a boy. I hated that. You know how I feel about being called a boy. Imagine what I think about being treated like a little boy. Pisses me off.

Tad, Dennis and Michael worked through the afternoon. Well, Dennis and Tad worked, Michael mostly sat the kitchen table and smoked and made nasty comments about the house and Williams Bay and anything else he could be negative about.

Dad finally told him to shut up.

Things began to relax a bit when the guests started to arrive. As they did, a thick fog was rolling in. Jack and Ruth were the first to arrive. Another couple, the Jesslers, arrived right after them. I liked them a lot. Helen was sort of heavy but very funny. She reminded me of Roseanne Barr. She had the same nasal voice and she laughed at her own jokes.

As I shook Roger Jessler’s hand, Dad explained, "Roger and Helen have known Ruth for a long time. Roger works at TSR and Helen is…" Dad glanced at Helen. "What is the politically correct term? A stay-at-home mom?"

"I prefer domestic goddess," Helen replied. We all laughed.

The Davises were the last to arrive. Charles had the biggest, bushiest eyebrows I had ever seen. He was smoking a pipe. Colleen, his wife, could have been Susan Saradon’s twin. She was beautiful.

Dad has started grilling the steaks. Tad removed the baked potatoes from the oven while Michael set out the appetizers and the salad. My task was to set the table and Troy helped. Dennis was watching TV.

"Helen, how do you want your steak grilled?" Dad asked her.

"Like my sex life - rare." She covered her mouth in mock horror. "Can I say that in front of these three hormones-in-shoes?"

"It’s nothing they haven’t heard before," Dad replied.

"Or done," Troy added under his breath.

I elbowed him.

Dinner was delicious, and all the while Helen kept us entertained with her comments.

"I figure that if the kids are alive when I get home, I’ve done my job."

"The other night, Roger was watching TV. He said to me, ‘Hon, can you get me some Doritos?’ And I said, ‘What, you can’t lift up the couch cushions by yourself?’"

"Women complain about premenstrual syndrome, but I think of it as the only time of the month I can be myself."

When we cleared the table, we sang Happy Birthday to Ruth and dad brought out a cake. We also gave Ruth her gifts. On the surface everything was nice and sweet. Underneath it was like turning a rock over in a forest. There were worms and grubs and little albino spiders.

Ruth, of course, had insisted that no one bring gifts. But I think there’s a law or something that when one becomes an adult, one has to say that. Me, I’ll always want gifts on my birthday.

Dad had bought her a nice bracelet and I signed the card also. She thanked us and gave me a hug. She smelled like Obsession For Women and she was soft and warm.

After we gave Ruth her gifts, the three of us were excused. Dad had rented a small pile of videos to keep us busy and out of trouble. We decided to play a game of Monopoly on the coffee table in the living room. While we were setting up the game, the adults were clearing the kitchen table for a game of cards.

"Ha, ha, ha! You landed on Boardwalk. With three houses! That’ll be $1600, please," Troy held out his hand to Dennis.

"That’ll wipe me out," Dennis whined.

"That’s the point of the game," Troy replied. I could tell he was enjoying this just a little too much. He turned to me and gave me a high five.

While Troy and I put the game away, Dennis stormed into the kitchen. I guessed he was getting a drink, but he went upstairs to the loft.

Troy rolled his eyes.

About this time, we heard Michael and Tad talking near the bathroom door. Michael wanted to leave for Chicago that night. "We have just about everything packed," he said to Tad in a stage whisper.

"Yeah, but there’s the fog. And both of us have been drinking. The things Wisconsin does to drunk drivers are not pretty."

"I don’t know how you survived here in breeder paradise so long." He sighed loudly and minced back to the table.

Troy and I put had just put video in the VCR.

"He’s an asshole, too," Troy whispered to me. I covered my mouth and giggled.

Troy and I were snuggled on the love seat in the living room. Sitting on the loveseat together was a strategic move. Neither of us wanted to sit next to Dennis and the small loveseat had just enough room for two. Also, I knew that by sitting there Troy would have to touch me again. I wanted that more than anything.

Dennis kept making more trips to the refrigerator, then out to deck. After a while, Troy and I were engrossed in Romancing the Stone, and we paid no attention to Dennis.

At the part of the movie where Jack arrives at the castle to rescue Joan from Zolo, Dennis plopped down on the couch with a big sigh.

Troy draped an arm around my shoulders. I loved that feeling and if we had been alone, I would have laid my head on his shoulder. I hope he did it because he likes me as a friend, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But I also suspected he did it to aggravate Dennis. And it succeeded. Dennis began to glare in our direction.

I wanted to laugh at Dennis, but it’s weird - another part of me felt sorry for him. I mean, he had no control over what his parents did to him. He had nowhere to go. That must be an awful feeling - not feeling like you could go home.

While the credits rolled at the end of the movie, Dennis disappeared once again. Troy and I went out onto the back porch and sat in two of the wicker chairs there.

I never did describe the back porch to you, did I? For starters, you can’t go outside from the back porch because the land slopes down steeply from the front of the yard to the back. It’s almost like the porch is on the second floor. It’s also screened in, which prevents the Wisconsin state bird - the mosquito - from enjoying a blood smorgasbord. Dad had a number of potted plants on the floor. He had also placed a table and a small bookcase that he had purchased at The Trading Post and repainted. No one but my dad would have a bookcase on a screened porch. Now you understand why I love sitting on this porch?

The fog swirled in the night. The evergreens that grew around this part of the house scented the night air. The sun doesn’t actually set until about seven at this time of year, but it already seemed dark because it was so overcast and foggy. Besides the light streaming out from the house, three lit candles flickered on the table.

"Dennis is watching us. I hate that," I told Troy.

He rubbed my back. "Ignore him. He’ll be gone tomorrow."

He continued to rub my back. I smiled at him. "Mmm. That feels good, Troy."

"Hey, what’s that by your foot?"

"An empty beer bottle."

"Wonder how it got out here. No one’s been out here except…"

My eyes met Troy’s. We knew immediately who had left the beer bottle.

"Hey, let’s go get one!" Troy suggested.

"Think we should?"

"Sure, it’s a time-honored tradition. We’re supposed to do it."

"I don’t know…."

"Oh, you chicken shit. I’ll go. You stay here."

I was on pins and needles while Troy went to the kitchen to liberate two bottles of beer from the refrigerator. I strained my ears to hear if the adults noticed. They were absorbed in their card game and said nothing to him.

"Here," he said, handing me a bottle moist with condensation on the outside of the bottle.

I tried to twist off the cap, but I couldn’t.

"Oh, you are such a wuss." He grabbed the bottle from me and twisted the top off. "Here." He clinked my bottle with his. "To friends."

"To friends," I repeated. I wrinkled my nose. "It’s sorta bitter."

"That’s beer for you."

The porch was a very romantic setting. We stared out into the fog without saying anything to each other for a while. I was hoping Troy would touch me again. After I drank about half the beer, I started to feel a little bolder. Maybe I would touch Troy. I started to plot ways to do it.

The adults took a break from the card game. Some of them used the restroom and others got a new drink.

Just as I was just reaching over to take his hand, we heard the sliding glass door scrape open. We giggled as we hid our half-empty bottles under our chairs. Ruth appeared on the deck with us.

"Hi, boys," she said to us in her lovely voice.

If we looked guilty, she didn’t say anything about it.

"Ruth," Frank called from the kitchen. "Are you playing?"

"No, deal me out. I’m going to take a break." She sank into one of the wicker chairs. "I love this porch."

We mumbled our agreement.

"Where’s Dennis?" She asked us.

"I don’t know," I answered honestly.

"How has your summer been?" Ruth directed the question at both of us, but I think it was directed more at me.

"Good," I answered.

"I thought we were going to get a chance to talk at some point this summer."

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.

"Are you going to miss Tad?" This question was definitely directed at me.

I looked out into the fog. "No," I answered honestly.

"What about Dennis?"

Before answering, I looked at Troy. I could see the look on his face. Don’t answer her questions. She’s an adult. She’s the enemy. It’s a trap.

But I didn’t feel that way. Somehow, I knew I could trust her.

"I’ll miss him, I guess," I mumbled.

"Joe, you know I’m a counselor. I had sessions with Dennis and Tad and your father. I’m sure you know that. I need to tell you that I would never reveal private information or break the confidentiality of my clients. But I do want to tell you to be careful with Dennis."

"Everybody told me to be careful with Dennis."

"I think their concern is real. You are a very nice young man. Dennis has been around. Do you know what I mean?"

I understood both what she was saying and what she was implying. I nodded.

"You’re a nice young man. Just be careful."

"I will. Thanks, Ruth." I paused and licked my lips. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course, Joe."

"I have this friend who liked someone but D….I mean, that person didn’t like him back."

"That’s a painful situation to be in. How involved is your friend with this person?"

"Pretty involved, I think."

"Is your friend having sex with the other person?" There were no accusations in her voice.

But, still I hesitated to answer. "No, not anymore."

"Tell your friend that sex confuses everything. The person may confuse sex and love. Even worse, the other person may be using sex to get what they want."

I never thought of that. Was Dennis using sex to get what he wanted?

"Also, you might want to suggest to your friend to slow down a bit and work on being friends first."

I nodded.

"And finally, you may need to be a good listener, Joe. When a person feels like he’s in love with another person and the object of his desire doesn’t feel the same about him, there’s some grieving that goes on."

"Grieving?" I repeated.

"Sure, in a way it’s like death."

"I don’t understand."

"When a person learns that they are terminally ill, they go through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. Whenever we lose a dream, say the dream of a romantic relationship, we also go through that same grieving process. That’s where you come in, Joe. Your friend may need to talk about his feelings. He may need someone to listen as he works through that grieving process."

I glanced at Troy, then looked out into the fog. I hadn’t realized that this was what I was going through. But now that Ruth explained it to me, it all made sense. I was grieving in a way. I had been so excited to meet Dennis at first, and then I was elated that he liked me, too. But when I didn’t get the simple affection I needed, I was disillusioned. And then when I figured out that he didn’t love me, I was crushed.

"Of course, these are just generalizations, since I don’t know your friend and I don’t know the situation. Do you think you can relay all this to your friend?"

"Yeah, I think so."

Troy smiled and nodded at me in an encouraging way.

Ruth stood up and let herself in through the sliding door. "Oh, would you mind throwing those beer bottles away, please?"

Troy and I exchanged looks.

After a moment, I reached over again and took Troy’s hand. I just wanted to feel his skin against mine. I wanted his reassurance, his strength.

He didn’t pull his hand away.

We sat on the porch for a long time without saying anything, just holding hands in the foggy night. The candles spluttered once in a while and we could hear the distant bellow of a foghorn.

I thought to myself, Maybe a good friend is more important than a boyfriend.

Dennis was drunk. He was blotto. He was three sheets to the wind, toasted, stone-cold blasted. He was shitfaced. I always wondered where that term came from. Shitfaced. Probably from someone who was drunk and fell in some shit.

He was sitting on the living room couch and listing to one side like a sinking ship. He had a stupid smile on his face. The other guests had left just a few minutes before.

"Dennis, you little shithead!" Tad hissed at him.

"Oh, Tad. Shit on you, shit-for-brains." And then he giggled stupidly.

"I’m going to kill you," Tad continued. We talked about this."

"Tad," Dad touched his shoulder and then shook his head slightly. "He’s in no condition to discuss this now. Let’s just put him to bed."

"I’ll deal with you in the morning," Tad said, and then stomped upstairs to the loft where he was sleeping for the night. The three of them would be leaving in the morning.

From the linen closet, Dad brought over a set of sheets and a blanket. "Do you think you two can make up the bed and get him ready?"

"No problem, Sean," Troy told him.

"Thanks, Troy. And thank you, Joe. Good night."

Once Dad was out of earshot, Troy pulled roughly on Dennis’ arms. "Get up and sit in the chair while we make up the couch."

"Troy-boy," Dennis slurred. "Why don’t you like me? What did I ever do to you?"

"You didn’t do anything to me. It’s what you did to Joe."

"What did I do to Joe? What did I do to you, Joe?"

"Nothing," I muttered, wishing Troy hadn’t brought up the subject.

In a short time, we had pulled the sheets over the couch and transformed it into a bed.

I knelt down in front of Dennis and pulled off his shoes and socks. "What did I do to you?" Dennis repeated. "I like you, Joe."

"Stand up," I told Dennis. Troy pulled off his shirt, while I pulled his basketball shorts off but left his underwear on.

"I like you, Joe."

"That’s just it, Dennis. You like me. But do you love me?"

"Well, I….."

Dad, who was carrying a blue plastic bucket into the living room, interrupted Dennis’ answer. Without asking, I knew what the bucket was for. He placed it on the floor near Dennis’ head.

"Lay down," Troy gestured to the couch.

"Oh, I feel dizzy. The room is spinning. Make it stop."

"Good night."

"Go to sleep," Troy commanded.

We turned out the most of the lights, but Dad suggested we leave one of the table lamps on in the living room in case Dennis had to go to the bathroom during the night.

Dad headed back to his bedroom and Troy and I were just about to enter ours when we heard Dennis gag.

Then he coughed and vomited into the bucket.

"Being drunk is very glamorous," Dad said sarcastically.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other stories here on Nifty, Paternal Insticts/Family Instincts/Thicker Than Water in Relationships section and The Cooksville Chronicles in Historical.

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