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.

This is the final chapter of Pockeful of Stars. A short epilogue will follow. Thanks ganymedestx, Jayne and Papyrophile for editing and providing moral support. Thanks to all the readers who took the time to write with their thoughts and comments. I read and respond to all emails.

At this time I do not have a sequel planned.

Pocketful of Stars

By Nick Archer

Chapter 20

On a Thursday morning in August, Dad and I were on our way to Bloomington. He had already registered me at Williams Bay High School.

Dad and I had talked about bringing Troy with us. On one hand, I certainly would have appreciated Troy’s support. In the past few weeks, Troy has become the best friend I’ve ever had. It’s weird - it’s like we were separated at birth. We know each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences. He stood up for me and protected me. More than that - he believed in me.

It was my decision not to bring Troy along with us. There were just some things I needed to do myself. And Troy would probably never meet my sisters or my mom or Josh or Paul again.

I did bring gifts for everyone in my family and Paul and Josh and Aunt Lynda, too.

Dad drove west to Rockford to catch I-39. I-39 had just been finished and it ran right down the center of Illinois, from Rockford to Bloomington. It had several advantages - it bypassed all the traffic around the Chicago area and it was a beautiful, smooth and clean highway. There were no billboards hawking antiques or gas stations or historic districts at the next exit. But it also had some disadvantages. Few businesses had opened near the exits yet. And it was boring. If you’ve never been in Illinois, let me give you an image - flat. Flat as a pancake. No wonder Wisconsin residents call us flatlanders. Worst of all, the rest areas weren’t finished.

It was a very quiet ride. I brought my Walkman, while dad fussed with the radio, trying to find a station that wouldn’t fade as we traveled south.

Where I-39 crosses I-80 near LaSalle and Peru, we exited the highway and found a McDonald’s. Dad bought me lunch, we used the rest room and got back on the road. Shortly after that, we crossed the Illinois River. That was the scenic highlight of the trip.

In another hour, we were in Normal. The name of the town still makes me laugh. Normal. But, I’ll no longer be from Bloomington, which is the closest you can get to Normal. Now, I’m a cheesehead.

Soon, we were heading south on Main Street. Dad cut over on College to Fell. Fell Street, which is a north-south street, took us right past Watterson Towers. It’s weird, but I’ll kinda miss looking at them through my bedroom window. Then, he took Fell to Clinton. The closer we got to the house, the sadder I began to feel.

I recalled the Fourth of July parade in downtown Bloomington. It seemed so long ago, but in reality, it was less than two months ago.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

"Dad? Can we drive through downtown?"

He looked at me strangely. "Why?"

"I just want to see it again," I mumbled.

"Maybe later. When we go to the hotel."

Before long, the cobblestones of White’s Place were buzzing under the tires of the car. I could see the big white house I had called home for as long as I could remember. Dad pulled up to the curb, and Carrie poked her head out the front screen door.

"Mom! Joe’s here!"

She ran out the street.

"Hi dad," Carrie said as she hugged dad.

"Hi gorgeous! You’re getting big!"

"I hope so. I’m in junior high, now." It was weird to think of Carrie in junior high.

She came around the car and surprised me by hugging me.

"Hi, sis." She was wearing some sort of girly perfume.

Over her shoulder, Mom appeared. She took me in her arms. "Look at how big you are! And what a tan!"

"Mom," was all I could say. I was getting choked up.

"I have most everything packed for you," she said as she let go of me.

"Hi, Sean."

"Laurie, good to see you." They kissed each other on the cheek. "You look good for yourself."

Mom blushed! "Oh, chasing after the kids will do it."

Her face was smiling, but there was a bit of sadness there, too. "I wasn’t sure whether to make reservations or cook something at home."

"Why don’t we make reservations some place?" Dad suggested. "That way, you don’t have to clean up."

"Where do you want to go, Joe?" Mom asked me.

"Red Lobster?"

"Red Lobster it is."

"Yeah!" I yelled. Red Lobster is my favorite. Bloomington-Normal has one of the highest per capita restaurant counts in the county. I don’t think anyone in this town cooks.

By this time, Cindy had appeared carrying a Barbie. "Eww! I hate fish."

Two months ago, her comment would have irritated me. Now, it didn’t even faze me in the least. "And hello to you, Cindy," I said with a smile.

Mom put an arm around my shoulders as we strolled to the house. "You’re welcome to stay at the house tonight."

"Thanks, mom."

She lowered her voice. "I’d really like for you to stay here tonight."

I tried to be diplomatic. I really didn’t want to. It would just make me sad. Not to mention that I’d end up on the hide-a-bed in the living room. That thing is uncomfortable! It’s like sleeping with a bowling ball under the mattress. "I’ll think about it." A stray question popped into my mind. "Who’s been mowing the lawn?"

"Paul," mom answered. "He’s almost like a member of the family."

There was a sarcastic edge to Dad’s voice. "How nice for you."

"If you only knew, Sean," Mom replied with the same edge. She turned to me. "Paul would like to see you. He should be upstairs now."

"OK, mom. I’ll go up in a bit. I just want to see the house."

She put an arm around my shoulders and gave them a squeeze. "Sure, son."

When I stepped into the house through the kitchen door, I smelled the smell. Remember when I told you about smells? The house in Bloomington has a certain smell. I can’t explain it, but it smelled like home.

Mom and dad were chattering behind me about all sorts of stuff, but I wasn’t listening. My eyes were taking in the house. It was just as I remembered it. Well, almost.

The kitchen looked the same. Shivers ran down my spine when I remembered the dream I had about coming back to the house. It was empty in the dream. But, just like the dream, Dad was right behind me.

Cindy’s bedroom had been my bedroom for just a few short weeks. Carrie had slept upstairs until Mom remodeled it into an apartment.

Cindy pushed past me and into her room. Cindy had a new Barbie comforter and sheets. Mom, or maybe Aunt Lynda, had sewn curtains out of more Barbie sheets. But, the worst part of it was that the walls were painted pink. And not just any pink, but a disgusting Pepto-Bismol pink. She stretched out her arms. "Like it?" She was obviously proud of it.

"Yeah, Cindy, it’s really nice." I managed to say.

"It’s hideous," I heard Carrie say.

"You shut up!" Cindy screamed.

"Both of you," Mom said with a very forced smile on her face. "Cool it." Mom turned her attention to Dad. "How about some coffee?"

"I’d love some. Joe might like some, too."

"Joe’s drinking coffee?" Mom asked in surprise.

"Only in the morning," I mumbled, wishing Dad hadn’t brought up the subject.

"Joe, you want something else? A Coke, maybe? Or we have some lemonade."

"A Coke, please." And then I remembered my manners. "Thanks, mom."

Mom and dad sat down at the kitchen table over their coffee. The other rooms looked the same as I remembered them. Carrie’s room was in the front of the house, and it had been my bedroom for as long as I could remember - up until a month before I went to Wisconsin. I looked through the south window and I could see Watterson Towers through the leafy trees.

In the living room, one of my sisters has set up their little table near the couch. It looked like they were planning a tea party. There were little teacups on little saucers and a little teapot. Mom had lent a bud vase and in it was a single rose from the garden. A doll sat in a little chair and another sat on the couch.

Cindy ran into the living room. "Oh, I wanted to surprise you."


"I was going to surprise you with a tea party."

"Me?" My God. She’s serious. She set up a tea party for me.

"Yeah." She looked so disappointed; I almost wanted to hug her.

She took my hand. I was surprised at how small her hand was in mine. I smiled a bit nervously as I sat down.

I sat in another one of the tiny little chairs, almost afraid it would collapse under me.

"I didn’t know if you would want to do this," Cindy said timidly.

"What, and miss an engagement with one of Bloomington’s finest hostesses?"

"Did you bring German? He might want to join us. Hortense and Mildred are here." We Ryan kids give very creative names to our stuffed animals and dolls.

"Um, yeah, I did bring German. But he’s way at the bottom of the trunk and Dad won’t want me to dig him out," I lied.

Mom appeared in the living room with a cup of pop for me.

"Oh, Mom! Just in time!" Cindy exclaimed. "We can pretend the Coke is tea," Cindy clapped her hands with glee. She was so enthusiastic about it, I allowed my persona to relax a bit.

"Good idea," I said.

"I think I have some cookies," Mom said after she handed me the brown liquid. She picked up one of the tiny doll dishes and went back to the kitchen.

"Did you wash this teapot?" I questioned Cindy skeptically.

"Oh, yes," she assured me. "I washed everything."

Satisfied, I poured the pop into the teapot.

Cindy poured just a little into my teacup and then into her own. "You’re always supposed to serve the guest first. That’s what Mom taught me."

I got all choked up. "Thanks, Cindy." I took a sip of the ‘tea.’ "Mmmmm! Delicious tea."

"Why do you have to go to Wisconsin?"

"Well, I don’t have to go. I want to go."

"Why do you want to go?"

"I don’t know if I can explain it," I lied. But it was a white lie, so it’s OK.

Just then, Mom brought the plate back with oatmeal cookies piled on. She didn’t say anything, but it looked like she was ready to cry.

"Mom?" I asked softly.

She hurried down the hall back to the kitchen.

"Would you like a cookie?"

I tried to smile. "Thank you, Miss Ryan." One of my ears followed Mom back to the kitchen. You know me, Mr. Eavesdropper.

She giggled. "You’re welcome. Thank you for coming to my tea party."

"I wouldn’t have missed it."

In the kitchen, I could hear mom crying.

"Umm, I have to go to the bathroom."


As I walked down the hall to the bathroom, I peered into the kitchen. Mom was wiping her face with a paper napkin. Dad was patting her shoulder.

Dad said, "They all have to grow up sometime."

All of a sudden, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. I was being selfish. I did my business, and went back through the living room. Cindy was now watching something on TV, so I didn’t feel too guilty about leaving the tea party.

"Thanks for the tea, Cindy. It was really nice."

"You’re welcome," she said without removing her eyes from the TV.

Little sisters; who can figure them out? I jammed my hands in my pockets and stood there on the front porch. I breathed in deeply to fight back the tears. Was I being selfish? There were people here who loved me. But the future was in Wisconsin. Aunt Lynda had told me so.

I stood there for a long moment. I glanced up and down at the street. It used to be my street. It had not changed. Only the way that I looked at it. That was the only thing that had changed. I was now the Hubble Telescope.

I walked around the side of the house to the back stairs. I could smell the cologne Paul always wore on the way up the stairs. How would he look now?

I knocked on the door to his apartment.

"Is that you, Joe?"

"Yeah, it’s me."

He came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a dishtowel. The TV was playing some sort of movie. His apartment had not changed much, except that he had put some pictures on the wall. Paul had hung the picture of Tyler on the wall. Tyler had been Paul’s little brother.

Paul was shirtless and wearing a pair of those baggy basketball shorts - the same kind that I had my mom buy me. When I saw them on Paul, I had to have a pair.

"So good to see you, Joe. Can I have a hug?"

I smiled. "Sure." OK, I admit it; I let my hands run up and down his back. God, it felt good! All muscular and stuff. And then I felt it. It was like a big hose in his shorts. He wasn’t wearing any underwear! He planned this. I knew he did. Just like he planned that trip to that bathroom on campus.

He let me go. "So, you’re going to live with your dad?"

I smiled. "Yup."

A look of sadness crept in his eyes. "It will be good for you." He sat on his couch and patted a spot next to him. "Tell me about it."

I went into a long description of Williams Bay and dad’s house. Paul listened and watched my face as I talked. I wondered if he was bored, but his face never looked like it. All of a sudden, I had talked myself into corner. I realized I would have to talk about Dennis. There was no way around it. As much as I didn’t want to talk about him, he was part of my life. He was a big part of my summer. He was a big part of my past.

"There’s something different about you, Joe," he said quietly. Outside, the sun was setting and the apartment began to get dim. But his eyes were sparkling. His chest looked so tempting.

"I guess." If you say so, Paul. But he was right and I knew he was right.

"You’re glowing. Did something happen?"

"Yeah. A lot happened. I have a new best friend. And I learned a lot."

"Wanna tell me about it?"

Strangely, I did. I started to tell him about Dennis, leaving out all the sexual parts, of course. I didn’t have to tell him about it. Paul knew that we had done the big nasty, and I knew he knew.

Paul listened and watched my face the whole time. "Sounds like he hurt your feelings," he said in his deep sexy Southern voice.

My eyes started to water. "Yeah, he did. But I’m OK."

He reached over and hugged me again. "So, what did you do all summer?"

He shrugged. "Worked out and studied."

"Did you and Josh do anything?"

One of his eyebrows shot up. "What do you mean?"

I thought he sounded a little defensive. "Did you go to the pool with him?"


"Sounds like you had a pretty boring summer."

He put an arm around my shoulders. "I missed you." And then he kissed the top of my head! Not that head, stupid. The top of my hair.

WHOA! Something is wrong here! I got that weird feeling again. It felt like a million ants were crawling up my spine. It was the same feeling I had when we were talking about Tyler and when he took me and Josh into the bathroom on campus. And then it dawned on me. Paul was making a pass at me.

I looked up to Paul, especially earlier in the summer when I thought that my own Dad wasn’t interested in me. I thought that Paul might be a guy I could look up to. But over the summer, I discovered that Dad did care about me. My whole life had changed.

I was uncomfortable. I stood up off the couch. "I didn’t like that."


"What you just did."

Paul’s forehead wrinkled. "I’m confused."

"Then let me make it clear. Don’t kiss me again."

His cheeks turned bright red.

Suddenly, I lost some of my bravado. I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. "I-I-I mean….you’re very good looking, Paul…and I like you…but….you’re an adult. I’m a boy." THERE! I said it. I told him I was a boy. And I didn’t hesitate or anything when I said it.

His voice was very quiet when he said, "I’m sorry, Joe."

"I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am, Paul. I know you know that. And I know you are, too. But, it just doesn’t feel right. Not for me, anyway. I’m sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Joe."

Suddenly, I remembered the gifts. "I have a present for you." I had successfully changed the subject, too. "It’s in dad’s car. I’ll get it for you."

"You don’t have to, Joe," he called after me when I was already halfway down the stairs.

Grateful to be away from the uncomfortable situation, I took the stairs two at a time, and out to the car. Although my gifts were in the trunk, all I had to do was pull the release near the driver’s seat. The trunk popped open. I pulled out all the gifts except the one for Josh.

I was out of breath when I got back to Paul’s apartment.

"You didn’t have to do this."

"I wanted to."

I had put the gift in a blue gift bag. I love gift bags. They’re the best things ever invented. For people who are wrapping-challenged, like me, they’re great.

Paul reached in and pulled out a framed picture of me. Dad had taken a really good picture of me at the beach in Williams Bay. I took the negative to Wal-Mart in Lake Geneva and had it enlarged and I bought a frame there, too.

He looked at it for a long time and didn’t say anything. I saw a tear drip onto a corner of the frame. When he finally looked at me, tears were running down his face.

"Thank you, Joe." He reached for me and hugged me again.

"I thought maybe you could hang it next to the picture of your little brother."

"I will, thank you." He let me go and then wiped the tears away from his cheeks.

"You’re like Tyler."

"What do you mean?"

"You grew up so fast. You went to Wisconsin a boy. And now, you’re a young man."

I smiled. "I think - maybe -- there’s one way I’m not like Tyler."

"What’s that?"

"We didn’t do anything."

My family was piling into cars to go to Red Lobster when I arrived downstairs again. They decided to take mom and dad’s cars.

On the drive to the restaurant, Dad asked me, "How was your visit with mom’s tenant?"

"Good," I said nonchalantly.

"Did you get things settled with him?"

"In more ways than one."

Aunt Lynda stood outside the restaurant. She was glancing at her watch as we pulled up.

The host greeted us immediately. "Nazarene party?"

"Yes," Aunt Lynda answered.

"Aunt Lynda," I whispered, "Did he say Nazarene party?"

She smiled and let me in on the secret. "Yeah. I made the reservations."

"But why not under your name? Or Mom’s name? Isn’t Nazarene another name for Jesus?"

By this time we had approached the table. I sat between Aunt Lynda and mom. She winked at me. "It’s your Last Supper."

I went to catechism and I knew what she was talking about. "You are really twisted, Aunt Lynda," I laughed.

Mom was kinda shocked, I could tell, but she couldn’t correct her older sister in a public place.

Our waitress, Rebecca, arrived. I already knew what I wanted. Red Lobster was having one of it’s Lobsterfests, and I love lobster. Mom and Carrie couldn’t figure out what they wanted. Rebecca said she would come back to take the rest of the orders. In the meantime, she brought breadsticks. I don’t know why, but she handed them to me.

I took one of the warm breadsticks, and handed them to Aunt Lynda. "This is my body. Take one and pass it on."

"Joseph Michael!" Mom said in a shocked tone.

I started to giggle.

Rebecca returned with a pitcher of pop and again, she handed it to me. While she took the rest of the orders, I poured myself a glass. I handed the pitcher to Aunt Lynda.

"This is my blood…"

"DON’T even go there," Mom hissed.

I thought it was hilarious. Aunt Lynda and I giggled throughout dinner.

Outside the restaurant, Aunt Lynda hugged me.

"I’m sorry if I got you in trouble," I apologized.

"Don’t worry about it. It was all worth it." She closed her eyes and placed her hands on my shoulders. Without asking, I knew she was saying a prayer. "You take good care of yourself, Joe."

"I will Auntie Lynda."

"Remember always you are loved." She gave me one more hug. "And give my best to Troy."


"He’s going to be so important in your life, Joe. He’s the one I was seeing."

"But how did you know his name?"

"Ancient Chinese secret."

"Oh, quit teasing me. When did you know his name?"

"I knew it all along, sweetie. I knew when you came to visit me before you went to Wisconsin."

I was a little hurt that she had withheld information from me. "Why didn’t you tell me?"

"Because some things you just have to learn for yourself. Some events are ordained and arranged so that we can learn from them. I know you still may be hurting from that other boy who was there, but someday you will understand what you learned from him."

I heard dad say to mom, "We’re going right to the hotel, now."

In the hot parking lot, I hugged Mom and Carrie and even Cindy.

"We’ll stop by tomorrow and pack up my car," Dad said.

"Sounds good. About what time should I expect you?"

"About ten. That should give us enough time to get some breakfast and run an errand." A significant look passed between Mom and Dad, but I had no idea what they were referring to.

We said our goodbyes. On the way to the hotel, my mind echoed with the things Aunt Lynda had said.

Bloomington is one of the fastest growing areas in Illinois. I had only been gone two months and things had changed. Or maybe I had changed.

We were staying at the Country Inn and Suites near the airport. It was a brand-new hotel. We pulled the overnight bags out of the trunk and approached the main entrance.

"This is a way-cool hotel."

"They even have a pool."

"So that’s why you told me to bring my swimsuit."

Dad grinned as he opened the door for me. "And I have another surprise for you, too."

He stood in the lobby near the reception desk holding a gym bag.

"Josh!" OK, I know the Boy Code, and two 14-year-old boys aren’t supposed to hug, especially in public, but I couldn’t help myself. I was so glad to see him.

He dropped he sports bag he was holding, and hugged me back. He had grown, too. He seemed taller than I remembered him.

"You’re so tan, dude," he said to me.

"I did a lot of swimming this summer."

The sun had bleached his blond hair almost white. It was in contrast to his tanned skin. For the first time, I noticed the constellation of freckles across his nose.

We passed through the atrium on the way to the elevators. Big trees and plants grew everywhere. It was like an indoor garden. Open corridors that led to the rooms ringed the atrium. Our room was on the third floor.

The first room was a living room with a huge couch that opened into a bed. There was also a TV and a VCR. Then, there was a kitchenette and a big bathroom. On the other side of that was a bedroom with two big beds and another TV and VCR. The bedroom also had a balcony that overlooked the pool.

"Man, I can’t wait to get into that pool," I said.

"Go ahead," Dad smiled. "Be careful. I think I’m going to crash. It’s been a long day. Josh, you can sleep on the other bed in here since you are the guest. Joe can sleep on the hide-a-bed in the living room."

"That’s OK, dad. Josh can sleep with me. It’s not like the first time we slept together. You’re not going to come swimming with us?"

"No, I’m too tired. I’m going to take a shower and watch TV. I want you back in the room by ten. And no running around the hotel disturbing the other guests. Got it?"

I rolled my eyes as required by the Laws of Teenage Behavior. "Yes, dad."

The pool area was saturated with the smell of chlorine. I think it’s really a sexy smell. It was an indoor/outdoor pool with a swirling, bubbling whirlpool. The slapping sound of our bare feet echoed off the walls. We shoved our way through the door to the outdoor part of the pool and jumped in.

"Oh my God! It’s cold!" Josh said in a squeaky voice.

My teeth started chattering almost immediately. "It’s weird. You’d think that the water would be warm by August."

"Probably because it’s a new hotel. I think it officially opened last month."

"Oh. Let’s get out. I’m freezing."

"Maybe it’ll be warmer inside," Josh said hopefully.

"Better yet, let’s try out the Jacuzzi."

"Good idea!"

It was only Josh and me in the bubbling, swirling whirlpool. We eased into the hot water as if we were athletes after a long workout.

"This feels awesome."

"It’s the bomb," Josh agreed.

While Josh fiddled with the nozzles and controls, I closed my eyes and stretched out.

I heard Josh whisper, "Look at this."

I opened my eyes to see him triumphantly waving his swim trunks in front of me like a prize fish he just caught.

"WWh-at the hell are you doing?"

He giggled. "It feels excellent - the water running over your balls. Take yours off," he encouraged.

"What if someone sees?"

"The bubbles will hide it. C’mon chicken shit."

I pulled my swim trunks off and sat on them. I glanced over at Josh across the tub. From the motion of his right shoulder and the play of the muscles on his upper arm, I could tell he was jacking off.


"Nobody’s here. Besides, these bubbles will hide anything," he repeated. "You can’t see it, can you?"

"No, but I can tell what you’re doing."

Josh giggled again and lifted his hips. The head of his penis appeared above the water like a periscope looking for a target.

"Come over to this side," he whispered. His voice was barely audible above the hum of the machine.

I shouldn’t do this. Josh is my best friend. Or he was my best friend. I’m all confused. One thing was for certain - my dick was as hard as a rock.

As soon as I sat next to him, his hand was searching below the water for my dick like a tentacle of an octopus. Once he located it, he clamped his hand around it and began jacking me.

"Jack me off," he said.

We started stroking each other at a rapid pace. My breathing was shallow and quick. My eyes fixed on his face. Josh had his devilish grin on his face. I think he planned this. He wanted it to happen.

I could feel the familiar tightening in my groin. I was going to cum.

"Oh, God, Josh!" I thought I saw a ghostly string of milky white liquid float for just a second and then disappear into a filter.

Now that I was done, I increased the pace on Josh’s cock. I felt it spasm and jerk as he came. It was accompanied by his grunts.

"Thanks, buddy," he gasped.

"Don’t mention it."

Just as we slipped our trunks back on, an older couple appeared. They smiled at us and said ‘Hi,’ and took their bathrobes off. Neither of us had any great desire to see all that old, sagging flesh, so we headed back to the room

It was dark and silent in the room. Dad was already asleep. We unfolded the hide-a-bed as quietly as we could and turned on the TV. After taking turns changing in the bathroom, we lay on our stomachs and watched TV for a while.

I began to drowse off. Confusing images of Josh, Dennis and Troy whirled in my head. Josh was saying ‘C’mon,’ Dennis was saying, ‘I know you want it,’ and Troy said, ‘I want to do this for you.’ Before too long, I was sound asleep.

The next morning, I woke up to a test pattern. I had fallen asleep at the wrong end of the bed. Josh had also. I got up, turned off the TV, and went to pee.

It was 7:30. The sheet covered Josh to his waist. His shoulders were smooth, brown and enticing against the white sheets. His chest and belly were nicely defined from his wrestling and baseball. I wanted to run my hand over his abs.

Really, I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to hold him.

I didn’t mean to wake him up as I got back into bed. Unlike Dennis, who could sleep through a nuclear holocaust, Josh was a very light sleeper. Troy fell somewhere in between. Dear God, I’ve slept with a lot of boys this summer. Does that make me a whore?

He had a small smile on his face, but his eyes were still closed.

"Sorry," I apologized.

"Suck me."

He’s mad at me for waking him up, right? "What?"

He pushed the sheets down to his knees, and pulled his dick out of his underwear. "Suck me," he repeated.

Oh my God! I can’t believe this. "No."

"Why not?"

I’d love to, but my dad is in the other room. "I’m not gay," I lied.

"That’s not what I heard. Everybody was talking about it after you left."

Bastards! "Well, they’re wrong." Panic rose from my stomach. There’s no worse thing in school than to be called a faggot. I wanted to question him about it, find out who and when and why. Maybe he was lying to me like the night on the sofa when we exchanged hand jobs. Maybe he just wanted to see if I would do it. Then I remembered I was going back to Wisconsin. It didn’t matter. In less than 24 hours, I would be gone. I relaxed.

"I don’t care. I really don’t." By this time, he was hard. And so was I. He placed his hand on the back of my head. "C’mon."

Yes! "No."

"Fine." He pushed his deflating dick back into his underwear, pulled the sheet up to his shoulders and rolled over. "Wake me when we’re leaving."

"Are you mad at me?"

"What do you think? I just wanted to mess around. No big deal."

"I don’t want to."

In the dim light from the TV, I could see him press his lips together tightly. "It’s your choice."

Hurt and confused, I tried to get back to sleep again. But I couldn’t. I listened to Josh’s regular breathing and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Were they really talking about me after I left or had he just made it up? Just what did I do or say that made Josh think I was gay? What made him think I wanted to give him a blow job?

A single tear ran down my cheek and onto the pillow.

An hour later, I heard dad get up, put coffee on in the kitchenette and take a shower. Smelling like soap and shampoo, he leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Time to get up."

I sat up and held my arms out.

"What’s wrong?"

"I need a hug."

"Sure, son." He wrapped his arms around my shoulders. "Are you OK?"

"Just confused."

"It’s a normal state for your age. Want to talk about it?"

"I’ll tell you later."

We dropped Josh off at his house. He hardly said three words to me.

"Let’s take a drive though downtown. You wanted to see it."

I did, but my mind was preoccupied.

If anything, downtown Bloomington looked even cheesier and more rundown in the morning light. I flashed back to the Fourth of July. Nothing had changed. Except me. I had a new set of eyes. Bloomington was no longer mine, my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

"That’s enough, Dad. Take me back to the house."

Mom’s car was there when we arrived. She must have taken the morning off.

"Mom?" I called.

"In the basement," she called.

"Oh wait, Cindy. I have a present for you."

"For me?"

I handed her a yellow gift bag. Inside was set of Barbie clothes.

"Thanks, Joe."

"Where’s Carrie?"

"She spent the night at Susan’s."

I was sorry to miss her. I left her gift on her bed.

Down to the damp basement, I carried Mom’s gift and a plastic bag. She was on her knees taping a box closed.

"We’ll have to ship this one to you. It’s just winter clothes, anyway."

"Thanks, Mom."

She gestured over to a corner. "You can probably fit those in the car."

I held the purple gift bag at arm’s length. "This is for you."

"Oh, Joe, you didn’t have to." Inside was a datebook I bought at the observatory. It had a pattern of stars on the cover.

"I love it." She hugged me. "Thanks, Joe. What’s in the plastic bag?"

Without saying a word, I handed it to her. She looked puzzled. She started to pull pieces of German out of the bag. "What happened?" she asked in the voice she reserved for major scandals.

"Dennis, Tad’s brother, ripped him apart." My eyes started to fill with tears.

"I can’t sew this back together."

"I know, Mom." I started to cry.

She held her arms out. "Oh, Joe. Come here." She held me close and rocked me. She smelled like flowers.

Mom held me for a long time and rocked me back and forth. "It’s OK, Joe." Then, she started to hum Catch a Falling Star.

Mom always knew how to make me smile. "I didn’t know you knew about that song," I said as I wiped a tear away.

"How could I not know? Every time I washed your clothes with sand in the pockets." She kissed my forehead. "You’ll be OK, Joe. I’m not mad at you. You have to make some decisions for yourself. That’s part of growing up."

She lowered her voice to a whisper. "You shine like a star, Joe. Don’t ever hide your light. Let it shine for everybody to see. This is not goodbye. It’s only the beginning of your journey. I’m only human, too, Joe. I can’t fix everything for you, just like I can’t sew German back together. And just like you have to let go of German, I have to let go of you. But don’t ever forget that you are loved."

"Love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, son."

I cried so many tears that day I was exhausted. I fell asleep as soon as we got back on the highway. I had wanted to talk to him and tell him about what had happened.

I woke up just before we crossed the border to Wisconsin.

"Hi, buddy."

"Hi, Dad," I replied as I rubbed my eyes.

"Feel better?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Did you want to talk about Josh?"

"Maybe later." I stared out the window. A couple minutes later, I saw the sign welcoming us to Wisconsin. "Oh, no!"


"I forgot to give Josh his gift."

Dad said, "Maybe you can send it to him."

"No, I think I’ll keep it. I’m not sure he would like it anyway."

"Just out of curiosity, what did you get him?"

"A star chart." It was a neat one, too. It glowed in the dark and had a dial so that as the night passed, you could adjust the stars in the viewfinder.

I was the Hubble Space Telescope and I could see things clearly now. I was still a boy, and that was OK. I had some growing up to do. I had fallen in love, and that was OK, too. I had made some mistakes over the summer, and I had learned a lot.

What had I learned? Glad you asked. In some ways, I learned to be more careful about who I give affection to. On the other hand, I learned that if you don’t take risks sometimes, you’ll never get what you want.

I learned the power of the word ‘No’ and I could use it without guilt if I needed to. I learned to listen to my feelings and avoid situations that made me uncomfortable.

I learned that love can come from unexpected places. I learned that a good friend can be more important than a lover and that family is more important than friends.

I learned to let myself off the hook sometimes. I’m only human and I’m still a boy. Yes, I said boy. Not student, or teenager, or young man, or even kid. I’m allowed to make some mistakes. Everyone is.

And I learned that love is like the stars. It’s boundless and universal. It goes on for infinity, just like the universe.

And just like the stars, you can’t keep love in your pocket.

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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