I woke up to someone knocking on the door. Nick was sprawled out on his back next to me, his arm around my shoulders. His dick was standing at attention for the world to see, but the door was locked, so the world consisted of me.

The person knocked again. "Rise and shine, guys. Breakfast's ready." It was Victor, I was pretty sure.

"Okay, be down in a minute," I replied groggily.

"'kay," Victor said, and I heard footsteps going down the hall.

I yawned and sat up. The light was coming in through the window; the sun was at the right angle to come in directly, without being blocked by the third-floor porch. Dust particles were floating around in the bands of light; I watched them play around Nick's sleeping form for a moment before I leaned over and kissed him softly, to wake him up. He smiled and opened his eyes.

"Breakfast time," I said quiety. He replied with a yawn.

Since I only had dirty clothes anyway, I had no qualms about not showering before putting them on; I grabbed my clothes from the pile off the floor and threw them on. Nick was still lying on the bed, his eyes closed again.

"Up and at 'em, tiger," I said. He yawned at me.

I hopped onto the bed and kissed him again. This time he kissed back. I was more than happy to oblige, but, well, in the words of Rakim, you know how far a kiss can go. I broke it off and said, "No more of me, you have to eat some real food."

Nick groaned, but got up. He got some clean clothes out of his bag — it looked like he had about two days' worth of clothes in there, and only shorts, no pants, so he was going to have to do some shopping too — and pulled them on. A plain red tee-shirt, black shorts. We trekked down the stairs.

Paul was standing in the kitchen, working the waffle maker. There were only four places set. Victor was sitting at one of them, looking out the window. Riley, hair all over the place and generally looking still asleep, was sitting on one of the chairs in the "living room," shirtless and wearing athletic shorts, bare feet up on the glass table. He was pretty well-built, especially in the abs. Well, he said he was a swimmer. I was suitably impressed.

Nick noticed me looking at Riley and whispered into my ear, "He's not bad, huh? Too bad he's taken."

I tried to quiety sigh overdramatically, but erred on the side of quiet. I followed up the failed attempt with a more dramatic, but still quiet, "All the hot guys are taken. What will I do?"

Nick smiled at me. Riley asked, "What're you two giggling about?"

"The table," Nick replied quickly. "Aren't the animals funny?"

Riley smiled at us, clearly knowing that wasn't what we were talking about. Then Paul walked out and put a waffle on each plate. "Eat up, boys. Michelle and I already ate." Riley yawned massively, then got up and sat next to Victor. Nick and I took the places opposite them. I loaded mine up with syrup and took a bite; it was pretty good.

"Where's Michelle?" Riley asked after a moment.

"She went out kayaking," Paul replied. "What do you guys want to drink? There's, um, orange juice...grape juice. Think that's it."

Orange was the all-around consensus. Victor said as that was being sorted out, "So, Cody, if you're up to it, I think we have to sort out this claim to being good at soccer."

I grinned at the challenge. "Of course. Are we doing some one on one thing or what?"

"Those are dumb," he said dismissively. "I figured these fools would play, and there's a couple kids around who might join too. There's nowhere to play in the yard — if you didn't notice, it's kinda a big hill — but there's a park like two minutes away."

"Okay, you're on."

Paul interjected, "Michelle says that she wants to go get clothes when she gets back, which'll be pretty soon."

"Okay," Nick said. "This little feud can wait."

Paul vanished off upstairs. We were finished with breakfast before long, then Nick said, "If you guys don't mind, I wanna have a talk."

"Okay," Victor said. "To the living room!"

We dealt with our dishes and went to the living room, sitting variously on couches and chairs. I sat somewhere separate from Nick for the first time since, well, since that shower that changed everything. It wasn't that I didn't want to be near him, just that it wasn't practical to be constantly touching. He didn't say anything, if he thought anything of it. Riley and Victor were also in separate seats, Riley sprawled on the couch and Victor curled in an armchair.

"So," Nick said. "Are you guys out?"

Ambiguous as his words were, no one had any confusion at all as to what he meant. Riley replied, "Well, sorta."

"What does that mean?"

"It means," Victor said after a moment's pause to consider his words, "that we tell most people that we're adopted. The story is that Riley's family and mine were good friends at home, in New Hampshire, our parents were in the same car that got hit by a drunk guy driving an eighteen wheeler. They were on their way to Foxwoods together, which they supposedly did occasionally. My aunt and uncle adopted me and, because Riley didn't have any family left, adopted him too."

He paused. "Of course, that's not true at all. Not only do we both have bigger families than just our parents — I have a little sister and brother, Riley has an older sis and, of course, his aunt and uncle — but our parents hate each other now, and were never related in any way except that their respective kids were friends. What really happened was that over a couple days after Thanksgiving last year Riley and I realized we were in love. By January our parents knew, hated us for it. My parents were a little more understanding than Riley's, my dad talked to his brother Paul about us, he and Michelle offered to take us in. My parents didn't really want to but couldn't live with me being gay; Riley's parents, the bastards, were all too happy to be rid of him. We got Paul and Michelle to be our legal guardians, and real adoptions are in the works. They're great people."

Riley took over, "Some of the school people and them all know that our parents aren't actually dead, but I don't think any of them know the real story. Kids at school just think we're good friends, 'cuz we're careful about what we do when people are around. There's two kids who know the truth — Jared and Sam. They're cool guys, and they don't really mind, though it weirded Sam out at first."

"So what do we tell people?" I asked, looking at Nick. "And what do we do about school and stuff? Do our parents need to sign or whatever?"

"Yeah," Riley said, "your parents need to work some legal things out with Paul and Michelle. That was something of a problem for me. We'll see, though."

Nick said, "What about what we'll tell people?"

No one said anything for a moment. Victor shifted around in his chair. I tried to think of something that would be reasonable, but came up with nothing.

"Cousins, here for a visit?" Riley suggested, then shook his head. "But there would be no reason to stay..."

"Well," Nick said. "It would be reasonable to say that Paul and Michelle just decided to take in two more kids, right?"

"Yeah, but why would you both need to be adopted at the same time?"

Nick shrugged. "Do we look close enough to be brothers whose parents just died?"

I watched Victor alternate his gaze between me and Nick. "Well...I guess so..."

"Yeah, maybe," Riley agreed tentatively. "But why different last names?"

Nick looked at me significantly. "I'm not too attached to being a Klickner," he said. "I'm not too proud of what one of them has done."

Was Nick asking to take my last name?

That sounded a lot like marriage to me....I felt a tingle run up my spine. I wasn't sure if it was a good tingle or not.

Seeing what was being proposed, Victor said, "I don't know if that would work unless you legally changed it, and that...we should talk to Paul and Michelle about this."

"Okay," Nick said. He continued, a little awkwardly, "Um, another thing; I feel bad about going and spending their money. I have some of my own, but not really that much, and I was wondering, well, what you guys did about that."

Victor said, "My parents try to send Paul and Michelle some money, to make up for the costs. They just never cash the checks. I think it makes my parents feel bad, like they're not allowed to have any part at all in my life, but, well, it's their own fault. They came to visit once, a couple months ago. That didn't work out too well." I saw that Riley grimaced at that last sentence; apparently it had been quite the unpleasant experience. "Like I said, they're good people. Plus, they're rich. They bought all that stuff since we came," Victor gestured towards the TV and its assorted paraphernalia, "and it barely made a dent. Paul's a pretty successful sculptor, and Michelle's parents were loaded."

Nick didn't look so satisfied with that answer, but didn't say any more.

"Sorry to hijack your talk, Nick, but well, you're done, right?" Riley asked. When Nick nodded, he went on, "Well, I was wondering...how did it happen with you two?"

I told a fairly brief overview, with Nick filling in. We just told the basic outline, prety much skipping all the juicy bits.

We were wrapping up, and I was about to ask for a similar story from them, when Michelle walked in. She said, "I'm going to take a shower, then I want to head to the store. Do you two want to come?"

"Shopping? How could I resist!" Riley said in mock delight.

Michelle rolled her eyes. "So are you coming?"

"No," he replied flatly, and the little impish grin that I had already seen several times spread over his face.

"Okay. Victor?"

"No, thanks, I think I can do without it."

"All right. Nick, Cody, I'll want to go in like twenty minutes."

"Okay," I said as she headed up the stairs. Nick stood up and followed, stopping to kiss me on the forehead on his way. "I'm gonna go take a shower."

I hopped to me feet and said, "I'll join you."

"Don't have too much fun, boys," Riley said, stretching out on the couch and shaking his hair around. "Twenty minutes."

Nothing witty came to mind, so I just headed upstairs and followed Nick into the bathroom. We showered together, and it was wonderful, though we didn't do anything more than touch.

After drying off, I put the same dirty clothes back on, and Nick put on his mostly-clean set from before. We got our wallets and such; Nick got his phone, which was still on silent, and checked it quickly to see that there were twenty missed calls — "That's the max it holds," he said, "there were probably more." They were all listed as either HOME or JAMES, in about equal amounts.

"We're gonna have to talk to them sometime, you know," he said.

"Yeah. But not now."

"Not now," he agreed, and we went downstairs.

Michelle was waiting for us. A still-shirtless Riley was now asleep on the couch, and Victor was listening to a CD on headphones (apparently he had an iPod shuffle) while watching his boyfriend sleep. He and Paul, who was reading on the porch, bid us farewell as we went off on our quest for clothes.

On the way there, we talked some to Michelle, about what we would tell people and how to get into school and such. She basically said that she didn't really like the brothers story, but had no superior story. She asked us for some more details about our relationship and how our parents had reacted to it, saying that she would need to talk to them pretty soon. Then we went to a couple stores and bought some clothes, Michelle putting it all on her credit card despite Nick's attempts to convince her otherwise. They were all pretty standard, nothing too interesting, though we did each choose some of each others' clothes. We bought mostly summer clothes, just one pair of long pants and a light sweatshirt each. She also insisted that we each get a raincoat, which we did. It all came to, well, a lot of money, several hundred dollars, but she tried to get us to buy even more than that. I had the feeling that this wasn't exactly how my parents thought we would be living. It certainly wasn't what I had expected.

* * *

After getting back, the four of us walked over to the park. It was pretty nice, I guess. There were a lot of trees and stuff, a big playground with some little kids running around in it, one little girl crying off on the side. That situation seemed in hand, though, what with the three adults doting on her, so I brought my attention to what was by far the most important feature: a good-sized field, with plastic soccer goals set up on either end. The grass was mostly dead — it was July, after all — but that wasn't so important.

Victor pointed out to us a pair of kids across the field. "That's Brendan and Eric, sitting by that tree. They're cool kids, but neither of them knows." He shouted at them, "Eric! Got your ball?"

The one who was apparently Eric produced a soccer ball from his side, and they both walked towards us. We headed to meet them.

"'Sup," Riley said when they got closer. "Brendan and Eric; Cody and Nick. They're gonna be living with me and Vic for a while."

"Hey"s and handshakes went around, then Riley asked, "Anyone else here yet?"

"Yeah, Tom and Sam are over playing basketball," Brendan said, gesturing vaguely behind him. Brendan and Eric were about the same height, both of them at just about Nick's level. It looked like Brendan was maybe a little bit shorter, but since they were all a foot taller than me, it was hard to tell. Eric was a redhead who looked pretty average otherwise; Brendan was on the thin side, but not scrawny; Riley mentioned that he was a swimmer, too.

We ambled over to the basketball court and met Tom and Sam. Sam was a biggish kid, in both height and overall size; I thought that he was one of the ones Riley and Victor had said knew the truth about them, but wasn't sure. He was more interested in the fact that we would be "livig with" them "for a while" than everyone else seemed to be, but didn't say anything just yet. Tom was about Victor's size and seemed, well, pretty average, though he had a really deep voice.

We hung around and took some shots for a couple minutes while we waited for the other people to show up; there were apparently two more coming. I avoided the basketball, not wanting to embarrass myself in front of everyone and ruin my first impression, so instead I talked to Victor and Sam about soccer, while sneaking peeks at Nick showing off his basketball.

Before long, Jared showed up, who I definitely remembered Riley said knew about them. He was a short black kid, just about my height. Riley said that he was the Frisbee star of the school, but Jared said that that was actually Riley.

A little bit later, the last kid, Addison, came. He was a swimmer too, and it looked like he had the same kind of lean muscle as Riley and Brendan. Apparently Eric swam too, but I doubted he was as good as the others; he looked a little bit chubby, you know, not especially fat but just kind of average, not really athletic. He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and as white as his name implied.

Teams were decided on while we walked over to the field; it was going to be me, Nick, Addison, Sam, and Tom against Riley, Victor, Jared, and Brendan.

Everyone but me and Victor turned out to be at best average, mostly just plain bad. Some of the other kids were faster than I was, but I could just juke them out and then I was gone. Victor and I ended up pretty much even overall; he was faster (longer legs) and probably in better shape, but I, at least, thought that I had better ball skills, and I was able to score more than he could. The exhiliration was amazing, though; outside of camp and travel teams, Victor was the best opponent I had ever played with.

But the day was getting hot and everyone but me and Victor was looking bored, so the ten of us ended up walking into town for sodas and pizza. The town was, I don't know, a regular suburban town — you know, dinky little shops that sold random things and candy and books, a cafe, a bagel shop, a pizza place. We ate pizza and hung out, got to know each other a little. I ended up deciding that Eric was probably overall something of an asshole who dismissed me offhand as a little kid, though he was occasionally funny, Addison was pretty cool, Victor was a little too serious most of the time and a little too goofy when he was fooling around but a nice guy, Riley was funny. Everyone else I didn't really talk to enough to see.

Well, yeah. After the food the ofur of us headed back to the house. I asked Victor, and he told me that yes, the Hendersens did indeed own not one but two boats: a Boston Whaler, a motorboat that he pointed out to me in the pond, and a sailboat, which was too big to go under the bridge without getting them to draw it, and so was in the harbor. Plus, they had the four kayaks and the inflatable Zodiac they used to get out to the boats.

It was hot out, so we ended up staying in the AC and playing some Halo. This was pretty satisfying, becuase even if we were pretty even in soccer, I whooped Victor up (and, coincidentally, Nick as well) in Halo. I attributed the fact that Riley was slightly better than me, winning most of the matches by a handful of points, to the "home screen advantage", and declared myself the overall winner.

* * *

That night, around eight, Paul and Michelle told us that we needed to sort things out with our parents and handed us a phone. They said that, without our parents' permission, if not blessing, we wouldn't be able to stay. Not only would we run into legal trouble — "Living with four teenagers will be enough, forget about kidnapping charges," Paul said — but they felt that they couldn't really bring themselves to keep kids whose parents wanted them back. "But we want to keep you here," Michelle said. "We wouldn't have bought so many clothes if you were just going to leave in a couple days."

"I don't know if my parents would give permission," Nick said. "But I won't be able to go back to them, no matter what."

"Well, try to convince them and we won't have to worry about that," was Paul's reply.

I offered to call first. I hoped to God that my dad answered the phone.

"Wait," Victor pointed out. "You might not want to let them know exactly where you are yet, right?"

"Yes," Nick replied firmly.

"Then you should use your cell, or they'll be able to look up the number and find it out."

"Good point," Nick said, and went to get his cell. He came back with it, handed it to me, and I dialled my own number, saw that picture of James with the cat-bed hat.

A few rings. and then the magic of telephone lines brought me my brother's voice.


I didn't want to talk to James. I didn't know how he would react. So I cleared my throat and tried to say in a voice deeper than my own, without being too ridiculous, "Is Mr. Malcom Fenner home, please?"

"Who is this?" He didn't sound suspicious or anything, just like he wanted to know to tell my dad who it was.

"I'm...uh..." My mind blanked completely. I think I lost the made-up voice, because Riley, who was sitting in a chair across from me, winced.

"Jesus, Cody, is that you?"

I didn't say anything.

"Cody, what the fuck. Mom and Dad were up all night calling people. You know the police are looking for you?"


"Cody, are you there?"

I didn't say anything for a moment. "Can I talk to Dad?"

James didn't answer my question, saying instead, "Cody, this whole thing with Nick is ridiculous. You're twelve, for Christ's sake, and you're not even gay. Come the fuck home."

"Just get Dad on the phone, James."

"He's asleep. You know why? Because he was up all night on the phone, worrying his ass off. Mom too, but now she's not here. You know where she is? I'm pretty sure she went to the bar, of all places. Fuck, Cody. You're being such a little kid right now."

"James," I said, my voice firm now. "Just wake him up. I need to talk to him."

"Alright. One minute. Asshole."

I heard the receiver being put on the table, and then there was silence for a while. Then a click, and an exhausted voice: "Cody?"

"Hi, Dad," I said. I could barely hear myself, but what I did hear sounded ridiculously high and squeaky.

"Where are you, Cody?"

"i'm...I'm with some people who understand me." Nick, who was sitting next to me on the couch, put a protective arm around my shoulders.


"Dad, I...I don't think I can live at home. Mom's too ridiculous. You know she locked me up in my room for those four days, even though she knew that Nick was on Long Island with his aunt and uncle?"

"Cody, Mrs. Pazzinia said that she saw you climb out of your window Wednesday morning."


"Listen, Cody, you're not old enough to —"

"Dad, don't even finish. You know James had sex when he was in seventh grade?"

"What?" He was shocked. It was true, though.

"Yeah. More than once. They did it once in the backyard and I saw them, him and...her." I had been in third grade at the time, and James had ended up having to give me quite a lengthy explanation about things of that sort.

He took a second before he replied, "Okay, well, I'll need to talk to him about that. But it's irrelevant. I know that you and Nick are having sex anyway —"

"But neither of us is going to get pregnant! Would you rather have a kid who you and your wife forced out of the house at twelve, or have been a grandfather at age forty-one? They didn't even use a condom!"

"Cody, you're not going to accomplish anything by ratting on your brother. That has nothing to do with the matter. You need to come home."

"No. What I need is people who understand me, who are willing to accept the fact that I'm in love, with a boy."

"Let me talk to him," Michelle said quietly, and I handed her the phone. While she talked, I laid my head in Nick's lap, and he stroked my hair.

"I didn't know James had sex in seventh grade," he said quietly.

"Well, he did," I shrugged. "I saw them doing it. In third grade, no less. It was very scarring."

"With who?"


"Oh, yeah," Nick said. "He was going out with her for a while. I remember that. Weird that he didn't tell anyone. In seventh grade I would've."

"I didn't tell anyone about me and you," I smiled. He let out a "heh" that was kind of half a chuckle, and stroked my cheek.

Then Michelle was holding the phone out, so I took it and said "Hi." My only reply was a dial tone, and laughter.

"We sorted it out, for now," Michelle said when she finished with her laugh at my expense. "He's going to talk to your mom and they'll call again tonight. He didn't sound totally opposed to the idea by the time I was done. I've done so much convincing of parents, as a teacher, that I've gotten pretty good at it." She paused a moment. "He sounded like a reasonable guy."

"Yeah, well, you haen't talked to my mom." I handed the phone to Nick.

His call sounded pretty agitated. I figured it was his dad. I kind of zoned out of what was being said and instead focused on little things to calm him down, because he was geting really angry at his parents, and justified though the anger undoubtably was, it made me uneasy. So I rubbed his shoulders and stuff for a little while, and he ran his fingers through my hair. It was a little rougher than usual, but that was okay.

Eventually he handed the phone to Michelle, and she had a long and also somewhat agitated conversation with what sounded like was probably both of Nick's parents. As soon as the phone was in her hand, I kissed Nick. He seemed deflated and didn't really respond, so I just laid my head in Nick's lap and let him stroke my hair. Riley and Victor were now sitting on the smaller couch opposite us, holding hands and with uncomfortable expressions on their faces. Riley gave me a little uneasy smile when he saw that I was looking at him. Paul was in the kitchen, mercilessly scrubbing a pot that could not have possibly still been dirty.

Michelle closed the phone, gave a terse smile, and wordlessly handed Nick his phone. She stood for a moment, looking at him, then finally said, "I an see why you needed to leave. I'll see what I can do. Maybe we can get your mom to sign the papers."

Then she walked upstairs, and Paul followed her after a minute. The four of us sat there in a profoundly uncomfortable silence for quite a while before Nick said that he wanted to go for a walk.

"Do you want me to go with you?" I asked.

"I'd rather be alone for a little bit," he said.

"Do you know where you're going?" Riley asked.

"Not really."

"I don't want you getting lost. Here, I'll show you how to get to the real beach, that's nice at night."


"I'll just show you how to get there, and then if you think you can find your own way back I'll leave you alone if you want. Come on, let's go." And then they were gone.

Numbly, I walked out to the porch and stared at the dark pond. Then, without really thinking about what I was doing, I walked down to the little beach there. The water was calm enough for me to just stick my feet in without worrying about waves getting the rest of me wet, so I did that.

Then, inexplicably, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Almost instantly, then I was full-out sobbing, crying as hard as I ever had in my life. Victor, who must have followed me down, put a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged it off almost violently and curled into a ball to wallow in my misery.

* * *

I went to bed pretty soon afterwards, and laid there for at least two or three hours, tossing and turning. Finally I drifted off, but was awakened at what must have been the middle of the night when Nick climbed into bed next to me. I cuddled up next to him, and now he responded with an affectionate kiss on the forehead. We settled into my favorite, spooning, and I fell into a sound sleep almost immediately.