Letters In The Sand

by Marc Vad

Part One

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled, and the rain beating relentlessly against the windows only added to the cold, lonely feeling creeping through me. Distant lightning flashed and the shadows it created danced across the room. When the inevitable crack of thunder finally rolled past our little seaside cottage, I could feel myself begin to tremble. As I pulled the blanket up tight to my chin, I couldn't help thinking to myself, 'I just hate being alone! I really fucking hate it!' Ever since I was a little kid I hated it, but I wasn't about to let my parents know that. No frigging way was I going to admit it to them.

I knew all about it way before we got here. I said I could stay by myself, that I was too old for them to have someone watch me. Hell, I was fifteen for Pete's sake. I could handle this. At least I thought so. Being stuck here alone, in a totally new place and in the middle of a summer storm to boot, was just too much though.

My mom and dad just had to go all the way back to the city for some big shit get-together with friends on our first night here and said they would be late. Who the hell did they know way out here anyway? Christ, we're like a thousand miles from home! I was so little when we moved away I can't even remember the last time I was here! Damn it, knowing the way they are at parties, I'm not so sure they'll make it back tonight at all.

Sitting in the small living room with all the lights on and the TV blaring I tried to make the best of things. I relaxed (or at least I tried to), but every time the wind shifted, the cottage made this weird creaking noise that sounded like a door. I kept telling myself it was all nothing, but as the storm raged overhead I felt myself tensing up even more.

As if all this weren't bad enough, to make matters even worse, all there was on TV tonight was some shitty old thriller type murder mystery on the movie classics channel called "Wait Until Dark". Go figure!

I threw another blanket over myself and adjusted the pillows on the sofa so I could see the TV a little better. It was too soon after dinner (if you could call frozen pizza a dinner) to be hungry, and way too early to go to bed. When I pulled the covers up under my chin and settled in for a long night in front of the tube there was a bright flash of lightning. Not a zillionth of a second later I heard a crack of thunder that made the whole house rattle.

Fuck!!! If there is anything I hate more than being at home all alone in a bad storm, it's being at home all alone in a bad storm with all the freaking lights out!!!

I shot up off the sofa so fast my feet got all tangled in the covers and I fell flat on my face. "Damn it!" As I sat upright on the floor and began to unravel myself from the clot of blankets around my feet I wondered what else could possibly go wrong tonight!

The house was pitch black! Of course, I had never given a single thought to getting some candles or a flashlight ready. So, when I managed to get up I began groping my way to the kitchen. Once there, I rummaged through drawers for anything that might help to cut through the darkness. After what seemed like an hour of scrambling around I managed to find a candle stub way in the back of the bottom drawer. I got a match from the box over the kitchen stove and struck it. The flash from the match seemed even brighter than the lightning outside but it did make me feel a little better. Just a little.

"Well, now what do I do?" I said to myself.

There wasn't any answer.

I went back into the living room and placed the candle on the coffee table then looked out the window to where the next house was down the road. That was the place where Dad's friend lived, the ones we were here to visit. What did Dad say his name was? Damn it! I was sure he said what it was. I think it was Ryan or something Irish like that.

Wouldn't you just freaking know that their lights would be still working! If there had to be one single place in the whole miserable world that the lights just had to go out, of course, it would have to be the place I'm stuck in alone!

The big house down the road looked creepy in the dark, real creepy. I remembered when we were driving by the place earlier this afternoon; I thought to myself about how lonely it must be living way out on a point sticking out into the ocean. The place was huge, three stories and was one of those old time houses that you'd expect to find in an Anne Rice novel. You know; the kind of house where the vampire keeps his coffin in the basement. Man, why the hell do I keep thinking of this shit?

The road we had to use to get here went right by the place and dead-ended here at our little cottage. Dead-ended! Damn it! There I go again!

"All right Patrick, get a grip on yourself!" I caught myself talking to myself again, then added aloud, "Stop that, people are gonna think you're freaking nuts!" Then I thought for a second and added, aloud, "What fucking people!?"

I didn't know if it was the stress of being alone, in the dark, and in a bad storm to boot, but all of a sudden I was hungry again. No not hungry, starving! I was starving! So, I picked up my candle and headed back into the kitchen to see what I could scrounge up. My first instinct in my quest for sustenance was to look into the fridge but I remembered somewhere someone saying something about not opening a fridge door when the lights go out.

Man, who makes up all these stupid rules anyway? A person could starve to death waiting for the lights to come back on. Well, being the good boy that I was, I turned toward the cupboard to see what I could scrape up in there. In a few minutes I managed to find a bag of cookies and a jar of peanut butter.

"Well, it's better than nothing." I stopped and thought about it for a second, but I couldn't really remember whether I had said that out loud or not. Oh what the hell! I was all alone and I could do whatever the hell I wanted in my own house.

I took my cookies and peanut butter, got a Pepsi out of the fridge (damn it!!! Now I'm in for it!!!), and went back into the living room to pig out for a while. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and hunched over my snack. Smearing gobs of peanut butter up with the cookies and washing this mess down with Pepsi it finally hit me. "Shit! The TV is out too!!"

Doomed to total boredom! Arghhhhhhh!!! Is there no justice in the universe?!?!

You'd think that a healthy, reasonably smart just turned fifteen-year-old boy would be able to find something to occupy his time. NOT!!! I want my TV!!!

I dragged an old magazine across the coffee table and tried to read a little, but one candle doesn't give a lot of light so I soon gave that idea up.

"Hey, at least I was trying!"

It is really weird how, no matter what size bag of cookies you start with, there is always way more peanut butter than cookies. Well, not willing to be outdone by a jar of peanut butter I scooped up a huge gob of the thick stuff with one of my three last remaining cookies and maneuvered it into my mouth. Not being one to give up too soon I returned to the magazine and tried to look at the pictures.

Knock, knock, knock...

Whoa!!! I thought I heard something and strained to see if I could hear it again.

Knock, knock, knock...

For a second or two I froze. Then, as I slowly turned around and looked toward the window in the front door, a flash of lightning revealed the dark silhouette of a huge figure standing on the front step. Jesus H. Christ! I almost choked. I noticed that I was shaking as I reached to pick up my candle. I used one hand to pull the blanket tight and held on to the candle with the other as I crept to the door.

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK...

I jumped again, spilling hot wax on my hand and I yelped, dropping the candle to the floor. I took a deep breath to try to calm myself and then made my way in the dark to the front door. The shadow of a man moved across the window and I froze. For a second all the creepy horror movies I had ever seen flashed through my mind and I swore right then to never watch another one. I took a deep breath and asked, "Ooohthere?" Damn peanut butter! I began to chew and lick my teeth and swallow it all down as fast as I could and I asked again, "Who's there?"

The man's voice boomed over the howling of the wind. "I'm Tom Riley, your Dad's friend, you know, from the house up the road. Your father asked if I would look in on you in case anything happened."

I remembered something in the back of my mind about my Dad saying that his friend that lived in the big house would watch out for trouble, but as usual I only paid half attention to him. Moving a bit closer to the window, I could see a big man standing in a black, hooded raincoat. I didn't expect him to switch on his flashlight right then and I jumped back. I swore to myself under my breath for being such a wimp but as my eyes slowly adjusted to the light, I saw a friendly face that I kind of thought I remembered. I just couldn't be sure.

I removed the chain, and fought to hold onto the door as the wind and rain blew in with him. "Phew... Hello." I heard a friendly voice from under the hood of a dripping wet rain jacket. "You can't be Patrick. My lord, you were only two feet tall the last time I saw you. I'm your father's friend, Tom, Tom Riley?" Mr. Riley pulled the hood of his rain jacket down and I saw his face in the dim light.

I managed to swallow the rest of my peanut butter and answered hesitantly, "Yes sir, I think so, sir." Then after licking my teeth one last time, I asked, "You said my Dad asked if...?"

Almost impatiently the man cut me off saying, "Yes. Like I said; if any thing happened would we look in on you?"

"Oh, Ok, thanks." What else could I say? Grownups, they never tell you half the story or if they do manage to get it all out they should at least make sure you listen to it!

"That lightning hit the pole right next to the cottage. It's still smoking some," Mr. Riley remarked.

I thought about it for a second and said, "Really? I thought it might have hit the house."

"No, the cottage is fine. I walked around and checked before coming to the door." He added, "I'll call the power company from the house when we get back there."

I smiled as I answered, "Thank you, sir."

Mr. Riley went to a picture on the living room wall and opened it like a little door. Behind the picture there was a fuse box and as he tried all the breakers he said, "That's all right. Looks like the power is out at the pole, why don't you get your foul weather gear and come along to our place until your Mom and Dad get home. You can leave a note so they won't worry."

I didn't really want to go out in this storm, but I didn't really want to stay alone any more either, so I answered, "Yes sir, but I don't have a rain suit."

Mr. Riley didn't skip a beat as he said, "Hmm, well Patrick, bundle up as best you can. Do you have a coat?"

"Yes sir, well it's just a jacket," I admitted.

The friendly looking man smiled and said, "You can drop the 'sir' OK. The name is Tom." He smiled as he continued. "Let me check the kitchen for a trash bag."

"Yes sir, I mean Tom." I smiled in the dim light as I went to get my coat.

I went into my tiny room and plucked the jacket from the hook behind the door. While I was out of the living room, I couldn't help thinking that I was sure I knew Mr. Riley from somewhere. I knew that I had seen him before but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I really do need to start paying better attention to what my parents tell me.

I returned to find Tom standing by the door with a big trash bag and I asked, "What's the garbage bag for?"

Tom smiled and pulled out a pen knife and made three slits in the bag, one for my head and two for my arms. He then rolled it up and had me put it on like sort of a poncho. We left a short note on the table for my Mom and Dad and as we locked the door and left the little cottage behind, Tom remarked, "Your father must have mentioned that we lived next door?"

"I think so," I answered half absently while shielding my face from the flying rain and sand. The wind was howling through the treetops and made the whole scene seem unreal.

As we walked along, Tom laughed and said, "Good. Well, your father and I have been friends since we were in grade school you know. We were really close until we each left for college. That's why you're all here."

The wind was picking up and it seemed like the rain was going more sideways than down. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the rain from his face. I looked up to my father's friend and asked, "What do you mean?"

Mr. Riley explained, "Well, sometimes friends grow apart, take different paths in life, and when that happens, sometimes even the best of friends lose touch. Your Dad and I figured it was about time that we all get reacquainted." As we walked down the road that led back to the big white house, he added, "You know, you were only a baby when I last saw you and your family."

I smiled as I tried to hide my embarrassment at being referred to as a 'baby'. Just about the last thing a fifteen-year-old boy wants to hear is that he was ever a baby.

Walking along the dark road, we tried our best to shield ourselves against the wind and the driving rain but no matter what I did I just kept getting wet. It was still the middle of August but the temperature was unusually cold for this time of year. The lightning was flaring in the far distance and made the horizon look like a far away sea battle was being waged. The muted rolls of thunder only added to the desolate scene.

As we approached the Riley house and turned down the driveway I noticed that someone was watching out for us through one of the upstairs windows. Whoever it was, he or she was too small to be a grown up and I was more than a little curious about who it was.

Tom looked up and noticed the figure as well; he waved to the shadow in the window as he said, "Ahh, that's Braden, my son. You'll meet him in a few minutes."

I looked up as the boy waved back and then he turned from the window and disappeared into the room leaving the curtains to swish back into place. For a moment I thought I heard Mr. Riley say something else, but I couldn't make it out. In the howling wind I could barely hear him. I didn't know if he was speaking to me or if it was the wind playing tricks. Not wanting to seem rude, like I wasn't paying attention, I asked, "What? Sorry, I couldn't hear you."

He stopped for a second and turned to look at me as if he were going to repeat what he said. He took a deep breath and said, "Oh, it's nothing. Come on, we're almost there." Mr. Riley smiled at me and then turned back to the long driveway. I could tell he was in a hurry to get home and I could also tell there was something more to all this. I couldn't help but wonder just what it was.

When we ascended the six or seven steps leading up to a wide porch, one of the two doors swung open and an older woman came out, quickly ushering us into the foyer of the huge house and closing the door against the storm. Mr. Riley smiled widely at the older lady and said as he pulled off his foul weather suit. "Oh brother; what a storm! I wouldn't want to have to make that trip twice in one night."

Then, Mr. Riley said to me with a smile, "Patrick, this is my Mother, Mrs. Riley." Turning to his mom, he added, "Mother, this is Patrick, Andy and Deborah's son."

The older lady smiled from ear to ear and happily said, "Surely you're joking." Then, as she came closer, looking me over, up one side and down the other she added, "My lord! You do look like your father when he was your age. I would hardly believe you are the same little boy whose diapers I used to change."

I could feel my face getting hot and I knew I was blushing. The thought of this nice old lady seeing me buckety ass naked made me want to crawl through a crack in the floor. I smiled and held out my hand, and shook hers quickly trying to change the subject, saying, "Pleased to meet you Ma'am. You really knew my Dad when he was a kid?"

The nice lady patted my cheek and with a little chuckle looked at her son, and said, "It's like looking at a photograph, isn't it?" Then, she looked back at me and happily added, "Your father and Thomas spent many summers here while they were growing up."

"Really? I think I remember hearing my Dad talking about that." I remembered one Christmas when I was little and the family was looking at old photo albums and I was asking who everybody was in the pictures. "I remember one Christmas back when I was a kid. We were looking at some really old pictures. I think your house was in some of them, Ma'am."

I suddenly got that creepy feeling that I was being watched. When I looked around, I noticed a boy standing quietly at the top of the stairs. I smiled, but the boy didn't move an inch. Mr. Riley then turned and said, "Braden, this is Patrick. Please come down, son." As Braden reached the bottom of the stairs, his father said, "Patrick, this is my son, Braden."

I held my hand out to him and Braden hesitantly shook it as I said, "Hi." Braden just nodded as Mrs. Riley took my hand and led me into the parlor where there was a nice fire blazing in the hearth.

Without wasting any time she said, "Now child, come in and get warm before you catch your death of cold. Lord, you are nearly soaked through to the bone." She looked to Braden as he followed us into the large room and asked, "Bring some towels, dear, would you please?"

Braden answered almost in a whisper, "Yes ma'am, right away Grandma." He disappeared back into the house through another door and quickly returned with two towels, handing them to his grandmother.

The parlor was huge and definitely took a Grandmother to decorate. It had a big, soft, comfy looking sofa and chairs. Lots of pictures on the walls and it even had the Grandmother smell to it. You know what I mean, like old wood, nice perfume and home made chocolate chip cookies all mixed together. My grandparents were all gone and all of a sudden I kind of felt a twinge of envy mixed with a little sadness.

Once in front of the fire, I peeled out of my wet coat and handed it to Tom as he took it to the kitchen to hang it up along with his rain gear. Mrs. Riley smiled sweetly at Braden, saying, "Thank you, dear." Braden almost smiled as he sat down at the edge of the fire. Mrs. Riley handed one of the towels to me and held one out to her son as he returned.

Mr. Riley smiled as he raised his towel and mopped the rain from his face then threw it over his neck as he asked, "Mother, is the cocoa ready?"

"OH! My yes! I almost forgot! It'll be just a minute," and the nice lady bustled off disappearing into the kitchen.

I was nearly soaked to the skin and was beginning to feel it. I stood in front of the fireplace and tried to warm myself but it seemed that as my front got warm, my backside got cold and when I turned to warm my backside my front turned to ice. Braden moved to a seat just to the side of the hearth in a nice comfy looking chair and silently watched me as I spun in front of the fire.

After a few seconds, Mrs. Riley returned with a tray loaded with mugs and cookies and a large pitcher of hot cocoa and went about serving the hot sweet drink. As Braden's Grandma passed out hot steamy mugs of cocoa she said in good Grandmotherly fashion, "Now don't spill any of this on my new carpet." As she placed the tray of cookies with the remainder of the cocoa on the coffee table, she added, "And mind the cookie crumbs too."

Her kind attentions were rewarded with a resounding group, "Yes Ma'am."

"Well children, it's late, and I need my beauty sleep, so I'll say goodnight now." Mrs. Riley gave us a wide smile and left us to our cocoa. Before she left the room, she said to her son, "Oh Tom, get Patrick some dry clothes before he gets pneumonia, would you dear?"

"Yes mother. We'll be turning in shortly too," Tom agreed.

Braden was about the same age and build as me so I knew his clothes would fit me. The thought of getting out of these wet clothes made me feel a little better.

As we sipped our cocoa I noticed through the corner of my eye that Braden was watching me. Whenever I shifted my position in front of the fire he would quickly turn away, but his eyes always drifted back to me. I thought to myself that he might just be shy with new people, but there was something more. Braden seemed to be here, yet far away at the same time. I got the feeling that something was not being said. Something was wrong; I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.

I tried to think of something to say, but I didn't want to begin our new friendship by breaking rule one of the kids' book of survival, 'never talk about stuff in front of the parents'. Before I was forced to say something totally lame, Mr. Riley broke the silence by saying, "Well Patrick, it looks like you'll be spending the night." Then to Braden, "Why don't you take Patrick to your room and find him something dry to put on?"

Braden nodded and answered, "Yes Dad." He put down his unfinished cocoa then got up out of his chair and waited silently as I quickly finished mine.

As we started upstairs, Braden seemed to loosen up a little bit, he kind of half smiled as he said, "my Dad and Grandma have rooms right upstairs, but my room is up on the third floor." He took off at a good clip and I followed.

We climbed the stairs to the second floor being careful not to disturb Braden's Grandmother and we walked down the hall to a door at the far end. Braden opened it to reveal yet another set of stairs on the back side of the house which led both up to the third floor and down to the kitchen. As we started up to the third floor Braden asked almost as if he were afraid to, "So w... what kind of video games do you have?"

I was happy for any reason to break the ice with Braden and I quickly answered, "I've got a Play Station II and an old Nintendo that I hardly use any more, but I still like to play some of the old games. I had a PS I, but I sold it to get enough money to buy the new one."

Braden smiled a little as he said, "I just got a Play Station II for my birthday and I probably have the same old Nintendo as you."

I could see that Braden was trying hard to open up and I wanted to keep the conversation going so I added, "I like mostly adventuring games and games where you have to solve some sort of puzzle or problem."

Braden turned to face me as he continued, "Really, me too! Do you have the Riven series?"

"I played the first two, but I don't have the third yet. Ever play Parasite Eve? That one is pretty intense?"

"Yeah I've played it, it's OK," Braden admitted.

When we got to the top of the winding stairway we came upon a landing with three doors. Braden went directly to the door opposite the stairway and opened it. He led the way and I followed him in. As we entered his bedroom I was amazed. It was really huge for a kid's room and had about everything a kid of about fifteen could ever possibly want. There was a really nice stereo with a CD changer, a computer with a nineteen-inch monitor, a TV with a VCR and a DVD player too not to mention a surround audio system and video games. I thought I had died and gone to kid heaven.

All I could say was, "Whoa! You really have a cool room dude!"

Braden seemed to brighten and for a moment looked proud at the compliment but that soon faded as he crossed the room to the stereo, pushed two or three buttons and music began seeping from what seemed every crack and corner if the room. I asked the name of the band and he replied, "Sigur Ros, they're a band from Iceland." Next he went to the nightstand and switched on a small lamp and he asked, "Wanna turn off the overhead light? It's way too bright in here."

"Um... Sure." I turned and hit the switch on the wall.

Braden went to his dresser and pulled out a pair of boxers, sweat pants and a matching sweatshirt and handed them to me. Then he sat on the corner of the bed and absently began thumbing through a handful of CD's.

I slowly unbuttoned my wet shirt, pulling it off and quickly slipped the warm fleece shirt on. After being totally wet from the forced march here, it felt real good to be dry and warm again. At least the top half of me was dry and warm.

All of a sudden I was feeling nervous I don't know why, but I just felt a little uneasy. I had never had to undress in front of a total stranger before, at least not all alone in a strange bedroom. Sure, I was on the swim team at home, and we all used a common locker room and showers, but I knew all those guys since practically the first day of school. Somehow this felt different.

I wasn't really shy, at least I didn't think I was, but now, all at once I was feeling kind of weird. Maybe it was the way Braden kept looking at me when he didn't think I was paying attention. Maybe it was the way he always turned away just as I caught him. There was just something about Braden, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Well, it had to be done, so I turned myself away from Braden and kicked off my shoes and unbuckled my belt. Next, after pausing to quickly plan each and every move in my head, I quickly pulled off my pants and underwear in one motion, jumping into the boxers as fast as I could. I nearly fell twice during this maneuver but I did manage to change without losing any of my fifteen-year-old dignity.

When I turned, I was surprised to see Braden smiling and looking right at me.

Without thinking, I blurted out, sharply, "What the hell are you looking at!?"

The smile quickly evaporated from Braden's face to a look of utter amazement, and he retorted, "Nothing. I mean, you just looked so funny, trying to change so fast." He could not hold it in any more and burst into a fit of laughter, adding, "I thought you were going to land right on your ass."

I had thought I had changed relatively unnoticed, but now, knowing I had an audience; even if it was just an audience of one I felt a little foolish, like a little kid getting caught doing some really lame. All I could think of saying was, "Oh, so what!" Brilliant comeback! That'll really make him think! Damn it, sometimes I can be such an ass.

That just made Braden laugh even harder, and when I thought about it a little more, I guess it was kind of funny. I sat on the edge of the bed next to him and laughed right along with him.

As we returned to earth, we began the arduous process of getting to be friends. Talking all about the schools we went to and the new ones we were going to be starting in this year. We were both glad to finally get to go to high school.

We talked about our best subjects in school and the worse ones too. We covered the sports we liked, we both enjoyed running and biking, but Braden was into soccer and I was on the swim team and the boxing team. We had both seen the same movies in the last year or so and we had basically the same tastes in music; both liking rock and hating most hip-hop and everything country.

Being teens, we totally agreed that we had a moral obligation to subsist on the three basic food groups, cheeseburgers, pizza and macaroni and cheese from a box and hate anything that was even remotely good for us. I was a Reese's Cup man and he liked Butterfingers. I was a Pepsi drinker and he was heavily into Mountain Dew. Of course, chocolate milk shakes hands down, held a place of honor in our junk food hall of fame.

It was well past midnight and as we talked and laughed I could see that we were hitting it off just great. We were disappointed but didn't argue when Braden's Dad called up to us saying it was time for us to quiet down and go to bed.

Bed! That's when it hit me! There was only one bed in the room! Granted, it was a king-sized bed but there was still only one! I had never, ever, shared a bed with someone else in my entire life.

Braden began to strip down to his underwear and just threw the dirty clothes in the corner. So much for the fastidious boy. He then pulled down the bedspread and turned down the covers asking, "If it's nice tomorrow, wanna go to the cove and go swimming?"

Once again, I did my best-choreographed attempt at getting undressed without losing too much of my dignity. All in one fluid motion I pulled off the sweat pants, sat on the edge of the bed then slipped under the covers, and I did all this without a single mishap. As I pulled the covers up to my chin I answered, "Sure, if the rents ok it." Then I added, "That sounds like fun."

As we settled in for a good nights sleep Braden reached for the remote and turned down the music, switched off the light and rolled over facing me. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could catch a glimpse of him watching me again. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep and in a few minutes felt him sliding a little closer to me.

I wondered what he was doing; then, I opened one eye, just a little and saw him still looking at me. I thought to myself that maybe he wasn't used to having another person in his bed also, so I just rolled over and closed my eyes again....

Morning at the Riley house apparently came pretty early, and Braden's Dad was pounding on the door saying, "Come on you guys, Grandma has breakfast almost ready." Then he added quietly, "And you know how she gets if you let it get cold Braden."

Braden answered, through a haze of sleepiness, "Ok Dad, we'll be right down." And he pulled off the covers and rolled out of bed.

I noticed Braden was sporting a mean piece of morning wood and was kind of embarrassed when I realized I was too. Again, when he thought I wasn't looking I caught him sneaking a good peek. I was a little embarrassed but I did my best to hide it by just ignoring his curiosity and quickly slipping back into the sweat pants he had given me the night before.

Braden however seemed to like the idea of parading around with a hard on. He went to the dresser and took out a clean pair of boxers and without any apparent second thought, stripped naked and after stretching for a few seconds pulled the clean pair on.

This little show kind of made me think about if whether or not Braden was trying to prove something, and if he was, just exactly what? Was it just that he was a little more comfortable with his body than I was? Or was it a show put on just for me?

What made me really think was why I noticed he had a boner at all?

As we headed downstairs we stopped and took turns in the bathroom, we both needed to go pee and we washed our hands and faces.

Mrs. Riley had to have been busy in the kitchen for at least an hour to be able to prepare the breakfast she had spread out on the table. There was bacon and sausages, eggs and French toast with real Vermont maple syrup and real homemade home fries, not the little hockey pucks you get at Burger Swill. The table was set for three so Braden and I joined his father while Mrs. Riley flew around the kitchen making sure all her men got plenty to eat.

I smiled at the nice lady and asked, "Aren't you going to have any breakfast Ma'am?"

Mrs. Riley patted my cheek just like my Grandmother used to do and said, "Now don't you worry about me dear, I've already had mine." I smiled and decided right then that I was going to like Braden's Grandmother.

Mr. Riley said around a piece of sausage, "I called your parents already Patrick, they said you were to stop by and see them after breakfast."

Braden looked kind of disappointed when he asked, "Do you think we can still go to the cove to go swimming later?"

"Sure. Why not?" I smiled, and then I popped a sausage into my mouth and then asked, "Why don't you come along with me? I want you to meet my parents."

Braden smiled at that and answered, "Sure!" And then as he went back to scarfing down his breakfast, he asked, "Gram, is it all right if I go with Patrick?"

Mrs. Riley turned from the stove, saying, "Of course dear." Then she playfully swatted her kitchen towel toward him as she scolded, "Braden, what did I tell you about eating too fast?"

All he did was smile as he slid another sausage into his mouth, but he did slow down a bit anyway.

I was getting full and by the looks of the others they were too. Mr. Riley slowed down to just sipping his coffee and as his mother refilled his cup she took his plate and immediately washed it, dried it and put it away just like she had done thousands of times before.

Braden and I finished about the same time and I scraped off my plate and brought it to the sink. Braden looked at me like I had suddenly grown three new heads and the old one was on fire and said in a half joking tone, "You are not going to get any points around here for doing that."

Mrs. Riley turned half way from the sink and answered, "Now don't you be so sure about that young man." As she smiled and took my plate, saying to me, but directed to the other two in the room, "Why thank you dear. It would do a couple of people good to learn some manners from our fine guest."

Braden and his Dad both looked at each other in mock indignation and argued, "What's wrong with our manners?"

"Thank you Ma'am." I looked at the older lady and gave her a wide grin.

"Now Braden you can bring me your plate and since you're done with your breakfast, why don't you walk Patrick home before he gets into trouble?" She instructed.

"Ok, Grandma." Braden smiled his best false smile at his Grandma, and stuck his tongue out at me when he thought she wasn't looking as he reluctantly brought his plate to the sink.

As if she had eyes in the back of her head, Mrs. Riley said, "Now stop that Braden."

She tried to swat him again with her dish towel and as he ducked out of the way just in time he laughed, saying, "Yes Gram."

"Now run along and keep out of trouble." And to me she added, "Patrick, it was nice meeting you. You're welcome here anytime."

"Thank you Ma'am. And thanks again for rescuing me last night." I said with a big smile. Mrs. Riley placed her hand on my cheek and smiled sweetly but didn't say a word. She didn't need to.

As Braden and I went out the back door of the kitchen, leading through to the laundry room then out to the back yard. I looked out to the horizon from the back yard of the huge old house, which sat on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. Across the back yard the fence opened to a long set of stairs built into the hillside which led to the beach about one hundred feet below. Every so often there was a small landing with a bench to look out at either the beautiful sheltered cove or the ocean beyond.

The cove was indeed beautiful; it was a sheltered inlet with a crescent shaped beach about one half mile long at the southernmost end and the steep bluff rose sharply on either side. The blue water was accented with several small sailboats tied to mooring buoys in the middle of the cove. Dinghies traveled back and forth as people went to check for any storm damage on their boats or to prepare for a weekend sail.

We walked around to the other side of the house and headed for the sand track that led back to the remote little cottage. The storm had run its course and it was a beautiful morning. You know, the kind of morning with a little breeze and warm sun and that clean smell that only happens after a good rain. The kind of morning that just begged for a couple of boys to forget about everything and just laze around down on the beach. Which is exactly what we had planned to be doing. First though, I had to check in at home and get my swimming trunks and a towel.

It didn't take too long before we were turning into the drive of our cottage. My Dad was about to climb into the car just as we got there and he stopped and said, "Hello Pat, did you have a good night?" Then he added, "You must be Braden? Hello, I'm Andy Hall."

"Pleased to meet you sir," Braden replied.

"Same here, I'm sorry but I really have to run, I'm meeting your father in town on business and I'm running late," Dad apologized. Then, as he was getting into the car he added, "We'll see you later at the bar-b-q." Then to me he said, "Pat, your mother is in the kitchen. Be sure you see her before you go running off."

"Yes, Dad," I answered. My Dad was pretty cool as far as Dads go I guess. I could talk to him about just about anything and he always tried to give me the best answer he could. As my Dad backed out of the driveway and headed down the lane, Braden and I went into the house to find my mom.

Just like Dad said, my mom was busy in the tiny kitchen making all sorts of salads for the bar-b-q later this evening. We walked in and I went right to the fridge and got Braden and myself a Pepsi, saying, "Sorry dude, there isn't any Mountain Dew." Then I asked my mom, "When did they get the lights back on?"

Mom didn't look away from the onion she was chopping and said, "Hello dear. The truck was leaving just as we got in last night. Did you have a nice night? I'm sorry we got home so late but the roads were a mess."

"That's ok mom, Mr. Riley came by and rescued me," I said giving her a little kiss on the cheek. "Oh, mom this is Braden Riley, Braden this is my mom."

She finished chopping her onion and wiped her hands with a towel then turned to Braden saying, "Oh my, how you do look like your father. Hello Braden, it's nice to meet you."

"Thank you Ma'am, it's nice to meet you too. Did you know my Dad when he was a kid too?" Braden queried.

Mom kind of stared off into space as if she was actually looking at her past. "Well, let me see; my family started coming to the cove when I was a freshman in high school, so I would have been about fourteen or fifteen when I first met your Dad."

"That's when you met Dad too, isn't it?" I asked.

"Yes, it sure was," Mom said with a huge smile, and then she added, "Have you boys had your breakfast?"

I let out a grunt, adding, "And did we ever! Braden's Grandmother fixed us a killer breakfast, I'm stuffed." I said as I pulled a bag of cookies from the cupboard and tore it open, offering some to Braden.

"Yes, I can see that," She said with a wry smile.

"Mom, I told you cookies aren't food," I replied as I chucked another cookie into my mouth.

"Please Pat; don't talk with your mouth full." That was my mom, all the way. She constantly worked at making sure I used all my manners, cleaned my room, and brought my dishes to the sink after meals. I guess that was what mothers were for, and I loved her for it.

"Sorry mom. Is it all right if I go to the beach with Braden?" then quickly added, "Please."

"I don't see why not," Mom answered as she was draining the water out of something she was cooking.

"Thanks, where is my bathing suit?"

"It's in the small suitcase dear; I haven't had the chance to unpack your things yet."

I went to the tiny room I was stuck with and put the suitcase on the bed. Once opened, I rummaged around until I found my swimwear. But not before I totally unfolded everything else in the bag. I kicked off my trainers and went to the bathroom to change, saying to Braden, "I'll be right back." For some reason I still wasn't too comfortable with being naked in front of Braden.

"Um, ok," was all he said.

It didn't take me long to change and with a quick stop in the kitchen to mooch five dollars from my mom for a snack later; we were off to the beach. But first we needed to stop along the way so Braden could get his swimsuit and a towel.

As we walked around the corner of the big old house we saw that Braden's Grandmother was busily sweeping off the front porch. She looked up and smiled at us as we came to the top of the stairs.

Braden asked, "Grandma? Is it all right if I go to the beach for a while with Patrick, Please?"

Without ever missing a stroke with her broom she answered, "I don't see why not dear. As long as you don't cause any mischief, that is."

"What? When do I ever get into any mischief?" Braden asked donning the innocent face of an angel.

"Heh, when don't you is more like it," she quipped.

"Ha, ha, ha...Very funny," Braden laughed.

This was all well and good, but it wasn't getting us to the beach. I said to Braden, "I'll wait here while you go up and change."

"Oh, well, ok," was all Braden said as he ran into the house.

I got the impression that he was a little disappointed that I didn't go along to his room with him. I was having a hard time trying to figure Braden out sometimes. The way he looked at me when he thought I wasn't looking back kind of gave me the willies, but there was something different about him, something that drew me to him.

Mrs. Riley was saying something to me, but I was lost to my own thoughts. She stopped sweeping for a moment and touched my arm, I guess to be sure she had my attention, and asked, "Is everything all right Patrick?"

I came back from my daydream and answered, "Oh, Yes Ma'am. Everything's ok." I smiled and thought about asking about Braden but I wasn't sure what to ask.

She gave me a big smile and then resumed sweeping the porch, saying, "You Know your father used to wait right there where you are standing now for Thomas when he was about your age."

That thought made me wonder about what my Dad was like when he was a kid. I sat down on the top step and asked, "Did my Dad come here a lot?

Mrs. Riley sat down next to me and rested her broom between us as she said, "Oh my yes. Andy and Tom were the best of friends, and your Dad would come here sometimes for weeks at a time in the summer." Mrs. Riley seemed to glow, letting her memories take hold of her and she went on, saying, "They would go down to the beach from practically dawn till dusk." She paused as if to gather her thoughts and added, "There was one summer; I think they were both fifteen, that they bought this old sail boat and spent most of the summer fixing it up."

Braden returned to the porch and broke in, saying, "Grandma, are you telling those old stories again?"

She took a playful swat at Braden's butt with her broom and chided, "Never you mind young man." Then smiled as she turned to me, adding, "You and I will have a good long talk about your Dad one of these days Patrick."

"Thanks Ma'am, I think I'd like that," I smiled, and all of a sudden felt like a small empty place in my heart was just refilled. It had been a long time since I had even thought about my own grandparents. I didn't realize until that moment how much I missed them.

"Good, then you two run along and have fun; I've got work to do."

I stood up off the step and dusted off my butt as I said, "Come on Braden." We both jumped off the porch and in one leap we were on the lawn. We said our goodbyes as we ran off, around the house and to the head of the stairway leading down to the cove far below.

There were several dozen people on the beach already, a few families and four or five groups of kids about our age, some all boys, and some all girls. They weren't together but they sure seemed to be mixing. As Braden looked over the scene I noticed his eyes lock on one group of four boys. His expression grew hard and his pace slowed so I asked, "Dude, is there something wrong?"

Braden snapped back to the here and now and stammered, "N..n..n.. No, nothings wrong."

I knew from the way he answered that there definitely was something bothering him, but he didn't seem to want to tell me about it so I just let it drop. Or at least I wanted to let it drop, but one of the four guys down on the beach spotted us and soon had the other three all worked up.

If I was going to get into a scrape I figured I should at least know what it was all about. I stopped Braden and asked, as I pointed to the group, "Look man, I know you don't think anything's wrong but I'm not so sure about those guys?"

Braden looked back to the four boys as they walked toward the bottom of the stairway. I thought I heard him say, 'Oh Fuck!!!' from under his breath, but I wasn't sure.

"Braden, what the hell is going on!?" I demanded. And this time I stopped and waited for an answer.

"Something happened with one of those guys." Braden seemed to be assembling his thoughts, and then added, "I just don't want to talk about it, all right!"

"Well man, whether you want to talk about it or not, I'm pretty sure they do." And I pointed to the small group now gathered at the bottom of the stairs.

It looked like most of them were undecided about what to do next. Should they start up the stairs or not. One member of the group, not the biggest of the bunch either, was already to the top of the first landing. As he looked back to see his friends still waiting on the sand below he too looked unsure about what he was going to do next.

Then, after a short while the other three began catcalling to the boy on the stairs things like, "Go ahead, don't be a pussy."

This went on until the lone boy yelled back, "Yeah I'll go! You just watch me!!!" And as he gathered his courage to climb even higher Braden seemed to brace himself.

I knew there had to be some sort of bad blood between Braden and at least one of these kids; I just wish I knew what it was all about.

Once we were close enough for the kid to talk without hollering at the top of his lungs he advised Braden, "You don't want to hang around here anymore Brad." The boy turned to see his friends straining to hear what was being said, then he continued, "You just don't!"

"Look Billy, just leave me alone! You started all this! You just had to open your big mouth!" Braden said through clenched teeth.

"No Brad, you started all this! You're the one that made the move." Billy reminded my new friend then added, "So don't try and put it all on me." Then, Billy took particular notice in me, saying to both of us I think, "Who's this, your new friend?" He put a particularly nasty tone to that last remark.

Braden looked to me as if I was the last thread left on his rope. All I could think of saying was "Braden, what is all this about dude?"

Before Braden could get a word in edgewise, Billy cut in saying, "You must know, aren't you a queer too?" He took a few steps back down the steps then added, pointing to Braden, "You're with him so you must be!"

"What the fuck did you say!?" I couldn't believe what I had just heard. I wanted to stomp the crud out of the little bastard but he was already more than half the way down the stairs.

"You heard me! You fucking bunch of fags!" Billy hollered as he ran back to his friends and the safety of the group on the beach. As they were leaving, they were cat calling all sorts of names and giving us the finger and several other hand gestures, some of which I had never even seen.

Braden was a mess. He just crumpled down onto the steps in a heap and had his head on his knees and was shaking all over. I tried to talk to him but I didn't know what to say. I sat down next to him on the steps and after a couple of minutes Braden looked up to me and with tears rolling down his cheeks, said, "Patrick, I know what you're thinking." He tried to take a deep breath and continued, "I'm sorry I got you into all this."

"Well I'm not thinking anything, and got me into what???" I asked, trying to calm Braden down a bit.

"You heard what Billy said!" He wiped his eyes and continued, "You heard what he called me!"

I was trying not to get angry but it wasn't easy. I turned and said perhaps a little more sharply than I had intended, "Yeah, I heard what he called 'us'. I heard everything. Now, would you please talk to me!? It would help if I knew what the hell was going on!"

Braden looked at me and wiped his nose on the corner of his towel. He took a deep breath and said, "Two weeks ago Billy spent the weekend and, well, err... ummm..." He seemed to choke on the words.

I was getting a little impatient and asked again, "Well, Billy slept over and then what happened?"

Braden looked like he was going to puke. Then he blurted out, "I don't know why I did it, I was just fooling around, just playing." And he fell into a fit of crying.

I shook Braden and tried to calm him a bit, but I still had to ask, "All right, you were fooling around. Fooling around how, what happened?" All at once I seemed to put a mental image together. I remembered the way he was looking at me in the parlor, then in his room while I was getting undressed, and after that when we were in his bed. What the hell happened when I fell asleep?

"I... well... I... I was just messing around..." And he started in crying again.

As if I was suddenly hit with a bolt of intelligence, I put it all together. I had to ask though, "Are you telling me you were screwing around with him?"

Braden didn't answer that question. He didn't have to. From the look on his face I knew I was right.

Now I knew why he looked at me the way he did. I kind of knew about being gay and what it meant. These days all the kids knew what it meant. I remembered a couple of years ago, down by the railroad tracks, seeing some older guys doing stuff when I was walking home from fishing.

I didn't get pissed off at Braden. When I thought about it, I didn't think it was a thing to get pissed off about. After I saw those guys in the woods by the tracks I remembered wondering about what it was like. I do know that it did get me all worked up and that was the first time I had ever jacked off for real. But when you are thirteen, anything to do with sex would get a kid all worked up, so I didn't really think any more about it.

I sat on the step next to Braden and asked, slowly, "Braden, are you gay?"

He turned to me and the look he gave me shot daggers and he choked out, "NO!!!" Then he burst into tears again, adding softly, "I don't know. I guess that maybe I think, I guess I am."

All of a sudden I felt a cold spot in the pit of my stomach. This was it for me. I knew I had to make a decision! Either I would get up and walk away, or I would stay and take all the shit that would come with having a gay kid as a friend. One that has a big mouthed not gay ex-friend.

Part of me wanted to run hard and fast without looking back, but I liked Braden, he was a cool enough kid when he had his hormones under control. I had never really given a lot of thought about it, being gay I mean, I never had any reason to. If Braden was gay, it couldn't be his fault. Who, in their right mind would choose to be gay or not gay as far as that goes? Hell, I might even be gay.

No, let's not even go there.

Well, it didn't matter. I couldn't let something like this rule my thinking. My mom and Dad always taught me that prejudices come from ignorance. Now I knew what they were talking about. I knew I wasn't stupid, and as I thought this whole thing out I knew the right thing to do.

Braden flinched as I put my hand on his shoulder and softly said, "No Braden, it's ok. It doesn't matter one bit to me if you're gay or not."

Now that I had actually said it out loud, way deep down, I knew I truly believed it. It really didn't matter if my new friend was gay.

"What do you mean? Of course it matters." Braden managed to say through the tears.

"Well, yeah, I know, of course it matters. What I'm saying is that it doesn't matter to me dude." I assured as I slid one arm over his shoulder to give him a reassuring hug.

Braden looked at me and through the last of what seemed like gallons of tears, he smiled weakly and said, "Thanks Patrick. That means a lot to me."

"Come on man, let's go home. I really didn't want to go to the beach anyhow." I lied.

Braden tried again to crack a smile as we got up and slowly walked back up the stairs. When we got to the top we couldn't see anyone around so we made our way to the back door. Braden was still a mess, and he needed to clean up before we started getting asked a zillion questions, so I asked, "How can we get up to your room without being noticed?"

"We can go up the back stairway. They creak a lot though." Braden informed me.

"Well, I guess they'll have to do. If we sneak up the stairs, the chances are we won't run into anyone." I surmised.

"No. No one really uses those stairs much." Braden informed me, and then added, "I think we should be ok. But let's take our time and be sure you don't step on the steps that I skip over."

This sounded like a good plan to me, I nodded, and then said, "All right, I will. I'll go in first and make sure the coast is clear."

"Ok, go." Braden urged.

I slowly opened the screen door so I wouldn't make any noise but as these things go the hinges creaked like a coffin lid. For some reason we both broke into a fit of the giggles over this and all of a sudden it all seemed like a game. I crept up the stairs leading into the service porch and peeked into the kitchen, which thankfully was unoccupied at the moment.

I gave Braden the signal to follow me. As he caught up to me he motioned to one of two doors across the kitchen. I followed his lead and once inside the stairwell I felt a bit more at ease. We slowly climbed the stairs and I avoided the steps Braden pointed out because he said they creaked the loudest.

Once we made it to the first landing he listened at the door that led to the second floor hall. Nothing. Then, as Braden started up the winding stairwell leading to the third floor, there was a noise, the sound of a door opening, and we froze dead in our tracks. Up above us, there was a small clatter, and then we heard the door at the top of the stairs close again. After a few seconds we heard the whine of a vacuum cleaner motor. Braden stopped and said, "Wait, my Grandma is cleaning my room. She'll be done in a few minutes, she always vacuums last."

"All right, we can wait right here I guess." I guessed.

"Yeah, it's as good a place as any." Braden looked around as he agreed.

We weren't sitting on the steps five minutes when we heard the vacuum cleaner come to a stop. After about another minute the door at the top of the stairs opened and then closed again.

Then our worse fears became a reality! We heard Braden's Grandmother singing quietly as she started down the stairs!

I tried to think of something quick and asked Braden in a hushed voice, "I thought you said no one ever uses these stairs!"

"No! I said they don't use them very much!" Braden hissed back through his teeth.

"Damn it! Let's get out of here!" And we started back down the stairs as quietly as we could.

"Who's down there? Braden? Is that you?" Well so much for a hasty, unnoticed retreat.

Braden looked at me and just shrugged his shoulders, then declared, "Yes Grandma, It's us."

"I thought you boys were going to the beach?"

"We were. But it was a little too windy." Braden lied. It was a pretty lame answer, but we didn't have a whole lot of time to think of anything any better.

As we got back down to the kitchen we sat down at the table and waited for Braden's Grandmother to catch up with us.

"Phew, those stairs are going to be the death of me." Braden's Grandmother declared in a huff. She sized us up and without batting an eyelash, asked, "What have you two gotten yourselves into?" And she just stood there folded her arms and waited for an answer.

I looked to Braden and he looked to me, both expecting the other to answer her question. When neither of us said anything Braden's Grandmother said absently, "All right, have it your own way! If you two don't think I am worth talking to when something is wrong, then fine."

"We just changed our minds. We didn't do anything wrong." Braden said with a false smile on his face, and then added, "Honest, Gram."

"Well, all right, have it your own way." Mrs. Riley looked at Braden like she could see right through him. She went to where he was sitting and put her hands on his shoulders, kissed the top of his head and softly added, "You know boy, I don't bite. If you have a problem I'll help you as best I can. That's a Grandma's job you know."

Braden turned a bit and answered, "I know Gram, I just don't want to talk about it right now. Ok?"

"All right, when you're ready then." She smiled and walked over to the counter and pulled a knife from the drawer and two small plates from the cupboard. Then she cut each of us a big slice of pie. "You two look hungry. Here." Next, she got two glasses and a half gallon of milk and set them between us.

Braden and I made quick work of the pie and we made a fair dent in the half-gallon of milk. As we carried our plates to the sink I thanked Mrs. Riley for the snack. We went to the stairwell but this time rather than skulking around we thundered all the way to the top, listening to Braden's Grandma telling us, half laughing not to make a mess, and to stop running in the house.

Once we got to the top I said I had to use the bathroom and turned in there while Braden went on to his room. I quickly did my thing then rejoined Braden.

When I opened the door I was surprised to find him already changed into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. He went to his drawers and got me a pair of boxers and a pair of jeans with a matching tee shirt to change into. I stood there just holding the clothes for a second when Braden said, "Patrick, you can change in the bathroom if you want," as he sat on the edge of the bed.

I thought about going into the bathroom, but I decided for some reason to just do it right here. I pealed off the swim trunks and slipped on the boxers and sat next to Braden as I pulled on the blue jeans. I knew he was looking at me, but now for some reason, it didn't seem to bother me as much.

Maybe it was the newness of our friendship beginning to wear off; maybe I was just getting used to Braden. Or was it because I now knew why he was looking. I had a lot of friends at home and all of a sudden I wondered how many of them looked at me that same way. I tried to remember the times before and after gym class, or in the locker room at the "Y" after a workout.

I turned and looked at Braden and just like before, he averted his eyes, I guess old habits die-hard. I smiled and asked, "How did you first know you felt like this, the gay thing I mean?"

Braden looked shocked, he stammered, "W... Wha... what do you mean?"

"What I mean is, you know, when did you start looking at boys?" I asked.

Braden looked embarrassed but thoughtfully answered, "Oh, I don't know, I think it was about the time I started going to school."

"How could you know?" I wondered, and then added, "I mean that's kind of young to be thinking about sex stuff."

"I didn't really think about that at all," Braden mussed.

"Uh huh." Was all I could say.

He got quiet for a second then concluded, "I can't put it into words, I just knew, deep inside that I liked boys."

"No shit! And you never did anything until this ass hole Billy?"

Braden seemed to be thinking about his answer, or he was gathering his courage, it was really hard to tell which. He took a deep breath and admitted, "I fooled around on some camping trips when I was in the scouts for about a year. That was before my Dad and I moved here to be with my Grandma."

"Is that why you moved here?" I thought about that question after I had asked it and thought I had overstepped my bounds a bit.

Braden looked kind of shocked at this question and asked a question of his own, "You mean you don't know?"

"Know what?" I wondered.

"I thought you knew" Braden said distantly, then added, "We moved here a few months after my mom passed away."

"Dude, I'm sorry. I really didn't know," I declared. I was so embarrassed.

"It's all right Patrick, my mom was very sick and well, you know..." Braden said quietly.

I could tell that this was painful for him to think about and I kind of mad at my parents for not telling me about it. "Braden, we don't have to talk about this if it bothers you." I didn't want to hurt his feelings any more than I already had. I couldn't imagine the pain of losing a parent, so I changed the subject, asking, "Braden, dude, what happened between you and Billy?"

Braden turned as red as a beet and began looking everywhere but directly at me. Then, all at once he took a deep breath and shifted his eyes to look directly into mine as he said, "Well, err... umm... we, err...well we... umm I just kind of jerked him off and stuff."

"Is that all!?" I gasped, and then added, "All this crap was about a fucking hand job?"

"Well not exactly... I didn't exactly ask him first." He admitted. "I thought he wanted me to do it."

"Whoa... Yeah, I guess that would piss him off." I agreed, and then I probed further, asking, "And what other 'stuff' did you do?"

Braden evaded that question, and then he got kind of serious all of a sudden as he asked, "Do you ever jack off?"

I could tell he was trying to change the subject this time. I thought about what to say for a few seconds then admitted, "Well, umm... yeah, I mean sure, every guy does."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Braden said as he switched on his stereo.

"It feels too good not to," I grinned.

I got up and moved to the chair next to Braden's CD rack so I could check out his music collection. As I did, Braden leaned back on his elbows and I noticed there was a bulge in his pants. I looked away and thought I had better change the subject quickly. I picked out a CD and handed it to him saying, "Dude, you have a lot of music."

Braden smiled, happily saying, "Yup." As he eyed the stack of about two hundred CD's, then he added, "I like listening to music a lot."

We spent the remainder of the morning and a good part of the afternoon talking about music, our favorite bands and songs. Once or twice I caught Braden watching me out of the corner of his eye. I don't think he even knew he was doing it and I didn't really give it a second thought. One thing I knew for sure was that we were becoming really good friends.

About two thirty there was a knock on the door and Braden's Dad came into the bedroom, and said, "We need to get ready for the bar-b-q, what do you boys say to giving me a hand?"

We looked at each other and applauded him and as loudly as we could, then we laughed.

"Very funny, Ha Ha Ha." Braden's Dad mockingly laughed also in that 'let's go there's work to be done' tone. Braden switched off the stereo and we went down with his Dad to help set up the back yard.

Down in the kitchen Braden's Grandmother was fixing all sorts of things for the party. As Braden and I walked past he picked an olive and threw it into his mouth she scolded him, saying, "Keep your mitts out of the food, you'll have yours right along with everybody else later." Then she kissed him sweetly on the forehead and handed each of us a nice fresh baked cookie as we followed Braden's Dad out to the back yard.

Once outside Braden volunteered us to set out the lawn furniture and led me to a large shed in the corner of the yard over by the garage. Inside the shed we found an assortment of lawn tables and matching chairs. Braden picked up two chairs and handed them to me as he grabbed a pair for himself. With a grunt he explained, "My Grandmother keeps all this stuff in here because of all the storms we get. I get to haul it all out whenever they're about to have guests."

"Wow, dude, it must be a real pain in the ass, pulling this shit out all the time." I sympathized.

Braden answered, "Yeah, it really is, but there's not a whole lot I can do about it. I really don't mind doing all the work too much and it would be a lot more of a pain to clean it all up after a storm."

"Well, I guess you're right. Your Grandmother is pretty cool, all things considered." I commented as I watched the lady carrying a bowl of something yummy looking across the yard.

"Yeah, she really is. I kind of feel bad about lying to her this morning." Braden confessed.

"You didn't exactly lie to her. You just didn't tell her anything, and that isn't lying." I corrected him.

We spent what seemed like the next forty-five minutes hauling out all the garden trappings needed for an evening bar-b-q. When we finally finished, Braden's Grandmother came out with glasses and a big pitcher of lemonade for us all. We sat down and enjoyed the warm summer breeze off the ocean and the late afternoon sun.

Just as we finished the last of our lemonade we heard a car pull into the drive and Braden's Dad stood up and said, "That must be your parents Patrick." As he looked at his watch he added, "Just in time too."

I got up and began walking towards the car to see if they needed any help and called back to Braden, "Come on n' help."

Braden jogged up to meet me as I rounded the house to where the rents were unloading. I asked my mom as she pulled tray after tray from the back of the Volvo. "Man, do you think there will be enough food?"

She just looked at me lovingly and smiled in that motherly way of hers, as if to say, 'shut up and carry something' then said, "Hello Braden." as she piled a huge platter in each of my hands and then passed a heavy tray to Braden.

My Dad managed a quiet retreat and was already over with Mr. Riley who was fiddling with a huge gas grill.

We trundled our load over to the long picnic table set up for the food near the grill and then we headed back to the car for more. Once back at the car I asked, "Is there going to be more people coming? It seems like an awful lot of food for just us."

"Well, your father and Tom ran into some of their old friends while they were in town and they'll be coming with their families too." Mom said as she loaded us up again.

As we carried our next load to the table Braden stopped me and asked, "I wonder who else they invited?"

"Beats me. I don't know anyone around here other than you." I said sarcastically.

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't know an awful lot of people either. We've only been here about three months." Then he became quiet as he added, "The only people my age that I know are the guys from the beach."

"Oh, yeah. Well, there isn't anything we can do about it now so let's just get this stuff done." I huffed as I continued carrying my load to the table.

Braden stood there for a second lost in that thought, and then he sprang to life with the revelation that just possibly, some of the other guests just might include the guys from the beach. As he caught up to me he whispered excitedly, "What the hell are we going to do if some of those guys DO show up here?!"

"Dude" I stopped and faced Braden so the grownups wouldn't hear us, "Calm down!" Then I continued, "If any of them do show up, well, they will be with their parents. They won't start any shit with them around." Then I nodded to the tray he was still holding and turned to the table and waited for Braden's Grandmother to make enough room for more platters.

As I handed her my load of plates, she asked, "Could you boys get another folding table from the shed? I don't think there will be enough room here on this table."

We both nodded and headed to the shed to dig out another table. As Braden and I dragged it toward the door we were interrupted by the sound of a car horn and watched as a Range Rover swung into the driveway. Both Braden's Dad and mine stopped messing with the grill and made tracks for the new arrivals.

All Braden said was, "Fuck!!! It's fucking Billy and his brother!!! We're freaking dead!!!" We watched Billy climb out of the SUV and scan the back yard as if he was looking for something or more to the point, someone. Soon Billy's older brother joined him and they began talking in hushed tones. As Braden watched I could see the sweat beading on his forehead. He turned to me and I could see the terror in his eyes, I could hear it in his voice as he said, "What the fuck are we going to do?"

Braden looked like he was going to break down and cry. I didn't know what the hell to do but I had to try and think of something quick. I got right in Braden's face and yelled, if you can yell while whispering, "For Christ's sake, there is not a single thing we can do about it now!!!"

"But..."

"But? But shit!!!" I held Braden by his shoulders and shook him hard and yelled again, "Look man, we have to go out there!!! There is no other way!!! We have to!!! Now get your shit together and let's go!!!"

"But..."

"Look! I will be right there with you." I tried to say calmly, and then added, "If anything happens, I'll back you up." Then I thought to myself, 'what the fuck could I do if something really does happen?'

I picked up my end of the table and waited for Braden to lift his also so we could deliver it to his Grandmother before she sent out a search party after us. As we slowly moved through the door of the shed I said in one final attempt to calm Braden down, "Just ignore them, and act like there is nothing wrong. Ok?"

Braden nodded and turned his head just enough so he seemed to be paying more attention to the table than the two brothers that just now spotted us.

As we hauled the heavy table across the lawn I noticed the party beginning to form its little groups. The men were gathered around the bar-b-q grill debating the finer points of grilling steaks. You know the best temperature, how many times to turn them whether to put the salt on first or wait till after the pepper. The ladies were arranged in a circle around the table jostling plates back and forth trying to make everything fit. They were all talking so fast that it was almost impossible to make anything out. When Billy's mom spotted us she announced, "Oh good. Here comes another table." Then to us, she asked, "Put it right here boys, would you please?"

Billy's mom was waiting with a tablecloth as we turned out the legs of the table, locked them into position, and stood it upright. She seemed a nice enough lady and smiled as I asked if she would like help to spread the cloth in the light, early evening breeze. Once in place, the women wasted no time finding more trays, plates and bowls to cram onto this table as well.

Billy and his brother went straight for the cooler and as they each got themselves a soft drink. As they passed I overheard the older one say, "Nobody gives a rat's ass if you wanted to come here or not." As he popped the can open and drained half of it in one long swallow, he added, "Just stop being a little pain in the ass!"

As his older brother walked over to where we were standing Billy looked toward us with venom in his gaze. I could almost feel Braden's fear as Billy reluctantly trailed behind.

Billy's older brother was a good three inches taller than all of us and I figured he was about seventeen. When he was close he said, "Hi Braden, what's with this douche bag brother of mine? Did you guys have a fight or something?"

Billy made a lewd grunt and rolled his eyes as Braden stammered, "N, n, no, not exactly." Then he quickly tried to change the subject, saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, Danny, this is Patrick. Patrick, this is Danny."

Billy just stood back glaring at us while slowly stewing over his can of soda, not saying a word, but not missing a single word either. Danny on the other hand, was friendly and said, "My Dad said you were from Kansas or somewhere."

"I'm from Omaha, it's in Nebraska ." I informed him.

"Oh, well I was close." He laughed, and then added, "How long are you guys going to be around?"

I thought I had heard Billy mutter something under his breath but I thought I had better ignore it rather than risk starting more shit. I looked blankly at Billy as I answered Danny's question, "About a week I think. My Dad grew up around here and I think he is going through his second childhood or something. But anything is better than spending the whole summer in Omaha ."

"Yeah, I guess." Danny looked toward his sulking brother and said, "What the hell is your problem twat breath?"

Billy just glared at his older sibling and didn't even acknowledge that Braden and I were even on the same planet. He took a drink and slowly turned, directing his attention to the fathers still playing with the grill.

I guess it was just as well that Billy was keeping quiet. Braden just ignored him and I didn't really know Billy at all so I was kind of stuck in the middle. I decided the best thing to do was just to float along with whatever happened and try not to get into any trouble.

Braden said he was thirsty and asked if I wanted a can of Pepsi as well. I nodded and as I stood there making small talk with Danny, I watched Billy glare at Braden the entire time as he walked to the cooler for the drinks. When Braden turned back toward us Billy again feigned his attention on the Dads.

I heard Billy sneer, "Faggot!" under his breath as Braden passed by again carrying the cans of pop. Braden looked totally crushed as he handed one to me. I didn't know what to say. I sure as hell didn't want to make things worse, but I didn't have a clue how to make them any better.

I walked over and sat on the fence rail next to the stairs that led down to the beach, Braden just followed along like a kicked puppy. Danny called to his younger brother and motioned for him to join us as he met Braden and me by the fence. Billy just turned and stalked away without a word; heading toward the food table to see what he could scrounge up to eat.

Danny just shook his head as Billy walked away then shrugged his shoulders and said, "Whatever!" As we sat there making small talk a few more cars arrived loaded with friends of Mr. Riley and my Dad. There was only one other kid with the other people and he headed straight over to where Billy was sulking. I recognized him from the beach earlier this morning and Braden said quietly, "That's Andy, one of Billy's friends."

The smoke from the grill was drifting across the yard and told me that it wouldn't be too much longer before the burgers and dogs would be done. I was totally starving and the smells were making my stomach growl with anticipation of a major pig out. It didn't take too long before Braden's Grandmother called that everything was ready and we should all get our plates ready to eat.

We all made fast tracks to the food table and as we approached, Billy and Andy walked over to the grill to get themselves a burger. If he was trying to be obvious that he was avoiding us, he couldn't be doing a better job of it. Danny introduced me to Andy as we slowly worked our way around the table.

The looks Billy shot our way as he stalked off caught the eye of Braden's Grandmother and as she handed him his plate she asked, "Braden, what is wrong with your friend? Did something happen?"

Braden just looked puzzled and shrugged his shoulders as he took some potato salad and piled it on his plate. As we all made a circle around the table, getting our favorite dishes I heard Billy's mother question Danny, "What is the problem with your brother?"

As Danny put a big pickle on his plate he answered, "I dunno." Then he picked up a big radish, threw in his mouth and crunched it.

"What did I tell you about eating like a pig?" she scolded.

"Sorry mom," he said as he let out a big belch.

"Wait till I get you home young man," Danny's mother said sternly.

Danny laughed and said, "Oh, all right, I'll be good."

"That's better." She smiled as she playfully slapped his shoulder.

The bar-b-q was excellent, all kinds of food, and lots of it. We each got our favorite fixings and a big burger and then headed back over by the fence to chow down. All the adults were going out of their way to catch up on all the things that had been going on in their lives. My Dad volunteered to play bartender and was busy mixing drinks with one hand and eating a hot dog with the other. I could tell that this was going to be a long night.

Braden and I sat on the grass Indian style with our plates balanced on our laps and started filling our faces. As Danny sat down with us, his back to the fence rail, he asked, "Did you guys get to go to the beach today?"

I looked at him, and I tried to read if there was some hidden meaning in his question but his impassive smile told me otherwise, I answered, "Well, we started to, but then something came up."

"That sucks. I wanted to go too but I had to work this afternoon." Danny mumbled around a big bite of his hamburger.

"Yeah, that does suck. Where do you work?" I queried.

"I collect carts and bag groceries at the super market. It's not exactly a career move but it will do for the time being."

I looked down toward the beach and saw several teens gathering driftwood and piling it up for a bonfire. I asked, "What's going on down there tonight?"

"Oh, it's just another party." Danny said, then as he finished his drink he added, "It's Saturday night, and it's summer. There's a party just about every Saturday night around here. The kids figured to have it there tonight because the storms always wash up a lot of driftwood." Danny watched the scene on the beach for a minute then asked, "Maybe we could all go down after feeding time? There's going to be a great bonfire"

I looked to Braden for some sign as to what I should say to this unexpected invitation and he was white as a ghost. All I could think of was to answer, "That would be great!" And then I added, "If my parents say I can go that is."

"Hey cool." Danny smiled as he leaned back against the fence rail and chucked another radish into his mouth.

As is usually the case with teenagers, it took us only a matter of minutes to wolf down our dinner. We took our plates to the table and we each got seconds, another soda and then we headed back to the fence.

I sat on the rail and noticed Billy still glaring at us with a vengeance. He was sitting on the far side of the yard talking closely with Andy. Every so often, one or the other would look over at us and then they would both laugh. I could just imagine what they were cooking up between them.

Braden on the other hand, made a special effort to avoid looking at them. Danny must have noticed because he suddenly became interested in his reclusive brother and his friend, saying playfully, "Hey jerk wad, get over here and join the men."

Billy hadn't said a single word directly to neither Braden nor myself the entire time he was there. Until now...

"You're calling me a jerk wad? You better look who you're with before you go calling me that!" Billy said acidly.

Danny looked to each of us and asked, "What the hell is he talking about?" Then to Billy he asked, "What the hell are you going off like that for?"

"You really want to know!?" Billy stood up and took a few steps toward us then stopped, almost like he was afraid to get any closer.

I cringed and saw Braden visibly shrink as Billy made his grandstand play. Danny just played into his little brothers hands and asked, "That's right you little fuck! I really want to know!"

"Ok, then, I'll tell you!" Billy stood his ground, and then added, "I'll tell you why the fuck I am going off like this for! Do you remember the other night when I was here with Braden to spend the night? Well, I woke up in the middle of the night and Braden here was having a great time giving me a fucking blow job!"

Andy broke out in a fit of giggles when he heard Billy and said, "Dude, I just don't fucking believe it!"

Danny sounded astonished as he asked, "What the hell are you talking about?"

By now Braden was sitting there on the grass with his hands over his face. If he wasn't crying, I was almost positive he was about to.

Billy looked at Braden and pointed at him while he said to Danny, "The fucking faggot was sucking on my dick!!! In my fucking sleep!!!"

Danny looked at Braden, then at me, then back to Braden before he said, "Braden, dude, is this true?"

Now Braden was in tears, and worse than that, his Grandmother spotted him and was now walking this way. I sat on the grass next to him and said, "Braden, cool it! Your Grandmother's coming!"

Braden froze; I didn't think he was even breathing. Billy on the other hand took this as his cue to go into high gear and he said, "What's the matter you cock sucker? Can't take the truth?"

I shot up and got right in Billy's face and said through clenched teeth, "One more word out of you you little ass hole and I'll knock it back down your throat!"

For a second I thought Billy was going to back down, but as Braden's Grandmother came within earshot he said, again, "What the hell is any of this to you anyway!?"

"You made it my business this morning! You're the one that had to go shooting off your mouth!" I informed him.

"What's this all about?" Braden's Grandmother demanded in that singular parental tone that always meant 'answer now or face the consequences'.

Nobody said a word. We just all of a sudden became very interested in everything other than the question that was just posed to us.

"I am waiting for an answer." Braden's Grandmother stood there for a while like a rock, not moving at all. Then she turned and placed a hand on Braden's shoulder and asked, "What is it Braden?"

The kids' code demanded that we all keep quiet. Even Billy understood that you just do not dump something like this about another kid on an adult. Braden on the other hand was caught between disobeying his Grandmother, and bringing everything totally out into the open to the entire family.

Shit! This was a lot to handle, and all in just two days. But, as I sat there next to my new friend I came to realize just how alone he was right then. I wanted to help him, but I just didn't know how.

Braden turned and looked up into the face of his Grandmother and saw only genuine loving concern. He took a deep shuddering breath and said, "It's Ok Grandma. Everything's all right." He lied.

Mrs. Riley wasn't going for it and she asked me, "Patrick, what happened?" Then she turned to her grandson and tried to make some sense out of all this, asking, "Braden, please dear, it will be all right. Whatever it is, I know it can all be worked out."

Braden looked at his Grandmother and while choking back tears, said, "I'm all right, Grandma. I just want to be left alone."

"All right Braden, if that's what you want?" And she then turned to Billy, Andy, Danny and myself and asked, "Boys, come along now. If we all could please give Braden a little breathing room?"

We all walked away, to leave Braden to his thoughts, but mostly because we didn't want to go against his Grandmother. Fortunately, Billy and his friend were smart enough not to argue the point and just walked off. Danny and I headed to the table to see if there were any scraps of leftovers and we each managed to get a little of almost everything.

Billy and Andy however, they just stood across the yard and glared at Braden. It was like they were forming some sort of diabolical scheme. Billy's temper hadn't cooled at all and no doubt Andy was busy adding fuel to the fire.

I was beginning to worry that Billy's dislike for Braden was becoming obvious to the other adults as well. All I could do right then was to follow Danny and hope no one noticed anything.

The fathers were all on the side yard playing around with their golf clubs making plans for a game first thing in the morning. The women on the other hand were all too aware that there was something going on. As Danny rounded the table with his plate his mother cornered him, asking, "What is the problem with your brother?" She turned and looked at Billy while continuing, "He has been in a bad mood ever since I told him to get ready for the bar-b-q."

Danny was obviously caught off guard, stammering, "I, I dunno what his problem is. Ask him." It was a noble effort but not convincing at all. You could see that his mother knew he was lying too, judging from the look she shot at him.

Braden had gotten up and obviously was trying to pull himself together as he walked slowly toward the house. I looked to Mrs. Riley and she nodded, saying, "Go ahead Patrick."

I smiled and said, "Thanks Ma'am," and headed right for the back door. As I entered the kitchen, I found Braden standing over the sink, splashing water on his face. I took a few paper towels off the roll and handed them to him as I asked, "Are you all right?"

"I'm ok; at least I am now that I'm away from that fucking ass hole Billy." Braden said as he tossed the towels into the trash bin.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. He just won't let up!" I looked out the window, and then added, "We are going to have to go back out there you know."

"I know." He sighed, "I just wish that I could get out of it somehow."

"How?" I looked out the window and saw Braden's Grandmother walking toward the door with Billy's mom. "Holy shit! Your Grandmother is coming in, with Billy's mom."

Braden seemed to shrink a little bit more as he said, "What the hell?" he looked out the window and added with a haggard expression, "Now they're ganging up on me! Damn it, that's all I need!"

I couldn't even begin to imagine what Braden would have to deal with from now on. It wasn't just the ridicule from the other kids, all that was only words. What I did worry about was people like Billy, people that just wanted to be hurtful. Was it a way for them to make themselves feel better, or more powerful? Or, was it a way for them to cover up their true feelings, masking how they really felt? Could it be that Billy really liked what Braden did to him and he was just too scared to admit it? I knew first hand what jerking off felt like, and I could only imagine how good a blowjob would feel.

The screen door swung open, and the ladies came in. Braden's Grandmother spoke to Billy's mom, saying, "Its right through there, dear. The second door on the left." Billy's mom smiled as she quickly made her way around the table and hurried off to the bathroom.

As Braden's Grandmother sat down across from us at the table, she folded her hands in front of her, smiled at us and waited. She sat there for a few seconds, giving us the hairy eyeball, and I figured she was expecting one of us to speak. When she finally decided she wasn't about to wait any longer for us to say something on our own, she asked, point blank, "Well now, which one of you is going to tell me what this is all about?"

Braden took a deep shuddering breath and said, "Gram, I can't, I just can't."

"At first, I thought one of the boys might have said something to make you upset about, well, about your mother. Is that what happened, dear?

Braden shook his head and answered, "No ma'am."

"Braden, now please, what could possibly be so bad that you couldn't talk to me about it?" She asked reassuringly.

Braden took another deep breath, and half whispered, "Please, Grandma. I can't. Not now, ok?"

"All right dear. I won't press you for an answer, but remember, I love you and there is nothing you could ever do or say that would change that." She stood up as Billy's mother returned, and as they walked back to rejoin the party, she added, "When you're ready to talk, I'll be here."

"I know Gram." Braden smiled at her as the women went back to the party.

I wondered if her promise that 'nothing would change' would still hold true once she knew Braden was gay. It was kind of funny; the more I thought about him being gay, the less it seemed to bother me. He didn't look gay. But, when I thought about it, what did gay look like? The way I saw it, being gay wasn't about how a person looked, or talked, or dressed; it was about who a person liked, or even loved.

Braden was just a kid, just one of the guys. I knew that I could resign myself to the fact that he was gay. He was my friend, and being gay had nothing to do with it one way or the other. What the other kids thought about me because of that fact was something I had to learn to handle on my own. After all, what the other guys thought about me had nothing to do with who my friends were. I figured that if they wanted to be my friend that's ok. But, if they think I can only be their friend if I am not friends with Braden, then to hell with them.

As the screen door closed behind his Grandmother, I turned to Braden and said, "Well, what are you going to do?"

Braden looked puzzled and asked, "What do you mean?"

."What I mean is what are you going to tell her?" I said flatly. Sometimes it seems like he's in another world

"I can't tell her about this! I don't want to tell anyone what happened!" Braden exclaimed.

"I don't mean you should tell her about what happened with Billy." I shot back.

"Well, what are you talking about then?" Braden actually looked like he had no clue what I was talking about.

"Earth to Braden!" I couldn't believe he didn't know what I was getting at, so I said really, really slowly, "I... mean... telling... her... that... you... like... guys...!"

Braden took this all in, (I could actually smell it processing) and for a second, he even seemed to be pondering what I had just suggested. I realized then that Braden had never considered that he might at some point have to talk to his Dad or his Grandmother about all of this. As Braden took in all this new information, I could see in his eyes that he was beginning to realize the implications of what it really meant to be gay. I could feel his fear build as he realized that he would have to talk to them soon, and it had to be before they found out from someone else.

Braden seemed shaken by this fact. He stood up and said quietly, "I... I don't know. I have to think about it."

This was all new territory to me. Three days ago, the very thought of being gay, or not gay for that matter, had never really entered my head. I fooled around with some of the girls in my class at school, but I had never really done anything with any of the boys. Well, except for that one time while on a camping trip with a friend. We messed around a little, but I just never seemed to give it a lot of thought.

Braden was the first friend I had ever had that actually admitted to fooling around with another boy. Billy said that Braden had sucked on his thing; Braden, on the other hand, only admitted to 'fooling around' with Billy, just whacking him off.

For some unexplained reason, call it morbid curiosity, or maybe it was just a kid's nosiness, I just had to ask again, "Braden, what really happened that night with Billy?"

Braden looked at me sideways, as if he was in the middle of daydreaming and didn't really hear what I just said, and then he asked, "What?!?"

I pressed for an answer, asking point blank, "You know? What really happened between you and Billy?"

Braden became very quiet and for a long time he didn't move a muscle. He just looked at me as if he was summing up what my reaction might be. Taking a deep breath, he sat down at the table next to me, and slowly said, "It was like Billy said, I was sucking on him when he woke up."

"Whoa! What did he do?" I just had to ask.

"Well, he pushed me off, but not until after he had shot off his load," Braden admitted quietly, almost in a whisper. "And then, without saying a single word, he just got dressed and went home," he continued.

"You mean he shot his spooch into your mouth?" I was utterly mortified! I had never heard of such a thing! Braden just sat there totally expressionless. Well, I was in this deep; I might as well go in all the way, so I asked, "Did you swallow it?" Braden still didn't say anything, but he nodded that he did.

"Dude, that is too much!" I said, not really grossed out, but I was kind of curious as to why someone would let a guy shoot into his mouth. I probed further asking, "Did you want him to?"

I almost didn't hear when Braden answered, "Yeah."

"What did it taste like?" I had a feeling that my curiosity was getting the best of me, but for some morbid reason I just had to know.

"Well... It's a little salty, and kind of sweet too," he answered slowly. I could tell Braden seemed to be gauging my reaction to this revelation.

I was covering new turf here. These were things I had never even imagined. Yeah, I knew about jacking off and what cum was. I had even listened to the other guys talking about girls in the locker room at school, but I had never heard about anything like someone actually eating cum before.

I could see that Braden was becoming a little more at ease talking about it when I asked, "Did you ever do it before?"

"Do what before?" Braden's Dad said as he entered the kitchen. We were so tied up in the conversation I nearly jumped out of my skin. Mr. Riley said to me through a chuckle, "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, Patrick."

Braden froze. I could tell he was terrified that his father might have been standing there listening for a while. He answered slowly, trying to back out of the conversation, "Oh, nothing Dad. We were just talking."

"Why aren't you outside with the party?"

"I wasn't feeling too well, Dad." Braden said, and then he added, trying to change the subject, "Are you going to play golf in the morning?"

"Yeah, we tee off at seven thirty ." Mr. Riley said as he rounded the table and headed off toward the bathroom.

"Shit!!! That was close." I whispered.

Braden was calming down a bit, and answered, "Yeah, a little too close. Want to go up to my room and listen to some CD's?"

I really wanted to know more about what happened, so I eagerly agreed. We went up the back stairs taking them two at a time all the way to the top. By the time we ran up the forty stairs we were both out of breath and as we ran into Braden's bedroom we both flopped on his bed gasping for air.

Braden rolled over and grabbed the remote to his CD changer and pressed 'play'. Soon the room was filled with music. I sat up on the bed using a pillow against the headboard as a backrest, and once I was comfortable, I asked again, "Well? Did you?"

"Did I what?" Braden looked at me quizzically.

"Did you ever do it before?" I swear his train of thought derails more than anybody I know.

"Yeah. Like I told you before, I fooled around with some of the boys on camping trips. Well, I had sort of a boyfriend there. We did it a lot together, almost every day and on camping trips we would fool around some. Well, until we couldn't stay awake any more that is."

"You really had a boyfriend? I've never even had a girlfriend." I laughed.

Braden laughed too, "I never had one either."

"You know what I mean." I corrected, and then added, "Did you, like, love him?"

"Oh, I don't know about love. But we did screw around a lot." Braden actually looked proud to be telling me of his first romantic conquest.

This was another thing that had never occurred to me, a guy having a boyfriend, but, now that I think about it a little, it kind of made sense. I let my mind wander back to the party out in the yard and said, "I think we had better get back outside before we get into trouble, don't you?"

Braden sighed, "Yeah, I guess so." So we slowly headed for the back yard.

"Are you going to be ok now?" I asked as we descended the stairs.

Braden smiled reassuringly, saying, "Yeah, I feel a lot better now."

Once outside, being growing boys, the first thing we had to do was go straight for the table and see if we could scrounge something to eat. We each got a plate and managed to throw together a quick snack and grabbed a can of soda. Naturally, we caught cold stares from the father figures and my mother as well. I knew I was in for a talking to when I got home, but I figured they would go easy on me seeing that we were on vacation and all.

Billy and his toady Andy were over with the men, who were still having their little pissing contest over who was the best golfer. Danny, however, walked right up to us and asked straight out, like nothing had ever happened, "So, did you guys find out if you could go to the beach party tonight?"

I did a double take on that one and had to ask, "Huh?"

"Duh! Remember? The party down at the beach? Did you guys ask if you could go?" Danny repeated.

We all walked back to our spot over by the fence and sat down on the soft lawn. As we ate our food, I asked, "After everything Billy said, you still want us to go?"

"Sure, why not?" Danny said, and then added off handedly, "Hey, what the hell. Lots of guys fool around like that. Braden isn't the first, and he sure won't be the last."

"Don't you think he's going to cause trouble?" I asked, nodding towards Billy.

Danny scoffed, "No, I told him to back off, or I would kick his little ass."

Braden just sat there taking all this in. Finally, he just had to ask, point blank, "Danny, when Billy first shot off his big mouth, you didn't say a thing. Why not?"

He looked at my new friend and smiled, saying, "Dude, I have to admit, doing him in his sleep was a bit extreme, but I wasn't shocked or anything by it."

"And you don't think the other guys are going to talk about you if you're seen with us." I asked.

"Talk about what?" Danny stated flatly, "There are a lot more gay guys around than you think." And then he smiled coyly.

I was beginning to get the picture Danny was beginning to paint for us. I looked at Braden, who was looking at Danny, and then asked, "Danny, are you telling us that you're gay too?"

"Well, I guess I kinda sorta am. Yeah." He smiled, and then added, "Billy doesn't know, of course. My parents don't either, but I plan to tell them by the end of the summer." Then he asked again, "Now, are you guys going to go and ask if you can come to the beach party tonight or not?"

I looked at Braden, and he slowly nodded 'yes'. I asked him, "Are you sure, dude?"

Braden answered with a mouth full of potato salad, "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Ok, good." I told him. "I'll go ask as soon as I finish this," I said, looking at the quickly emptying plate on my lap.

Braden's mood seemed to have brightened a little bit in the last few minutes. I think it was because he suddenly realized that he wasn't totally alone. Oh, I know I said I would stand by him and all that, and I will too. That isn't the same thing, though, as having a friend that's been there, and knows exactly what you're going through. Hanging out with a friend that's a couple of years older helps to boost a guy's ego a bit too, whether you're gay or not, especially if he's old enough to drive.

Braden finished his snack first, and said, "I'll be right back." He went right to his Grandmother and spoke to her. We both knew what he was asking, and from the smile on his face as he returned, Danny and I knew it was a go for the party, at least for him.

Now it was my turn, and I had to tackle one of the parents, but which one? I thought about it, and I figured my best chance was to ask Mom. I got up, took my plate to the table, and then I went to where the ladies were all gaggled together yapping away. I excused myself, (It's always a good idea to use manners when asking Mom for anything.) and then I asked, "Can I go to the beach tonight? There is a party with a fire and everything." Then I thought it wouldn't hurt to add, "Please?"

At first Mom looked concerned but then Braden's Grandmother said, "The kids do this all the time. He'll be fine."

"Well, I don't know. Are you sure?" My Mom was always so careful. I wish she would just let me grow up a little on my own sometimes, but I knew she meant well and I loved her for it.

I knew the nut was beginning to crack a little, so I added another, "Please, Mom?"

"Well, all right. It is your vacation, too, after all." She caved! I knew she would. "But don't be out too late."

Braden's Grandmother suggested, "Why don't you let him stay here tonight? That way the boys will both be in at the same time and the beach is only at the bottom of the stairs."

"Well, if you don't think it will be too much trouble?" My Mom was too much sometimes.

"Oh my, no, dear, it's no trouble at all. Patrick here is a pleasure to have, and Braden would enjoy the company, I'm sure."

"Alright, as long as you're sure it's no trouble?"

"Thanks, Mom," I said with a smile, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

As I walked back to the guys, I could tell by the wide grins on their faces that they knew my answer before I even got there. "Well, it's all set, and your Grandmother said I can spend the night again."

"Hmmmm... Oh really?" Danny

Now call me dense, call me stupid, but for some reason it just took me a second or two to catch on. I quickly answered, "Dude, it isn't like that at all!"

Braden looked from Danny then to me but he didn't say anything. When I thought about it a little I think I might have hurt his feelings. I didn't think I was gay. Could Braden have been expecting me to want to fool around?

I guess Danny noticed something too because he said, "Sorry, guys... Sometimes I have a big mouth."

Braden smiled and answered, "It's ok man. No harm done."

Danny looked up and said, "Great, let's get going then."

I never thought about being straight let alone what it meant to be gay. Sure I fooled around that one time but that doesn't mean I'm gay. Does it?

"Ok, let's go." Braden agreed, and then asked, "Do we need to bring anything?"

Danny answered, "Well, not really, the other guys will have everything."

I leaned over the fence rail and looked down to the beach where I saw several blankets spread out. There were about three dozen kids down there already. Some were dancing, while others were in the water playing with a Frisbee. On the blankets there were three or four groups of kids just sitting around talking. In the middle of everything was a fire circle ready to be lit when it got dark. I looked at my watch and saw that it was already almost eight o'clock so we said our good byes to the adults and headed down to the party.

Danny went over and tried to get Billy and Andy to come with us, but they would have no part in it. When he caught up with us again, he said, "Well, at least I gave it a shot. He can be such a little twat sometimes."

As we started walking down the long stairway to the beach, I got one last glimpse of Billy, sitting in one of the lounge chairs glaring at us venomously. Andy was busy barking away in his ear and the thought of what they must have been plotting sent a cold chill down my spine. Right then, I decided that for the rest of the night I was going to put that idea as well as Andy and Billy themselves right out of my mind. Tonight I was going to my first real party, without any interfering parents or teachers, and I was going to have some fun.

This was turning out to be a pretty good vacation after all.

There was a soft evening breeze and it was warm, not hot and dusty like it gets back home in Omaha . The stairs passed even more quickly under our feet as we came closer to the bottom. I wasn't sure if it was just my imagination, or if we really were in that much of a hurry to get to the party. Maybe it was the anticipation of being able to relax at last, of finally being able to just get away from all the pressure of this awful day.

As we set foot on the white sandy beach, I could just begin to hear music over the constant breaking of the surf. It was very soft at first, but as we walked toward the kids gathered on the sheltered side of the cove, it gradually became louder. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it was coming from where some of the kids were dancing on the beach.

Danny was smiling from ear to ear and Braden looked like a kid let loose in a candy shop. As we walked toward the party, several of the kids recognized Danny and waved a friendly hello. One boy came running out to meet us and went straight to Danny, throwing his arms around him, giving him a big hug.

"I thought you were going to be gone for another two weeks?" Danny said, with his mouth hanging open. He was obviously overjoyed by this unexpected partier. "I've missed you so much." He added with another big hug.

The boy said, "Oh, I was, but it got to be way too boring without you, so I begged to come home." He stepped back, held up his arms with flair, and declared, "And here I am."

Braden and I were just standing there, stuck in the middle of one of those awkward moments when you are not sure what to say or what to do. Danny turned to face us, pulling the new boy with him. They had an arm around each other's back and were both grinning from ear to ear as Danny said, "Braden, Patrick, this is Jared, he and I are well... he is err... um... well, he's my boyfriend." Danny turned and gave Jared a sweet little peck on the cheek.

"Hi," was all Jared said, and then added to Danny, "That was so sweet, you've never called me that before." He gave Danny a peck on his cheek as well, and then added, "At least not in public."

"Cut it out," Danny fussed. "Do you want the other kids to see?"

"Shit, man, I have to tell you before I bust!!! Danny, I did it!!!" Jared said proudly.

"Did what?" Danny asked flatly.

"I told them!!! It was so cool! We were sitting there, eating breakfast about a week ago, and for some reason, I just came out and told them," Jared beamed.

"OMIGOD!!! You didn't? You did!!!" Danny was almost as excited as Jared about his wonderful news. "How did they take it?" Danny suddenly became very serious.

"Well, it was kind of funny at first. You know my Dad; he thought I was making some kind of a sick joke. Then when I said it again, real serious like, they both became real quiet. At first I thought I was dead, sure as hell!!! But, after a few minutes of my parents staring back and forth at each other, waiting to see who was going to talk first, my Dad finally said...

"Jared, you are sixteen now, and are sure as hell old enough to know your own mind. What I mean to say is, that you are old enough now to know who you are, and where your place in this world is. This isn't a thing for me, or your mother for that matter, to agree to or not agree. All we can do is love you, and all we ask is that you be responsible, and you make sure that your friends are too."

Jared looked so proud when he added, "They were so cool. I love them a lot."

"Oh, man, I am so happy for you. I hope it goes that easy for me when I tell my parents," Danny said hopefully.

Jared cocked his head thoughtfully and speculated, "Your parents are pretty cool, Danny, and I honestly think they really will be ok with it."

"Well, I was planning on telling them before school starts," Danny admitted. "That only gives me about two weeks. Shit..." he mumbled, almost to himself.

Braden was taking all this in like he was a sponge. I was amazed at how comfortable Danny and Jared could be talking about things like this in front of total strangers. I could see that Danny and Jared really liked each other, maybe even loved each other, just like some of the guys I knew back home with their girl friends. The more I thought about it though, the more I came to realize that being gay was just another way of being a person. I knew enough about sex and stuff to know that a guy doesn't have to think about what he wants or is attracted to. It just happens, and for no better reason than just because that was the way it was intended to be for each person.

It was crazy to think that everyone had to be the same. The idea that the whole world had to be only one way, or do all the same things was just as brainless. What a dull place this world would be if everybody had to think exactly alike, just because the other guy couldn't handle the difference. What it all boiled down to was that it shouldn't matter who you loved, as long as both were happy.

That thought made me feel better, for all the right reasons, better about myself and better about all my new friends and how they viewed life. Danny and Jared weren't that much older than Braden or me, only about a year and a half I figured. Just looking at them, the way they touched, the way they looked at each other, you could tell they knew what made them happy. They knew what they wanted.

With everything that had happened this afternoon, Braden needed to relax a bit. It wasn't hard to see that he felt totally comfortable being around Danny and Jared. That made me feel a lot better too.

Braden took a few quick steps toward the party, looked back to me, and said, "This party rocks! This is going to be fun!" He added excitedly, "Come on, Patrick, what are you waiting for?"

As I took in the scene before me, Danny and Jared went to a huge cooler and pulled out some drinks. As they handed one to each of us, Jared said, "Have fun. Just help yourselves to... well, to whatever." Danny whispered something in Jared's ear and then laughed as they walked off to have some time to themselves down by the water.

Braden and I just looked at each other as we popped the tops of our cans of soda. Braden's was a cola and mine was a root beer. Yuk!!! I grimaced as I took a drink and said, "Well, beggars can't be choosers."

"Yeah, I guess not. Here, trade with me," Braden offered, as he handed me his generic brand cola and took my no name root beer.

I followed Braden as we wound our way through the party. I didn't know a soul there other than Braden, Danny and now his boyfriend, Jared, so I kind of hung back, letting Braden lead the way. Most of the guys were paired off already with their girls and I was really surprised to see two other boys sitting on a blanket holding hands and rocking to the rhythm of the music. Braden smiled as we walked by, and from the way they looked at us, I got the feeling that they thought we were a couple as well.

Braden picked up on this too, and as we passed, he said, "I think they think we're dating."

I thought about that for a second and I figured that if I had a gay friend then some people might draw that conclusion. It didn't really matter what other people thought. I looked at Braden and said, "Let them think what they want."

I followed Braden as he trailed slowly down to the water's edge. Once there, we kicked off our shoes and stuck our feet in the warm water. Everyone had always told me that the water in the ocean was freezing, but this was really nice. I asked Braden about it, and he said the water in the cove warmed up like this because it was kind of shallow and there wasn't really much of a current. I guess that made sense.

We walked along the shoreline 'beach combing' Braden called it, picking at shells and little white stones with our toes. After a while, when we were away from the crowd, Braden moved up to the dry sand and sat down. I followed and stood next to him while he just looked out over the water to the distant horizon. The sun was setting and the sky was beginning to fill with stars. The moon was nearly full, washing everything with a blue light. Braden turned to look at me as I sat next to him on the warm sand.

We just sat quietly for a while, relaxing after a stressful day. Braden put a hand on my arm as he said, "Thanks, Patrick. Most kids would have... well, you know, they would have just left me alone to deal with Billy on my own. You're really a good friend."

"You know something? I did think about it. But, I figured that if I just got up and left, then I would be just as ignorant as the guys on the beach egging Billy on this morning." I looked down and saw Braden's hand resting on my arm and didn't think anything of it. I slid my arm up and took his hand in mine and gave it a good squeeze, then looking at Braden, I said, "If I were gay, I would be the first guy in line for you."

Braden actually blushed at this and squeezed my hand back. We sat there and watched a ship glide past the mouth of the cove far out to sea. Somehow the loneliness of that distant ship made me feel sorry for Braden. Not a pathetic kind of sorry, but a lonely kind of sorry. I knew right then that whatever happened to me, wherever I went, no matter what, from this moment forward, Braden would always be my friend, and I would be his.

I watched as a single tear rolled down Braden's cheek. It glimmered in the bright moonlight like a gem. It sparkled of hope and also of friendship, but most of all, its glow told me that Braden truly had feelings for me. That was both the sweetest, and the scariest, thought of all.

The rhythmic sound of the surf washing up on the shore, mixed with the sounds of the party, took us far away from the problems Braden had to face back on top of that bluff. After a while, I let my hand slip out of his and I stood up. Braden looked up, and said, "Patrick, you're the best."

"Awww, I bet you say that to all the boys," I laughed.

"Well, not all," Braden said in a syrupy voice.

"Whoa, you two seem to be getting along all right," Danny said as he and Jared came walking hand in hand up the beach.

Braden smiled as he stood up and I answered for us. "Yeah, we really are," I said, as I rested a hand on Braden's shoulder.

Danny pointed to where there was a huge pile of wood, and said, "Come on, they're getting ready to light the fire." As we all walked toward the circle of teens forming around the fire pit, three or four of the boys struck road flares and used them to light the fire.

We followed Danny and Jared as they picked their way through the crowd to the edge of the fire. When somebody put in a CD of old Beach Boy's music in the stereo, a group of girls began dancing to the music. Soon, everyone was either dancing around the fire or seeking a bit of privacy in the low dunes and rose-hip brambles at the outer rim of the beach.

Braden and I sat on the up-wind side of the fire and were having a good time listening to the music. As more and more kids joined in, the dancing began to move around the fire. I was reminded of an old movie I watched once, where all the natives were dancing around a fire, working up an appetite for boiled missionary. I elbowed Braden and pointed across the fire when I noticed Danny and Jared on the far side, dancing together. What really made me feel good was that I could see that they were totally comfortable with themselves here. None of the other kids seemed to notice or even care that they were dancing together. It also felt good to know that eventually Braden would be accepted as well.

The fire was getting hotter, so we stood up and decided to walk around a little and mingle with the crowd. For a moment I felt kind of out of place because Braden and I were the only kids there not paired off with a date. As we moved through the crowd, chatting here and there with kids Braden knew from the beach, I came to realize that they really thought we were a couple. They were saying things like, "you two look great together."

That kind of thing made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Braden would say something like, "Oh, we're just friends." I just did my best to ignore it because I didn't want to hurt his feelings again, but it wasn't easy.

Hearing some of them say things like that made me wonder just how 'out' Braden really was. I knew that Billy had plenty of chances to run his mouth up and down the beach. I wish I knew for sure just how much. Another thing was how many of them had managed to figure it out for themselves. The funny thing about it was that it really didn't seem to matter to them at all. All the kids treated us like any of their other friends.

We slowly made our way around the bonfire to where Danny and his boyfriend were now talking with a few of their friends. As we met up with them, Danny said, "Braden, Patrick, we were thinking about going downtown for some pizza. Do you guys want to come along too?"

Braden looked at me anxiously, but I was already shaking my head 'no', and in response to me, he said, "Yeah, I guess you're right." He turned to Danny, and reminded him, "Sorry, we can't this time. We both promised we would go straight home after the party."

Danny and Jared genuinely looked disappointed, but there was nothing we could do about it. Danny said, "Oh hell! That's right, I remember. Ok then, maybe next time."

"Sure, it would be fun," Braden thanked them for the rain check.

Danny, Jared and the other kids made their way to the parking lot, and they all piled into Jared's car. As they sped out of the lot and down the winding road, I asked Braden, "Well, what do we do now?"

"Just hang out I guess," Braden suggested.

We found a spot away from the heat of the fire, yet close enough to the other kids to keep tabs on what was happening. One of the kids pulled out a bag loaded with marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers and passed them around. As some of them went about making s'mores, another group was preparing to roast some hot dogs.

As the fire burned down and the supply of driftwood dwindled, several of the kids settled down around the fire, just talking. The party seemed to be breaking up and several groups of kids headed to other things to do in town. Some were heading to the late show at the one screen movie house, others to the pizza parlor for a snack before going home.

I looked to the top of the bluff where I could see the glow of the lights in the back yard and knew the bar-b-q had progressed to a party. My Mom said there were going to be some more of my Dad's old friends coming. I guess the whole thing had turned into a reunion.

Braden broke my train of thought when he pointed out two people descending the stairway from the yard to the beach. I heard him say under his breath, "Fuck!!! It's Billy!!!"

"I think you're right," I agreed.

"What the hell are we going to do? I don't want to get into it with him all over again!" Braden declared.

"I don't know. Let's just ignore him." I tried to make myself believe that Billy wasn't going to start any trouble. I hoped I was right.

"Yeah, I guess. There isn't a lot else we can do," Braden said nervously.

"That's right, so to hell with him then." I didn't want any trouble, but I wasn't about to run away from it either.

We just sat there, and as I heard the little bastard walk past, we didn't even look up. As he went by, I thought I heard him mutter something under his breath, but I wasn't really sure, so I just ignored it.

Without moving, I tried to watch Billy out of the corner of my eye so I could see what he was up to. Braden must have had the same idea, because he spotted him first, saying softly, "He's on the other side of the fire talking to some kids."

"Yeah, I see. That's what I was afraid of." I turned to see for myself and sure enough, he didn't waste any time stirring up trouble.

I knew what he was doing, and I knew there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. I stood up and said, "Let's just go home. We don't need to listen to him."

"Sounds good to me, maybe there's still something left to eat," Braden agreed, and we headed toward the stairs.

Billy wasted no time in making it look like we were running away. He started calling to us, saying, "There they go, the faggot boys."

I stopped dead in my tracks. I had had my fill! Braden turned and pleaded, "Patrick, please, don't. Come on; let's just go home. He isn't worth it."

"He is seriously pushing his luck!" I was getting really pissed. I turned and took four or five steps in Billy's direction, getting right in his face, and said, "Look you little asshole, one more word out of you, and I am going to shove it back down your throat!"

Braden was pulling me by my arm, but I just shook him loose. As Billy began to retreat, I took another three or four steps toward him, just to keep up, and added, "Go on, you shit for brains, say something!" I took another step. "I dare you!"

Billy looked to Andy and the other two friends he was talking with and found them already backing away, leaving Billy to his own fate. He wasn't so brave without his friends to back him up. That type never was.

I stared him down for another minute before declaring, "Yeah, I thought so. You're just a lot of bull shit." With that, I turned to Braden, and added, "We can go now." We headed for the stairs and home.

Once, I thought I heard Billy yell something when we were almost to the top of the stairs. We didn't stop, or even give an indication that we had heard him.

Back in the yard, safe from Billy and his big mouth, we were finally able to relax again. There must have been forty people milling around the back yard drinking, eating and drinking some more, what is it they call it now, oh yeah, 'networking'.

As planned, Braden and I headed straight for the food table, and we each managed to scrape together a good-sized snack. We didn't really want to go through the 'isn't he the spitting image' routine with all the guests, so we decided to go straight to Braden's room to eat in peace and relax. On the way in, we stopped at the fridge and picked up a half-gallon of milk and a couple of glasses, and then we headed upstairs.

Once in his room, Braden turned on the CD player, and we listened to music while we picked at our food. We both made ourselves comfortable, kicking off our clothes down to our boxers, and chilled out as we were finally able to completely relax for the first time today.

I sat down at Braden's desk, turned on his computer and was looking through his collection of computer games as the screen lit up. There on the desktop, 'for wallpaper' no less, was a picture of JTT bucketty ass naked. I couldn't help but notice the huge... err... personality he was sporting.

Braden sat down on the floor with his back against the foot of the bed, and looked at me sitting at his desk. I sat there with a piece of carrot smeared with ranch flavored dip sticking out of my mouth, and my eyes almost popping out of my head. Braden looked up to the screen and quickly said, "Oh, shit... Sorry, I should have warned you about that."

I knew about porn on the Internet, and I had once seen pictures of naked guys, some even doing stuff together. I had never really equated them as being jack off material. I looked at Braden, and asked, "Aren't you afraid someone will see this?" For some reason, I was still looking at the picture on his computer.

"No, not really. No one ever messes with my computer," Braden said confidently.

"I hope you're right," I laughed. When I thought about it a little more, I added, "It didn't take too much for me to find this, did it?" pointing at JTT's tool.

Braden chuckled, saying, "Yeah, I guess I see what you mean. I think I will put in a password for the desktop." He must have noticed I was quiet, even more so than usual, because he asked, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I was just thinking," I answered softly.

"'Bout what?" he wondered.

I felt my face getting warm, and mumbled, "Oh, it's nothing."

"Come on, dude, tell me," Braden insisted.

"Well, I was just kind of... well... um... I was like wondering... errr... well what... err"

"What's it like?" Braden guessed, finishing my question for me.

"Well, yeah," I admitted. I was at least a little curious, and becoming totally embarrassed by this conversation.

"What's what like?" Braden smiled. I could tell he was enjoying this. He wanted me to say the words.

"Well, you know... doing it... with another guy?" I confessed.

"I don't know what you're getting at" Braden answered so innocently.

I threw a carrot at him and he promptly tossed it into his mouth. "Well, just look at this," I said, pointing at JTT there on the screen in the flesh. "What does this do for you?"

Braden smiled from ear to ear, and asked, "Do you ever look at naked women when you jack off?"

I could feel my face flush again, and admitted, "Well... yeah, sometimes."

"Well, think about it. I get the same thrill from this," he said, pointing at JTT's equipment, "As you do from looking at girls."

"Yeah, I guess I see your point." I thought for a few seconds, and then asked, "How do you handle gym class in school? All those boys in the showers, it must be hard not to get hard."

Braden grinned from ear to ear again, and answered, "That's easy. I just think about girls and... well... nothing." Now it seemed it was Braden's turn to ask some personal questions of his own. "Did you ever whack off with a friend in the room?"

This surprised me and I knew I was blushing this time. "What?! Err... umm... ahh..."

"See!!! I knew it!" Braden exclaimed in a silly squeal.

"Now, wait a minute, I didn't say I did," I laughed.

"And you didn't say you didn't either," Braden pointed out.

"But..." I was beginning to think that I was completely losing control of this conversation.

Braden wasn't about to let this one slide by, and he asked again, "Well, did you ever do it or not?"

"Well, err... umm..."

"Yeah, right Mr. err, umm. Did you, or didn't you?" I could plainly see that Braden was enjoying this immensely.

"God damn it! All right! Yes, I did! All right! Now are you satisfied?!" I broke down and admitted.

"And did you touch his, and did he touch yours?" Braden giggled.

"WHAT!!!" I was utterly mortified by his insinuation.

The smile melted from Braden's face. "Well, did you?" he asked seriously.

I could see that Braden wasn't trying to make fun about this, so I decided to answer his question. I took a deep breath, and said, "Yes, I did. I touched his dick," then I added quickly, "But we only did it once!" I guess I was just trying to justify it as adolescent curiosity.

He wasn't going to let up now, and asked, "And did he touch yours?"

I nodded 'yes', and then said, "He jerked me off some."

"Did it feel good?" Braden asked with a little grin.

"Of course it felt good!" I admitted. Hell, when you're almost thirteen and are doing something even remotely sexual it always feels good.

"Well, there you go then," Braden smiled smugly.

"What the hell does that mean? 'There you go...'" I demanded.

"Just what I said." Braden sat back down and went back to work on the last bits of his snack as he continued. "You let him whack you off. Did he make you cum?"

"Err... um... well, yeah. That's what happens, isn't it?" I tried to say as I struggled to salvage some remnants of dignity.

"Exactly!" Braden said triumphantly, and then he added, "It just makes sense that if it feels good for you, it feels good for me! Plus, I have the advantage of doing it the way I really want to."

"What do you mean?" Braden's convoluted logic was beginning to confuse me even more than it already did.

"Well, just think about it." Braden leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, and then said, "If I get a hand job from a guy, well, it means I want a guy to give it to me. It's my choice. But, like when you got a guy to give you a hand job, you went ahead and let him do it, even though you say you would have rather have had a girl do it, right?"

"Well, yeah. I guess so." I was really wondering where Braden was going with this. I continued by admitting, "But, what I was thinking at the time was that one hand is as good as another."

Braden got up and sat on the corner of the bed, leaned forward and faced me. "Now there I got you!"

I was completely confused by this point, and said, "I just don't follow you."

"Just listen, all right?" Braden took a deep breath, and as he gathered his thoughts, he continued. "Now, a guy knows what it takes to please a guy. A girl can only guess at what feels good and in which places," Braden theorized.

"I've never thought about it that way before. I guess it kind of sort of makes sense." I think I was finally beginning to understand what Braden was getting at.

Braden grinned wide-eyed, and asked, "Well, if it makes all that much sense, wanna fool around?"

"WHAT!!! DUDE!!! You aren't serious!" I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Maybe I didn't understand as much as I thought.

"Yeah, I am serious," Braden admitted, and then added, "And you look ready to go, too." He pointed at the raging hard on tenting out my boxers.

Damn it, I hate it when it sneaks up on me like that! "Braden, I can't do that! I'm not like you! I like girls." I tried to back out of his offer as tactfully as I could.

"All right, have it your own way, but all this talk about jacking off has put me in the mood," Braden said, as he slid his right hand into the front of his boxers and began to slowly rub his cock. He reached past me to the top drawer of his desk and pulled out something that looked like a tube of toothpaste.

I didn't want to seem stupid or naïve, but there was no other way to know without asking, so I said, "What are you doing?"

"Haven't you ever seen a tube of lube before?" Braden seemed surprised by my inexperience.

"Lube? What's that?" I asked.

"You use it to make your dick slippery. It makes it feel better," Braden answered as he handed me the tube to examine.

I took Braden's 'lube', and looked at the tube, reading 'KY Jelly'. Braden then asked, "Haven't you ever used this when you were jacking off?"

"No," I answered absently. "I've never heard of lube before." I turned the tube in my hands reading the label and removed the cap. "What else do you do with it?"

"Oh, well, it really pays to use it when you back pack," Braden answered.

"I was in the scouts too! I never heard of using any 'lube' for back packing!" I informed him.

"Not that kind of back packing!" Braden laughed, and then added, "The sex kind of back packing."

I tried to imagine what Braden was getting at with this 'back packing'. Suddenly, a light somewhere in the back of my brain switched on, and I said, utterly mortified, "You don't mean?!?!?!" and I slowly pointed at my butt. I was really beginning to feel like I was getting in over my head here.

Braden nodded, and said, "Well... Yeah, actually I do."

I had overheard the guys joking about 'butt fucking' in the locker room once, but I never thought it was something guys really did when fooling around. I looked at Braden and could see that he really was serious, and said, "Whoa, how could you do something like that? It must hurt like hell?"

"Well, let me see how I can explain this..." Braden became thoughtful, like he was putting all the pieces to a puzzle together in his head. He smiled, and finally said, "Ok... yes, it can hurt like hell, but if you use the lube, and take the time to loosen up, it can be the best feeling in the world."

"But aren't you afraid of the... well, the mess?" I wondered.

"Oh yeah, that's important too. You have to be sure you're empty inside." Braden made a sour face, and added knowingly, "Believe me, I know."

It got quiet, and for some reason, I couldn't seem to help myself. I sat there and watched as Braden quickly came to full attention while he slowly played with himself. I didn't know why, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to know why, but as Braden got harder, so did I. Braden noticed the rise in my pants and didn't miss a beat as he said, "You know, I could take care of that for you." He smiled, looked into my eyes, and then winked impishly.

I looked at Braden and saw a hunger in him, a desire that I had never really seen before, or even thought possible. I was straight! I thought I knew that was what I wanted. What I couldn't understand was why I was so drawn to my new friend. I was also terrified that maybe somehow deep down inside I might really want what he was so eagerly offering.

As Braden moved slowly from the corner of the bed up to his pillow, he never stopped rubbing himself. Once he was comfortable, lying down with his head propped up against the headboard, he really went to work slowly stroking the length of his shaft. As the swollen cock stretched the fabric of his boxers, Braden slid the front down an inch or two and let the head poke out just a bit.

I watched, mesmerized, as a huge droplet of precum oozed out of his cock and slowly dropped to his belly. I felt a surge to my dick. It got even harder and then as I flexed it again I dribbled some also. It was about a year and a half ago when my friend Justin and I fooled around, and in the time since then, I had all but forgotten about it. What happened that night when we were alone, just the two of us in that dark tent in his back yard, all at once came rushing back to me.

Shit! It did feel good to have him beat me off! I remembered the look on his face when I asked him to suck on my cock too. He smiled and was about to do it, but he backed off because I wouldn't promise to suck on his tool as well.

I watched Braden lying there on the bed, stroking his pole. He was making himself feel as good as I so often did late at night when I was all alone in my room. I felt my monster strain against the confines of the boxers I was wearing, trying, almost begging to break free.

"I'm not gay!!! I... am... straight!" I kept telling myself. Why did I keep watching Braden as he played with himself? Why was this such a turn on? Was this something I had always wanted? Was it just that there was never any other opportunity? Well, except for that one night with Justin.

I tried to remember if it were Justin that started the ball rolling that night, or if it was me. He was too willing to get at my cock that night, but I enjoyed jerking him off too. Was it his idea, or was it mine? When I thought about it, I just couldn't remember. I just could... not... remember.

I was not gay! I wasn't, damn it, but why was Braden such a turn on? Why was he making me want what I didn't want? At least I shouldn't want it, I thought.

Fooling around with Justin that night didn't hurt anything, it felt good. It felt very good. I remembered cumming for the first time without ever touching my self with my own hands, and how great that felt. I remembered us both laughing when we watched in amazement as my cum hit the roof of the tent. I had never shot off like that, before or since.

As Braden tugged his boxers down a bit further, the sight of him standing his boner straight up and slowly stroking it was getting to be too much. I was so turned on I was beginning to shake all over. Did I want this that much?

I was not gay! I liked girls! I did... I guess that I tried to like girls would be more to the point. I had never really had a girlfriend before, not a real one that is.

I remembered Justin lying naked on the sleeping bag next to me, his hand on my cock and my hand on his, both trying furiously to make each other get off. I finally gave up the tangle of pounding fists and flapping arms to Justin's skillful hand. He kept going, never missing a beat, and in no time at all, I was shooting the best load I ever had.

I was not gay! But if I wasn't gay, then why did I want so badly to have Braden stroking my cock the way he was stroking his own?

I wasn't. I wasn't gay!!! I wasn't... but why did I want to go over to Braden's bed and let him do whatever he wanted to me?

I wasn't... was I?

Braden looked into my eyes, and seemed to read deep into my soul. He spoke softly, with feeling. "I will never hurt you, Patrick, ever."

If I wasn't gay, then why was I getting up and going to lie down next to Braden on his bed? Why, when Braden turned to me and placed his hand on my arm, did it feel so good? Why did I feel so safe? Why did I feel like I just came home after a long hard journey?

Braden was still looking into my eyes as he ran his hand up my arm to my neck I felt my breath suddenly leave me in a rush. Could it be that I really was gay? Was it that I was trying all this time not to be gay?

Braden's touch felt so good. It made me want so much more. He slowly let his hand wander over my chest, touching me all over with such care. Braden moved so softly, I never realized a boy could be so gentle. His eyes burned into mine and drew me closer to him.

I kept trying to tell myself that I wasn't gay. I had to convince myself that I really didn't want what I knew was happening to me. It was no good, though. There was a place deep inside of me, now that the flame was lit, that burned for more of what I feared most.

But was it fear? Did I truly know what I wanted, or was I just denying who I really was?

As Braden traced circles on my chest and belly, I didn't feel afraid. I closed my eyes, and his touch was so calming and yet electric, almost to the point of intoxication. It felt so good that I let a soft moan escape, and Braden responded by sliding a bit closer to me. I turned slightly so I could look at him, and he smiled so sweetly. He let his hand wander to the small of my back and as he coaxed me closer to him, I could feel a heat building between us.

When I pressed my chest against his, a feeling, a sensation ran through my middle, a feeling so earth shattering it made me tremble with anticipation. It was all at once exciting and terrifying. I had never been as physically and emotionally attuned to anyone as I was to Braden right at that moment. I reached toward my friend and let my hand wander to find the same place in the small of his back, and as he was now holding me close, I pulled him closer still. It was hard to admit to myself, but at that moment, I wanted this feeling to never end, and it was even harder to imagine how I had lived without this feeling as long as I had.

That night, so long ago, with my friend Justin, was nothing compared to this. The waves of emotion now washing through me were the most intense feelings I had ever experienced. Braden reached over and switched off the bedside lamp, leaving the room in the soft blue glow of the computer monitor added to the moonlight coming in through the window. He then put his hand around my neck and leaned forward and gently, ever so slightly, kissed me for the first time ever on the lips.

At first, it caught me by surprise, and I thought I was going into melt down mode right there on the bed! The rush of butterflies that churned through my middle nearly made me dizzy. I looked into Braden's eyes for a second, pulled him close, and then I kissed him back.

At first, we just pressed our lips together, but when I drew in a breath and finally caught his sweet smell, I let my lips relax and part slightly. Braden followed my lead and opened his mouth a tiny bit as well, letting the tip of his tongue caress my lips gently. I hesitated, but as I let my own tongue search out his, and I tasted him for the first time, I felt a surge of electricity charge through me. I had never done anything like this before. Was it because I didn't really want it or because there was no opportunity until now?

Braden pushed his tongue a little deeper into my mouth, and I thanked him by relaxing a bit more so I could receive him totally. Our tongues mingled in a dance of erotic ecstasy, and as we came together in our first true embrace, we both knew where this was leading. I just hoped that I wasn't getting in over my head.

Braden held me in his young strong arms, and I held him without reservation, as we were caught up in this moment of passion. We continued to press our bodies together, touching, feeling, each getting to know the other as well as we knew ourselves. My hard dick sparred with his, and as we continued our embrace, Braden let one hand slip under the fabric of my boxers and he cupped my butt as he drew a line down the crack with his thumb.

It felt so good to have this young strong boy holding me, and I wanted him to feel every bit as good as I did. We had been through a lot in the past twenty-four hours and I knew him better in that short bit of time than I knew anyone, ever. I slid a hand between us and with the tip of my finger, traced a line through his shorts from the head of his massive tool all the way to its base and beyond. I let my hand cover as much as it could and gave him a good solid squeeze. Braden let out a sigh of pleasure and I could feel his young manhood throb as I held it.

Braden continued to caress my butt until his thumb pressed against my hole. The unexpected shock of having his thumb knocking on my back door caused me to nearly go into convulsions. I never imagined that what we were doing could feel so good. As we kissed, I squealed into his mouth with excitement as he circled my anus over and over again.

I let my grip on him slacken and withdrew far enough to be able to reach the waist band of his boxers. Slowly, cautiously, I slid my hand inside, touching his hot cock for the first time. The head was slick with precum and I rubbed it over the crown as I slowly stroked it.

Braden threw his head back and hissed, "Oh yes!!! Oh Patrick, that's it!!! Yes!!!"

I let go of his tool and slipped his boxers down to his knees. Braden kicked them off the rest of the way as I removed my own. We lay there totally naked, with nothing more between us than our own body heat. I realized at that moment that I was about to cross a line that up until now I never knew existed. I was about to break every taboo in the book, but as I touched Braden, as he touched me, it just didn't matter any more.

I wanted to please Braden, and I could think of no better way to do that. As I inched myself slowly, nervously down to his waiting prize, he pulled me back up, kissed me again, and said, "Slowly babe, we have all night."

No one had ever called me that before. I smiled at him and kissed him softly on the lips. Braden, however, had other ideas and pushed his tongue deep into my mouth and his thumb deep into my crack. I lifted one leg to give him better access to my hole, and as he circled the rim, he pushed firmly, and I felt his thumb slide inside a little.

At first I was scared, but then, once I realized I wasn't being split in two I relaxed and enjoyed my first good solid fingering. Braden slid his thumb in to the hilt and turned his wrist a bit and then pushed a little deeper. That's when he hit a spot that nearly put me into orbit. I had never even dreamed that anything could have felt so good. I thought I was going into a sensory overload. Unfortunately, I was holding onto Braden's cock at the time and nearly pulled it off. When Braden wiggled his thumb and raked across that magical spot once again, I quaked from head to toe with pleasure beyond imagination. I surprised myself as I realized that I was pushing back on his thumb to get even more.

Braden whispered into my ear, "I can do even better than that."

I couldn't believe my own ears. All I could manage to say in a half whisper half howl was, "How!!!"

"Do you want me to show you?" Braden whispered, as he sucked and nibbled on my earlobe.

I was lost in a tidal wave of new feelings and mixed emotions. I wanted everything Braden could offer, and I tried to give as much and more back to him, but I didn't know how. I wasn't even totally sure if I wanted to learn how. One thing I did know for certain was that there was something special about Braden. It was something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I just simply could not ignore what was happening to me. I had to have more. I held him tight around the neck and gave him the only answer I could think of. I gasped into his ear, "Yes!!!"

Braden withdrew his thumb, and all at once I felt empty. He then began slowly kissing his way down my neck, nipping lightly with his teeth and licking, flicking me with his tongue. As he moved toward my chest, he licked one of my nipples, then the other. He bit each little nubbin gently while he ran his hands over every part of me that he could reach. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be carried away on a cloud of sensations only dreamt about.

I ran my fingers through his hair and heard myself whimper for more as Braden continued to seek out the treasure he so desired. I knew where he was heading and inwardly I pleaded for Braden to hasten to his goal as he languished over every centimeter of my body. He traced a line over my belly to my navel and ran his tongue around it till I was moaning in pleasure.

I watched as he turned his head and looked at my rock hard cock, and then I heard him draw in a deep breath of air. I was utterly amazed at the feeling as he blew a hot stream of air over my dick and pubes. It literally sent chills up and down my spine.

Braden looked at me, and as I smiled, he ran the tip of his tongue down the length of my cock from the head to the base and back. The soft velvet of his tongue felt incredible, better than anything I had ever imagined. When he ran his hot wet tongue around the head, and then slipped about the first three inches of me into his hungry mouth, I thought I was going to scream. I had to bite my wrist to hold it in.

Braden had a way of rolling his tongue around the head while slowly pistoning up and down my shaft simultaneously. The feeling was no less than miraculous. I felt my legs go stiff and my nuts begin to tighten, readying themselves for a massive release. I knew it wouldn't be long now, and I gritted my teeth, saying, "Oh, please, don't stop, I'm almost there, man!"

Braden took this as a signal to redouble his effort. He was going to make this a night to remember. The feeling was incredible when he pumped and sucked my dick even harder, and even more so as he slid his finger into the crack of my ass. He pressed hard, and then as he ran little circles around the outer rim of my butt hole his middle finger drilled deep.

That did it!!! I tensed, and tried to warn Braden, but all I could manage to say was, "OH SHIT!!! I'm... I'm... G... g... gonna cum!!!"

Braden sensed it as well, because he went straight for that magical spot deep inside. As he raked over my self destruct button, I literally exploded with blast after blast of hot creamy boy juice. I was kind of surprised when he didn't even flinch as I filled Braden's mouth. He swallowed it all; gulp after gulp Braden savored the taste of my most treasured prize.

When I was done, Braden licked the shaft clean. Every time he touched the now ultra-sensitive head, I felt like my spine would jump out of my body. All I could say, once I had managed to catch my breath, was, "WOW!! That was totally incredible!"

Braden, hearing this, looked up into my eyes. He kissed the head of my cock one more time then slid up to the pillow next to mine. As he slipped his hand into mine, he smiled sweetly and said, "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

I noticed Braden casually fondling his cock with his free hand. I knew he wanted me to try pleasing him like he had just done to me. Everything seemed to be happening so fast and I still wasn't sure if I was ready for that. I reached for the tube of lube, removed the cap, and squeezed a good-sized glop of the gooey liquid into my hand. Next, I slid down a bit, and said, "Here, let me do that."

Braden grinned and put his hands behind his head, releasing his favorite toy for me to play with. I hesitated for a second as I considered what I was about to do. This was a lot different than just playing kid's games on a sleepover. There was something special about Braden, something different. I couldn't quite put it into words, but I knew I didn't want to disappoint him. I didn't know why, but I just couldn't let him down.

I noticed my hand shaking as I reached for him. I was hoping he wasn't aware of my uncertainty. Gently, I smeared an even coat of the lube over the head and shaft. Next, I took a good tight grip and began to pump him. I moved slowly at first, but as Braden reclined on his pillow with his hands tucked behind his head, he said, "Faster, do it faster. I'm not going to be able to last too long like this."

I sped up my pace on Braden's spike, and once I felt the head swell with the anticipation of a major orgasm, I squeezed just a bit more. This caused Braden to tense, and as he tried to say something, it came out as a high-pitched squeal. He made a grunting sound as his boy toy erupted with blast after blast of thick, hot, creamy, white spooch. I counted six major and four minor blasts and a good dribble at the end. Braden was covered in his own cum from his belly button to his chin.

I had never seen so much cum at one time. I bet I would have though, if Braden hadn't swallowed all of mine. There was a big splot of cum on the back of my hand, and I felt the creamy smoothness of it. I looked at Braden, and he was smiling at me as he said, "Go ahead, taste it." I watched as he scooped up a big, gooey finger full from his chest and licked it clean. He looked like he was sneaking a taste from a bowl of icing, with a big smile and a smack of his lips.

I ran my finger tip through a little pool of his boy nectar and then scooped up a little between my thumb and forefinger. Braden smiled as I put it close to my mouth, and nodded as I licked it just a tiny bit. The taste was kind of salty and a little sweet and it was a little... well... I just couldn't place it.

I leaned forward and kissed Braden hard, pushing my tongue so deeply into his mouth that I could taste my own cum. I think my kiss caught my expert teacher by surprise, judging from the wide-eyed look he gave me. I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight, kissing him like I had been doing it all my life.

Braden was quiet, relaxed, and I was too. What do you say after... well, you know? Now I knew why so many people in the movies smoked a cigarette after having great sex. It just seemed such a let down to just lay there and do nothing.

The sounds from the party out in the yard were beginning to subside, and we knew the adults were winding down for the night. As for Braden and I, it had been a really long day; a day of hardship, discovery, and also some pretty hard decisions. I kept running over everything in my mind again and again. I know it felt good, hell, it felt great. I hoped it was as good for him as it was for me. I just couldn't have gone all the way, though. I needed to know what I wanted for sure. I needed to figure out who I was.

I looked at my new friend, now lying peacefully with his head on his pillow, hands laced behind his head. I could see that he was content in the comfort of his own home, with the people he loved. I wondered quietly to myself how long this peace would last.

He still faced one of the most difficult tasks he would ever have to endure. How was he going to tell his Father and Grandmother about his direction in life? He also had a more immediate problem on his hands. What was he going to do about Billy? How much would Billy complicate things, running his mouth like he does?

I had issues of my own to resolve as well. I was sure I had feelings for Braden, but what sort of feelings were they exactly? Right then, I just couldn't say for sure. I had never had a friend quite like him before. In just one day I knew all of his innermost secrets, and he now knew most of mine as well.

Tonight I gave myself to Braden freely, without reservation, without regret, and I enjoyed his attention. I walked the line and tried my level best to please him as completely as he had pleased me. I felt a part of his soul touch mine as surely as I was laying there drawing breath.

I pulled up the covers to make us more comfortable. As I closed my eyes, I took his hand in mine, and said, "Good night, Braden." He didn't answer, not with any words at least. He didn't need to. I knew it was a good night, and Braden's soft breathing and sweet little snores confirmed it.

I awoke in the middle of the night needing to go pee so I silently slipped out from under Braden's arm, trying not to disturb him. He mumbled something about tasting buttermilk and Clorox as he rolled over, scrunching one of the pillows under his arm. Buttermilk and Clorox? What the hell was he dreaming about! Yuck!!!

I looked at the clock on the nightstand and saw that it was already 3:48 in the morning. I pulled on my boxers since I didn't want to run around his Grandmother's house all buckety ass naked. I couldn't hold it any more, so I tip-toed quickly to the bathroom.

I took care of business and went back to the bedroom. As I entered the room, I felt my foot kick something on the floor. I heard it slide a little ways, and looked to see what it was. I reached down and picked up the tube, that tube. I turned it and held it up into the light. As I did, I could still feel the sticky residue from last night on my fingers. All of a sudden, the things I had done last night came rushing back to me.

Before yesterday I knew who I was, what I was. I had a pretty good idea where my life was going. Why did I let myself do it?! I was supposed to be a good kid. I didn't do things like that. I... was... straight! I was not gay!!! Those words kept ringing in my mind over and over. I... was... not... gay!!! I didn't know what to do. What had I done?

I felt a cool breeze blow in through the open window, causing goose bumps to spread across my body. I started walking toward the bed, but something stopped me. I reached down and picked up a sheet and wrapped it around me as I sat on the floor. I took a deep breath, and for a second, I felt as if I was going to cry. I forced myself not to; guys don't cry, or do they? I broke down into sobs.

I pulled the sheet tight around me, and folded my arms close to my chest. I forced myself to take in a deep, deep breath. I had to stop this. I didn't want Braden to see me crying like a baby. I needed to get back to sleep. I got up and started to get back into bed, but as I crossed Braden's room, I stopped and looked at him. He looked so peaceful sound asleep. Anyone could look at him and see that he wasn't a bad kid. He was just Braden, my friend.

I walked toward my side of the bed, but I stubbed my toe on the bedpost. Bedposts being what they are, it didn't move a single inch. I let out a yelp of pain that I thought would awaken the dead. I tried to sit down, but missed the bed, my butt thumping down hard to the floor. I was busy feeling sorry for myself and rubbing my injured toe when Braden rolled over, and said, "HUH? What?" Through a haze of sleepiness, he asked, "Patrick, where are you? What happened?" He looked down at me from the edge of the bed, and added, "What did you do, fall out of bed?"

I grunted in exasperation, and said, "No, damn it! I think I broke my toe on the freaking bedpost!"

Braden switched on the bedside lamp and got out of bed, as he said in a hushed voice, "Dude, not so loud, they're still asleep." He added with a little smile, "Awww... Want me to kiss it better?"

It really hurt, but I could still wiggle all my toes. We decided it wasn't too bad, so I got up slowly and limped to the bed again. Braden joined me and pulled the covers back over us, being careful to keep my sore toe sticking out.

Once we were both comfy and warm under the covers, Braden snuggled against me. I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but once again my thoughts were running wild. As Braden was breathing in that heavy, steady rhythm, I knew he had fallen back to sleep. As soon as I was sure he was out again, I carefully inched away, just enough to put a little space between us.

I couldn't help thinking again about what had happened last night. It was hard to put into so many words, but I kept replaying everything over and over, seeing it all so clearly in my mind's eye. Braden and I, together, naked, fooling around like kids do. When we did it, I didn't think it was something dirty, a thing to be ashamed of. It was just fooling around. It was Braden's idea to suck on me, not mine. Yeah, I jerked him off, but guys do that all the time, don't they?

What I kept wondering to myself was whether or not I ever would, or even could do anything like that again? I just didn't know. If I did do it again, would I go further than I had last night? I couldn't answer that either. All I could say for certain was that I knew that what happened between Braden and me was really intense. It made me feel more alive than I had ever felt before. I wish I knew why.

I rolled over and looked at my friend in the dim gray light of early dawn. To look at him now, lying there, asleep, you would never think of him as being gay. He didn't wear dresses, or go around acting feminine. He didn't act queer; he was just another one of the guys. The only thing that made him different from any of the other guys I knew up until that point was the fact that he liked boys and just plain didn't like girls. I couldn't understand why people got so upset over a boy liking another boy.

Well, I liked Braden, and I knew that we were going to be friends forever. I just hoped that Braden didn't read too much into what we did last night. After all, I was still trying to sort out everything that happened between us and how I felt about it. I did feel something; that was for certain. I just wasn't sure what that something was.

Braden was so fragile after all the abuse and controversy of Billy's attack; I just didn't want to hurt him. If I was right about all this though, I mean, the way he felt toward me now that we had... well, messed around, I couldn't see any way to avoid it. I made up my mind to try and talk to him about our feelings as soon as we got up.

I heard a door close down stairs and knew it would soon be time to get up. Braden was still sound asleep, so I gave him a nudge to awaken him. It took several tries before he finally opened his eyes, and half squinted, half smiled at me. He yawned once, and said, "Morning already? I was having such a nice dream."

"Really? About what?" I wondered.

"Oh, nothing really," he stammered, and then quickly added, "I can't remember."

I couldn't be sure, but from the way Braden looked at me when he opened his eyes, I got the impression that I was the subject of his dream. I figured it was better if I didn't press the issue, so I just smiled and said, "Ok."

Braden lay there on the bed and stretched like a lazy old cat for a long minute. With a grunt, he quickly swung his legs out from under the bed covers and stood up as he stretched again. When he reached for the ceiling, I couldn't help but notice how handsome he was. His shoulders were beginning to broaden and his muscular back rippled as he flexed and relaxed, and his little baby six-pack was nicely defined as well. I wondered just what he ever saw in me. I never thought of myself as much of a catch for anyone. I just figured that I was more of a left-over. It just seemed to me that it wouldn't take a lot of effort to do a lot better.

I went to his dresser, pulled open the top drawer, and got him a fresh pair of boxers, and borrowed another pair for myself. I walked toward the bedroom door as I said, "I'm going to take a shower. I'll be right back." As I was adjusting the water to a comfortable temperature, Braden shuffled by me, making a bee line for the toilet to go pee. As he breathed a huge sigh of relief, I kicked my boxers to the floor and slipped into the shower.

There weren't many things that felt better than a nice, hot shower first thing in the morning. I liked it when the water washed away all of that fuzzy feeling you get when you first wake up. I let the spray of the shower massage my back as I washed. I was rinsing the last of the shampoo from my hair when Braden said, "Patrick, just leave the water running. I'll jump in when you get out."

I finished rinsing the soap off, and then stepped to the rear of the shower and slipped out without letting too much water splash on the floor. Braden slid by, running his hand over my butt as he passed. He touched the spot that had bounced off the floor and I let out an, "Ouch!"

As Braden entered the shower, he turned and saw me rubbing my sore butt, and said, "Oh, are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm all right. It's just a little sore," I answered.

He made quick work of his shower, and was out before I finished drying myself. As he toweled off, Braden said, "Patrick, about last night..." He bit his lip as if he didn't know what exactly he wanted to say.

I interrupted him, saying, "I know, we have to talk about everything." I bit my lip too, and realized I had no idea how to say what I wanted to say either.

We both stood there, buckety ass naked, each of us trying to come to terms with our encounter of the previous night in our own way. Finally, I managed to assemble a coherent thought, and said, "Braden last night was wonderful. I never dreamed... What I mean is I never knew it could feel so good."

Braden glowed with the compliment, and he smiled brightly as he said, "Last night was very special for me too." He slipped into his boxers, and as he pulled them up, he continued. "It meant a lot to me." As I combed my hair, he walked up in back of me, and added, "Patrick, I really like you a lot."

Oh man!!! I knew it! I was melting inside. I really didn't want to hurt him, but I just didn't think I liked him the same way that he liked me. We were friends, and yes, friends sometimes get carried away with things, but this was different. Last night Braden and I had fooled around, but that's all it was for me. Yes, I gave in to it, I admit it, and it felt damn good, I admit that too, but this morning though, looking at him eye to eye, I just didn't know what to say.

I had a feeling this was going to happen. No matter how I tried to think of the best way to say it, nothing sounded right. I decided that the direct approach would be the best; no bull shit, just the honest truth. I turned to face Braden, and said, "I like you a lot too, but... but... I..." Damn it!

I could see the disappointment building on Braden's face as I stumbled over my own words. I put my hand on his shoulder and when I couldn't think of anything to say, well, that just made things worse. Braden took a deep breath, and I could see his lower lip tremble as he said, "It's all right," I saw his eyes well up with a little bit of moisture and as he bravely blinked the tears back, he added, "I understand."

I felt awful. I looked into his eyes, and said, "Braden, I want us to be friends; the best kind of friends." I thought for a second that I could actually hear his heart breaking. I quickly added, "I... I told you from the very beginning I wasn't like that. I'm not gay."

Braden's voice was little more than a weak whisper as he replied, "I know. I just hoped you would like me."

"Braden, I do like you. I like you a lot. I don't think I ever had a friend quite like you." I tried to make him see my point of view, but I didn't think I was doing a very good job.

Braden looked at me and asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it, in just a couple of days, we know more about each other than any other person we know. You are the best friend I ever had, ever," I stated flatly. I reached for my friend and reeled him in for a good hug.

He rubbed my back, holding me tight. I tried to ignore it when he slipped a little too low, but he said, "Sorry, can't blame a guy for trying." I gave him my best hairy eyeball stare, and we both laughed.

"No, I guess not," I admitted, and gave him a tiny kiss on his cheek. I turned away and then muttered under my breath, "What happened last night really was awesome."

I thought I had said that to myself, but then I heard Braden agree, "Yeah, it really was." I knew then that I had a big mouth.

I saw Braden's grinning face in the mirror, and I was sure he mouthed the words, "Really awesome!!!" For some reason, seeing that made me feel a little better about... well, about what happened.

He looked up and saw me staring at him through the mirror, and his smile widened. Right then, he showed me the happy Braden I knew, and I was pretty sure that everything would be all right. We went back to his room, and on the way caught the smell of sausage cooking. All at once, our bellies growled like two dogs trying to eat the same bone, and we made tracks for Braden's bedroom and some fresh clothes.

We both got shorts, tees, sox and our sneakers, and threw them all on as fast as possible. We descended the back stairs like a herd of starving wild animals. As we barreled into the kitchen, we caught a cold stare from Braden's grandmother. Talk about a first class hairy eyeball. Mom had nothing on Mrs. Riley. We both sat down at the table, and said, "Sorry."

Braden's grandmother huffed as she answered, "I know, boys. I could tell." She smiled as she placed a huge platter full of pancakes and sausages in the middle of the table. "Here you go, boys." She turned to me and added, "Patrick, don't be shy now. Serve yourself, dear."

I grabbed my fork and nodded with a big smile, "Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

The pancakes smelled great, and we wasted no time digging in. This morning though, Braden's Grandma sat down with us and poured herself a hot cup of coffee. As she looked over the rim of her cup from me to Braden, and then back over to me again, I knew something was up. There wasn't anything I could do about it right then, so I just waited it out. After a moment, she took another sip of her coffee, and then said, "Well, which one of you two is going to tell me what was going on last night?"

Shit!!! I wasn't expecting a direct attack! I froze with a big hunk of pancake dangling from my fork, just an inch from my mouth. I looked sideways at Braden as he nearly choked on his sausage. He looked over at his Grandmother, and answered nervously, "Wh... wha... What do you mean?"

I couldn't breathe. I didn't know what to do, so I just shoved the pancake into my mouth. No sense in letting a last meal go to waste. All of a sudden, I felt a chill. My mouth went dry, and my pancake seemed to turn to dust. I reached for my glass of milk, but when my hand started to shake, I put it back down.

"I'm not so old, that I don't know when someone is up to some monkey business," Mrs. Riley added, with a raised eyebrow.

"Huh?" was all Braden managed to come up with. Freaking brilliant! I hope he doesn't plan a career in Congress.

I had to come up with something fast, since Braden couldn't! All I could think of was, "Pass the sausages, please." It came out more like a croak. Smooth, real smooth. God, puberty sucks!

"Here you are, dear," Braden's grandmother said, as she handed me the plate. "Patrick, are you all right? You look a bit pale."

I took the plate of sausage and answered, "Yes, ma'am. I'm ok." She looked concerned for a moment, but smiled and sipped her coffee once more, before turning back to face her grandson.

She took a deep breath, and then let out a soft sigh. "Braden, dear, I overheard some of the things your friend Billy was saying last night." Oh, thank God!!! She wasn't talking about last night; she was talking about last night. She drained her cup, and then added, "Just what was he talking about, dear?"

Braden swallowed hard, and then pleaded, "Gram, I just don't want to talk about it. Ok? I just can't, not now."

She looked at Braden patiently, and said, "All I want to do is help."

Braden reached for more pancakes and syrup, saying, "I know Gram, and I love you for it, but this is something I have to handle by myself."

As she listened to Braden, she poured herself another cup. "Well, I guess I can understand that. I can see that you're growing up, and I know you want to be handling more things for yourself. Just remember that I am here to help you if you need it," she said in her most reassuring Grandmotherly voice.

Braden smiled, and said, "I know, Gram. I do want to talk to you about it, but I can't just yet. I want to try and figure this out on my own first. Ok?"

"I guess you know your own business well enough. But remember, I just don't want you to get into any kind of trouble." She seemed to insist on that last part. She took a sip of her coffee, and then added with a sweet smile, just as if no one said a word before this, "So, then, what do you two have planned for today?"

I looked at Braden, and he just shrugged as he pushed a huge piece of pancake into his mouth. He was going to be of no help, so I told her, "I guess we haven't really given it much thought." I picked up a sausage with my fingers and slid it into my mouth.

Mrs. Riley took her cup to the sink, rinsed it out, and then asked, "Braden, why don't you take Patrick down to the village and show him around?"

I thought about her suggestion, and said, rolling my tongue around another sausage, "Yeah, that might be fun." After I swallowed, I asked, "What's there to do there?"

She looked thoughtful for a moment before answering, "Hmmm, now, let me see. Well, there are all sorts of shops and plenty of things to see, like the harbor..."

It sounded kind of boring, and I was about to beg off until Braden said, "It's really pretty cool. There's a music store and an arcade. There's an old fashioned ice cream parlor too."

Braden's Grandmother looked surprised, and with a sweet smile said, "Isn't that what I just said, dear?"

Braden laughed as he swirled a bite of pancake in syrup, and answered, "Almost, Gram, almost."

That sounded a bit better, so I smiled, and agreed, "Yeah? Ok, that sounds like fun."

As we finished the last of the huge stack of pancakes and cleared the dishes to the sink, Mrs. Riley chuckled. "I knew you would be a good influence, Patrick. Braden got his own dishes this time without my having to ask." Braden stuck his tongue out at me behind her back, as she said, "Don't do that, Braden." Damn! They do have eyes in the back of their heads.

As we stood there, Braden's Grandmother turned to him, and said, "Braden, if you would, dear, go upstairs and bring me my handbag."

Braden bolted up the back stairs and returned about twice as fast as he left with a brown leather purse. She took it and rummaged through the contents a bit then pulled out two twenty -dollar bills, handing them to Braden. "Here's some spending money dear. Now mind you, there is money there for your dinner tonight. We grown ups are all going out to dinner this evening, so you are going to have to get something in town. That is, unless you want to come along with us?"

Braden smiled from ear to ear, and kissed his Gram on the cheek while giving her a big hug, answering, "Oh, no thanks. We'll get something while we're out." As he hugged her again, he added, "I won't forget, Gram. Thanks."

"That's what I thought. I didn't think you would have very much fun with all of us old fogies anyway." She laughed as she returned his embrace lovingly, and then she added, "I'll tell your father that I said it was all right. Now, Braden, please be careful dear. Don't get yourself into any trouble, and be home early."

Braden thought about it for a second, and then said, "Yes, ma'am." As he looked around the kitchen quickly, he asked, "Is there anything you want me to do before we go?"

I could tell that this power play of Braden's caught his Grandmother a little by surprise. She looked around and answered, "Well, I guess you could take the trash on your way out."

Braden smiled, and said, "Sure, Gram."

As he pulled out the half full trash bag from the bin and tied the end closed, she looked on with an expression of utter amazement. She handed him a fresh bag to put into the can, as she asked, "What ever has come over you, dear?"

Braden knew what he was doing all right, at least he seemed to. You could almost see right through the blank stare he gave his Gram as he replied with an air of confused indignity, "Who, me?" I wasn't sure, but even I thought he looked genuinely baffled. Either he was very, very, good, or he was very, very, bad. Right then, though, I just couldn't tell which it was.

We all knew what was going on even if Braden wasn't about to admit it to himself. His Grandmother looked at me and gave me a knowing wink and nodded, as she said, "I knew you would be a good influence on him." She and I both laughed.

I thanked Mrs. Riley for the great breakfast and for letting me stay overnight again. Braden grabbed the trash bag and we both said goodbye as we headed out the door. Once we dropped off the trash in one of the large barrels by the garage, we started walking lazily down the sandy tract leading to the cottage where my family was staying. On the way there, we talked about all the usual things kids talk about.

The one subject we both seemed to be avoiding was what was right in the front of my mind, though. I had a feeling that the same thought was at the top of Braden's list of things to think about too. Every time I started to run through all that had happened last night, I felt a tickle in my shorts. I couldn't understand why, but just thinking about Braden and me together made me start to get hard.

I didn't want Braden to know what was happening. Hell, I didn't want me to know. Every time I tried to think about something else, it would just come back to the same thing. I wondered to myself if Braden was thinking about last night as well, and every so often I found myself checking out his crotch to see if he was getting the same reaction as me.

Once or twice I thought I caught Braden checking me out, and I know he caught me looking at him once for sure, but neither of us said anything. Inwardly though, I wondered if Braden was still upset about me for telling him that what we did last night was just a one time thing. I also wondered why I was still thinking about it, and why it was still such a turn on for me.

We walked along, lost in our own thoughts, and as the road curved to match the shoreline, I picked up a little white stone. It was so smooth; at first I thought it was an egg. I don't know why, but I decided that I wanted to keep it, so I stuck it in my pocket. As we walked along, the little cottage came into view, and it wasn't long before we turned down the front path. My Mom was in the yard, sitting in a lounge chair getting some of the warm morning sun as we arrived. She looked up, and said, "Well, hello stranger, did you have a good time last night?"

"Oh, yeah, it was great!" I wasn't really prepared for any questions and the first thing I thought of was me and Braden last night on his bed. I gathered my thoughts and realized she meant the party and then I added, "Thanks for letting me go. I met a lot of really cool kids."

We went through the standard set of questions a kid has to answer whenever he returns home from doing something even a little fun. It's like some sort of unwritten law that parents just have to try and mess up a great time with a lot of pointless details. I figured it was all a part of a parent's job description to try and trip up us kids. Luckily, early on, we kids invented the shrug the shoulders and answer I dunno maneuver and that always seemed to throw them off balance.

This went on for what seemed like three hours, but really it was only about a minute. I guess I answered every question satisfactorily, because she changed her direction, and said, "That's good, baby." I smiled, and was about to ask about going into town with Braden, when Mom informed me, "Your father and I are going to do some sight seeing with some friends this afternoon, and then go out to dinner tonight." At first I thought I was dead, but then Mom offered, "Do you think you'd want to come along?"

"Well, Braden and I thought we would go exploring down in the village, on our own." I didn't really want to be saddled with my parents while being dragged from smelly antique shops to art galleries and then to cheesy souvenir shops all day long.

"Pat, this was supposed to be a family vacation. We've hardly seen you since we arrived." I could tell that my Mother was feeling that 'my baby is growing up' feeling and was ready to try laying a major guilt trip on me.

"I know Mom, but all that stuff is always so boring." The expression on her face told me that the boring thing wasn't going to work this time, so I added, "Braden said there were a lot of cool things to do downtown. Please Mom? Can I go?" Just for good measure, I gave her my best, and proud to say, well practiced, 'sad face'.

Mom lowered her sunglasses on her nose, and looked up at us. I was standing there looking pathetically stricken over the idea of a long hot afternoon of back seat tourism. At first, it wasn't looking very good, but when she cracked a little smile, I knew she was going to give in. I ran up to her and gave her a big hug, saying, "Thanks, Mom. You're the greatest." I stood back, and added, "Can I have some spending money? Please?" It never hurts to be polite when putting the bite on the parents for cash.

Mom reached down, grabbed her purse, and opened her wallet, asking, "Ok, how much do you think you'll need?"

"Fifty dollars would work for me," I answered with a big smile on my face.

"Huh! I bet it would! Here is twenty dollars," she said, as she handed me two moldy old ten-dollar bills. It looked like they had probably been in there longer than my baby pictures.

"But, Braden got forty," I pointed out. "And his Gram said we were supposed to buy our own dinner, too," I said in a sullen tone.

My Mom looked over at Braden, who suddenly seemed very interested in his shoe laces. She asked him, "Is that right, Braden?" Now this wasn't fair. Asking an innocent bystander a direct question is really bad form.

I guess Braden wasn't expecting my Mom to confront him with a pop quiz, and he stammered, "W, w, well, ummm... y, yes, ma'am." He slowly pulled the two twenties out of his front pocket as proof.

Mom's brow furrowed, and I could tell she was adding up all this information. She looked into her purse again and pulled out another twenty. "Well, here then, but I want you to bring back the change."

I took the money and slipped it into my pocket and said, "Thanks Mom, I will."

"And I want you to make sure you eat something more than just junk food," she said in her best mothering voice.

"I will."

"And don't get into any trouble."

"I won't."

"And I want you to be home early."

"I will."

"And..."

"MOM!" I could tell she was having a wonderful time trying to embarrass me in front of Braden, but there wasn't a lot I could do about it, so I played right along, "Please, I'm not a baby."

This was it, the death blow! I could tell by the gleam of victory in her eyes. She smiled her sweetest smile, and then, as smooth as silk, she said, "You will always be my baby Patrick, even when you're fifty years old, you'll still be my little boy"

"MOTHER PUHLEEZE!!!" There, that did it. Now she was happy.

Why was it that moms just refused to let a guy grow up? It seemed that whenever they had the chance to rub it in they would. You could see the joy it brought to them, especially if there were one or two friends around.

"All right, go ahead and have fun." Mom smiled as she sat back and readjusted her sunglasses.

I leaned forward, hugging her around the neck as I kissed her cheek, and then said, "I will, Mom, thanks." With everything being all squared away on the home front, we were off and heading to 'the village' as the locals liked to call it.

Anchorage Lane was the only real road on this side of town that ran between Main Street and the Coast Road which led to Braden's grandmother's house and then to the little beach at the cove. As we walked along, every so often there was another sand road heading to the right or the left to where someone built a house, or where there were cranberry bogs. We rounded a curve, and I could see up ahead where the intersection of Anchorage crossed Main Street and I got my first real look at the town. We took our time walking along, and it took the better part of an hour and fifteen minutes to walk the two and a half miles into town.

It was already late morning and so far there wasn't very much traffic on Anchorage at all. What little we did see was all heading toward the cove. It wasn't really hard to figure that out, because most of the cars were full of families with kids dressed for a day at the beach.

When we turned onto the main drag into town, we passed by a lot of really nice old houses. It was really kind of cool, lots of the porches were decorated with all sorts of what Braden called 'ginger breading' and there were potted ferns and flowers everywhere. On top of most of them there were these little rooms built onto the roof and Braden said they were called 'widows nests'. When I asked about the weird name, he told me that a long time ago, the wives of the old time sea captains would sit up there and watch for their husband's ships on the horizon. As we passed by, I wondered about the ladies sitting up there, and I felt sad when I realized that some never saw their husbands again.

In the center part of town, the streets were narrow and every where you looked there were people. There were lots of shops selling everything from fudge to kites to sunglasses to expensive summer clothes and about everything touristy in between. There were plenty of huge trees here and there, maples and oaks mostly, that shaded most of the main drag almost all the way down to the docks. Braden said that at one time, the town used to be a fishing village. A few years ago, when the fish ran out, everything went into getting the tourists to come here. All of a sudden he was like a tour guide with all kinds of cool, but totally useless information. It was obvious to me that Braden liked his new home and had done his homework.

Along the waterfront, there were lots of nice looking restaurants, bars and cafes. Many of them had tables set up outdoors, giving the entire town a party atmosphere. There were several small marinas in addition to the huge town docks where people could park their boat for a day or two and visit the town. Every so often there were little park areas filled with flowers and benches. Street venders parked and set up their pushcarts to sell flavored ices, pretzels, and hotdogs. Right in the center of town, there was a huge white building that served as the town hall, police department, court house and library. As we wandered around so I could more or less learn my way around town, we each got a hotdog loaded with fixings.

People were everywhere. The entire downtown section of Main Street was set up to be more of a walking mall than it was for traffic. Cars were still permitted to drive through, but only at less than a snail's pace, so most just avoided the aggravation. I kind of felt bad for a delivery man trying to get his huge truck through the crunch of people. All the stores were busy and there were lines at the windows of the ice cream stand.

The whole place felt like a day at the county fair back home, but without having to avoid stepping in shit every place you walked. As we made our way through town, every now and then I noticed Braden checking out one boy or another. It was kind of weird, but up until that moment, I had never realized that I wasn't just as busy checking out the girls. Now that I thought about it, though, I wasn't really sure if I ever did.

There was something kind of cute about the way Braden would sneak his little peeks at the boys. What really made me think, though, was why I was paying so much attention to what he was doing. The more he did it, the more I realized that I didn't want him to do it. What scared me most was not knowing the reason why it bothered me.

It was almost eleven o'clock , and I could tell it was going to be a hot day. It was already about 90ºF in the shade and not even a breath of a breeze. Braden pulled out his shirt tail, wiped the sweat from his face, and said, "Let's go find someplace cool to hang out."

"Ok, how about that arcade you mentioned?" I suggested.

Braden agreed that the arcade was a fine place to blow a few of our hard scrounged dollars and he headed off down the street, saying, "Come on, it's down this way." It wasn't easy, but I managed to keep up with him as he wound his way through the crowd, leading me in the direction of the docks. It was like a game of cat and mouse, trying to get somewhere through the crowded streets in any reasonable amount of time. People were walking around with no idea where they were going, or what they were going to do when they got there. Without any particular destination in mind, they walked in a half daze, like sheep heading to a fleecing. They were looking at all the other people that were just as lost as they were, and they were all taking pictures of each other so they could cherish the moment with bored friends when they got back home.

Well, it wasn't easy, but we finally managed to get to the arcade. I looked at my watch, and I couldn't believe that it took a whole twenty minutes to go what should have taken only about five. The place was a lot bigger than it seemed from the outside, and as I kind of expected, the game room was jamming with kids of all ages. Just like every other arcade in the world, this one was noisy and everywhere you looked there were bright lights flashing. It was a wonder anyone could concentrate on their game with all the distractions. Most of the games had either a line in front of it or an "out of order" sign on it. I looked at Braden and said, "Dude, this place is too much." With broad smiles we waded into the crowded game room.

There was a young guy wearing a tool belt trying to fix the machines almost as fast as they jammed up. Every time a kid said 'I lost a quarter' he would swear up a storm and all the kids around would him burst into fits of laughter. I followed Braden to the redemption counter where we each got five dollars in quarters and then we looked for something to play. We waited in line for a while to play a little Gauntlet. After blowing three or four dollars there, we decided to roam around and see what other games there were to try. As we forced our way through the throng of noisy kids and bitchy adults, I thought I heard a familiar voice. I stood on my tiptoes and tried to see who was calling us. Over by the back wall, where several of those basketball toss games were lined up, I spotted Danny and Jared waving us over.

We checked out the terrain, and picking out the easiest route, we ventured forth. It took a few minutes, but we finally made it to where Danny was trying to win a cheap undersized basketball. They were busy ragging on each other and tossing basketballs into this cage where the hoop moves back and forth so it is harder to make a basket. Braden was obviously happy to see some familiar faces, and called out as we got near, "Hey! Danny, Jared, what's up?"

"Oh, I was just trying to win one of these crummy balls!" Danny complained. Then, as he lined up another shot and tossed the ball, he added, "What are you guys up to?"

Jared poked Danny in the ribs and joked, "Yeah, he's already spent twelve dollars trying to win a lousy three dollar ball!" He roared with laughter as Danny's shot missed yet again.

Danny stuck out his tongue at Jared, and said, "I would have won one by now if you hadn't kept bumping me when I was shooting."

Jared donned a mask of mock innocence, and then he said, "Who me?"

Braden and I laughed at the way they picked at each other, as I answered, "Nothing really, we're just checking out the sights."

"Cool, I've got the day off today and we were just goofing off. Why don't you guys hang with us and we can check out the sights together?" Danny offered, as Jared eagerly nodded his agreement.

I looked at Braden as he smiled, and said, "Sure, that'd be great."

Danny looked at his watch, and said, "Let's blow this joint, I've wasted enough money today." We all agreed that the arcade was way too crowded and too expensive as well, so we began pushing our way toward the exit.

Once outside, we were all relieved to be away from the crush of people. Jared let out a grunt as he commented, "Man! I'm glad to get out of there. It is like way too crowded."

"Yeah, it's no fun when you have to fight for a game to play," Braden agreed, and then he asked, "So what do we do now?"

Danny looked at Jared and asked, "I dunno, what do you want to do?"

Jared looked at Danny cross-eyed, and mocked, "I dunno what do you want to do?"

This time it was Danny that poked Jared in the ribs, as he said, "Smart ass!" To us, he asked seriously, "No really, what do you guys want to do?"

I didn't really have a clear idea where to go, so I let Braden handle this. He shrugged, and said, "I dunno, we can just go hang at the park and goof on the tourists."

Jared assessed the situation perfectly, saying, "That sounds good to me, cheap and entertaining, a perfect combination." With that decided, we were off to the park.

On the way we there, we stopped at a small corner store that had cold drinks and all sorts of snacks. We each got a soda and something to munch on. Jared commented, "You guys missed a good party last night."

"What are you talking about? We were there with you guys," Braden said.

"No. I mean the party that happened after the party," Jared informed us.

Danny winked at Braden, and added, "Yeah, we had a blast." As we walked back onto the street, he added, "After we got something to eat, we all went out to Black's Rock."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Well," Jared explained, "it's where you go when you, err... want to be alone." He added with a wicked grin, "And after being away for three weeks, I really wanted to be alone."

Danny jumped in, saying, "Duh!!! You weren't alone, you dope! I was there too, remember?"

Jared made a squinty expression, like he was thinking real hard. "Was that you?" he asked, and then ran ahead, giggling.

Danny gave chase into the park, and Jared ducked in back of a bench to save himself from mortal doom. As Jared and Danny played cat and mouse, chasing each other around the bench, Braden and I sat down on it and made ourselves at home.

Danny faked to the left, tackled Jared on the right, and they both fell onto the grass, laughing. Danny had him pinned, and for the most part helpless, and ordered, "Say uncle!"

"No! I won't," Jared whined.

"If you don't, you'll be sorry," Danny said through a fit of laughter.

"You wouldn't dare!" Jared pleaded as he tried to squirm away.

"Oh, no?" Danny giggled maniacally, as he added, "Try me." He then began tickling Jared viciously.

"No! Don't! Stop it!" Jared pleaded over and over, and then surrendered, "Oh, all right, I give." Danny stopped his ruthless attack and got up off of Jared. As Jared brushed the dust and grass clippings off his backside, he added, almost under his breath, "Fair's fair. After all, you're the one that gave last night."

Danny looked crushed. "Oh, I thought you didn't kiss and tell?"

Jared turned to face Danny, and said, "I don't!" He giggled, and added, "But, then again, I didn't say you gave me a kiss, did I?"

I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Judging by the huge smile on Braden's face, he was having a good time as well. Danny and Jared, well, they were just great together. Any one could see that they were happy, just as happy as any guy and girl could be. It wasn't hard to tell that they really liked each other. There was something about the way they joked about...well, things. It's hard to put into so many words. What I mean is the sort of things that most of the guys I knew were afraid to even think about, let alone talk about. I guess you'd call them gay things.

Here I was, in a strange place, surrounded by guys that I have only known for a few days, guys that were totally gay, and I felt more at home than I ever had before. I kept thinking about what happened last night with Braden. I didn't know whether I was still trying to justify it somehow in my own mind, or if at the time, deep down I had really wanted it to happen.

The feelings I felt, the emotions that erupted within me, were as real as anything I had ever experienced. Was this just a chance encounter, just one of those vacation flings? Like the kind of thing lonely, middle aged women read about in those cheap, sleazy books that you find in Laundromats? I wish I knew.

I felt good when I was with Braden, and I didn't just mean when we were fooling around. I meant that I felt... right... you know, inside... when I was with him. Why? Why did I feel better, being with this person, which I have known only for two and a half days, than I did with any of my friends back home which I have known for years?

What was I doing? What was I saying? Was I trying to convince myself to be gay? I'm straight! I like girls! At least I thought I did. Oh, God, this is so confusing! When I looked at Braden I got a warm feeling deep inside. I never got that feeling with any of the girls I knew in school.

"........ that here," someone said.

"W... w... what?" I asked, suddenly dragged back from my wool gathering.

"Man! Patrick, you were holding Braden's hand. People were beginning to notice," Danny enlightened me.

Braden was looking at me with a totally confused expression on his face. He looked like he was trying to say something, but couldn't find the right words.

"I'm sorry," was all I could of think to say.

Danny got close so passersby wouldn't hear, and he asked, "Dude, are you all right?" He got in my face to get a better look, and then continued, "You were like day dreaming and said like real loud, 'I'm straight! I like girls!' well not me, but you."

I had no idea. "Whoa!!! You're not serious?"

Jared said, "No shit, man. You practically yelled it out."

Danny and Jared were both of the opinion that we should go somewhere else, someplace a little more private. They seemed a bit anxious and I figured they knew what they were talking about, so we all got up and headed for the parking lot. We got into Jared's car and headed out of town.

Once we were out and away from the cluster fuck of down town traffic, Jared asked, "Where should we go?"

Danny answered, "Head for Black's Rock, we can talk there."

"Sounds good," Braden agreed.

I was still in a fog. Did I actually say all that? What the fuck was Braden thinking? I looked at my new best friend and said, "Braden, I'm so sorry."

"Sorry? Sorry for what?" Braden replied.

I didn't really have an answer to that. All I knew was that Braden was incredible. After last night, then what I had said to him this morning, and now all this, I wouldn't really blame him if he never talked to me again. I knew that I probably wouldn't have been talking to me if I were him.

Jared turned off the main road, and after a short time, took a left onto a sand tract. We bounced along for a while, driving past cranberry bogs and stands of gnarly, ugly pine trees. Finally, we came to a stop at the bottom of a grassy hill, and parked by the side of what passed for a road.

Once we had all piled out of the car, Braden and I followed Jared and Danny down a narrow path that wound down through tall, thick bushes. After about a thousand feet or so, we rounded a curve and came on a stone ledge that went all the way down to the sea. There were big boulders strewn about, and a huge fire pit made in a cleft in the ledge. We walked a little way down toward the water and found a place to sit.

We all sat there looking at one another, waiting for the first person to speak. Finally, Danny took the initiative, and started. "Dude, you really had me worried back there. It was kind of spooky."

The other guys nodded their agreement, and Jared stepped into the conversation. "Is there something going on with you two?" He looked at Braden, and then turned to me before continuing, "Let me put it this way. I think I have pretty damn good gaydar, and when I see you looking at each other, I hear bells ringing."

"What are you saying?!" I asked, in an effort to defend myself.

Braden looked straight at me, and for a moment I thought he was going to say something, but he didn't. Those puppy dog eyes of his just seemed to tug at my heart, and I just didn't understand what I was feeling. Guys weren't supposed to feel this way about other guys. Were they? I mean what about everything I had been taught about how boys were supposed to grow up acting like manly men doing manly things? Why was I feeling so drawn to Braden? I wish I could understand what was happening to me.

"Well, it's like I said, when I see you two together, well, I see you two... you know, together... You know?" Jared was hinting at something. He knew it, so did Danny, and Braden and I just sat there with red faces, trying to look innocent.

Braden kind of screwed his face into a little grimace that more or less spelled out that we were busted. I shifted my eyes from Danny to Jared and then to Braden, and for some reason, I just spilled my guts, admitting, "All right, Braden and I did sort'a fool around a little." I wasn't sure why, but I quickly added, "But it didn't mean anything." Shit!!! I went too far. I was losing it. I turned to Braden, and said, "I didn't mean it to sound like that. I didn't mean it didn't mean anything. You know what I mean?"

"No, Patrick. I'm not so sure I do," Braden said in a quivering voice. He took a deep shuddering breath and I knew I had hurt him. I could see it in his eyes. God! This was the last thing I wanted to happen.

"Damn it, Braden! Yes you do!" I tried to rally my thoughts and went on, "Please, it wasn't like that." Oh fuck! "Braden, please... you know how I feel."

"I wish I did know how you feel, Patrick," Braden said. He looked like he was on the edge of tears. I looked to Danny for help, but he was too engrossed in our little drama to be of any support.

"We went all through that this morning," I tried to explain as much to myself as to Braden.

"I know what you said," Braden stated flatly, and then continued. "I was there, remember? But who are you trying to convince, me or you?"

I was being torn apart by what I was supposed to feel, and what I was actually feeling. I was straight! I liked girls! Didn't I?

I looked into Braden's eyes and I saw sadness. I felt like I was losing him. I don't know why, but that idea wrenched my heart. I felt a catch in the center of my chest and felt something wet roll down my cheek.

I was straight!!! I had to like girls!!! Didn't I...?

Braden was my friend! Was he becoming my boyfriend?

I moved around so I was looking right at Braden, and said, "I don't know how or why, but all I know is that you are my friend. The best friend I could ever have, or ever expect to have." I took his hands into mine and finished. "The truth is that I don't know the truth."

As he gripped my hands firmly, Braden whispered, "I think I understand."

I had to be sure Braden understood how I felt. I didn't want to lose him. I looked straight at him and said, "What happened last night... The way we came together... That was the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me." Now I took my time so I said this exactly right, "Braden, if I were gay I would be the first person to love you. In some ways, I love you now. When I'm with you it's like we are the only two people on the whole planet."

Braden looked back at me. "I... I love you too," and then he cried.

I said the words and now I heard Braden say then too. I just didn't think that I meant them the same way he did. I was breaking his heart, and it was killing me. This was the first time I ever consciously wished that I was gay.

NO! I was straight!!! I was... I was...

I moved close to Braden and gathered him up in my arms, holding him tightly. After a few seconds, his breathing steadied and he reached up and hugged me back as well.

God, how can I be straight and yet hold a boy like this?

I... was... straight!!! But... I didn't want to let him go. What did that mean?

Danny and Jared stepped back to give us some breathing room. They were really a lot cooler than I first thought.

"Braden, I wish I knew what to do." I ran my hand from his back to the nape of his neck and found myself twisting his hair absently in my forefinger. "How did you first know for sure about... you know, about being gay?" I asked.

Suddenly Braden seemed angry and tried to pull away, but I held on tight. He demanded, "Just let go!"

"No! Damn it, I'm serious. How did you know?" I asked again.

"I told you before." He wiggled, but I had a good hold on him.

He kept squirming, trying to get away, but I held firm. I asked again, "What I mean is, what did you feel? What told you that you were gay?"

This time I think I struck a nerve. Braden calmed down finally, hesitating as he considered his answer. "What told me? Hell, that's easy. My heart told me."

"But it can't be that simple." I looked at this sweet boy and asked, "How can it?"

"I never said it was simple," Braden corrected, then went on to say, "It was the hardest, scariest thing I ever did."

Now I was really getting confused. "What do you mean?" I asked.

Braden took a deep breath and thought about it for a few seconds, and then he said, "Well, think about it. Admitting that you're just like most everyone else is easy. But admitting that you aren't, that's a different thing entirely." Braden thought a moment, and then added, "Being a guy, and thinking about other guys, wanting other guys, wanting to love another guy is a scary thing. And when I say love I don't mean fucking. Screwing is easy. I mean to love another guy, heart, body, mind and soul."

"Well what was it that we did last night then? Was that just fucking?"

Braden seemed to shrink a bit in my arms as he admitted, "No, Patrick... It wasn't. It was more, at least for one of us anyway." A large tear rolled down his cheek.

I knew I had feelings for Braden, but just how deep were those feelings? When I was with him, I felt good. No, not good, better than that, wonderful. That's it, I felt just wonderful. When I held him, I felt way better than that. Last night when I kissed him, I felt even better still. All of a sudden I realized that I had the urge to kiss him again.

Danny and Jared came walking slowly back to where we were standing. We were still in each others arms, Braden's head resting on my shoulder. Danny asked, "Are you guys all right?"

"Yeah, I think we will be now," I answered, as I kissed the back of Braden's neck.

"Can I tell you something?" Danny asked.

"Of course, man. What?" I replied.

"Well, it's just that this gay, straight thing is not an easy thing for a guy to admit to himself. I mean admit too. Either a guy is gay or he isn't; it isn't something you can just 'decide' to be. It's the way you were born. It's a part of you as you grow up as completely as any other part. And it isn't something that can be erased or removed either. It's as real and as powerful and every bit as intense as any feeling or desire any other person straight or otherwise could ever have."

Jared entered the conversation by adding, "I was like you. I was afraid to admit who I really was to myself too. The feelings that were churning inside me were tearing me apart..." Jared turned away, and as he did, I thought he was crying.

Danny went to him, put his arm over his shoulder, and said, "It's ok Jared. Nothing like that will ever happen again."

Braden and I sat down on the rock ledge and watched Danny comfort his boyfriend. Once Jared gathered himself back together, Danny said, "Jared tried to do something really stupid a while back." He took Jared's arm and turned it wrist up and showed us some deep scars.

The sight of that scar cut as deeply into my soul as it did Jared's arm. I tried to think of the right thing to say, but all I could manage was, "Oh, dude." I got up and hugged him. Now it was me that was crying.

Jared hugged me back, and then told me, "I made a promise to myself and to Danny too, that I would never ever try to do anything like that again."

Braden took my hand in his, and as I looked into his face, I said, "Let's go for a walk so we can... umm... be alone and talk for a little while. Ok?"

Jared and Danny were both sporting wide grins as Braden asked, "Is it all right?"

Jared said, "Of course it's all right. We'll be right around here, chillin' out until you get back." He got a wicked grin, and added, "I'm sure we'll find something to keep us occupied."

Braden led me by the hand as we walked along the ledge shore, looking for a place with a little privacy. When we had gone what seemed about a half-mile or so, we found a nice quiet spot with smooth, weather polished stone and made ourselves comfortable. What Danny had said about knowing about being gay kept going through my mind. The part about it being something in you, a part of you, not something a guy decides. I was beginning to understand what Braden meant about admitting it to yourself. I thought about poor Jared too, it must have been a living hell to do what he did.

I looked at Braden and tried to imagine how I would feel without him. Braden was so... so... I couldn't even put the words together to describe how I felt about him; they just didn't seem good enough. Last night came back into my memory too and a flight of butterflies did a spin in my middle once again. What were these feelings? When ever I looked at Braden I felt good... inside... you know, like safe and warm all wrapped up in a blanket on a cold yucky day.

Braden sat, and as I settled down next to him, just barely touching my shoulder to his. I reached back and placed my hand on his back and rubbed it in a small circle. Braden took a deep breath and I noticed his chest quiver just a bit and I asked, "What's wrong?"

He didn't turn his head to face me but said, "I don't know. A part of me is so happy and another part is so scared."

I tried to put everything together in my mind, and then I said, "Braden, I don't totally understand what's going on with me. I like you a lot, hell maybe it's something more... I just don't know... What I do know though is I don't want to lose you."

Braden leaned back on his elbow slightly with a little smile, and then I felt something drawing me to him. I don't know what it was, but I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to kiss him. When the moment was right, I kissed him softly on the lips

As he gently returned the favor, I laid him back on the hard stone and rolled half on him, sliding one hand onto his firm chest. He was trembling slightly, so I asked, "Braden, what's wrong?"

"I... I'm just so happy." Braden kissed me again, sliding his hand around to the middle of my back. He held me tight for a moment, and as he did, our kiss heated up. It was then that I suddenly realized that this was right for me, the true me. Braden hugged me around the neck and took a deep breath, whispering once more, "I'm just so happy."

As we lay there together under the afternoon sun, I felt a calm come over me. I had never experienced anything like that before or since, and it felt really awesome. It was like we were somehow apart from the rest of the world. There was something about Braden, something that was impossible to put into any words. It was as real and solid and powerful as anything could ever be, yet at the same time, it was every bit as gentle as it was strong.

I wanted to be closer to Braden, and I wanted to feel him closer to me as well. I let my hand find its way under his shirt, hooking the bottom with my thumb as I slid it up a bit. He got the hint, and slipped it off in one fluid motion. Braden then looked at me and I knew exactly what he wanted. He inched his way to the small of my back and began pushing my shirt up as well. I didn't hesitate for a second as I quickly pulled it off the rest of the way.

The sun was warm, and I think we were beginning to heat things up even more. Braden's smooth firm chest pressed against mine as we held each other tightly. He was so excited I could feel his heart beating. We touched and kissed everything within our reach and after a few minutes I could feel his hardness pressing into my thigh. I wanted Braden. As surely as I knew I was lying on that rock, I wanted him.

I felt Braden press his leg gently into my crotch and I knew he was checking to see how hard I was as well. When I moved a little and pressed my rock solid hard-on into his leg, he pressed his cock to my thigh. I slid my hand down, pressed against his bulge firmly, and felt it flex in response. Next, I let my fingers wander to find the waist band of his shorts.

Braden let out a soft sigh into my ear as I popped open the snap at the top of his shorts. When I slid down the zipper, he said, "Patrick, are you sure? Don't do this if you're not sure..."

I whispered in his ear softly, but with total conviction, "Yes, Braden, I'm sure. I have never been more sure of anything in my life." I slid my fingers under the waistband of his shorts and felt his hard young cock. I ran my hand down its full length then back again as I coaxed his shorts down a bit. When Braden released the snap on my shorts and pulled the zipper down, we lost sight of the here and now and were quickly swept away to a place only we would ever know.

The tension was incredible. We wasted no time as we both removed the remainders of our clothing, tossing them every which way. As we wrapped our arms around each other in the warm afternoon sun on a breezy New England shore, we kissed each other in an embrace of tender love. Braden moved, sliding down to kiss my chest and I knew what was on his mind. I stopped him, rolling him over, so I was above him, looking directly into his eyes. I wanted, no, I needed to do this, as much for myself as it was for Braden.

This time I was kissing his neck, licking and tasting his firm pecs and biting his hard nipples, first one then the other. I slowly traced a line with my tongue to his cute little belly button. When I licked inside, Braden squirmed, held the back of my head firmly, and gasped through a giggle, "Oh, God, yes!!! Patrick... Oh... Ohhhh yes!!!"

I turned slowly and looked at his thick, long cock, hovering just an inch from my face. It was bouncing just a little as each beat of his heart charged it again and again. When I saw a drop of precum form at the slit, teasing me to come and get it, I stopped.

All of a sudden, there were a thousand images racing through my mind. All my life I had followed the rules, I had to be a good boy. I wanted to be a good boy. I listened to the adults. I tried to play the games they wanted all the boys to play, like baseball, and football, and boxing. I could play rough too, but it never really felt right for me. I guess I always knew there was something different about me. Now I was beginning to understand what it all meant.

There were more rules, though. Boys love girls. Boys don't love boys. Now, if all these rules were right, then how, why did I want this so badly? Why did I want this boy? I was supposed to be good. Will I still be 'a good boy' when I do this forbidden thing? Will my parents still think of me as 'the good boy' that they love? The son they are proud of?

Who the hell makes up all these rules? Where do they all come from?

Yeah, these were rules, well... at least they were supposed to be, but they didn't have to be my rules. What gives them the freaking right to tell me how to live my life, to tell me who I should love? It's my life! I was sure about that too.

Yes!!! God damn it!!! If I love another boy it's my business. It doesn't change who I am. I wanted this as much if not more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. I wanted this more than I wanted my next breath. I wanted Braden.

Slowly, I reached out with my tongue and licked that shiny jewel of pre cum off, and I savored the sweet pungency of his nectar. Braden shivered from head to toe with anticipation. When I moved down a bit more, I cupped his nuts in my hand and ringed his tool with my thumb and forefinger. Braden was so worked up that he pulled in a huge breath and held it, waiting for my next move.

I got so close I could feel the heat radiating from the head. I could almost hear the blood coursing through it as it throbbed with each young strong heartbeat. I opened my mouth, and with a deep breath, I went for it. With just the tip of my tongue, I tasted him for the first time. I couldn't believe how natural the soft smooth shaft of Braden's boyhood felt to me. It was like it was made for me and me alone.

As I licked slowly up and down Braden's joystick, he said in a ragged voice, "Come on and turn around, babe... Please?" As he coaxed me into a sixty-nine position, I circled the head around and around with my tongue. As Braden found my cock, in one quick move, I engulfed his entire shaft all the way to the back of my throat. At first I gagged, but as I learned to relax my throat it became easier.

As I licked and sucked on Braden's dick, I thought only about how good it felt to be this close to him. I realized that I had been hiding from my true self all along. I knew right then that this was who I was. I knew how Braden felt about me. He said he loved me. I guess a fifteen year old could understand what love really was. Besides, I think I was beginning to fall for him too.

Braden sucked and licked my hard cock and from all the sexual tension that had been building between us, I was already very, very close. I really wanted this to last, but there was no way. I felt my guts churn and my balls tighten as I loaded his mouth with blast after blast of hot boy juice.

My orgasm caused me to quicken my pace. I wanted so badly to please Braden. Right now, making him happy was the most important thing in the world to me. I sucked hard and drove his cock deep into my mouth over and over, pistoning down on it. After a short time, Braden put his hand on the back of my head and said, "Oh Pat... Don't stop... I... I'm... I'm cumming...."

I felt the head of his dick swell and as his hips bucked, he shot his hot load again and again into my mouth. At first, I thought I was going to gag on his huge load, but I held on, steadied myself, and swallowed it all. I swallowed every last drop, and then went back and licked his wilting shaft clean for any I might have missed. It tasted wonderful and the more he gave me, the more I wanted.

I moved around to lay with Braden face to face. He smiled and said, "You've made me the happiest guy in the world." He became thoughtful and continued, "And it's not because we just... well, you know... It's because I know how you feel about me now too."

"No, Braden, it's you that's made me happy. I have never been this happy, Braden, and it's all because of you. What I mean is that... well... I... I don't know what I mean" I wish it were easier. I was beginning to feel things in ways I had never imagined possible before.

All at once, reality came crashing in. We were on vacation! What was going to happen to Braden and me when it was over?

"I love you, Patrick," Braden said sweetly, then kissed me on the nose.

Oh, damn! I knew it. It seemed that no matter what I did, I was going to end up hurting Braden. That was the last thing in the world I ever wanted. I leaned my forehead against his and said, "Braden, I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything. I understand," is what Braden replied, but I wasn't so sure that he really understood. This is all so complicated.

We held each other for a long while, just taking comfort in each others company. The warm sun felt good on my body and the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks lulled us as we enjoyed our time together. I closed my eyes and let all my troubles float away on the cool ocean breeze.

I asked Braden how long we had been there, and he said with a start, "Holy shit! We've been here for almost two hours!"

I bolted upright and said, "Let's go! The guys are going to be pissed." We scurried about gathering pieces of clothing that had been tossed in just about every direction. We then put our clothes back on; well, we put clothes back on. We couldn't quite remember who had what on to begin with, so we just reassembled ourselves as best we could.

Once we were more or less put back together, we walked hand in hand back to where we had left Danny and Jared earlier. They were still on the same ledge, Jared sitting up and Danny, lying on his back with his head resting in Jared's lap. They were talking as Jared absently played with Danny's hair, twirling it in his fingers.

When we came within earshot, they straightened up and looked at us, smiling. Jared gave Danny a sharp elbow in the ribs and exclaimed, "Look at them. They just did it!"

Danny pushed Jared and said, "How the hell can you tell that?"

"Just look at them. They have each others shorts on," Jared laughed.

Danny looked closely and laughed also, then said, "Well... Ahem... I guess you're right. Now that all that is taken care of, is everything settled between you two?"

I answered, "Yeah, I think that we're going to be just fine." Then I added, just so I could hear it out loud for real, "Braden and I."

Jared exclaimed, "Great! I'm glad all that's settled. Now I'm starving! Can we please go find some food somewhere?"

"Yeah, I'm hungry too." I agreed, and then asked, "Do you always get hungry after... well... doing it?"

Danny and Jared looked at me like I had grown another head, and then Jared said, "I told you they did it. Didn't I tell you?" Jared stood there smiling, looking totally triumphant, and we all laughed.

Now that everybody had had a good laugh at my expense, we walked to the car and headed back into town so we could look for something to eat. It wasn't quite dinnertime yet, but it was almost four thirty . Having eaten a late breakfast, we hadn't really thought too much about eating lunch, and we were starved.

As we drove closer to the main part of town, the traffic got a lot heavier. We sat in stop and go traffic, totally bored, hot and hungry, inching along, waiting for tourists to figure out which direction they should try next. It really didn't matter. There were only two main roads heading across town, Main Street and Bradford Street, but they would sit there looking stupid and lost all the same. It took about another twenty minutes to get close to downtown and then we couldn't find a parking space. We drove in circles for another half hour looking for a place.

We decided after much debate to go out for pizza. Well, it was either that, or that nasty cooked dead bird they do at the greasy chicken place. We finally made it to the Oceanside Pizza about a quarter before six. Heh... so much for eating early. Once there, we discovered a line out the door and a forty-minute wait.

We stood there for five minutes before Danny said, "Oh, piss on this place! I'm starving."

"Yeah, me too," Braden agreed.

"Well, it's either wait here in line, or we go out to the Mc Burger by the highway, or greasy dead bird," Jared said.

I thought about it a little, and then said, "I'd rather have pizza than that stuff." I know it's a cardinal sin, and it goes against every rule of teenage survival, but I just hate that other slop.

"We'll wait," Danny said grudgingly, and we all agreed to just stay in line.

"Anyhow, look at the line, it's moving pretty fast. It shouldn't be too long," Jared observed.

Well, it took another fifteen minutes, but we were eventually seated. Danny and Jared both knew the waiter, Trent, and introduced Braden and me. Trent brought us some water, a pitcher of coke and a huge basket of breadsticks with a great garlicky dipping sauce. Once he set up our table, Trent said we could help ourselves to the salad bar.

We gave Trent our pizza order and then headed for the grazing area. We all returned with plates piled high with tasty food. As we ate, Jared asked, "So, how are you guys going to handle all this?"

Braden looked up from his plate and crunched a big radish as he asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it, Patrick lives like a thousand miles away," Danny reminded him.

Braden stopped chewing and looked like he was about to choke. He swallowed with a huge gurgling sound and said, "Holy shit! I never even thought about that!" He then looked at me and bit his lip.

I tried to think of something to say but I just couldn't. I knew what was going through Braden's mind; it was the same thing that was going through mine. I was about to say something when Braden cut me off, saying, "I don't know, but we'll think of something."

I had been wondering about all this myself and couldn't come up with a clear answer. I was kind of hoping that the subject could wait until I had some time to try and figure something out. Well, so much for that idea. Thankfully Braden's optimism baled me out for the time being and I quickly told him, "Yeah, we can visit each other and stuff."

Jared speculated however, "But won't that be expensive? It would cost a fortune to fly back and forth all the time."

I thought to myself, as I glared at Jared, 'Fuck man! You are definitely not helping a whole lot.' I saw that Braden was becoming uncomfortable with this line of conversation, so I said aloud, perhaps a little too sharply, "We'll figure all that out." I then changed the subject by asking, "What do we want to do after dinner?"

Jared's eyes widened as he realized he had probably gone a little too far and he quickly asked Danny, "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

Danny gave Jared a sharp stare as he said, "Now don't you start that again!" That seemed to break the somber mood that was building and we all laughed as Jared looked mortally wounded.

Braden looked at me with a devilish grin, and asked suggestively, "I don't know. What did you have in mind?"

I furrowed my brow a bit at Braden's suggestiveness. I still wasn't all that comfortable with public displays, but I answered, "How about some of that sightseeing you promised?"

Braden noticed that I was a little uneasy at the tone of his remark and shrugged meekly, saying, "Sorry. Ok, yeah that'll be fun."

Danny said, "About eight thirty or nine o'clock the street people come out and the clubs open up. Evening is the best time to hit the downtown."

We ate and talked, and generally had a good time just being together. Trent came and went, making small talk as he saw to our needs. He was a good waiter, filling water glasses and bringing grated cheese, and once he refilled the pitcher of coke.

Trent was funny to watch because he seemed to take better care of Jared then the rest of us. I noticed right off that he was about as gay as... well, shall we say, the Easter parade? I figured that it must be that gaydar thing that Jared was talking about earlier. I wondered if there had been something between Jared and Trent at some point, or if he was just hitting on Jared.

Once we finished our pizza, Braden got some fresh fruit from the salad bar and shared it with all of us.

Every time Trent came by our table he made sure there was one reason or another to be near Jared. Danny noticed this too and every time Trent left us to take care of some of the other patrons, he would glare at Jared. Each and every time, Jared would look at Danny and just shrug, saying something like, "It must be my animal magnetism," or "What can I say, I'm simply irresisistible," or "Aren't you lucky I love you babe?" That last one always made Danny smile.

We finished our fruit and settled our bill with Trent; we even left him a nice tip. As we exited the Oceanside Pizza, we heard music coming from down the street and we walked down to see what was going on. It turned out to be a couple of musicians performing in front of a club to promote their band. They were pretty good, all things considered, playing some sort of jazz tune with saxophones. The music really did a good job of getting people's attention and was gathering quite a crowd. They left their instrument cases open on the ground in front of them with CD's and tapes of their music for sale. People would just take what they wanted and made their own change while the two wailed away on their horns. Some tourists would stop, listen for a while, and toss a little loose change into the cases, grateful to the lively players.

We stood there and listened for a time and we even threw some of our own change into their kitty as thanks. After a while we moved on and for about an hour we wandered aimlessly in and out of various shops. Eventually getting bored with window shopping, we made our way down toward the waterfront. We sat on a railing and watched as several charter fishing boats pulled in to their berths for the night. We listened to the raucous sound of flocks of seagulls swooping in for any scrap of food they could scrounge. The young crews of the boats were swearing at them every time one would shit on their freshly washed deck. Jared and Danny both caught the eye of more than a few of the cute guys working the fishing boats and they exchanged friendly waves.

It didn't take too long before we all got bored with the boats settling in for the night and we decided to head out for something more entertaining. We walked toward the public marina and as we passed by, Jared waved to get the attention of a boy as he was swabbing the deck of a beautiful sailboat. Jared strained to hear the boy say, "I'll be done in about an hour. I have to meet someone, and then we'll catch up with you at the arcade."

Jared gave the boy an affirmative nod and he and Danny waved as we continued on our way down along the waterfront. Jared looked at Danny and said as he wrung his hands together, "Good, maybe he has the twenty bucks he borrowed before I left to go on vacation."

"Yeah, fat chance," Danny laughed.

"It's almost nine o'clock , how about just going over to the arcade and we can kill some time there while we wait," Braden suggested.

Danny agreed, "Yeah, I guess we might as well wait there. We have to be there to meet Tommy after he gets off work." We all basically agreed to go to the arcade and hang out there, so we headed off in that direction. As we walked, I began to notice a change in the people that I passed on the street. The families with kids seemed to give way to people dressed for the clubs, lots of them. Every direction I looked there were groups of college age kids, and they were dressed to kill. It was entertaining just watching them as they headed out to their evening of fun and dancing.

The arcade wasn't as crowded as it was earlier in the afternoon, and we had no trouble getting the machines we wanted to use. We each cashed in a ten-dollar bill for quarters and Braden and I went straight for the Gauntlet machine again. Jared played a gory hack and slash game, and of course Danny headed right back to the rip-off basketball toss.

Braden and I lined up five dollars in quarters each on the ledge of the game. Then we counted out ten quarters each, loaded them into the coin slot, and pressed the start button. Once again we were relentlessly battling evil on a higher plane... or something like that. As usual, I managed to burn up five dollars like it was an Olympic event. As the change ran out, I felt nature calling, so I said to Braden, "I have to go pee. Finish this, I'll be right back."

On my way to the men's room, I stopped for a few minutes to watch Jared play a mean game of Carnevil or some such. As I watched the undead being blasted into bloody pulps at lightning speed, I spotted Billy and a couple of his friends walk in the front door. I really had to go for a squirt and decided I had better not wait any longer, so I headed quickly to the rest room.

In the meantime, Braden finished his game and decided to go find me. As he turned, he saw Billy entering the men's room.

I was standing at the urinal when I heard the door open behind me. As it swung closed, all of a sudden I heard someone say... "Fucking faggot!" I had just finished peeing, when all of a sudden I felt a sharp pain as my head was bounced off the cinder block wall I was facing. I felt another sharp pain in my side and another, then yet another. It was unexpected and I lost my wind then doubled over. As I slumped down, I turned to see Billy glaring fiercely at me with balled up fists.

The door to the rest room flew open and through a haze I saw Braden. He stopped for just a second as he saw Billy standing over me. Billy was about to come at me again when I saw Braden bolt, ramming into Billy, and pushing him to the floor. As Braden landed on Billy and began clobbering him, I tried to steady myself enough to regain my wind. While all this was going on, Danny walked in and stopped dead in his tracks as he exclaimed, "What the fuck is going on in here?" He didn't waste any time as he ran over and pulled Braden off his little brother.

Braden tried to twist away, but Danny had a good thirty pounds and three inches on him and he wasn't about to let him loose. Danny held fast as Braden yelled, "Let me go!!!"

Danny had Braden around the shoulders and ordered, "Cool it, Braden!"

When I finally managed to slowly regain my breath and stand upright, I felt a burning in my eyes. When I wiped them, my hand came away red. As Danny turned Braden away from Billy, Braden got a look at me and stopped resisting, yelling, "Patrick! Oh shit!" and then, to Danny he pleaded, "Please let me go... Patrick's bleeding!"

Billy finally managed to get back on his feet and tried to go for Braden but Danny quickly headed him off. Just then the door swung open and two kids walked in. Danny looked at them and in a tone that didn't sound like he was willing to negotiate, said, "Wait outside a minute. We're busy!" The two guys thought better of arguing with him and turned to leave. On their way out Danny asked that they watch the door and hesitatingly they agreed.

Billy was still trying to get at Patrick and moved to go past his brother, demanding, "Get the fuck out of my way!"

"Yeah, right, 'little' brother!" Danny slammed a hand into Billy's chest stopping him dead in his tracks. If Billy didn't know before that Danny was pissed, Billy knew it now.

"What the fuck! Why are you standing up for these two fucking queers? Don't you realize what they are?" Billy yelled.

"Just hold it down, will you?" Danny ordered his brother, and then informed him, "Yes, I do. I know all about it!"

Billy took a step back and insisted, "What the fuck does that mean? What the fuck!" He shook his head in disbelief, and then asked, "You know about them and you still want to hang around with 'em?!"

"All right, listen to me, you little shit! I'm only going to say this once, so pay attention. Are you ready?" Danny asked, like he was talking to a three year old kid.

"What the fuck is going on Danny?" asked Billy looking totally confused, but he gestured that he was ready to hear what Danny was going to say.

Danny looked his little brother in the eyes, and said, "Billy, I'm gay too. When you say those things to them, you say them to me. Understand?"

"No! No you're not!" Billy looked like he was going into overload. "You're just fucking with me..."

Danny kept eye contact with his brother and quietly, convincingly said, "No, Billy. I am not fucking with you. I am gay. I have a boyfriend. He's gay too."

Billy just stood there. His mouth was moving but nothing was coming out. He looked like he really wanted to cry, but he couldn't do that either. He just pushed past Danny and ran out of the men's room.

While all this was going on between Danny and his little brother, Braden came to me and said, "Oh, God. Patrick, you're bleeding!!" He went into one of the stalls and got a big wad of toilet paper and handed it to me. I looked in the mirror and there was a small cut on my forehead. I put a little water on the paper and blotted at the mess so we could get a good look at it. Once the blood was all wiped up and we got to see the cut, we realized it wasn't too bad. I was getting a little bit of a bruise and it looked a lot worse than it really was. I held the paper on the cut until it stopped bleeding.

Jared came in smiling and holding up his twenty-dollar bill like it was some sort of trophy and looked at us in total confusion. As his triumphant smile withered away, he said, "What the hell happened? What's up with your brother Billy! He ran out of here like his hair was on fire."

"Oh, man! I think I'm going to be in deep shit!" Danny sighed then added, "I just outed myself to Billy."

"What?! Why did you do that?" Jared asked, and then he looked at Patrick and informed him, "Dude, do you know you're bleeding." He turned back to Danny and as he stuffed his money into his pocket, he asked, "Can somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?!"

Danny tried to explain quickly, "Billy jumped Patrick, and then Braden got into it too and I tried to break it all up"

Jared shook his head and tried to make some kind of sense out of everything. He took a deep breath and then said, "Hey Patrick, did you know your shlong is hanging out?" For some strange reason that just seemed to break all the tension and everyone stopped and looked at my crotch. I looked down and sure enough I had totally forgotten about putting my thing away. I guess getting your head knocked into a cement wall can tend to distract a guy. We all had a tense laugh over my little oversight. Well, not that little. As I put everything away, Jared mentioned, "Dude, you're bleeding again." And he handed me a hanky.

I stuffed the hanky into a pocket as I looked at Jared with a sarcastic grin and said, "Awww... shit!" With that we all laughed again.

Danny grabbed Jared by the arm and said, "Come on, we have to beat Billy home or I'm dead!"

Jared still wasn't quite up to speed on the recent events and as Danny hauled him bodily out the door, Jared asked, "But why did you out yourself to your brother?" They disappeared as the door swung closed. As soon as the older guys left the men's room, the two boys waiting outside entered and headed straight for the urinals. When I got a good look at them, I had a feeling that I had seen them before. I just couldn't put a finger on exactly where or when.

Braden looked at my cut through the mirror, and said, "Fuck man, we're dead!"

"Do you think that little asshole is going to say something about us too?" I wondered. The thought of telling my parents about my newly discovered sexuality and my preference for boys so soon had never occurred to me. When I thought about the possibility of being forced to do it, all because some wise ass little punk was about to do it for me, I could feel anger building. Anger and fear.

"I don't know what Billy is going to do. But I think we had better be ready for the worst," Braden admitted.

I was getting really worried and I could see that Braden was too. We had to do something but we had no idea what that was. I looked in the mirror and the bruise was getting darker by the minute and it was forming a huge egg. Worst of all, it was really beginning to throb. Braden said, "I think we should get out of here first, and then we can figure out what to do."

I noticed the two boys straining to take all this in and figured Braden was right. It would be a lot better if we went someplace else, where it was quiet so we could talk, so I agreed, and added, "Let's go back to the park. We'll be able to sort this all out there."

Braden seemed to like that idea and said, "Ok, let's go."

"All right, just let me get some more toilet paper in case it starts bleeding again." I went into one of the stalls and wadded up a big pile of paper and stuffed it into my pocket.

We headed out of the arcade, but not without getting a nasty look from the lady working behind the counter. Once we were back out on the street, we headed toward the little park that we visited earlier this afternoon. Once there we sat on a bench, and Braden asked, "Do you think we should go home?"

It hit me all at once that I might not be allowed to see Braden for the remainder of my vacation. I thought about that for a minute before answering, "Shit man, if my parents find out I was in a fight, they will murder me, or worse yet, they might even ground me."

"Patrick, you didn't get into a fight, Billy jumped you when you were pissing. That isn't the same thing as getting into a fight, is it?" Braden speculated. Sometimes Braden surprised me. He had a real knack of looking right through all the bull shit.

"That's one way of looking at it I guess, but you don't know my Dad when it comes to getting into fights." My Dad was always fair with me, and he would listen to every possible excuse I could come up with before lowering the boom.

The idea that I might be imprisoned for the remainder of my vacation had just hit home to Braden as well. "Oh, Patrick! No, they can't. They wouldn't!" he exclaimed and then he faltered.

The sudden realization that we didn't know for sure what Billy was up to struck me like a lightning bolt. As I weighed the impact of that scenario, it occurred to me that Billy really might be outing Braden and me to everyone. All of a sudden my blood ran cold and I felt a chill run up my spine.

"Braden, now think about it, how much time are they going to spend getting down on me for a little fight when they find out that their son is gay?" I asked flatly. As the echo of those last few words faded in my mind, I realized that I had actually said it out loud. I said I was gay. FUCK!

"Yeah, I guess I see your point," Braden agreed, and then added, "We have to think of a way to head Billy off."

"Before we do anything, we need to find out what happened to Danny. That's the only way we'll know how much shit we're really in," I speculated.

"Yeah, I think you're right there. If Billy keeps his big mouth shut, we have nothing to worry about," Braden agreed.

"Where does Danny live?" I asked, and then suggested, "Should we call him? Do you know his telephone number?"

Braden remembered, "Yeah, I know it. Let's go find a pay phone."

As we got up from the park bench to go look for a phone booth we were interrupted by a voice saying, "Well, look who's here. It's queer and queerer!" At first I felt a pang of panic. I didn't recognize the first voice, but when Billy's voice squeaked some nasty remark from deep within the shadows, I managed to add everything all up. He was with the two guys from the arcade.

"Oh fuck!" Braden and I said simultaneously.

Sure enough, Billy and the two toadies from the arcade rest room walked into the park from the street side and one of the smart asses said, "Better make sure your zippers are up! You don't want anything to get bit!" They all laughed as they kept slowly walking closer to us.

"Billy, lay the fuck off, will you?! We don't want any more of your shit!" Braden hissed through his teeth. I wouldn't have imagined that Braden could have gotten so angry. I had to admit though that I had just about reached the limits of my patience with Billy as well.

Billy and the other two bozos moved several more steps toward us. As they came in close, Braden balled up his fists and tensed. I took a step toward Billy and said, "Come on you little fuck! Sorry, I don't have my back to you this time, or are you too much of a pussy to take me on face to face?" Braden then took a step forward to stand by me, shoulder to shoulder. I could hear his breathing and could tell he was frightened, but he didn't flinch a single bit when they charged into us.

Billy looked at his two toadies and as they both laughed, they came at us. One had Braden on the ground before he knew what hit him. Mine tried to poke me in the nose, but I faded left and came up with a right to the chin and then a quick left catching him squarely on his nose. I heard it crack and felt it turn to mush when I connected. Blood started pouring out like it was a faucet. He kind of went cross eyed and then dropped down on his knees cowering as he tried to stop the bleeding with a handkerchief.

I wheeled around and ran up to the little asshole that was holding Braden down and gave him a solid right in the side of his head. He slumped a little and that was enough for Braden to break free and get back on his feet. Billy was right behind me, and when I turned to face him, he caught me one solidly on the chin. When he tried that a second time, I ducked. He dug his feet in and tried to look tough as I informed him, "Billy, you really don't want to do this." He took another poke at me which I easily avoided, then as Billy took one final swing I faked right and moved in real quick, filling his face with a quick left-right-left combination.

Billy looked utterly amazed as he landed flat on his ass and I said slowly, "All right, that's it! Do you understand? That's fucking it!" I turned to the kid hassling Braden, grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around, and asked with a smile, "Are you going to be next?" The kid looked at his friend holding his nose with blood dripping from between his fingers and Billy sitting on the ground as well. He decided it might be better if he declined the invitation.

"Good! Now go and take care of your friend," I said disgustedly as I handed him the hanky from my pocket.

Billy looked at us with such utter contempt as he asked, "Why did you do it? Why did you have to screw up my brother?" As they limped away, disappearing into the shadows of the night, I could hear Billy still ranting away, saying, "This aint over yet, faggot."

That one took us both by surprise. I couldn't figure out how or why Billy thought we were responsible for his brother's preference for boys. Billy really needed to be filled in on some of the facts of life.

We stood there looking at each other and Braden said, "Thanks, Patrick." With a tone of absolute amazement, he added, "Wow! You didn't tell me you could do that!"

"Do what?" I wondered.

"Kick ass! That's what," Braden almost cheered.

"Well, I never really thought much about it," I said modestly.

Braden's tee shirt was grass stained and my head was throbbing. I sat back down on the park bench and said, "You'd better go and call Danny. He needs to know what just happened."

Braden stood in front of me with his hands on his hips and insisted, "Well, you come with me. I'm not going alone, and I'm not leaving you here either."

I felt my forehead to see if the cut had started bleeding again. It wasn't bleeding, but it did hurt like hell! I got up slowly, saying, "All right, let's go." We headed down the street to find a pay phone.

As we passed the little convenience store at the intersection, Braden spotted a row of phone booths diagonally across the street, and said, "There's some, come on."

We walked across the street to the row of pay phones and Braden dialed Danny's number. It rang three or four times and Braden said, "Hello, this is Braden. May I speak to Danny please? Yes, I know Ma'am, but it's real important. Thank you." He turned to me and said, "His Mom is getting him."

We waited another minute before Braden said into the receiver, "Danny, this is Braden." I leaned in close so I could hear too.

"Dude, it's almost eleven o'clock ."

"Yeah, sorry, I know, but this is important..." Braden apologized.

"All right, what is it..." Danny sounded distracted.

Braden took a deep breath and informed Danny, "Your brother tried to jump us in the park, and well, he and his friends ended up getting their asses kicked."

"Holy shit!!! What a dumb little fuck!" Danny exclaimed.

"Yeah, I know, but there was nothing we could do, they started it," Braden explained, and then asked, "What did you tell your parents???"

Danny paused for a second, and then said, "Well, I was in the middle of talking to them just now." He seemed to stall for a second before continuing, "I figure it will be better if I just tell them myself. I was planning on doing it soon anyway."

"Holy shit!!! Is Jared still there too???" Braden asked.

"Yeah, he's here," Danny informed us.

"How did they take it??? Your Mom sounded ok..."

"Well, I was just building up to it. I haven't gotten to the... you know yet..." Danny sounded tense all of a sudden and trailed off.

"Someone's there, huh?" Braden said quietly.

"Errr... yeah..."

"Ok, I'll let you go then. We're going to be going home soon, so call me right away if anything bad happens, ok, so we can figure out what to tell the parents. If nothing comes up, then call us in the morning."

"All right, I will," Danny agreed.

"Oh, and Danny, good luck man... I mean it." Braden hung up the phone.

Braden smiled weakly and said, "Well, nothing bad has happened yet. Jared is there with Danny. He's going to tell everything to his parents tonight."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," I reasoned.

Braden looked confused and asked, "How do you figure?"

"Ok, listen... Danny can't be outed by Billy if he is already out... right?" I smiled to myself at my brilliant assessment of the situation.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Braden smiled then added, "I'm going to call home for a ride."

"Why?"

"It's almost eleven, and it's a long walk home," Braden explained

I was surprised to learn that the day was over so quickly, and exclaimed, "Wow, I didn't think it was that late!"

"Well, I guess time flies when you're having fun." Braden smiled as he put another quarter into the phone slot.

I tried to smile too but that made my head hurt even more, so I just said, "All right, go ahead and call."

Braden dialed and after about two rings, he said, "Hi Grandma, It's me." I got close to the receiver so I could eavesdrop again.

"Braden, do you know what time it is?" she asked.

"Yeah, it's only eleven o'clock ... almost. Is my Dad there?" Braden wondered.

"No, dear, he and Patrick's folks and some friends went out on the town tonight. What did you want?" she asked sweetly.

"We were wondering if we could get a ride home." Then Braden added, "The roads are so dark at night. I don't like walking on them."

'Nice touch' I thought to myself. I patted Braden on the shoulder and whispered, "Good one."

"You should have thought of that before you walked to town," she scolded mildly. "All right Braden, I will come in and get you. Where are you?"

Braden looked around and got his bearings, and explained, "We're at the pay phones across from the Main Street Market"

"All right dear, I'll be there in about ten minutes. Just wait there, Ok?"

"Thank you Grandma. We will. Bye," Braden answered, and he hung up the phone again. "She'll be here in about ten minutes," Braden said as he sat down on the curb to wait.

"Yeah, I heard," I replied as I sat next to Braden, probably a little too close seeing as we were right on Main Street. I noticed some people looking at us a little strange, so I moved over a bit, and said, "I wish all this shit had just never happened."

"Yeah, me too. I just want to be left alone," Braden sighed.

"I wish it could be that easy, but I don't think Billy is about to let any of this rest," I said sadly, and then added, "I think he's going to go around stirring up trouble like nobody's business."

"I think Danny is going to give him a little talking to, but yeah, I think you're right. Billy won't let it go, Danny or no Danny!" Braden agreed.

As we sat there waiting for Braden's Grandmother, I watched the crowds in the street slowly ebb as shop after shop closed its doors for the night. There were lights shining from out on the pier where there was a big nightclub and we could just barely hear the band playing inside. As the lights in more and more store front windows dimmed, I thought to myself that all things considered I guess that this was a pretty cool little town. Not at all like the Midwest . Yeah, Omaha was cool for a city, I guess. What I meant was that there were lots of things to do and all, but this was nicer. I liked it here and in a way I envied Braden a little.

As a big trash truck made its way down the street, emptying the numerous public trashcans lining both sides of Main Street, Braden noticed his Grandmother's car just behind. When she saw us, she waved and we ran to the car and piled into the back seat.

"Thanks Gram," Braden said cheerfully.

"Yeah, thanks Braden's Gram," I added.

"You boys really should have called earlier. Didn't it ever occur to you that it gets dark at night? It's much too late for boys your age to be out running around," Braden's Grandmother scolded.

"Yes, ma'am, sorry, ma'am," we said in unison.

"Did you eat a good dinner?" she asked.

"Yeah, we and some friends went to the Oceanside Pizza and pigged out there," Braden said.

As we told her about the high points of the afternoon, well, not all the high points, we told her about going to the arcade and the shops we invaded. We also told her how we hooked up with Danny and Jared and about going out for pizza and then back to the arcade. It was a really fun day, but to hear us tell about everything we did, it sounded kind of lame.

As we pulled into the driveway of Braden's Grandmother's house, I suddenly felt a pang of fear. It occurred to me that there was a good chance that before this night ended my parents would know all about us. I didn't think I was ready for that, not yet anyway. For Christ's sake, I still needed some time to adjust to all of this myself.

Why do things always have to be so damn difficult?! As we followed Braden's Grandmother into the house, the first thing she said was, "And what happened to you young man?"

I knew I would end up in the hot seat. I just didn't think it would be this soon. I stammered, "I... Ahh... err... Well, err..." I didn't know how deep I wanted to go into the night's activities, so I turned to Braden for some guidance.

He looked at me and nodded, and then turned to his Gram saying, "Grandma, let's go and sit down. I... umm... We've got something to tell you."

"All right dear. Let's go into the kitchen and I'll get us some apple pie."

We followed Braden's Grandmother into the next room. Once we were settled in at the table with our pie and some milk, she joined us. At first she just sat there quietly, looking at Braden then at me and then back to Braden again. I might not have been the person she was expecting answers from, but it still seemed like I was in the hot seat as much as Braden was. When neither one of us supplied any information on our own, she started the ball rolling by asking, "Well now, Braden, dear, I know that there has been something eating at you lately. Does that have anything to do with what has happened here?"

Braden nodded then began. "Grandma, what I'm going to tell you.... I mean, I... What I want to say is.... Well, sometimes when a guy.... Oh shit!" Braden looked like he was about to swallow a live fish.

"Now there's no need for language like that young man," she scolded.

"Sorry, Gram," Braden apologized. I could see that he was having a tough time getting the words out.

Braden's Grandmother folded her hands on the table in front of her and said, "Now let me just say something right off dear. The easiest way to say something is to just come right out and say it." She smiled sweetly, and then added, "I don't bite you know."

"I know, Gram. It's just that this isn't easy for me," Braden admitted.

"I can see that Braden." She consoled her grandson in her sweetest grandmotherly tone, and then continued, "Please dear, now you know you can trust me."

I could see in her eyes that we could indeed trust her. She loved Braden so much. I could see that every time she looked at him. I turned to Braden and said, "Braden, it's going to be all right. Just go ahead and say it."

Braden took a long deep breath and sat up straight in his chair. He steeled himself for whatever might happen, and then he said, "Gram, this is the hardest thing I'll probably ever say to you. I'm... I am... errr..."

Braden's Grandmother said calmly, and with total conviction, "Honey, now what could you possibly say that I might think would be so bad?" She paused for a second, but before Braden had a chance to answer she continued, "I'll tell you... Nothing... There is nothing you could ever say that would change the way I feel about you."

"Gram, I can't help it, it's just the way I am." Braden was struggling with getting the words to come out.

"Can't help what, darling?"

"I... I'm... Gram, I'm gay." Braden said the word like it was a death sentence. For a second, I thought he was going to break down and cry. It's a good thing he didn't because I think I would have too.

"Hmm... I see," Braden's Grandmother said as she calmly poured each of us another glass of milk. As she handed Braden his glass, she asked, "What makes you think that, dear?"

"Gram, believe me, when a guy is gay, he knows," Braden told her as he put a huge bite of pie into his mouth.

"I can understand you thinking like this, dear. I'm not so old that I don't hear and see, let alone understand what's going on," she informed him, and then she added, "You learn a lot about a person from doing their laundry."

That was a revelation that really made me think, but this wasn't the time for that. I looked at Braden as he said, "Oh... I guess you heard Billy running his mouth last night?"

"Well, a person would have to have been deaf not to," she replied, and then she continued, "Now, how long were you and Billy... lets see, how would you say it... ah yes... playing around?"

Braden looked a little embarrassed and admitted, "Just once, Gram."

"And from that one time, you now think that you are gay?" she asked.

"Gram, it isn't just that," Braden said, as he looked right at me. "It isn't about messing around. It's about who I am, how I feel."

All of a sudden I felt like I had been dumped right from the frying pan and into the fire as Braden's Grandmother said, "Ahh, I see." She turned to me and asked, "And does all this have anything to do with the way you boys look?"

"Well, sort of, ma'am," I answered as I looked to Braden for some moral support.

"All right, boys, now, why don't you both just tell me everything?" Braden's Grandmother requested, and then she said, "I can't help if I don't understand what's going on, and for me to help, you've got to trust me."

Braden looked to me and I turned to face him too. We both nodded our agreement, then Braden said, "Patrick and I... well, we really like each other... I mean, I've never had a friend like him, not ever."

"I see. Patrick, from all of this, am I correct in assuming that you are gay as well?" she guessed.

I wasn't prepared for as direct a question as that, and to answer her as best I could I nodded, and then said, "Braden means more to me than anything."

Braden's Grandmother smiled and said, "Yes, well, I could see that you two were becoming very close friends."

"We're more than just friends, Gram," Braden confirmed, and then he added, "A lot more." I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head. Christ! The next thing you know he'll be showing movies of us on the barn wall. I couldn't believe he practically came right out and said we were doing it.

"Woo...! I think I need a cup of tea. Braden, dear, would you start the kettle boiling, please?" she asked.

Braden got up and filled the kettle with enough water for a couple of cups of tea, and then he asked, "Are you ok, Gram?"

"Oh my, yes dear. I just felt like I'd rather have something warm to drink, that's all," Braden's Grandma answered reassuringly. "Well, I'm not so old and senile that I don't see what's going on in the world. I know that you boys wouldn't come right out and say something like this unless you were both very serious."

"We are serious, Gram," Braden confirmed as he placed the cup and saucer in front of her on the table.

"Thank you, dear. I know you are," she answered as she pulled him close for a quick hug.

The whistle began screaming that the water was boiling and Braden turned and fetched the kettle. He put a tea bag in the cup as he sat the kettle on a kitchen towel so it wouldn't scald the tabletop. Hesitantly he asked, "Gram, does this mean you're not going to kill me?"

"Oh my..." Braden's Grandmother gave a little chuckle as she poured the steaming water into her cup, and then went on, saying, "Why would you possibly think something like that?"

"We just thought that..."

"You just thought that because you are gay, that I would stop loving you?" Braden's Gram smiled and held out her hands to him for another hug. As they embraced, she said softly, "I'll always love you, boy. I can't live your life for you; nobody could ever do that. But I can help live your life with you; and for that, all I ever need to do is love you."

"I love you too, Gram. You're the best," Braden whispered and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

She smiled that all knowing Grandmotherly smile of hers and admitted, "I know, dear." As she bobbed her tea bag up and down in her cup, she looked at me and asked, "So Patrick, how did you come about getting that shiner of yours?"

"You're kidding?! Is it really?" Man, I am dead when my dad sees this. "Well, umm... there was sort of this fight. If that's what you'd call it."

"What do you mean by that, child? Oh sorry... young man."

I smiled at that and said, "I was in the men's room at the arcade and someone jumped me from behind."

"Oh, my lord! Who would do such a thing?"

I didn't answer her direct question, but instead continued with, "Then when we left the arcade, we went to the park and they tried to gang up on us again. I don't think they will try anything like that again too soon."

She looked puzzled then asked, "What do you mean dear?"

"My dad taught me how to box. I'm on the team at school and at the "Y" back home in Omaha ."

"Oh my, your father... Yes, I remember now... your father used to box..." she seemed lost for a moment in her memories then added, "Your fathers used to use the shed out back when they visited for the summer. The one we keep the lawn things in now. Patrick, your father and Braden's used to go in there and beat the mud out of each other."

"Wow, I never knew that he boxed when he was a kid," I exclaimed.

"Oh, my yes," Mrs. Riley remembered. "They started at the Boys Club when they were in grade school."

"He never said how he started," I admitted. I had always figured he learned it in college. My dad hardly ever talked about when he was a kid and hearing Braden's grandmother talk about it was really cool.

Braden's grandmother steered the conversation back on track, saying, "I've read some articles in magazines about people beating up gays." She then became very serious and asked, "Is that what all this is about?" It was then that I first noticed the strength of Braden's Grandmother. I knew right then that I didn't want to tangle with her when she was pissed.

"Well it is, sort of, but Gram, please. We can handle it," Braden pleaded.

"I don't know. This sort of thing has a way of getting out of hand sometimes, Braden," she cautioned.

"It will be all right. We know what we're doing."

She took a sip of her tea and said flatly, "Well, if you insist Braden, but I don't want any more fighting."

"We didn't want this last fight either, Gram."

"They seemed to insist on it, though," I added.

"Hmm... Insist on it? How?" she wondered out loud.

"They came at us. We didn't really fight them; we just defended ourselves." Then I added, "It was their big mistake."

Mrs. Riley smiled at me and said, "I think I understand." Then after another sip of tea she asked, "I hope you didn't hurt them?"

Braden smiled and sat forward on his seat as he excitedly said, "Holy crap, you should have seen Patrick, I think he broke Ed's nose. I heard it crack when Patrick punched it from ten feet away, and it was bleeding like a water hose."

"Braden, please, I've asked you to watch your language," She intoned.

"Sorry, Gram."

"That sounds to me like a broken nose, all right," she informed Braden then added, "I hope he is all right."

I cringed when I thought about that mushy feeling when you mash someone's nose into putty, and said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was broken. I didn't want to do it, but there were three of them to us two. I had to even the odds in a hurry or we could have been hurt. I won't let Braden get hurt."

"I know you wouldn't, Patrick." She then got up and went to the sink and got a clean towel. Running some warm water, she moistened one corner and said, "Now, come here, young man, let's get a good look at that eye of yours."

I got up and went reluctantly to the sink where the light was a little better. Mrs. Riley wrapped a finger with the wet cloth and said, "Hold still now." She started to dab at the gaping gash on my head in an attempt to wipe away the remaining blood.

"OUCH!!! Ouch, that hurts..." I cried and then I tried to step back in self-defense.

I didn't get very far before Mrs. Riley ordered, "Now get right back here and let me clean that cut young man! Do you want it to get infected?"

"Ok, but not so hard," I begged. My head was still throbbing from the dent Billy tried to put in it.

"Well, I'll try to be more careful, but you are going to have to hold still," she demanded.

As Dr. Jeckle went back to poking her bony finger at the tender spot, I yelled, "It hurts!!!... Ouch... Please..."

"And don't be such a big baby, I swear there is nothing worse than an injured man," she muttered under her breath, and said again sternly, "Now, I told you not to move."

"But it hurts," I pouted. It was just a scratch but I was sure she was going to tear my forehead wide open.

She finished dragging that raggedy old cloth across my many thousands of raw, exposed nerve cells and without much fan fare, announced, "Well, it isn't too bad, and that scratch shouldn't even leave a scar. I think you'll live." She went to the fridge and wrapped two or three ice cubes in the cloth and ordered me to put the freezing lump on my eye, adding, "This will stop the swelling."

Braden was just sitting there, not saying a word and totally amused by all of this. When his Grandmother finished, he said, "I wonder when the parents are going to be home?"

Braden's Grandmother said, "They will probably be late. It has been a long time since they have had a chance to go out together and I think they are doing a lot of catching up."

I looked at the clock on the wall and noticed that it was nearly one o'clock in the morning and said, "I think I had better go home. I said I would be home early, I didn't think that it would end up being early in the morning."

Braden's Grandmother looked thoughtfully at me for a moment and then said, "Patrick, I think you should spend the night here again tonight. It may be a while before your parents make it home, especially if they ended up going into the city, and I don't want you to stay alone."

I was getting tired, but I didn't want to get into any trouble, so I reminded Braden's Grandmother, "But my Mom said she wanted me to go home tonight. I don't want her to get mad at me."

"I know dear, but I really would feel better if you weren't all alone. Don't worry, I will tell your mother that I insisted you spend the night," she assured me.

I smiled and said, "Thanks, ma'am," then looked at Braden and grinned from ear to ear.

Braden was already smiling mischievously as he said, "Let's go upstairs. I'm tired." He let loose a big and obviously fake yawn.

I cleared the dishes to the sink and went to Braden's Grandmother, saying, "Thanks for everything. You're a very special lady." I gave her a big hug.

"Oh, I'm nothing of the sort, but thanks for thinking so," she laughed as she hugged me back, then added, "Now go on up to bed, it's getting late."

As we walked up the forty stairs to Braden's room, I couldn't help think how my life had changed in the last three days. I knew that sometimes it would be hard, but who always has it easy? All I knew was that right at that moment I was happier than I had ever been.

As we passed the third floor bath, we both took turns washing and taking care of business, then we went to bed. We were dead tired, and as we undressed and climbed into his soft warm bed, I said, "Good night, Braden."

He smiled and said, "Nite. I love you, Patrick." We both closed our eyes and in a few minutes fell peacefully asleep.

About three in the morning I was awakened by an urgent need to go pee, and as I slipped out of bed, Braden rolled over and snuggled into the covers. I took my time, being careful not to pummel another toe into a piece of furniture as I made my way across the bedroom floor. When I opened the door and stepped into the hall, I heard someone moving about downstairs. I hurried into the bathroom, not wanting to be caught roaming around the house in my boxers, and did my thing as quietly as possible. When I was on my way back to Braden's room, I caught sight of his dad, weaving his way to his bedroom door. From the looks of things, the grown up's had a good time last night. I hurried as fast as I could back to bed and cuddled against Braden.

As was apparently usual in the Riley household, morning came early, and this Monday was no exception. Braden's Dad knocked on the door and called, "Come on boys, breakfast is almost ready." I remembered seeing him last night and thought to myself that he sounded like he was hurting. Grownups! They'll never learn.

I rolled over and answered through a fog of sleep, "Yes sir, we'll be right down."

As I sat up, I nudged Braden a few times till he growled, "Patrick, let me sleep. I'm still tired."

I pulled the warm covers off and said, "Come on. Your Dad said breakfast was almost ready."

"Oh, all right..." Braden stretched and scratched as he yawned and rolled out of bed. He looked funny as he blindly made a bee line to the bathroom.

I went through his dresser drawers and got us each fresh clothes, and as he returned to get dressed, I made my trip to the toidy. I was happy to see that the redness where I had bumped my head was almost gone and there was only just a tiny scratch visible. All of a sudden I felt kind of childish about the way I acted when Braden's Grandmother cleaned my cut. When I returned, Braden was already almost dressed and I hurried to catch up.

We finished dressing quickly and thundered down to the kitchen as ordered. Mrs. Riley was cooking up a storm and we sat down to toast and eggs with bacon. Braden's Dad was quiet this morning and all he had for breakfast was a glass of tomato juice and a big cup of black coffee, which he took out into the back yard.

As he left the kitchen, Braden's Grandmother looked and smiled at Braden, and said, "I think that your father may have over did it just a little bit last night." As she brought more toast, she added, "You boys might do well to learn from him."

We all looked out the window and watched Braden's Dad sipping his coffee as Braden said, "Awww... He looks like he is really hurting."

I speculated, "I'll bet my parents are in rare form this morning too."

Mrs. Riley said, "Oh, Patrick, your mother called and wants you to go home as soon as you've finished breakfast. She said you were all going somewhere and wanted you there as soon as possible this morning." She turned to Braden and said, "Go upstairs and put on some nice clothes, dear. You are invited to go along too."

I nodded and as I shoved a piece of bacon into my mouth, said, "Ok, thanks, ma'am."

Braden however got up, saying, "I'm full Gram. I'll go up to change." To me he said, "I'll be right back down."

While Braden was upstairs, I finished my breakfast with Mrs. Riley. As I took a good kid sized drink of milk, she said absently, "You know, I've always thought there was something special about Braden. I was so worried about him when his mother passed away. I thought he would just roll up in a little ball and whither away."

"Braden never told me what happened. How did she die?" I asked quietly, as if Braden would hear.

"Oh my, that was so sad. Beth, that was her name, was so beautiful. She didn't have the heart to hurt a fly." Mrs. Riley seemed to look off into the past as she added, "I've never before in my life seen a more loving, caring soul, and she just adored Braden." As she came back to the here and now, she looked at me and quietly said, "About a year ago, she began feeling tired so she went to the doctor for a check up. They found a cancer. Poor girl, she passed away six months ago."

"I'm glad Braden has you. He loves you a whole lot." I said, almost in a whisper.

"I love him too," she smiled as she cleared the breakfast dishes to the sink.

I got up and carried my plate and I put it in with the others as I said, "I wish I had a Gram like you."

"Why Patrick, that's so sweet," she said and she kissed me on the cheek. "I'll be your Grandma. If you'll have me, that is," she told me with a smile.

"I think I'd like that a lot," I answered. All of a sudden I felt better. The funny thing was that even with all the crap going on with Billy, I had a feeling that with Braden's Grandmother in our corner, everything was going to be all right.

"Then it's settled, from now on there'll be no more ma'am, or Mrs. Riley. You can call me Gram, like Braden." she informed me.

"Thanks Gram," was all that needed to be said right then and I hugged her.

It didn't take too long for Braden to come storming back down the stairs. He had changed into a blue shirt with gray Dockers and a belt. I couldn't help think to myself that when he was dressed up a little he looked much more mature, and way cuter. I smiled and said, "Looking good."

We said our good byes and I thanked my new Gram for everything as we headed to meet my parents at the little cottage. As we walked the short distance, we didn't talk about much. I was trying to think of what could possibly require us to be all dressed up and I was pretty sure Braden was doing the same thing.

My Mom was in the small galley kitchen pouring her self a cup of coffee. When she spotted me walking in the door she smiled and said, "Well, hello stranger."

"I'm sorry Mom; Braden's Grandma said I should stay there last night," I apologized.

"I know baby, she called earlier and told me all about it." She added, "I put your clothes on your bed, so go ahead and change right away, ok?" She poured a second cup of black steamy coffee and took it in to my Dad.

"Yup, I was right," I said to Braden as he followed me into my tiny bedroom.

"Right about what?" he wondered absently.

"About my Dad. He got totally wasted last night too." We laughed as I started to get changed into the clothes my Mom had picked out for me. Once I was dressed, we went back into the parlor and I asked my Mom, "Where are we going? Isn't it kind of hot to get all dressed up like this?"

"It is going to be a surprise," was all she said, and then added, "It's just for a little while Patrick, it won't kill you."

I hated it when she started playing this little game of hers. "What kind of a surprise?"

"Oh, you'll find out when you get there," she said, obviously totally aware that she was irritating me.

"Oh, Mom... come on... tell me." I pleaded, but to no avail.

My Dad was finally up and making his way to the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He looked like a character from that crummy old movie, 'Night of the Living Dead'. I turned to Braden and gave him a little nudge in the ribs as I grinned and he tried to hold in a laugh.

It took my Dad longer than usual in the shower and as he finished my Mom took him another hot coffee and returned with the empty cup. He spent another ten minutes in the bathroom shaving and generally taking care of business before he came out and finally noticed us by saying, "Oh, hello boys. When did you get here?"

"We've been here since before you got up, Dad," I laughed, and then added with a big smirk, "Did you have a good time last night?"

"Yeah, too good," he answered, giving me a wry smile. As he passed by the window he looked out and caught the son and he winced as if in mortal pain. He turned to my Mom and through a squint asked, "Deb, did you find the aspirin?"

"Here you go." Mom handed him three pills and he threw them into his mouth and gulped some more coffee to wash them down. Dad went back into their bedroom to get dressed and in a few minutes came out in a suit and tie and everything. I wondered what the hell we were in for but nobody would say a word.

By eleven o'clock we were on the road to the far side of town. We turned off the main road and drove up to a huge gate. The words, 'Dickson Academy' on a big bronze plaque attached to stone columns flanking the driveway. I scooted up to the front seat and asked, "What is this place? What are we doing here?"

As we drove through the gate, Dad explained, "Patrick, a long time ago when I was your age, this was a dream of mine, to go to this school. Money was tight back then and Grandpa couldn't afford it, so I never got the chance to go. But, I swore that if I ever had a son and I was able to send him here, I would do it. So we're here today to look the place over."

This was really weird. For the last couple of months, when I would walk in on my parents talking, all of a sudden they would get real quiet. You know, like they didn't want me to hear what they were saying. For a while I thought something was wrong, like they weren't getting along or something like that. My parents hardly ever fought and when they did it was usually over something stupid like what color to paint the porch. Now everything was falling into place.

As we drove down the long winding driveway, we passed several brick and wood cottages with manicured gardens. We rounded a wide curve and passed three or four larger ivy covered buildings, which looked very much like they might be dormitories. As we pulled in front of the main building, we saw a few groups of guys about my age coming and going.

My Dad turned in his seat to face us and said, "Those boys are probably here for summer classes. Fall classes don't begin for another two or three weeks from what I understand." Then he said to me, "Patrick, we're here just to look the place over. It is totally up to you if you decide you want to go to school here."

My mouth was still hanging open, and all I could answer was, "Uh-huh..."

Dad continued, "If you decide this isn't for you, don't think you have to do this just to please me. That's the last thing I want. It is going to be totally up to you. Your mother and I have an appointment in a few minutes with the Headmaster. You can go and check the place out on your own for about an hour, then I want you back here. Understand?" He handed me his watch and added, "Take this so you won't have any excuse to be late."

"Ok Dad, we won't be late," I answered and we all got out of the car. My parents quickly disappeared inside the huge old mansion and Braden and I walked toward what looked to be an athletic building.

Braden said excitedly, "Patrick, this is great!"

I was still at a loss for words. "Yeah... I... Look!" I pointed to a pasture ringed in by a tall white fence with about two dozen horses grazing in the warm sun.

I slowly turned around and looked at Braden. I didn't fully understand exactly what he had meant at first, but when I looked at the smile on his face I realized what he had been getting at. If I went to this school, we would be able to be a lot closer to each other. I wanted to hug him right there and then but there were way too many people around so I said, "Yes, this is going to be great." Then I said, "Come on, let's go check this place out." We spent the remainder of the hour walking around, assessing the advantages this school had to offer.

When we got back to the car, we still had a few minutes to go and waited patiently for my parents to return. As we hung around waiting, a group of boys on their way to lunch stopped and asked if we were going to be attending the school. Braden hung back as I answered, "I think so. My parents are in talking to them about it right now." All of the boys were very friendly and said that they hoped to be seeing us again soon.

Mom and Dad were right on time, and there was an older gentleman busily talking with them as they descended the stairs. Mom smiled, but she looked kind of sad. The man was talking about school activities and sports programs as they approached me.

My Dad introduced the man as Mr. Cahill, the Headmaster of the school and explained that a Headmaster was sort of like a school principal. I shook Mr. Cahill's hand and introduced Braden. He then shook Braden's hand as he asked, "So what do you think of Dickson?"

"It's awesome! ... I mean, I like it fine, sir," I corrected myself.

"Wonderful. Did you get to see any of the campus?" he asked.

"Yes sir, a little," I answered.

"Good." Mr. Cahill then turned to my Dad and as they shook hands, he said, "I'll leave you to have a look for yourselves. If you have any questions feel free to give me a call."

The Headmaster shook my hand again as well, saying, "It was nice meeting you, Patrick. I hope you choose to join us here at Dickson."

"Thank you, sir."

"Well, Patrick, what do you think?" my Mom asked.

"Oh, Mom, it is really cool. They even have horses!" I exclaimed.

My Dad opened a small brochure and read, "They have a complete sports program and are rated among the highest academically."

We walked through some of the buildings and visited the dormitories and also the dining hall and library. The brochure explained that the school had once been a large estate, but in 1906 it was sold and converted into a school for young men. Several buildings were added through the years, through donations from alumni and the families of graduates. Dickson Academy was now considered one of the finest private schools in the country.

As we completed our tour and made our way back to the car, my Dad said, "When I was your age I wanted this so badly I could taste it." He took one long last look before getting into the car.

"Patrick, we want you to think about this very hard before you make a decision," my mom advised me.

What she didn't know was that I had already made up my mind. I was wondering what Braden thought about the school. He had been kind of quiet most of the afternoon. As we turned onto the main road back into town, I asked him, "Are you ok, dude?"

"Oh, yeah, I was just thinking," Braden smiled.

"About what?" I queried.

"Well, I was just wondering what happened with Danny last night," he answered.

That thought brought me right back down to earth. I had been so distracted by the school that I had almost forgotten about Danny and Jared. Billy was almost sure to say something, and if not, I know Danny would want to know what he thought he was doing trying to jump us in the park.

I also wondered what happened to the boy I cracked in the nose. I made a face when I remembered how his nose kind of turned to goo when I hit it. All of a sudden I felt kind of bad for him.

It didn't take long for us to get back to the cove, and rather than going straight on to the cottage, my Dad pulled into the driveway at Braden's. My Mom and Dad went into the house to see the family. Braden and I stayed outside and sat on the porch steps. As we rested in the early afternoon sun, I asked, "Do you think we should call Danny and find out what happened?"

Braden thought about it for a second then said, "Ok, let's go in and I'll call."

We got up and dusted off our butts and as we entered the house, we met Braden's Gram, and she said, "Boys, I was just coming to get you. I made some sandwiches for lunch, so just go ahead and serve yourselves."

Everyone was gathered in the parlor, the men were enjoying a beer and the ladies were drinking iced tea. On the coffee table there was a huge tray piled high with yummy looking food. Braden and I each took two and we headed for the kitchen so we could call Danny. We didn't want to be overheard, so I stood guard by the door while he called. Braden dialed Danny's number and waited for someone to answer. After about the fourth ring, Braden smiled and said "Hello, is Danny there?" after a few seconds he added, "This is Braden." He made a weird face and mouthed the word, 'Mom'. I wondered even more how things went for them last night so I abandoned my post by the door and listened in on Braden's conversation.

Braden waited for several seconds before saying, "Hi, Danny? This is Braden. How's it going? What happened last night after we called?"

"Oh, dude, at first I thought the shit was going to hit the fan. You guys know I beat Billy home and I got to talk to the parents first," Danny explained.

"Did you tell them everything?" Braden asked, and then added, "About... well... you know?"

"Yeah, did I ever. At first I was scared shitless, but once I got started, it became kind of easy," Danny confessed.

"I know what you mean. We told my Grandmother last night too." Braden informed him.

"Holy shit!!! How did she take it?" Danny asked.

"She was really cool about it, and she knows about Patrick and me too," Braden said with a relieved tone.

"Aren't you afraid she will dump all this on your Dad?"

"No, she wouldn't do that. But I think I am going to talk with him pretty soon too." Braden admitted.

"Yeah? Great. My parents took it kind of good I think. My Mom cried a little, but my Dad was ok."

"What about Billy?" Braden asked then added, "Did he start any shit?"

"Oh, that little bastard! He came in here and started spouting off about you and Patrick. I told my parents that Billy tried to gang up on you guys and they came down on him hard," Danny laughed as he added, "When he came downstairs this morning he had the worst freaking shiner I have ever seen."

I whispered to Braden, "I didn't think that I had hit him that hard." I was kind of feeling bad for him, but not too bad.

Braden took a deep breath and slowly said, "Oh man, I didn't want him to get into trouble. He will end up taking that out on us too."

"It's hard to tell what he will do. I'm going to try and talk some sense into him though," Danny promised.

"All right, if you think it will do any good," Braden agreed. I wondered if it actually would do any good.

Danny admitted, "I don't know, but it's worth a shot." He added, "Hey, all I can do is try."

Braden's Dad came in and went to the fridge for a couple of more beers and said, "Come into the parlor when you're through son, I want to talk to you about something."

"I have to go. My Dad wants me," Braden said.

"Yeah, I just heard. I'll let you know if anything happens," Danny promised.

"All right, that's cool. We'll see ya." Braden hung up the phone and looked seriously at me and asked, "What do you think they want?"

"Shit man, I don't know. Just don't panic, ok?" I cautioned.

We went slowly into the parlor and sat down on the hearth in front of the fireplace. Braden's Dad was looking at the brochures from Dickson Academy. "Braden, I wanted to ask you something. If Patrick decides to go to the academy, do you think you would like to go also?" Tom handed the pamphlet to his mother and continued, "It's up to you, son."

Braden lit up like a Christmas tree and I, well I just couldn't believe it. I got up and went to Mrs. Riley, my new Grandma and asked, "Was this your idea?"

She just smiled and held out her arms for a little hug. When I was close, she whispered in my ear, "It's as much for Braden as it is for you. I can see that he needs you, and I think you need him as well."

I kissed her cheek and said, "Thank you," then I resumed my seat next to Braden. I had an idea pop into my head and looked at all the adults gathered together and just had to ask, "If I do stay here and go to Dickson with Braden, does this mean that Braden will be staying at the academy with me?" And then I added for good measure, "It would be a lot better if we were both going to the same school, don't you think?"

My Dad looked at me and said, "Patrick, think about it, Braden lives close enough to take the bus to school.

Braden's Dad answered, "Well, I think Patrick is right about one thing. They would do better if they were in the same school, but I think Braden will have to travel to school." He turned to Braden and asked, "What do you think son? Would you rather go to Dickson than the high school here in town?"

Braden looked to his Dad, then his Grandma and back, and then said, "Oh wow! I'd like that more than almost anything, Dad." He choked up and started to cry into his hands.

Mrs. Riley went to her grandson and knelt down on the carpet in front of him. She put a hand on his cheek, asking, "Braden dear, what is it? What's wrong child?"

"I'm just so happy. I wish my Mom were here to see."

"Child, if there is one thing I am sure of, I am sure your Mother is watching over you every second of every day." Braden's Grandmother said this with such absolute conviction I knew she meant and believed every word she said.

My Dad turned to me and took a good long sip from his beer and asked, "Well, Patrick, what do you want to do?"

I thought about it for a second then said, "If Braden goes to the academy with me, then yes, I want to go."

"Good, then that's settled. I'll go to the school in the morning and take care of everything," my Dad said.

"I might as well go along with you. That way I can take care of Braden's enrollment as well," Tom suggested as he stood up and motioned my Dad to follow him into the kitchen. My Dad shook his can and agreed that he needed to head to the fridge again as well.

When the door swung closed, I asked my Mom about my computer. She said, "Oh, I wanted to tell you about that. I asked Dad about it and he said that we would just get you a new one. The school uses computers quite a lot and your Father and I thought it would help with your studies."

I was very happy about that because my old computer was about three or four years old and it ran way too slow. Well I figured I might as well push my luck a bit so I asked, "Mom, I know it's a lot to ask. But, will I have a phone? You know, so I could still have the Internet?" She immediately looked skeptical, but I threw in before she had a chance to think about it too much, "That way, I would be able to IM you and Dad and we could talk and I could send E-mail too. If I could talk to you online I wouldn't feel so homesick." I said that last part with my best sad faced little puppy dog pout.

My Mom was usually a tough nut to crack, but I could see that I hit her right in the maternal instincts when she said, "Well, the school has the internet and all that in all the dormitory rooms."

I smiled to myself once I learned I could still talk with everyone back home and then I asked, "What about all my clothes and stuff?"

I could tell that my mom had already been thinking about this as she answered, "When we get home we'll go through all that. Some things will still fit you but I'm sure we will have to go shopping for clothes."

"How am I going to get back here in time for school?" I asked.

"I guess you'll fly or maybe the take the train. Your father has to be back to work in a few days and it's too far for me to drive."

All of a sudden I had an idea and as I grinned from ear to ear, I asked, "Can Braden come home with us?"

My mom looked to Braden's grandmother and without even having to ask Mrs. Riley answered, "I don't see any reason why he couldn't go along, but you had better go ahead and ask your father dear, just to be sure."

Well, Braden and I left my Mom and his Grandmother to work out the details of packing for the trip and all the bazillion other loose ends that needed to be attended to. When women get all wound up like this, the best thing to do is to make yourself scarce. We went back into the kitchen to find Braden's dad but got sidetracked by the refrigerator. We managed to scrape up a little leftover salad from the bar-b-q the other night and some of the cold cuts for another sandwich. As we were sitting down to the pile of bowls, jars and packages, the Dad's came walking in from the back yard. Once they spotted the food they decided they were hungry also and sat down to join us for a quick snack as well.

Before they even settled into their seats Braden was excitedly asking, "Dad, Patrick invited me to ride home with them. Can I go, please?"

I looked to my father and asked, "Its ok, isn't it, Dad?"

My dad looked to Braden's dad and they both looked at us and shrugged their shoulders, then my dad said, "As long as it's all right with your mother, I don't see why not."

We smiled and both answered, "They said we should ask you." And then I continued adding, "Mom said I would take either the train or a plane to return and I thought Braden could keep me company on the trip."

"Makes sense to me." As my Dad carefully spread mustard on a slice of bread, he added, "Patrick, I hope you know that we, your Mother and I, are doing this for you because we love you. We want you to have all the advantages you can."

"I know that Dad. I love you guys too, and I won't let you down," I promised.

"Son, you could never let us down, no matter what," he smiled. I always did my best in school and so far I had managed to get pretty good grades. I figured that a good school like Dickson had to be tough, but I knew I could handle it.

What I did wonder about was if that statement would still hold true if they knew I was... well, if they knew I was gay. I looked at Braden as he pushed a piece of potato salad into his mouth and thought to myself how great it will be to be living right across town from him. He looked at me, smiled knowingly, and then blushed a tiny bit. I knew he was thinking the same thing but possibly in a more intimate way.

I wanted to be with Braden all of a sudden, if only to hold him for a few seconds. I looked and nodded toward the door and just like I figured, he had no idea what I meant. I tried again and he just gave me that blank stare of his that screamed 'HUH?'. Finally I gave up and asked, "Want to go down to the beach after?"

"Huh? Oh, ok. Sure. Lets just put this stuff away and I'll take this sandwich with me," Braden smiled. The dads were too busy pouring over the brochures for the academy and hardly noticed as we finished eating and started cleaning up the mess.

"Ok. I'll get the trash while we clean up," I offered, and we went about putting the kitchen back in order... more or less. When we finished we asked if we could walk down to the beach and both our Dads nodded absently as they talked.

Once outside we headed for the stairway down to the beach and began the long walk down. There were still a few dozen people on the beach even though it was getting late in the afternoon. One good thing was that there was no sign of Billy or any of his cohorts either. I didn't really feel like having to deal with them right now, this was just too good of a day to be spoiled.

Once we were on the warm white sand of the beach I said, "Let's go to the water, Ok? I want to stick my feet in." I didn't know why, but I felt a need right then to walk in the surf.

Braden and I pulled off our shoes and sox and rolled up our pant legs. The waves rolled in and reached toward us almost touching our toes before sliding quietly back into the bay. We inched closer until a wave washed over our toes then as it rushed past our feet and slowed to a stop for a moment so did time. Braden was standing with me and as I smiled he cocked his head a little to the side and asked, "What is it Patrick?"

"I just don't want this to ever end," I answered.

Braden placed a hand lightly on my shoulder and agreed, "Yeah, I know what you mean."

As we walked toward the far side of the beach, Braden spotted a familiar car pulling into the parking lot. Danny and Jared got out and ran out to meet us on the beach, and as they came close enough to talk without screaming, Danny said, "Braden, dude, your Grandmother said you guys were down here and had something to tell us." They both stood there waiting for the news like little kids going to see Santa for the first time, excited and terrified at the same time.

Braden began by saying, "Patrick isn't going back to Nebraska! He is staying to go to the Dickson Academy. We're both going." Braden was absolutely glowing he was so happy.

"Dude, that is so cool!" Jared said as he hugged me.

I was so happy. I hugged Jared back and all I could say just then was, "Yeah, it is."

At first, when my parents said we were going to go to New England for a vacation I didn't really want to go. But, looking back over the last few days, I realized that this trip was turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime.

And the adventure was only just beginning...

This Ends Part One

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