The Move

Chapter 14

By Doug Smith

We found Scott laying on the couch playing Nintendo when we got downstairs.

"Hey munch, the idea of that thing is to move around. Don't just lie there and flick your wrist."

"This is easier. Are you going to play?" he asked giggling before seeing Josh. His eyes began to water when he looked up and saw him. I squatted in front of the couch and put my hand on his shoulder.

"Scott, it's okay. Josh didn't know about Aaron but now he does. I know you loved him but if I can remember he's not Aaron then you can too, okay?"

"Okay ... I'll try. Is he your special friend too?"

I'm not sure Josh had figured everything out. While I had said I loved Aaron I didn't come right out and say I'm gay. It wasn't much of a leap and I doubt it would make a difference but things were complicated enough. He gave me a funny look when Scott mentioned 'special friend'. I'm sure he was curious but I'm also sure he had a good idea what he meant. He's not stupid.

I doubt Scott really understood how Aaron and I actually felt about each other. After all, he was only five when we realized we were more than best friends and he was only six when my mother caught us in bed. Thankfully he had been downstairs when that happened. We always tried being careful around him. In fact we tried not to be too affectionate in front of either of our families, especially my father. My mother didn't mind and while my father didn't really say anything, we could tell he wasn't overly happy about us either.

Scott did see us kissing at least once. We had been watching a movie and thought everyone was asleep. We got a little carried away making out in the living room. We didn't go too far. We never did when other people were in the house. Except in my bedroom of course. While it was definitely a different story when we knew nobody was around, that time we just hadn't heard him come downstairs. I guess we were preoccupied.

Hopefully he didn't know about the sex. We were really careful about that. I'm sure my parents knew or at least assumed. My mother had only caught us kissing that afternoon but that was only because she came in when she did. I can only imagine what she might have seen ten minutes later.

Scott did know Aaron slept over and that I only had a queen size bed in my room but the concept of sex shouldn't have occurred to him, right? He might have seen us being affectionate but he never saw anything like that.

At least he didn't try kissing his friends. My parents were pretty accepting but I'm sure we would have been in trouble if he had done that. He bought that only big boys do that.

Scott only referred to Aaron as my 'special friend' after the accident. He heard my father call him that. Of course that was because he was trying to convince me my feelings for Aaron didn't mean I am gay. Scott had heard that too. I guess that's how a six year old translates things he doesn't understand.

Josh squatted beside the couch too.

"Scott ... Dan and I don't know each other very well yet. He and Aaron were friends all their lives. I'm sure they did have a special friendship."

"That's for sure. They were b ..."


I really didn't need Scott blurting out Aaron and I were boyfriends. He had heard Jason call us that. I really didn't care if Josh knew. He probably had figured it out anyway but just in case I wanted to be the one to tell him. He just gave me another perplexed look.

"Scott .. I know I look like Aaron. He was obviously special to both of you. That's going to make things a little strange but Dan and I are going to try being friends. I hope you and I can be friends too."

Scott smiled and reached out to hug him whispering something in his ear.

Josh smiled. "I'll try. We'll have to wait and see."

"Scott ... what did you say?"

"Nothing," he said looking at Josh and smiling.

Josh smiled too. "Maybe I'll tell you when you tell me what the difference is that you found."

"That's blackmail .... Your aunt said you're a good kid."

"You believed her? Maybe she only knows the good Josh," he smiled and immediately changed the subject.

"Scott .. Can you teach me how to play Nintendo? I've never played before."

He seemed to enjoy giving me a hard time. That was a good sign. "You better tell me later," I smiled.

For the next hour we took turns playing Wii Sports - baseball, tennis, and even golf. It didn't take long before we were teasing each other and laughing like old friends. It was fun. The only awkward moment was when we, or I, started wrestling with Josh after one of our games. Aaron and I used to fool around like that all the time. I think it was partly because we were both competitive but also because it let us have our hands on each other in front of people.

Wrestling with Josh wasn't the issue. Even though he wasn't as strong as Aaron and he didn't have his moves, he did play along He also didn't cheat and grab my balls like Aaron sometimes did. He just seemed to go with it. The problem was the hug I gave him right before letting go. I wasn't thinking.

"Sorry," I said as soon as I realized what I had done.

He looked at me a few seconds and smiled. "It's okay. We'll just call that an Aaron moment."

Scott started laughing.

"What's so funny?" I asked more to stop looking at Josh than for any other reason.

"You," he laughed. "I think Josh is going to be your friend, just like Aaron,"

I could feel Josh watching me.

"Alright bud, enough of that," I said. "Why don't you and Josh play tennis. Maybe you can beat him."

Scott smiled and jumped up to play but before they started we heard my mother call downstairs.

"Scott Alexander Johnson, come up here."

"Oh oh," I said. "All three names. I think someone is in trouble."

He laughed. "Wait until I tell her about Josh."

"Scott," I said grabbing his shoulder. "Don't say anything. Let me tell her. You know how she felt about Aaron."

He looked at me with a sad face but then let out a long sigh and smiled.

"Alright but it's still going to be funny," he said as he ran upstairs calling to Mom.

I turned to Josh. "Sorry," I said. "I'm sure you can imagine how she felt about Aaron. She loved him like he was her own son. I know she'll know you're not him but I'm sure she'll be emotional. Are you ready?"

"I'm fine but maybe you should talk to her first. Prepare her a little bit. You fainted and Scott hugged me. Who knows what she'll do. Just how many more people are there that I have to go through this with?"

I smiled. "Just my parents. At least now you know what to expect."

"Yeah and I'm glad you finally told me but we need to talk more I'm confused about something."

"We will. Is something wrong?"

"No, it's okay. We'll talk later."

I was pretty sure I knew what he was thinking but let it go for now.

"Wait here, I'll go see what's up."

When I got upstairs Mom was lecturing Scott about how he was supposed to stay after school. She said she was worried when the school called saying he wasn't there and that it's important she knows where he is and that he's safe. Fortunately I had called saying he was home.

Scott just listened, stepping back and forth between each foot.

"I'm sorry Mom, I didn't want to stay after school. It's boring. Besides, Dan was here. He brought a friend home."

He kept giggling. It was cute. He was about to bust a gut keeping his promise.

Mom looked at me and asked why I was home. "Didn't you have an appointment with Dr. Medford? You know you can't just skip your counseling sessions."

"I'm sorry. I forgot all about it. Something happened at school and I completely forgot."

"What happened? Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, everything is fine. There were just some kids giving a friend of mine a hard time. They took his cell phone and I helped get it back. It wasn't a big deal."

"Dan!!! Did you get into a fight?"

"It wasn't really a fight. These two guys were teasing Josh, that's all. You know I don't like it when that happens."

"Who is Josh? That name doesn't sound familiar. Has he been here before?"

Scott giggled.

"He's a friend from school. He's really friends with Chris and Ryan. It wasn't a big deal. We got his phone back and came here. We've been playing Nintendo. You want to meet him?"

"Of course. You know I like to know your friends. Where is he?"

"Downstairs but there is something I should explain first. Can you sit down?"

She gave me a funny look but sat at the table. "What is it Dan?"

Scott just kept giggling.

"Scott, knock it off. ... Mom, Josh and I really haven't been friends until today. It's a long story. He and I didn't really get along at first but that was all my fault. I didn't really give him a chance. I had a tough time dealing with him."

"I don't understand. That isn't like you."

"This is different. I think you'll understand when you meet him."

"You're a good judge of character. I'm sure I'll like him."

"I know but this is different. Don't worry, he's a good guy. It just took me a while to realize that. He kind of brought back memories."

I'm sure she knew what memories I meant from the look on my face. She studied my face for a minute before nodding.

"Just go get him. You're only making me curious."

"Alright, he's downstairs. Just don't go all shrink on me. Okay?"

"All shrink??? What's that supposed to mean? Just go get him."

Josh had come part way upstairs when I went to get him.. "You ready?"

"I heard what you said. You were doing fine up until that last comment. ... All shrink??? .... I'm sure that really helped." he smirked.

"I didn't want to just tell her. Come on."

I put my arm on his shoulder and gave it a small squeeze. It was like that when we got to the top of the stairs and looked over at my mother. She just stared without saying a word.

"Mom? Are you alright? This is Josh."

"Oh my God. It's a good thing you made me sit down. What did you say his name is?"

"Josh. .... Josh Sullivan."

There were tears running down her cheek. I'd forgotten my hand was on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she said wiping away tears. "It's nice to meet you."

"It's okay Mrs. Johnson. Your reaction is really pretty mild. At least you didn't faint," he smiled looking at me.

"What?? When did you faint? You never told me that."

"Sorry," he said looking worried. I wasn't thinking."

"It's okay, don't worry about it. ... Mom, it wasn't a big deal. It happened the first day of school. I was talking with Chris and Ryan and Josh sat down beside me. Next thing I knew I was on the floor and everyone was staring at me. Look at the bright side, people know who I am."

"I can't believe you've known him for a month and haven't said anything. The school should have called us when you fainted. Have you talked to anyone? Dr. Medford? How could you keep something like this to yourself? I knew you weren't telling us something."

"Mom, it's fine. I talked with the guidance counselor at school. I asked her not to tell you. I wanted to deal with it myself. I'm not sure I did a very good job at that because Josh and I had a rough start. I was kind of a jerk."

"Kind of?" he asked smiling.

I smiled. "Alright, a real jerk. I thought I could just ignore him. That didn't work out so well. It just made me miserable and it hurt him. Hopefully things are better now. At least he knows why I never talked to him and kept staring when I thought he wasn't looking. ... It's also why Jason came to visit last week. I told him all about Josh. He even met him."

"What?" I don't know anyone named Jason. Who is he?"

I smiled. "Jason is my second best friend from back home. You probably don't remember meeting him. He was here last weekend. He just showed up because he was worried about me. He's a good friend. When I told him about you he said I had to be exaggerating and made me drive to your house. He just walked up and knocked on your door. He said he gave you some BS about looking for some address and asked if he had the right place."

"I remember that. He said he had just flown in from Chicago. I even told him about you. You were outside?"

"I parked down the street so you wouldn't see me. He flew in from Chicago Saturday morning. Like I said, he was worried about me and he's a good friend. He just showed up. I hope you get to meet him for real soon. Maybe we can call him later. He said if I didn't talk to you he was coming back and dragging me to your house although he didn't phrase it quite like that," I smiled.

My mother just looked at Josh. "This is incredible," she said. "Dan? Are you sure you're okay with this?"

"I feel better now that Josh and I have talked. Besides, I have to deal with it if we're going to see each other at school anyway. At least now he knows what's going on. I wish I had told him sooner. I'm just taking it one step at a time."

"You should talk to Dr. Medford."

"I know but all he wants is to talk about my feelings. I'm tired of talking about my feelings. It just reminds me of what happened. Aaron is dead. I loved him and no matter how much I wish it had been me and not him, it wasn't. If there had been a way I would have taken it, you know that. I know you don't want to hear me say that but it's true, you know that. I also know I have to put it in the past. I'm here and he isn't. I have to accept that. He'd want me to accept it. Josh may look like Aaron but he's not Aaron. He's a good guy and he's also my friend. .... I hope."

Scott looked at the floor. "I'm glad it wasn't you."

I picked him up and gave him a hug. "I know you are buddy. It just isn't fair Aaron had to die."

"This is going to take some getting used to. Maybe we should talk in private."

"No!!! Josh and I have talked. This involves him too. I tried keeping it to myself for too long."

"How much have you told him?"

"He knows about Aaron. He knows he died. He knows we loved each other. I don't know if he's put it all together yet but he's not stupid. I'm sure he's figured out we were more than best friends and if he hasn't he knows now. .... He's still here."

"We'll talk later," I smiled when he gave me another perplexed look. I was relieved when he returned my smile and nodded.

"How do you feel about this Josh?" Mom asked.

"I know it's going to be strange Mrs Johnson. Like Dan said we didn't get off to a very good start. I didn't understand why and it bothered me. That hurt. We've talked but there's definitely more to talk about. We want to be friends but I need to believe he's seeing me and not him. I don't want to be a surrogate for Aaron."

"This is incredible. Dan has been through a lot the last year. I don't want to see him take a step backwards. I don't want to see you get hurt either. You both need to be careful and remember each others feelings ... And Dan, you need to talk with Dr. Medford ..... as well as your father."

I sighed. "I will Mom but don't worry. Josh and I are friends. Regardless of how things turn out at least he knows what's been going on. I think he's forgiven me for being a jerk. One thing I do know is if Phil Clayton so much as looks at him the wrong way he'll be sorry."

"Who is Phil Clayton?"

"He's the guy who took Josh's cell."

"What happened?"

"It doesn't matter. He took his phone and I got it back for him. End of story."

"You know I don't approve of you fighting."

"It wasn't a big deal. Nobody was around and he isn't the type to let people know he got his ass kicked."

"Dan, watch your language," my mother said looking at Scott who was laughing.

"Danny said a bad word mommy."

"Yes he did and he better not do it again. He also better not get into fights at school."

I smiled. "Sorry ... and don't worry, I won't start anything but I will finish it. If he or anyone else bothers my friends they'll be sorry. Isn't that why you paid for ten years of karate lessons?"

"You know what I mean. There are other ways besides fighting."

"Not that people like Phil understand."

"Ten years? Chris said you're good. What are you? Some kind of Ninja??"

I laughed. "I'll Ninja you," I said making a couple of quick moves towards him. Even though I didn't hit him he instinctively bent forward to protect his stomach. I grabbed him from behind and pulled him against me. His back was against my chest just like Aaron's often was when we talked with Mom.

Scott's laughter made me realize what I had done and I quickly let go. "Sorry," I said.

He just smiled. "That's two Aaron moments."

I smiled. "I better get you home. Your Dad is expecting you."

"Yeah, right," he said. His smile quickly fading.

"Mom, I'm going to take Josh home."

She smiled looking at Josh again. "This is going to take some getting used to."

"I know Mrs. Johnson. From what Dan told me it sounds like Aaron was a great guy. We even have the same birthday."

Mom got a strange look on her face. "I'm sure you'll find there are differences too."

"Dan says he knows of one but won't tell me what it is."

My mother looked at me and I started to blush.

"I don't think I want to know," she smiled enjoying my embarrassment.

Josh just looked at me. "What?" he asked.

"Come on," I said. "I'll take you home." As we walked out of the kitchen I leaned closer and whispered in his ear. "Aaron wasn't circumcised."

I kept walking to the door laughing at the expression on his face. I was still laughing when we got to my jeep. "You should see the look on your face."

He smiled. "I'm not sure I like you checking me out that much. Especially without me knowing."

"Sorry, I wasn't perving. Okay, yes I was but I was looking for differences too," I said as I put the jeep in reverse. "It's the first one I found. Now are you going to tell me what Scott said or am I going to have to beat it out of you?"

Before he could answer I saw Mike standing in the road. He came over and knocked on the window..

"Dan .. what happened? I heard you sucker punched Phil," he said while giving Josh a strange look.

"It's okay Mike. He took Josh's cell and I helped get it back. It's no big deal ... And I didn't sucker punch him. He definitely saw it coming."

"No big deal? Phil isn't someone to screw with. You know how he is."

I chuckled. The thought of screwing Phil Clayton wasn't something I wanted to think about. "It's okay Mike. He crossed the line. He shouldn't have taken Josh's cell. I don't know what he would have done if I hadn't walked out of school. As far as I'm concerned it's over but if he doesn't think so then I'll deal with it. I'm getting tired of his bullshit."

"Just be careful. I know what he's capable of."

"Thanks and I will but I'm not worried about Phil. I'll talk to you later. I have to take Josh home."

Josh kept watching me as I drove down the street. I glanced over and smiled. "Now who is staring? ... Relax, everything is cool ... I was thinking though. Do you really have to go home? How about we get a pizza and hang out for a while. I mean, if you want to."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, it's just that I'm confused. You're going out with Becky, right? I mean, you two are together aren't you?"

I laughed. I knew where this was going. "Becky and I are just friends. She knows I'm not interested in her more than that."

"You're always with her. I just thought ... "

"Nope, just friends. Nothing more." I smiled.

"And you're ..."

"Gay? ..... Yup."

"Wow, Chris and Ryan are going to be shocked. They think you're straight. Everyone does."

"That's good. I try not to advertise but Chris won't be surprised. He already knows. I told him this morning. Now can we get a pizza?"

"I don't think we should."

That kind of floored me. I didn't know what type of friendship we'd have but I didn't think he'd have a problem with me being gay. He didn't have a problem with Chris and Ryan.

"Why not? Because I'm gay? You're friends with Chris and Ryan and you won't hang out with me because I'm gay. It's not like I'm going to hit on you."

"Dan, calm down. It's not because you're gay and I want to be friends. It's just that my father is expecting me home. He'll want me to make dinner and as far as you being gay -- I am too. I assumed you knew that. Phil says it enough."

"I don't listen to what Phil says. He calls everyone gay. I don't like to assume. I guess my gaydar really is broken. Becky says it is. I can only tell when people are obvious like Chris and Ryan and they're not really that obvious."

"I still should get home. He'll get pissed if I'm not there. He expects me to make dinner."

"What if you're not there? Won't he get it himself?"

"He will but he'll be pissed. Either that or he'll just get drunk. I don't really have the money either. Money has been kind of tight since he lost his job."

"Don't worry about the money. I'll take care of it. Why don't you call him and ask if it's okay."

"I better not."

"Josh?? Is there something you're not telling me? What's wrong? Is it me? I really am sorry I was such a jerk. I just want to spend some time with you but if you don't want to, just say so."

"No, it's not that. I want to be friends. Believe me, I could certainly use some. It's just ..."

"Just what? You can tell me. That's what friends do."

I couldn't look at him and drive at the same time so I pulled into the nearest parking lot. I knew there was something he wasn't telling me. It made me wonder if this is how he felt when I wouldn't talk to him.

"Josh, look at me." When he just sat there I talked louder. "Josh, please look at me."

When he turned I saw tears in his eyes.

"Josh, what's wrong? Please tell me. I really do want to be friends. I don't know if we can be friends like Chris and Ryan are but I'd at least like to be friends like I am with those guys. They're really the only guys I know here that I'd call friends. I mean, I'm friendly with a lot of people but it's not the same. I'd be upset if something was bothering either of them and they wouldn't tell me. I hope they would say something and let me help."

He shook his head. "You wouldn't understand."

"Trust me. I really do like you. If I can help, I will. If there is one thing I've learned the past month is that you're a good guy. You have to be in order to forgive me for how I've acted. Ignoring your looks, which are great by the way, you're someone I can see being friends with. You're smart. I don't think you're into drugs or anything. You could be in better shape but we can fix that," I smiled. "Your aunt says you're .. loving ... I need to know, do you really want to try being friends?"

He nodded. "Yes, but I'm worried you'll change your mind when you learn more about me. You only know what you've seen at school. I don't have many friends, mainly just Chris, Ryan and Randy, and that's only at school. I don't see them out of school since they're always busy among other reasons. Basically, my life outside of school sucks."

I smiled. "All the more reason for us to be friends, in and out of school."

"It isn't that I don't want that. It's just that my father is an asshole. He hates me. He changed so much when my mother died. I don't know, it's like he resents me and seems to enjoy making my life miserable. He doesn't want me to have friends. He tries to keep me from doing things with friends. Basically, he takes pleasure in making my life as miserable as possible. Most of my friends have given up on me. My father has driven them away. I'm worried that's what will happen with you. I'm worried once you see how I live you won't want to be around. I've given up even trying any more. I just want to avoid the inevitable."

I felt like someone was grabbing my stomach and twisting. I didn't feel bad for me but hearing Josh describe his life made me feel sick. It was kind of like how I felt when Aaron was upset. Whenever that happened I went into total Aaron-mode wanting to do whatever I could to help. I wasn't happy until he was. Thinking that I had only added to Josh's problems didn't help either.

"Josh, it doesn't have to be that way. Real friendship is very important to me. We'll deal with your father. We can show him he can't drive me away. I know I haven't given you much of a chance. I'm sorry. If I had given you a chance, rather than resenting you then things could have been so much better, for both of us. I'm asking you to trust me and take a chance ... to give me a chance."

"Are you sure? I want to, I really do, but I also think you're looking at me and seeing Aaron."

"There are differences."

He smiled. That was a good sign.

"It sounded like you were looking closely for them too. It isn't fair you know. You've looked enough to know I'm circumcised but I've never seen you."

I laughed. "I bet you look Monday after gym. Don't you check out the other guys?"

"Not really, I don't want to get caught. That's all I need."

"You need to be discreet. I think I've checked out everyone in class --- even Phil. For such a big guy he certainly has a little dick. Take a look sometime."

"I'll take your word for it. I'd prefer not to think about Phil Clayton's dick."

"Yeah, that would ruin your appetite right before lunch. Speaking of which can we please get a pizza?"

"I really need to go home first. He'll be pissed if I don't show up. He'll already be mad I'm so late."

"Does he ever hurt you? If he does .. "

"No, it's not like that. He doesn't hit me or anything. I think he's too scared what would happen if someone found out. He's just verbally abusive, treats me like shit, tries to control my life ... stuff like that. I'm worried what he'll say to you."

"Don't worry about it. We'll go to your house and get his supper. I'll help. I'm kind of a klutz in the kitchen but if you tell me what to do then I'll do it. I promise I won't hit him or anything if he says something to me."

"Alright," he sighed. "It's just embarrassing to let people see how I live. Just brace yourself. He'll probably be drunk."

"Don't be embarrassed with me. I'm not like that. And don't worry about what he says. I've got a thick skin."

"We'll see."

Josh made a point to say his house never used to look like it does before his mother died. "We were happy before she died. They kept everything looking nice. I try to mow the lawn and do what I can but it's not like my father cares. Plus now that he's lost his job we don't have the money to do much. We'll probably have to move if he doesn't find a job pretty soon. I'm pretty sure he's spending whatever he and Mom put away for my college not that he'd ever have given it to me anyway. The only good thing is that Mom somehow got some of her insurance money put into a trust for me so that will help when I'm eighteen. She named Aunt Vera as the trustee so my father can't touch the money. It's not much but it will help."

We sat in the jeep for a minute before getting out. "You ready?" I asked.

Before he could answer Josh's father came staggering out of the house yelling. He had pants on but no shirt and his gut hung well below his waist. His hair was a mess and it looked like he hadn't shaved in days.

"Where the fuck have you been? You were supposed to be home an hour ago to make dinner."

He staggered towards the jeep as Josh looked at me. There was a look of disgust and embarrassment on his face and his whole demeanor changed as he got out.

"Dad ... I left a message telling you where I was. If you had listened rather than drinking you'd have known."

He looked at me like he wanted to crawl into a hole. I didn't really know what to do but did know this was my chance to show him I would be his friend. I got out of the jeep and stood beside him. Putting my hand on his shoulder, which might have been a mistake, I gave it a slight squeeze.

"It's okay Josh, let's help your father inside and we'll get him something to eat." I wanted to show him I cared.

"Oh, isn't that nice. Who is this, one of your faggot friends? He looks like a faggot."

I bristled at his words but did my best to hide it and turn on the charm.

"Hello Mr. Sullivan. I'm Dan Johnson. We just moved here from Chicago. Josh is in a few of my classes and he came over to help me catch up with some homework. He's really smart. We kind of lost track of time. I'm sorry. It's my fault."

"He should have been home to make supper."

"That's what he told me when he realized what time it was so I brought him over. Let's go inside sir, I'll help him make something."

I looked over at Josh. He had a curious look on his face. There was uncertainty but also a little hope. At least that is what I wanted to see. We helped his father inside letting him sit watching TV while Josh and I went into the kitchen.

"I'm sorry. He's been pretty bad since he lost his job."

"It's okay. Let's make him something then we'll get pizza. He'll be okay after he eats. What can I do to help?"

"I hate to ask but can you clean the pan in the sink. I'll just grill him a ham and cheese sandwich. I think the ham is still good. Not that I really care. I'd give it to him anyway but he'd probably get sick and I'd just have to clean it up."

"Josh, it's okay. You get the stuff and I'll wash the pan. Anything else you want master?" I laughed.

"It's not funny," he said. "Why aren't you mad? Your mother looked like she wanted to hug me. My father called you a faggot. I'm so embarrassed. "

"Don't be. It's okay. I don't like that word but I've been called worse. Plus he's been drinking. It's no big deal. Things will be fine. ..... Friends, right?" I wasn't going to let Josh think I thought his father was an asshole, drunk or not.

He just nodded and said thanks as he made a sandwich and took it to his father. He told him he was going out for a while and would be home later. His father started to tell him he couldn't go but Josh told him he was going. I was proud of him. I had been worried he'd tell me he couldn't go. His father just grunted and told him to leave if that's what he wanted. He didn't need him.

Josh just walked out of the house, sat in the jeep, and put his head in his hands. I felt bad for him and put my hand on his shoulder. "Josh, things will be better."

He nodded and tried to smile but didn't seem convinced.

"How's Danny? Have you seen him lately?"


"Danny. He lives across the street."

"How do you know Danny?"

I told him about the time at the mall or at least part of it. I also told him about taking Danny to karate lessons. "He's a good kid."

"I haven't seen him much in a couple of years. We used to toss a ball around and stuff like that but not in a long time. His parents are kind of religious. When they started asking if I had a girlfriend I was worried they'd figure out I'm gay so I kept my distance. Danny and I just went in different directions."

"He told me he thought you thought he was a little kid once you got to high school. Maybe we can do something with him and Nicky sometime."

"I'm not sure they'd want to hang out with us."

"You'd be surprised," I smiled.

Josh didn't say much as we drove to the restaurant. I had heard comments about his father but didn't realize just how bad things were. I guess that is what his aunt was trying to tell me. I should have listened. It made me feel worse thinking about how I had treated him.

"You okay?" I asked.

"I will be," he said. "Believe it or not that was actually pretty mild. He's been worse. I'm just sorry you had to see it. I can imagine what you're thinking."

"I'll tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking I'm happy you're giving me a chance despite how I've treated you. I'm thinking how I've treated you and it makes me feel like shit. You have so much to deal with and I only added to it when I could have been your friend. I would have been too if I wasn't so busy being an asshole. I'm really sorry."

I tried not to but there were tears in my eyes when he looked at me. "Dan .... You had your own problems. It's obvious Aaron was really special to you. I hope you'll tell me more about him."

"I'd like that, but not now. Right now, I'm starved. I'll call my mother and tell her we're going to get pizza and then hang out. She thinks I'm just taking you home. Pizza is okay isn't it? Becky and I went to a great pizza shop a couple weeks ago. Almost as good as Chicago pizza. ... Almost," I smiled.

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