Just One Starfish

by Grasshopper

Midnight Blue/Sunrise Gold
Chapter 13

"May I speak to Dominic Parelli, please?"

"This is Dominic."

"Dominic, you don't know me. My name is Jordan Lawrence. I would very much like to talk to you about your brother, Gabriel."

Dominic held the phone tightly, "Gabriel? You know where he is? Is he alright?"

Jordan raised one eyebrow. "Yes, Gabriel's fine. Could we get together to talk?"

"I must tell my parents. We will............................"

"Dominic, please, I'd much prefer to talk to you alone. I have some things to tell you that will be rather upsetting. Please don't tell your parents anything yet."

"I don't understand. We've all been so worried. We haven't seen or talked to Gabriel in years."

"Really? Please, I'll drive up to Baltimore tomorrow if that's convenient."

"Convenient? To tell me about Gabriel? Come right now. I have been so worried, so scared. He just ran away without a word."

"It'll have to be tomorrow. I teach school and I'm at work right now."

"Okay, tomorrow then, but you swear Gabriel is alright?"

"Yes, he's fine. Just wait until we talk before you talk to your parents.


"Yes, Yes. I will wait. Oh my God.... My little brother."

"Tomorrow then." Jordan could hear Dominic crying as he clicked off.

Punching in #1, he said,
"Okay, I got him."
"They didn't tell him."
"He thinks Gabriel ran away."
"Yeah, he was crying."
"Yeah, you and me and Ez."
"Yeah, me too."
"Well, get in line. I think we ALL have words for Gabriel's parents."
"Love you."

Gabriel had spent a restless night, partly due to the shoulder muscle he pulled carrying Brian and partly thinking about Brian Jenkins. He woke up cranky and stumbled over to Sam's after banging on the wall in-between.

"You look like the walking dead," Sam commented as she poured him a cup of coffee and filled her cereal bowl with Honey Bunches of Oats. Cutting up a banana, she waited for Gabriel to say something.

Gabriel reached over, grabbed the cereal box and upended it, pouring a huge mouthful of flakes into his mouth. "Ifilok," he mumbled around the cereal. Taking a slug of coffee, he swallowed the whole mess down. "After I work out, I'll be okay."

"You didn't give me anything but the bare essentials last night," Sam said. "How did yesterday go between you two? Are you gonna see him again?"

Gabriel sighed, "Things went good. He's nice, Sam."

"Why do you make 'nice' sound like a bad thing? I'd love to find a really nice guy."

"We can be friends, I guess. He rode a bike all the way out there just to hike with me."

"You're joking? But it was dark. Lord, he could have gotten killed."

"I know, I know. Sam, don't interfere like that again, okay?"

"I'm sorry, Gabriel. I guess I just didn't think about how he'd get there or anything. I was just trying to help. At least you didn't tell him that it was me, right?"

"Yeah, I did. I don't like to lie to people I....," his voice trailed off.

"People you care about?" Sam said gently. "But, Gabriel, don't you realize how special you are? I don't understand why you can't show Brian that you care about him. He obviously likes you a lot."

"He doesn't know me at all, Sam. Neither do you. Special? I'm nothing special, believe me. What you see is not what you get with me."

Sam put her hand over Gabriel's as it rested on the tabletop. "You've convinced yourself that you're not worth much. You're so wrong. Please tell me why you're doing this to yourself. Please, Gabriel." Her voice filling with tears, Sam walked to Gabriel and wound her arms around his neck.

"I can't, Sam. As long as you don't know, I have your respect. I can't lose that." He stood up suddenly, "I'm gonna work out, then I have something I've gotta go do. It's the least I can do, pay him back for the hell I put him through yesterday." He walked out, Dog right at his heels.

"Poor Gabriel," Sam sighed, "Poor Brian."


Gabriel threw clean clothes into his bag, pulled on gym shorts and a tank top and stuck his black curls up into a ballcap. He drove to the school gym, parked near the one unlocked gate and walked out onto the track. Bending and stretching, he knew he was gonna see Brian again. He wanted to see him. Brian had the funniest sense of humor and made him laugh. Being so cute didn't hurt either. It was obvious as hell that he was still innocent, at least emotionally. Gabriel knew he didn't want Brian to get his heart broken by someone who didn't care. "Come on, Dog. Stay with me today. No chasing that pretty Irish setter." Gabriel and Dog took the laps at a steady pace, their long legs eating the asphalt.

Sweating, pulling off his tank to wipe his face, Gabriel grabbed the G2 bottle he'd left on the Jeep seat. He drank deeply as he turned on the water faucet by the gate to fill the dog bowl sitting there. Gabriel drank, Dog lapped.

He left Dog in the Jeep with the promise of a breakfast burrito and went in the gym for his usual hundred crunches, ten reps of fifty pound weights, hundred crunches and so on until he'd completed his routine. As a hiker, Gabriel didn't want to build muscle as much as he wanted to build stamina.

Showering, shaking his curly hair dry, he pulled on olive green cargo pants, a long sleeved dull gold t-shirt and well-worn brown Doc Martens. The gold of the chain around his neck glinted in the morning sun as he climbed into the Jeep and headed for the dorm area of the campus.

"We've got a chore before we can get burritos, boy," Gabriel said as he scratched Dog under his chin. "He took chances to hike with me yesterday. The least I can do is get the bike back to its owner." He pulled into the parking lot and walked into the lobby of Garrison Hall. After asking a few questions, he jogged up three floors and knocked on the door to room #312.

"Fuck off!"

Gabriel raised one eyebrow. He could hear loud music practically vibrating the walls of the hall. He tried the door handle and, finding it unlocked, he opened the door. He saw a guy stretched out on the bed, eyes closed. Reaching over, he flipped the music off and said, "Leroy, you're gonna go deaf, man."

Leroy came off the bed, angry and snarling. "Hey, dude, it's Mr. Blood to you!

Oh, it's you, Gabriel. What can I do for ya?"

"A good friend of mine borrowed your bike Friday night. I have it in the back of my Jeep. It's in good shape. I just wanted to make sure you know it's back and are cool about it."

"Yeah, okay. I did the 'Blood' thing on them. You should have seen their faces," Leroy laughed.

"Cool. I'll see you in class tomorrow," Gabriel smiled, jogged back down the stairs, rechained the bike to the bike rack, took twenty-five dollars out of his wallet, scribbled the note with his cell phone # and dropped it in Brian's mailbox. "Okay, Dog, you ready for that burrito?" As he drove away from Brian's dorm, Gabriel admitted to himself that he hoped Brian would call him soon. He had to admit that Brian had a tight hold on his interest with his happy voice, his laughter and those beautiful eyes.

"Okay, do I call now?" Brian asked for the jillionth time. "It's past eleven and maybe, if I call early enough, I can see him today."

"For God's sake, call already!" Chester groaned, "Hand the phone to me so I can beg him to come get you and go do whatever it is you guys do before you drive me insane."

Brian blushed, "We're just kinda friends. I don't even know if he's looked at me that way."

"If he's a normal guy, str8 or gay or anything inbetween, he's scoped you out up one side and down the other. Call him now, dude."

Brian held the phone clutched in his right hand, thumb poised. Punching in 291-445-86...... his thumb hovered above the three. Deep breath, look of terror on his face, Brian pushed the 3 once, and again and waited. The phone rang twice and then a deep voice answered, "Parelli."



"It's me, uh, me Brian. I wanted to thank you for taking the bike back. I never expected to get any money back though."

"No big deal. He was cool about it."

**awkward pause**



"I can get the um, money for the boots. It'll be a few days, but I uh, I just thought I'd uh, tell you."

"That's great. You'll be a lot happier with good boots."

Brian: 'What else? What else can I say? Don't hang up.....please, don't hang up!'

Gabriel: 'I sound like an idiot. 'You'll be happier with good boots'....Jesus!'

"Bri...." "Gabri...." They both laughed.

"You go."

"No, I was, oh, okay. You wanna go into Tucson now and look at boots?"

Brian grinned so wide, Chester started laughing, "You're gonna break your face."

"Oh Yessss! I mean, sure, um okay. Now? Right now?"

"Yeah, I've got some junk to do before I can go, but you can ride along if you want."

Brian: 'If I want????!!!! Dang, I'd ride a donkey in New York. If I want??!!'

"Sure, sounds like a plan."

"See ya, Brian."

"See ya, Gabriel."

Brian pushed the 'off' button and wheeled around laughing, "Oh.... My... God!

He's so way past cool that I can't even think of what to say. We're going to go 'do some junk' and then go look at boots."

"I don't think I even wanna be here after you guys do the hot monkey sex stuff the first time. If shoe shopping makes you crazy, think what that's gonna be like."

"Can't think about that! Can't deal with that! Can't even think past sitting in the Jeep with him."

"All I can suggest, Buckaroo, is you better wear baggy pants today cause, as much as you're grossin' the shit outta me, I can tell your other brain has gone over to the dark sweaty side."

Brian's eyes shot down to his crotch and, sure enough, his body WAS thinking or he had some monkeys already partying in his pants. "Damn! You know, if he touches me, I'm gonna explode right there."

"He's just a guy, Bri. Get it under control. When's he coming? No pun intended."

"Shit.... Now, I guess. I want to take a shower. I need clean clothes......"

"Hey, Bri," Alan called as he walked in the door, "You goin' somewhere with Gabriel? He's parked out front."

"Aaaaaaaaa! Gotta brush my teeth! Dang, my hair!" He threw water on his head and ran his fingers through his hair. Dancing around madly in grey briefs, a clean blue t-shirt and khakis flew at him from the tiny closet and he pulled on socks and Jeffrey's Adidas water sandals. "God, I look like a dork."

"Go. Have fun at the prom," Chester called as he and Alan shook their heads, laughing. "If I didn't know it before, I sure know it now," Alan said smiling. "We're all exactly alike when it comes to dating, aren't we."

"Yep," Chester snorted, "Only diff is where we stick our dick."

Alan choked, "I wasn't gonna put it quite that way, but yeah."

Brian lectured himself sternly as he practically ran through the lobby area, "Do not babble. Do not act stupid. Do not stare at him. Be cool." Then, he hit the front door, saw Gabriel waiting for him and nearly hyperventilated. Okay, he could do this.

Gabriel watched Brian walking towards him and liked what he saw. Brian was smaller, more compact than he was and walked with a bounce even with sore feet. He had gotten wind burned yesterday and, not having Gabriel's olive complexion, his face was glowing a healthy pink. He was slender and wiry, at least what Gabriel could see under those baggy pants. Just Gabriel's type. Just exactly what he should avoid. Gabriel grinned as Brian got to the Jeep, 'Oh yeah, see how well I avoid him'.

"Hey, Gabriel."

"Hiya, Brian. Climb in. I just have some stuff I gotta drop off for Professor Parrish, pick up my mail and then we can go."

"Okay by me. Hey, Dog," Brian smiled, rubbing behind Dog's big black ears. Dog stuck his head between the seats and looked pitifully at Brian with huge brown eyes.

"Oh yeah, you're so neglected," Gabriel laughed, "Get off Brian."

"He's okay, really. We're friends, aren't we, Dog." A big lick answered that question.

Brian sat with one foot under him and turned toward Gabriel. "This is really great of you to take me. My feet don't hurt so much today. I'm just sorry I messed yesterday up like that. I mean, you didn't actually invite me, but you were nice when I just showed up. You didn't have to be, you know. I'm just glad, well, I'm really glad you let me stay."

"The mountains don't belong to me, Brian. Besides, it all worked out good even though your feet got messed up and I found out you're a lot heavier than a spider monkey." He reached over and patted Brian's thigh a couple of times.

Brian: 'God, his hands are strong. I think he burned my leg. Ahhh.'

Gabriel: 'Okay, now all I want to do is touch him some more. Damn!'

He stopped at the Geo-Science building, "I'll just be a sec," and grabbed a packet of papers from under his seat. He was gone a few minutes and then came out the double doors with a handful of mail. Opening an 8x12 manila

envelope, he was pulling a drawing of some kind out by the time he reached the Jeep.

"I got a drawing from JD and Bug," Gabriel said as he handed the paper to Brian. Brian laughed at the picture drawn with a green crayon of the Ninja Turtles with the names JD, Bug and Nikki printed carefully underneath. The fourth Ninja Turtle had the name Gabriel written below it.

"Are they your brothers?" Brian asked, wondering what kind of name 'Bug' was.

Gabriel laughed, "No, not exactly. JD and Bug, they're my... um, my two best lil buddies, I guess you'd say. Nikki's a girl."

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

A look came across Gabriel's face, just a flicker of thunder, but most of all, pain. He shook it off. "No, I used to, but not anymore. I'm gonna slide by my place and drop this stuff off. It's on the way."

Brian knew when to change the subject. "Sure, no hurry."

Turning right onto Mesa Drive, Gabriel pulled up in front of #7. "This is it. I'll be right back." Dog jumped out and ran off into the woods behind the duplex.

Just as Gabriel came back out the door, an older man came around the corner of #6 and called to Brian, "Hey, kiddo, Gabriel home?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Mr. Krenney. How's it going today?" Gabriel walked over to the Jeep and handed Brian a bottle of Vitamin water.

"Good as it can be with this arthritis freezing' up my shoulders," the man said.

"I'll come over later and rub you down with that Icy Hot. That helped a lot last time."

"Thanks, Gabriel. I just wanted to ask if you wanted to paint #3. They're moving out and it needs cleaning up."

"Yeah, sure, I can do it at night. I'll get to it this week."

"Okay, well, you boys have a good day." He walked off down the quiet road.

"I do jobs around here and he takes off my rent," Gabriel explained. "He's a good guy."

"So are you," Brian said softly. Gabriel heard, but didn't say anything. Inside, he smiled.

"You got good neighbors?" Brian asked, pointing to #8.

"Sometimes," Gabriel snorted, "Sometimes great; sometimes a pain in the butt. Sam lives next door."

"Whoa," Brian laughed. "Hey, we're forgetting Dog," as Gabriel started the Jeep.

"Nah, watch." The motor turned over and a flash of black flew out of the woods, across the yard and landed in the back of the Jeep in approximately 5 seconds. "You know that sound, don't ya, Dog?"

The trip into Tucson took a little over thirty minutes and as they cruised down Oracle Road toward the left turn light, Gabriel said, "We're gonna put the top on cause I have to leave Dog out in the parking lot."

"K, sure."

Brian walked with Dog over to a clump of grass and trees and then he filled up his water bowl that lived in the back of the Jeep. "We'll be back after awhile. Guard the car, Dog."

As they put on the top, Brian's fingers would graze Gabriel's arm or Gabriel's hip would brush against Brian. It was like tiny electric shocks. Neither boy looked at the other. Aware of each other? Hell, yeah!

Walking toward the Tucson Mall entrance, Brian bounced along beside Gabriel grinning.

"What?" Gabriel asked.

"You're taller than me," Brian grinned.

"Um, I think we already knew that," Gabriel shook his head. "Is that a bad thing?"

"Noooooooo! It's just about right."

Brian: 'Did I just say that? Mouth - watch yourself!'

Gabriel: 'Can he get any better? God, he's cute!'

The Mall trip should have taken an hour at the most to look at hiking boots.

They tried Champs Sports, Eddie Bauer and Just Sports and Gabriel decided that they could get a way better deal on-line.

"I'm starving. You?"

"I'm always starving," Brian laughed. "I am a total bottomless pit."

"Well, let's go get something before you bottom out." Gabriel realized how that sounded and cut his eyes over at Brian. No reaction.

They ate huge slices of Cozzoli's pizza until Gabriel had to stop, groaning.

"I can't believe you can keep eating," he said as he watched Brian pick up the last slice.

"I told you," Brian laughed. Cheese strung out from the tray to the slice. Gabriel reached out and wound the cheese string around his finger and ate it. Brian watched. He licked his lips. He realized what he'd just done. He blushed and muttered under his breath.

"What?" Gabriel had watched Brian as the cheese went into his mouth. He saw him lick his lips. Gabriel felt himself begin to harden. The air seemed to disappear from around the table.

"Nothing." Brian thanked Chester for the baggy pants.

"Come on, Brian, I think I want to know what you just mumbled."

"I just said...... you're gonna laugh, I just said, "Lucky cheese." His head down, embarrassed beyond belief, he waited for Gabriel's laughter. When he didn't hear anything, he looked up and found Gabriel staring at him.

Brian: 'God, he thinks I'm an idiot. "Lucky cheese!" shit on a stick!'

Gabriel: 'What do I do now? He's not someone I can just screw around with and walk away.'

"Let's go unless you want more pizza," Gabriel smiled. "There's a really cool Nature's Wonders store at the other end of the mall."

As Brian walked along beside Gabriel, he wanted to reach over and hold his hand. He'd never held another boy's hand and this was Gabriel. He looked at all the str8 couples laughing, arms looped around each other, some macking like crazy. But, they couldn't and anyway, Gabriel would probably think that was dumb. Brian wasn't sure about anything.

The store had everything from geodes of every color and size to scarabs set in bracelets; t-shirts with gorgeous nature prints to Native American art and crafts.

"Look here," Gabriel pulled Brian to a display, "These are Guatemalan Worry Dolls. See, read the box. According to a legend, if you have a problem, share it with a worry doll. Before you go to bed, tell one worry to each doll...."

"How many are there?" Brian asked.

"Ten, I think. Anyway, tell each doll a worry and put them under your pillow. The dolls will take the worries away while you sleep."

"You believe that?" Brian wrinkled his nose and looked up into Gabriel's face.

"Nah, I wish it was that easy. You gotta take care of worries by yourself."

"You got a lot a worries?" The tone of Brian's voice made Gabriel stop. He looked at Brian and wanted to touch his face.

"A few," he said softly.

"Can I help?" Brian reached over and touched Gabriel's arm for just a second.

Gabriel: 'That does it. I don't think I can fight this much longer.'

"I think I'd like for you to try," Gabriel answered. They stared at each other until a little brat pushed his way between them to get to the tomahawks. A new vibe dancing in the air all around them, a sudden awkwardness, yet a new found intimacy, founded on nothing except the craving to touch.

Brian bought the small box of tiny worry dolls and Gabriel picked up a leather strip with a tiny green turquoise pendant carved in the shape of Kokopelli, the trickster god.

Brian: 'I bet that's for Sam.'

Gabriel: 'He can't have any worries.'

"You need anything else while we're here?" Gabriel asked as they walked through the crowded mall.

"No, well, maybe something to eat," Brian said innocently.

"Dang, Boy, you can't be hungry," Gabriel laughed loudly, the corners of his eyes crinkling and two dimples appearing at the corners of his mouth.

"OMG!" Brian choked, his hand clutching his chest, as he staggered backwards in awe, "Dimples! Is there anything you don't have?"

"Uh," Gabriel grinned, "Yeah, but I think those would be the bits you don't care about anyway, right?"

Laughing, walking close, bumping hips and just feeling good, they bought two huge cinnabons......

(okay, grasshopper here ~ a cinnabon is a giant cinnamon roll, you know, around and around and around. It's like 10 inches in diameter and you eat it by pulling off long hunks, holding the long hunk in the air and gobbling it like you're chomping a snake)

..... one for them and one for Chester and Alan. Balancing their stuff, they headed back to the Jeep. "Want the top off?" Gabriel asked as Dog made ruffling noises begging for whatever that was that smelled so good.


"Well, it's kinda cold," Gabriel said, "Now that sun's gone down."

"Wow, I didn't realize we were in there that long."

"You got to get back?"

**Here came the awkwardness big time**

"Well, I um...

Brian: 'NO!!!!!! Damn!!! Don't take me home.'

"Not really."

"You wanna go back to my place. I gotta feed Dog and Sam might be home and we can um... whatever.'

Gabriel: 'We can whatever?!? Shit, I wanna "whatever" right here, right now'

"Yeah, I guess that would be cool."

Brian: 'What does he mean by "whatever? I hope he means what I hope he means. Thank Chester for these pants' **Brian squirmed**

Riding back to campus, they talked about going on-line to order Brian's boots and how Brian had almost forgotten his sore feet. Dog tried to snatch the cinnabon bag from Brian, but couldn't nab it. "You'll get some," Brian laughed.

Brian fantasized feeding the long snake of cinnamon roll to Gabriel lying naked on a bed, on the floor, on a sofa... who cares.... in the Jeep. Maybe eating it off his chest, maybe wrapping it around......................

"Hey, where'd you go off to?" Gabriel laid his big hand on Brian's thigh again.

"I lost you there for a minute."

The heat from his hand, the sound of liquid sex in his voice.... Brian couldn't decide if this was pain or pleasure. "Oh, I was just thinking'."

"About what? You were really floating over there."

Brian: 'About what? About what? You naked, that's what."

"Uh, just what a good day this was and um, how glad I am Sam wrote that note."

Gabriel: 'You so were not thinking that. The pants are baggy, but they can't hide that. I want so much, but how much is too much? He obviously thinks I know a lot more than I do... well, I do know a lot, but not the kind of stuff he wants; the right words, the right moves.....

He thought back to the streets, yelling out "Best fuck in town-$20" and separating his mind from his body. He'd never said a word other than "Pay me" and he never wanted to tell anyone what he'd done. Easy knew and it shamed Gabriel to look at him sometimes. There was no way he could give Brian what he wanted, what he needed, but this attraction, whatever it was, had gone way past a casual blowjob. Brian wanted a boyfriend. He wanted what Gabriel couldn't give him.

Pulling up in front of the duplex, Dog jumped out and headed for the woods. "Let's go see if we can find a deal on-line," Gabriel invited.

Cranking up his laptop, he googled 'hiking boots' and pulled up a zillion sites. "Now, are you still happy with the REIs you tried on at the store?"

"Yeah, they felt great and didn't rub in the places that hurt on my feet."

Brian was sitting really close, thigh to thigh, peering at the screen. Gabriel could smell his hair gel, his pizza breath and something that was just Brian.

"So," Gabriel sighed, wanting to throw the laptop on the floor and grab Brian, "This is what we'll do. I'll order the boots and you can pay me back when you get the money."

"You'd do that? You trust me to pay you back?"

"I shouldn't?" He turned his head and tried to stare at Brian's eyes, but his glance went directly to the younger boy's mouth. Without thinking, he licked his lips and Brian's eyes widened. The air around them crackled.

Gabriel: 'I shouldn't do this.'

Brian: ' Please, oh please.'

Gabriel leaned over and brushed his lips across Brian's, his eyes open. Soft, warm, wanting more. He started to pull back when he felt Brian's hand on his arm, pulling him closer. That was all it took. Mouths hot and open, tongues dancing; all the built-up wanting from the day together rushing out.

"Hold on one sec," Gabriel rasped, leaning over to set the laptop on the floor.

"Now, where were........." He rocked back on the sofa as Brian crawled into his lap, on his knees, straddling his legs. Hands tugging through hair, hands caressing, rubbing, holding. Neither boy could get enough. It was like drinking the coolest water after crossing the desert. Water that was quenching a lifetime of thirst.

"I want......," Brian sighed as the frenzy began to slow.

"What, little monkey," Gabriel smiled thinking about Brian crawling onto him, "What do you want?"

Brian pressed his face against Gabriel's shirt front and whispered, "I've never kissed anyone before. Don't laugh. I want more than that. I want everything, but..............," he stammered, "I've never........I'm scared."

Gabriel started to smile; to say it all comes really naturally, but he saw how serious Brian was; how important this was. He tried to think what Jordy would say; what Jordy would do. His arms went around Brian and he pulled him close. He could feel Brian's wanting, hard and ready, pressed against his belly.

Gabriel realized that words weren't needed. He lifted Brian off his lap and onto the sofa. Easing to the rug, he knelt between Brian's splayed legs and, with fumbling fingers, unbuttoned and unzipped those baggy cargo pants. Tugging, the pants and briefs puddled around Brian's feet as Gabriel raised his eyes to meet Brian's. He saw awe, excitement, lust and fear all tumbling in those wide eyes. Gabriel was sure he could hear Brian's heart pounding.

Running his fingers along the tender inner skin of Brian's thighs, Gabriel leaned in close to inhale the warm aroma that belonged only to Brian. "God, you smell good," he growled. His hands moved higher, slowly, gently until he felt the hardness that his mouth wanted to hold.

"Gabriel !!" Brian tensed, his hands flat against the sofa grabbing for traction. Gabriel looked up, his face flushed. "Gabriel !! I'm gonna........................"

"Slow down," Gabriel groaned. "Breathe."

"I don't think I.........," Brian curled his toes and arched his back. "I'm trying", then "Oh God," he managed to yelp as he came harder than ever before in his life. Gabriel rocked back on his heels, his hands on Brian's knees.

"Oh God, Oh God," Brian choked over and over, trying to catch his breath. "I'm sooooo sorry. I couldn't...... I couldn't stop." He covered his face with his hands.

Gabriel got up, went into the bathroom and came back with a wet, warm cloth. Without a word, he cleaned Brian up and then sat down on the sofa beside him. Brian pulled his clothes back on and leaned his head on Gabriel's shoulder. "You must think I'm a big baby."

"No, I think you're great. I think, if you want, we've got plenty of time to get that right," Gabriel said softly, a shy note in his voice.

"You aren't laughing at me?"

"Of course not. I'm totally impressed. I think you hit the ceiling," he said as he looked up, a grin on his face.

"You ARE laughing."

"Shhh, I am not. If anything, I'm kinda flattered that me touching you made that happen."

Brian had grabbed a small blue throw pillow from the end of the sofa and had it, predictably, hugged tightly in his lap. Gabriel realized that he needed to make Brian feel comfortable again.

"Where were we with the boots, Little Monkey?" he asked, ruffling Brian's hair before reaching for the laptop.

"Are you laughing at me when you call me that?"

"No, that was hot sexy and totally turned me on."

"For real?"

Gabriel grinned and kissed the top of Brian's head, "For absolute real."

Brian's head resting on Gabriel's shoulder, they picked out his new boots and Gabriel filled out the order. Ordering them on-line saved Brian forty-five dollars. "They should be here by next week so, if you want, we can give 'em a good workout that weekend. I want you to break 'em in though. I've got extra pairs of thick boot socks."

"Thanks a zillion," Brian smiled and Gabriel's heart turned a little flip. "I'll give you the money as soon as I get it."

There was a soft tapping on the door. "That's Sam. I heard her truck pull in.

C'mon in," Gabriel called out.

"Gabriel, I need you to............" Sam looked at Brian, and then at Gabriel. "Oops, I didn't know Brian was here. I'll just go."

"Nah," Gabriel said, taking Brian's hand and pulling him up off the sofa. "Let's go get some food. Someone's stomach is growling again."

"I didn't think you'd hear," Brian laughed, holding onto Gabriel's hand.

Sam looked at their clasped hands and smiled.

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