Just One Starfish

by Grasshopper

Midnight Blue/Sunrise Gold
Chapter 14

Danny pulled the van into the parking lot of a nice looking terra cotta brick apartment complex on a quiet neighborhood street in Baltimore. "Here we are. What was the number again, Jordy?"

"117. He said he'd be waiting."

They cruised down the shaded road until they came to 110. "It's gotta be in this bunch," Easy said, looking out the van window.

The van turned the corner and there, leaning against the back of a dark green Chevy pickup, was, had to be, Gabriel's brother. Not quite as tall, his hair combed back, leaner but just as taut. "That's gotta be Dominic," Dan said, admiringly. "Who knew there'd be two of them looking so good?"

"Calm down, boyo," Jordan laughed. "This is Gabriel's brother we're lookin at here."

Dominic stood up away from the truck as the van pulled in front of him. "Jordan?" he asked and pointed to open parking across the way.

The van parked, the three men piled out and Dominic immediately started rolling out questions. "Gabriel is okay?" "How do you know him?" "Where is he?" "Why did he run off?" "I've been so worried." "Tell me where........."

"Hold on, he's fine, and we know you're gonna want to see him. We didn't tell him we were gonna talk to you."

"Why not? Is he is trouble? Oh, God, is he in jail?"

"No, no, nothing like that. I think you'd better hear the story from the beginning. It's gonna hurt you to hear it. Can we sit down somewhere?" Jordan said, his hand firmly on Danny's arm.

"Oh," Dominic said, realizing that Dan was leaning heavily on his braces. "Of course, I'm sorry. Come on in." He led the way into a sparsely furnished apartment, mostly made up of hand me down furniture and expensive music equipment. Pushing aside copies of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, he made places for everyone to sit.

"Want a beer?"

"Water," Easy answered, watching Dominic, seeing Gabriel in his movements and shy behavior.

Water bottles all around, Dominic obviously wanted to hear and quickly. He sat on the carpet in front of the three visitors and said, "Please, tell me about my brother."

Easy nodded toward Jordan and Jordy started to speak. "The night Gabriel left home, your parents told you he ran away, right?"

"Yes, Papa said Gabriel took his stuff and left with no note or anything. I never could understand why he didn't talk to me first. I would have helped him. I thought he knew that. If only I'd been home."

"Well, the thing is, he didn't run away, Dominic." Jordan took a deep breath and felt Dan grab his hand. "You brother left home because your father threw him out."

"What? My father did what? That must be a lie. He would never have done that."

"He did," Easy said softly, "Dominic, there's no way to explain this without hurting you, so listen. Just know that Gabriel is okay and that he loves you and is just as confused as you are."

Dominic swung his head from Easy to Jordan and back again. "Just say it."

"Gabriel is gay. Your father found him with a friend in his bedroom and your father told him to leave."

The words just hung in the air. Gay.... Told him to leave. Gay.

"I should have known Gabriel would never have left without telling me. I knew it in my heart, but I never thought my father," he blinked back tears, "and my mother, oh God, my own mother, would have done that to him."

Everyone sat quietly for a while, letting Dominic work his way through the horrible thing his parents had done, to Gabriel and to him. The lies, the lies.

"I would ask if they had heard from Gabriel every time I go there and each time they said 'No'. Lies and lies. Tell me how you come to know my brother."

Easy, Jordan and Dan had already decided that there were parts of the story only Gabriel would tell his brother and only if he wanted to. "He had enough money to ride the bus to Wrightsville, North Carolina; that's where we live; where I found him," Easy answered.

Dominic became uneasy. He stood up suddenly. "And who are you exactly? You found him and did what with him? He was alone and sad and you did what to him?"

Easy understood. He stood up, towering over Dominic, "Whoa back, son. It's not at all what you're thinking. I run a center for homeless runaways and I finally got him to come in one night. He'd been living on the streets." He pulled a business card out of his pocket: Samuel A. Langley, Wrightsville Center for Kids. He took a photo from his pocket of Gabriel and Chris and Mitch standing in front of the center doors, arms around each other, laughing. "He's okay. Gabriel's okay."

Jordan explained, "Dan and I are life partners. We live on the beach with our extended family and are Easy's good friends. He brought Gabriel to us to help him. He's a great guy and we all love him."

Dominic eased back down. "Sorry, this is just all so much to take in. Gabriel's gay? Why didn't I know that? He never acted like........." his words cut off as he remembered that Jordan and Dan were gay. "Sorry again."

"Will being gay make a difference to you about Gabriel?"

"Are you kidding? He's my baby brother. I don't care what he is. I've missed him like crazy. He's my best friend too. We did everything together. Is he in Wrightsville? I'll drive over there right now."

"No, he finished high school, graduated from junior college in Wrightsville and got a scholarship to the University of Arizona in Tucson. He's out there now."

"Wow, Arizona. My brother, finishing college. Do my parents know?"

"Yeah, he came by here on his way out to Tucson last August."

"Wait, does he drive a black Jeep?"

"Yes, it was his going away present from us," Jordy smiled.

"Damn, I drove up just as he was driving away. I asked who that was, but they told me no one. Gabriel was right there and I didn't see him. Why didn't he find me and tell me?"

Dan could see the awful hurt in Dominic's eyes. "Your father told him you hated him. That you didn't want to see him. Like you, he believed the lies."

"I'm gonna kill that old man," he shouted and turned toward the door.

Easy grabbed his arm, "Hold on, you're just finding your brother again. You want to talk to him for the first time through jail bars? Think about what's important."

Dominic punched the wall nearest him, cracking the drywall and bloodying his knuckles. "Damn him all to hell. He will rot there forever. I will make him go to confession and God will know about his sins."

"Don't you think he already knows and he's waiting for you to make it right?

Talk to Gabriel, settle all this between you, and then, together, only if Gabriel wants to, talk to your parents. They've made Gabriel feel unloved. It's up to you to give that family love back to him."

"I want to go beat the shit out of that old man; and Mama, I can see what my father was thinking, wrong and all, but Mama? How could she do that to her baby boy? She is worse than a whore to me now. In my eyes, they are dead. I need to see Gabriel."

" He lives at #7 Mesa Drive in Tucson near the campus. His friend Sam lives next door. We didn't tell him we were coming to see you. It's in your hands now, Dominic."

"I'll get leave and go right away. I don't want to call; I want to see him, make sure he's okay." He punched #1 on his cell and waited.

"Chief. I need time off."
"Yeah, I found my brother."
"Tucson, Arizona."
"My parents? Fuck 'em."

"What do you do?" Dan asked, wondering about the 'chief'.

"I'm a fireman," Dominic replied, as he threw some clothes in a duffle. "I want to thank you all for coming to tell me. I've waited so long to hear from him and now I can see for myself that he's okay. I'll deal with 'those people' when I get back. I'm gonna get to the airport now and find a flight. Lock up for me."

They watched Gabriel's brother run to his truck and tear off toward the main highway. "I think we did good," Easy smiled.

"I hope the Parelli's suddenly move away and leave no forwarding address," Dan snorted, "Or else they're gonna get creamed when he gets back."

"I wanna go punch that old man in the mouth," Easy griped, "But let's leave them to their sons. I think losing both of them will be punishment enough."

"It's people like that who keep the world from changing. I had my mom when my dad couldn't change. I thank God for my mom. It must have been pure hell for Gabriel, losing his mom and dad to ignorance at the same time," Jordan sighed.

"Let's go home, guys," Danny smiled, "Our work here is done." Jordan kept a strong arm around him as they walked toward the van. Easy felt his heart zing just a bit as he watched them together. Then, he locked the door to the apartment and climbed in for the long ride back home.

Brian woke up from the best dream ever. He'd always heard that you dream about the last thing you think of before you drift off. He grinned cause his dream had been one long sex-arama staring Gabriel Parelli. He crinkled up his face remembering the idiot he'd made of himself last night.

"So? How did it go yesterday?" Chester leered up into Brian's bunk. "Did you guys get your mojo workin'? I don't wanna know the details," he shuttered. "Me, I likes the boobs and the veejays, but well, ummm, Jesus, was he everything you expected?"

Brian knew the fiasco of last night's aborted sex would be a secret til the grave. "Yeah, he's great. We had a great time."

"Whew, no details. Thank God! Get up, you're gonna be late for class."

Dang! Why he'd ever signed up for an eight o'clock, he'd never know. Rolling off the side of the bunk bed and dropping to the floor, he grabbed up his old clothes from last night and smelled them to see if they were okay for one more day. Eww, gross. Not even one more minute. Digging through the pile of clean clothes on the floor, he pulled out a pair of ripped jeans and a worn San Diego sweatshirt he'd 'borrowed' from Whit. Completing the outfit with white sneaker socks and the Adidas flipflops, he ran his hands through his hair and swiped at his teeth with his toothbrush. "Ready!" he yelled to Alan and Chester and beat them out the door.

"You going to the movie with us tonight?" Alan asked as they walked quickly along the sandstone path between the buildings.

"I've kinda got a thing," Brian mumbled.

"A thing?" Chester grinned. "And what kind of "thing" would that be? Is it a BIG thing or a little thing or and alien thing or a........." He choked off the last words as Brian smacked him with his backpack.

"Just a thing thing, okay?"

"When are you doing this "thing"?" Alan was trying not laugh, but Brian looked so funny, all blushing and weird.

"All right, Gabriel's gonna pick me up at seven. He has some stuff to do and I'm just riding with him."

"That's the huge 'thing' secret you have??" Chester snorked. "Jesus, if I told you the secret to the universe, I guess you'd have to kill me."

Well, when Gabriel and Sam had dropped him off at the dorm after pizza last night, it had felt like a BIG thing that Gabriel asked him to ride along. It still felt big. Brian wanted every minute with Gabriel to feel BIG. Brian had seen in Gabriel's eyes that he had wanted to kiss him, but Sam was sitting right there and well, you know how that goes. Maybe tonight, maybe tonight he'd get it right. If he bit right through his bottom lip, Brian was determined not to embarrass himself again. It's just that Gabriel was so beautiful and hot and he had been running his fingers on the inside of his thighs and, well, shit..... He'd never been touched there or like that, and............... Stop! No more thinking about that! God, these jeans are tight!

"Earth to Brian! Come in, Brian! We've lost him, Alan. He's traveled faster than the speed of cum to the planet Fuckme. I'm afraid we've lost him."

"Shut up! I was just thinking."

"Um, yeaaahh! Stay with us, Bri. Here's class. Try to pay attention. If you burst into a Celine Dion song in the middle of class, I don't know if we can save you."

Pushing and shoving, the boy's laughter followed them into the sterile lecture hall. Brian didn't sing, but no knowledge found its way into his brain either. He spent forty-five minutes staring at the wall above the professor's lectern, not being at all logical in Logic 101. Seven o'clock couldn't come too soon. Tonight maybe, he'd find out if Gabriel really cared about him.

Gabriel pushed Dog off the side of the bed and lay still, thinking, as he idly scratched his chest. He really liked Brian, but he didn't want to be in any kind of relationship. Relationships meant telling the truth and not hiding things. After last night, realizing totally just how innocent Brian was, there was no way he could look into those pretty eyes and tell Brian what he'd had to do to make enough money to eat. Gabriel knew he wouldn't be able to take the disappointment, the disgust he'd see. He liked Brian but he had to end it before they both got hurt. Brian needed a guy more like himself. They could learn how to be together, make mistakes and make up. It just couldn't be Gabriel.

Dog stared at him, his head resting on the edge of the bed. His big sad doggy eyes looked as if he was condemning Gabriel for being heartless. "I know what you're thinking," Gabriel groaned, rolling onto his side to scratch Dog's ears. "You think I'm being a fool, that I should just be happy I found him, right? I want to, I want him bad. He makes me laugh and I just want to grab onto what he's offering." Dog huffed. "Yeah, yeah, I know you like him.

Quit staring at me."

Dog ran into the living room and came back with the little pillow Brian had been holding last night. He shoved it onto the bed and stared at Gabriel some more as if to say, 'Go get him'." Laughing, Gabriel climbed out of bed and pulled on his workout clothes. He'd sweat some of this emotion out and clear his head.

Sam heard the Jeep roar off down the street and thought, for the zillionth time, that she should get her lazy ass up and go with Gabriel every morning. She just wasn't a morning person and the thought of running and pumping this early just made her sleepy. Pouring the last of the coffee, she piled her long blonde hair up into a knot, grabbed the strawberry Poptart from the toaster oven and walked out onto the front stoop. It was another beautiful clear November morning, the sky turning a turquoise blue filled with huge cumulus clouds. Breathing in the pure Arizona air, she watched a small white car turn in at the corner and move slowly along as if the driver were looking for an address.

The car pulled to a stop right in front of her apartment and the driver called out, "Gabriel Parelli?" in a very not Arizona kind of voice.

Something about the man in the car made Sam nervous. He looked like he hadn't slept in days and his face was shadowed with heavy bristles. She wasn't about to tell this jerk anything about Gabriel. "Do I look like a Gabriel whatever you said?"

"Not hardly," the jerk replied, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Do you know the guy who lives in #7 ? His name is Gabriel Parelli and I need to find him." He turned off the engine and climbed out of the car, walking toward the door to #7 in long ground-eating strides. He looked very out of place in the crisp Arizona sunshine, rumpled and dressed in heavy winter clothes. That, combined with the grim look on his face and the way he was knocking loudly on Gabriel's door made Sam want to run in her apartment and lock the door. Maybe he was from back East, from the Mafia or something. Maybe that's why Gabriel wouldn't talk about his family. Maybe Gabriel had gotten mixed up in drugs and this was a drug hitman.

"You don't know the person who lives right here next door to you?" he frowned at Sam, taking in her baggy sweatsuit and her tangled hair.


"Just 'No'?"


'She's crazy', Dominic marveled. "Is everyone in Arizona as friendly as you?"


'Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all I want is a simple answer. Gabriel Parelli, does he live here?"

'Okay, this is the rudest man I've ever met.' "Well, Mr. Rudy McRudepants, I wouldn't tell you what time it was, much less who lives over there." Sam turned her back and flounced into her apartment, slamming the door, making sure he heard her lock her four dead bolts. She grabbed up her cell phone and called Gabriel. Peeking out the front window, she saw the car drive slowly down the road, stopping at Mr. Krenney's office.

Gabriel picked up on the fifth ring, wiping sweat out of his eyes. "Sam?"

"Gabriel, there's this guy, evil eyes and growling. He's looking for you. He drove up in a rental and he's down talking to Mr. Krenney right now. I wouldn't talk to him. He's rude. Looks like he probably has a gun on him. He's all dressed in dark clothes and I don't know..... I think he's like a drug runner or something. He looked like he worked for Tony Soprano."

Gabriel frowned. 'Who the hell.....?' "Okay, don't blow a gasket. I'll be right there. I'm sure it's nothing."

As he drove home, sweat drying on his skin, Gabriel couldn't think who this psycho might be. As far as he knew, no one cared where he was except Easy and the family. "Let's go, Dog. Sam's having a fit."

He drove fast, his mind bouncing between the mystery guy and Brian. Turning on Mesa Drive, he saw a compact white car sitting outside Mr. Krenney's apartment. It was a rental, so it must be the guy Sam was talking about. Might as well just stop here and find out what was going on. He pulled the Jeep into the space next to the car and started to climb out. Dog jumped past him, but instead of running to the woods, he made a mad dash for a man walking out of Mr. Krenney's door. He raised up on his hind legs, his front paws slapping the man on the shoulders and swiped his face with a very wet tongue.

"Dog! Get down! I'm so sor................................" Gabriel's voice cut off in mid word. It was Dominic! It was his brother! He couldn't move for a second, frozen with both anticipation and dread. "Dom," he said in a half sigh.

Dominic saw the baby brother he'd lost almost five years before. He'd grown into a man. "Come here, you." He held out his arms and Gabriel broke into a run.

When he reached Dominic, Gabriel stopped suddenly. "Why are you here, Dom? To tell me you hate me?" Tears were running freely down his cheeks and he couldn't look his brother in the eyes.

"Oh, Gab, look at me. Don't cry," he begged as he wiped his own face. "I didn't know. I didn't know what happened. I swear, if I'd known, you wouldn't have had to run away. We would have left together. Gab, look at me. I would NEVER have let them do that to you."

"Why did you? They told me you hated me and didn't care if I died. It hurt, Dom," he gulped, "It hurt the most of all."

"I could never hate you. You should have known that. I don't want to even talk about you dying." It was breaking Dominic's heart to hear the sound of a broken child in his brother's voice. The anger he felt toward his parents rose like acid in his throat. How stupid he'd been to believe them. How stupid to just wait to hear from Gabriel. How stupid he had been. "I'm so grateful to your friends for finding me and telling me where you were."

"Wait, my friends?"

"Yeah, Jordan and Dan and, I'm not sure of the other man's name but I have his card somewhere," Dominic said as he reached in his pocket. "It was a weird name."

For the first time, Gabriel's eyes cleared of tears and he half-smiled. "That would be Easy. He's my dad now. He saved my life."

Dominic saw the beginning of that small smile and answered, "Then I owe him more than I can ever repay. They all seemed like great guys. They came to tell me about you yesterday."

"And you're already here?"

Dominic grabbed Gabriel in a huge bear hug. "Once I knew where you were and what really happened, you think I wouldn't be on the first plane to find you? Don't tell me my little brother's grown up to be a dumb ass?"

"Nah, just a smart ass." Gabriel couldn't believe how wonderful it felt to have Dom right here. But, oh shit, wait... did Easy tell him why I had to leave home? What if he didn't know and I tell him and he freaks? Shit! "Dom, there's something I've gotta tell you.... The reason they made me leave. Please don't hate me."

"I thought we just got past the 'hate' thing." Somehow, Dominic knew that Gabriel needed to say it out loud. "Just tell me what you gotta tell me. I'm not going anywhere."

"You like my Jeep? Jordy and Dan gave it to me."

"Yeah, cool ride. Tell me."

"Wanna go get something to eat? You must be starved."

"Gabriel. Now!"

"I'm gay. Mama caught me messing around with a guy from school and Papa kicked me out." Gabriel climbed into the Jeep and sat, with his forehead pressed against the steering wheel, waiting.

Dominic eased into the shotgun seat and looked at his little brother. "Hey, sit up there. One thing we're not gonna have here is you feeling ashamed of anything. You were doin' what comes naturally and those 'people', may they choke on her spaghetti, were fools. It wasn't you who did anything wrong; it was them. They're the ones who should be ashamed."

"I went back last August and asked for the snow globe Grandma gave me. He broke it, Dom. He broke it."

Dominic cursed under his breath. "Listen, they are dead to me. We are the family now and I am not ashamed of you. I'm proud that you're in college and with a scholarship. I want to know all about what you're doing and meet your friends. We've got a ton of catching up to do."

"We're good?" Gabriel sniffed.

"Never better. And about the gay thing....."


"Be safe and be happy. Anybody who hurts you will have to answer to your big brother."

Gabriel drove down to #7, Dominic following. When they headed for his front door, Dominic said, "Who is that loon that lives over there?" pointing at Sam's door. "She's insane."

"Oh my God, I forgot about Sam," Gabriel yelped, running toward her door.

"It's about time. I thought you were dead. I was about to call the police.

What happened to that crazy person who................................," she stopped cold as she saw Dominic standing behind Gabriel.

"Sam, meet Dominic. Dominic, this is my best friend, Sam."

Sam: Hate you!

Dominic: Hate you!

"Sam, Dominic is my brother."

"Well, he's rude and cranky."

"I have never in all my born days met a girl as bonkers as you."

Gabriel looked from one to the other and stepped back. "Um, well, okay. I'm gonna go show Dom around the campus and maybe out to the trails. Wanna eat supper with us tonight?"

"I have plans."

Sam: In hell I'd eat with you.

Dominic: Who'd go out with you?

Gabriel was dumbfounded. The two sweetest people in the world and they were acting like idiots. He'd never understand girls.

"Dog, let's go. Well, we'll be back later. See you, Sam. Have fun tonight."

"Uh huh," she growled.

Sam: I hope he falls out of the Jeep and cracks his head. Stupid dumb guy!

Dominic: I hope her date is a total dickweed. He'd have to be to go out with her.

Brian actually went to the laundry room and washed all his clothes. He wanted to look good tonight. Last night was a disaster, but he hoped tonight would make up for it. Maybe they'd go get something to eat and then have a chance to talk, really talk. Get to know each other. He didn't want just sex, he wanted to know Gabriel, know his thoughts and feelingsd about everything and anything.

The guys left for the movie about 6:30 and Brian took a long shower using Alan's expensive shampoo and putting on maybe a little too much of the after shave his mom had sent him in a care package. He hated the socks and flipflops, but at least Gabriel knew why he had them on and it was something they shared.

He walked out and sat on the low adobe wall by the huge saguaro in front of the dorm. Gabriel had said 7:00 and Brian was just in time. He looked happily up and down the street waiting for the sound of Gabriel's Jeep. The night air had gotten cold and he snuggled his nose into the hood of his parka. Gabriel would probably have the top on tonight. That was cool too. He couldn't wait to see Dog and give him the little treat he'd bought at the bookstore today.

By 7:30, he was anxious.

By 8:00, he was hurt.

By 8:30, he knew he'd been forgotten.

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