Brian Goes To College

by Nick Brady

Chapter 7

Copyright © 2015-2016 by Nick Brady, all rights reserved.

Brian overslept the next morning. If Marco had not tapped on his door he would have missed church.

"Are you going with us this morning?" he heard Marco ask through the door.

It took him a moment to gather himself. Yes, he did want to go. Maybe that would help the feeling of apprehension that he woke up with. "Yes, I'm getting up."

He pulled on Khakis and a polo shirt and rushed through the bathroom, washing his face and trying to brush his hair. When he walked in the kitchen the rest of the family was eating scrambled eggs and toast. Marco was at the stove with a frying pan in his hand. "Want some eggs?"

"Sure, over easy?"

"You got it," Marco grabbed two eggs and dropped a pat of butter in the skillet.

"You were late last night," Sam informed him.

"You keeping track of me?" Brian asked with a smile.

"Big night last night?" Marty asked him.

Marco came to his defense, "He was home just after midnight. Not bad for the senior prom."

"Did you have a good time?" Ben asked innocently.

"Brian shrugged. "It was OK. The music was kind of loud. I guess it took me a little while to settle down and go to sleep." He yawned and thanked Marco for the plate of eggs and toast.

"Let Brian finish his breakfast, and you guys get your shoes on so we can get out of here," Marco told them.

A few minutes later they were on the way to church. Everything here was so normal despite Brian's inner turmoil.

They walked into St. Jerome's and were handed a bulletin on the way to their usual pew. The five of them took up a good part of the third pew back on the left side. They nodded to a few familiar faces and sat quietly waiting for the service to start.

Before long the organist began a nice prelude that signaled that the service was about to begin. The music shifted into a familiar hymn and the small choir processed up behind three boys carrying a tall cross and lighted candles, Behind the choir was the Deaconess Molly Bennett and Father Hoover following up the rear. Everyone stood and joined in the singing. When Brian first came to be with this family he had a dim view of church but had grown to love this place. These people had welcomed Marco and Marty even before they were married and had welcomed Sam and Ben with delight. Now that sense of welcome had been extended to Brian and he bathed himself in it this morning. It was a safe place and he could feel the tension leaving him.

The service fell into its familiar pattern of readings, psalms and prayers, then a message from Father Hoover and a celebration of the Eucharist that was always a part of the service. By now Brian knew the responses by heart and let his mind rest as he went on autopilot to float through the liturgy. He felt somewhat refreshed by it.

As they passed out of the sanctuary into the Parish hall Father Hoover shook everyone's hand. "Well Brian. I believe you will graduate this next weekend, is that right?"

"Yes sir, at long last."

"I just might like to see that if I can get away. If I cannot, I will send you my prayers. Congratulations."

"It's always a pleasure to see you," Brian said, and he meant it. He wasn't ready to discuss his personal dilemma with his priest, but he knew that if he did, he would be understood and loved. It was a nice feeling.

Ben and Sam shook the old man's hand then made a beeline for the refreshment table before the doughnuts disappeared.

"Are you going to play tennis this afternoon" Marco asked Brian.

"Yes sir, that's the plan."

"In that case I think we will settle for sandwiches and a quick lunch. I have a chicken that I thought I might grill, but that can wait until later. You will be hungrier when you get back."

"You don't have to wait on me," Brian reminded him.

"That's OK, it gives me more time. Besides, it's not Sunday dinner unless we are all together."

That was just what Brian need to hear. "Great, thanks."

When he arrived at Louisa's house she was in the front yard with her mother looking into a flower bed. "Hi Brian, ready to play tennis. You have your tennis togs on."

"Well, I can try to look the part even if I can't play worth a hoot."

"Now Brian, you are improving. Come on through," Cathy told him.

Ethan was stretched out on the sofa with the Sunday newspaper in front of him. He looked up when Brian came in carrying his tennis racquet. "Hey, there he is. Are you ready to play some doubles."

"I'm ready to try. Please don't be too hard on me this time."

They walked through the patio to the tennis court beyond. Everything seemed OK so far.

They took their usual sides with Ethan and Brian opposing Louisa and her mother. It seemed to Brian that he was doing a little better today despite his restless night. Nothing was said about the prom the night before. They played one game then changed ends and began a second when Ethan's cellphone chimed.

"Excuse me I have to get that. I'm on call today." He picked up the phone and exchanged a few terse words. "I'm sorry, I have to go. You will have to carry on for me Brian."

"Try not to be late dear," Cathy said and walked into the house with him.

"Well, I guess it's just you and me," Louisa smiled.

They started over with a singles match and Brian found himself making some simple errors. His concentration was suffering as he thought about his resolve of the night before. He lost several points in a row and muffed his serve badly.

Louisa laughed. "I think you must be as tired as I am. We had a late night last night."

"I'm afraid I'm not much competition today," Brian admitted.

"Well let's quit. I'm ready for something cold to drink."

Brian considered his next move. "What do you say we go for a coke somewhere. I would kind of like to talk to you anyway."

"OK, I'll tell my mother then we can go wherever you like."

He followed her into the house while she spoke briefly to Cathy and then walked out to his car with him.

"Where would you like to go?" She asked as he started off.

"I don't know this part of town that well, what do you suggest?"

"There is an Arby's just a few blocks away. Would that be OK?"

"Sure, they all have soft drinks. Tell me where to turn."

In a minute they pulled into the drive through and Brian looked over at Louisa. "Diet cola?"

That's my drink of choice," she smiled. The smile was as beautiful as ever, but there was something a little reserved about it.

"Two medium diet Cokes," he said to the speaker and they pulled up to the window. He took the drinks, paid for them and put both into the cup holders in the center console, then drove to the edge of the parking lot and turned off the engine.

"They sat quietly and sipped their drinks while Louisa waited for Brian to speak.

Finally he took a deep breath, "I really had a nice time last night Louisa. Thank you for going with me." He looked at his soda and drank a little more.

"I did too Brian, thank you for taking me," and waited for him to continue.

"Well, I don't think I showed you a very good time. I hope you aren't disappointed in me."

Louisa looked at him with a look of curiosity. "It was fine Brian. I enjoyed it. It just figured it wasn't your sort of thing. Maybe I shouldn't have kidnapped you."

Brian kept his eyes on his drink. "Why did you? I mean, why did you want me to take you?"

Louisa looked away and smiled. "Because, you are nice looking, and because I like you, and thought you were a little shy and needed some encouragement I guess. So why did you decide to ask me? I mean, you didn't have to."

This was going to be harder than he realized. "It's hard to talk about actually, but I thought maybe you needed an explanation." He wondered how to do this without making a fool of himself.

"You see Louisa, I have never really dated before. Actually that was the first time I have ever gone anywhere with a girl. I'm not much good at that."

Now Louisa turned back towards him with a look of recognition on her face. "OK, go on."

"Well, you see Louisa, uh, I, I'm..."

"Wait!" she cut him off. "Listen Brian, you don't have to explain anything to me. If this conversation is really hard for you, we don't have to have it. I had a nice time last night, I was fine with it. You don't owe me anything. I like you and let's just let it go at that."

"But, but..." Despite his best efforts Brian felt his throat tighten and his eyes grow wet. "I do really like you. You are beautiful and sweet, and you have a smile like an angel. I don't want you to think that there was anything wrong with you, it's just me. I guess I'm really screwed up. But the thing is, I, I'm...."

"Brian! Wait. I don't care if you're gay. I really don't. I'm OK with it."

He turned and looked at Louisa in complete amazement. That was the last thing he expected her to say. "But, but you.... How did you know?"

She turned towards him with a look of genuine compassion on her face. "Well I didn't know until just now. I mean, you certainly don't fit the stereotype. But when you started struggling for words, it kind of dawned on me. Look Brian, I have friends who are gay. I guess I'm easy to talk to or something, but we have talked a lot. I think I understand what they have to go through. It's not like the old days I suppose, but it's not easy to be gay in high school, especially not in this part of the country."

"Wow," Brian muttered.

"Listen, I need for you to understand something. I'm not looking for a boyfriend. I'm just not ready for that. Someday I would like to find that special guy

and get married and maybe have kids, but not for a long time. I want to get a good education, make a start on some kind of career. What I want right now are some nice friends I can spend time with and enjoy without things getting all complicated."

The beautiful smile returned. "I think you are smart and nice and good looking. I was hoping we could be friends, just friends. That's all I wanted – all I want."

She leaned a little closer. "I would still like that Brian. This doesn't have to be complicated. Can't we just be good friends"

Brian was trying very hard to regain his ability to speak, "Yes I would like that, very much. But what will your friends think?"

"Think about what? What will they think if I have a nice friend? Someone I can spend time with? They will be happy for me, for both of us."

"No, I mean if they know you are going out with a gay guy?"

"How will they know that? I'm not going to tell them, are you?"

Brian felt a smile come unbidden over his face, "No, I wouldn't want to tell anybody that. But what about your parents?"

"What about my parents? That's none of their business. They want to know that I trust the people I spend time with and they have already decided that you are a good person. I think you are too. That hasn't changed."

"But won't they feel like you're with the wrong kind of person or something?"

"No silly. My father is a doctor. Don't you think he has patients who are gay? He has come home and talked about teenage boys with cancer who are more concerned about somebody finding out they're gay then having cancer. It is an accident of birth, not a moral shortcoming. Besides, we're Episcopalians. We don't care about that sort of thing."

Brian blinked at her, "Are you serious?"

Louisa sat back and smiled again. "Yep. I'm totally serious. When I got home last night my mother was waiting up for me. She asked me about the prom, you know how mother's are. I told her it was very nice, that I had a good time and that you were a perfect gentleman. All that was true Brian."

"Really? I thought you would be mad at me."

"No, why should I be angry? I could tell you were a little uncomfortable and I wondered about that. You are a charmer Brian. Melissa and Francine were drooling over you."

"Really? I guess I never thought of myself that way."

Louisa smiled and shook her head, "Don't sell yourself short Brian. I sure wouldn't mind going out with you again."

"Why would you do that? I'm not very good boyfriend material."

She scowled and shook her head. "Do I have to spell this out for you? My friends wonder why I don't have some guy in my life. My folks want me to have nice friends. They like you. I like you – a lot. You are even learning to play decent tennis. What's not to like?" Now she giggled.

Brian shook his head trying to comprehend all this. "But, well, is it just because I'm gay so you think you will be safe with me?"

"No, please don't think that." Now she looked concerned. "That would be very selfish of me. Look, when I met you at that stupid tea, I thought you were really nice. You are smart and you have a sense of what you want to do with your life. I think you will make something out of yourself. I admired you, if you really want to know. I'm not ready for a serious boyfriend, but if I was I would put you at the top of the list. I knew my father would take to you, so when you said you wanted to be a doctor I thought that Daddy might want to talk with you. I didn't ask you over so I could trap you or anything."

She settled back and tried to explain. "When you came over to talk to my father, he was impressed with you. He and mom talked about you after you left. It was my mother's idea to get you over for tennis, not mine. Then when daddy saw how you focused on learning tennis he was even more impressed. He was telling mom about your work ethic, you know?"

"So what about the prom? Wasn't that your idea?"

"Not totally. I didn't have a date for the prom so I planned to go with my friends. Mother figured out you weren't going either so she thought it would be nice if we both went. You know how mother's are. She asked me what I thought of you and I told her I thought you were a real gentleman. When you finally decided to ask me I was pleased and I said yes. That's what happened."

Brian was absorbing all this as best he could. "But you had to teach me how to dance, I wimped out on the after party."

Louisa laughed, "For which I will be eternally grateful. I was glad to have an excuse not to go. If I had ridden to the dance with my friends it would have been hard to get out of going to that after party. Look, they are a nice bunch, but when you get a lot of kids at something like that, someone will get into the liquor cabinet and start drinking, then somebody will get crazy and do something stupid. That's not my deal. I really didn't want to go. Thank you very much for wimping out."

Brian was still processing all this. "So what happens next. I'm not sure where we go from here."

"Oh, I don't know. I don't socialize a whole lot, but when I do it's with my girlfriends or with a group. It might be nice to have a handsome charming gentleman to go to a movie with, or maybe eat out together, or just to talk to. You're good company Brian. And don't worry, burgers are fine. I'm a cheap date."

Brian shook his head. "This is amazing. I never in my life thought I would be having this conversation. To be honest, I don't have many friends. I like this idea very much. Maybe if we're not worrying about sex, we can just relax and enjoy being together."

The smile reappeared, "So you want to be friends?" she asked.

Brian returned her smile. "How can I refuse. That sounds great."

They shook on it.

Brian came home just after five with a smile on his face.

"Hi Brian. Did you play tennis today?" Ben asked cheerfully.

"Yep, some double and some singles."

"Doubles are two on a side and singles is one on one, right?" Sam asked.

"That's right. Louisa and I played Dr. and Mrs. Carpenter for awhile then Dr. "Carpenter had to go into the hospital to see about somebody and I played Louisa, just the two of us."

"How did it go, Brian" Marco called from the kitchen.

Brian walked into the kitchen. "It was fine."

"How was the tennis game?"

"I wasn't that great today. I guess I was tired from last night." He tried not to smile," I had a nice talk with Louisa though."

Marco glanced over at him, "Oh did you?"

Brian was trying to suppress a smile.

Marco laughed, "Now that is what I would call a shit eating grin. What do you know that I don't"

Brian shrugged and continued to smile. "I'll tell you later." He nodded towards the twins who were just in the living room."

Marco turned back around to his dinner preparations. "I'm all ears."

Brian went back and sat down between Sam and Ben. "What are you guys up to?"

"Nothing really. Just watching a baseball game," Ben said.

"Who's playing?"

"Detroit and Baltimore. I don't much care who wins, I'm just watching."

Sam was reading a book and glancing at the game when he turned a page.

"I thought you guys liked baseball."

"I like to play baseball better than I like to watch it," Ben explained. "Besides, I don't know much about these teams."

"Who do you like?" Brian asked.

"I like the Cardinals, the Cubs and the Astros" Ben told him. Sam nodded.

"Well, I don't think dinner will be ready for a little while, want to play some catch?"

"Sure." Now both boys were up and looking more interested. They picked up their gloves, a baseball and bat and went out into the back yard.

"Hit us some fly balls," Ben begged.

Brian enjoyed these young twins. They had become his brothers and he felt the security of a solid loving family for the first time in his life. Now Louisa had come into his life and wanted to be his friend even after she knew he was gay. Life kept surprising him and he felt blessed. These things ran through his mind as he batted baseballs to Sam and Ben and watched them scamper after them.

Marco called from the house, "Dinner's ready!"

Marty started passing around the platter of chicken and said, "We have a busy schedule coming up. Brian's graduation is next weekend then we will go out to Santa Fe, New Mexico for Marco's art show over Memorial Day weekend."

Brian chuckled, "I should drive my Hyundai Santa Fe out to Santa Fe."

"We could I suppose, but it makes sense to all go in one car. I think we can all fit into the Sienna even though it will be a little tight with my crate of paintings," Marco reasoned.

"Oh, I know. I just thought that was funny that the names are the same. We don't need to have two cars out there."

"How many paintings will you put in the show" Marty asked.

"I have more than I can find room for," Marco admitted. "I've picked eighteen to take with me. I will box them so they will travel safely. If we lay the third row of seats down I think we can put them in the back and still have room for our luggage. It will be tight though."

"Well, we are going out there so you can show your paintings," Sam observed wisely, "We have to make room for those."

Ben stopped chewing his chicken to suggest, "Sam, Brian and me will have to all sit in that second row. Can't we watch some movies on the DVD player?"

"That's right,"Marty agreed. "You guys should be picking out some things to watch."

"Maybe we could get some new movies. We've watched everything we have a million times," Ben said.

"That's a good idea," Marco agreed, "Movies make the time pass quickly."

"How far is it to Santa Fe from Tulsa?" Brian wondered.

"I looked the route up on Map Quest," Marco told them, "It's about an eleven hour drive. I thought we might stop overnight in Amarillo. That's about half way."

"What will we do in Amarillo?" Sam asked.

"I don't know. Look around I guess. I just thought maybe it would be better than cooping you guys up for a whole day in the car."

"I would rather go on and get there. There is nothing to do in Amarillo but sit around. We might as well sit in the car and get it over with."

"I can drive too," Brian reminded them. "With three drivers to trade off it wouldn't be that bad."

"Well, we can do that. I think I really should be there on Thursday to set up," Marco considered, "If we drive straight through on Thursday it will be too late when we arrive for me to do that."

"I thought we were going to leave on Wednesday?" Ben recalled.

"Yes, but that was because we were going to take two days to get out there."

"Why don't we drive out all the way on Wednesday then you will have all day Thursday to set up your stuff and we will have an extra day in Santa Fe to look around," Sam reasoned.

"That works for me," Marty agreed, "What do you think, Marco?"

"Sure, that's a good idea, Are we all agreed?" Marco asked.

All heads nodded in agreement.

"OK then, we will have to get up early on Wednesday to give us time for the long drive," Marco reminded them.

It was a plan.

The next week at school was spent wrapping things up. For the graduating seniors it was mostly a goof off week. Their classes were basically over and most teachers gave them plenty of slack time to discuss the graduation ceremonies and their plans for the summer. Thursday was given over to rehearsing the big day and checking out caps and gowns. On Friday they were told to take the day off.

On Thursday Brian ate lunch with Louisa and his new friends who seemed pleased to have him as part of their group. He and Louisa were now seen as a couple, at least in that small group. On Friday evening, Brian picked Louisa up and took her to dinner at P. F. Chang's where they found a secluded corner booth.

"Are you ready for tomorrow?" Louisa asked as they practiced using chopsticks to eat the stir fry.

"You bet. I can't believe that high school is almost over."

"Me too. I'm looking forward to the summer. What are you doing?" Louisa Asked.

"I think I told you that we are all going out to Santa Fe for Marco's art show. We will be gone over Memorial Day from the Wednesday before to the Wednesday afterwards as it looks like now. My classes at OU Tulsa will start the next week."

"That sounds like quite a trip. Mom and I are going out to California for the week after Memorial Day, "Louisa reminded him. "I guess I will see you when we get back. We are going to fly out. I love flying. Poor Daddy will have to stay home. He always seems to be working."

"Couldn't he schedule some vacation time?"

"Oh, I suppose he could, but a week of mother's relatives probably doesn't appeal to him all that much," Louisa smiled. "Daddy is very busy, but I think sometimes it's an excuse to get out of the boring stuff."

"I can see that," Brian laughed. It was so nice and relaxed being with this sweet girl. "We will have the summer to enjoy before you leave for college in the fall."

"Yes, but It's not that far. I'll be home most weekends. So you are all driving out to Santa Fe? Your mom and dad and the two younger brothers?"

Brian hesitated.

"You haven't told me much about your parents, well, the family you live with," Louisa looked at him with curiosity. "Tell me about your family. I would like to know that story if you don't mind talking about it."

Brian took a deep breath. There was no point in avoiding this conversation any longer. "Actually, my parents are Marco and Marty Montgomery. Marco is the artist and Marty is a manager over a group of computer programmers. He's a director in fact."

Louisa did not fail to pick up on the male pronoun and her eyebrows went up a little. "Oh? How does that work?"

"I live with a gay couple. Marco and Marty are both guys. I don't have a mom, I have two dads. At least they treat me like a son. The twins Samuel and Benjamin were adopted when they were four, and I have lived with them since I was fifteen."

Louisa looked surprised, but not displeased. "Oh, how interesting. I would like to meet them."

Brian smiled, "I guess it's kind of an unusual family, but it works for us."

"Can you tell me how you came to live with them?" She looked sincerely interested and encouraged him with her eyes.

"It's kind of a long story."

"I'm not in a hurry," she smiled.

"It's not exactly a nice story either."

"Oh, well, I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I would like to know you better but please don't feel you have to share anything that you would rather not."

Brian had the feeling that he could probably tell this girl anything and she would understand.

"Well," he began. "Things weren't so bad for me when I was little. I think my mother loved me, but she and my father both drank a lot and sometimes they had these big fights, you know?"

Louisa didn't know, but she wanted to understand and nodded attentively.

"I don't think my father ever wanted to have any kids. At least all they had was me. I was never able to please my father. I tried really hard to make him proud of me but he never was." Brian looked down at his hands as he spoke.

"So I tried to do really good in school so maybe that would please him. I made good grades but he never looked at my grade cards. When I was eight I got into Cub Scouts and really liked that. I tried really hard to do everything I was supposed to and got encouragement from the Den Mother and that was really nice. My folks let me go, but I don't think they cared much either way. I was just glad to get away from the drinking and fighting."

Brian paused, trying to think of how to tell her what had happened next. Louisa reached over and took his hand in his, "Go on, but you don't have to tell me things that are too private."

"No, it's OK. I trust you Louisa. When I was nine or ten, my father, he, he sort of abused me." He glanced up into her eyes and found them filled with sympathy.

"Did he hit you? That sort of thing?"

"Well yes, sometimes. He was drinking a lot and would get really angry over just about anything, but I learned to stay out of his way most of the time. But then when I was about ten, he would, he would..." Her eyes were wet and she stroked his hand.

"He started coming into my bedroom at night. He started doing things to me."

"Oh my God, Brian. I'm so sorry. Oh please, you don't have to tell me any more." Now tears were running down her cheeks.

"It's really hard to talk about, I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "You don't have to tell me anything more. I think I understand. How awful for you."

"See, that was the only time he was nice to me, was when he did those things. It was really confusing Louisa. I didn't know what to do. Then one time when I was eleven, he was, was doing those things, my mother came in and saw us and she was really really angry. They had this terrible fight. I just laid in my bed and listened to them screaming at each other, and I cried and I cried. I thought it was all my fault. Then the next day he was gone, moved out, and I never saw him again."

"Oh Brian, what did you do then?"

Brian sighed. He wanted to cry but held back the tears and told her, "My mother was so angry. She wouldn't even look at me. I felt so guilty but I didn't know what to do. I couldn't talk to her about it, I didn't know what to say. After a little while I found myself living with my grandmother, my mother's mother. She didn't want me either but I guess my mother told her I had to go somewhere.

"My grandmother let me stay there and I could still go to scouts, I had that, and school. I tried to forget about the bad stuff and do the things that made somebody proud of me. I still did good in school, and I really loved scouting, everything there was so right, so positive. By then I had graduated into the Boy Scouts and really enjoyed that.

"Then by the time I was thirteen I made Star and was the Den Chief for a Cub Scout den. That was when I met Sam and Ben, the twin boys I told you about, and their father Marco. When they got into Webelos, Marco was their Den Leader and asked me to be his Den Chief. Their den met at his house, him and Marty. We had a campout in their back yard and I talked to Marco about some things. He was so kind and understanding Louisa. I never met anybody I could talk to like I could with Marco. I really liked him.

"Anyway, I sort of made friends with all of them and would go over there sometimes even if we weren't meeting, to help Sam and Ben with their scouting and with their homework. When I told Marco what had happened between me and my father, I thought he would be disgusted with me but he understood. I think he had gone through some bad things when he was a kid too. He talked to Marty about me and they started including me in a lot their family activities, and they finally asked me if I wanted to live with them. I was so happy. I wanted to get away from my mother and grandmother so bad.

"So when I was fifteen I just moved in. My grandmother was glad to get rid of me I think." Brian took a deep breath and looked up from his hands to Louisa's face all wet with tears. She didn't say anything but looked at him with great compassion.

"I didn't care that they were a gay couple. They never tried to do anything to me. I mean, they are both so nice. I feel closest to Marco, but Marty is really a nice person too. They are married you know. It's not like they are just living together. They adopted Sam and Ben when they were four because they wanted to have some kids, to be a real family. They got me into their church, St. Jeromes's. I never even thought about church before but now I really like it, and our priest Father Hoover is such a good man. He was the one who Married Marco and Marty and encouraged them to adopt the twins. In fact, I think he set it up."

Now Brian's eyes began to fill with tears. "What I want you to know Louisa, is that for the first time in my life I am happy, really happy. I feel loved and encouraged. They are helping me to go to college and will stay with me through medical school and everything. And now I have you for a friend. I think I am the luckiest guy in the world." His voice choked up and he had to stop.

Louisa sat quietly holding his hand and bit her lip, tears streaking her face and smiled grimly.

Brian took a breath. "I know that's an awful story. You must think I'm really weird, but that's what happened. Besides Marco, I've never told anybody about that stuff until just now. Maybe I want you to know what you're getting into. I can't imagine what you must think."

Louisa did not try to wipe the tears from her face, she just looked straight into his eyes. "What I think is that you are the bravest, strongest person I have ever met. That's what I think. I would never have guessed that you have been through so much and are still so focused. I am so proud of you. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for you, and I am honored that you feel like you can trust me with your story. And you're right, it's not a nice story, and I want you to be sure that I will never share a word of it with anybody, ever. It's your story to tell, not mine. Oh Brian, you are so brave. I am so proud to have you for a friend."

Brian sighed with relief. He had shared the things he was too afraid to share with anyone and had received understanding and acceptance. Louisa was truly his friend. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and leaned over to wipe the tears from her face, then they both laughed.

"Oh, I'm a mess, aren't I?" Louisa smiled.

"You're a wonderful mess," Brian told her, "And maybe the best friend I have ever had.

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