Big Bro, Little Bro

by Rob Warr

Chapter 3


"Oh Jake, you never want to do the things I want to do," Rebecca pouted.

"What are you talking about? We always do whatever you want."

"Then why can't we go to the movies tonight?"

"I told you, I have to hang out with the other guys on the team, it's important. We have to go over some stuff, that's all."

"If you really loved me you'd be with me..." she whined.

"I can't, and that's that," Jake said feeling a little annoyed.

"'re impossible. Well, just don't expect me to come running when you call next time."

"Whatever," Jake said rolling his eyes, "Look, I'm sorry, but you have to understand, I have other things I have to do. I can't be with you every minute of the day."

"I know that," she snapped, "I have a life too you know?"

"I'll see you at school tomorrow, okay?" Jake said softening a little.

"All right, have fun...or whatever," she said stiffly.

"Okay, I have to go now," he said leaning in for a kiss.

She pulled back at first then allowed the kiss, but Jake knew she wasn't into it. It was like kissing a fish, he thought, a cold stinking fish, he added trying hard not to laugh. He sighed and grabbed his backpack and headed toward the door. He paused to look back at her, but she was already on her phone, no doubt texting one of her friends or checking her social media apps.

Sometimes he wished he'd never got hooked up with her, even if he was the envy of half the guys in school. He tried to convince himself that it had nothing to do with Zak's coming out to him, or coming on to him, but deep inside he knew that was not the case. He'd needed to prove that he wasn't like that, that he liked girls, and what better way than to hook up with one of the hottest girls in school? Only problem was, she was a real air head and not a good person. She had no sense of humor and she was stuck up, and on top of all that she was a cold fish when it came to sex or any kind of physical contact.

He'd thought for sure he'd loose his virginity to Rebecca, but instead he was more frustrated than ever. He beat off at least twice a day, and when he brought up the subject of sex with Rebecca she looked as if he'd just farted or something. She made it quite clear that she was saving herself for someone special, which made Jake feel like he was just a stop over on the way to Mr. Right.

Truth was, he was miserable these days. His falling out with Zak had been devastating on so many levels that he didn't know what to do or where to turn for help. Zak had been like a brother to him and to learn that he was gay, and worse that he was in love with him, was just too much to handle. He'd got out of there fast that day and ran home and hadn't been back since.

For a while it was like his whole world had ended. He'd find himself wondering what Zak was doing or realize he was headed toward the gate that separated their yards and have to stop himself. Those days were gone, the sleepovers, the sharing, the heart to heart talks, the friendship that was deeper and more wonderful than anything Zak had ever experienced. All gone in a flash when Zak revealed his true self.

He knew he should have tried to be more understanding. After all they were closer than brothers, and Carlos had accepted his gayness without any problem. He liked to think that if Zak had just told him and not tried to kiss him he might have reacted a lot differently. But if he was honest with himself he might have realized that he had some feelings of his own to deal with and Zak's kiss had just brought them to the surface.

His mom picked him up a few minutes later, and at first he was too much into his own thoughts to notice her pale complexion. When he finally did his heart sank.

"Mom are you okay?"

His mother shook her head, "I went to the doctor today...for my six month check up."

Jake held his breath as he waited for her to drop the bomb that he knew was coming.

"It's back sweetie, and this time the doctor says there's nothing more we can do."

"But it will go back into remission again...right?"

"Jake, I'm not going to sugar coat this for you. The doctor says I have maybe 6 months this time."

"What?, you can't die mom," Jake cried.

"I'm sorry son, I don't want to leave you, but I'm just so tired of being sick and hurting. Oh baby, I just want to go home to Jesus."

Jake was quiet for a long time. He'd known ever since his mother was first diagnosed with cancer that there was the possibilty that she might die, but then she'd had chemo and the cancer had gone into remission. She'd been cancer free for almost five years now. When had it come back? He wondered. Had she been hiding it from him, hoping it would go away, or that they'd come up with a cure?

"How long mom? How long have you known?"

"What?" She said, then sighed, "I've known for a while now, but it wasn't until today that I found out there was no more treatment. It's spread too far and it's in my vital organs now. Chemo would only make my last few days miserable and I don't want that. I want to be clear headed and enjoy what little time I have left with you."

"I'll quit school and spend all my time with you," Jake said through tears.

"No, don't be silly. I want you to have a life. I don't want you to be sad or to worry about things. I never told you this before, but I have a large life insurance policy that I've been paying on long before I was ever diagnosed with cancer. It's not a fortune, but it's enough for college and a good start once you graduate."

"I don't want money mom, I want you..."

"I'm sorry baby. I know this is worse for you than for me. First you lose your father and now...well, life isn't always fair, but I want you to know that I have provided for you."

"What will happen to me mom? Will I have to go live in a foster home or something?"

"No," she sighed again, "When I was first diagnosed with cancer I panicked. I was afraid I was going to die before I could find you a home, but fortunately I had a friend, a good friend, a wonderful loving friend who loves you as much as I do."

Jake's stomach knotted up as he heard those words. He knew exactly who his mother was talking about, it was Zak's mom, Julie Mason. He knew because they had been almost as close as he and Zak had been, and though they still kept in touch, when he and Zak had split it had put a kink in their friendship as well. But what did all this mean? Had Mrs. Mason found someone to take him in? And then it hit him. Of course, it was so obvious, and a year ago it would have made perfect sense, but it was unthinkable.

"Jake honey, before all this...this whatever, happened with Zak, you two were so close, and Julie and Fred have always loved you as if you were their own son. Honey, have you ever heard of a Living Will?"

"Isn't that something to do with your organs or something?"

"Not really, no this is about my last wishes...when I die honey. First of all, when it's time for me to go, I just want to go, no heroic means, but most importantly: I want my son to have a loving family to take care of him when I'm gone."

"What are you saying mom?" Jake said feeling quite ill. He shook with fear as he waited for the words that he knew would come.

"Honey, when I'm will be taken care of. The Mason's will give you a loving home and a future."

", I can't live with them. What about Zak? I can't live in the same house with him," Jake said becoming aggitated.

"Honey, I don't know exactly what happened between the two of you since you've never told me, but I have a pretty good idea. Honey, you have to accept Zak as he is and let your heart lead you back to where you belong...before this all happened."

"Mom, you just don't understand. He tried to kiss me, he told me he loved me, that he was gay. Mom, he's a fag."

The slap that Jake's mom delivered to his cheek was neither hard nor painful, but it was nonetheless shocking for the boy who could not remember his mother ever striking him before. He rubbed his cheek and stared at her with hurt and shame as she pulled into the driveway of their modest home and waited for the fury he was sure was brewing inside her to errupt.

"Listen to me Jacob Edward Richards. Never use that word around me again. You kids today, you pretend to be so progressive and so understanding, but you still hide behind old prejudices. You bend to peer pressure, calling anyone you don't understand or approve of a fag or gay or whatever. If Zak is gay, that's his business. He's a beautiful and wonderful young man and I miss him around here. By denying yourself of his friendship you have denied me as well."

Then softening a little she added, "Zak came out to you because he thought you, of all people, would understand. That he loved you should not have been a shock to you. I think all of us knew it just by looking at the way he treated you...and you know what? I thought you loved him too. Oh, maybe not the way he loved you, but like a brother at least, and when you rejected him and shut him out of your life you hurt him as surely as if you had taken an axe to him."

"I know..." Jake said meekly, "but I'm not gay, I can't love him that way and I didn't want anyone to think I was. That's why I quit being his friend."

Jake's mom laid her head on the steering wheel and closed her eyes, and for one horrible moment Jake was afraid she had died right then and there, still upset with him, and when she finally opened her eyes he breathed a sigh of relief.

"You will have to try to put that behind you young man, because when I'm gone he will be your brother in the truest sense of the word. The Mason's are willing to adopt you and give you their name, and a home, and I want you to do your part to make that work. Can you do that for me...for your mother who loves you more than life itself?"

"I...I'll try mom, for you. Oh mom, I love you so much," he said finally breaking down completely.

She comforted him as best she could as they sat there in their driveway clinging to each other like two souls drowning in a storm. When they were cried out they went inside, arm in arm, and sat down together on the couch and held each other for a long time.

Later they ate a light dinner, and watched some TV. Jake had called his buddies and begged off the meeting, and even though he didn't go into any detail, they could tell that he was upset and didn't give him a hard time about it. Rebecca however would be a different matter.

Around nine Jake's mom said she was tired and he walked her to her bedroom and kissed her goodnight before going to his own room and falling down on his bed still completely dressed. He had a lot of thinking to do and sleep would not come for a long time.

He thought about Zak and how much they'd meant to each other all those years, and suddenly he was very ashamed of the way he'd treated him. So what if Jake was gay? It wasn't nearly as big a deal these days as it used to be, and if he really thought about it he had sort of suspected it all along. Oh, it wasn't that he acted gay or girlie or anything, but he couldn't ever remember Jake showing any real interest in any girls, except Sarah and Carol, who were more like sisters than anything else. In fact his getting along so well with those two girls had been one of the things that made him think Jake might be different. In fact Jake thought at times that Zak was closer to those two than he was to him.

He sighed. What would it be like to live with Zak now that everything had gotten so bad between them? Would he have to share a room with him, or would he have his own room? He knew the Mason's house was almost identical to his own and there were three bedrooms and an attic space that could be converted into a bedroom. Yeah, maybe that would work, or he could share a room with Carlos. They were closer in age anyway, and as far as he knew Carlos was straight and he wouldn't have to worry about that sort of thing.

Then his thoughts drifted back to his mother and how much he loved her and how much he would miss her. Since his father had died she had been his whole world. There to wipe away his tears and encourage him to live his life boldly and with style. Maybe part of that was because she knew that someday she wouldn't be around to help him get through life. Maybe she had known all along that she was going to die.

It was so unfair. Why did God have to take his dad and now his mom? The tears came again and this time he cried himself to sleep.

Jake woke still fully dressed and a little disoriented. His mouth felt like he'd been eating mud and he needed to pee badly. After empting his bladder he stripped off his clothes and showered and got dressed for school.

He found his mother fixing breakfast and was relieved to see that she looked much better than the previous evening. Maybe she was going to be all right after all, he prayed, maybe the cancer would go back into remission.

"Morning sweetie, are you hungry?"

"A little. Uh, how do you feel today?"

"Actually pretty good. You know how it is? I have good days and bad days. This is a good day."

She placed a plate of eggs, toast and bacon before him and even though at first he wasn't very hungry, the food smelled wonderful and he found himself wolfing it down quickly, washing it down with a glass of milk. Across from him his mother ate toast and sipped coffee and they talked about what the day held for them.

"I'm going in to work, just like always," she said smiling, "it keeps my mind off things and we need the money."

Jake felt guilty that his mother had to work while she was so sick, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was just a kid and his whole world was falling apart around him.

"I may be late today...after school...we have practice."

"Is Friday's game a home game?"

"Yeah, are you gonna come?"

"Of course, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"If you don't feel good, it's okay if you don't come," Jake offered, but he was hoping she would be there.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me away. I'll be fine and I might even bring a friend."

"Uh, who mom?"

"You'll see," she chuckled.

"Mom, do you have a boyfriend I don't know about?"

"No, of course not. It's just a friend."

"Well, I gotta go or I'll miss my ride," Jake said standing up and going over to kiss his mother on the cheek, "Have fun at work, and don't work too hard," he said grinning.

"Learn lots and practice hard," his mom countered.

Jake's ride was an older boy named Ryan who lived down the street. He had his own car and since the Middle School was on the way to the High School he dropped Jake off each day and in exchange Jake pitched in for the gas.

"So what's up J? You look a little down today. Becca giving you shit again?"

"Yeah, but that's nothing new."

"So, what's up? Worried about the big game Friday?" Ryan asked, not willing to let it go, but when he saw the tears in Jake's eyes he wished he'd kept his mouth shut.

"It's not fair," Jake said biting his fist and turning his head toward the window.

"Whoa, what is it man?" Ryan said laying his hand on Jake's leg.

"Don't..." Jake whimpered, "I'm all right."

"No, you are not all right. Man, tell me what it is. I'll help you if I can," Ryan said sincerely.

Jake sighed as he tried to pull himself together, but the sigh was more of a shudder. "My mom...oh shit Ryan, my mom is sick again. They say she only has 6 months this time."

"What? way. They could be wrong. I hear about people living years and years after doctors tell them they only have six months or something. Maybe she'll get better..."

"She...she says the cancer is in her vital organs now. I think...I think this time she's really gonna...die."

"Oh man, I'm sorry. If you need a place to stay...I mean, know? I bet my folks would let you stay with us."

Jake wiped at his eyes and sniffed noisily, "Mom...she already made plans for me. She signed some kind of contract with The Masons when she first got sick five years ago. I'm gonna go live with them if...when...she's gone."

"Wait, isn't that that kid Zak's last name. Is that his folks?"

Jake nodded, "Yeah, see my mom and his mom are really close..."

Ryan sighed, "And you two used to be close too. Only now you hate him. How's that gonna work?"

"I don't hate him," Jake said quickly and as the words came out of his mouth they had an almost healing effect on him. He didn't hate Jake, he never had, it was just an automatic response to shut him out and pretend that he did.

"Oh, sorry. So, you guys will be brothers. Well, I guess that might work out. Brothers don't have to like each other that much. Look at me and Randy." Randy was Ryan's older brother and they were always fighting over something.

"I don't feel like going to school today. Do you mind taking me back home?"

"What are you gonna do?"

"I don't know, I just can't face anyone today."

"Hey, I got a great idea. How about I skip too? We could drive out to the lake and drink some beer. I can filch a six pack from my dad's stash in the garage and he'll never miss it."

Jake attempted a weak smile, "I don't want you getting into trouble...but if you're sure..."

"Oh yeah, baby...I'm sure. This is gonna be great. We need to wait a half hour or so for my mom to leave for work then we'll go grab the beer and some eats and head out."

Though Ryan was a year older he and Jake had an easy friendship. Nothing like what he and Zak had had, but it was very comfortable and solid.

They stopped at a c-store along the way and bought some chips and snacks and when Ryan picked up the beer he grabbed stuff for sandwiches. It was 9 by the time they headed for the lake which was a half hour drive, and by the time they got there Jake was in a much better mood.

His life would be changing once again, but he had to believe that some how, some way it would all work out okay. He would miss his mother terribly, but life would go on and eventually he would learn to accept things as they were.

They found a nice quiet place to park and Ryan opened the cooler with the beer and got one for each of them. It was Bud Lite, but since neither boy had drank that much before, it was sufficient for the purpose. Jake made a face when he took his first swig and Ryan laughed.

"What's the matter? Not a beer drinker?"

"It's okay. I've only tasted beer a couple of times and I've never gotten drunk before."

"Three beers each, it's not enough to get us drunk. Maybe buzzed, but not drunk. Eat some chips it will make it easier to swallow."

"Thanks," Jake said taking a handful of Nacho Doritos.

They talked about school as they slowly drank their beer, and eventually the subject of Rebecca came up again.

"So, how are you and Becca getting along? I bet a lot of your buds envy you."

"Yeah, I guess. I just wish she was a nicer person...or at least put out," Jake chuckled.

Ryan raised an eyebrow, "She at least gives you head or a hand job....right?"

"Nothing. In fact she doesn't even like kissing that much."

"Oh man, that's fucked up. You should ditch that bitch and look for someone else. You're a nice guy, I bet lots of girls would be willing to hook up with you."

"Truth is, I been thinking about breaking up with her, but if I do I'm not gonna be in any hurry to hook up again."

"Yeah, who needs that...right? Just play the field, fuck em' and forget em'. That's my motto."

"Like you've fucked that many girls," Jake said rolling his eyes, "Let me see your hand, I bet it's calloused over from jerking it," he added laughing.

"Hey, I got head from Beth Williams and it was great."

"That was when you were 14, who have you been with lately?"

Ryan shrugged, "This isn't about me. It's about you..."

Jake turned to Ryan with serious eyes, "I'm sorry. You're trying to help me and I'm bustin' your balls. You know I really appreciate this man. A lot of guys would just say something stupid and be too embarrassed to actually try to help. You're okay. I love you man," Jake said offering his fist to bump.

Ryan bumped fists and smiled, "I just feel bad about it. I mean you're a cool dude and you already lost your dad, and now...and now this," Ryan sighed, "I just want to be there for ya' man, that's all."

"Thanks man. How bout another beer?"

After the second beer both boys were feeling more free tongued, especially Jake, and when Ryan asked about what had happened between him and Zak, Jake opened up as he had never done before.

"He tried to kiss me," Jake said making a face, "First he tells me he's gay then...he tells me that he loves me and tries to kiss me. It was awful."

"What? That's what all that shit was about? Oh man, maybe it was a joke...or maybe he meant like a brother or something. I mean did you even ask him what he meant?"

" way, I just got the hell out of there and I haven't so much as talked to him since."

Ryan rolled his cold bottle of beer across his forehead before replying, "You know for a nice guy and one who's actually pretty smart, you sure fucked that one up."

"What do you mean?"

Ryan sighed, "Dude, you two were closer than brothers from what I've heard. Don't you think you owed it to him to talk it out? I mean if he really is gay and he really does love what? You could have let him down easy and still stayed friends. Right? If it had been a girl you didn't like, would you have treated her that way?"

"No, but that's different. I didn't want people to think I was gay too," Jake said, but hearing the words out loud did nothing to alleviate his guilt over the way he'd handled things with Zak.

"Are you listening to yourself Jake?" Ryan said shaking his head and frowning, "You sound like one of those haters from school that beat up that one kid last year cause they thought he was gay."

"What would you have done?" Jake asked throwing it back at Ryan.

"Well...he's kind of might have let him kiss me," Ryan said straight faced, then before Jake could explode he grinned, "I'm not gay, but I would have probably been a little flattered that he liked me that way."

Jake folded his arms and looked stubborn, "You don't understand. We were close as brothers all those years and he hid this from me."

"Good thing he did," Ryan said frowning again, "Doesn't sound like you were as good a friend as you thought you were."

"I've got a reputation to think about," Jake offered, "I couldn't be friends with...with...someone who was gay." He almost said a fag, but the memory of his mother's slap, and worse her stinging words, stopped him.

"I see, so big man on the football team has to hang out with straight boys only. Boy, what a load of bull. How do you know some of the guys on the football team aren't gay? I hear about jocks getting sucked off all the time in high school."

"What? No way, I'd know...wouldn't I? God, what if they were? They might have been checking me out in the locker room..."

Ryan laughed, "Did any of em' have a magnifying glass?"

"What?, you dick weed. My dick is not that small."

"Here's the thing. What if they did check you out? Is it any worse than you and your straight buddies checking out the cheerleaders and trying to sneak a peek under their skirts?"

"Of course it's different. That's...normal stuff. Boys and girls, not boys and boys."

"What about girls and girls, is that normal?"

"No, but it's hot," Jake said grinning.

"God, you're impossible. I give up. Be a homophobic asshole. I'm done," Ryan said opening the car door suddenly.

"Where are you going?" Jake asked with panic.

"To take a piss. And no peeking," he teased.

Jake realized he needed to pee as well and stepped out on the other side and turned his back to the car before unzipping. He stayed facing the other direction long after he'd peed waiting to hear the sound of Ryan's car door closing before he turned around and headed back to the car.

"That's better. My dad says you don't buy beer, you rent it," Ryan laughed.

"Your dad must be pretty cool," Jake said thinking back on all the times Ryan had talked about him.

"He's awesome. You know what he told me when I got my license? That if I ever got too drunk or too stoned to drive home to just call him and he'd come get me, no questions asked, and no punishment. I've never had to call him."

"What about today," Jake teased, "Are you gonna drive home drunk or call him?"

"First of all, three beers will not make me drunk, and secondly, we're gonna stay here till the beer wears off."

"Oh, then let's finish the beer off now so we won't be stuck here all day."

The third beer went down easier and Jake had a good buzz going halfway through it. However it didn't seem to be affecting Ryan quite the same way.

"I know you don't like talking about this, but I can't help but the reason you took off running that day at Zak's because you felt something too?"

"What? No! Are you crazy?" Jake said becoming aggitated.

"No, but I mean it just sort of seems like you overreacted or something, and sometimes the simple answer is the right one. It's like a lot of homophobes, they hate gays cause they have those kind of feelings too, and they hate themselves for it, and therefore they hate gays."

"Are you some kind of...psychologist or something?" Jake said sarcastically.

"No, but I read a lot, especially on FaceBook," he chuckled.

"I'm not gay," Jake repeated emphatically.

"Didn't say you were dude. I asked if you had feelings for this kid...Zak?"

"Of course I had feelings for him. We were closer than two friends could be...oh my God..."


"I might have led him on. Don't you see...the messing around...I mean, the way I treated him...I mean...maybe he thought I felt that way about him. It all makes sense now."

"What makes sense? Let me in on the secret."

"Nothing, I mean I just realized that I might have been closer to him than I should have been."

"How can that be possible? It is what it is. If you were close, you were close. Maybe he liked you more than you liked him, but you can't control how you feel or how he feels."

"I don't know. I just...I just wish I'd handled it differently...that's all."

"It's not too late, it's never too late."

"I don't know. I mean he must hate me by now..."

"I doubt that. Hey, I have a suggestion. Why don't you talk to his brother, from what I hear they're pretty tight."

"Do you know Carlos?"

"Just from school. I don't have any classes with him, but he seems like a nice guy. Too bad he gets picked on so much."

"What do you mean?"

Ryan filled Jake in on some of the things that had been happening lately and by the time he was finished Jake was seething.

"Son of a bitch. Those assholes. Carlos is a nice guy and he can't help it that he's Hispanic. He's an American just like us. He was born here. He can't help who he is anymore than we can."

"Exactly," Ryan said smiling, "anymore than Zak can help who he is."

Jake lowered his head and nodded, "You know...maybe you should become a psychologist, or a car salesman when you grow up," he added bringing his face up to reveal a grin.

"I'm just a simple boy who tells it like it is," Ryan chuckled, "So what do you think? Gonna talk to Carlos?"

"Yeah, I think I will. If he'll talk to me after what I did."

"I bet Carlos has been hoping you'd come to your senses all along."

"Thanks," Jake said sarcastically, "for reminding me that I was insane in the membrain."

So of course Ryan began singing Cypress Hill's, Insane in the Membrain, and pretty soon Jake joined in.

They hung around the river for the rest of the day, sitting on the grassy bank eating their sandwiches and washing them down with the sodas Ryan had thankfully thrown in the cooler at the last minute. Afterwards they took off their shoes and socks and rolled up their jeans and waded in the cold river water.

"Brrr...this is cold," Jake said shivering.

Ryan scooped up a handful of water and splashed Jake in the face with it causing him to sputter.

"Ass monkey, that was cold."

"It will help sober you up," Ryan teased, "can't let your mom see you drunk."

"I'm not drunk. In fact I feel perfectly sober, just got a little headache, that's all."

"Yeah, three beers don't do much. Sometime we'll have to get a 12 pack and really do it up right."

"When are we going back?" Jake said ignoring Ryan's comment.

"Anytime you're ready homie."

"I was thinking...maybe we could swing by the burger place where Carlos works."

"Sure but how do you know he's working today?"

"I don't, but he works a lot so there's a chance."

"Okay, sure. I could use a burger anyway before I head home."

"Do you think the school called your folks or my mom?"

Ryan shrugged, "You got a good excuse and I'll just say I couldn't let you go off alone or something."

"Thanks Ryan, helped me a lot today, and not just with this shit with my mom."

Ryan nodded, "No big deal."

Jake nodded, "It's the kind of stuff Zak would have done for me...a million years ago when we were friends."

"You miss him, don't ya'?"

"Yeah. Sometimes I wonder what he's doing, or I think about that stupid gate his dad put in the fence between our yards and how many times one of us used it. Oh God, Ryan...I do miss him. Does that make me weird?"

"What? Hell no. It makes you human. I bet he misses you too."

"Oh God, the look in his eyes when I see him. How can I ever face him again after what I've done?"

" step at a time. First his brother, then him."

They dried their feet off as best they could and put their socks and shoes back on and Ryan drove them back into town and to the burger place where Carlos worked. It was a small mom and pop place, but very popular with the local kids, not only because of the excellent food, but because the atmosphere was very kid friendly. It was especially popular with the high school crowd since it was on the restless ribbon, and on the weekends the place was usually packed.

They parked and went inside, but to Jake's disappointment Carlos was not behind the counter. Ryan ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a large Pepsi, but Jake was too nervous to eat. Ryan gathered up his burger and drink and they started out, but when they reached the parking lot Jake saw Carlos' Ranger pickup just pulling into the lot.

His first instinct was to jump in Ryan's car and tell him to take him home, but he finally decided it was time to take ownership of what he'd done and try to make it right.

"Wait for me please," Jake said and Ryan nodded.

Standing his ground he waited for Carlos to approach and when he saw the smile on his face he relaxed a little.

"Jake, little brother. How are you amigo?" Carlos had always considered Jake his second little brother and they'd been almost as close as he and Zak at one time.

"Hi, are you working today?"

"Naw, just came by to talk to Rick. What's up?"

"Can we talk?"

"Sure, no problem. Wanna sit in the truck?"

"Yeah, that sounds good," Jake said trying to control the shaking in his body.

Sitting there in Carlos' pickup he was reminded of a dozen or more times he'd ridden there with Zak by his side as the three of them cut up and sang along with the radio. It seemed like an impossibly long time ago, but it had been just over a year ago that things went bad.

"You look good man. Been working out, or just playing football?"

"Football mostly. Uh...I guess you're wondering what I wanted to talk to you about?"

"Yeah, but I figured you'd get around to it when you're ready."

Jake sighed dramatically. "Well...see something has happened. Something bad and I got to deal with it and well...I need to fix things with Zak, but I wanted to talk to you first and make sure he was cool with that."

Carlos almost burst out in a cheer when he heard those magical words coming from Jake, but he maintained his usual calm demeanor.

"Zak has always hoped you'd get over this and be his friend again. That's all he wants. He's been really miserable since the two of you broke off your friendship and I know he'll be glad to do whatever it takes to make things work."

"Aren't you gonna yell at me and tell me what a jerk I was?" Jake said in disbelief, "I mean I really deserve it. I really fucked things up."

Carlos smiled, "I think you've punished yourself enough, don't you? I think you've been as miserable as Zak."

"I won't lie. I miss him, but you gotta understand...I just went nuts when he tried kiss me. If he had just told me he was gay, that would have been okay..."

"I think you need to save the explanations for Zak," Carlos said feeling his anger rise a little.

"Oh, yeah...sorry."

"I do wonder though, what brought on this sudden change of heart?"

Lost in his fear and his determination to fix things he'd forgotten about his mother and what was ultimately going to happen to him, but suddenly it all came flooding back. Carlos could see in his eyes and body posture that something was very wrong and he dreaded to hear what was coming.

"My mom...she...she's sick again...and well...this time...she's not gonna get better," Jake said tearing up a little, but mostly he was all cried out.

"Oh Jake, I'm so sorry. When did you find out?"

"Yesterday, but there's more..."

"Is it about your coming to live with us?"

" know?"

"Of course, mom and dad asked me and Zak if it was okay before they ever signed the contract. And I don't have to tell you what we said. I mean we didn't want anything to happen to your mom, but if it did we wanted you as our brother...still do."

"Zak might not want me now..."

"Ha, are you serious? He still loves you Jake. Maybe you don't love him like he loves you, but I think you have feelings for him too."

Jake frowned, "I do, but not like that. I just don't want to lead him on and hurt him again, that's all."

"Then make it clear up front how you feel and trust him to respect that."

"I really messed things up. I'm sorry Carlos. I miss you too. We had some good times."

"Yeah, we did, and we can have them again. Just put your silly pride behind you and talk to Zak."

"I will, when's a good time?"

"I'd say right now while you're on a roll, but if not now, then as soon as possible."

"I have some time. My mom won't be home till 5..."

"Why don't you go tell your friend I'm taking you home. I need to go in and talk to Rick and when I come back I'll drive you to my house and you and Zak can talk."

Ryan was all smiles as Jake went over to convey the news.

"Good luck man. I know you're gonna feel a whole lot better once you talk this through."

"I wouldn't have gone this far if it hadn't been for you. You're a good friend...thanks."

"No biggy. Well, see ya' tomorrow morning...if I'm not grounded for life," Ryan teased.

"Yeah, see ya'. Thanks again."

Ryan waved his hand in dismissal and about that time Carlos walked out the front door.

"Oh, hi Ryan. Didn't recognize you at first."

"Hey Carlos. Take care of my buddy, okay?"

"You bet, see ya' around man."

"Yeah, later you guys," Ryan said as he started backing out.

"Cool guy."

"Yeah, he sort of talked me into talking to you and Zak about this."

"Well, then my opinion of him just went up three more notches. Come on, let's go. Hopefully Zak will have had time to get his after school snack cause' he's not gonna feel like eating once you get there," Carlos laughed.

On the way over the two boys caught up on what had been happening in their lives and the reconnection came easily for the two. However as they approached the Mason's home Jake began to have second thoughts about talking to Zak so soon after talking to Carlos. But he was committed, and swallowing his fear he followed Carlos inside.

When Zak heard the door open he ran down the stairs taking the steps two at a time barely watching where he was going and when he came to a stop at the bottom of the landing his eyes nearly poppped out of his head when he saw Jake standing there beside his brother.


"Uh, hi."

"Surprised to see me?"

"More like stunned."

"Can we talk?"

Zak looked at Carlos for some sign of what was up and Carlos simply nodded and smiled, "Why don't you two go up to your room and have a nice talk.? I'm gonna go fix myself a little snack."

Zak blushed bright red as he led Jake up the all too familiar stairs and to his room. Jake felt a wave of hysteria wash over him as he thought about the last time he'd stood there in that room and the events that had followed, but he quickly recovered.

"Uh, want to sit down?" Zak said pointing at his bed.

"Sure, no...maybe I better stand, but you should sit....yeah, definitely sit down."

Zak's little heart was nearly pounding out of his chest. Had Jake come to fix things between them, or was this just going to end in another heartache? Sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands in his lap he waited for the beginning, or the end, to occur.

"First of all, I want to say...that I'm really sorry. I know, I know, that's not enough, but I really am...sorry. I was a jerk and we both know it. Heck, everyone who knows about... about what happened, knows I was a jerk, but it took a good friend pointing it out to me to make me see it for myself. Second, I don't hate you, cause I know that's what you were thinking. I don't hate you now and I never did. Mostly I was just scared. I was afraid that if I didn't get away from you that I'd...."

"What, turn gay?" Zak said frowning.

"No, not that. That people might think that I was. Oh shit, that didn't come out right. I know it was stupid, but that kiss...oh God that kiss, that was what really messed my head up. I ran like a scared rabbit and I convinced myself that I was right and you were wrong, only it was just the opposite. I was a chickenshit and I messed everything up. I guess what I'm trying to say is...if you still want to be my friend I'm here to make things right."

Zak patted the bed beside him, "Sit down now and let me talk."

Jake nodded and nervously sat down as Zak stood. He figured he was in for a real tongue lashing now, and who knew what the result would be? Maybe Zak wouldn't take him back and if that was true it would be almost impossible to live here when his mom died.

"First of all. I forgive you...for running away, and for shunning me, and for all the nasty things you said about me. Yeah, I know about that stuff, other kids are just too happy to spread the bad news. Second, I don't blame you completely for what happened at my birthday party. I sort of snuck that in on you. I mean I should've started slow...come out to you first and seen how you took that news before declaring my undying love for you, or whatever.

Yes, you hurt me...a lot, but I can get over that if you promise me that you can get over what happened that night. One more thing, I meant what I said though, and I don't think that will ever change. I love you, no, I'm in love with you, and you will always be the first boy I loved. So there, that's all I got to say. I promise I won't force myself on you again, but I can't promise I won't want to."

Jake laughed, "You haven't changed. You're still brave, braver than I will ever be. I...just want us to be friends again...that's all. I want to wear the path out between our yards again and text each other goodnight every day and have fun like we used to."

"Are you sure you can handle having a best friend who's gay?"

Jake nodded, "If you can handle having a best friend who's a jackass."

Both boys laughed and suddenly Jake grabbed his best friend and hugged him. Zak didn't try to read more into the hug than there was, it was just a bro hug, but his brain still screamed out how wonderful it was to have Jake's hard hot body against his.

When they broke the hug they pulled back and smiled at each other.


"Dick weed. Hey, I gotta get home. My mom...well, I want to have dinner ready for her when she gets home. She works so hard, it's the least I can do."

"I'll walk you to the gate," Zak said slipping on his shoes.

"I'm gonna walk Jake to the gate," Zak said as they passed Carlos at the breakfast bar.

Carlos smiled so wide his whole face was one big smile. "I take it I got my other little brother back?"

"Yep, and you're gonna take us to the mall Saturday...right?"

"Right, anything for my two favorite bros. See ya' man, tell your mom...I said hi," Carlos said suddenly feeling very sad for Jake and for his mom.

"I will. Thanks Carlos, see ya bro."

At the gate Zak wanted so badly to hug Jake again, but he wasn't about to mess things up by moving too fast.

"Well, see ya. Uh, thanks for taking me back."

"Welcome, thanks for apologizing. It was really cool of you."

Jake blushed, "I'll text ya later."

"Still got my number?'

"In here," Jake said thumping the place over his heart, then turning he left Zak to stare after him, feeling better than he had in a long time.

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