The Apprentice

by Sahypo

Chapter 45

The conversations that Peter had with Pat and his own parents when he came out had stuck with him, and in the weeks that followed, Peter had decided to volunteer for a suicide hotline.

After several training sessions, Peter had learned to take calls, and give referrals to other agencies that provided assistance to people in crisis. With his schedule, he was able to man the phones for a few hours a week, late at night or early in the morning before he went to work.

Peter was answering a phone one morning around nine o'clock, when a boy called in.

"Crisis help line…my name is Peter."

"…Everything…. It's so…everything got so fucked up, all of a sudden. I can't deal with this…its too much." The voice was sobbing as the boy spoke.

"What's your name?" Peter asked gently, trying to keep the caller focused.

"I uh… I don't want to say…" the voice replied, sniffing and catching.

"It's okay, you can pick any name…what would you like me to call you?" Peter replied.

It doesn't matter now anyway, the boy thought to himself. "Uh, M-Max…my name is Max."

"Can you tell me what's going on, Max? Can we fix this situation somehow?"

"I'm, um…I'm gay, and when my folks find out, I'm totally dead…"

"So, they don't know yet, as far as you can tell?"

"I hope not."

"Okay…So what happened that has you so upset right now, Max?"

"My sister caught my boyfriend and me, and she said she was gonna out us …" the boys voice dissolved into sobs as he finished his sentence.

"Max, has she done that yet?"

"No….but it's only a matter of time…Can't stand this…waiting."

"What do you think they'll do Max?"

"Hate me, not love me anymore." Came the boys voice over the phone in a whisper.

"You ever talk to them about really serious stuff before?"

"Um, a few times, I guess."

"Did they stop loving you then, Max?" Silence.

"We don't know each other, and you have nothing to lose by talking to me, Max. Are your parents abusing you, will they hurt you if they find out you're gay?"

"Umm, no…They don't hit us or nothin.'"

"Max, if you don't feel safe, there are places where you could tell them with other people around. There are better ways of doing this, Max. We can help you get through this if you let us."

"It doesn't matter now anyway" Max said, his words slurring slightly.

"Max, did you swallow anything? Talk to me, okay? Tell me what you took."

"The whole bottle" Max squeaked.

"What was in the bottle Max? How much did you do?"

"Momma's little helpers" Max giggled and laughed. "All of it."

Valium, Peter thought. Jesus, what the hell did I get into here? Peter fought the urge to panic, and went back to trying to get as much information out of Max before he passed out, or OD'd.

"Max, is that all? What else? Max, please talk to me."

"I snuck into the vodka…too…I gotta sit down…Whoa!"

"Max, how long have you been drinking today?"

"Um, I don't know, really. Like…. who cares…. you know? What do all these fuckers go to? Can't find…the right…one." Peter heard tinkling noises then Max said, "Oh…. Here…you are." The boy began to laugh as intoxication set in.

"Max, tell me where you are…Talk to me Max, just tell me where you are."

"Oh, I'm at home…duh."

"That's awesome! Where do you live, Max? Tell me where you live."

At that point, there was a loud tinny mechanical noise on the phone, and then a steady hum in the background. Peter felt the blood drain from his face as he realized what the sounds meant. He muted the call and yelled

"I need help here!" One of the senior volunteers hurried over and Peter said

"Start a call to 911…This kid on my line is in a car with the engine running, and he's taken a bottle of Valium with vodka."

Unmuting the call, Peter tried get Max to tell him his address again, as the other volunteer called 911 and gave the dispatcher Max's phone number. Luckily it was a land line, and several agonizing minutes later, Peter heard sirens and a crash as firemen ripped Max's garage door open with a strap and a rescue truck. There were loud voices, then the engine noise stopped.

Somebody near the phone said "The car's too close to the wall, I can just carry him out to it." Max had stopped talking to Peter just before the fire department arrived, and the next person Peter spoke to was one of the paramedics.

"This is Rooney with Fire and EMS, Is someone still on the line?"

"Peter, crisis hot line. Max took Valium and drank vodka. I don't know how much of either, or when he ingested, don't know how long he was in the car." He heard Rooney relaying what he had said to his partner. He also overheard "conscious but unresponsive approximately ten to twelve-year-old white male" in the phone as Rooney's partner radioed the hospital.

"Memorial Central, we copy."

"Peter, is there anything else you can tell me?"

"That's all I know, sorry."

"Good info, Peter, thanks. We gotta roll."

The line went dead in Peter's headset. At that moment, Rooney threw the cordless extension phone into the car seat, and helped his partner finish loading Max into the ambulance.

Peter ended the call and took off the headset. He stood up and walked away from the console, as his partner hung up with 911 dispatch.

"Peter, are you all right?" the other volunteer asked.

"Not really" Peter said quietly as he walked out of the building. The volunteer followed Peter outside and found him standing outside staring into space.

"You saved a life this morning."

"Not if he dies on the way to the hospital. He's maybe twelve… What the hell is a ten to twelve-year-old kid doing trying to kill himself?"

"It's not unusual…I talked a bullied nine-year-old out of hanging himself a few years ago. Look, Peter. I gotta be real with you here. There will be a day when it happens. None of us knows what was in his head, but if he makes it, we can still ask him. That's because you were here, Peter. You made the difference this time."

"I hope so…how long have you been doing this?"

"Seven or eight years, I guess."

"Why did you get started?"

"My brother shot himself eleven years ago… I wasn't able to help him."

"Man, I'm sorry to hear that."

"It is what it is, but thanks. And you, Peter? why are you here?"

"Suicide was the thing my parents told me they feared most before I came out, and my boyfriend's father told me the same thing. How do I get used to…?"

"I hope the hell you never do, Peter. When that happens, it's probably time for you to quit and walk away."

They both stared off into space for a few moments.

"It's one call at a time. You help the ones you can, and you cry for those you couldn't. The only way to get through it is to put the headset back on. If you leave now, you're gonna dwell on this call, and I'm not going to see you again. Trust me, the best thing you can do is get back in there."

"I think I need to, yeah." Peter replied, as he walked back in with his co-worker. He took one call from a seriously depressed teen who was despondent over the prospect of flunking his sophomore year, but wasn't suicidal. Peter did what he could to give the student some hope and resolve to do better the next school year, but he was still rattled after his encounter with Max. He finished the hours he had signed up to work, and left.

Twenty minutes later, he parked the Datsun at the hospital and went inside. He found the information desk on the opposite end of the building, and inquired about the boy who had been brought in a few hours ago with the pill and booze overdose and the carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Sir, do you have the patient's name?"

"I only got Max when I was on the phone with him. No last name, sorry." Peter showed her a card from the crisis hot line, and her eyebrows went up.

"Oh, I see. There is a boy named Max in 326."

"What are the odds? Thanks." Peter said before he walked over to the elevators. He got in and wondered what he was going to say to the boy when he saw him.

Once the elevator stopped at the third floor, Peter walked the hall halfway around the building before he found 326. He peeked into the room and saw a small figure with long brown hair in the bed, and almost turned away thinking it was a girl and not Max, before he noticed the name written on the memo board on the wall. Peter walked in and saw that the boy looked asleep. He was fitted with an oxygen mask, and his eyes were closed. His stomach had been pumped before the Valium could take effect, and the oxygen was helping his head clear.

Peter sat in the chair and leaned toward the bed.

"Max? Can you hear me?"

The eyes opened, and looked at Peter.

"Who are you?" a muffled voice asked. Even with oxygen going, and the muffling effect of the mask, it was clear that this was the voice Peter had spoken to on the phone.

"Max, I'm Peter. We talked on the phone."

The eyes widened in surprise.

"Peter? How did…uh, what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see how you were."

"Why?"

"I know how scared you are. I was afraid to come out too, Max."

Tears began to flow down his face as Max lost control of his emotions. Peter took his hand and continued to talk.

"My mom already knew. She didn't come right out and say it, but she knew something was going on. Both my parents were shocked, of course, and it took some adjusting, but things worked out. I was scared to death, but they were even more afraid, Max."

"Of what?"

"That I might have taken my own life. They could live with having a gay son, but they would have never been able to live with the guilt and grief if I had been successful in a suicide. That's what they told me, Max, and it's why I volunteer on the crisis hot line."

"They won't understand, or accept this."

"Max…. It wasn't just my parents that told me that…My boyfriends' folks mentioned their fears of suicide as well. I'll bet your parents are the same way. I would put money on that. Have your parents been here yet?"

"I don't know, I just woke up a little before you got here. My head feels like hell."

The tears continued to flow down Max's cheeks as Peter looked at the small hand he was holding.

"How old are you?" Peter asked.

"I'll be thirteen in two months. I'm small for my age" Max added, as if his stature required explanation.

A bit of a chill ran through Peter as thought about how close this kid had come to death a short time ago, before his life really had begun.

"You're so young to be in such a dark place, Max. I'm glad you reached out for help."

"I'm…really sorry. I don't know what I was thinking…Oh, God!" Max began to sob heavily as the realization of what he had done began to sink in.

"The main thing is that you're still here. You need some help to get through things, but you'll make it if you give your folks and life a chance. Giving up isn't the answer. It never is. Don't give up, Max."

"I'm so scared right now." Max said as he sat up in the bed and turned to Peter. Peter stood and embraced Max.

"I know. This is not easy for anyone." Peter held Max for several minutes until he calmed a bit.

"Listen, I want to stay with you longer right now, but I can't. I'm going to say goodbye and wish you my best until we meet again. Here's my number and where I can be found." Peter slipped a card into Max's hand. "Give your folks a chance, okay?"

Max nodded. "Peter? Thanks for coming…and everything."

"I'm glad we were able to meet, Max." Peter said as he turned to leave. Peter was already halfway to the first floor when a worried looking man rushed down the hall and stopped at room 326 before he went inside.

Max's father had walked into Room 326 not knowing what to expect. He had only been told that Max had been brought to the hospital with a suspected overdose, and carbon monoxide poisoning. None of this made any sense until he was able to get the story from the attending physician. He had never considered that one of his children would even contemplate suicide, let alone attempt it.

"Max, I'm here, buddy, it's Daddy."

Max began to cry as his father approached the bed and took Max's hand.

"I'm sorry, Daddy."

"Max, I don't understand" as his eyes flooded with tears. "Why?"

Max began to hyperventilate and speak in gasps, like a panicked toddler.

"Daddy…don't…be…mad…at…me."

He brushed Max's hair out of his eyes gently and said

"Max…I'm not mad…Why would I be mad, baby…I don't understand… What happened?" Make me understand what could be so bad you felt you had to do this, Max."

Max sobbed harder and looked down as his father held him.

"You're not going to want me anymore…You'll hate me, Daddy."

"Max, has there ever been a moment in your life when you thought I hated you? I mean, where is that even coming from? Look at me, buddy."

He gently raised Max's face so he could look in the boy's eyes.

"Whatever you're afraid to tell me almost caused God to take you from us this morning. Please Max, get this off your soul. If you're big enough to tell me, I swear I can handle it with you. Trust me, Max, please."

His father had never begged him for anything in his life. Max felt compelled to unburden himself as his father looked into his eyes.

"Mandy broke in and caught me and Ian kissing and said that she was going to tell on us. Now Ian's gone and he's never gonna come back."

His father was silent for few moments, and continued to hold Max. "You love Ian, don't you?"

Max nodded.

"I think he'll come back if he feels the same for you."

"She ruined my whole life, Daddy… Why did she do that?" Max began to blubber and sob and hyperventilate again.

At that moment, his mother arrived, and took her place on the other side of Max's bed and tried to calm him down.

"Max, it's going to be okay, baby…Now, who ruined your life?"

"Mandy! Why does she have to be such a bitch! I hate her!" Max began to shout as his anger took control.

His father spoke calmly "She broke in? What happened, Max?"

"Uh-huh. We went to my room yesterday after school and locked her out so she couldn't pick on us, and she stuck something in the door knob and came in and…well, everything is …totally shitty as hell now."

"Max!"

"Well, it is! Mom…she wrecked everything for me." Max looked to his father, who nodded and said

"Go ahead and tell her, buddy."

"Mandy said she was going to tell you guys and Ian's mom and dad that me and Ian are gay."

"Is that why you did this, Max?" she asked.

"Yes" Max squeaked out as he began to sob. "I'm so sorry, don't be mad at me, please."

"Max, what you did was terribly selfish. What did you think would happen to everyone once you were gone? Did you think about how that would have devastated all of us? What about Ian? Did you give any consideration to what this would have done to him if they hadn't rescued you?"

Max shook his head. "No," he whispered.

At this point, his father had to get up and go out in the hallway. He couldn't bring himself to think about, let alone talk about what might have been.

After a pause to collect herself and regain her composure, she continued. It was time for some tough love, and time to level with her only son.

"I will never be able to have another son, Max. A mother should never have to bury one of her children. I've done that once. You almost put us in that position again…I am angry…I am very angry that you could even think about throwing your life away before coming to your father or me for help. There is nothing that we couldn't deal with if you had come to us. Now, as far as you being gay goes, your father knew Ian was more than a friend to you a long time ago. I didn't want to believe it at first, but I began to see what he saw when you and Ian were together. We've accepted the fact that our little boy is gay and in love. I don't know how long you and Ian might be together, but you don't have to live in fear and hide anymore. Max, what you did hurt us deeply and destroyed our trust in you, and you'll have to earn that back. We still love you and that will never change, but it's going to take time for us to heal as a family. You do understand this, don't you?"

Max regretted the fact that he had reminded his mother of another loss eleven years ago, when his unborn younger brother was the victim of the serious head on collision she had survived when the other driver fell asleep and crossed the center line into her lane one night.

"Yes. Mom…I promise to never do anything like this again." Max began to sob again. "I'm so sorry I hurt you guys."

"We'll get through this as a family, baby. We all got a second chance to get it right." She held her son as her husband came back in and joined her as they held Max.

"Why does Mandy hate me?" Max asked.

"I don't think she hates you, Max. She's a troubled person, and I'm not sure she is close to anyone. We'll worry about that." His mother replied.

If Max's encounter with his mother was strained, his first meeting with Ian the day after almost became a disaster. Max had been released from the hospital after an overnight observation, and went to Ian's house to find him after school. When he got there, he could hear a basketball being bounced around the back of the house. Ian was sitting in a chair, dribbling the ball between his feet, his mind obviously distracted with all the thoughts going through his head after he got the news from his mother. He looked up to see Max standing there, let the ball roll away and stood up. In an instant, he backhanded Max across the face as hard as he could, splitting Max's lip and leaving a series of red welts on the smaller boys' face.

"You asshole! You little son of a bitch! How could you hate me enough to do that? I thought we were friends!" Ian screamed. Max rubbed his face and dabbed at his bleeding lip as Ian's mother came flying out of the house. Ian was crying inconsolably as he ran back past her into the house.

"Ian, good God, what the hell is the matter with you?" she yelled, but he was already gone.

"Max, are you all right? Aw, jeez, you're bleeding. I'll deal with Ian later."

"No, don't…I had that coming." Max said quietly as he sat down in one of the chairs. Ian's mother took another chair and sat with Max.

"He's right…What I did was selfish and stupid. I didn't think about his feelings at all. I'm glad he just hit me rather than say that he wanted me out of his life."

"I've never seen him like this…He's been out of his mind since we told him what happened yesterday after school. He didn't sleep last night and he cries at the drop of a hat. They sent him home from school this morning."

Max closed his eyes and hung his head. He didn't come over or call or anything. I totally fucked up.

"I'll get you some ice, Max. Stay put." Once in the house, she found Ian looking at Max through the kitchen window.

"Unless you want him to leave, you'll have to talk to him sometime." She said as she rubbed Ian's shoulders.

"I just hit my best friend, mom." Ian said, his whisper filled with shame and regret as he stared out the window. He leaned over the sink as his tears fell. He felt his stomach acid back up in his throat.

"Doesn't make it feel better, does it?" she said as she kissed the back of his neck.

Ian shook his head "I think I'm gonna throw up." He said to her as she turned to gather her items.

"Come back out when you're ready, okay? He knows he messed up and he's trying to say it" she asked. Ian nodded an instant before his stomach turned inside out.

A moment later she came back outside with a wet cloth and ice cubes and began to apply them to Max's lip and face.

"Max, can I ask why?"

"Umm, things were gonna happen that I wasn't ready to deal with right now, I guess."

"What things, if I can ask?"

"I can't talk about that."

"I'm sorry, it's too painful, I suppose."

"No…That's not…. Um, I don't want to do what was done to me to someone else."

She regarded Max for a long moment as she considered his answer.

"Max, does any of this have to do with Ian? He came home crying the day before yesterday. He tried to run past me and hide it but I could tell. Were you and him in a fight?"

Max shook his head.

"Me and Ian never fight…we were good…until I…" Max said quietly, looking at the ground.

"Then what happened?" she asked gently.

"I, I can't…Please." Max began to get out of the chair like he wanted to run. She put her hand on his shoulder and said

"Okay. I shouldn't be pressing you about it anyway…. I don't know if you understand how important you are to him, Max." Max relaxed and sat back down.

"I … I do…I just hope I didn't lose him."

Just then, Ian came back out of the house and stood in front of Max, wiping his eyes and trying to regain his composure. He looked at Max's face and said

"I didn't mean to hit you that hard…I never hit anyone before. I guess I didn't hold anything back, I'm sorry."

Ian was taller and heavier than Max, and a bit ahead in physical development, but in an all-out brawl Max would give as good a bruising as he would take, having been in a few dust-ups, unlike Ian. It came with being the smallest kid in their class. Max stood and walked to the edge of the patio slab.

Ian's mother decided to take her leave. "You two need to talk. I'll be inside watching, so no fist fights, got it?"

"Yes, mom." Ian replied.

Max answered when they were alone.

"I'll heal…When you left the other day, I wasn't sure I would ever see you again…Ian, I'm sorry. Mandy had me freaked out and I didn't know what I was thinking…I didn't think about anyone but myself and I've been an asshole. I hope you take me back."

"Huh? Take you back? Did you decide we weren't friends anymore too, by yourself? I'm really mad at you right now, but I never said I wanted to call it quits or any crazy shit like that, Max."

Ian paused for a long moment.

"I ran and left you, Max. I'll…never do that again. I'm sorry."

"I should have gone with you." Max whispered as Ian put his arms around him from behind. Max turned to face his lover. The boys hugged and Max said

"I'm sorry I made you go through this, Ian. I really fucked everything up and I promise I'll never do anything like this again."

The both began to cry and a long silence passed before Ian broke it.

"I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you…asshole." Ian said, and Max smiled and hugged Ian tighter. They stood hugging each other, crying their eyes out as Ian's mother looked on from the kitchen.


Several days later, Peter was busy at the counter in Atherton's when a man came in and hung back, waiting for a break between customers. Keith looked up and noticed the man, and asked him if he needed assistance.

"I um, Can I speak to Peter, please." Peter looked up at the man and answered.

"I'm Peter, I'll be right with you, Sir." Peter finished ringing up his customers' purchase and counted back the change, then came out from behind the counter as the customer left.

"Yes, Sir?"

Tears began to well up in the man's eyes and he cleared his throat before speaking. He was barely holding it together, and spoke haltingly.

"I, um, I'm Max's father, and I just needed to tell you how grateful I am that he is um, still here. I almost lost him…If it wasn't for you, I don't know…I can't think about…Ahem! He told me that you came to see him…after the…um, afterward. Thank you."

"You're so welcome…How is your family doing?"

"Well, things are tough right now…Max told us he's gay, and we kinda knew that, and accepted it, but we're going to need family counseling…My daughter blames herself…She threatened to expose Max right before he um…"

"Max told me about that, yes."

"My wife and my daughter aren't speaking…so it's not good at home right now. What gets me so bad is I already knew what Max was hiding…If I had said something, none of this would have happened."

"Sir, don't do this…Max made a choice, a bad one and a mistake, but that's not your fault. I've been in his shoes…when you are that terrified, you can't think straight or make good decisions. I thought I could run away from home and that would fix everything."

"So…you came out?" the man asked, looking around.

"Yes, a few months back. Scariest thing I ever did. Things worked out okay, but it was the worst night of my life."

"I had no idea Max was in so much pain…I never used to tell him how much I love him…Now I make sure I do every day. It always seemed like such a little insignificant thing, you know?"

Peter nodded.

"It does until it's too late, I suppose… How is Max's friend doing? He had to be terribly affected by all this as well."

"Well, he is, and things got physical the other day, but at least he's still talking to Max. He's very angry, I guess we all are…if that makes sense."

"Yes, it does…Max almost carried out a very selfish act that all of us would have had to live with. It makes all the sense in the world, Sir."

"Well, I didn't intend to come here and load you down with all my troubles, but I had to thank you for what you did."

"You're most welcome. I'm glad you stopped by to let me know how things were going. Would you tell Max that I'm thinking of him, please?"

"He would be happy to know that. I will." Peter and the man shook hands and parted ways.

Since the incident, Max had grown closer to his father, and they sought to spend time with each other as much as they could in the evenings. His sixteen-year-old sister had always been a bully and verbally abusive to Max and his friends, to the point that none of them would come to the house. The day before Max's attempt at suicide, his boyfriend had come over, and he and Max had locked themselves in Max's room for privacy. Mandy picked the lock and caught Max and Ian in their underwear kissing on Max's bed. She had made a scene, calling the boys queers and faggots, and said she would tell their parents when it suited her purposes. Ian fled in hysterics and left Max sitting there facing the end of his world.

Mandy had been given a used car on her birthday, but it needed tires and few other minor items, and their father had parked it in the garage so it would not block her parents' cars. The next morning Max skipped school and found Mandy's keys. After he took his mothers' pills and choked down as much vodka out of the liquor cabinet that he could stand, he stood in the kitchen and cried, his tears landing on the phone book out on the countertop. The phone book publisher had donated an ad space on the cover to the crisis hot line, and fortunately Max decided to dial the number before he went into the garage. It was the one decision he made that morning that saved his life.

In the aftermath, Mandy had tried to approach Max. She had been put on restrictions and had been in a series of altercations with her parents over her conduct and treatment of Max, but the suicide attempt had changed everything.

"Max"

"Go away and leave me alone, Mandy." Max said quietly.

"I just wanted to say…"

"You've said enough…You had no right to do what you did to us. Ian's never done anything to you and he doesn't deserve any of the shit he has to put up with from you just to be with me. You're supposed to be my big sister, to love and protect me and stuff, like a family. But no…you decided it was more fun to wreck my life and maybe Ian's too. Congratulations, this time you really outdid yourself."

"Max, I…"

"If this is the kind of person you really are Mandy, I don't want to have anything to do with you. Not ever."

Max didn't raise his voice or even look at Mandy as he spoke. It was as if he was dismissing her out of his life. He turned and walked away.

Mandy stared at the floor, and her mother spoke to her civilly for the first time in a week.

"You deserve every bit of that, Mandy, and you have for a long time."

"Mama, how do I fix this?"

"I don't know if you can…You better try if you care about him at all. And…if his relationship with Ian survives, you better take steps to make things right with him as well."

"He won't even talk to me."

Her mother could feel anger rising inside herself…how dare Mandy feel sorry for herself for causing the situation she found herself in?

"Really? No Shit! After what you did to him and Ian, I'm surprised he stuck around to tell you off! One thing's for sure, Missy…he'll be standing up to you from now on. He's done putting up with your bullshit. You shot craps on this one and lost, and now you're out of chips."

"I know, momma" Mandy said quietly. Her mother quite succinctly summarized the end of Mandy's blackmailing career. It was however, in the best interests of the family that her children not live in a stalemate while they all shared this roof. She decided a less direct approach might be in order.

"Sit down and write two letters. One to Max and one to Ian. You can give them to me and I will ask them to read the letters as a favor to me. It might be your only shot with Max. I don't know about Ian."

"Okay, mother. Thanks. I love you."

"Mandy, this isn't done. I'm still pissed as hell at you. Your actions almost got Max killed, and we have a mountain of family counseling ahead of us so this doesn't happen again. You're on thin ice, and things will change around here, whether you are around to see it or not."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'll send you to Catholic girl's boarding school in Vermont, so Max can live in peace and have friends over in his own home if I have to."

Mandy could feel the blood leave her face in shock as she contemplated what her mother said.

"You wo…won't have to do that, mom. I want to fix things with Max…I'm serious. I'll write those letters tonight." Mandy turned and went down the hall to her room.

In the kitchen, Max's mother smiled. If that doesn't light a fire under her ass to change, I just hope there really is a catholic girl's school in Vermont.

In the morning, she went into Mandy's room to wake her, since she hadn't gotten up with her alarm. She found Mandy asleep at her desk surrounded by wadded up sheets of paper on the floor. Her face was tear streaked and she hadn't been out of her clothes or in her bed. There were two handwritten letters on the desk, one addressed to "My only brother" and the other to Ian.

After waking Mandy, she told her to take a shower and change clothes and she would drive Mandy to school on her way to work.

"Are these finished?"

"Yes, mom." Mandy replied as she undressed and walked out of the room nude. Dad and Max had already left for work and school, so there was no need to put anything on.

"I won't read these if you don't want me to, Mandy"

"You can if you want." Mandy replied from the bathroom. There was no time for that at the moment, and soon the pace of the day took over and the messages were forgotten until it was time to get home before the kids returned from school.

All that was left to do was to drop Ian's letter off at his house, and sit down with Max after school.

Ian was just home from school when Max's mother stopped by to drop off the letter.

"My mom isn't home from work yet. And I'm really sorry about Max's face."

"I actually came by to talk to you, Ian, and relax, I'm not here about that. This message is for you, and I just ask that you keep an open mind when you read it."

"Okay."

"The other thing is this…We know that you and Max are more than just friends, Ian. We knew for a while now, but Max finally told us what really happened."

"Oh…" Ian looked down and was visibly uncomfortable having this conversation.

"Are you going to tell my mom and dad?"

"No…honey. It's not our place to do that. That's something that you have to do yourself when you're ready, Ian. They won't hear it from us. You have my word on that, okay?"

Ian nodded. "Is Max in trouble?"

"For being in love with you, Ian?"

Ian looked up with a shocked expression on his face.

"No. Neither are you. You have my word on that too. How are you and Max working things out?"

"I'm still pretty mad about stuff, but I'm getting over it." Ian replied.

"I am too, Ian. There are a lot of trust issues that Max has to work on, and we're both mad at what Max did, and not Max. We need to remember this, Ian. We'll get through it one day at a time. I just want you to know that we understand, and we're glad that Max has you in his life."

She leaned over, bent down and kissed Ian on the forehead. Ian smiled broadly. He felt a great deal of relief now that things were in the open between him and Max's parents.

"Well, I have to get going to get dinner ready. Bye, Ian."

"Bye…and thanks." Ian watched the car drive off, then looked at the note in his hand as he turned to go into the house.

Max came home from school to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table drinking a soda. Her keys and purse were on the table as she had just walked through the door before Max arrived. She reached inside and took out a folded note.

"Max, come and sit down for a minute."

"What's up, mom?"

"Will you do something for me, honey?"

"Yeah, sure, what is it?"

"I want you to read something, and I need you to read all of it before you say anything."

She could see the hesitation and fear in Max's face. "Mom, this isn't something…"

"No, it's nothing bad, Max. I promise."

She passed the folded message to Max, and let him read.

To my only brother,

Everything that you said to me is true. I have mistreated you, and your friends. I have not been the big sister that I should have been, and that you deserve.

I am afraid that you are right. I am that kind of person. I don't want to be. I took you for granted Max, and never thought of your feelings or dignity. I have to live with that lack of character.

I never realized what I had until I almost lost you because of the cruel and stupid things I did. I never realized words could hurt as much as they have hurt you.

I am so sorry-

I want to be your big sister like I should have been all along. To love you. Protect you. Cherish you as I should have all this time. I just hope it is not too late. I know I never showed it or said it, but I do love you very much Max.

I failed you, and betrayed you. I am sorry Max. I don't deserve your forgiveness or your love, but I hope that you will allow me to gain your trust through my actions. I don't want to be that person…

Mandy

His expression gave up nothing as he read the message, then read it again.

Max said nothing, he just took the message and went to his room and closed the door.

Later, when Mandy came home she asked if the letters had been delivered. Her mother nodded and said

"He's in his room."

Mandy walked down the hall and knocked lightly on the door. "Max? Will you talk to me?"

She was almost shocked when Max opened the door and let her in. She closed the door behind her and stood as Max sat down on the bed and held the message.

"Mom said you spent all night on this. Do you really mean what you wrote?" Max asked.

"I mean it all, Max. I know I don't deserve to be believed, but as least you read it. Thank You."

"I'm willing to take things one day at time, Mandy. But if this is a game and you fuck me over, we're done for as long as I live. I'll be just fine with mom and dad and Ian to love."

Max said this in a very calm, quiet voice, totally lacking in emotional affect. Mandy could tell that her little brother had no qualm about cutting her out of his life if it came to that. He had also announced a new world order…openly declaring to her that he loved Ian.

"That's more than fair, Max. Thank you." Mandy replied as she opened the door and left the room.

Earlier, at Ian's house

Ian took the letter inside and began to read. He was dumbfounded when he saw that it was from Mandy.

Dear Ian,

Please accept my sincere apology.

My actions have been cruel and stupid, and I almost lost my little brother because of it. I have been awful to you in the past, and you never deserved to be treated that way. I am so sorry for the things I said, and what I have put you and my family through.

I am going to try my hardest to make up with my brother, and I hope I can also repair the damage I have done between us. I hope you can feel safe and welcome at our house when you spend time with my brother. I know that you make Max very happy and he loves you very much. Thank you for being his friend when I wasn't being the big sister that he should have had.

-Mandy

This has to be another one of her goddamned tricks, I bet. Ian thought. This can't be for real.

He re-read it, and decided he would see what Max knew about it. After the evening meal, Ian left the house for the ten-minute walk.

Once at Max's house, he let himself in and found Max's mother in the kitchen.

"Oh, hey, Ian. I expected you to come by. He's in his room I think."

"Okay, thanks."

Ian knocked on the door, and Max opened it. Ian stepped inside and noticed a few changes had been made to the door.

"Hey, what's this?" Ian asked, looking at a large sliding bolt attached to the door and frame.

"It's a present from Dad. Pretty cool, huh?" Max said as he demonstrated the lock for Ian. Max and his father had a long conversation about trust, and Max had given his word that he would never try to harm himself again, so his father had put the sliding bolt on his door. They had also talked about growing up, and personal space.

"Yeah, your Dad is awesome, Max."

"Um, what do you make of this?" Ian said, handing the letter to Max. "Your mom gave it to me." Max unfolded Ian's letter, then gave his own letter to Ian to read.

"Mom asked me to read that one too."

They read each other's letters and looked at each other.

"Is she serious, or is this a game, Max?" Ian asked. Max sat down on his bed and Ian sat next to him.

"I'm pretty sure it's not a game. She's the one with everything to lose now."

Ian nodded. "Your mom told me that they know...about us"

"I couldn't lie to my Dad, Ian. I never saw him cry like that before."

Ian was very quiet, and Max could see that he was uncomfortable.

"She said she wouldn't say anything to my folks." Ian said

"Wouldn't matter. I'm pretty sure your mom already knows."

"Why?"

"When you went in the house after you busted my lip, your mom tried to get stuff out of me that I wouldn't talk about, like why you came home crying after Mandy busted us, and did you have anything to do with why I did it. Ian, I didn't tell her anything, 'cause I wouldn't do that to you, but she knows."

"I don't know if I'm ready to tell her…but if she asks me, I won't lie to her."

"What about your Dad, Ian?"

"He's never had any sons come out gay, so I don't know."

"You're an only child, dickhead." Max teased, poking Ian in the ribs with a finger.

It was a great way to break the tension, and the boys got into a wrestling match. They took their shirts off so they wouldn't get torn or stretched. After a few more minutes, Max got off the bed and slid the bolt on the door, before taking his shoes, school pants and belt off. Ian did the same, and the pair got back to wrestling in socks and briefs. They did this often after school, and nothing of a sexual nature had ever happened between them. They would each fantasize about going further than wrestling, but neither was comfortable pushing the issue. Ian became frustrated enough to initiate things by kissing Max on the lips the day before the incident.

After twenty minutes of exertion, the boys began to tire, and Max wound up on his back with Ian straddling him. Ian had Max's hands pinned under his own, and looked into Max's eyes until Max returned Ian's gaze and began to relax.

"Kiss me, Ian. Like before." Max said softly. Ian hesitated.

"Ian, that was then, this is now, dude. Mandy won't do anything if she means what she said, and she can't get in with that big ass lock on the door."

Ian nodded in agreement, then leaned forward and began to kiss and nibble Max's lips gently at first, picking up where they had been last time. They made out for a while, but Ian had more in mind than passionate kissing, as he moved to Max's bare armpits and began to nuzzle and lick. Max giggled from the tickly sensations. Ian moved to Max's nipples, then sat back on Max's thighs as he took his next step.

Ian and Max had never seen each other without at least underwear on, and had never touched one another intimately. Max gasped and smiled when he felt Ian touch his penis outside his briefs, adjusting it to point up to his navel. Ian adjusted himself the same way, then lowered himself onto Max and began to rub himself on Max. Max became erect almost instantly as he felt Ian's stiffness pressing against his own. Ian began to kiss Max again gently, then paused.

"I wanted to do stuff with you almost from the day we met, Max" Ian whispered.

"I know…I think about it a lot, too." Max replied. Ian had let Max's hands free when he leaned over to kiss him, and Max put his fingertips on Ian's back and began to give him a back scratch.

"You're really good at that. Mmm" Ian purred, as Max smiled.

Ian rocked against Max in a slow comfortable rhythm for a while until his arms began to tire.

"Want to switch?"

"Okay" Max replied, and the boys rolled over onto Ian's back, and Ian began to scratch Max, as the smaller boy got his stroke and rhythm down. Soon, the position began to fatigue Max, and he asked to stop. The boys lay on their side facing each other, running finger tips over faces, arms, nipples and chests. Ian's fingers moved down Max's chest, going lower and lower slowly, until he was at the elastic waistband on Max's briefs.

"Inside, or outside?" Ian whispered.

"In" Max replied. Ian's fingers slipped under the waistband and moved slowly over Max's tummy, and lower still. His fingers found Max's circumcised organ, and slowly began to caress the corona, and sides of the shaft. Ian closed his eyes and explored the base of his friend's boyhood, and found no trace of hair that he could feel. He moved down to Max's scrotum and gently caressed the sides of Max's sack, as the smaller boy panted and moaned, and opened his legs to allow Ian better access to his testicles. Ian gently found and fondled each almond sized gland in Max's scrotum. Max's hand was moving south as well, and found Ian's slightly larger penis and testicles, as well as some downy hair at the base of Ian's shaft. Ian had been circumcised a bit tighter than Max, and Max could feel the difference between the tension of his own skin compared to Ian's.

"You're the first to touch it like that." Max whispered

"Same for me." Ian replied.

"I want to take these off." Max said

"Me too." Ian replied, as the boys slipped off their underwear and lay in the bed with only socks on.

This was the first time either of them had been nude in the presence of anyone other than their pediatricians since each of them had been toddlers.

"Wow you got hair, Ian!" Max whispered as he ran his fingers over the sparse mat of down. Ian's hard four-inch spike bobbed in time with his heartbeat, and Max watched his friend's cock throb in wonder.

Ian in turn looked over Max's loosely cut shorter and slightly thicker organ, and noticed the folds of skin on the shaft. He gently moved the skin on Max's hard rod and said

"I can't move my skin like this at all."

"Does it hurt when it gets tight?" Max wondered as he played with Ian's testicles, which had become the size of grapes as puberty began its very earliest changes.

"It's weird. The skin gets tight for a while, and then it slacks off. Every time it does that, I can tell it's gotten longer."

"When did that start to happen?"

"Like… two months ago, maybe three." Ian replied.

"How big was it to start?" Max wondered, fingering Ian's pee hole.

"About like yours, but skinnier," Ian said, stroking Max's just over three-inch-long tool.

"Damn, its gonna be like six inches by the middle of summer, dude." Max replied.

"That would be so weird!" Ian giggled and the boys laughed and continued to play until Ian looked at the clock and said

"I gotta get dressed and go home. Mom doesn't like me out after dark."

"Jeez, it's almost eight already." Max replied.

Ian got off the bed and began to put his clothes on as Max watched.

"Ian, um, thanks."

"Max…I wanted to do this a long time ago, but I never had the guts to, well, you know, start things. I always thought about you, and imagined what it was like and stuff. I think about you when I um, get excited…It's getting to where that happens a lot lately."

"I guess it's hormones and all that stuff." Max replied.

Ian was now dressed and looked at Max, still nude on the bed. "Are you gonna get dressed?"

"Nah" Max said as he got off the bed and picked up a pair of shorts off the floor and slipped them on. "Gonna take my shower before I go to bed. Come over here a second."

Max kissed Ian passionately for over a minute, before breaking it off and saying. "You should get going before it gets late." Ian smiled and slid the bolt back on the door, and left. On his way out, Ian found Max's father in the garage putting tools away.

"Well, hey there, Ian!" he said, as Ian approached and gave the man a quick hug.

"Thanks, but what's this for?" he asked, as he returned the gesture, careful not to get grease on Ian.

"Just because" Ian said quietly.

"Is everything good between you and Max?"

"Yes, Sir. Maybe even better. Um, I gotta get home before dark…bye."

"Should I drive you?"

"Nah, it's not that far. Thanks anyway."

"Okay, buddy, then take care and we'll see ya."

Ian waved as he walked away.

When Ian got back to his house, he went inside and headed for his room, but his mother intercepted him.

"Ian, can you come in here, please?" his mother asked from the living room. Ian found his parents sitting on the couch, and his father motioned him over.

"Have a seat, big guy."

Ian sat on the couch between his parents and waited for the expected hammer to drop.

"Ian, I'm not sure how to say this, so I'm just going to blunder through it." His mother began.

"You know that Max and I had a talk when he came to see you. I tried to ask him what happened, mainly because I'm very worried that whatever it was that he was so afraid of also might have something to do with you. Does that make sense?"

Ian nodded "Yes, mom."

"Ian…I, well, we…Your father and I can't live with the idea that you might feel that a situation in your life is so hopeless you can't cope with it. We want you to know that you can come to us, no matter what. We love you more than anything in this world, and that will never change, I hope you know that. Ian, you're not in trouble, I promise…but, I have to ask you a question…this is very important and I need you to be honest with us."

"Okay. I will."

"Why wouldn't Max tell me why you were so upset when you came back from his house the other day, and what did he mean when he told me he couldn't say anything because it might cause problems for someone else?"

Ian sat for a moment, collecting his thoughts, and his own words to Max that he wouldn't lie to his mother if she asked came back to him.

"Max was protecting me. He wanted me to be the one to tell you guys this." Ian paused and fought to keep control of his voice and emotions.

"It's okay Ian, take your time."

"That day, Max and me freaked out because Mandy found out we're gay. She went off the deep end and said she'd tell you guys and Max's folks on us. I totally lost it and ran home, and he…um, well…you know what happened. Max couldn't say anything without outting me, Mom."

Ian began to weep. "I should have stayed there with Max instead of running. Maybe he wouldn't…"

"Ian, it wasn't your fault. No one blames you for what happened. Max even said that, honey." His mother said.

His father brushed a tear off of Ian's cheek and caressed his face as he spoke.

"Ian…we suspected for some time, but we didn't say anything to you in case we were wrong. I'm sure Max's folks knew too."

"Max says they did." Ian admitted.

"How long have you had these feelings for Max, son?" his father asked.

Ian whispered "Since third grade."

"How long have you known you were gay?" his father wondered.

"As long as I can remember, Daddy. Always?"

His parents hugged him for a long time and no one said anything. All three felt relief for different reasons. Ian no longer had to hide his love for Max, and his parents knew their boy could come to them with anything now. Finally, his father said "I'm proud of you. I know telling us took a lot of guts. You're growing up Ian, and there are a lot of things we have to talk about. But right now, I think it's past bedtime for a school night."

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