Matt and Tim

by Small Town Guy

Chapter 13

The boys stirred on the couch. They weren't fully awake yet but Tim was alert enough to check his phone quickly. There were no missed calls or text messages. He closed up the phone slowly as he gazed up at the ceiling.

"...It's almost eleven," he replied, somewhat indifferently.

Matt lie beside him and gently rubbed his chest through his heavy sweatshirt. He could think of nothing to say.

"...Up to eating anything?..." Tim asked.

"...Not really, but we should try. They're going to ask how we're doing and if we're eating junk food. You know how I don't like to lie. I'm no good at it anyhow."

Tim slid his feet to the floor and slowly sat up.

"Yeah....Let's go see what's in the 'frig. I don't cook....I warm! Thank God for microwaves!"

They padded around barefoot in the kitchen. Slowly the island became covered with bowls and plastic wrapped leftovers. Tim looked at them with a sigh.

"...Matty......You know neither of us is hungry enough to eat any of this."

"...Well I was just thinking....Maybe just a tiny bit of each. And you're right. I'm not very hungry either."

They heated roast beef, a couple small baked potatoes, carrots for Tim and green beans for Matt. Sitting across from each other at the nook, they sampled small portions. Tim rose for the refrigerator again.

On his trip back, he'd glanced out the window. His jaw dropped.

"Holy fuckin' shit!" he yelled as he pointed toward the window. Matt looked out.

The entire window was nothing but swirling snow. Even the patio right below couldn't be seen. There seemed no pattern to the wind direction. It came from one direction, then the other. Tim's upper lip seemed to curl up, his braces clearly visible.

"Matty!....I'm never going to survive a winter here! I'd expect something like this in Alaska, but not here!"

"Oh shit! It's never been this bad here! I've never seen anything like this before! I mean, we get snow for Thanksgiving....but nothing like this!......Oh wow! This is just awesome!"

"...I don't know, Matty. I think I'm getting a little scared, and I'll admit it!"

"...Well, umm....I sure wouldn't want to be out in this, but we're safe inside."

Tim's expression was somewhat apprehensive as he sat again. He tried not to look toward the window as he open the lid if a plastic container.

"I just can't eat plain potato with butter!" he said. He scooped out two spoons of white substance and plopped it on his potato.

"What's that? Cream?"

"Yeah. Sour cream. It adds a little tartness to the potato. Potatoes are kinda bland."

He held out a forkful.

"...Here. Try some."

"Ahhhhh!.....Oh shit! Get that away from me! The smell alone is enough to make me barf! How can you eat that shit?!"

Tim decided to tease him a bit.

"...No. Really! Try some! It's good!"

"Ahhhh! Get that shit away from me!"

Tim continued to tease him with the fork under his nose. Matt speared several beans and held his fork out.

"Well then try some of these!"

"Baaahhh! Matty! I'll come over there and puke all over your head!"

"Truce?"

"Okay!....Okay!"

Although they found the food delicious, neither could manage much more than the small portions they'd heated.

"It's almost noon," Matt said, "I wanna turn on the TV and listen for the weather."

They listened to the local news as they set about clearing the table and loading the sink.

"...Umm......Timmy......I know were both really worried about Scoot. But....umm you really seem out of it. Is there something more to this?..."

Tim reached for a dishcloth with a sober expression.

"...Yeah......I think so..."

"...You like him, Timmy?"

Tim shot Matt a quick look of shock.

"...As a friend, Matty!....Not a boyfriend!"

"...Well, I didn't know......They're cute......Toby too! But they're like three years younger than us. I mean they make such a cute couple!"

"...I'm talking about that last time we saw Scooter out there. Remember?......Remember how he just kinda scrunched his way right between us?"

"...What's that got to do..."

"Well......I kinda felt like we were....well....invading their territory......I felt like that ever since that first day we kinda....well interrupted them. I felt like we really weren't wanted there."

"Shit Tim. I never felt like that. We had a great summer out there with them....talking, sliding down the spillway. I think they were really happy to have us out there....And we were gay too! I actually think that relaxed 'em!"

"...Well, I never totally felt like that. I think they wanted to be alone out there. Maybe I was just feeling too much like The New Kid, okay?"

"Timmy! They were from grade school! They didn't know you from Jack Shit!"

Tim wiped a microwave bowl in the sink, his eyes unfocused.

"...Well......I don't know what it was. I just felt like we were outsiders...

"...Anyhow, remember when Scooter got up to leave? He kinda gave us each a little kiss on the cheek..."

He gazed into the mirror behind the sink, still wiping the same bowl.

"...Matty......I've never had a boyfriend!......In fact, I never had a friend!......That little kiss he gave me out there....It was like....well....he'd finally accepted me as a friend. I don't know why! I just felt it! Maybe he knew we were pullin' for him or something. It just felt so great! I know they're younger than us, but shit....When we're all in our twenties, that three years won't make that much difference! It helped me to believe that maybe I can make friends. I was just so scared of coming out here...

"I told you I wanted to do something about my shyness....but wanted to take it at my own pace. I even think I'm doing better in tutoring. I don't know which ones know I'm....well out! I think the whole school knows about us by now! I don't seem to be getting any flack over it."

Matt held Tim's arm.

"...Tim......We'll always have bullies. This school isn't all that big, but I think overall, it's really gay friendly...

"...And you know what I think?......Have you noticed the boys kinda hanging around us a bit more lately?......Eating in the cafeteria with us more?..."

Tim seemed to concentrate on this for a moment, still wiping the same bowl.

"...Yeah! I think I see what you're sayin'......It happened so gradually, I never even thought about it..."

"...Well, I think it's because everyone knows we're kinda like a couple now. The other boys aren't worried about what their buddies think. They'll know we're all just friends now."

Tim considered this, still wiping the same glass bowl.

"...Umm....Timmy....I really think that bowl is clean now! Rinse it off and let me dry it!"

"...Oh!....Umm....Yeah! Here you go..."

(Beep, chime).

"Matty!....My phone! Maybe it's Mom!"

"Hello?......Oh Gram!" he put in, looking over toward Tim, "...Oh yeah. We're fine! Tim's kinda up to his elbows in dishwater. We're doing up the dishes. We had a lunch....... No! We aren't going to stack up dishes for you! We're going to try to keep our messes to a minimum........Gram! No! We aren't going to have you come back here and clean up after us! ........Yes! We're fine!......No. We'd never go out in this!........Yup! We still got electric."

Matt continued for a couple minutes longer. By his side of the conversation, Tim knew it was only concern.

Matt ended the conversation, yet continued to look at the phone.

"...Tim, your battery is down fifty percent! We'd better charge this thing before we lose electric."

Tim went for a drawer under the cabinets. He rummaged around.

"...We keep all our chargers in here. There must be fifteen of 'em!"

He drew out one and attached it to the phone, plugging it in on the counter.

Both had kept an ear on the television in the living room, waiting for a weather report.

"...An unnamed missing youth was found this morning near the flood control dam. He'd apparently been stabbed. He remains in critical condition with a need for AB negative blood. Anyone wishing to donate may call the state police at any of these numbers you see on your screen. The state police urge you to contact them. They ask you don't attempt driving to the hospital due to the blizzard conditions. Proper transportation will be provided by helicopter or four-wheel drive vehicles...

"...Also in the news..."

It was all they had listened for. They returned to the sink and silently finished the dishes.

Scooter's father sat in the hospital waiting room. He sipped at a plastic cup of coffee. He'd left his wife with Scooter. He could no longer sit there staring at his pale son.

He glanced out the huge windows at the curtain of swirling snow. He'd been considering his hateful life the entire morning. He'd admitted it to himself. He'd listened to the presentations at the GSA meeting he'd attended, nearly forced to attend by Principal Emerson.

"...Yup! The good Lord is talking to me......He's taking my boy because of all my hatred. I can see that now..."

Two people entered the foyer. Their clothing was bulky and mismatched, obviously worn more for protection. They dropped the hoods of their jackets and stomped their feet. They brushed the snow from themselves. They entered the waiting room. One glanced at him.

"Jack!......How's he doin'?"

It was Richard, Matt's father.

Jack gave a slow shake of his head.

"...Doesn't look good, Rich......Doesn't look good at all..."

Richard quickly reached out and grabbed the arm of the man beside him.

"Hey! This is my neighbor, Frank Turley! He's here to donate blood. He'd have been here sooner. Got stuck in his driveway! I went out to give him a hand and heard all about it. I didn't even know!......Used the Jeep to get him here..."

Jack quickly stood, shaking Frank's hand.

"...Oh God bless you, sir!"

"...It's quite all right! I really want to help..."

They reached the desk as Jack weakly sat again. Almost immediately there was a gong on the PA system.

"...Doctor Webster....Reception....Donor......Doctor Webster.... Reception....Donor."

Within a single minute, Ayumi approached them.

"...AB negative?" she asked outright.

"...Right here..."

"...Right this way please..."

She started down the hall.

The bluntness and lack of formalities frightened Jack. The seriousness of the situation struck him hard.

Richard returned and took a seat beside him.

"...Well, I guess I'm stuck here for the duration....I'm not trying to get back home, four-wheel drive or not! You can't see two feet in this stuff!"

Jack simply nodded weakly, looking down. Richard could see a profound change in character in him, simply by his expression. He knew he was in deep thought. He decided to keep it light.

"...Yeah......Cynthia called Matthew at his friend's house. She wanted to make sure he wasn't out in this. I was at the supermarket at the time. Well, not the one she works at. One lots closer. I saw this coming on the morning weather report......Oh that was a mistake!...... There wasn't a loaf of bread, gallon of milk, a flashlight or single battery on display! I keep bitchin' at Matthew for procrastinating and I keep doin' it myself. I should always keep stuff like this on standby all winter. You never know...

"Yeah, just as I was pulling back in, I saw Frank out there in his driveway....snow almost spilling over the trunk of his car!....That's when I heard about everything..."

Matt and Tim had returned to the breakfast nook, across from each other. They both sipped a hot chocolate. They'd grown quiet. Neither wished to watch movies or play any video games.

."...Umm....Matty?" Tim began quietly, "....I'm gonna take this kinda hard if Scoot doesn't make it....but....I was just thinkin' about Toby. What's Toby gonna do?..."

Matt set his mug down. He held his palm up and shrugged.

Tim's arm shot out and he grabbed Matt's hand.

"...Oh shit!......If that was you, I think I'd totally lose it!"

"...Umm......Tim......We both know what's goin' on here....and yeah I feel for Scoot 'n' Toby. I don't wanna sound so cold about it all....but can't we talk about something else?..."

"Yeah," Jack continued, "I was so full of hate, I couldn't see straight..."

He'd told his entire story. Richard could hear a different tone to his voice. The anger was gone. There was an air of defeat in his voice.

"Well......Remember that letter we got from Principal Emerson?" Richard continued, "The one with that kind of veiled threat about us attending that GSA meeting?...

"...I umm......waited until I could get Matthew alone. He gave a quite of a good presentation there....but I didn't want to compliment him on it...

"I caught him in the kitchen alone......I wasn't going to tell him how impressed I was about his little talk......I just asked him outright!....'Are you gay?'......He....he said yes!"

He paused here to see Jack's reaction. He'd only closed his eyes.

"...Jack....I've....well I've done some homework on this. I've been all over the Net about it! I was as guilty as everyone else was about this whole thing......Yeah, it's rough....telling others that your kid is gay......Kinda like admitting we raised a real pansy-ass......You know that's got nothing to do with it, right?"

Jack only nodded his head.

"...I've been trying to get Matthew alone to......No! No. That's not it! I've had him alone at breakfast lots of times......It's just......How do you lead up to something like that? How do you open the subject?......I've dropped some hints here and there....Trying to kind of let him I'm okay with this...

"...Cynthia......Well, she still doesn't want to talk about it. I've seen that on the Websites. She's in that stage of denial. She claims it's just a phase. I don't know how long it will last..."

He glanced at Jack again. He seemed to have aged twenty years. He didn't appear to be the strong mechanic he'd always been.

"...Umm.....Matthew's at his friend's house right now......His boyfriend's house."

Jack looked up. He gazed at the swirling snow out the window.

"...If..." Jack began weakly, "...If Jerry makes it through this....He'll....he'll be at his boyfriend's house too!"

Tears began to run down his face. He wiped at them with the sleeve of his shirt.

'It's a terrible thing to say....but it's true...

"...I went into the garage for something. I don't even remember what it was.....I saw those two......kissing!......And it wasn't a little friendly thing!......I gagged!......I thought I was going to vomit!......All I could think of was wanting Jerry to drop dead right there!......I don't mean that as a figure of speech. I mean....DIE! Right there on the spot. And there's no fooling myself......I really meant it!"

He wiped his eyes again.

"...I don't know what got into me!......I don't know what happened to me! I even thought of killing him myself!"

He covered his face with his hands and burst out sobbing.

"...I....I wanted it so bad!......And now the Lord is punishing me for it. He's going to take Jerry away from me. He's going to take him away so he won't have to suffer so....with my hatred! What a vicious hatred!"

Richard did something he'd never done before. He reached out and rubbed Jack's back.

"...Hey Bud......If it'll make you feel any better......I thought the same thing! I tried to convince myself it was just anger......It wasn't......It was hatred that I felt! For my own kid! I actually believe I wanted him dead than gay!...

"...Okay, it didn't last too long. I think it was the shock. But the fact is......I really and truly wished him dead! I can't change that now, but I can accept it......And I can accept Matthew too. From everything I've read....they've got no control over this...

"He didn't talk to me much, but he told Cynthia he didn't like being....that way. He fought against it for years. He can't do that any more. He's accepted it, now I have to."

Jack sobered himself and leaned back on the couch.

"...So you don't mind if he has a boyfriend?....It's okay with you?"

"...Well, in all honesty....No I don't!....But I'm getting used to it. It gets easier as time goes on and I hope I can fully accept this. There's a lot there to think about....digest..."

"...Do you know who his boyfriend is?..."

"...Yes......But I really think that's up to the boys to tell others. I'm not going to violate their confidence."

It was here Jack felt a hand on his shoulder from behind the couch. He looked back to see Ayumi.

"...That would be my boy he's talking about..."

"Oh! How's Jerry?..."

Ayumi quickly walked around the couch. She smiled and nodded her head.

"...Well he got another pint of blood......His pulse is a bit stronger....but we're still not out of the woods yet..."

She sat down beside him.

"...Look......I've got to make my rounds. At least things have calmed down a bit. I guess people are getting off the roads and just staying put...

"...As soon as I can....I'd like to talk to the both of you. I'll be back shortly..."

Matt and Tim had returned to the basement. Tim sat on the couch. Matt paced before the huge screen. He recalled his first time seeing the entertainment room here. He thought it would be all he'd ever wanted. Now he understood Tim. '...After a few months, it's not fun any more.' He understood fully. He knew he'd give it all up for Scooter to be well again. How trivial all this was when looked at in another light.

"...Damn Matty! Will you SIT DOWN?!....You're making me nervous!"

(beep, chime)

Tim instantly opened his phone. He smiled slightly as he spoke.

"...A pint of blood. Pulse stronger. Very guarded condition."

Matt jumped onto the couch and knelt beside Tim.

"Maybe he's gonna make it after all!"

Richard and Jack entered Ayumi's cluttered office a half hour later. They took seats at the only two metal chairs available before the desk. Ayumi no longer wore her long, white lab coat. She had on a conservative beige dress, yet still wore her white sneakers. She took a seat behind her desk. She removed the stethoscope from her neck and tossed it onto the desk.

"...I asked both of you here. Now you may not like what I have to say to you. I'm not trying to tell you how to raise your kids..."

She gazed up for a moment and sighed.

"...My Timothy was a very shy boy......No! Beyond that! He had near panic attacks when it came to meeting people......We were about to get him psychological help!"

With a slight edge to their hope, Matt and Tim had begun another video game but found they lost interest in it quickly. They shut the system down.

"...Our first day of a four-day vacation," Matt began, "...I can't believe I'm bored already! I can't think of anything to do! Nothing interests me!"

He settled back and threw his arm over Tim, drawing him close. He gave a silly, shy smile.

"...Maybe we can just make out for a bit. I'll never get bored with that!"

Tim pushed him back.

"...I'm not in the mood for that right now!"

"...Shit Tim......I'm just being silly. We gotta cheer up some."

"...Yeah. I know what you're doing. It's just I can't think of anything but poor Scooter laying up there! I think I got the nervous munchies. Let's go see what's in the kitchen."

Ayumi concluded her quick story of Matt and Tim.

"...And if either of you think I'm lying about Ken......Just ask him yourself! We're just so proud of those boys!"

Richard nodded in agreement.

"...Yup. I gotta agree with Ken. Matt's giving public talks. I never really thought about that......Standing up there with all those parents and professionals present. I'd have been very nervous to do that! And Tim....tutoring entire classes now!......Ken's right. They were made for each other!"

Ayumi's pager went off with a beep. She unclipped it from inside her pocket and glanced at it with a smile.

"...Okay! Now some good news!...

"Someone heard all those announcements on the TV today. Now he's a young boy. He's underage and underweight! Even with his parents consent, we still had a few legal loopholes to get over. This is a dire emergency! They couldn't get here by car......They walked!......They walked for two hours!"

She pointed toward the window.

"...Through that!"

It was here that Ayumi looked out her open door with a surprised expression.

"...Is everything okay?" she asked.

Richard and Jack turned in their seats to see Toby and his father. Both were wet up to their waists.

Toby entered slowly, a mean scowl on his face. He approached Jack.

"...We've been sitting here for two hours for some kind of asshole legal stuff! I've got AB negative and Scooter can have every drop of it, if it'll keep him alive! Because without him, I don't want to go on!"

"Oh please, Toby," Ayumi gasped.

Toby held his hand out to silence her.

"...All the legal shit is over with now......All I want to know is if Mr. Shelby wants.... wants....FAG BLOOD goin' into Scooter!"

There was a few seconds of silence when Jack let out a gasp. He slowly rose and stood before him, gradually getting down to his knees. He hugged him and burst out with sobs.

"...I was sooo wrong Zack!......You and Jerry can spend as much time together as you want! I promise. I was sooo wrong about all of this!..."

Matt and Tim dipped chips into a cheese dip on the table. They gazed out the window.

"...Looks like it's lettin' up some, huh?" Matt said.

"...Yeah....Then it'll be a week diggin' out!"

"...Nah! Not around here. They'll have the streets clear by morning!...... Well if this shit quits sometime shortly!"

(beep, chime)

Tim's hand shot out for his phone, nearly knocking it to the floor. He grabbed for it in midair. He looked at the screen.

"...Another pint of blood. Much stronger pulse. Out of ICU. Out of woods!"

Both cheered as they stood and hugged each other over the table.

Tim looked down at the chips and dip.

"Oh fuck these chips, Matty! Let's put on a feast for supper!"

Toby waited anxiously to see Scooter. He shot down the hall as Ayumi waved to him.

"...Okay now, Toby......Scooter's still unconscious. He's not in a coma, but I tell this to all the visitors of my patients...

"...Be careful what you say. He may be unconscious, but he can very well be able to hear you too. Try to be upbeat with him. No sad stories or recollections. Talk about pleasant things....happy stuff...

"...Now his face is kind of cut and bruised, but that's the least of the problems."

Toby froze at the door of the room. Scooter's parents sat in chairs beside him. He slowly walked in.

"Hey! Jerry!" Mr. Shelby said with a happy voice, "Guess who's here to see you?....It's Toby!....I told you that you two can hangout again. That was wrong of me. Sooo wrong. I understand things much better now..."

Toby made his way around the foot of the bed. Scooter's head was bandaged. His left eyelid was blue and swollen. His left cheek was bruised nearly purple. His lips were cut and bruised. In the back of his left hand was an IV tube.

Toby stepped up to the side of the bed. He reached out with his trembling fingers to touch his right cheek. It was the only spot that wasn't bruised. He stepped closer, tears running from his eyes. He leaned forward and lightly kissed his cheek. He sat on the bed and grasped his hand. His body shook with sobs that were stifled. Tears ran from his chin.

Mr. Shelby had to stand and go for the window, turning his back to the room. He fully understood now. This was no longer a buddy friendship. He knew they were only thirteen, and even if the feeling wouldn't last......this was love!

Toby recalled Ayumi's words and sobered quickly. He wiped his face with his sleeve.

"...Umm......Yeah. It's me Scoot. I'm here to make sure your fightin' you way back. Your dad says we can hangout again. I can't wait 'til Christmas vacation. We can take our sleds out again...

"...Umm......I still got your sun catcher Scoot! I put it up in my window! I....I....well got a little depressed about it and had to take it down. I told Matt 'n' Tim about that at lunch one day. They said to put it back up! They said put it back up and just keep thinking about the day you'll be able to give it back to him! I put it on my dresser this morning but forgot to take it with me. Ah! Big deal!......I'll give it to you when you're a bit more with it, huh?"

He wiped his eyes again. Mr. Shelby turned to look at them.

"...Umm....You lost kinda lots of blood out there. Don't worry about it though! It's been replaced. Well, most of it!......They gotta run some tests on you. They're worried you might have some brain damage! Hee, hee......Like I'd notice the difference, huh? Didn't I always call you a retard?!"

Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had looked at Scooter's face. They froze for a moment. Scooter's mouth distinctly turned up into what appeared a smile. It had only lasted half a second, but the corners of his mouth had turned up.

"...Whoa! Scoot! You're missing one heck of a blizzard here. My dad and I had to walk here today! No way are you gonna drive a car through this! Wow! Some of those drifts! I mean they were up to our waist! I've never seen snow like this. Yup. Perfect for sledding!...

"...Umm......We gotta invite Matt 'n' Tim along sledding. Wow! They've been the only thing that's been holding me together! They just got a way with cheering people up. They're like that though, huh?...

"...Umm, my dad said Matt put on a real talk at that meeting. I wish I was there. Oh wow! Talking to a whole room full of people. I think I'd be so nervous I'd pass out!...

"I'm really glad we met them this summer. I'm....umm....still having a bit of a hard time talking to them. It's getting better though. They're really cool, huh? They don't care if we're little seventh graders. Well, they're like that with everyone, huh? They include everyone! Well, I guess that's what they kinda teach at the GSA, right? I heard they're going to open the GSA room every night! Well, just 'til five o'clock. It's for....well....other kids too. They want to include the kids in wheelchairs and on crutches. Wow! Some of those handicapped kids! They make real good artists!

"...I umm, walked past there one night after school. Wow! Little Paulie? The kid with the aluminum crutches? Wow! He was just kinda leaning on one crutch and painting with his other hand. Have you seen the mural in there? It's not even half done and it's beautiful! It's not, umm, well....sexy or anything like that. In fact it's going to be a picture of a big park where everyone's smiling and getting along with each other!"

He struggled for more words but found it difficult.

"...Umm....I....I think I gotta get going here......Mrs. Webster said I can't stay too long. You need lots of rest. But I'll be back tomorrow! Tim's mom is your doctor!......She said I can only stay for a few minutes. You need rest!"

He stood up slowly, still holding Scooter's hand. He leaned forward and kissed his cheek. His lips lingered for several seconds. It had been much too mature for a boy his age.

"...You know I love you, Scoot......You stay with us. I'm still not done bitchin' you out for pushing me down that spillway last summer! It only lasted like two seconds, but I was never so scared in my life!"

He shook Scooter's hand, his arm flopped about.

"...Oh yeah! I'm still planning a good one for you for that! I'm gonna GETCHA good for pullin' that on me!"

He released his hand on the bed. Looking at it, although it was pink, it appeared dead. There had been no grasp in return.

"...Well....umm....I better get out of here before they kick me out!"

Tears began to run down his cheeks again.

"...I'll umm....see you tomorrow for sure!"

He quickly left the room.

It was early evening as Matt and Tim began stacking dishes into the sink. They had indeed ate a rather large meal with an assortment of side dishes.

(beep, chime)

"I wonder if that's Mom!...

"Hello?....Mom! How's Scooter?!"

"...Good!......Oh great!......Brain damage? Why's that?......Oh...

"Yeah, I kinda figured you wouldn't make it home tonight. It just quit snowing but that wind is awful!......Umm....Could we see Scooter tomorrow?......Really?!......Oh wow! Great! Okay Mom, love you too. See you tomorrow..."

Matt pranced before him.

"We got the house to ourselves for all night?!"

"Cool it Matty!......Scooter may have brain damage from having such low blood pressure for so long......It could have affected other things too!"

"I'm not talking about that!......Don't you even wanna kiss me?..."

Tim reached out and squeezed Matt's ribs as he stepped in for a deep kiss.

"Wow!" Matt said, "Okay....That's all I was talking about! We don't have to worry about someone walking in."

"...Umm....Matty......Your dad is stopping here tomorrow to give us a ride to the hospital!"

"...Oh shit!......Well, it can't be all that bad, huh?......I mean he knows about Scooter. And if he's willing to give us a ride to see him..."

"Yeah. That's what I was thinking. I hope we're right."

(beep, chime)

"Hello?......Gram! Everything okay?......Oh sure. Yeah, we've still got electric but I don't know for how long. It's getting awful windy......Oh yeah! We ate good! In fact we're just about to do up the dishes......No I'm not, Gram! Mom comes home to a sink full of dishes and she's gonna throw a fit!

"...So, what are you doing for lights? Candles?....And kerosene lamps? Wow! I think that sounds kinda neat!......The oven?......No Gram! Don't do that! I'd trust the wood stove more. A gas oven can put out carbon monoxide. It's not vented like a wood stove........No Gram, I don't trust those alarms!......I don't care if it's battery operated......I don't care if you tested it. Please. Keep the wood stove going. It's much safer! Just make sure everything's away from it....like coats 'n' furniture. It might be a bit chilly in the morning, but it's way safer.

Tim began to grin here.

"...Uh huh......Mom and Dad said the same thing, huh?......Really Gram. You'll be better off without any heat than running the gas........Dad said that too, huh?......You wanted a second opinion?......This will make the third! Don't run the gas, Gram......Okay......Love you too!...... No!....We'd never go out into this! The snow stopped but that wind is awful!......Okay. Bye."

(beep, beep)

Matt reached for his phone on the counter.

"Hello?.....Dad! Where are you? The phone's kinda crackly......At the hospital?........Mr. Turley?....Our neighbor?......He gave blood? Wow! We sure gotta thank him for that!...

"...Huh?......I think your battery's goin' dead! I can hardly hear you...... Umm, what time in the morning? Umm....Okay. We'll just sleep 'til we wake up. I'll call you then. Okay. Bye."

"That was quick," Tim put in.

"...Yeah......He couldn't hear me too good either. I think he wanted to talk more. I can kinda tell by his voice. It was just too hard with the connection."

An hour later Tim stepped from the shower. His hair was tied back and still dry. Matt had just stripped down.

"...Good! You didn't wash your hair for the third time today!"

"No I didn't!......I didn't want you to want to dry it again and end up with another stiffy!"

They both stood there in the nude, looking at each other. Matt threw his arms around Tim's neck. He kissed him quick on his mouth.

"...I still say we should have showered together!......We gotta do our part for good ecology and conserve on water and electric."

He stepped back from Tim and glanced over him.

"...You're blushing Timmy..."

"...Well?......I mean this is the first time we ever really....umm....saw each other."

"Shit too!"

"Well I mean just standin' here!......With the light on!"

Tim quickly grabbed an oversized towel and wrapped up in it.

"Cut that out! I haven't kissed your ass yet!"

"You really got a thing with my ass, don't you?..."

Matt gave a silly grin.

"...It's the cutest ass on earth!......Angels should hang their heads in shame!"

"Matty?..."

"Huh?..."

"Get in the shower!"

"Just let me lick a few of those drops of water off your ass first!"

"Get in the shower!......The lights already flickered twice. We're gonna be sittin' in the dark soon!...

"By the way, did you put that camping lamp in the linen closet?"

"Yup. Just like you said. That's where everyone knows where it is!"

"Good. I'd better grab it and put a quick charge on it just in case..."

"Just as soon as I kiss your toes!"

"Baahhh!" Tim yelled as he shuffled back toward the door.

He left the bathroom and entered his bedroom. After drying, he simply pulled on underwear and socks.

He entered the utility room and dug around the bottom shelf of the linen closet for the lamp. It wasn't there. He sighed.

Poking his head into the bathroom he yelled out.

"...Matt! It's not there! What did you do with it?"

The rushing water from the shower sounded loud within the tiled room.

"...Matty?!......Matt?!..."

He saw the misty silhouette of Matt against the frosted door.

He grinned as he slid the rear door open and stuck his head in.

"Matt!"

Matt jumped as he held his hand to his chest.

"Baahhhh!...Oh GEE!......Why don't you try scarin' the shit outta me?!"

"...Sorry....You didn't hear me over the shower...

"...Umm, the lamp isn't in the linen closet."

"I put it there! On the very top shelf!"

"I said the bottom shelf!"

"You said top shelf!"

"Bottom!"

"Well, I thought you said top. I put it on the top shelf."

Tim backed his head out and slid the shower door closed. After a second, he opened it and looked in again. He continued to gaze at Matt with a sly smile.

Matt looked over his shoulder. He suddenly turned toward Tim and pointed down at himself.

"...Now look what you're doin'!"

Tim grinned again, his silver braces nearly blinding.

"...I can take care of that for you!..."

He ducked his head out just in time to avoid a soggy washcloth which struck the wall.

Matt giggled within the doors.

Tim went for the door as he reached out for the toilet. He flushed it as he turned to the frosted shower doors.

"...Aaahhhh!" Matt yelled as his frosted shadow jumped from under the water.

"Hee, hee, hee," Tim chuckled as he left the room.

Matt soon entered the bedroom and pulled underwear from his personal drawer. Tim sat on the bed, sorting through mismatched socks.

"You put socks on again!"

"...Matty....I don't want you kissin' my toes!"

Matt gave a sly grin.

"Can't kiss your ass. Can't kiss your belly button. Can't kiss your toes!......I can think of something else to kiss..."

Tim's eyes opened large, yet he smiled.

"...Oh no!......Not yet! I'm not ready for that yet! I'll let loose in about three seconds!"

"...So?..."

"Matty! That's too fast!......I gotta ease into this."

Matt allowed his towel to drop from around himself. He placed his arms around Tim's neck and drew his face close.

"...And when do you suppose that'll be?" he asked, kissing him deeply.

As their lips drew apart, Tim's eyes were still large. He pressed his head into Matt's shoulder.

"...Holy fuckin' shit, Matty! You're gettin' some kissin' practice somewhere! Who is he?!"

"...I'd never!" Matt replied seriously.

Tim looked up at him and drew his hips closer.

"...I joke Matty!......That was a joke..."

"Well I sure hope so! I could never do that to my little honey!"

They kissed deeply again. Tim placed his hands on Matt's bare bottom and pulled him closer. Matt pulled away with a smile.

"...I thought you weren't in the mood for that..."

"...I'm not....but I'm always in the mood for this!"

He kissed him deeply again. They both moaned as they pulled each other closer. Matt's hands rubbed the back of Tim's head, pulling it closer. Tim's hands stroked Matt's waist and hips.

"...Oh shit, Timmy......When we visit Scooter tomorrow, we gotta steal an oxygen tank!"

"...Hee, hee....With one of those plastic tubes for under our noses?..."

"Yeah!......And we'll kiss for like an hour!....Never having to come up to breathe!"

Tim buried his face into Matt's neck.

"Oh shit too! I'd be able to breathe, but I'd have a heart attack!"

Tim turned to grab his matched socks he'd rolled together. He placed them in a drawer. He turned back to the bed and spread his hands over it, smoothing out the wrinkles. Giving Matt a sly grin, he continued to stroke the covers.

"...I know what you're thinking Timmy!....No way!"

"Why not?....It'll be our first time in a real bed!"

"...Yeah!....And your mom or dad come in tomorrow morning! I'd die!"

Tim pulled him close, one arm around his back the other his neck.

"...Like they don't know what we're doin' in the family room in the basement?!"

"...Well, it's a nice idea, but I still like our sleeping bag......It's just so warm and comfortable! I just feel so close to you in there!"

Tim turned for the door.

"...Feel like a snack before we turn in?..."

"Are you kidding?!....After that supper we had?!......It feels like my stomach is still swelling!"

They entered the basement in their underwear and socks. Both shivered.

"Holy shit, Matty!....I'm turning up the thermostat here!"

Matt was already wriggling into the sleeping bag.

"...Nah! We'll keep each other warm with our love!"

"Oh! (cough, cough) I'm turning up this heat!"

It was here the lights flashed out for several seconds and came back on again.

Tim raised the thermostat and set the camping lamp close to the sleeping bag. He crawled in as Matt began grabbing for him.

"...Can you wait until I'm all the way in here?"

"No! I gotta hold you! This bag is sooo cold. We gotta warm it up!"

It was here that Tim's breath hissed from between his teeth.

"...Oh! This hurts!....It's actually painful! How I hate winter!"

They cuddled together for warmth as they trembled with chills. Again the lights flashed off and on again.

"What are we gonna do if the electric quits? Even the furnace won't run!" Matt asked.

"I'm trying not to think about that."

They opened their eyes in what had seemed only minutes. Even through the drift of snow, the narrow casement windows along the perimeter of the room indicated a bright day.

"...Come on Matty......We're gonna go see Scooter today."

He crawled from the sleeping bag to find it more chilly than when they'd first came down.

"Arrrgghh!......It's freezin' in here!......It shouldn't be this cold! The heaters are on."

"Oh, you're right! I hear the furnace running......I'll bet the wind must be nasty!"

They entered the kitchen to find it even more chilly.

"Oh gee!" Tim shouted, "I'm getting dressed right now!"

Minutes later they returned to the kitchen. Tim opened the oven door and switched it on, followed by all the surface heating elements.

"...I'm not going to live through a winter here, Matty!"

Matt was drawing out a kettle from the island.

"...No way it should be this cold in here!"

Tim had flipped his phone open and studied the screen, glancing at the kitchen clock.

"...The electric was off for four hours last night! I'm glad I never even knew about it!"

Matt passed him for the sink.

"...Oatmeal with apples 'n' brown sugar....And a touch of cinnamon 'n' maple syrup!"

"And hot chocolate!" Tim said, reaching into the refrigerator.

A half hour later they began putting dishes into the sink again.

"...I'd better call my dad," Matt said as he reached for his phone.

A half hour later, Matt climbed into the front seat of the Jeep, with Tim in the back.

"...Well," Richard began, "Mom had to work at the supermarket again today. I'm surprised they closed for Thanksgiving! She hardly ever gets a day off."

He pulled out into the street.

"...So....Did you guys freeze last night?"

"...Nah! We slept through it. We froze this morning when we got up! The electric was off for four hours last night. It's back on now."

"...Well, our electric still isn't on. I went out into the garage for that kerosene heater."

They drove in silence for awhile.

Tim glanced down at his bloodstained jacket. The red hand prints were now brown. Richard either hadn't seen it, or simply hadn't mentioned it.

Matt had asked, "You aren't wearing that are you?!"

"You bet I am!......And I sure hope Mr. Shelby sees it!......Not just the blood, Matt. I want him to see the hate that put it there!"

They gazed at the mounds of snow which the plows had pushed back. At intersections, one had to pull away from stop signs cautiously as the intersecting streets were blocked by huge drifts and plowed banks.

"Wow," Tim said, "It's like driving through a tunnel! I've never seen anything like this!"

"Neither have the rest of us around here!" Richard put in, "I think this snowfall has broken records for the last hundred years!"

There was the howl of the transfer gear-case as they gained speed.

"...What have you got the four-wheel in for, Dad? The streets are clear."

"Might only be an inch of snow, but it's packed down from traffic. It's slick! Awful slick."

"...Umm......Dad....How's Scooter doin'?"

"Out of the woods they tell us. He's pink again!....not that pale, ghostly white he had."

Matt bowed his head.

"...We think it was bullies, Dad......Scooter said they came from his grade school. I guess they've been pickin' on him and Toby for years now."

Richard continued to look forward, resting his wrist on the gearshift.

"...I'm glad you brought that up, Matty..."

It had been the first time his father had ever addressed his as 'Matty.' It had usually been 'Matthew' or 'Matt.'

"...I've been awful angry about all this......I'm over it now...

"Tim's mother had a long talk with me and Jack. It all made sense. And the only worry I have is the same as her's......Bullying!......It doesn't end with school Matty......It keeps going on. And I'm afraid it gets worse. It gets more adult. More violent. That's the only thing I'm having problems about right now."

"...Umm......I don't know what Mom told you......Dad......I didn't wanna be like this! I really tried! I..."

"I know that......Well now I do. I'd never want you to live all alone for the rest of your life. You've been too much of a loner all your life. And Ken's right....You two were made for each other. I never say it, but I'm really proud of you....Both of you!...

"I never commented on your presentation, Matt. That meeting?....Those awful photos!...

"...Would you ever consider something like that?"

Matt gazed down at his hands in his lap.

"...I really don't know......When Mr. Shelby separated Scooter 'n' Toby, that's all I could think about. I really, really don't know what I'd do!......Scooter 'n' Toby had five years to wait until they were eighteen. Me 'n' Tim have only two....one and a half really! That's a long time for kids, Dad...

"...If you want a percentage......I'd say there was a sixty percent chance I'd have never made it......A little over fifty-fifty. Timmy and I live for each other! Take one of us away, and what's left?"

Richard just nodded his head.

"...Well, now that the shock....and that's the word I'll use....is over, I'd like to compliment you on that presentation. I really think you reached lots of those people. And you were right about those photos putting meaning to all those figures. You did away with the dry statistics! You pointed out these were sons and daughters, brother and sisters. You showed how entire families are affected by this...

"It's gonna take some time, Matty....but I'll adjust. I'm sure of it!"

Minutes later, they pulled into the hospital parking lot. Dozens of cars were still buried under drifts. It was obvious that plowing under these conditions was impossible. Only the road to the emergency room was clear. The Jeep's gears whined as Richard pulled into a deep unplowed parking space.

"Sorry guys. We'll get wet but I can't block the ambulance exit!"

As they entered the waiting room, all three saw Ayumi standing up through the glassed in snack bar. She leaned forward and placed her hand on a male doctor's shoulder as she spoke. She rose from the table and returned her porcelain mug to the counter, waving to the employee. As she pushed through the door, her eyes fell on them.

"...How's Scooter?!" both Matt and Tim asked simultaneously.

She smiled warmly, yet it did nothing for her tired expression. She drew them close, pulling them by their shoulders, one on each side of her.

"...I'm very sure he's going to make it now! It looks real good! It's just as I say, he still needs observation. That was much too long with such low blood pressure. We won't know everything until he regains consciousness. He's young! And thank God for the cold weather. It was the only thing that kept him from bleeding to death!"

"...Umm......He's got a bit of an infection on his wound. We're giving him a wide-spectrum antibiotic right now."

Tim hung his head.

"...Well, Mom....I wasn't being all that sterile with stopping his bleeding..."

She hugged his shoulders tight.

"...I've told you, that takes second place to stopping blood flow. You did good!"

She tossed her head toward Richard as an indication for him to follow them. She led the boys down the hallway. She reminded them to use caution as Scooter may be able to hear them.

They entered the room. Again Richard noticed Jack. He sat in a chair, leaning forward, his elbows on his thighs. His temples seemed a bit grayer. His body seemed more slim.

Both boys stood at the foot of the bed. Their jaws dropped. Tim slowly walked forward passed the side of the bed. He reached for his hand. He gently interlaced his fingers with Scooter's, and gripped tightly. He sat on the bed, kissing Scooter's fingers. Jack saw the loving compassion on Tim's face. He'd never seen the expression before, but understood it.

He also saw the palm print bloodstains on his jacket. Although they were now brown, they clearly held the image of palms with fingers spread.

Tim leaned forward, and as Toby, kissed his right cheek which was free of bruising. He was obviously holding back tears.

"...Hey Scoot!....Tim here!.....We knew right where to find you! We figured you'd be out at your happy place as you called it. Matty calls it his thinking place. I keep telling' you he does too much thinking'!...

"...Umm....I keep remembering that last time we saw you out there. You seemed a bit more....well....up! We worried about you...

"Toby's been eating lunch with us lately......He's starting to talk more. Gee, I thought I was quiet. He's doin' pretty good....considering everything..."

He gave a side glance at Jack.

"...Wow! You two make such a cute couple!" he couldn't resist adding.

Matt had made his way beside Tim. He gazed down at Scooter's swollen right eyelid. He placed his hand beside his head. He too kissed his cheek, lingering for a moment.

"...Hey, Babe....It's Matt!......We're glad to see your gettin' better...

"I just can't stop thinkin' about all the great times we had out at the dam too...

"Remember that first time you pushed Toby down that spillway?! Wow! It had all that fresh, really slick moss on it. He shot down there like a bullet! You should have seen the expression on his face! Wow!....His eyes were buggin' out like those cartoon characters! He was terrified! I thought for sure he shit his pants!"

It was here Scooter indeed smiled. The corners of his mouth turned up and held for several seconds.

"...Yup....If I were you, I'd be lookin' over my shoulder. He's gonna get you for that...

"...I keep thinkin' about all those times we just sat in the whirlpool there, remember? And we'd talk about stuff....Oh! And that warm water just circulating all around us. I think I'm gonna start calling that the happy place too. I used to call it one of my thinking spots but Tim's always breakin' my balls over that. He says I do too much thinkin'!......Of course we all know how much of an asshole he is!"

"Hey!" Tim shot out.

Scooter's chest suddenly rose. A distinct chuckle came from his mouth. Tim felt a weak but deliberate squeeze to his hand.

"...You know I'm jokin' Scoot!.....Timmy's really been out of it over this..."

"Hey!" a high pitched voice sounded out.

They turned to see Toby at the door.

"What are you two doin'?!....Gettin' fresh with my boyfriend while he can't fight you off?!"

They both mentally gasped. They both wanted to turn to Jack to see his reaction, yet feared to do so.

Toby seemed to march over between them. It had been unlike his shy, quiet personality. He pulled at Tim's wrist.

"...Hey! That hand is designed only to be holdin' mine!"

He took Scooter's hand into both of his.

"Hey Scoot!......I can see I got here just in time. Someone's gotta save you from these two sex maniacs!"

"Hey!" Matt and Tim sounded out in unison.

Scooter smiled again as a louder chuckle came out. His right eyelid flickered open slightly.

"Hey! You're awake!"

"...Oh Tob!" he whispered weakly, yet with a rush of breath, "Love ya, Babe!"

Toby fought back tears as he leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

"...Yeah....love you too Babe."

"Stomach....hurts....Water......thirsty....sooo thirsty."

"Well, we gotta check with the nurse first," Toby said, pressing the call button.

Scooter seemed confused as he tried to raise his head.

"Ohhh....stomach....hurts..."

Matt gently pulled at Tim's sleeve and nodded to the hallway. They started for the waiting room.

"...I think Toby and Scooter need a bit of time alone, huh?"

Tim nodded as they walked quickly.

"...I wanted to get outta there anyhow! I don't like Mr. Shelby! I'll bet he's gonna really go off!..."

They bought juice at the vending machine and sat in the waiting room. Matt pointed to the front of Tim's jacket.

"...I think Mr. Shelby saw your jacket."

"...I hope he did! And I hope he remembers that for the rest of his life!"

"...I don't know, Tim......He was kinda strange in there......Kinda quiet......We both kissed Scooter. I honestly forgot he was even there. I just hurt so for Scoot! Oh! He was a mess! I just felt so bad for him I forgot his father was right there!"

"Yeah....And when Toby came in, he didn't say a thing! He even asked if we were getting fresh with his....boyfriend!"

"Yeah, I kinda held my breath on that one. I wonder if he's coming around."

Tim shook his head with a serious expression.

"...I don't know what to think......I don't think you change that quick overnight! I think he's just letting things slide 'til Scoot gets better. I'll bet he's right back to bein' an asshole!"

"I don't know, Tim......Did you look at him? He really looks burnt out!"

"...I....well, I glanced at him when we went in. I just hate him sooo much! Poor Scoot 'n' Tob......What did they ever do to deserve this?"

"Nothing!" they heard a voice from behind them. It was Matt's father.

He slowly took a seat in a chair beside the couch.

"...I think......I think he's starting to understand. Give him time....Give us both time...

"...Think about it guys......You're married to a woman....You go out into the garage and see your son kissing another boy..."

They hung their heads.

"...I'm not excusing myself....I was just as guilty....And I'll say it again....I don't like it! But I'll get used to it. I understand you can't help it....you didn't choose it. I understand it's what you are! I understand all that stuff....but it's gonna take time......In fact, being honest....I don't know if I'll ever accept it one hundred percent of the way. It's difficult, guys!"

(Chime, chime)

Richard opened his phone and glanced at the calling number.

"....Yeah?......Mike!......Is that so?......umm....Yeah, I guess so. Okay, be right over. Give me about a half hour."

He put his phone into his inside jacket pocket. He reached for his wallet.

"...Here guys......Buses are running again. Or even take a cab home. Don't go walking out in this wind. You'll have frostbite before you get home......There's enough here for you both to get something to eat too.

"I've got to head down to the mill and I don't know how long I'll be. Overhead crane broke down again. We've only got a couple young guys on down there this weekend and they can't figure it out."

He hesitated for a moment.

"...Umm......Take it a little easy on Mr. Shelby. He's been through hell 'n' back. I think you'll see he's a changed man now..."

Minutes later they saw Toby enter the waiting room.

"Hi guys!......You're still here?"

"Well hell, yes!" Tim shot out, "We talked for like two minutes!"

Toby sat on the couch, wedging himself between them.

"...Umm....They made me leave......They said they gotta irrigate his wound. I don't know what that means but it sure sounds painful!"

Both Matt and Tim looked at him. He was thinner than the both of them. His tiny shoulders seemed to slouch. He bit down on his lips.

"...Umm......The cops are going into his room as soon as he's ready."

"Good!" Matt shouted out with some anger, "I hope they rot in juvie!"

"...Umm....I don't think he's gonna say anything! He's afraid they're gonna come back to really do him in! I think he's gonna pretend he don't remember anything..."

"He can't do that!" Tim put in, "We gotta get those assholes off the streets!......Toby! That was attempted murder! Who's it gonna be next?!"

Toby bowed his head.

"...They're probably gonna come after me next," he said quietly.

Tim turned to hug him.

"...All the more reason! If Scooter doesn't say anything, you gotta!"

It was here a tiny blond emo looking boy walked through the doors. He held a notebook with a textbook on top of it. Sitting at a distant couch, he pulled down the hood of a sweatshirt he was wearing under his jacket. He had a round, androgynous face. There was the unmistakable black stripe running down through his hair.

"...Is that Joe?" Tim asked.

"...Yeah," Toby put in quickly.

"You know him?!"

"...Yeah......Well, just from around school. He....He's....like us..."

"Yeah. I know. I've seen him at the GSA meetings."

"He's," Toby began cautiously, "He's having lots of problems right now...

"...His boyfriend broke up with him a bit ago......Well he wasn't really a boyfriend. He's got a girlfriend now......He was just using him! Poor Joe. I really feel for him..."

Matt and Tim looked at each other.

Joe removed his jacket and set it beside himself on the couch. He pulled his sweatshirt over his head. His shirt underneath rose up, exposing his bare belly. Even from this distance, the boys could see his baby soft skin. He tossed his hair and tried to comb it somewhat back into place with his fingers.

"...Awh shit," Matt put in, "He looks kinda lonely over there. Should we call him over?"

Tim stood.

"Let's go over there."

Tim took a place beside him on the couch with Toby at his left. Matt sat in a large chair to Joe's right.

"...Hey!....Joe!" Tim put in.

"...Umm....Tim....Right?"

"...Yup....That's Matt over there and Toby over here."

He nodded toward Matt and leaned forward to see Toby.

"...Toby! What are you doin' here?..."

"I was about to ask you the same thing!"

"...Umm....My dad works here. He dropped me off at school this morning. The computer lab was open today 'til noon. We can't afford a computer or Internet. We got the school to keep the lab open for a couple hours every day after school. They're opening it for Saturday morning too. There are five or six of us that can't afford computers at home..."

Tim felt his stomach tighten.

"...Well, hey....I got a computer....Matt's got one....Toby's got one....You can use ours anytime!....Right guys?"

Both nodded.

"Hell yeah, Joe!" Matt put in, leaning forward in his chair.

Joe held his notebook on his lap, centering his textbook on it. Tim could see it was a computer science book.

"...Umm....Well, it would sure help....if it's not too much trouble."

"...Never!" "Anytime!" "Sure." They each put in.

"...So....Umm....What are you guys doing at the hospital?!"

There was a long moment of silence.

"...Umm," Toby began quietly, "...Scooter got stabbed."

Joe quickly stood, his books falling from his lap.

"...It was Jason and his henchmen right?!"

Toby looked up at him.

"...I think so....but I can't prove it."

"He's gotta turn his ass in! None of us are safe with that asshole runnin' loose!"

"He's scared Joe!....He thinks he's just gonna come after him again! And make sure he's dead this time!"

Joe returned to the couch in deep thought. He seemed to forget about his books on the floor. Tim bent over to gather them up. He shyly handed them back.

"...My dad and I got up this morning," Joe began, "He had the TV on to check the weather. They had an announcement about some kid being found out at the dam. They didn't mention any names. Just that a couple of his friends had found him..."

Tim's unzipped jacket had fallen to his sides. He drew out the right side and presented it to Joe. He clearly saw two, brown, bloody hand prints on it.

"...You?!....You guys found him?"

Tim nodded his head.

"...They said if it hadn't been for the cold, he'd have never made it. The cold kept his bleedin' down some. It was still awful close. He needed transfusions! He's got a rare blood type..."

Toby stood up and held his arm out as he drew up his sleeve. In the crook of his arm was a wrinkled plastic bandage.

Tim's eyes went large.

"...Youuuu?!"

Toby nodded as he drew his sleeve back down.

"I told 'em they could have it all because without Scoot, what's the point of goin' on?!"

He sat back down. There was an uncomfortable pause.

"...Sooo....Umm," Matt began, "What are you doin' here?"

Joe glanced down, somewhat shy.

"...My dad brought me to school this morning......So I could use the computer lab for a few hours. He works here. He gets off at five. I'll just sit here and do some of my homework."

"...Really?!" Tim put in, "My mom's a doctor here! Maybe they know each other!"

Joe glanced down again, adjusting his notebook on his lap.

"...I doubt it," he said quietly, "...My dad's maintenance. I guess that's a politically correct term for janitor!"

There was another long period of uncomfortable silence.

"...So," Matt put in to break the silence, "Your mom couldn't pick you up?"

Joe looked up.

"...My mom died five years ago......Car accident. She was in intensive care for like a month! She was brain dead. Dad's still payin' for that. We didn't have insurance. That's why he's workin' here now. The money isn't all that great but he's got good medical 'n' dental now."

Matt stood and shook his head.

"...Ohhh we're sure battin' a thousand here!......Sorry, Joe..."

"That's okay. I get good grades in school. I keep out of trouble. That's all dad wants. He......He even knows about......me."

"Well, that's cool, huh?"

It was here Toby spoke up.

"...Umm....Guys......I umm....I think you were kinda hard on Mr. Shelby up there. Well, I don't mean you said anything exactly. It was your looks. Even I noticed it. And the way you kinda ignored him...

"...When Scoot gets better....he's taking us out to wherever we wanna go. He said the price doesn't mean a thing! And he's gonna let us be together again."

"Really?!"

"Yup!....Umm....He's not the same person anymore. Believe me. He was crying about the way he treated us..."

"Really?!"

"Oh yeah. I think almost loosin' Scoot has really turned him around."

Joe looked up shyly, blushing. He glanced from Matt to Tim.

"...I....I hear you two are umm....a couple now?"

"Oh yeah!"

Joe looked up again.

"Wow, Tim......The first day I saw you in the halls! I thought your braces were umm.... really hot!"

Tim blushed, yet smiled.

Matt ran to him and covered his mouth with his hand.

"...Those are my braces! And I'm the only one who can kiss 'n' lick 'em!"

"Matty!" Tim said, his voice muffled behind his hand, his face turning red.

"Hee, hee, hee" Joe giggled, "That's exactly what I wanted to do!"

Matt playfully stood in front of Tim, blocking his view from Joe.

"He's mine! And you can't have 'im!"

"...Nah!......Not any more. I....I think I'm just gonna give up!"

"Awh, don't be like that," Toby put in, "You just haven't found the right one yet!"

"That's for sure!......I'm scaring 'em all back to girls! All they wanna do is get horned up and get off! Then they just wanna leave!...Four so far!"

He looked up at them seriously.

"...Umm....I know you aren't gonna believe this....but I'm soooo tired of the sex!"

He paused here, looking toward each of them in turn. He held his hands out, palms up.

"...Okay!......You can start laughing any time now!"

Not one of them even cracked the slightest smile. Matt said beside him, still serious.

"...We aren't gonna laugh, Joe......And I think we all understand just what you're sayin' here. It's what we were lookin' for....love not sex!"

"Well I always seem to get both!......Boys who love sex!"

"That's not the same thing, Joe and you know it......We all know that!"

Joe gave a frustrated expression.

"...Umm....What's wrong with some huggin' 'n' kissin'? I'd love to just hug and kiss. It wouldn't even have to lead to anything! All I dream about is just innocent huggin' 'n' kissin'. Okay....If it leads to something more....months down the road....Fine! But I sooo miss that!"

There was another uncomfortable pause here.

"Well, look Joe......You got three friends here....You got three computers here....four including Scooter's! Four friends including Scooter! We'll give you our phone numbers. Call us anytime!......Now our phones might not be on all the time, but it'll show a missed call when we do turn 'em back on...

"...You got a cell?"

Joe hung his head again.

"...No......We can't afford it..."

"Well, gimme your notebook there..."

Matt opened his phone again.

"You still don't know your cell number yet?!" Tim put in.

"I keep tellin' you, I don't call myself, you doofuss!"

Tim rattled off Matt's number, Toby's number, Scooter's and his own.

Matt looked at Tim.

"There he goes with his numbers again! When it comes to numbers his mind is a steel trap!..."

Matt had copied the numbers on a blank page in Joe's notebook.

"...Umm......You wanna come into the snack bar with us?......My dad gave me money. It's my treat!"

"...Umm....no....That's okay......I'm umm....not really hungry right now."

He opened his textbook and looked up.

"...You guys go ahead.......I've gotta get this homework done. Computer science takes like half my homework time."

Matt looked down at the page the book was opened to. It had complex equations on it.

"Whoa!......I'll bet Tim could help you with that! He's great at math!"

Tim took a sudden interest and stepped before the book, turning it to face him.

"...Ohhh! Shit too!......That's Boolean algebra! I'll be honest. I don't know the first thing about it! My dad's got some books on it, but they're like college level. I'd never understand it!"

Minutes later, they each paid for their own meals in the snack bar and took seats at a table. They all seemed to look out through the glass at Joe with his book on his knees.

"...I think Joe feels bad," Matt began, "They probably aren't too well-off. They couldn't even afford bus fare for him to get home?! Why don't we get something extra for him?..."

"Yeah," Tim scoffed, "And make him feel worse!....Like it's a handout!"

Toby took a large bite of his hamburger, chewed and swallowed. He held out the burger in one hand.

"...Why don't we each go up there for something extra?....A burger, fries, soda......We can tell him we bought too much to eat and didn't want to waste it......If we all have a separate bag....he won't think we just bought him a meal..."

Matt and Tim looked at each other. Matt shook his head.

"...Outta the mouths of babes!..."

Tim turned to Toby.

"...Tob......You're a genius!"

Toby kept glancing down the hall every few seconds.

"What you watchin' for Tob?"

"...Umm....Tim's mom said she was going to send a nurse down here when we can see Scoot again. It's been kinda long. I hope everything's all right."

"Well, Mom said they had to irrigate?......That means cleaning his wound. She said he's got some infection in it. And they might be testing him for brain damage too. I think he's all right. Hey, he recognized you right away! And he was kinda laughing at Matt's jokes. I think everything will be okay."

It was here a tall, thin man entered the door. He wore a chain around his neck with a silver badge attached to a leather piece. He glanced down at a metal clipboard in his hand.

"Timothy?....Matthew?....And Zack?" he asked the general room.

All three boys stopped chewing at the same time.

"Over here!" Matt said, standing for a moment.

"Ohhh shit!....I think he's a cop!" Matt whispered with force.

He took a chair at their table as he pulled out another badge and identification in a leather folder.

"...I'm captain Willows....Homicide!" he said, pausing to see their reactions.

The three boys seemed to all pale as they looked at each other.

"I think you boys know why I'm here..."

"...Scooter?....Jerry?" Matt asked quietly.

"...That's right..."

He settled back in the chair and crossed his legs.

"...We've been questioning him. And....Well, I don't want to say he's lying......but I don't think he's being all that truthful either...

"He keeps saying he can't remember because of that knock on his head. Oh yeah, it was a pretty good one! It's just if you get a knock that bad....you can't remember things that happened twenty or thirty minutes before that either...

"...You know what I think, boys?......I think he's scared!......Oh yeah! I can see it! We're trained for that stuff you know..."

He paused, waiting for some reaction. The boys only looked at each other.

"...I really think he knows who did that. Got any ideas of your own?..."

Toby set his burger down.

"...I think I know," he said softly, "...but I can't prove it."

"...Well, if you've got any names, it'll be more leads for us to follow."

"...Jason Peters......He's been after us since grade school. Always pushing us into lockers. Knocking our books outta our hands, tripping us..."

"...And do you know how old he is?"

"...Thirteen....fourteen....He's in our grade."

Although Matt and Tim truly had no idea of the situation, they were convinced that Toby was being honest.

The captain stood.

"...Well, we'll check this stuff out. You know this was attempted murder?..."

"Yeah," Tim said somewhat sarcastically, "The judge will slap his naughty hand and send him back here.....How many of us have to die before something's done?!"

The captain shook his head.

"...Yeah......He's underage......I don't make the laws. Just let me tell you this.....Principal Emerson can expel him for so violent a crime. We'll be talking with him too."

"Do you know why he's such a bully?" Toby asked.

Again he shook his head.

"...Some kids just get their kicks like that......Deep down inside....they're cowards!"

Toby looked at him seriously.

"...It's because we're FAGS!......All three if us!......And Scooter too! He hates FAGS! He said he's gonna kill everyone of us!"

The captain opened the metal cover of his clipboard and made another notation. He nodded his head.

"...I think you boys were quite a help to us..."

He left the shop to be met by two uniformed officers coming down the hall. The three left through the front exit.

"Oh shit!....Oh shit!" Tim mumbled, "I think we're all dead now!"

Matt leaned forward in a confidential manner.

"...I'm contacting everyone in the GSA. I'm telling them about this. We're gonna stick together! All of us. No bathroom breaks alone! Nothing alone! We keep together at all times!"

They took turns placing their small orders to go. When they each had a bag, they started out the door. They drew up to Joe who looked up.

"...Oh shit, Joe......We all ordered a bit too much. We just can't finish this," Tim said placing his bag on the end table beside the couch.

"Yup," Matt put in, setting his bag down, "If you really aren't hungry, take it home with you....or just throw it out! We're stuffed!"

"Throw it out?! Never!....Thanks guys. No. I'll eat it!....Thanks!"

"Boys?!" Ayumi called out.

They turned to see her in the hall.

"...You can go up to see Scooter!"

They all turned and rushed toward the hallway. All three glanced back to look at Joe. He'd already taken a huge bite of his burger and began opening his fries. The drink was already between his legs with a straw through the lid. All three smiled.

They entered the room to see Mr. Shelby missing.

"Where's your dad?" Toby asked.

"...He went out to the bathroom and to take my mom home," he said in a raspy whisper, "They know I'm okay now. They need sleep...

"...Did......Did you talk to the police?"

Toby stepped forward with his new found assertiveness.

"Yes I did!......And I told him it was Jason Peters......Right?!"

"...Oh shit!......We're all dead now!"

Toby reached for Scooter's hand again.

"Oh no!......We're getting the whole GSA together. We're gonna fight this!"

Matt and Tim settled down into chairs as Toby sat on the bed, still holding Scooter's hand.

"...Umm......Did that procedure hurt that they had to do on you?"

"Ohhh yeah!......I forget what they said it was, but it burned like all hell!......I'm still awful sore down there but it's not real bad...

"Then they had me walk up and down the hallway a couple times. Wow! That just killed!"

He turned his head toward Matt and Tim.

"They told me you guys found me."

"Yup. We figured you'd be at the dam," Tim said, "You kept saying that was your happiest place."

"...Umm....Yeah. I think I remember you saying something like that....or Matty....I think it was Matty!......He called you an asshole. I thought that was sooo nasty of him but....but I couldn't help from laughing."

"Yeah. That's when you first started coming around I think..."

Scooter turned back to look at Toby. He managed a smile.

"...Dad said we can be together again. He said he was wrong by keeping us apart. He knows that's not gonna make me straight again..."

"Yeah," Toby put in, "He told me that too..."

He hung his head.

"...I umm....was kinda nasty with him......I've got AB negative too you know."

"Yeah! He told me you walked all the way here!"

"Did he tell you I asked him if he minded you getting FAG blood?"

"...Umm....No. He didn't say anything about that."

"Well, I was really pissed at him at the time......He kinda broke down crying. I felt really, really bad after that. Timmy and Matty were pissed too...

"Look at Tim's jacket!..."

"Holy shit! That looks like blood!......Hand prints of blood!"

Tim stood up and neared the bed.

"...I guess I shouldn't have done it but......Well, I wanted him to see it! Like Toby said, we were pissed, okay?"

"...That's....that's my blood?"

"Oh yeah! I was stuffin' snow up against your wound. I knew it was helping stop the bleedin'. After the ambulance left....That's when I thought I was almost gonna pass out!"

"...You guys did all that?"

"Well shit, Scoot! What do you think?!....Like were just gonna forget about you? We heard you were missin' all night! That's the first place we checked!"

"...Oh you guys are great. I'm sure glad we became friends this summer......Come on over here....Both of you....I need a kiss!"

Toby quickly covered Scooter's mouth with his hand.

"...Oh no!....Oh no!....I won't allow that! I'm the only one allowed to do that!"

They all laughed. Scooter looked at Toby.

"...You're sure getting bold all of a sudden!....I'm starting to think you're an impostor. What did you do with Toby?..."

They laughed again.

"...Well......If Tim and Matt can't kiss me....I guess it'll just have to be you!"

"Thanks a lot!....You doofuss!"

"...No....Really! I need a kiss!"

Toby kissed his cheek again.

"Oh wow!....What burning passion! On my lips!"

"Scoot! Your lips are all cut up!"

"I don't care!"

"Moowah!"

"Ouch! Your right. That does hurt...

"...Umm....could you give me that water? I can't stop drinkin'. I'm just thirsty all the time!"

Several hours later, Matt and Tim entered the waiting room again. They saw Joe pulling on his jacket. A man stood nearby with the light blue maintenance uniform of the hospital on.

"Hey guys! My dad's done working. Need a ride?"

"Quite all right," Ayumi's voice sounded out, "They're goin' my way!"

"...Mom! You finally off?! They're gonna finally let you get some sleep?"

Ayumi nodded to the man.

"...Mr. West! I wasn't aware my boys knew Joe."

"...Neither did I!"

After quick introductions, Mr. West was the first to speak.

"...Your boys? I thought you only had one."

Ayumi grabbed Matt around his shoulders.

"This one called Matt?......We kind of adopted him.....Tim's....partner."

Mr. West seemed to blush slightly.

"...Come on boys....Home!....I wanna....how do you kids say that?....Crash!"

"Mom......Please. In this weather, don't say crash!"

They all laughed as they passed into the foyer.

Once in the car, Ayumi was the first to speak.

"...I called Gram. Seems like they're doing all right. They've got the electric back on. I'm so glad she met that lady at the senior citizen's center. They've got lots in common. She wants to spend another night. Your father can pick her up tomorrow...

"...So......What kind of disaster area am I coming home to?"

"...Well, umm, we kept up with the dishes. If anything's wrong....just point it out. We'll fix it okay? You don't have to yell!"

"Oh dear....I can just see it now."

Minutes later they entered the kitchen. Everything was in its place. The sink was empty and the chrome shined. Ayumi pinched her temples and sat at the breakfast nook.

"...You okay, Mom?..."

"...No! I think I'm gonna faint! The place is spotless! Did you two run off somewhere?!"

They laughed as Ayumi ran her hands over the surface of the table.

"...Nothing spilled. Range is clean....Floor is clean. I don't believe this!"

"Well Mom......We didn't eat all that much. We had a couple good dinners. We were just kinda moping around. We were too worried about Scooter to eat much. We weren't all that hungry......Believe it or not."

She looked up at Tim.

"Throw that jacket into the washer now!......I know why you wore that to the hospital!"

"Shit, Mom! I hated Mr. Shelby! I wanted to have him see..."

"...I said I know why you wore that!...

"Mr. Shelby is an entirely different man today than he was a couple days ago."

"...So I've heard."

"...Boys......Some people just have a very difficult time with....with....this! You have to let people take their time. In another twenty years....I think we'll make wonderful progress."

She suddenly stood up.

"Ah ha!..."

She went for Tim's room and switched the light on. Everything was in it place. The bed was made without a wrinkle.

"What is it Mom?" Tim asked with a smile, "...Thought you were going to see the bed all tore up?"

"...As a matter of fact..."

"...Mom, we slept in the family room in the sleeping bag. We were worried about Scooter! We didn't....do anything! We didn't even feel like eating until you told us Scoot was out of ICU!......What did you think?......We were gonna party just because we had the house all to ourselves?!"

"...Oh, I'm so sorry boys...

"I should have known better. You two are way ahead in the maturity department. I mean I didn't worry about you two burning the house down or anything, but I was expecting a bit more of a mess!"

She sat on a stool at the island.

"I wasn't going to yell!....I was going to clean in the morning! And love every minute of it! You didn't leave me anything to do! You two are soooo mature and responsible...

"...Oh, I've got to get to bed! Your father will be home in a couple more hours...

"Timothy!....Jacket!....Washer!"

"Okay..."

Tim immediately walked into the utility room. When he returned, he sat at the nook with Matt.

"...Want anything to eat?"

"Nah!......Not really......We had a kinda big day. I mean not long....Just kinda nerve racking. I don't think I recovered from yesterday yet!"

"...Wanna just turn in?"

"...I think so....but a nice hot shower first would be fantastic!"

"...Sounds good. You go first. I'll go down into the basement and turn that heat up to eighty!"

"I'll suffocate!"

"Well I don't mean all night! Just 'til we kinda warm up after our showers."

Tim entered the basement after his shower to see Matt playing a video game. Both were topless, wearing only their bottom sweats.

"Wanna play?" Matt asked.

"...Nah!"

He switched the game and TV off, putting up his controller. Tim returned the basement thermostat to its normal setting. The brilliant red-orange heaters began to cool with a clicking noise. They both slid into the bag and cuddled up to each other.

"Matt!......You're thinkin' again!"

"How do you know?!"

"I can tell by just the way your holdin' me!....It's like....kinda, well.... distant!"

Matt stopped rubbing his back and held him tighter.

"...Oh, I was just thinking about Joe. He's okay, huh?"

"Shit! I think him and his dad have been through hell and back, huh?"

"Yeah. Poor guy. I think he's just been used!...

"Remember how he said he was kinda getting tired of sex?! What I think he really meant was he was tired of getting used!"

"I don't know about that Matty. Notice how he kept saying he'd just like to kiss and hug? I think he really means that!......Hee, hee....Maybe were not so strange for watching the sex part."

"Well, umm....It sure is great! Hee, hee....It's just like I said....I don't wanna go crazy over it. We're umm....kinda getting better at it, huh?......I mean it's not like an accident any more. We both got better......well control now."

They lie in silence for a moment with several short kisses.

"...Gee, I love this," Matt whispered, "It can't be seven and I'm tired already. This just feels sooo good!"

Matt felt Tim nod on his shoulder.

"Yup....but it's like you said, we've been worried about Scooter."

It was two weeks later, a Thursday. They were sitting in the school cafeteria. The "Everyone Else" table had grown to two tables placed end to end. Today, however only Matt, Tim, Toby and Scooter were present. Matt was the first to speak.

"...Umm it was kinda nice your dad is lettin' you 'n' Toby get together again, huh?"

"Matty....you guys....I really don't know what happened to him. He's like some alien! He's lots happier now. He was never this happy. He even let me switch my lunch period! So I could be with Toby again! Well, it's not so hard switching that around on my schedule. It was only study hall. What difference does it make if I'm there now or next period?"

Tim glanced along the long empty table.

"...Umm......Did we all take our showers this morning? Where is everyone?"

Matt looked up at him from a slice of pizza.

"I think that was because Scooter's back. It's not big news any more...

"Wow! You really bounced back quick! I never thought you be back this quick!"

"I wanted to come back sooner! Yeah, it was killin' me. But I wanted to come back sooner....so I could show everyone my stitches!....And my face! I wanted them to see me! They said I was too weak yet!....That blood thing!"

"...Well, at least Jason pleaded guilty, huh? He's in juvie?..."

"Only at night! They let him back into school here!"

"Shit too!"

"Oh yeah!"

"I haven't seen him!"

"That's because Principal Emerson is escorting him class to class! I heard he's scared now!"

"Scared of what?!"

"I guess word's out that the whole school is gunnin' for him now. They're all tired of his shit! I think he's scared he's gonna get his ass kicked now!"

It was here Toby looked passed Matt and Tim. His face paled.

"...Oh shit!....Oh shit!" he whispered.

Matt and Tim turned around.

Jason seemed to be wondering toward their table, his head down. He appeared more sixteen than fourteen. He was tall with a solid, barrel-shaped figure. He just didn't seem the bully type any more. His very body language indicated defeat.

Matt and Tim turned back. They saw Principal Emerson standing beside the exit. He crossed his arms over his chest. He smiled directly at them and nodded.

Jason drew up to the far end of the table, his head bowed over his tray. It contained only a single slice of pizza and a container of juice. He looked up.

"...Mind if I sit here?..."

Tim glanced at Mr. Emerson. Again he smiled and nodded his head.

Tim simply held his hand out.

Jason sat, his head bowed over his tray. He picked up his fork. It remained in midair an inch over his slice of pizza. He slowly set it down again.

"...Umm....Look, guys......You won't have to worry about me bein' here after Christmas vacation, okay?......They're movin' all my classes to the detention center...

"I....I gotta tell you something."

He continued to gaze down at his tray. He picked up a paper napkin and began folding it.

"...Umm......I'm......I'm gay okay?"

The boys remained silent, staring at him.

"...Okay......I said it!......I'm gay! There! I said it again!"

He began to wipe at tears running down his face.

"...My parents......They disowned me!......They say it's because I'm a problem child. I know better. It's 'cause they hate queers! They won't say that though. They don't want anything to do with me......They didn't care when I was beating up on kids. Now that they find they've got a fag in the family, things are different!

"...In detention......They sent me to a shrink......Said I had this anger management problem......Yeah!....Sure!......I hated myself!......I didn't want to be this way! I thought it was going to go away!......It just kept gettin' worse!......I was takin' it out on everyone else..."

Scooter rose from his place and slowly walked over to him. He didn't notice, but the entire cafeteria had their eyes on him. He hooked his finger onto Jason's tray and slid it down next to his. He motioned him over.

It was here that Tim glanced over at Principal Emerson again. His smile was so large, his entire face beamed.

Jason stood and shyly moved over. He sat, still bowed over his tray.

"...Umm......I wrote my parents a note. It came back unopened...

"I told them to give you my computer....my bike....Everything I owned! I told my PO to tell 'em that! Well, she says they still own the stuff. It's not really mine! I wanted to give it all to you. Everything!......I doubt that hardly makes up for almost killin' you...

"...Umm......That wasn't really you I stabbed, Scoot......In my mind, it was me! The shrinks made me see that.....Oh shit!....I don't wanna be like this! I don't wanna be gay!"

Tears ran down his face again.

Scooter placed his arm over Jason's shoulders. None of the boys heard several gasps.

"...Umm......We've got a meeting at the GSA tonight. If it's okay with everyone, why don't you stop in?......We all get along in there. You aren't wrong! You're just different! Just like the rest of us..."

"...No! No! I'm not going! Even if they say it's all right. I wanna change! I....I don't wanna be like this!"

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