Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 28

Hard Times

POV: Greg, Denny, Mikey

I found it hard to say exactly what my relationship with Ben Ross was. I could barely remember a time he didn't live across the street from me, and a bunch of us growing up would play in each other's yards, but our closest friends weren't the same; we had one or two in common, but once we started elementary school, we didn't really spend that much time together anymore. By the time we got to 7th Grade, that age when boys begin to think more with their dicks than their other heads, Benny and I found ourselves once more connecting, but our playing back then was entirely different—with whispered speculation during recess, and catching hints of the things the older boys sometimes talked about in the restrooms, we began to gather together slowly: one would tell his friend, who'd join us, then someone else would tell another friend—and so, by ones and twos, our secret group grew to almost ten boys of roughly the same age—thirteen or fourteen years old.

Our meetings were usually once a week in somebody's garage loft, or maybe on a lucky occasion, in a basement when parents were gone for the day; it wasn't always the same boys each time, but everyone would show up at least once a month, and there was a group of five of us who were regulars without fail—Benny and I never missed a chance to check out the other boys, though we were very careful not to be caught doing it too often. The first few times we met up, we just talked and joked, and smoked cigarettes someone had stolen from their parents, but we finally got bold enough that someone would start rubbing his dick, and the rest of us would follow suit. It wasn't long before we pulled them out into the open and did some serious jacking. Some guys talked about their girlfriends, but I always thought that if they had them, why were they still coming to our circle jerk sessions? A few times, we'd get really lucky and one of us would swipe a dirty magazine from an older brother or father, and that made it actually tougher for me—the women all had huge breasts which did nothing for me, and the guys were all old geezers with a lot of hair and cheesy moustaches which were popular then, or so the publishers must have thought appealed to women. Most often, we'd put the magazine on the floor, or on a table, and stand around it—the first few times we'd held them and passed them around, but people kept complaining the other guys were hogging it, so we stood around it instead.

As time went on, Benny and I found ourselves looking at each other more often than at the other guys, but so far we kept it on the QT; just before we turned 15, I began to think about guys a lot, and maybe doing more than just jacking off, and that thought was heightened when Benny started exercising and learning to wrestle. He'd take on any of the guys one-on-one, and the winner would take the next challenger—unless someone got lucky, Benny always won—and I'm sure I wasn't the only one to enjoy it for more reasons than just exercise. Just after our 15th birthdays, and nearly two years of circle jerks with the guys, Benny would come over once in a while to wrestle with just me, and that would lead to us jerking off…I think the main reason for that was that I was going less to our meetings since my brother Jeff started to show up—he was a year younger than me, and had light brown hair with reddish highlights and green eyes, with a wiry and lanky build. He was really into basketball like our dad had been, and was thinking of going out for the team when he started his sophomore year. Jeff wasn't shy at all, and had no problem pulling his dick out in front of the other guys—he also had no qualms about looking at the others' equipment, though he never touched any one. It was getting too weird for me, and the thought of my other brother Lee eventually joining the club made it less fun, so I tapered off going—not on the jacking bit.

With all those experiences, and the fact that Benny and I had been making out and doing blow-jobs for the past two years, my first thought last night after Denny drove off was to call him and pour my heart out, as he'd done over his experiments with Linda Beckel before breaking up with her. Despite the fact that we didn't spend a lot of time together apart from our sexual romps, we each saw the other as a kindred spirit, someone who we could confide in, share our deepest feelings and know we had someone who understood what was going on inside our heads. He'd known for a long time that I wanted a boyfriend, and I think he felt a bit sad that that was the one thing we couldn't do for each other—you'd think it would work out: we liked sex together, shared a concern for what the other was feeling, and even thought each other was good looking, but there just wasn't that spark which could make it special and eternal. I was trying to get him together with Calvin Schuyler, and up until Jay and Miles put two and two together, he was the only one who knew about the phone calls. He didn't like it at all, and insisted that I at least used a fake name and never gave out any personal details.

I didn't tell him Denny's name since we hadn't figured out if we were even going to be a couple, especially after what had happened, and I didn't go into details about Denny's sexual assault at his old school—just told him that he'd had a really bad first time—and that I'd been fine and supportive and things were going great until I opened my mouth and stuck my whole leg in as well as the proverbial foot. It was past midnight at this point, but Benny offered to come over anyway and stay with me; that would have been fantastic, but I knew my parents would get mad if I had him over without permission—they almost always gave it, and if they knew it was an emergency they wouldn't object to an unexpected visit—but I didn't think this was anything like that.

Benny agreed that I needed to show my potential boyfriend that he could trust me again, and we talked about how to do that, but all we could come up with was that I needed to share my own deepest secrets. He made soothing noises over the phone, and stayed on the line until I finally felt able to hang up. I wasn't sure what I would do in the morning, but I rooted around in the old photo albums for a while until I found what I was looking for—I remembered mom having a picture of me worse than the naked baby on the rug. Definitely embarrassing, but I'd give it to Denny and tell him he could do whatever he wanted with it: keep it, toss it away, or show it to everyone he met—I'd leave that up to him as a sign of my faith in him. It was a pathetic gesture, but I had to break the ice again. Then I'd tell him everything.

At the breakfast table on Wednesday morning, I was tired, and mom commented that I looked terrible, and asked if I was sick. Her hand to my forehead confirmed I wasn't running a fever, and I told her I was fine, but I don't think she believed me. When Jeff came down right after me, he dove into his eggs and bacon before looking at me. He stopped eating for a second—which was a first—and told me I looked like hell. He frowned when I didn't react, and we finished eating in relative silence until Lee and my sisters came down. Their school started after ours, so they got to sleep in; Lee and Alice went to the middle school that was attached to the high school, but it started later so the busses could get back, and Penny was still in elementary, which was only two blocks away, and she could walk there in most weather.

Jeff kept pace with me like he always did, but I was pretty glum and quiet on our walk to the bus stop about two blocks away. When all he got were grunts to his questions, he elbowed me in the side, and I winced. He was a year younger, but was three inches taller than me, and wirily muscular—it was no surprise the basketball coach was all over him to play last season. The only reason he hadn't was because he sprained his wrist doing some stupid stunt to show off for Halloween. "You gonna tell me what's eatin' ya, man?"

I thought about not saying anything, but I knew that wouldn't work with my brother—he'd just bug me until I caved in. I couldn't tell him I'd had a fight with my new boyfriend, so I just said I had a fight with one of my friends. I could see he wasn't buying that in the light from the occasional street lamps, but he kept quiet for about another twenty feet. When he did speak, I could hear the worry and concern in his voice, but the words themselves made me trip over one of the many cracks in the old sidewalk. He caught me so I didn't fall down, and he smiled. "Come on, man…I'm your brother—and we've gone to our meetings for two years now. Did you think I wouldn't catch on that Benny is your boyfriend?"

I was so shocked I didn't know what to say next: deny being gay, deny Benny was my boyfriend, or tell him I was trying to get one. After a few seconds, the real question I wanted answered made its way to the surface. "Do you think mom and dad know?" I'd deny the Benny part later—this was more important right now. Mom and dad had never said anything bad about anyone—ever—but this seemed so much bigger since it was about me. I wasn't sure it was their manners or their true feelings, but even at home, it was the same. Jeff turned to face me, and raised my chin up with one finger so I could look him in the eyes, I still thought it was weird him being so tall while being a year younger than me. "Gregory Kurt—you think that would make any difference to them? You got rocks in your head instead of brains, or somethin'? Us boys shared a room until you turned sixteen—I love you, we all do—so don't you go thinkin' otherwise. Shit-fire, when I take Lee to the meeting next month, I'm not sure he won't drool all over the place!"

Now I was confused, Lee was fourteen, and I knew he'd start going to our club meetings someday, but I hadn't thought it would be this soon; I shouldn't have been surprised since I was only thirteen when Benny and I started, but I was. I was about to ask what Lee had to do with this, but Jeff cut me off with a grin, and a snicker that sounded awfully close to mine. "You remember how we all used to talk, until dad would yell at us to shut up and go to sleep? Well, Lee and I still do it, though we miss you being there with us. He's been pestering me with questions about sex and jerking off for months now, and he asked me about the club; you know, who all was in it and stuff, so I told him he could go with me—I thought that might calm him down, but it didn't—he's almost worse. I don't know if it's horniness, or what…but he sure seems eager to see other guys' dicks."

I mulled over the possibility that my youngest brother might like guys as much as I did, and set it aside for later…trying to fix things with Denny had to come first right now; I was so afraid I'd lost him, that even mom and dad knowing I was queer didn't seem all that important, except that they could try to stop me from seeing him if they disapproved. There were so many people I had to talk to, all because I liked guys rather than girls, and standing in front of me seemed to be one of my staunchest allies. Who'd have thought my straight brother would be on my side? "Jeff, Benny is my friend—but I didn't have a boyfriend until yesterday…and I need to talk to him this morning and try to make up for something I said last night; he's picking me up, so don't make a fuss when I get into his car, okay?"

I expected a barrage of questions about him, but Jeff looked at me for a minute, taking in my worry and remorse, and he asked only one thing. "Is he a nice guy?" When I nodded, he pulled me in for a quick hug and motioned for us to get moving again to the bus stop. "If you are gonna be late, I can leave word at the Office that you were a little sick, and needed some extra time—that way they won't call mom. If you want me to help, just ask." We were the first ones at the pickup point, and after looking at my watch, I realized we were early—it was only 6:10, and the bus didn't get there until 6:20.

We'd only been sitting on the bench a couple minutes when I saw Denny's maroon Corvair coming down the street from Route 40, and it passed us before turning around at the next corner to pull up along side us. I saw Denny's hand reach over and open the door for me, and Jeff came with me to look inside at Denny. Before I could say or do anything, he plopped down in the passenger's seat and gave my boyfriend a long appraising look. "I don't know anything about you, or what went on last night…but I'll tell you this—Greg was awake most of the night frettin' about what happened, and he's probably got some crazy scheme to fix it—but if you give him another chance, you'll have the best boyfriend you could ask for. He may joke around a lot, but he's the one guy with the deepest feelings for others I've ever seen—please don't break his heart." To emphasize his point, Jeff reached over and took hold of Denny's hand, and gave it a squeeze before climbing out so I could get in. Denny sat there with a bemused expression on his face until a horn sounded behind us, and we pulled away from the curb, headed for our woodland grove of the night before.

We had nearly an hour before school started, and half an hour before sunrise, so I directed him to the gravel road, and we pulled up at the turn a few minutes later. We hadn't really said anything up to now, and I wasn't sure if we were staying in the car, or going into the wood, until Denny turned off the motor and pulled the blanket from the back seat. I followed him through the trees, and I could feel the morning dew getting my sneakers wet. I watched him spread the blanket out next to the same tree we'd been at last night, and he sat down. I stood awkwardly until he patted the space across from him, and I took it gratefully. "Who was that character?" His voice was soft, like the morning hush around us, and I kept mine at the same level.

I was glad the darkness hid my blushing, but I think the tone of my voice gave me away. "That was my little brother, Jefferson Davis Newton…he's a sophomore." All I could see besides Denny's silhouette against the trees was the lighter shade of his shirt, so his face was a mystery to me, but his tone was a bit humorous as he spoke. "He's got balls, I have to admit…he didn't know me from Adam, but he put his heart out there for you." The pause that came next was a long one. "He loves you a lot…it's an easy thing to do, to love you, Greg."

Before I started crying, I held up my hand to stop him, and I began digging in my book bag for the photograph. I pulled it out to hand over to him, and saw that you could hardly make it out in the pre-dawn grove. "Denny…I hurt you last night, but the worst part is that I think it broke the trust you had started feeling with me." I handed him the picture, as I continued in a soft voice. "Jeff was right that I have a crazy scheme, but it's all I can think of—mom took this of me after my bath, I think I was nearly five years old, and had been drying myself off when she said 'Boo!' and snapped the picture when I turned in surprise. When it gets lighter, you'll see me naked with my dick sticking straight out. I want you to have it—you can do anything you want with it, even show it to other people—it's the only way I have of showing you how much I trust you, and that I will do anything I can to get your trust back again."

I was anxiously watching for some sort of reaction—if he didn't accept this gesture, then what hope did I have he'd be my boyfriend again? My heart sank as he took my hand and put the picture in it—he hadn't even glanced at it. "Greg, I know you trust me—and I'd never break it, so Jeff was right—it was a crazy scheme, but one I appreciate deeply; the problem is, you hurt me—after I opened up to you and shared my pain, you told me it didn't matter and you'd be there for me. I know what you said was meant as a joke, but it made me feel dirty, and that I wasn't good enough for you since I had been used by those guys. I can't expect you to understand that, I just have to work my way through it on my own."

Those final words cut me deeply…last night I thought we could get through this together, now he was talking about doing it by himself…I started crying, certain that I'd lost any chance of being boyfriends. Since my crazy plan didn't work, I had one last shot—maybe desperate truth would. "Denny, you're so, so wrong—I'm the one who isn't worthy of you—there's a lot you don't know about me, but I'm going to tell you now. You'll see just how much better you are than me, and I won't blame you for walking away from me…" I told him of our little jacking club which we started when I was thirteen, how I kept looking at the other boys more than thinking about girls—how that made me the dirty one when the other guys were just having innocent experiments; Without giving him Benny's name, I told him that me and one of the guys started looking more at each other than the pictures, telling myself that it was because I wanted a boyfriend so much, that when the other boy came on to me two years ago, I started seeing him alone, and we'd kiss and make out…and even gave each other blow-jobs. That wasn't the worst part, though, I told him—after a few months, when I realized me and this other boy would never be boyfriends—we kept on making out and sucking each other.

The dawn light was just starting over my shoulder, so if I'd looked I would be able to see his expression…but I didn't dare, and my eyes were too full of tears to make him out even if I'd tried. "Toward the end of last summer, my friend got busy with other stuff, and I had another stupid idea—that I'd try more actively to find a real boyfriend. Miles told you I watch people, so if I saw any signs that might make me think a guy could be like me, I'd find out his number and call him—I made sure it wasn't someone I knew, and used a fake name. I'd pretend to be calling someone else, and if the guy sounded at all friendly, I'd work my way around to the topic of sex, and the things two guys could do together…sometimes the guy would hang up, other times, he'd listen, and we'd eventually jack off over the phone. I thought that doing that might get me a boyfriend, but something always held me back from meeting these guys in person.

"Last semester, I got a scare when one of the guys recognized my voice—it was Jay—I forgot that he'd been in one of my Ag classes with me. After a while, he told me he was waiting for the right person before having sex…so I stopped calling people for a few months…." For the first time, Denny said something. "Wait—Jay?—he's with Mikey now."

I nodded sadly. "Yeah—it's sorta my fault…the next person I called a few months after Jay was Miles…I didn't know Jay was interested in him, and he actually told Miles about that before I called later the same day. That was early last week, and I haven't called anyone since then." That pretty much finished my confession, but there was still one more thing I had to do.

I stood up, a bit stiffly from the hard ground, and wiped my palms on my thighs. I looked in Denny's direction where he was still seated on the blanket, but not directly so I wouldn't see the disgust that was sure to be in his eyes. "I made you a promise, Denny, that I'd find you a boyfriend," my throat closed up for a second at those words, but I swallowed hard and went on. "I know it can't be me—not after all the things I've just told you—but there are a couple guys I can ask Jay to set you up with—one of them ought to be a good match. I need to take a leak—I'll be back." I walked off slowly, farther into the grove, leaving my book bag with him. As it turned out in the growing light, the wood was bigger than we'd thought last night, the little grove was just the part closest to the road. I didn't really have to pee, but I wanted to get away from Denny for a while—away from all the mess I'd caused my friends lately. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going until I came to a stream that meandered through the wood. There was a big rock sticking out into the water, so I sat on it with my knees up against my chest, and my arms wrapped around them just staring at the water swirling by. Sometimes all that was left for a guy to do was just be alone and indulge himself in a good hard cry.

What the fuck's wrong with me? All night long, I'd kept turning Greg's words over in my head, and it really was just a continuation of the joking we'd done all day, with not a hint of malice in it—so why was I this upset? He'd held me during my own revelations of being forced into sex, and what was his reaction—he'd kissed me and calmed me down—and asked to be my boyfriend. What had happened to me made absolutely no difference to him, so what more proof did I need of his loyalty and compassion? The only excuse I could think of for my muteness was hurt feelings, and that was just stupid—who hasn't said something without meaning anything by it, and hurt someone else? You accept the person's apology and move on. All the evidence I had told me that Greg was a caring and thoughtful guy, as his friends attested—even his brother—and that was rare for a brother to say about another sibling where rivalry was supposed to be the norm. At least that's the way I thought families worked, being an only child.

So why didn't I say something? It wasn't his telling me about his jerking off with a group of other boys—I knew from my old school that some of them did that, though I was never invited to join in. I didn't think it was even hearing about the phone calls—though the part about Jay recognizing his voice was kinda funny—I could see it was the only safe way he could think of to try and find a boy who might be interested in more than just sex. Those calls told me how much he wanted to find a boy to share his feelings with, to form a real and genuine connection—and after all that effort, he'd chosen me. So I guess it came down to hearing about his experiences with the unknown friend and their mutual blow-jobs.

I sat there on the blanket thinking about that as the morning light strengthened around me unnoticed. I examined that thought as rationally as I could, trying to figure out why it bothered me that he'd shared oral sex with another guy—and it finally hit me—I was jealous! Someone else had been not only Greg's first sexual encounter, but also his first kiss. My first kiss had been from Jay on Monday, but that was just a 'sympathy' kiss to show me he was my friend, and not a sexual one—that type of kiss had come from Greg last night in this same clearing, but I had to wonder if it meant the same to him since he'd done it before with his other friend. That left only the oral sex, then; why was I jealous of Greg for doing that, when I'd performed blow-jobs myself? It didn't take more than two seconds for me to know the answer to that one—he'd done it willingly and had received them in turn—mine had been the result of force, and there had been neither reciprocation nor concern for what I thought or felt either during or after. Was I so petty that I'd begrudge him the joy of discovering sex as it should be, between consenting partners? I didn't like what that implied about my own character; I hadn't been that callous before last spring. It was clear I had issues from those experiences, and I needed to deal with them, and that drove home the fact that the only time I'd felt like myself again was last night, in Greg's arms.

It was then that my second realization hit: Greg had said that he had never 'gone all the way', which I assumed meant fucking—that, he was saving for his boyfriend, when he found him. That was a first we could share—if I hadn't screwed things up already by my silence. There was so much more to like about my Southern swain than could be ruined by one ill-timed remark—and if I was honest with myself—I was falling for him in a big way. In my distracted state of reverie, I'd leaned back against the same trunk as we had last night, and the light from the sunrise was turning the inside of my eyelids red. As I slowly opened my eyes, one thought stood out in my head: nothing else mattered except for the fact that Greg wanted me to be his boyfriend—not his past, not his friend—and certainly not my past. Greg wanted me as I was, and I would be all kinds of fool not to want the same thing in return.

Greg's books were still there, but there was no sign of him; I looked at my watch and saw that it had been nearly twenty minutes since he'd gone for his 'leak'. I jumped to my feet, thinking the stupidest thoughts in my panicked state—there weren't bears in Ohio—were there? I called out his name, and got no answer, so I started into the woods at the same spot he'd taken. I didn't know what to look for, and the leaves from last year littered the ground in a damp layer that made seeing footprints impossible. I'd only gone a few feet when I stopped to think: he'd take the easiest path, right—straight ahead so he wouldn't get lost—so I did the same. My heart began to beat faster as I went deeper into the trees, and still saw no sign of him. Since the leaves were only just starting to unfurl, I had decent visibility, and most of the undergrowth was limited to low berry bushes and wildflowers or ferns. There was no flash of tawny red to mark his presence—that hair would draw my attention even in a crowd. I called his name every few minutes, but didn't hear anything as I held my breath so nothing would distract me from any response. What if he'd tripped and been knocked out? I put that thought to the side—I needed to stay calm and do this right—especially if he was hurt. It seemed like I'd been searching forever when I heard a rippling sound from up ahead, and as I got closer, I could hear definite sounds of a stream. I picked up my pace, thinking that Greg might have been drawn to it also, and I'd find tracks there if nothing else….

I burst through the last screen of undergrowth to see the creek, about four feet across, between sloping banks, and rocks of various sizes from gravel to small boulders lined both sides—this part of Ohio was the boundary for the ancient ice sheets thousands of years ago, and they had piled up rocks of all kinds at the foot of the Appalachians…I looked up and down the stream, trying to spot my boyfriend…and my eyes focused on a large flat rock to my right some ten feet away. It was my Greg! He was lying on his side, curled up facing away from me…I wanted to rush over and grab him, but I curbed that impulse, fearing he might be hurt, and startling him might aggravate any injuries, so I walked slowly, calling to him in a hoarse whisper. He didn't appear to be hurt—his clothes were just as I'd seen him a half hour ago, and I could see his sides move as he breathed, so that was a good sign. I circled around to approach him from the front—his head was resting on his clasped hands as a make-shift pillow, and it was only now that I got a good look at his face—it had been too dark to see much detail while we'd talked.

There was no nice way to put it—he looked like hell—his hair was a mess, his eyes were ringed with dark circles, and his complection was even paler than usual…and his cheeks were streaked with the trails of dried tears. I don't think he was having a good dream because his face twitched at intervals, and his mouth would tighten into a scowl. The happy, laughing boy I had seen yesterday was gone. I felt a tremendous rush of guilt—I'd done this to him when I walked out last night…and my breath caught in my throat as I recalled my silence during his confession a few minutes ago. I hadn't taken him into my arms then, but I could now. I knelt beside his sleeping form and reached out—then remembered you shouldn't startle someone having a bad dream. With my right hand, I pushed his hair back off his fore-head, and stared down at his worn face. I'll never make you look like this again, I swore. My index finger trailed down the bridge of his nose and caressed his soft lips. I followed it with my lips, gently kissing his brow, then his nose, and after a short pause, I brushed my lips against his, moistening them with my own. After a few seconds, I felt him start to respond, his tongue tip coming out to brush my lips, and his breathing deepened into a sigh.

I ran one hand through his hair, and the other I used to caress his brows and rub tiny circles on his temple. I pressed a little harder against his lips, and my tongue met his for just a moment before I pulled back. "Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty…" When his eyelids fluttered open, I could see some uncertainty in their sky-blue depths, and I kissed each one softly. "I know I've been more of a Frog Prince so far, but if you'll love me, I'll do my best to be your Prince Charming." His eyes widened in surprise, and his gasp was so cute, I had to kiss him again…and I did, letting all my feeling for him flow out of me and into him in a rush of tenderness. I pulled him to his feet, and wrapped him in my arms before I headed back toward the little clearing where we'd started this morning's misadventure. My right arm felt at home around his waist, but my left wasn't sure what it should do, brush his hair back, stroke his cheek, or pry between the snaps of his jacket to rest on his chest.

Back at our little grove, I bent down to pick up his book bag, but he placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. "Jeff said he'd tell them I'd be late…can we just stay here a while longer?" I could hear the fatigue in his voice, and to tell the truth, I hadn't slept that well myself, so I sat down on the woollen blanket and pulled him down next to me. It wasn't as comfortable leaning against the tree as I remembered, so I scooted forward and lay down flat. "We'll stretch out for a bit, then go to school…I'm tired too, Reb." I laughed when I saw his grin at that, and he snickered before kissing me. I felt something down by my feet, and I opened my eyes again to see what was happening—Greg had untied his sneakers and eased them off, then had pulled my loafers off before settling back against my side. I pulled his head down to my shoulder, and his right arm landed across my chest as he snuggled close. His fingers traced idle circles on my chest before slipping between the buttons of my shirt.

I sighed softly and my arm under his head pulled him closer to my chest and began to rub his back as our bodies found their perfect fit, then he drew his right leg over to rest between mine. Everything felt so right—it was almost scary. I wondered if we should talk about us, and was drawing in a breath to do just that when he placed his finger to my lips. "Shh, Yank—words just get in the way—I'm where I want to be, that's all that matters." I nodded my head against his fingers, and gave them a kiss before turning my head to nuzzle his russet hair. He was right; we were both just where we belonged. I let my mind drift away on happy thoughts of kisses-to-be, and it wasn't long before I joined Greg in slumber.

I was glad that there was less of the 'Mauler' and other idiocy today, but people were still paying attention to me, and I didn't like it. For years on end, I'd been ignored, and I just wanted it to stay that way—I wasn't sure what to say to people after returning their greetings; that stuff was what Jay was so good at, not me. After the first few times, I managed to get by with a 'hey' and a smile…and that seemed to work since there was only four minutes' time between classes. I went through the lunch line, opting for the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich, and the vegetable today was creamed corn. Dessert was a good one—apple cobbler, but when I got to the milk section, someone else told me the chocolate milk was gone. When I asked about Greg, the girl said he was running late. I paid for my meal and went to the Pepsi machine for my soda instead.

At our usual table, I took the seat nearest the wall and waited for Jay and the others, but I wondered if Greg would show up since he wasn't in the lunch line. He looked fine last night when he and Denny left Jay's, so I hoped he wasn't too sick. I made a note to myself to ask Denny about him. With his normal noisy clatter, Jay plopped down on the seat opposite mine, and gave me a huge grin. Even though he'd picked me up this morning, I couldn't help smiling back, and my heart beat a little faster as I thought of the kissing we'd gotten in on the way to school. For once, he wasn't in a tee-shirt or jeans…he was wearing a forest green button-down shirt and tan chinos. A quick look under the table revealed a pair of black loafers.

One of the first things I'd asked him this morning was why he was all dolled up, and he just grinned that evil grin and shook his head. "Secret," he said, and changed the subject by putting his hand in my lap to see what he could find. I let him get away with that for a while, until we pulled into our now-familiar dirt road on the way to school. When I leaned over to kiss him, I got a whiff of his cologne—Jade East—and nuzzled his neck for a few minutes lost in pleasant thoughts. "You even smell nice…" I whispered, nipping at his earlobe. "So what's the color today, elskede? You better tell me, unless you want me to find out in the restroom during lunch…."

My eyes came into focus again as Jay began eating his lunch, pretty much the same as mine, with fruit punch instead of Pepsi. "You gonna tell me what all the fancy clothes are for?" He shook his head no again, just as he had this morning, and I sighed. He was disappointed when I told him today's color was red—he'd worn green briefs to match his shirt. If he had secrets, then so did I—he was still going to get his reward. But I wasn't going to tell him that and have him get all conceited. The reason I started this game to begin with was just so I could see his underwear…and I'd love my Jay whether we matched or not. Seeing Jay in or out of clothes would always be the highlight of my day, but I actually preferred him in clothes since it prolonged the mystery and excitement as I took them off of him. I stopped chewing my sandwich when I realized I'd missed his question, and he'd rubbed my ankle under the table with his foot to get my attention.

"I asked, if you'd seen Greg or Denny today?" I shook my head; even though we had some of the same classes, we had them at different periods or sections. I almost never saw Greg except at a distance in the halls—if that red hair had been his—and I had to admit that I didn't know if I'd seen Denny at all. Now that he was a friend, I'd started to pay more attention, but today a certain blond farm boy had me distracted. Jay in dress clothes did all sorts of things to my imagination, and I'd walked around most of the morning with a partial woody. Now that he drew my attention to it, I didn't recall seeing Denny's car in the lot this morning—it was hard to miss with that maroon color and tan top.

Just as I shook my head, I saw Denny coming out of the lunch line door and look around. He made a bee-line straight for our table, and took his usual place to my right. Now all we were missing was Greg. Jay raised an eyebrow at me, and tilted his head at our friend—but I didn't know what he wanted, so I took another bite of my sandwich. There was nothing worse than cold grilled cheese. Of course, Jay wasn't to be denied. "Why were you late today? We didn't see your car in the lot. Did you have a dentist appointment or something?"

Denny took a minute to swallow his bite of sandwich before he replied. "I…overslept." Jay looked him over, then turned his gaze to me, and this time I noticed that Denny looked a little done in, not like he'd had too much sleep, and under the fluorescent lights, I could see his faint reddish tinge. "I'm not buying that," Jay said waving his hand. "You're looking a bit tired to me—you're not sick are you? Greg wasn't in the lunch line today, and Mrs. C said he was sick…" I was about to pull back at the slightest sign of a sniffle, when Greg took the last place at our little table opposite Denny. At least he actually looked like he could be sick, with his red eyes and tired face. He wasn't wearing his apron, and he seemed to be avoiding looking at Denny.

"You oversleep too," Jay quipped in a bright mischievous tone which made me giggle. Damn—Greg blushed so deeply his freckles almost disappeared! He looked at each of us under lowered eye-lids, but his gaze spent the least amount of time directed at Denny. His voice was soft when he answered, "Nah—I wasn't feeling good this morning, so my brother stopped in the Office to tell them I'd be late. I only got here about half an hour ago. I think it was just an upset stomach—I'm fine now, just a bit tired from being up late last night."

I relaxed a bit since Greg didn't have anything catching—I could catch cold at the drop of a hat, and that was the last thing I needed, a spring cold which would take forever to go away with Ohio's changeable weather. "So, I guess things went okay when Denny got you home last night?" To say I was surprised by the reaction my simple question got was an understatement. Denny choked on the juice he'd been drinking and started hacking, and Greg's blurted, "What the hell do you mean by that?" was pure drama. Thank god for Jay, since I was too stunned to say anything.

"Dude, peace out! Your dad was kinda mad last night that you hadn't called before studying with us, and we were just hoping you didn't get into any more trouble." I nodded to show my agreement, so Greg started relaxing, and Denny wiped his mouth with a napkin. Jay and I looked at each of them in turn, then at each other—something was definitely going on—it was a day for secrets apparently, and I was sorry that I seemed to be the only person without one. Greg apologized, said it must have been the stress from being ill, and told us his dad was fine, but he was still grounded this weekend. The four of us started talking a bit more normally about classes, movies we wanted to see, or had seen, and what we'd be doing over the summer. I thought it was a bit early to plan that far ahead, but I gave Jay a smile when I remembered he planned a campaign of getting me hot and sweaty out in the fields. My sisters had done some haying, but I had yet to enjoy that particular pastime. As long as Jay was sweaty with me, I didn't think it could be too bad.

"Oh, I need to tell you guys—we'll be starting late tonight with the studying—can you come over about 6:00 instead of right after school?" Greg and Denny both said it was okay, and tried to find out what was up, but Jay just winked at me and grinned. "It's a secret." What a bastard he could be—three sets of eyes looked at me, and I saw grins on all three of their faces, though Jay's was the widest since he knew what the secret was—the other two just figured it involved me—but I already knew that.

"You guys suck!" I made a show of eating my soup, crumbling the little packet of crackers into it and stirring them in. All that got me was laughs, and I felt Jay's foot rub mine under the table…this time he'd slipped off his shoe and ran his toes up my calf under my pant leg before pulling back. "Dick," I growled at him.

The guys had just settled down again when Linda and Benny came up to our table on their way out of the cafeteria. Linda smiled at Jay and me, and extended it to Denny and Greg with just a little less friendliness. Benny was standing next to her, hands in his pockets and dark hair framing his fore-head setting off his bright green eyes. I didn't find him as intimidating as I used to since he'd helped us the other day, but my smile was still a little tentative, unlike Jay's.

"Sorry to break in, dudes, but me and Linda were wondering why Denny's car was parked down the road from your house this morning before school…."

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