Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 45


POV: Mikey, Mikey, Jay

I was tangled up in my blankets by the time I woke Saturday morning. As usual, the room was a blur without my glasses, and I could barely see the numbers on my clock-radio. 9:15A.M., or was it 9:45? It didn't really matter…it was way too early for me to get up…but I couldn't get back to sleep knowing Jay and all the guys would be over around noon for our cook-out. What in hell had possessed me to ask everybody over? I hadn't had a friend visit since 7th Grade. I was a year older than my neighborhood buddies, and going to middle school first pretty much severed our contacts. For some reason, we never got close again once we were back in the same school.

I wondered if the rift hadn't started during that summer—we'd all tried smoking when my friend Jeffrey stole some of his mom's cigarettes and we'd lit them up in an old car in the field behind his barn. The other guys liked it, but I coughed my guts out for two weeks, and told them I wouldn't do it anymore. Getting together after that seemed to happen less often, though we'd still ride bikes over to the carry-out for cold sodas from the old water-filled cooler. I'd always scan the magazine racks for comic books while we were there. They also sold paperbacks with the covers torn off for 10 cents, or three for a quarter. I picked up all the science-fiction ones they had—and one of them was my first glimpse into sex. It was called Xanten And The Girl From The Other Side.

It was a weird Romeo and Juliet thing with the two main characters on opposite sides in a world split by two differing social systems…and had scenes of them screwing and stuff. But for me, the hottest one was where Xanten was captured and forced to have sex with a bunch of enemy soldiers. That was my first ever scene of man-to-man sex, but I knew the force was there just for the plot, so I didn't include that bit in my fantasies—well, not much—and very soon, it was just the thought of guys which turned me on rather than the circumstances. I never planned on finding other sexy parts in other books, but I found a few: The Dancer From Atlantis had one, and so did the book version of the film Soylent Green.

After that I'd watch TV for any scenes with shirtless guys, but I hit the jack-pot in middle school when our class went to see Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli. In that movie we got to see the two main characters in bed naked, and even saw their privates. I remember getting hard seeing Romeo, but most of the other boys were focused on Juliet.

Now, five years later as I was finishing my junior year, I still tried to see cute guys on the tube or at school, but I had Jay, and he was far better to fantasize about—I could also finally live out some of my erstwhile dreams. Everything was going so well, so why had I endangered it all by having the guys over at my house? I knew I was being paranoid, but old habits are hard to give up…so that's why I had trouble sleeping, and woke up early on a Saturday. There was no chance of my parents coming home early to catch me with friends; Mom worked until nine tonight, and Dad was in Cincinnati with his crew, inventorying a large store, and wouldn't be home until early Sunday afternoon.

I needed Jay's arms around me to calm me down, but he wouldn't be here until noon like the rest of the guys. I spent another fifteen minutes trying to go back to sleep, then gave up and tossed my covers back. I knew I was in trouble when I didn't see my usual morning wood…there was just too much stress right now for me to get excited. I tried thinking of my Jay, and I was glad to see that finally got me hard, but it wasn't as big as it normally would have been. I could get off with it as it was, but it would take longer, and that frustrated me all to hell.

A guy shouldn't have to work at jerking off!

I was always a little nervous before tests, but with all the studying the group had done, I was more than ready, and I didn't have any math classes to worry about. This was due to something else—my Dad's behavior Wednesday night…and how he'd almost caught me playing with myself. I had been soaked to the skin by the rain, so I was only in my socks and briefs, and I felt a little clammy despite having toweled myself dry before I came into the living room. If he hadn't moved, my hand would have been in my underwear, and I'd have died of embarrassment right there. Thank the gods my boner had gone away as soon as I saw him. I stood like a deer caught in the glow of headlights until he spoke, saying he'd been woken up by the heavy rain, and noticed I wasn't home yet, even though I still had fifteen minutes before my deadline.

"I know Jay's a good driver, but I remembered how bad the wipers are on that car of yours…so I had to wait up for you to get home safe…" There was an odd inflection to his voice, which I recognized with a shock as being worry. My dad never worried about me, and then I had a revelation of sorts— not that I knew about anyway. I felt a tightness in my chest, and found it hard to breathe for a second before I swallowed the lump in my throat.

In the dim light, I saw my father had put on a pair of pants and his shoes…and I wondered if he'd have gone out looking for us if we'd been late. If he was just waiting, he'd have left off the shoes, and probably the pants too, though I only ever saw him in boxers on his way to the shower. His white tee-shirt only emphasized the breadth of his shoulders—even at nearly 60, he was still strong and muscular with a sun-browned tan which never really went away. I still hoped to match his height, but I was fairly sure those last few inches would never come. I got almost all his shoulders though, and that meant I had to go to Big and Tall sections if I wanted a shirt which would fit just right.

"We were more than half way when the rain started, and Jay slowed down below the speed limit when he saw how awful the wipers were—he's still not used to the car, so he kept both hands on the wheel and his eyes glued to the road." I saw my dad relax a little, and had to toss in some teen silliness just to lighten the emotions of the moment. "If he'd gone any slower, I could have walked home faster."

Dad moved quickly to his feet and pulled my nearly naked body to his chest, which caused me to wince—my nipples were tender where Jay'd mauled them with his lips and fingers. I thought my little gasp had been masked by my complaint as my dad tousled my hair, but he pushed me back slightly to look down at me with concern in his eyes. "What's wrong, Mikey?"

I squirmed and hoped he couldn't see my blush in the light from the kitchen…and like the Grinch in the Dr. Seuss cartoon 'I thought up a lie—and I thought it up quick.' I let out a laugh and half-turned away. "I guess I rubbed myself too hard with the towel and made my skin raw. We should really get some better fabric softener." My Dad's grin reassured me that the crisis was past, and he tightened his grip on me for a second before letting go. A last look from him made my insides feel a little queasy, so I started toward the hall and the safety of my room. I bumped my leg on the corner of my spinet piano next to the foyer entrance at my Dad's next words.

"You like Jay a lot, don't you?"

I wonder if this is what a heart attack feels like, I thought as my heart raced at ninety miles an hour. I felt wobbly and faint, and the queasiness tripled inside my stomach. It took me a few seconds to get some control over myself. Now that I'd gotten Jay in my life, my walls had come down, and despite everything, I didn't want them to come back…so my hand sought out the silver oak pendant on its chain around my neck. Right away, I felt a little surge of strength and warmth in my heart. I could only hope my voice wasn't as shaky as it sounded to my own ears when I answered him. "Sure…he's my best friend…." I stopped before I could say 'only friend'…but that wasn't true anymore now that Greg, Denny, Ben and Calvin were part of my life. They'd even agreed to my study plan for our tests next week, so wasn't that a sign of friendship?

I could hear my Dad move up behind me, so I didn't jump or flinch when his big, rough hand landed on my shoulder. He let it lay there for a second before kneading my tensed-up muscles. He guided me over to the couch and sat down, leaving lots of space for me to sit next to him. "I can see Jay means a lot to you, Mikey; he's done so much to make you happy, and you should never be ashamed of that. A best friend is about the greatest thing a guy can have, so you should never take that for granted…." I had no idea where he was going with this, and my nervousness was ready to go wild again. His next words seemed to take on a different tangent altogether.

"You've missed a lot not having brothers—I have three of them, and two sisters. I'm sure you love your sisters, but it's not the same as loving your brothers. They just don't enjoy doing the same things, so it's a weaker kind of love, though that's not quite right either. Having friends is a lot like having a brother—having a best friend is in some ways even better than loving a brother—you can get away from them, unlike with family." He grinned at that, and it took only a second for me to return it. I knew already that Jay could exasperate me, but it would always pass in a few seconds, so I never wanted to turn my back on him.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is this: it's okay to love a best friend…he'll be there to support you in good times and bad, hopefully for the rest of your life." My dad drew his other hand over his face for a few seconds, and when he moved it, I saw his grin had disappeared. His voice was rougher, and I let my left hand grasp his right one on the cushion between us. He took a deep breath before he went on.

"Maybe this is too much for you to hear…but it will help you understand why I think having Jay as your best friend is so important, and something to be treasured….My first and very best friend was named Charlie, but for some reason everybody called him 'Chong'. We met in first grade and did almost everything together, and he was like another brother since we practically lived in each other's pockets. We'd sometimes date the same girls, but it never came between us, and we often worked at the same jobs during school. Even after Graduation we saw each other almost every day, and when the War started in '41, we went to sign up together."

I watched as my Dad shuddered a little before going on. His voice was a lot softer now, and I strained to hear it. "I didn't pass the physical because of an inner ear problem, but Chong did, and went off to Basic Training. We exchanged letters at least twice a week, and he'd come home on leave whenever he could until getting shipped off to Europe. His plane was shot down during a bombing run over Germany, and we never heard from him again…all his parents had left of him was the personal effects from his barracks, and one of those 'We regret to inform you' telegrams….

"Mikey, it was like part of me died when he disappeared—for a long time his folks hoped he'd be found—but even though I tried to hope too, I could feel the space inside me where he used to be was now empty." The grip on my hand finally loosened, and I saw tears on my Dad's cheeks. "I'm glad you have a friend like that now, and Jay is the best you could ever hope to find. Appreciate him all the time you are with him, and never end things with an angry word—it might be the last thing you say to him. Chong and I ended things on a good note—his last letter said he was looking forward to seeing me when his hitch was over, and we'd celebrate the end of the War together."

I couldn't think of anything to say that night, I was too stunned by what I'd heard, so I gave my Dad a long hug, before he pushed me toward the hall and my bedroom. When I got under the covers I felt warm from the sharing my Dad had given me…but during the night I tossed and turned with a dream I couldn't fully remember. At one point I sat up in a sweat, thinking something had happened to Jay, but my fingers around the oak pendant, and a feeling of his arms around me sent me back to sleep again. In the morning I had another thought which shook me to my core….

Did my Dad know just how much Jay meant to me, or was he just thinking of a very close friendship?

I didn't think I'd fallen asleep, but the jangling of the phone made me jerk to a sitting position on my bed. I groped for the receiver and brought it up to my ear, stifling a yawn and seeing my clock now read 10:38. "Hello?"

-- heavy breathing-- Oh crap—Greg said he'd given up dirty phone calls, so I was pretty sure it wasn't him at the other end…and now that Jay was my boyfriend, I didn't feel like doing phone sex anymore, but I'd give the caller one last chance to identify himself before I hung up. "You've got one chance to tell me who this is, and then I'm hanging up."

-- more breathing— then a low, throaty voice. –W hat are you wearing? What is your cat wearing?—

I let out a laugh and replied in my own hoarse whisper. "You'll never know unless you come over, Jay Beckel…." I hung up the phone. It rang again, but I waited almost six rings before picking it up. In a nasally voice like that of Ernestine The Operator from Laugh - In , I said: "A gracious good morning. We've registered an improper use of your instrument, and our technician Guido is on his way over to remove your equipment…."

Jay's laugh nearly pierced my eardrum it was so loud. "Well, maybe he can use it since you don't seem to need it…I mean, it's been almost twelve hours since you did a number on it."

"I know the number you're trying to reach, doofus…we can try to connect it after we play Putt-Putt."

"So, you feeling better kæreste ?" He heard my little intake of breath, and went on before I could ask him how he knew I was nervous. "I know how you are, Mikey—you worry at the drop of a hat, so this party has to be making you crazy. It'll be fine—you know all these guys and plus, I'll be right there to hold your hand."

I felt all warm and fuzzy inside at his words, and my nervousness was gone. Jay always did that to me, and after my Dad's talk Wednesday night, even more so than before. I'd told him about it on the way to school Thursday morning, and once we were in our little parking spot, he'd held my hand and given me a long gentle kiss. That was when I'd asked him if he thought my parents knew about us…and my ever-practical boyfriend had said it didn't matter since they thought we were good for each other.

"Want me to come over early?" I knew Jay was thinking more of keeping me calm than the potential sex later today, but I heard the faint leer anyway, and it made me giggle. I was good now, and he'd need to show the rest of the guys how to get to my house.

"You won't escape Guido that easily, Jay." My clock said it was almost eleven, and I still had to shower and get the charcoal ready. "I'll get things set up so all we need to do is light the grill and cook, elskede . Love you, Jeepers."

By dint of some late-night phone calls among our friends, Denny showed up at my house with Calvin, and Greg came with Ben. It only took one look inside to remind me that neither Ben's purple Barracuda nor Denny's maroon Corvair would work to carry all of us into Heath to play miniature golf—each had bucket seats in front rather than a full seat, and the back ones wouldn't hold four people unless one sat on somebody's lap. I could see how that would be fun for a few minutes, but none of us were light enough to make it cool for the half hour it took to get to our county seat's sister suburb.

The weather forecast called for a sunny day with temperatures around 75°, and the winds were supposed to be calm, so I wasn't surprised to see everybody dressed in tee-shirts and shorts with socks and sneakers. Denny's shorts were tan ones like Mikey's, while the rest of us had old jeans with the legs cut off—most of them about a third of the way to the knees. Ben and Calvin's tees were sleeveless muscle ones, and boy did they have the arms and chests to pull that fashion statement off. Greg's shirt was the only one with a message on it, and it took me a minute to figure it out, then I broke up into peals of laughter.

6 + 9 = Y*U*M

"Where the fuck did you get that?" I wanted one for myself and Mikey, but we'd never be able to wear them at school, not unless we wanted to be sent home. I might have risked it, but far and mor would just tell me to save it for being at home, so I decided there would be no point until college.

Greg grinned and ran his hand lovingly over the lettering. "Far out, ain't it? I saw an ad in the back of Rolling Stone and sent away for the catalogue."

Ben and Denny grabbed two grocery bags from their cars and gave me and Greg impatient looks. "We're hungry, dudes…so whose car are we taking since ours won't hold six people?" Their gazes wandered over to Mikey's big four-door Pontiac, and I got the point. We'd all bounced on its large bench seats Tuesday, and it would hold three guys in each one easily. I grabbed the keys from the kitchen and motioned for them to hop in while I took my spot behind the big, grey steering wheel.

I thought one of them would sit up front with me, but they'd put the groceries inside the passenger door, and piled into the back. I expected the two wrestlers to take the center spots, and was surprised to see Greg sharing it with Ben instead. Calvin sat to Ben's left and Denny sat to Greg's right. After some wriggling around, they settled down. "Comfy?" I asked with a snicker.

I got four grins as an answer, and if that wasn't enough, seeing their thighs tight to each other gave me a clue…so did the hands which rubbed their partner's legs even before I started the engine. The motor roared to life when I turned the key, and I looked back to see if the coast was clear before heading for the road into town. Just before I turned onto the graveled lane, I heard Denny say something in a very snooty voice. "You may drive on, James."

I flipped him the bird and then concentrated on the car and the road as we set off. About twenty minutes later, I was pulling into Mikey's curved driveway. I honked the car's loud horn to let Mikey know we'd arrived, and then grabbed one of the bags. Ben carried the other one, and we were going to take them into the kitchen when Mikey came through the back door of the garage.

"Back here, guys…" We followed him out and down three cement steps to his huge back yard. It was about half an acre in size with apple trees along the left side, and two smaller ones to the right near a small garden pond. Near the center of the open space was a picnic table set up close to what looked like a stack of cement blocks. The far end of the yard had nothing but corn fields beyond it, broken only by a rusty trash barrel and a huge iron swing set. Unlike the front which was long tan brick, the back was all white wooden clapboard siding. The house was a long one-storey ranch. The grass was green and soft underfoot, looking like it had been mowed just before winter set in.

I watched Mikey's butt as he led us toward the table and the pile of blocks. They turned out to be loosely stacked on a four-foot square concrete platform, and made up supports for a metal plate holding the charcoal, and was topped by a charred metal mesh grate. Mikey picked up a box of wooden matches, and looked at us with imploring eyes. "Anybody good at this? I never joined the Scouts."

Greg took the box and shook his head sadly after looking at the piled coals. He did some rearranging before turning around. "You used too much starter fluid…y'all stand back." He struck one of the matches on the boxes side, then tossed it onto the black nuggets. WHUUMPH!! The orange fireball made us all jump, and then laugh at what we'd done. "Go get shit ready; I'll watch the fire."

Mikey led us into the kitchen and pointed out a platter stacked with hamburger patties, and then to some paper plates and plastic cups. "There's soda and Kool-Aid in the fridge, and cheese, ketchup, and mustard to go out when the burgers are ready. I figure we don't need bowls for the chips, right?"

I showed the guys where the ice was and pulled my boyfriend toward his bedroom. Ben winked at me and poked Cal in the side to get his attention, while Denny filled two cups with ice and Pepsi. "Have fun, guys," the big dark-haired jock called out in an amused voice. I gave him a finger for the second time in a half hour, before shutting Mikey's door behind us.

"What?" he asked me in a confused tone. I looked him up and down, and shook my head. He was dressed in an okay tee-shirt, but had on long jeans. I pulled on his belt and unbuckled it, then undid his zipper. I told him to kick off his loafers, then shucked his jeans down with one jerk.

"Get with the program; you gotta be in shorts like the rest of us." I went over to his dresser to grab the really skimpy ones I'd had him wear last week, but he refused to put them on. Even groping his dick through his yellow briefs didn't do any good. "Come on, kæreste— do it for me?" The bastard groped me right back, but still wouldn't do it. When I pulled out his cream-colored walking shorts instead, he let his hand slide under the leg of my shorts and took them from my other hand. Once he had them on and belted, he leaned into me and gave me a really long, passionate kiss.

"I'm saving those for a special occasion….Let's go see what the others are doing." We grabbed our own glasses of Pepsi and found our four friends at the picnic table, already scarfing down chips and pretzels. Greg said the coals had about ten more minutes, so I followed Mikey back toward the rusty swings. The frame was made up of three twelve-foot poles at either end, rooted in concrete, and the center pole was about sixteen feet long. Four weathered wooden seats hung from chains about two feet off the ground.

Mikey sat on one of the middle two, and I warily sat on the other one. Surprisingly, it didn't break, and my scared look made my boyfriend laugh. We pushed ourselves back and forth with our legs, and I held his hand once we were synchronized. "I come out here a lot to think," he said quietly. He showed me his left pinky finger where a small white scar marred the edge. "I tore that one day when the chain broke…Mom put mercurochrome and a Band-Aid on it, and I was back out here in ten minutes. Dad replaced all the chains the next day."

I gave the scar a much-belated kiss to make it better, and he giggled. "There were a lot of good times too, with my friend Jeff down the street…We made up stupid games and contests, and didn't really care who won." He slowed to a stop, then reached down to feel the grass. "Nice and dry. Wanna play my favorite game with me? It's kinda dumb now that I'm seventeen, but it made us feel a little daring and naughty when we were thirteen…."

I wondered what kind of game could make you feel naughty at that age and be able to do it on a swing, so I was willing to give it a try. At my nod, Mikey told me to untie my sneakers and loosen the laces as much as I could. I frowned, but did as he said. He started to swing again, pumping his legs to go higher than we had before. "We used to go pretty high, or so it seemed to us then. When we're high enough, just do what I do, okay?"

The chains squeaked in their eye-bolts, but held as we climbed higher and higher, and I thought I felt the pole shift a bit at the right end from our momentum, but Mikey said it was safe and to ignore it. When he reached the forward point of his next swing, Mikey said "Now," and kicked his right leg, sending his shoe arcing into the air to land about twenty feet away…then he did the same thing with his left shoe on his next swing. I gaped at him, and he grinned. "You have to beat the distance I reached…." It sounded weird to me, but I kicked off my sneaker on my next arc, and the other one followed it into the air on my next pass.

"What now," I asked as Mikey slowed down, his white socks flashing in the sun. I let myself slow down too, and it was even stranger when I felt a little thrill from the breeze of our swinging go through my socks. I couldn't help it, I wiggled my toes and felt the sensation get stronger. It did feel a bit naughty, though I knew it was totally juvenile. Mikey stopped, and planted his feet on the grass…which gave me another thrill when I did the same.

"Now we go get them, and see whose went the farthest…" The grass was sorta soft, but also a little spikey, and it would tickle my feet as we walked the twenty or so feet to where our shoes had landed. Since it was dry, we didn't have to worry about getting stains on our socks, and Mikey leaned in to whisper, "It's even more exciting if the grass is wet, but Mom would get mad at me for having dirty socks."

Since I hadn't played this game before, one of Mikey's loafers won by almost ten feet, and he smirked triumphantly at me. When I stood up from picking up my last sneaker, Mikey pointed to the beginnings of a bulge in my cut-offs. "Told you it feels a little naughty." Calvin and Benny came up to us, saying the coals still needed a few minutes, and eyed our shoes dangling from our hands rather than being on our feet.

Mikey told them about the game and the goal, and the two wrestlers looked at us like we were crazy. "Don't knock it 'til you try it," he said with a grin, and that's how the four of us wound up on the swings, trying to see whose shoes would land the farthest away. We watched them as they felt the wind on their socked feet, then the grass as we went to see who won the second game. Their grins matched ours as we gathered our shoes—Ben won this one with his stronger legs, followed by Calvin, then Mikey. Greg and Denny saw us and wanted in on the fun, whatever it was, so the two wrestlers showed them how it was done while Mikey and I walked over to the picnic table, still in our socks.

"Come on, let's grab the food from the fridge." Mikey took off for the kitchen, not bothering with his shoes, and the coolness of the concrete gave me another tingle as we brought out the condiments and burgers. The scent of grilling meat must have acted like a siren call, because our four friends trotted up within minutes of the first burger hitting the flames. Mikey grinned widely when he saw all of them carrying their shoes, and when they saw us still in our socks, they dropped theirs in a pile to join us around the grill.

"So who won? Was it Ben again?" I asked, figuring I'd be right. Ben nodded his head, but said Denny had won the last one because of his runner's wiry muscles. We could barely wait for the food to cook, but managed to hold off until there was enough for all of us, and then we'd worry about round two.

It was well over an hour before we were stuffed to the gills, and all the burgers and dogs were gone. So were the chips, and we'd gone through the entire pitcher of Kool-Aid and three two-liters of Pepsi. With the sun warming our bodies, we decided to relax a bit before going into town to play golf. I was a real farm boy, so I stretched out on the grass and put my hand up to pull Mikey down beside me…and the other two couples soon lay close to us. We talked quietly amongst ourselves and to each other, held hands, did a little smooching, and just let the world go by.

The trees to either side of Mikey's yard screened us from his fairly distant neighbors, and the field of dried corn stalks on the third side was huge, so we felt safe. The occasional breeze flowed through our socks and sometimes up into the legs of our shorts, and I wasn't the only one beginning to get a boner. We'd run our fingers along them once in a while between just holding them, and it felt good just to do that. The sun drained us of any urgent need to get off, so we just enjoyed the odd tingle or gentle pulse without trying to go all the way.

"It's sort of like a philosophical boner—you know, one you can think about enjoying, but not feel the mad rush to shoot…," Greg said in his lazy drawl. "It's like we were kids, not knowing what to do, so we just experienced it."

That thought had all of us nodding, and we lay there letting the worries about tests fade away. "So what makes this feel so exciting then," Calvin asked.

"I think it's because it's almost a forbidden thing to do, like when we were kids…," Mikey mused. "There were so many rules to follow, and if you could find a time to do something that gave you a sense of freedom, you took it. You were getting away with something, and if it felt good, then that made it even better."

I could hear grunts of assent all around me, and was going to say something about the rules now being made by our own choices, but let that go—it was too much trouble to do more than enjoy the sun and the caress of the breeze, or a partner's hand. "So, are we going to go play Putt-Putt?"

There was silence for a long time, then I heard Ben say 'Rules' under his breath, and that brought a round of giggles from all of us. One by one, sounds of satisfaction with our current situation came floating into the air, so we just soaked up the warm April afternoon. "We ought to turn over so we don't burn," Denny whispered, and this time it was me who muttered 'Rules'…but like a wave on the ocean, we each turned to lay on our stomachs, winding up so all of us lay against each other, basking in the glow of our warm skin in addition to the sun overhead.

I felt Mikey's fingers lace with mine, and I gave them a little squeeze. I heard a rustling sound, and Mikey whispered that Ben was holding his other hand the same as I was. I wished there was someone to hold my other hand too, but I was at the end of the row. I leaned my head in close enough to kiss my boyfriend. "Are you okay with it? I'm sure he'd stop if you asked him to."

Mikey gave me a soft smile and nodded. "Yeah, there's nothing sexual about it—just sharing the moment among friends and providing a sense of comfort and support…." I saw the love in his hazel eyes, and I knew beyond doubt that he would always be mine.

"I think it's like the love your Dad told you about, it's the love of a friend for a friend, full of trust and strength, and comfort during the hard times. Cherish and nurture it, because it puts the other before yourself, and that's rare." Once more I squeezed Mikey's fingers, and whispered for him to 'pass it on'. When it came time to turn over on our backs again, I led Mikey to lay next to Calvin while Denny moved from the other end to be between Greg and Mikey. Some shy grins accompanied the new hand clasps, but we relaxed into it, and now everyone had held hands with everyone else.

The calls of Nature had us in line at the bigger of Mikey's two bathrooms an hour or so later, but after that we went back out and cleaned up our mess of paper plates and empty bags. The coals had cooled down to nothing, and we stood around staring at each other for a while, still shoeless. "This is dumb," Mikey said, and reached out his hands to take Ben's, then pulling the big guy in for a hug. "We're all happily paired up with our partners, so why shouldn't we show our friendship for each other in a more truthful way than straight guys do? I'm probably the shyest one here, and I can't see anything wrong with a reassuring hug, or hand-holding when one of us needs it."

Mikey never failed to surprise me, when he thought something needed to be said—it was he who said it. This was so unlike the guy he'd been scant weeks before. I knew there'd been a sensitive and lonely boy inside him, and he wanted to share the happiness he'd found with me so everyone could feel it too. I watched as my boyfriend went down the line of our friends, giving each one a hug and a rub on their back. When he got to Denny, the sandy-haired runner whispered 'thank you' and gave his cheek a soft kiss. Before long, we'd all shared hugs and caring kisses, and held hands as a group for quite a while, just soaking in the camaraderie and calm support of good friends.

"How did it get to be five o'clock?" Calvin asked in wonder. That drew snickers from us, and Ben piped in with, "I ain't singing Kumbayah, even if I knew the words."

We laughed, and each one of us slugged Ben in the arm for ruining the mood, but also letting him know we appreciated his humor. I told Mikey to go write his folks a note so he could stay over at my house tonight, and that led to a scramble to find our shoes. Mikey joined me in the front seat, while the other guys crammed into the back once again. The ride back to my house went pretty quick, or so it seemed, and we climbed out into the barnyard. There wasn't any awkwardness this time as we exchanged hugs, saying we'd see each other Monday before school. When it was just me and Mikey standing by the back porch, I pulled him into my arms for a long kiss.

"It was a great day, full of good friends, good food, and lots of love," I said softly.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead