Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 56

Something In The Air?

POV: Denny, Jay, Kevin

"I never knew training horses could be so much fun," Dirck said, chortling once more over the lunch table…much to Jay's chagrined annoyance. Rosalie had laughed when we came in carrying on about what we'd seen, but now she just shook her head at us all. I guess a story can get old if it's told too often, and the look on Jay's face said that limit had been passed after the first reenactment. He was even more put out by the fact Calvin had taken pictures of his horse's antics, but we'd gotten him over that when we swore no one outside the group would see them, Besides, we told him, it would be a great memento of the fun he and Mikey had in the early part of their relationship.

All this had me thinking back to the early days when I moved to my grandfather's farm just after he got sick. He still had most of his horses then, and wasn't yet too ill to care for them. Uncle Rhys helped out, showing me how to do some of the chores, and also gave me my first riding lessons…but after that first year, he and Daid-cu had to sell more than half, keeping only the best breeders and two for riding. One of those was Stormy, a Welsh Cob who was a medium-dark gray just like a thunder-cloud. I would spend a lot of time on the trails with him in that first year, and my Uncle Rhys, and later Cousin Henry, would take me out to ride him at their own farm before I went off to Maine.

Stormy was big according to my five-year-old eyes, but his breed is small when compared to ones like the Arabians or Quarter-Horses you see at most stables…but that didn't matter to me at all. It was love at first sight even before Henry helped me mount him for the first time. He was patient with my awkwardness, and never tried to buck me off, though he was more than happy to run flat out when I got a little more skilled in the saddle. I begged my parents to keep him in our barn once Grandpa died, but they said 'no' without even considering it. A boy of seven was too young to groom and care for a horse every day, and they saw no sense in keeping a 'hand' around for only one animal. So, off he went to live with the others at Uncle Rhys' place, over an hour away down in the Hocking Hills of Logan County.

The first thing I'd done when I came home from Maine in late December was drive out to see him, just as I'd done during Summer vacations after I got my Corvair from Henry; before that, he'd come to pick me up and I'd stay there for a few weeks between terms. Stormy remembered me every time I visited, and we'd go off on rides like we'd never had a break in our routine. He heard every secret I ever had—even those from school—and after my Southern boyfriend, he held the largest piece of my heart. According to the papers Uncle Rhys had, Stormy was born the same year I was—1958—and was even a few months older.

Horses can live for up to four decades, although three is more common, so I held onto hope he'd still be alive when I moved back to Dderwencelli after college and re-opened the stables. Greg didn't know it yet, but I planned on him making his home there with me. He'd loved the barns and trails when we'd explored them at Easter, and I told him that it was my dream to get some horses and either breed them or use them to teach riding...maybe both. I knew horses were bright, but watching Gulliver showed me they had a sense of humor too.

Could the term 'smart-ass' be applied to a horse? Gulliver was keeping quiet on that one, and I didn't know for sure….

Rosalie had set out the makings for sandwiches, which the six of us had raided like a swarm of locusts, and now we were sharing slices of the chocolate cake Jay had made yesterday for his dinner with Mikey. It was obvious who the big chocoholics were in our group—Benny and Mikey—but the rest of us liked it too. My own favorite was spice cake with caramel frosting, but I didn't get it very often, unless I ordered one from the grocery store. I could make one from a mix, but it was a lot of work and somehow spoiled the enjoyment for me. My mom would make it for Christmas, and she used to do it for my birthdays before I went off to the Academy…but I didn't know if she'd do one for my birthday this year. Was turning eighteen a big enough occasion for her? I hoped so, but this would be the first time I would be home for my big day in nearly five years.

My connection with my mother had always been stronger than that to my father; his energies went into running his business and cultivating the right connections to make that task easier. He didn't ignore me... he set out what he expected of me and encouraged me when I did well, and doled out punishments when I didn't. I couldn't tell either of them the truth about why I'd left Maine in apparent academic disgrace, and that had led to several heated discussions about my next course of action during Christmas. The fact I'd lost some weight and showed signs of stress helped when I'd explained getting sick and falling too far behind to catch up, but I guess I was lucky they were too busy to question that excuse when I enrolled in 'our' high school a few miles away. They kept a close watch on my grades, and when they were quickly back to my old standards, settled back into their normal social schedule.

The old saying goes that sons are closer to their mothers, and daughters to fathers, and that may have been true when I first left home, but while I still felt my mother cared a great deal about me, I wasn't sure if I'd call it Love. I knew it wasn't like the one so obviously shared among the Beckels, and that dampened my spirits as I listened to the joking around me. I felt fingers twine into mine under the table and saw my Reb's eyes peering intently at me…and I remembered that I was loved, and it would last until I took my last breath. I gave my Greg a soft smile and turned my hand upward so I could squeeze his in return.

"Appointment time?" I asked in a whisper only he could hear.

Greg leaned his forehead against mine, letting his red locks mingle with my own sandy curls, then moved so our lips could also meet in turn. "You okay?" When I nodded, he gave me another peck and stood, pulling me up beside him.

"I think me and Yank'll go for a walk to get rid of some of those calories." To show which ones he meant, he picked up his fork which still held a few crumbs of cake and licked it clean. We headed to the back porch to ferret out our shoes, and I could hear our friends making ribald comments about what else we might do—tamer than they might have been if Dirck and Rosalie weren't in the room with them. We did walk a little, until we were out of sight of the kitchen window, then picked up our pace to circle around to the rear of the barn where we made our way up into the hay-mow.

It wasn't long before we were behind the little wall of hay bales with the blanket and bowl of water. We began by removing our shirts and shoes, and Reb was about to start on the fly of my pants when I remembered the radio was still sitting in the middle of the large loft, uselessly silent. I didn't think anyone else would come up to use the other end of our love-nest, but I figured it's better to be safe than sorry…so I went over and turned it on to an FM station. It was playing some ad for National Trails Raceway over in Hebron where they did drag racing, then the announcer said they were featuring new songs this hour, and I heard him mention some group I'd never heard of called Starland Vocal Band doing Afternoon Delight>….

I had to laugh when Greg pulled me down next to him and echoed one of the song's lyrics. "Think your artillery can manage some 'skyrockets in flight'?"

I shot him a mischievous grin. "Prime my gun and see, my foxy Reb!"

It was too nice a day to sit around in the house, so I decided to show Benny and Cal our little patch of woods and the pond. The weather hadn't been warm enough since the study group started to do much outdoor stuff, but for right now we were having warm days with mostly clear skies…and maybe I could talk them into helping take down the tent and carry the stuff back up to the barn. I felt bad about asking them to help out, but I'd feel worse if I left most of the work to far…or Mikey. I didn't like imposing on my friends, so I was trying to think of things I could do to return the favor as we walked through the orchard and past our little vegetable garden.

The guys had heard about Mikey thinking I was gonna play horsey with him when I got him to ride Gulli with me, and I had to laugh as I pointed to the furrows of freshly planted seeds. "I finally got Mikey to horse around—he used the cultivator to make the rows and I planted the seeds—you can see how some of them are a little crooked…."

Now why did Mikey smack me on the back of my head?

"It must be nice to have your own garden," Benny said with a laugh. "We don't have the room at my house—just room for the small garage and some lawn to play on in back that also has the clothes line for hanging out wet laundry."

I couldn't imagine that since I always lived on the farm, but Mikey could sympathize with the big wrestler. "You saw my yard at the cook-out, and it isn't big enough for a garden either, but the ladies who own the farm across from us let us use an acre of theirs to grow our own veggies. We haven't done that for a couple years, though, since my dad has two jobs now."

I grabbed Mikey's hand as we walked, and I saw Cal and Benny do the same. "We planted some rows for Mikey's parents to use—I'm sure we could do the same for you guys if you want…."

Benny bit his lower lip and looked at the space left in our large plot, about a third of the area still lay unused. "I dunno, Jay…I'd need to ask Mom and Dad what we want to grow, and I know they'd expect to pay you for letting us do it."

Mikey shook his head before I could answer, and I was so proud of him that I kissed him when he finished talking. "No dice—you use the cultivator this time and see how well you do it. Like I'll be doing, you just have to keep the area weeded and pick the stuff when it's ready to harvest."

That got us all laughing, even me, until Benny's next comment. "Why don't you hook Jay up to the cultivator—he did a good job on that cart thing this morning…."

My smile dropped, and Calvin whacked his boyfriend hard between his shoulders. Before I knew it I was enveloped in big-muscled arms and breathing in the scent of the black-haired jock.

"Sorry Jay…that was dumb. Sometimes I stick my foot in my mouth—just ask your sister Linda—but I never mean to hurt anybody….Forgive me?"

I struggled for a second until he loosened his hold enough so I could look up at his worried face. "Well, now that I can breathe again…just don't make me inhale any more of that cologne you pour all over yourself."

"Hey!" Cal exclaimed. "My Benj smells great—especially when we exercise!"

Mikey broke in, giving our friends a taste of his sarcastic humor which I'd grown to love over our time together. "Oh…exercise. Is that what they call it these days? We just call it 'making love'. That gives a whole new meaning to jocks talking about working out…."

"What about pumping iron," I snickered. "You guys try that yet?" My hand gesture left no doubt what I was hinting at. I squawked as arms encircled me and I felt myself being lifted in the air. "Hey, you big goof—put me down!"

I'm not sure what Benny intended to do with me, so I tried squirming out of his grasp with no success. I pushed against his arms but couldn't loosen them at all, though he did relax just enough so I could breathe without too much difficulty. I thought about kicking my legs but decided not to in case I kicked him in the balls by accident, and we were only having fun after all.

I could see Calvin grinning off to my left and turned to locate Mikey. He was nearly as tall as Benny but a lot lighter, and though I thought he was sexy as hell, he wasn't known for being Charles Atlas.

"Wasn't there something about seeing a pond," Calvin asked. The question could have been innocent enough most of the time, but Ben's chuckle did more than enough to tell me this wasn't one of them. I doubled my efforts to get free, until I found myself across Ben's shoulder being carried like a sack of potatoes.

We skirted a couple of fields using the trail worn through years of kids' feet for the past ten summers: mine, Jerry's, Linda's and those of our friends and neighbors. The pond had been popular with us since the Great Mud War before it was filled with water from the stream, and used for swimming ever since. A lot of humid nights had been spent on the shore gazing up at the stars from blankets or sleeping bags, laughing about the worst jokes we could think of, or discussing the vital issues of the day, like what we'd get for our birthdays, or how many belches you could get from one bottle of soda.

It was also where I first thought I might be different from my other friends. Boys always liked to hang out together rather than with girls, until puberty hit with a sucker punch to the gut…but even before Jerry and far told me about jerking off, I'd been noticing my guy friends more than the girls in any of my classes. Skinny dipping only fueled those thoughts, and it wasn't until I learned about playing with myself that I figured out what that might mean. I didn't worry about it because what I was doing with those thoughts felt too good to think about anything else at the time. My parents had mentioned some boys liked girls, and some liked other boys—I knew that because of Uncle Mikkel and Sam—and then Jerry had told me to think about someone I liked; now my world was filled with both the fantasy and the reality of Miles Stevenson.

During glances over at Mikey as he walked close to where I was slung over Benny's shoulder, I could see he was torn between laughing at my predicament and worrying about what would happen once we reached the pond. We'd gone about twenty feet when I saw his face light up. "Hey guys, it's a long walk back to the pond…."

I wasn't sure what he was aiming at, but I renewed my struggles to get down, to emphasize whatever point he was going to make. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cal look at me, then Mikey, and finally at his slightly larger boyfriend. He was too nice a guy to go along with anything really mean, and I thought he might grab at any reason to avoid any bad feelings between us. I began flailing my arms and wriggling my stomach so Benny had to keep adjusting his grip on me—then his big hand came down on my butt to shift me a little higher toward his neck.

Bad idea…really bad—the new grip and the feel of his flexing muscles had 'Little Jay' waking up, despite all the fun he'd had with his friend 'Little Mikey' the night before. "…woods to get through first too…" I heard Mikey say next, leaving out mention of a fairly good trail that had been worn through them since the pond was finished. I hadn't told him yet that it had been a game trail down to the stream when we moved in, and kid traffic had made it wider and a little smoother until now. We couldn't do anything about tree roots, but all sorts of rocks had been thrown into the woods as we found them or carried to the pond to be tossed in. Some made nice splashes while a few had made long skipping tracks across the waters.

I don't know if it was Mikey's words or the hardon that Benny could probably feel grinding into his shoulder, but he stopped suddenly and set me down on the ground, being careful not to cause any rubbing to my jeans front. I looked up at him and couldn't decide which one of us was redder from embarrassment. Cal noticed before my boyfriend, though, and gave me an impish grin. "So what do you think of all those muscles from 'pumping iron' now…neat huh?"

Red-faced, I didn't answer. We began walking again, Mikey and I leading with our hands entwined and bumping against one another about every ten feet or so, laughing and trading comments with our athletic friends. As close as we'd been since Mikey's barbecue, it still felt weird bringing up personal subjects like sex in a serious way, but I was fairly certain that Ben and Cal had gone all the way in their lovemaking. Some of their comments in the past week or so had hinted at it, but even more had been their actions: leaning against each other with hands around waists or roaming down to fondle bulging jean fronts or give their butts little smacks. They kept it all in private, though, nothing out of the athlete's role at school, and only hand holding or a short kiss in front of my parents. Then there was Benny's sudden interest in photography….

Mikey had taken it last year and told me how much fun it had been learning to take pictures and develop his own film and prints…and he'd confessed to having more than one fantasy about being in the dark room with another boy. While learning, a couple kids had been in there at the same time, but once you began doing your own prints, it was a solo activity. There were some times when all you had to do was wait for the chemicals to do their work—times it would have been fun to have someone else to talk to—or maybe more. Next year it might be one of my electives, and Mikey could help me develop an interest as keen as Benny's.

If only I'd known what fun our two wrestler friends had in that small room, I'd have made sure to be on any list that might have been needed even before we began planning for next year's courses in a few weeks. Some electives were pretty popular, while others weren't, and there was a chance the latter could be cancelled if there wasn't enough interest, and if it was too popular it could fill up early. School budgets and the teacher's time dictated whether a second class in an elective would be offered; some were willing to give up a free period for a class they enjoyed, and others only saw it as more work for no extra benefit.

Another complication was the availability of classroom space. The Industrial Arts and Vocational Agriculture programs had separate work areas, but tended to share one very large classroom. It was off that room that the photography dark-room was situated. At least the Auto Shop had a separate classroom, since its enrollment tended to be smaller than either the Wood Shop or Vo-Ag classes. Mr. Vincent I knew best of all these teachers since he taught my Ag class and ran the 4-H Club, but it was Mr. Philips who ran the Photography Club and taught Wood Shop. According to Benny, he was a nice guy, so maybe he'd offer a second class if the first Photography one filled up before I got in. Maybe Calvin would put in a good word for me?

My thoughts were interrupted by a low whistle and a 'Cool!' as we left the woods and entered the clearing by the pond. The tent and little card table were off to the right, and the grassy bank sloped down toward the edge of our secluded watery playground. I pointed out the huge half-submerged rock to one side, and the higher cliff-like bank across from our vantage point just at the forest's edge. I think our friends were impressed with the scene, but I bet Mikey thought it looked best in fading sunlight as we'd seen it last night—more romantic, for sure….

We headed toward the water, but Mikey held back until I took his hand and gave him a little squeeze to calm his nerves. "Is it warm enough to swim?" Cal asked, and I saw that mischievous look in Benny's eyes again. Was he planning on throwing me in? I knew he could do it easily, as he'd shown by picking me up earlier, but would he do that…maybe I'd better stick to the truth, rather than the little fib I'd been about to tell.

"The shallow parts are good, but toward the center and far side where it's deeper, it's still kinda cold, but even that will warm up a little more in the afternoon." Mikey nodded and gave me a grin—he knew what I'd thought of saying even though we'd only been together a month, and he approved of me reining in my sense of humor in this instance. "Mikey and I washed up earlier before we went back to the house for breakfast…" Should I ask them to help clear up the camp site?

Once more, my boyfriend was following my thoughts. "Hey guys, you should check out the tent before we take it down; it was really neat, lit up with candles last night, and we ate our dinner at that table by the light from those torches."

Benny poked his head in first, then Cal stood next to him doing the same, but neither went inside. I knew it would look different in daylight, but not why they didn't go in, until Benny turned to look at me with raised eyebrows. "Guess I know what went on in there…even without seeing the mattress."

A quick glance told me Mikey was turning red as a beet, and I probably was too, but I couldn't figure out how they knew. "What's that—incense? Smells like a Turkish harem in there…," Calvin began.

"Or a French whore-house," Benny chimed in with a loud laugh.

Shit! I guess the air hadn't circulated as much as I thought it would while we were up at the house…but at least I'd taken my gym bag back along with the leftover cake this morning. Our 'used' carrots were deep in a garbage can, while the rest were in the barn to serve at Gulli treats. We could have eaten those ourselves, but being left out overnight, they weren't as fresh as salads called for. Gulliver would think he'd died and gone to heaven with nearly a whole bag of orangey snacks to munch on.

"How'd you guys get all this down here," Benny asked as he and Cal backed away from the tent door. "The place will air out faster if it was empty, but I'm not touching those blankets." Calvin rapidly nodded his agreement with his better-half's sentiments. "I'm no prude…but I draw the line at handling other guys' laundry."

Once more Mikey's brain saved me from making another smart-alecky comment. "We'll carry the bedding," he began with a blush, "but if you guys could carry the mattress back we'd appreciate it."

"The other stuff is all small enough to carry for one person…maybe two trips would do it…but that tent is gonna be a nightmare." I scratched my head at Benny's comment because I'd wondered the same thing when I saw far had had it all set up when I got home from school on Wednesday. He might have hauled it back with his truck, but I couldn't figure out how he'd set it up single-handed. It didn't occur to me until days later that my mom must have helped him.

I unzipped the door so we could start carrying things outside, and gave a rueful grin when Mikey began helping me gather up the blankets and used towels into one bundle. Now that we had cleaned ourselves up, the odors from our experimenting last night hit me like a hammer, and my face wrinkled up into a scowl.

"Maybe some clothes pins to hold our noses shut would help," my kæreste said with a poke to my ribs that almost made me drop my end of the blankets.

"If you guys don't stop jabbering we'll never get done," Cal said, cutting off my ready reply with a laugh. "And now that you mention it, what's in it for us for helping?"

I wasn't sure if he was serious since I didn't know him as well as Greg and Denny, but his tone was teasing and he was gathering up the spent candles into the little cloth that had covered the bale of straw that had served as our nightstand.

As he was doing that, he waved to his black-haired boyfriend. "If you move that table outside, we can drag the mattress out to air in the sun for a while."

Benny moved the table, and noticed the legs folded up underneath so it would lay flat for storage; he folded the wooden chairs and stacked them on top before heading back inside for the mattress. As soon as he grabbed it, he saw a problem: the pole that supported one end of the roof's ridge was right in the middle of the door and couldn't be moved without the whole tent falling in on us. He tried hefting it up onto its long side for dragging, but it was too unwieldy. He was about to ask for help when he saw the two little strap handles on each side that allowed it to be carried like a giant suitcase. Muscles flexing, he had it lying out in the sun a moment later.

We made an odd procession back up to the barn, Cal and Ben carrying the table and chairs like a big serving tray, and Mikey and I toting the bundle of blankets, towels and throw pillows. I thought I heard music as we passed the barn, and knew where our other two friends had gone. The two wrestlers had only seen the loft, but they put two and two together and came up with the right answer just like I had.

"Some people will do anything to get out of work," Benny said with a grin.

Mor held the screen door for us and I saw her nose wrinkle as we passed her. "Put that stuff in the washer right away—and don't forget to use soap." I saw Mikey duck his head and turn toward the laundry room next to the kitchen door. We'd been careful not to mess up things too much, but the vision of our vacuum cleaner sucking up my used sock a few weeks ago made me cringe. It now made sense why she'd taught all of us how to do our own laundry when we were twelve.

With the washer filling, we headed back outside. "The other things can go in the basement, Jay…we don't need the little plant stands now that Easter's over. Do you want me to make up a picnic for you to eat out at the pond?"

Enthusiastic 'yeahs' came in quick reply from all four of us, and we had the other stuff from the tent stored in the basement fifteen minutes later.

It wasn't long before we were back at the pond. The straw bale had been fun—I asked Mikey to bring it out of the tent as I rolled up the little carpet that was the last thing to come out.

He saw the wires that held it together and tried using them to do the job, but it was heavier than it looked. He did manage it, using both hands, but I had him leave it outside rather than try carrying it up to the barn. "Well, don't worry about it…once we're done with haying, you'll be able to do it like a pro."

He looked at me in dismay until I hugged him and gave him a gentle kiss. "I'll show you all the tricks that'll make it easier…and you'll be all rippling muscles before you know it." I ran my hands up and over his biceps and down his chest to rub at his pecs to show what would be happening a month from now. "With the tools we have now, it's a lot easier than when my parents did it, or your dad. Didn't he say they used horses on his parents' farm?"

When he nodded, I gave him another hug. "We have a baler that does most of the work, so it's just moving them to the part of the loft with the rest. The big advantage is, we'll be getting tans all summer and seeing each other half-naked all day!"

Laughter came from behind us as Benny hoisted the bale onto one shoulder. "Guess that means your dad'll have to hire somebody else to do your work then, since you guys'll be too busy making out." He set off toward the barn to drop off his bale, with the rest of us following and chatting. I recalled a line from the Ten Commandments movie we saw Easter Sunday.

"I'll have you try making bricks without straw…." That was as far as I got before finding out Calvin was nearly as good as Benny at hoisting me over his shoulder. My protests fell on deaf ears when Mikey held up his hands to show he wasn't getting involved.

"Traitor," I yowled piteously, hoping for some sympathy, but only getting a look of sad regret in return.

"It's karma, elskede," he said with a sigh. From my Psych class I knew about that when we had talked about Indian practices like meditation. You pay for your actions…or as Newton might say, 'for every action there's a re-action'. I'd goaded the bear once too often, so now I was gonna get it. For about a hundred feet Cal poked or tickled me in the ribs, then put me down, managing to give me a noogie before I could get out of reach.

"Meanie," I growled as I rubbed the top of my head. That just got a laugh and a swipe with his arm that pulled me in for a quick hug. For all the teasing we did, there was no harm in any of it, and counting in Greg and Denny, these four guys were the best friends I'd had in a long time. It was common interests that drew us together, rather than living next door to each other like the kids I knew from the other farms around me. Those had been good friends too, but once we were all in school, we had a wider variety to pick friends from…and a lot of them would be the same age with the same likes. You could play ball or other games with a kid five years younger than you, but what did you really have to talk about otherwise?

I had Benny put the straw bale down next to the cow stalls where it could be spread the next time we mucked them out. The 'girls' were all out in the pasture, along with Gulliver, so we had no problem hearing the radio's sounds coming down from the loft overhead. A quartet of grins grew when I motioned toward the ladder and trapdoor that led up to the hay mow, and I was about to climb when the radio switched off and we heard steps on the creaking plank floor. The trap opened and a pair of jeans-clad legs came into view.

We were out of sight from the ladder, so we had a nice vantage point to watch our friends come down to do a proper clean up from their fun. You could do only so much with a rag and basin, as Mikey and I knew from experience. Greg and Denny were shirtless as they got to the bottom of the ladder and ambled toward the sink in the rear corner of the barn. They were just starting to soap up when we snuck up on them.

"Shit, dudes," Greg blurted out when he saw us. He'd just been about to lather up Denny's chest, but the sandy-haired runner had whirled around to see who was spying on them, making the red-head's hands slide around to his back.

They relaxed and laughed when they realized it was us rather than my parents, and it only took them a few minutes to rinse off and towel themselves dry. We told them about going back to the pond, which they said sounded like fun…and then said they were glad to have missed all the work when we mentioned clearing out the tent. I could tell they were a little disappointed about seeing the pond, so I told them about going back in a few minutes to have a picnic.

"We can help carry the tent back after we eat," Denny said, still with a faint hint of his Maine twang. He'd been home nearly six months since before Christmas, yet there were times that New England drawl could still be heard. It was fading fast with no others around to reinforce it…and we wondered if that was a good thing considering what had happened to him up there last fall. We knew Greg's 'appointments' were helping him a lot, and we did what we could too, without knowing all the details.

We were almost at the back door when Mikey stopped us and gave me a puppy-dog look that had me melting right away. His glasses magnified the effect, which might have been why it worked so much better on me than mine did on him.

"Think your parents would let us stay over and camp out by the pond tonight?"

"Hello? Who's there?" I hated talking on the phone, even more so when I hadn't made the call to begin with. It could be anybody, and it was usually bad news. I hadn't heard it ring, since I was under the VW in the driveway, but my aunt had actually come outside to get me, so I'd had to take it. Her face held its normal small smile, so I got no clue from that, and when I'd asked her who it was, she'd just said it was my job to find out. That was one of the things these people did that still threw me off-balance and made it harder for me to figure out my place in my new family—so different from the cage my own parents had me in most of my life.

Hey Kev, it's Bill…What're you doing tonight?

The quick look over my shoulder to see who was in hearing range was as automatic as the dogs' response from Pavlov's experiments years ago, and as hard to break, now that I had no need for it. My aunt had hung up as soon as I grabbed the extension in the laundry room.

"I'm working on the damn wheels again…finally got the thing running good and my Aunt gets stopped for a loud muffler…" Sounds of commiseration came to me through the beige receiver at my left ear. I perched on the laundry table since there wasn't a chair in the room, and it let me take a load off my legs which had gone stiff from being flat on my back pushing myself around on a mechanic's dolly for the last two hours.

Sounds like it's a real hassle. Think you'll finish it today, like in time to go to the drive-in tonight? — It was obvious Bill was trying to keep his voice light and cheery at the prospect of us seeing each other again. I could tell that much, at least.

This would be the first time since we'd run into each other at the 40 East a week earlier. I scratched my head and knew from looking at my hands I'd need a serious scrubbing to remove the dirt and grease from my day's labors. I was nervous about meeting up with Billy again after my last time with him before Christmas. Even though I'd smoked more weed than normal, I had still been in control of my emotions…but for some reason I'd told him I loved him. With my lack of experience in emotional matters, other than anger and hate, I wasn't sure if I even knew what love was, let alone if I felt it for my only true friend.

Yeah, we'd talked for a while before the movies, and again during the intermission, but how much could we really say out in the open like that? I was beginning to understand a wider range of emotions from living with my twin cousins and their parents, and just recently with Jay Beckel and his study group...but understanding them and assimilating them into my personality was still confusing for me.

You still there, Kev? — I must have been quiet too long. Talking on the phone was something else I was learning, but at least I was better at that than some other things in my life now.

"Yeah, I was just thinking about what I still needed to do on it…I can't drive it until the muffler's fixed. My aunt will shit a brick if I get a ticket, especially since they went to the trouble to add me to their insurance." I'd told them to take the increase out of the money my father gave them, but they'd refused…that money was for me to use for myself, but so far they'd covered everything for me like they did with their own kids.

"I took a look first thing this morning, and it's just a hole in the muffler itself, so I found one at the junk yard and brought it home, but haven't installed it yet. I need to use the welding tools at school, so I'll have to wait until Monday. Mr. Duncan lets me do stuff from our courses if we can fit it into free time, and this will be easy since it's just making one cut and welding the new seam."

Oh…I was hoping we could get together since I'm off for a change. I switched shifts at Pizza Hut so I'm working tomorrow afternoon instead of tonight…

He sounded so disappointed that I had to smile because it made me feel like somebody else cared about me too. Was he still figuring things out like I was? How would we know if we didn't actually meet? Obviously, we couldn't, so I took one of the biggest chances I'd ever made in my life. "Hold on, be right back…."

I put the receiver down and went down the short hall into the kitchen. My aunt was looking through the freezer and pulling out things to thaw for later. She saw me hovering near the doorway and gave me a smile.

"Um…" This was totally new territory for me and I was freaking out…other guys had friends over all the time, but I'd never done it before. Eric and Derik hardly went anywhere unless their mom took them, and I'd not seen them have friends over yet. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Um…."

Her smile grew wider. "I think I got that part, hon…."

I looked around and shuffled my feet, trying to get myself under control so I could ask the Big Question. I'm not sure what showed on my face, but even though she still smiled, I saw her eyes begin to get misty. She pulled out a chair and sat down, holding out her hand for me to take. She'd caught on quickly that this made me feel less threatened, and was now the standard way her and my uncle talked to me. Only in the past month or so had I begun to take the proffered hand or indicated seat like I did now.

"Want me to make this easy on you?"

I nodded, wondering how she could know what was on my mind…but she was usually pretty close. This time she had it fuckin' spot on.

"Let's see, it's Saturday afternoon…a friend calls and you're stuck without transport?"

Another nod.

"I'm guessing he has a car, so the plan was to meet up, but now he has to pick you up…and you're not sure it's okay—how am I doing so far?" She squeezes my hand, and that gives me a bit of courage to fill in the rest. She had this mom-thing down pat.

"Bill was my friend at my old school, and we met at the drive-in when I went the other day. I told him a little about moving out here, and he wanted to keep in touch…so he wonders if we can go to the drive-in tonight to see the new movies…."

"Tell you what…I know your homework is done thanks to Jay and his friends, so it's fine with me. Do you know what the movie choices are? And do you want to ask him to eat dinner with us—there'll be plenty since it's steak night? Jack's been dying to drag out that grill of his since the weather warmed up after Easter."

That threw me again. "Um…you want to meet him…?"

She laughed outright this time. "Well, he's picking you up, so we'll have to see him, and he may as well eat for all the trouble he's going to. Your friends are welcome here anytime you want them to come over."

I stood up, a bit wobbly on my feet from her words, but feeling strangely warm inside. She started to get up and gave my hand another squeeze…then I did something totally unexpected. I leaned down and hugged her with one arm around her shoulders, then moved quickly away in case I got things wrong. I guess I didn't because all she did was wipe at her eyes with a napkin from the holder on the kitchen table.

'Tell him dinner's at 5:30."

When I picked up the receiver again, I was a bit surprised to find Bill still there. I guess I'd had that little episode with my aunt faster than it felt. Time is relative, according to Einstein. "Hey, I'm back. Had to see if it was okay for later. What are the flicks tonight?"

I only know two of them, but they're both comedies: Return of The Pink Panther and the other one's got Monty Python in it…Holy Grail. I like their tv show, so the movie should be a lot of crazy fun. —

I didn't know who or what the Pink Panther was, but even in the few days I'd studied with Jay and his friends, I knew about Monty Python being a British comedy group because of a few quotes they did among themselves. A lot of it went over my head, but I figured that if the group was quotable, then they had to have some merit. Depending on what the other movies were, we would still have time to talk if the rest of them stank.

"Sounds good. My aunt says you can come early and have dinner with us if you want." I hoped he'd say 'yes' even if it was making me nervous. I knew my parents would never have allowed a friend to visit...whether they approved of him or not didn't matter, but my aunt had only a few rules and they were nothing compared to those I'd suffered under previously. Hell, it was like having no rules at all by comparison.

"Oh—she said it's at 5:30—and it's steak night, if that helps." What the fuck—was that a snicker I did at the end there? What was happening to me….

Far out! See ya then, Kev.

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