by David Lee

Chapter 5

There is perhaps no more compelling argument for sobriety than waking up with a hangover from drinking cheap scotch. Zeke spent the major portion of the morning alternating between hoping his head wouldn't fall off, and praying that it would. It began when he tried to spring out of bed in response to nature's call. He ended up easing his way across the hall with Bryan's assistance. Once there, they both took aim at the porcelain convenience. Since the master bedroom was downstairs, they didn't bother to close the door. Todd got a good look at both of their pieces of equipment when he came in to do his morning routine.

"Boy, you two are hung like a couple of horses!"

Zeke started to giggle, but was quickly dissuaded by the pain in his head. Bryan, who was feeling fine, bantered back.

"You seem to be very interested in dicks lately. Is this a field trip for your adolescent psych class? If it is, we'd better not get 'FEELED' up!"

"Well, you guys would make good subjects for a study. We could compare you to other kids your age and see how you MEASURE up," Todd shot back.

Bryan was on a roll.

"Maybe you should drop your boxers and see if YOU measure up to US."

Todd dropped them then and there. His morning wood had both boys beat, but not by a lot. He was impressed by theirs and told them so. Then the three grinning guys pulled their underwear back up and started getting presentable for breakfast.

Zeke grabbed the Listerine first as he tried to neutralize the taste in his mouth.

"Man, it's like the whole Iraqi army marched through my mouth barefoot," he complained.

"That's the price you pay for being a dumb-ass," Bryan retorted.

"Yeah, I know," came the soft response.

"You'd better never do that again!"

"I won't. I promise."

Bryan found a bottle of Motrin in the medicine cabinet and gave Zeke two of them. He managed to get them down after the second try. The boys then went into Bryan's bedroom to find clothes for the day. Bryan dressed Zeke as if he were a helpless child. Zeke didn't resist. He kind of liked being babied this morning. When he was done, Bryan stepped back to assess his work and was satisfied. He leaned in to give Zeke a quick kiss on the forehead. It just seemed like a natural thing to do.

"Zeke, do you remember anything from yesterday after you got drunk?"


"What do you remember?"

"That I threw up a lot."

"Anything else?"

"You mean like when you said you love me?"


"Uh, I feel the same way about you."

For a short time, the two boys stood in a warm embrace with just the hint of tears in their eyes. It was a wonderful and scary moment. Neither was sure where it would lead, but both were certain they would walk the path together.

Warm, sweetened tea and a slice of dry toast was about all Zeke's stomach could handle for breakfast. Bryan ate his way through two bowls of cereal and a couple of slices of toast with butter and jam. Todd wolfed down even more.

After the dishes were cleared, Mary said she thought Zeke should probably go home to have a talk with Grace. She wasn't rushing him off, buy she felt he needed to face his guardian sooner rather than later. Sometimes things seemed worse when they are put off.

Mary called to make sure Grace was home, and soon the family sedan was heading to Zeke's home with two very subdued boys in the back seat. As they got close to their destination, Bryan reached over and took Zeke's hand.

"I'm here for you, Bud. I want to go in with you."

Mary wasn't sure if it was a good idea, but decided to keep out of it. The boys would soon sense whether or not Bryan's presence was welcome.

Gran came running out of the house and embraced Zeke, nearly lifting him off the ground. Zeke gave a little shudder as the pain in his head felt like a minor lightning bolt.

"He's not feeling very well," Bryan offered.

Grace frowned and said: "Don't alibi for him. I know a hangover when I see one. My father had plenty of them. I can smell whiskey coming out of his pores."

Zeke lowered his eyes trying to hide the big tears that were forming.

"What are you going to do to me?"

"What do you think I should do?"

"I guess I deserve a whoopin'"

"Have I ever raised a hand to you?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Well," Grace sighed, "I think your present condition is punishment enough. I hope you'll forgive me for my part in it."

"What do you mean? You didn't do anything." Zeke said.

"That's just it. I didn't do anything. I kept putting off telling you things you needed to know. I kept hoping that later would be a better time. I would still like to kill that stuck-up little brat."

Zeke allowed himself to smile.

"Uh where is Hunter? I guess I should apologize for punching him out."

"You'll do no such thing! I sent the whole lot of them packing last night. I don't know if they're at your grandmother's or a motel. If I never lay eyes on that boy again, it'll be too soon!"

This time Zeke's tears were motivated by joy. Gran loved him. Bryan loved him. He wasn't a useless, unwanted, bastard child. People cared!

"Did my mother really try to kill me?" he whispered.

"It wasn't like that. We need to sit down, just the two of us, and talk this out."

"No, I want Bryan here. He's heard the worst of it already. I need him here."

"Okay. Oh my, where are my manners? Mary has been sitting there in the car all this time and I haven't so much as offered a cup of coffee."

After the two women chatted a minute, Mary left. She convinced Gran that there were more important things to worry about at the moment than social graces. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to take Bryan home with her. Zeke wouldn't budge on the issue, so she politely gave in.

Gran set a plate of cookies on the kitchen table (which no one touched) and began to tell Zeke the whole story as she knew it. Zeke didn't say anything until the end, but his face projected the varied and complex emotions that ran though his mind.

"Your mother was a pretty, sweet girl, but she was headstrong. She definitely had a mind of her own. Grandpa was drunk most of the time. Grandma tried to control Faith's every move. As Faith got older, things got worse. She would sneak out of the bedroom window at night to be with her friends. They weren't doing anything particularly wrong, but your Grandmother didn't see it that way. She always suspected drugs, and would search Faith's room constantly.

At 17, your mother ran off. She was convinced she could make it in Hollywood. She had the lead in several high school plays and dreamed of becoming a star. Well, she did get to make some movies. Unfortunately, they were pornographic ones. She had a pretty nice boyfriend in California, I guess. I think he was your father. He promised to get her out of the business, but he was killed in an auto crash before he could.

She was barely 18, pregnant with you, all alone in the world, and very broke. The scumbag she worked for told her to get an abortion or she was finished. She didn't have any skills to get some other job and she was afraid to ask for money from home. By the time she saved up enough for the abortion, no reputable clinic would do it. It was too late. So, she and a friend tried to do it themselves and it didn't work. She got a bad infection and knew she needed to do something. This time, she swallowed her fear and her pride and headed home."

It took several days for your mother to hitch rides back to Iowa. The last person to pick her up drove her directly to the emergency room. She was delirious most of her remaining time. You were delivered early and she lasted only a couple of days after that.

But she did love you. In the brief time her mind was clear, she begged to see you; so I fussed at the staff until they agreed to wheel her to the intensive care nursery. She cried and asked you to forgive her. She was heartily sorry for putting her own foolish pride above your chance for life. She honestly wanted you to survive and have a good life."

"Thanks for telling me, Gran," Zeke murmured.

Toward the end of the story, Gran realized that Bryan was holding Zeke's hand and Zeke was crying silently. When they all stood up, Gran assumed Zeke would to run to her for comfort; but instead, he went to Bryan. As Bryan hugged his buddy, he made eye contact with Gran over Zeke's shoulder. He saw her eyebrow rise as if she had suddenly become aware of something. He could be mistaken, but he didn't think so.

After his emotional upheaval and bout with booze, Zeke needed sleep. Bryan led him to his room, stripped him to his briefs, and lay beside him on the narrow bed, holding him until he nodded off. Bryan had closed the door, but there was no lock. He remembered that Zeke and he had never been allowed to share a bed when he stayed over. Gran might come in and wonder at their closeness. At this point he didn't care. Zeke's feelings were all that mattered.

After Zeke was fast asleep, Bryan tiptoed out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Gran came out of the kitchen when she heard him. She had obviously been crying.

"Bryan, thanks for looking after him. You two are very close, aren't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am!"

"You care for each other very much." It was a statement; not a question.

"Yes we do."

"More than most boys."

"Yes," he said lowering his eyes.

"It's okay, Son. Just don't hurt him. He's been hurt enough!"

Bryan looked Gran squarely in the eyes.

"Yes, Ma'am, I will never hurt him," he vowed.

Gran would have driven Bryan home or Mary could have come for him, but he chose to walk. He needed time alone to think things through. It had been a traumatic several days – weeks actually. His friendship with Zeke had evolved from best buds playing together to more like lovers experimenting in intimate games. They had confessed to having feelings for each other - even love. Zeke's world had been turned upside down by Hunter's cruel revelation. Zeke had drunk himself into a stupor and might have died if Bryan hadn't found him when he did. Bryan shuddered. Then he began to cry. He had been strong for Zeke as long as he needed to be. Now he let the flood gates open.

Todd happened to be taking the same route home from an afternoon class when he spied his little brother walking along. Bryan's shaking shoulders told Todd that all was not well. He pulled the car to the curb just in front of Bryan's path and jumped out. For a long time, he held his brother close while Bryan released his pent-up emotions. Curious people were staring as they passed by. Todd didn't give a rat's ass!

When he got Bryan home, Todd fixed him a snack and accompanied him up to his room. After eating, Bryan fell asleep while Todd sat on the edge of his bed and gently massaged his back.

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