by David Lee

Chapter 38

On Monday morning a lot of sleepy, but excited, kids were waking up to their first day of the new school year. As tradition dictated, it would be a shortened schedule. The school system had long since figured out that having a full day at that point was not very productive. Some kids would be switching schedules. Others would be late in getting back from vacations. None would be very attentive to learning.

Bryan and Zeke awoke in each other's arms in Zeke's bed. They were hoping their families would agree to let them live together in Zeke's apartment. So far, no one had said much either way and the summer arrangement was continuing.

After showering together with a minimum of fooling around, the guys dressed, ate, and drove to school. Bryan thought Zeke should drive since he hadn't obtained his license until after school was out for the summer. It didn't take any arm-twisting to get him to agree. Rolling into the parking lot with the top down was not something many high-school-age males could resist.

The halls at Cosgrove High were crowded at passing times with students trying to find their next classrooms. The upper classmen had little difficulty other than trying to get around a host of confused freshmen and transfers impeding their progress.

Bryce Fulton was one of these lost students. He was trying to figure out the strange numbering system as he stood in the middle of the hall. One minute he was standing; the next he was sprawled on the floor with articles spilling from his backpack.

"Watch where you're going, shit-head!" called the big kid who had run into him.

It was Ted Dye. He had been a budding bully last year, now he seemed to be a blooming asshole. Some of the kids laughed as they went by the unfortunate freshman. Aaron did not. He stopped to help Bryce gather his belongings before they got trampled.

"There, I think that's the last notebook. It has a footprint on it, but it's not harmed otherwise. Are you okay?"

Bryce nodded. He was afraid that if he spoke everyone would know how close he was to tears. He was so thankful for a friendly face that he nearly hugged his rescuer, but that wouldn't be a wise move in a new school. He didn't want to stand out in the crowd anymore than he already did. As a mixed-race boy, he didn't exactly blend into the background in a school population made of 90% northern European types.

Aaron offered to walk Bryce to his room. It was out of his way and might make him late for his class, but few teachers would care on the first day. And this kid looked like he could use a friend.

As the two boys walked along, Aaron introduced himself. Once he said his name, Bryce recognized him as the guy who had set a new school swimming record the previous year. Bryce had been at the meet when it happened because he loved swimming and hoped to make the team. His family had moved to the district too late for him to join the eighth grade team last year, but he had swum all summer at the Y to keep in shape.

By the time they had reached Bryce's classroom, the boys had discussed their love of swimming and had exchanged email addresses. Aaron was pleased his little act of kindness had gained him a new friend. He was smiling as he sprinted off to his own room. His smile faded as he rounded the corner just in time to see Jennifer Morris giving Lonny a kiss. Suddenly, his world wasn't sunny anymore.

Bryan stopped in Mary's room after school to see when she'd be coming home. He wasn't there to pass the time of day. He really wanted to know how much time he and Zeke would have to go skinny dipping before his mother got there.

Mary told him that she had a lot more to do in getting ready for the term. She had figured out they might not welcome her presence too early so she decided to stay at school to tackle some things that didn't need doing right away but would put her ahead in her work later in the year. She didn't want to walk in on them as she had last year. She'd have to remember to make sufficient noise when she did get home.

Bryan and Zeke did what Mary assumed they would. They made love on a mat by the pool. This time, they didn't fall asleep. They spent time in the pool and spa. When they heard the garage door open, they put on their swimming trunks and got back into the hot tub.

That evening, Zeke ate with Bryan's family. The subject of their living arrangements came up again. Mary told them she and Grace had talked it over and decided the boys could alternate staying at each house if they wanted to sleep together. They should try to eat with whichever family they were staying with, but they would be free to spend the rest of the evening together in private if they wished. It would be nice for them to help in the kitchen so they could expand the range of their cooking repertoire.

Next year, when they were seniors, they could live together in Zeke's apartment. But, Mary insisted that Bryan would pay something in rent to live there. Zeke argued that it wouldn't cost any more money for utilities for two guys than for one, but Mary was adamant.

The present arrangement wasn't exactly what they wanted, but it was okay. The boys knew it would be easier, and probably healthier, not to have to cook their own meals every night. The prospect of learning new recipes from the ladies of the houses was also a welcome one.

Zeke drove to his place to get clothes for the next day. He had talked about just staying there alone that night, but knew he'd miss sleeping with his lover. He had come to the point that he didn't sleep well without Bryan's body next to his. He was beginning to feel married to his guy and the thought was not disturbing in the least!

The beginning of school had been welcomed by Aaron as a way to forget some of his problems, but it didn't seem to be working. As he went to sleep that night, the image of Jennifer kissing Lon burned in his brain. In the middle of the night he woke up sobbing. For the rest of the night, he drifted in and out of a fitful sleep.

The second day of the new term meant the first day of gym classes for about half of the students. Usually, none of the teachers expected students to dress for activities until the second class meeting. The beginning class was spent assigning lockers and taking care of details. Sometimes, there was a little time to shoot a few baskets, run around outside, or whatever; depending on the subject of the class.

Bryan and Zeke had a wellness class this term. Fortunately, they'd managed to get into Doug Newman's section. He was able to split his teaching between social studies and P.E. this year. That was a boon for his wrestlers. Some of the people who taught wellness did it as a text book, pencil and paper class. Doug was determined to alternate between head knowledge and physical activity. It seemed pointless to him to teach a class in which people sat around and only talked about a healthy lifestyle rather than putting it into practice. Of course he would cover nutrition, sleep habits, and venereal diseases, but he would also put his kids through the paces of exercising properly.

Aaron wasn't as lucky in his gym class. It was a combination of track activities and basketball. The activities weren't the problem; the makeup of the class was. It was not only co-ed, but the age range of the students ran the gamut. There was hardly anyone in the class that Aaron knew. The ones he did know were not, for the most part, improving his outlook.

Ted Dye and Donny Sims were an unwelcome sight to say the least. Don was Ted's sidekick and doting audience. Donny gave Ted positive reinforcement for every mean trick he pulled. Their presence was not a good omen.

The one bright spot for Aaron was Bryce. Bryce was a small-boned kid with delicate features and a ready smile. His café au lait completion contrasted beautifully with his strikingly green eyes. Those eyes were surrounded by long, curly lashes that any girl would die for. While he didn't act effeminate, he could almost be better described as beautiful than handsome. It was his stunning looks that made him the target of jerks like Ted who had sent him sprawling in the hall yesterday.

Aaron found himself feeling protective of Bryce. And if he had been honest with himself, he would have been aware that he was feeling other things as well.

Aaron greeted Bryce as the two entered the gym. Bryce's face lit up like a neon sign at finding someone he knew in the class. The two sat together on the bleachers as they waited for the teacher, Miss Knapp, to call roll.

Ted spied the younger boys and nudged Donny. He whispered something to his lackey and the two of them sat on each side of Aaron and Bryce; Ted by Bryce and Donny by Aaron.

"We thought we should make you two feel welcome," Ted began.

"Yeah," Donny said. "We want you to feel safe. No telling what some of the older guys in this class might want to do to you. We're your protection."

"I think we will be okay by ourselves," Aaron ventured.

"Not in the locker room with a bitch teacher," Ted said in a low voice. "No telling what could go on in there."

Aaron was quaking inside, but he was determined not to show it. He suspected that Ted could smell fear like a dog supposedly can.

"Well, then we will just have to shower with the girls. I'm sure they would like that." Aaron smiled.

"You and this pretty-boy would fit in there better than with a bunch of men," Ted countered.

Bryce felt very uneasy. His heart raced. He wanted to jump up and run as fast and as far from there as he could. He was tempted to grab Aaron's hand and take him along.

Miss Knapp finished roll call and began to lay out the schedule of which activities would occur when. She spent the rest of the time talking about good eating and sleeping habits. Her lecture was a time-filler made necessary by the fact that kids weren't dressed for gym. Everyone knew it, and pretty much tuned her out. Toward the end of the period, she reminded students to bring their workout clothes and locks for the Thursday class. She also reminded the guys to be on their best behavior in the locker room since she wouldn't be able to monitor it.

If Ted and Donny hadn't already figured that out, they surely knew it now. Aaron had a sinking feeling in his gut and he suspected Bryce did too.

At the end of the school day, while Zeke and Bryan were heading off to Bryan's pool, Aaron was waiting by Bryce's locker. Once again, the freshman broke into a huge grin when he saw his new friend. The sight made him forget all of the irritations of the day.

"We're going to see the counselor," Aaron announced with no further explanation.

Five minutes later, the two boys were seated in Ms. Hamilton's office trying to get their gym class changed.

"I'm sorry, boys, I don't seem to have two openings in any P.E. class that will fit your schedules. I can move one of you."

"Then move Bryce," Aaron insisted. "He is the one Ted and Donny are picking on."

"They'll go after you if I'm out of there," Bryce replied.

"So, these two guys are harassing you?" Ms. Hamilton asked. "That puts things in a different light. We have a strict policy about bullying. I'll alert Dr. Carlson and I will find some way to get you both moved. Let me make a couple of calls. Come to see me before school starts in the morning. I should be able to have a new schedule for you by then."

Two much relieved kids left school that afternoon.

"Well, I've missed my bus, so I guess I'll have to walk home. It's only a couple of miles and the day is nice." Aaron smiled.

"No way are you walking home!" Bryce responded. "I live two blocks from here. We can hang out 'til my parents get home and someone can drive you. You've saved my ass a couple of times; at least let me give yours a ride."

Bryce unlocked the door to a modest ranch-style home in a good working-class neighborhood. The furniture was not expensive, but everything was neat and orderly. From the coordinated color scheme, it was obvious that the inhabitants had good taste if not a lot of money.

Bryce offered a soda and led Aaron down the hall to his bedroom. It was nice, but a little messy – like many teenagers' rooms. There were the usual posters and treasures as well as an ancient Gateway desk-top computer.

Aaron was just getting comfortable when he remembered that he'd better call home to let his father know where he was. It was not that his father would worry about him; it was more of a control thing.

With a sigh of relief, Aaron got only the answering machine. He left a message telling where he was and left Bryce's phone number if someone needed to get in touch. He had covered his butt.

During the next hour and a half, the boys exchanged more details about their lives. Bryce's father had been killed in a military accident when Bryce was about five. He remembered his dad as a big guy who was very dark and always smelled of nice cologne. He'd forgotten about it until one day when a department store clerk sprayed some Pierre Cardin after-shave on his wrist. As soon as he had inhaled it, the vision of his father appeared in him mind. He had purchased a bottle to have the chance to repeat the experience. Now, every time he felt lonely, he would spill a little out on a piece of fabric. The scent would calm him and help him sleep.

Bryce swallowed hard after telling Aaron.

"You won't tell anyone, will you?" he sniffled. "I'd get teased for being a baby with a security blanket."

"'Course not! I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. I think it's cool you trust me enough to tell me about it."

Then Aaron opened up to Bryce a bit. He told him about his father's attitude toward him. Bryce had an arm around Aaron's shoulder when the latter finished. He wished he could take his young hero into his arms and make everything okay, but he knew from experience that a guy had to be careful about how much affection he showed toward another male; especially one near his own age.

Mike Fulton came into the kitchen door asking if anyone was home. He was a handsome, blond man with a ready smile. He hugged his step-son and then shook hands with Aaron after being introduced as Bryce's dad.

Aaron felt a twinge of envy. This guy appeared to be an outgoing, loving man. He was big and strong, but felt no embarrassment at showing affection for Bryce. Aaron wished he had a father or step-father who would treat him like that. Hanging with Bryce was something he was looking forward to doing as often as possible. He just had to be careful not to let him know about his true self. He had pretty much messed up his friendship with Lon. He wouldn't make the same mistake with Bryce.

True to her word, Dee Hamilton had revised schedules for both Bryce and Aaron the following morning. She had managed to get them into Doug Newman's P.E. class which met at an hour when Aaron had study hall and Bryce would have had freshman writing. Ms. Croy had been kind enough to switch Bryce to another section. While the changes made for uneven numbers in class sections, both teachers were eager to help once they heard the boys were being harassed; neither had any tolerance for bullying.

Aaron was as delighted as Bryce. The new schedule put them in the same study hall as well as a last hour gym class with one of the best-liked teachers in the school. And, since P.E. was their last class, they wouldn't have to worry as much about how their hair looked the rest of the day. In fact, they could even shower at home if necessary.

Secretly, Aaron didn't want to shower at home. He wanted a chance to see his new friend naked. He supposed he must be a pervert for hoping to see Bryce in the buff, but he still wanted to.

Aaron didn't have to wait until Thursday for his dream to come true. On Wednesday afternoon, Bryan caught up with him in the hall and asked if he would like to join Zeke and him in the Stillwell's pool for an hour or two. Aaron was delighted at the invitation. He immediately said yes and then hesitated.

"Would it be okay if we asked another guy too? There is a freshman boy who is hoping to be on the swim team. He moved here last year and doesn't know very many people."

"Sure. He's welcome. Just let him know that it will be suits-optional and we always opt not to wear any."

Aaron could hardly wait until study hall to tell Bryce. Bryce was a little reluctant at first.

"Are you sure they're okay? I mean they ARE juniors. Why would they want to hang with us?"

"Do you think I'd put you in a bad situation? Don't you trust me?"

Bryce admitted he had no reason not to trust Aaron. He was looking forward to having some pool time. That is, he was until Aaron told him they'd be swimming nude. Bryce was worried for two reasons. He didn't have much pubic hair and he was afraid of sprouting wood in front of a couple of strangers. What would Aaron think of him if he did? Would he face the same problems he'd had in his old school? How could he keep his secret?

Bryce calmed down on the ride to Bryan's house. Seated in the back of the Sebring along with Aaron made him feel great. The two juniors in the front seats had been friendly and pleasant. They hadn't hesitated to offer their hands when introduced. Bryce had learned long ago to read people's body language. Hesitancy often meant some form of racial prejudice or at least the acknowledgement of differences.

By the pool, the older guys got out of their clothes in a split second and dived into the deep end. They came up horsing around, trying to dunk each other, and laughing. Aaron and Bryce hung back taking their time at undressing. They both began to take off their underwear at the same time. They caught one another checking each other out. Both blushed and grinned slightly. Then they jumped into the water before their favorite parts could spring to life.

The boys talked about sports and school. During the conversation, Bryce let it slip about why they had changed gym classes. Zeke complimented Aaron on having the good sense to avoid a confrontation with Ted. Aaron had been afraid other kids would think he was a wimp for his actions. Bryce beamed as Bryan joined the conversation praising Aaron for his problem-solving.

Aaron was feeling great until it dawned on him that he had forgotten to call home. Bryan pointed him to the cordless and Aaron made the call. This time, his luck didn't hold out. His father answered. For the next five minutes, Aaron received a verbal dressing down. After the first couple of minutes, Bryce got out to stand beside him. Bryce could hear the hurtful words which blared from the earpiece. They made him sad. He could see the tears forming in Aaron's eyes. Despite their naked state, he put an arm around Aaron's shoulder. When the one-sided conversation ended, Bryce embraced his friend. Neither boy was sexually aroused by the gesture of caring.

Aaron said his father wanted him to start walking home immediately. No one would come for him, and he had better not be late for dinner. It was a 20 minute walk unless he ran. He started to get dressed.

"Hold on," Zeke called. "It won't take us five minutes to drive you there. Let's spend 10 more minutes in the pool. Then we'll all get dressed and drop you a block from your house. Your dad will think you walked the whole way and no one here is going to tell him otherwise."

Aaron brightened. These guys were friends indeed.

A little later, Aaron had been dropped off and the boys were taking Bryce to his house. Bryce invited them in to meet his dad who was the first adult home. Mike Fulton was pleased to see that his step-son was making more friends. Being accepted by upperclassmen was a good sign.

After they left, he did remind his kid to call home next time.

"I trust you completely, Bryce, but there are bad guys out there and I want you always to be safe. You're my main man."

Bryce hugged Mike and promised he would be more responsible. Once again he thanked God for having given him this man instead of Aaron's father to be his second dad.

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