My Crimson Year

by Geron Kees

© 2017 Geron Kees All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction and depicts sexual activities between minors. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

If you are not 18, you shouldn't be reading this at all. Go find a boyfriend and talk stuff over with him.

It was Donnie Blydon that got us into trouble, as usual.

"I told you not to keep pushing those guys," I said, as we walked through the field towards home. "Now look at us."

We were covered in mud, head to toe. That wasn't that unusual for the aftermath of a football game, but the thoroughness of today's covering of muck wasn't due to the game play itself. It was due to three factors that I should have seen coming and taken steps to avoid, but hadn't. As usual.

Firstly, we'd been playing the Royals, who were a bunch of thugs to begin with. They wore attitude like a second uniform, and played like we were a rival gang. There must be something about living in the deep, dark city that brings out the worst in some people. For the Royals, football was a street fight with sidelines, with the refs being cops and the end zones a clean getaway. The Royals were great at sneaky shit - the cruddy stuff that guys do to each other on the field that somehow manages to get missed by the refs. Most of the team would have bruises tomorrow that were not earned in the actual play of the game.

Secondly, we'd won the game. We were league champs last year, and we are pretty good. But the Royals are fast, and they're strong, and they're organized. It was a combination of things that caused them to lose, I guess.

For one, their quarterback, Vinni Pascatori, kind of sucks. He's got a great arm, but he's wild, and more than half of his plays were incomplete because he couldn't tag the receiver downfield. Our guy, Mikey Mitchell, is way better, and all of his plays in the game today were complete save one, and that was called on interference. And, the Royals think they specialize in the sack. They spent a lot of time going after our quarter, and if Mikey was the type to just stand there and be a target, he'd have spent a lot of time down on his back. But Mikey can dance, and dance well. It was a stern chase, as my naval Uncle Brad used to say, and Mikey had speed just like he had eye and hand. A defense built around the sack leaves too much other stuff open.

And, our guys are not a bunch of punks, either. Our line is just as big as the city's, and some of our guys are pretty mean, especially after you do the kind of shit to them that the Royals had been doing. But I think a lot of it was that our guys, the Crimson Demons, were playing to win a football game, while the city boys seemed to be playing to prove something else. I'm not sure what, but in the end all they showed us was what a bunch of jerks they could be.

So we have the first two factors, one being that we were playing the city, and the other being that we beat them. The city doesn't like to be beat, but at least they took it this time with some grace, just glaring at us and sulking as we walked down their line to shake hands. A couple of them grabbed my hand and tried to squeeze my knuckles into powder; but I'm not exactly weak myself, and I just squeezed back. Damn city assholes.

No, what had got me and Donnie so dirty was hanging out at the field after the game, after most of our team had had the sense to leave. Saturdays are busy for people and the stands empty pretty quickly after a middle school game. Coach Duncan gave us a quick appraisal and then left, because he had family in town and wanted to be home. Most of our guys had other stuff to do than to just hang out, and even our friend Greg Batner took off to be with his family. It wasn't long before it was just Donnie and me, kicked back in the grass, getting our rest on.

Our school is actually not that far from home. The county measures how far we would have to walk to get back and forth by roads, not by a straight line. Our neighborhood was a long way around by road, and we were the first kids to be picked up by the bus each morning, and the last to be dropped off each afternoon. But that was determined by the roads that men had built over time, and not by how the crows covered the same distance. Crows are much smarter, I guess. By cutting through the woods behind the school and then across the fair acreage of the old Myerson farm that lay behind our neighborhood, it was about a fifteen or twenty minute walk, and Donnie and me and Greg always walked it home after afternoon practice or a game played at home. It's an uncomfortable walk in full gear, but it's easier to wear it than carry it, and we don't really mind. It gives us a chance to talk over the game, and to kid around, and to hang together a little longer.

Staying late wasn't what got us in trouble, though. It was when we got up to leave that Donnie got curious, and when Donnie gets curious, anything can happen. And often does.

The Royals had come up from the city in a big rented bus, and Donnie had wanted to go over and watch them load up for the trip back. It had rained the night before and the shaded area where the bus was parked was still squishy and muddy. The Royals had their gear piled near the bus, and one of them was standing there like he was guarding it. He was helmetless and had removed his shoulder pads, and his jersey now seemed a little large for him. But the look on his face was not pleasant, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was not happy about losing the game. That by itself didn't ring any alarms for me, but when he looked up and saw us standing there watching, and came over, I should have just grabbed Donnie by the arm and hauled him off.

"What're youse hicks lookin' at?"

Donnie got all tense at that right off, and I did grab his wrist then to keep him in place. "Just watching you guys get ready to go," I said calmly. "We're not bothering anything."

The Royal pinched his face up and glared. "Yeah, ya won. Go on and get outta here."

Donnie laughed at that. "We live here, turkey. You're the ones that need to get your city asses on the road."

I think I cringed. Donnie...he just doesn't have any sense sometimes. He's my best friend, and I'd do anything for him...but, man, he's got no control over his mouth!

I pulled on his arm. "Come on, Donnie. Let's roll."

"Yeah?" the Royal said, coming closer and balling up his fists. "Who's gonna make us go? Youse punks? This I gotta see."

Donnie pulled at me, trying to free his arm. "Yeah, get your little mafia together and get outta here. You cheatin' pricks play football like you're robbin' parked cars. Smash and grab, right? Got a lot of broken glass where you live, I'll bet."

I did cringe then. "Shut up, Donnie!" I hissed out of the side of my mouth. I was carrying my helmet, but now I put it back on, and fastened the strap. Donnie was still wearing his, although the chin strap was unbuckled, and I could only imagine the ire probably present on his face.

By now some more Royals were coming over, having noticed their boy talking to the enemy, and seen his warlike stance about it.

"What's up, Mahco?" asked a bigger boy, coming to stand beside the first. It was Vinni Pascatori, the Royal's quarter. Five more of their guys were right behind him.

Marco, apparently, wasn't bashful. "Deese yokels is shootin' off dere mowfs at me."

Amazing, the size range you can get in a bunch of thirteeners. Me and Donnie are light and fast, both wide receivers, about five feet tall, and a shade over a hundred pounds each. Vinni and the mob now assembled before us had both of us by as much as couple of inches in height, and up to twenty pounds in weight. It's hard to recognize faces when the helmets and mouth guards go away, but I think we were facing the Royal's offensive line. The pack-a-sackers, as Mikey called them.'d think that the odds of seven against two would kind of make Donnie wake up a little. Make him smarter with his mouth. Especially when it was seven big guys against two not-so-big guys. Most normal people would see the potential danger of the situation, and back off a little.

But not Donnie.

"Oh, now you need some of the other girls to back you up, huh? That's what you guys do, right? We saw how three of you would gang up to fuck up one of our guys. I hate a bunch of whores that cheat."

Vinni's eyes narrowed immediately. "Man, fuck you, ya little wood-suckin' weasel. Go back to da bahnyahd and milk da cows, why don'cha? Ya lookin' ta get punched out?"

Donnie laughed. "Yeah, I'm scared. If you throw a punch like you do a football, I can stand still and you'll still miss me."


Vinni's face clouded over like the sky during a summer thunderstorm. "Yeah? I could toss your stupid narrow ass downa field no problem, ya dick-poachin' hillbilly."

Donnie shook my arm off and whistled. "Ooh. That hurt. Bet when you practice this stuff on your little sister she cries, too, right?"

Shit. What happened next was a little bit my fault, I guess. Despite seeing that we were walking on the edge of a cliff, I, uh...I laughed.

What? I couldn't help it. Donnie's kind of funny when he gets on a roll.

Vinni looked around at his buddies. "Youse guys hear dis fuck?"

I guess in the city, that's the signal to jump on your enemy and bust him up. All seven Royals piled onto us, and in a split second Donnie and I were down in the mud.

I have to say, the guys that designed football gear knew their shit. Helmet, pads, cup - all the stuff designed to keep you from being smashed into pieces on a football field and also ensure you'll still be able to have kids later in life - it's also great stuff to have when it comes to a rumble. I hated to wear a groin protector, and some of our guys still didn't wear them. They're uncomfortable as hell. But after watching a guy on another team cry for ten minutes after one of his own guys accidentally kicked him in the nuts during a fight for possession - Donnie and I had agreed that a little discomfort was worth it to protect our favorite toys.

For a minute or so all I felt was a weight of bodies atop me, and the occasional fist that slammed into my shoulder pads or the back of my helmet. That apparently hurts, if the yelling and cussing on the part of the Royals was any indicator. It was probably a good thing there were seven of them, because they kept getting in each other's way, and they probably landed as many hits on their own guys as they did each of us. But my face got pushed down into the muck real good, and the gunk just oozed through my face guard until I had to close my eyes or go blind.

You ever taste mud? I mean, get a really good mouthful of it? Nasty. I got to sample some good ol' New York grain corn special, along with some other stuff that I don't even want to think about. I was just imagining worms taking up residence in my stomach when I heard a lot more yelling, and the guy on top of me was yanked off.

"Stop it!" someone yelled, and then there was even more yelling. The next thing I knew, me and Donnie were sitting up. My face guard was full of muck, and the shit in my mouth crunched between my teeth as I tried to force it out with my tongue. Finally, I just spit it out hard, and looked up.

The Royals had all been pulled to their feet and were now standing behind three men, who had placed themselves between their boys and us. The Royals all glared down at us, not looking sorry in the least.

One of the men - I recognized the Royal's coach now, glared down at us. "Are youse boys okay?"

I looked at Donnie, and he nodded at me, and spit some dirt out of his own mouth. Briefly, all I could think was, serves you right!

I looked back up at the coach. "Yeah. We're okay."

The man turned around and leaned toward his players, hands-on-hips. "Get...on...the...friggin'...bus!" He sounded like he was pissed.

The Royals did this kind of group gulp, gave us a last evil glare, and turned and walked away.

"Jeez, what a buncha knuckleheads," one of the other men grated, and turned to follow them.

The Royal's coach swiveled back to us. "Youse fellas sure every'ting is okay? Can ya get up?"

Donnie and I hauled ourselves to our feet. The coach smirked at us then, probably delighted that his guys had managed to grind half the field into our uniforms. "Wouldn't wanna be youse guy's muddas, gotta wash dem unifawms" he said, and I could tell now he thought it was all funny.

"Yeah?" Donnie began, taking a step forward. "Look you --"

I jumped over, put an arm around his back, and yanked him away. "We'll be going now," I said over my shoulder. "Have a nice trip back."

I pretty much dragged Donnie away. "Don't you ever know when to shut your face?"

So here we were.

Donnie was silent as we trudged along in the late afternoon sunshine, little chunks of drying mud falling off of us into the grass as we moved. I took my helmet off, thumped the goop out of it, and rubbed the shit out of my hair. What a fuckin' mess.

I could almost hear Donnie thinkin' - he always does that after he shoots his mouth off somewhere.

"You're somethin'," I said, shaking my head. "We coulda got our asses pounded back there."

Donnie pulled his helmet off and shook it, sending blobs of mud flying. "Stupid city jackoffs. Why do they gotta be such assholes?"

I could tell by the way he was acting that he was sorry he had gotten us into trouble. He usually didn't say he was sorry, but I could always tell. I gave my helmet a last shake, and then draped an arm over Donnie's shoulders and gave him a fond squeeze. "You're crazy, you know that?"

He looked at me and grinned, and I couldn't be mad at him anymore. "Yeah," he said. "I don't mean to be. It just comes out sometimes."

We just walked on, taking in the autumn sunshine. Most years, it would be cold by now. But summer had decided to extend itself this year, and the season had started with sunny, warm days, and a round of luck for our team that didn't seem to be drying up. Course, just being with Donnie made my days sunny, for the most part.

You know, sometimes people ask if me and Donnie are brothers? Maybe it's the the fact that we both have blond hair, and blue eyes, and little dimples in our chins, and both of us smile a lot, and like to laugh. Maybe it's that people can see how close we are, like family. Donnie's been my best friend since kindergarten, and I already know I wouldn't know what to do with myself every day without him by my side.

I always kind of knew that I loved Donnie, and recently I have been feeling it even more. That started last year, when we had discovered sex as something to do instead of just something to laugh about, and started jerking off. Of course we shared it. We share everything. First we just compared notes, and then we did it together, and then we started jerking each other. We knew that other guys did it, and we also knew it was kinda gay for one guy to jerk another, and we didn't much talk about that aspect of it, even when we were doing it.

We still don't talk about it, really. But I'm not stupid, and neither is Donnie. We have progressed from just dropping our pants and pulling each other off to laying in the bed next to each other, completely naked, and jerking each other. There's a lot of contact, and we both do a lot of laughing and grinning, and I think we enjoy it way too much for some other shit not to be going on, too.

I've admitted it to myself, at least. I love Donnie, and I'd sleep with him in a heartbeat. But...I'm scared of that, too. It's one thing to jerk a guy, another to kiss him and hold him close. That would be gay, and I don't know if Donnie is as ready to be gay as I am. I'd simply ask him, if I was brave enough. But I'm not. Not yet.

Our shoes made little crunchy noises as we crossed the field, and every step we took was accompanied by another dry dirt clod hitting the ground. First it was annoying, and then kind of funny, and then we were laughing about it.

Donnie looked over at me, his blue eyes looking contrite. "I'm sorry, Andy. Me and my mouth again, huh?"

Wow. A real apology!

I looked at him a long moment, and then sighed. "You can't help it if your mouth has a brain of its own. And that it's retarded."

He laughed then, always a sound that made me smile. "Showed those city pricks a thing or two, right?"

It was my turn to laugh. "Uh...we were the ones that ate mud. Remember?"

He shrugged, his face brightening. "Oh, a little dirt! They didn't take us, even though there were a mess of 'em."

I rolled my eyes. "Brother, if we didn't have our gear on, we'd probably be on the way to the hospital about now."

Donnie frowned at that. "You think?" He sighed. "Aw, man. I sure don't wanna get you hurt, Andy."

I looked at him then, but he was looking away, across the field, to where our neighborhood sprawled among a tall stand of trees. The almost woods, the stuff that stands between the fields and the real woods. Beyond our neighborhood, and not that far, were the real woods. Yeah, you had to go clear to the base of the mountains to get there, but the mountains weren't all that far, either. The tree line was a dark blob that hugged the base of the peaks, and crawled up the lower flanks of them almost to the snow line. Pretty as a picture, my mom likes to say.

I love this place, no doubt about that. How anyone could live in a city beats the crap outta me. No wonder those Royals buttheads were so unhappy.

Donnie squinted at the nearest house, and let loose a great sigh. "Well, that's something. My mom ain't home yet. I don't have to listen to her ranting about what a mess we are."

I couldn't help laughing at that. Donnie's mom was as sweet as they come, every bit as cool as my mom. She'd been looking out extra special for Donnie every since the divorce three years ago, and doing a hell of a job, in my opinion. I knew that Donnie loved her to death, but sometimes he talked about her like she chased after him with a whip.

"I guess I'd better get home, too," I said. I grinned and rolled my hips a little. "Feels like my cup's got something in it besides my dick."

Donnie laughed, his eyes sparkling in the sun, and I felt that crazy little zing! bounce around inside my head. When he looked at me like that, kissing him would be easy.

"Aw, don't go. Come on over for a little?" He asked then, giving me a begging puppy look that made my heart flutter.

I patted my uniform. "We're really a mess," I said. "I doubt your mom would appreciate us stomping around in your house looking like this."

Donnie shrugged, reached into his jersey, and fished around beneath the pad. He bent one shoulder back and produced a key on a string, obviously placed around his neck. "I got the key to the back door, by the mud room. We can take off our stuff and throw it in the washer, and run it while we get something to eat."

Well, I was pretty hungry. And going to Donnie's house meant at least seeing him in his underwear, and he wore these really cute little briefs, just as sexy as hell. I loved that almost as much as seeing him naked, and my heart skipped a coupla beats at the idea of it.

He saw me thinking, and decided I was debating. He leaned closer. "We could jerk off." His eyebrows bounced up and down. "I'm horny as shit."

I nodded eagerly. "Okay."

He laughed. "That was fast."

What could I say to that? I was always horny where Donnie was concerned. "Well, I could eat something after all that running," I teased. He beamed at me, and I had to look towards his house so that I didn't show what I was thinking. Damn, the world sucks sometimes!

We crossed the field, entered Donnie's backyard, and headed for the door. Donnie went straight to the garden hose attached to a faucet by the door, and suggested we hose off the outsides of our shoes, and also our helmets and shoulder protectors. So we peeled off our jerseys, and laid the pads and the helmets on the ground. Hosing them out turned out to be a smart move, because the amount of black dirt that came out was impressive, and I couldn't see us doing that to Donnie's mom's kitchen sink.

"Leave 'em in the sun to dry," Donnie suggested, releasing the trigger on the hose nozzle. I nodded, letting my eyes settle briefly on his bare upper torso, which was muscled, but also sleek and beautiful. Donnie's skin was sun-browned - also like mine - from a summer of swimming at the local pool, and I guess I just stared a little too hard or too long.

"What?" he asked, grinning at me and looking down at himself. "You see a hair?"

I laughed at that. We both had a little half-moon of short, light brown hair above our dicks, but other than that, we were still smooth like a lot of the guys I saw online. On the sites I sometimes visited, that is.

"Nah. Just making sure those city freaks didn't do any damage."

He closed one eye and gave me a doubting look. "You sure?"

"Would I lie? The way they piled on us, anything could have happened."

Donnie let his eyes rove over me, and he smiled. "That would be a damn shame, wouldn't it?"

I nodded, already knowing that Donnie liked to look at me as much as I liked to look at him. Eyes give away a lot of things, and Donnie's were never shy about letting me know what he was thinking. I knew he liked the way I looked, and I knew he would like to do more with me than just jerk off together. And he knew I wanted more, too.

But neither of us, it seemed, had the courage to bring up the subject of gay. The way we were together, I was pretty sure that Donnie felt exactly the same way about me as I felt about him. But he never said anything, and so I never said anything, and so he never said anything...and it went on and on that way. It was stupid, and sometimes my head cried out for me just to say one thing - anything - that might serve to acknowledge the way that both of us felt.

But I was scared. Scared of somehow ruining what we had. The fact that Donnie had never once suggested we do other things was enough to make me wary of suggesting it myself. I was of the mind that if he wanted to be closer to me, he would let me know. What we did do together we seldom talked about, other than to ask if the other felt like jerking off. This sort of mutual silence on the subject meant to me that Donnie liked the way it was now. I was miserable in many ways, but I would not make things worse by forcing something on Donnie that he didn't want.

Jerking off, as really intimate a thing as it is, seems somehow okay. I mean, guys do that shit without actually being gay. But touching, as in running your fingers over someone's skin, or holding their body against yours, or the big one, kissing - in other words, all the things I really wanted to do with Donnie - guys don't do those things together unless they are gay.

And I'd come to the conclusion that we just were not ready to be gay.

We got our socks off, and our uniform pants, and piled them atop our jerseys. I was bent over, fixing the pile, when Donnie squirted me right in the ass with the hose. I jumped, and whipped around, holding up my hands. "What are you doing!"

He had this big grin on his face, and then he started laughing. "You got dirt all over you. I'm just cleaning it off!"

He got me good, head to toe, chasing me around in a big circle while I bobbed and weaved, and laughed my stupid head off. Finally I stepped on the hose while he was moving, and it jerked out of his hand and hit the ground at my feet. I grabbed up the nozzle, and went after him. "My turn!"

He laughed, and he ran, but he wasn't really trying to get away, and I doused him but good, washing every bit of mud off of his body. Finally, I let the stream die, and just grinned at him. "We're both pretty clean now."

He gave me a look like he was annoyed, but there was a smile hiding just underneath of it. "Put the hose down." He went over to the faucet and turned off the flow, and came back over. "Now look. We're all wet. How can we go inside like this?"

"Excuse me. It was you that first squirted me, remember?"

He sighed, but his eyes twinkled merrily. "And?"

I shrugged, took a hand, and smoothed it down the front of my chest, pushing the water drops downward, and then shaking them off my hand. "And...we can just wipe it off."

We did that, rubbing ourselves down in front, and then getting our backs as well as we could. It wasn't hard, and most of the water came right off. A few more minutes of standing in the sun and the light breeze, and only our briefs and our hair still felt wet.

"Come on inside," Donnie said then, pulling the key from around his neck and heading towards the back door. My eyes landed on his butt, moving so gracefully inside the little blue briefs he was wearing. I smiled, and bit my lip. This was just awful!

Donnie turned and caught my look. "What? Are you okay?"

I nodded, coming forward. "Yeah. I'm just hungry."

He turned and put the key in the door, and opened it. We grabbed up our uniforms, shook as much of the gunk out of them that we could, and went inside.

Donnie's house was different from ours. Whereas our back door came into the family room, the back door of Donnie's house let into a little room off the kitchen, which held a washer and dryer and some shelves, and was called - very appropriately - the mud room. "Put your shit right in the washer," Donnie said, tossing his own stuff inside. I added mine, and then Donnie grabbed a big jug of detergent from the shelf, filled the cap, and dumped the liquid inside with the uniforms. He banged down the lid, started the thing running, and then turned and smiled at me.

"Got some pizza in the fridge, left over from last night. How's that?"

"Twist my arm," I said, grinning.

Mmm. Sausage and pepperoni. We plopped a couple of large slices on two paper plates, nuked them in the microwave, and grabbed some root beers out of the fridge. Donnie led me down the hall to his room, and we went inside. When he shut the door he locked it, and grinned at me. I understood. Nothing dampens the fun of a wank session like the idea that mom might come home and open the door.

We sat on the edge of his cedar chest and talked over the game and ate our pizza and drank our root beers. I can't even remember what we said. Donnie's leg rested against mine, and I could feel the sweet touch of his skin, the warmth of his body. All I could think about was that touch - how close Donnie was, and how much I wanted to bring him closer. I knew I was just making myself miserable with all this, but I just couldn't seem to help it.

We finished the pizza, and the drinks. Donnie glanced over at the clock. It was nearly four. "Wonder where my mom is?"

We didn't take our cells to games because there was nowhere to keep them, and we didn't want them getting lost, broken, or stolen. I had left mine on Donnie's nightstand, and he handed it to me as he retrieved his own. I looked at it, saw I had a text from Greg Batner - probably about the game - but no voice mails waiting.

Donnie looked at his own cell, and shrugged. Then he looked up at me, his eyes widening in surprise. "Oh, shit. What a dummy. My mom wouldn't call my cell. She knows I leave it laying all over the place. She would have called the house phone...hold up."

Donnie had a portable phone in his room, connected to the land line. It was one of several spaced around the house, all on the same little Bluetooth network. He went over to it, lifted the phone, and looked at the small LCD screen. "Shit. Here it is."

He pressed the button for replay message, and his mom's voice popped right out of the little speaker:

"Hi, honey, it's mom. Angie and I got caught up at Mrs. Coldner's after the fair, and she invited us to dinner. I know that leaves you hanging - I'm sorry. Maybe you can warm some of the pizza from last night?"

Donnie grinned at that, but didn't take his eyes off the phone.

"I'll be home after we eat and I drop Angie off. About six-thirty or seven, I think. See you then, okay? Stay around the house until I get back, please. Love you, sweetie. Bye."

"Who's Angie?" I asked.

Donnie turned off the phone and set it back in its stand. "My mom's best friend. They do everything together, kinda like us." He looked at me, and I could see the playfulness in his eyes. "Just makes it even better. It always makes a little nervous to be wankin' while my mom's in the house."

I laughed. "Well, let me call my folks first and tell them I'm eatin' dinner here, okay?" I turned my head to one side and stared at Donnie's crotch. "And then we can have some fun."

I did that. My mom asked how the game went, was I okay, and what time did I think I'd be home? I told her we'd won, that I was fine, and that I'd be home sometime after seven.

One thing about my mom, she's reasonable. Most Saturdays, she pretty much lets me do what I want, within reason. My dad goes with whatever my mom says, because he's not good at posting boundaries for me or my sister, and prefers to let mom do it.

"Good to go," I said, putting my cell back on Donnie's nightstand. "Now," I continued, playing the game, "what were we going to do next?"

Donnie simply reached down, stuck his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs, and pushed them to the floor. His dick popped right out, getting harder even as I looked at it. And Donnie had a nice dick to look at, too. But that was to be expected...Donnie was nice all over. Wow. I felt a momentary feeling in my chest like it was hard to breathe, and my nutsack had that little rush that said the floodgates had been opened. Donnie went and found a box of tissues in the little bathroom off his bedroom, and went and got onto his bed. He plumped the pillows up, laid himself down on his back, and patted the mattress next to himself, grinning at me. "Well, come on."

I pushed down my own briefs and stepped out of them, and crawled into Donnie's bed, and laid down on my back next to him - right up against him - and felt that sudden weakness in my body that I got whenever I touched Donnie like this. It went everywhere, making my dick harder than a rock. Man.

Donnie reached over and carefully wrapped his fingers around my dick and gave it a little squeeze. I jumped, because I couldn't help it. I did the same to him, leaning against him a little bit harder in the process. We stroked each other slowly for a little, and I stared at Donnie's dick, seeing Donnie's toes curl and uncurl farther down as I rubbed.

I sighed, because I was happy. Happy is something you have to find, you know? For some people it's just there; but for me, I have always kinda had to go and look for it. But when I was with Donnie, it was never very hard to find.

I looked over at him, and he turned his head from watching my dick and his eyes met mine. He grinned, and I grinned right back. "I love doing this," he said.

I had to laugh at that - just a little. "Me, too."

For just a minute we looked at each other some more. Donnie sure has pretty eyes. They're blue, just like mine, but it isn't just the color that makes them so beautiful. It's the things I can see down inside of them. When I look in Donnie's eyes I see everything we've ever done together, all the way back to my first memories of him. Everything we've ever shared, all the things we've laughed at together, all the times we've been scared together, or in trouble together, or just together. Everything. And all the times we've been close like this, our skin touching, and our hands full of the private parts of each other's bodies. How much better could it be?


I had kinda zoned out, I guess, and now I let my eyes go back to meet Donnie's. "Yeah?"

He bit his lip a second, and then let go of my dick and turned on his side to face me, coming up on his elbow, with his hand propped under his head. He looked at me then, and I could see all the wheels turning inside, but didn't have a clue about what kind of tracks they were making.

"Aren't you tired of doing this?"

I stared at him. Tired of jerking off with him? Was he kidding? He'd just said he loved it!

He saw what I was thinking, too. He frowned. "I mean...aren't you tired of just doing this?"

I felt a sudden cold surprise inside. That sounded awfully like he was asking me if I wouldn't rather do more.

His eyes were on mine, like he was trying to see my thoughts. "Andy, I just gotta ask you something, okay?"

I nodded. I felt breathless for some reason, and my voice came out as a whisper. "Okay."

He stared at me, and I could see him working up his nerve. " do do you feel...about me?"

I wasn't expecting that, and I didn't know what to say. "I like you. You know that."

He frowned. "Is that all?"

I knew I was screwing up big time. "Um...I like you a lot."

He nodded. "Yeah. I just...wondered." Somehow, he seemed very disappointed.

He had wanted more, and I saw then that this was it. We were standing by the wall, looking over it at each other. I couldn't let it go, because if I did, it might never come back again.

I slid my hand up to his shoulder and squeezed it. "You're the best friend I ever had, Donnie. I'd do anything for you."

The disappointment ebbed away, and he smiled. "Yeah, me, too."

The door was open now, so I just had to ask: "How do you feel about me, Donnie?"

He looked surprised, and then a little scared, and then his face screwed up, and for a moment I thought I'd upset him. His eyes dropped to my chest, and he lifted a hand and laid it there. His fingers spasmed, and then he was rubbing me.

It was not a touch that friends did. The way he was rubbing me carried a weight of emotion that I could only just see the tip of. The fondness of the action ran deep. I raised a hand and laid it on his, and rubbed his fingers. It felt wonderful, and special, and better than anything I had ever done before.

Donnie's eyes came up, and his gaze touched mine. His eyes moved over my face, and all I could do was smile.

His eyes smiled first. And then the rest of his face broke into a beautiful grin...and then he was climbing on top of me!

Holy shit snackin' crackers! Donnie squirmed up onto me, pushing me back into the pillow, and lay down, his belly against mine, his legs against mine, his feet touching mine, and...and...his dick pressing against mine.

The feeling was just...just...what can you call it? My body loved every second of it. My muscles twitched and my skin tingled. All that softness and warmth and...and...Donnie against my was like opening your eyes and suddenly finding out you were leaning over the edge of a roof and looking straight down for fifteen floors. For a second I just kind held on for dear life.

"What are we doing?" I whispered into the moment.

"Andy." It was just my name, said very quietly. Donnie closed his eyes a moment, maybe feeling some of the amazing stuff inside his body at our contact that I was feeling inside mine; and then his expression became the make-or-break one I had seen on his face countless times just before he did something absolutely crazy.

He lowered his head to my shoulder and pushed his face into the side of my neck, took in a huge breath, and let it out slowly.

"I mum mew."

His mouth was pressed against my skin, and I couldn't understand him. My heart was racing, and I was having trouble catching my breath. "What?"

He pulled his face back, just a bit, but didn't raise it so that I could see his eyes.

"I love you," he whispered.

I felt so still, like the world had stopped. It grew silent, and far away, and all I could hear was my own heart pounding in my chest.

Donnie had just told me that he loved me. Me! My arms came up, without me telling them to, and I laid my hands on Donnie's back. My fingers began to move, also on their own, against Donnie's skin, but in all the years I had known him, I had never touched him like this.

And my eyes leaked tears, which ran down my face, and I turned my head and pressed my cheek against Donnie's.

"I love you, too." And I didn't even have to tell myself to say that.

We laid like that - just like that, for I don't know how long. I lost my boner, and I didn't care. My hands continued to rub gently over the warm skin of Donnie's back, and I just lay there, my eyes closed, and felt him against me, everywhere. I could feel him breathing, and the soft and distant beat of his heart, and even the bubble of gas that worked its way through his gut and soon arrived at the back door and emerged in a loud fart.

He giggled, and then lifted his head and grinned at me, and I grinned right back for all I was worth. "There goes that moment."

He laughed, and drew up a hand and wiped at his eyes, and I could see that his were wet, too. "Sorry. Pizza makes me fart."

All I could do was grin, and laugh. I was so happy I just didn't know what else to do.

"Why'd you say that?" I finally had to ask. "What made you tell me?"

He sighed. "It was burnin' me up, Andy. I had to." Then he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath and sighed it out, and opened his eyes again. "Talk about fuckin' scared. I didn't know how you'd take it."

I nodded. Boy, did I get that. "I know. I know just how scared you were. Because I was scared just like that, every time I thought you might find out I felt about you."

He shook his head, and I could see the wonder in his eyes. "You really mean to tell me that I love you, and you love me, and we've been goin' on all this time, afraid to tell each other? That's crazy."

I could only nod. "Yup. Looks like."

"I wanted to tell you so many times."

I nodded. "Me, too. I was scared, though. That you'd stop being my friend."

"Aw. That's not ever gonna happen."

I squeezed him. "I don't know what I'd do without you around."

He grinned, and nodded, and his eyes seemed to be searching for something in mine. I just smiled back, because I couldn't help it one bit.

He sighed, and licked his lips. "I wanna kiss you so bad," he said quietly. "Can I?"

"Oh, hell, yeah," I breathed, puckering up just a little.

He grinned, dropped his face slowly, and our lips touched together, gently. And then he let the pressure increase, and we both puckered a little more, and I felt him smile, and I smiled too. He laughed, and lifted his head, and I knew then and there that this was going to just get better and better.

His eyes bounced from mine to my lips and back, his gaze still full of smiles. He dropped his head again, stuck out his tongue, and ran it daintily across my lips. My dick did a oh, hell yes!, and immediately started to get hard again. I stuck my own tongue out, touched Donnie's with it, and we played at that, laughing and touching our tongues together, until he finally dropped his head again and I let his tongue come inside.

My dick got very hard, and it pressed very hard against his. He'd gone kinda limp while we were talking, too; but his boner came right back at the feel of mine pressing close. He blew a little air out at the sensation of it, and gently rolled his hips a couple of times. That sent a feeling through my middle that just made me gasp, and I hugged him closer again, because I just had to.

We kissed for a long time. I just couldn't get enough of it. At one point I spread my legs and let him slide in between, and then wrapped my legs around his thighs. He gulped and gave a little pant at the magic feel that action handed over to both our dicks as they pressed even more tightly together, and lifted his head to grin down at me. "What do we do next?"

Wow. Everything I'd ever dreamed about doing with Donnie bubbled to the surface. "Anything goes?" I asked, with the same look I gave Donnie when I was daring him.

He looked down at me, his eyes wide, and I slid my hands down and squeezed his butt cheeks just to let him know I was serious. His mouth dropped open, and he grinned at me. "Anything? What do ya mean by that?"

I gave him a little, patient sigh. "Can I touch you anywhere I want?"

He didn't even think about it. "Sure."

I nodded. "Can I kiss you anywhere I want?"

His eyes got wider at that, but so did his grin. "Sure."

I nodded again. "Can any part of you in my mouth that I want?"

He tilted his head back, squeezed his eyes shut and laughed, and all I wanted to do was hold him as tightly as I could. He tilted his had back down, looked into my eyes, and smiled. "Sure."

I nodded. "That goes both ways, okay?"

He closed his eyes again, nodded slowly. "I can't wait, Andy."

I did pull him closer then, and kissed him.

And that's how I learned what being in love was really like.

Or, that's what I thought, anyway. What at first seemed pretty plain and simple soon proved to have some hair on it. I mean, there was more to it than just having someone around that you could kiss and hug and suck off whenever you wanted. Love is more complicated than like. The closer you are to somebody, the more there is to consider. We both discovered that being that close required learning some new things about each other. It was fun to explore that, and I think we both surprised the other with some of the things that we said and admitted. Friends hide small things from each other that lovers tend to share.

The most important fact, though, was that we were in this thing together.

Love has two parts, we soon learned. Kind of like a horse and a wagon. The horse is all the stuff that drives the love - pulls it along, I guess. The wagon is the part where you and the guy you love sit, and get pulled along by the horse. You have to kind of take turns guiding that horse, so that no one gets hurt. And, sometimes, it's the horse that's driving, and neither of the guys sitting back in the wagon.

A few weeks went by, and Donnie and I went a little nuts with each other. We had a lot of sex, imitating the stuff we had both seen online. We learned that you have to be careful with teeth, and that there is a limit to how long you can have a boner before it just plain hurts the next day, and that sticking that boner where the sun don't shine takes patience and practice to do right. And we learned that love and friendship go together really well, but that they're not always the same thing.

But the love did not go away, or wear down. Sometimes, wanting something is a lot better than having it, and after you get your hands on what you've been drooling over, the fun of it takes a walk. That did not happen with this. I loved Donnie more than ever as the days went by. We laughed a lot, and we touched all the time, and we never went anywhere unless we were together. And all that time we thought we were being discreet about it, too.

So it was inevitable that someone would notice.

That was Greg Batner, who might possibly have been my best friend if Donnie hadn't beaten him to it. Greg was on the team, a safety, and he was lightning on two legs. He had an inch on me and Donnie both, and I don't mean just in height. As a great practitioner of the locker room sneaky peek, I had watched him more than once in the shower, and Greg had a dong that would likely someday be great.

He also had hair under his arms, was prone to pimples on his forehead, and owned a boundless curiosity that expressed itself in noticing a lot of shit that others would prefer he didn't.

And he was as crazy as a bedbug in a drug addict's sleeping bag.

"So," he said one afternoon, as we were walking home from practice, crossing through the big field where the Myersons had used to grow corn, "you guys are gay, huh?"

"Hey, fuck you, Batner," Donnie immediately said, and I had to reach out and grab his arm, because he looked like he might do something stupid.

Greg was not fazed. He knew Donnie as well as I did...okay, not quite as well as I did, but you get my meaning. Greg had been hanging with Donnie and me since fourth grade. Greg was a straight up guy, not the type to fuck with your head except in play. It could be hard to tell, because he played all the time. But if you spoke serious, he would, too. I trusted him almost as much as I trusted Donnie.

Greg grinned. "I always thought you guys were joined at the hip, but I always figured it was just a deformity, not a new sexual position."

Donnie looked at me, and I could see the fear underneath the anger he was wearing.

I laughed at Greg. "Funny. As long as you wanna be an ass, you can kiss mine for practice."

Greg looked at me a moment, and then shook his head. "I'm serious, Andy. I'm not the only one that's noticed."

I kind of felt that fear myself now. "What's that mean?"

Greg sighed. "Look, you guys - we're friends, right? I'm not a gay-basher. My cousin Rich is as fruity as a bowl of breakfast cereal. But I still care about him." He nodded. "Someone fucks with Rich over who he is, they better know they have to deal with me." He looked around, made sure no one was looking, and then reached out and gave my shoulder a fond pat. "I feel the same way about you guys."

I looked at Donnie, and he gave a little shake of his head. Don't tell him. I looked back at Greg. "What have you heard?"

Greg shrugged. "Heather asked me if I saw the way you two were acting. Some of the other girls were talking about it. Heather didn't come right out and say gay, but she said enough so I got what she meant."

Heather Dees was Greg's almost girlfriend. They hung out together on and off, but even Greg admitted that he'd only kissed her and felt her tits. "I had already noticed you guys bein' extra dreamy with each other, but I guess I just didn't want to see more. I mean, you guys are on the team, and neither of you act really gay - mostly." He grinned, unable not to toss in the dig. "And I know you two go way back. I just thought maybe you were watchin' porn together, or jerkin' together, or something secret. Same as Curt and Billy used to do."

I felt my eyebrows go up at the mention of Greg's older brothers. "Curt and Billy used to jerk each other?"

"Yeah. And they acted all stupid about it, too, because they had this big secret together. But now they got girls. Jerkin' doesn't mean you're gay." He leaned closer. "So...are ya?"

I looked at Donnie again, and could see the indecision in his eyes. Neither of us wanted the little paradise we'd discovered together to be ruined by others. This had to be fixed somehow.

Greg probably saw that we couldn't decide. He sighed again. "Look, if it was just Heather and me, I wouldn't say anything. But I heard Dickie Ranshaw telling Pete Nicks that you two were sweethearts. They were laughing about it."

Shit. Every school has its squad of complete fucktards. Dickie and Pete were some of ours.

"They can't know anything," I protested. "They're just being jerks."

Greg frowned. "You know how talk is, Andy. It gets rolling, and people believe it." He shrugged. "And like I said, I can see the way you guys act, too."

"How do we act?"

The frown turned to a grin. "Serious? You guys don't ever get more than a foot apart anymore. And when you look at each other, it's like all these little lights are flashing, and a voice is screaming kiss me!" The last two words were delivered in a high-pitched, girlish voice.

I couldn't believe we had been so careless. How could we have not seen this? I felt an impulse to try to bull my way through. "Even if it was true, there's gay people in school. So the fuck what?"

Greg nodded. "I agree with you. I just want to know what to do and say if I hear people talking. If you guys are keeping this quiet, I'm going to tell people they're full of shit if I hear them talking, and say that I've known you guys a long time, and it ain't true. I just don't want to be going around doing that if you guys plan to let it out. I'd look stupid then."

Donnie opened his mouth to say something, a grin tugging at his lips, but I immediately stuck a finger in his face. "Don't say anything else nasty. Greg's trying to help."

Greg and I both laughed at the expression of disappointment that crawled over Donnie's features.

"So it's true?" Greg asked again.

I looked at Donnie, and he just shrugged. "I don't know what to do."

Neither did I. Greg had been our friend for a long time, and I didn't think he'd sell us out. I looked at him, into his eyes, and all I could see was the same straight up guy I'd always dealt with.

"Yeah," I said then. "It's true."

"Andy!" Donnie looked at me like he didn't believe I'd said it.

Greg just nodded. "I already knew, Donnie. Don't sweat it. I'm not telling anyone. Not even Heather." He frowned. "Now, what are you going to do about the rumors? Deny them if they come up, or just say fuck it, and let it all hang out?"

"I don't know," I admitted. I looked at Donnie. "I'm sorry. I just felt like we needed some help with this."

Surprisingly, Donnie just nodded. "It's okay." He turned to Greg. "You swear you won't blab?"

Greg actually looked sympathetic. "I won't. You two are my best friends." He grinned then. " guys tasted each other's fapple juice yet?"

Donnie and I looked at each other, and we both burst out laughing. Greg had always been a freak. Just...not about us.

Greg looked from Donnie to me, and nodded. "That would be a big yes." He leaned forward, his eyes shining. "What's that like?"

I leaned closer to him, grinning. "What, are you gay or something?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so. Doesn't mean I'm not interested when my two best friends are sharing body heat."

That was kind of sobering. The warmth of Donnie's skin against mine was one of the things I always loved to experience most.

I couldn't help looking annoyed. "Look, Greg, this is some serious shit between me and Donnie, okay? I mean, you can kid some, just as long as you know that."

Told you Greg was always straight up. He looked at both of us, and nodded, and I really could see that he understood. "Okay, I get that." He smiled. "It's just a new idea, right? We've been a squad a long time, and --" he actually looked surprised "-- I ain't sure I like being the extra guy here."

Donnie looked at me, and grinned. "We haven't tried a threesome yet."

I laughed, but Greg actually took a step back from us and raised his hands. "Yeah, I don't think so." But his eyes were smiling, and I knew he knew we were kidding.

It was actually kind of fun to be out in the open with someone. Nothing quite puts a damper on love than the feeling that there is something unacceptable about it. Greg didn't give the slightest indication that he was anything but on our side about this.

I gave him an appraising look. "Take both of us to handle that monster of yours, anyway."

Donnie slapped his thigh and pumped out a belly laugh, and Greg looked surprised. "What, ya been peepin'?"

I shrugged. "Can't blame a guy for lookin'".

Greg's face colored, just a little, but I could see that he wasn't really upset about it. Instead, he turned his backside towards us and smoothed a hand down the outside of his jeans. "I got a nice ass, too, don't ya think?"

"I always liked it," Donnie said, getting into the spirit of things now. "Gonna make some guy happy, someday."

We all laughed. It was a much needed tension breaker, and when I looked at Donnie again I could see he had relaxed.

But I had to ask Greg. "Have you ever thought of being with a guy before?"

The smile kind of just slid off his face. "Seriously? You won't get mad at me?"

Donnie and I looked at each other. "I won't," Donnie promised.

I let my eyes go back to Greg. "I won't, either."

He nodded, and I could see him working up to it. "Well...I've kinda wondered what it would be like to do stuff...with both of you guys, at one time or another."

Donnie's mouth dropped open, and he looked at me, his eyes wide with amazement. I was pretty stunned myself. "What?"

Greg's grin came back. "Hey, it was before I discovered girls. It was just a passin' thing."

Donnie moved closer to my side. "Both of us at different times, or both of us together?"

I gave him an affectionate little push, and he grinned at me.

"Different times," Greg said quickly, looking slightly alarmed at the idea of group sex. An embarrassed smile came and went. "Yeah.'re both, uh, not hard to look at."

Donnie bent over and sank to his knees, laughing. I didn't want to embarrass Greg further, so I remained standing and laughed. I could have rolled on the ground, though. The truth was, the occasional pimple on the forehead notwithstanding, I had always liked the way that Greg looked. Now I grinned at him. "You're kinda cute, too."

That did it. Greg's face reddened nicely, but he just shook his head and clamped his lips tightly together, trying not to laugh.

"Okay," he finally said. "Okay. But I was being honest when I asked what it was like know."

"Suck dick?" Donnie said, and I gave him a surprised little laugh. Once Donnie got into something, he got into it all the way.

Greg rolled his eyes, but laughed. "Yeah."

Donnie seemed to think about it a moment, and then he smiled at me. "It's pretty wonderful."

I smiled back, just wanting to grab him then and there, and hold him close. Instead, I looked at Greg and nodded. "Yup."

He looked from me to Donnie and back again, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I kinda get that it's special because there's some feelings involved."

Greg was going to go a long way in this world. "That would be true, yes," I agreed.

He frowned. '"You just swallow it down?"

Donnie snorted out another laugh, and I was doing my best not to go, too. "That's how it works," I forced out.

Greg waited a moment for us to calm down. "Be serious a minute, okay?"

Donnie and I touched eyes again, but I made an effort to get control. "Sorry. What do you want to know?"

"I told you," Greg said quietly. "What is it like?"

Damn. He was serious.

I shrugged. "Ever taste your own spaff?"

Greg looked around quickly, like maybe we had acquired an audience. No one was about. "Well...yeah."

"What'd you think of it?"

Greg wrinkled his nose. "It didn't make me gag, but it's not that great."

I shrugged. "I've tasted mine, and I agree with you." I looked at Donnie. "Donnie tastes a lot better than me."

Donnie's eyes widened. "Shit. You taste way better than I do."

I grinned at him, and looked back at Greg."I think a lot of it is how you feel about the guy." I considered that myself, and had a slight epiphany. "Yeah. I mean, I don't want to fool around with every guy I know, not by a long shot. And there's guys I know, I wouldn't suck 'em off for a million dollars."

Donnie nodded. "Yeah. Like Dickhead Ranshaw."

I shivered at the idea of that one. "Absolutely."

Greg cleared his throat. "I can see that. There's plenty of girls out there that don't interest me." He grinned. "Hell, there's a few you couldn't pay me to get near." He winked. "I'd rather sleep with either one of you than Carla Diffenderfer."

Donnie and I both shuddered. Carla was really nice, but utterly scary in a physical sense. Maybe if she bathed more than once a year, and her teeth weren't green, and her clothes didn't smell like a dumpster...

Donnie laughed. "Sure you don't want a boyfriend, Greg?"

A new thought occurred to me. Greg had just said he'd sleep with one of us before Carla. "Are you bi, maybe?"

"I don't think so," Greg said. His answer came too quickly and without any sign of reservations to not feel like a true answer to me. He licked his lips, and looked around again. "Back when I kind of thought about doing shit with you guys, I kinda considered tasting a dick." He shrugged. "Now I just wanna dip my tongue in some cooter, I think."

"You sure?" I asked. Something sounded off here, but it was not like Greg to lie. This was getting too complicated. "I don't know what to tell you then." I looked at Donnie, and he smiled at me. That inspired some new thoughts. "You ever lay in a bed with Heather?" I redirected to Greg.

He nodded. "Well, kinda. She and I have laid in the hammock together in my backyard a few times."

"How does that feel?" I asked.

The expressions that crossed Greg's face told me how it felt before he even opened his mouth. "Aw, shit. It feels great. I mean..." He sighed.

I nodded. "Now imagine if you were both naked."

Greg laughed. "I already have." He looked around again, and then dropped a hand and patted the front of his jeans. "Makes me horny as a motherfucker."

I grinned. "Makes you wanna do more stuff with her, doesn't it? Touch her, and kiss her, and maybe some other stuff?"

"Yup. No doubt about that."

"That's how it is for Donnie and me," I told him.

He watched us for a whole half-minute, and I could see him thinking about it. Then he nodded. "It just is, isn't it? I mean, you don't pick to be the way you are. I see it now. Either a guy looks beautiful to you, or he doesn't."

I had to agree with that. I looked over at Donnie, at the light in his blue eyes, and the way they looked back at me, at his smile, and all the things I liked about his face. He was beautiful, yes. To me, anyway.


Greg sighed. "I kinda envy you guys. I mean, I really like Heather, and I think about what we might do together sometimes - but I'm not in love with her."

"Someday you will...I mean, love somebody," I said. "I'm sure that's gonna happen."

Greg nodded, but didn't look like he shared my certainty about it.

We walked on, into a changed world. Having someone know about Donnie and me - that we loved each other - gave what we had a whole new flavor. I kind of marveled at the way it felt now, almost as if someone had patted me and Donnie both on the back, smiled, and said very seriously, "I'm happy for you." I kind of got what it was that made the change, too. Greg didn't come right out and say he approved of us, but his attitude was a long way from condemnation. That is wasn't going to be a friendship breaker was pretty obvious.

Stupid, huh? I didn't know yet how I wanted to handle this - keep it just for Donnie and me, or let the whole world in on it. Donnie kept knockin' his hand against mine as we walked, and then grinning at me when I looked over, and I knew he was thinkin' about it, too.

I can take a lot of heat. If people got on me about being gay, I'd deal with it. But Donnie doesn't always deal with stuff so well. He would be hurt, and he would be angry, and he would be miserable.

And I loved him too much to have him endure that.

So as we walked on, and Greg and Donnie joked back and forth, I was trying to figure out a way to either get Donnie to accept being out, or get the world to leave us the hell alone.

Either way we went, it didn't look easy.

Our bus driver, Mrs. Hinkie, is a one-of-a-kind. She used to be a marine, I'd heard, and she was tough enough that the idea was perfectly believable. The whole story went that she had driven a tank in Iraq, and had run it straight through the mansion of the dictator, Sodamn Insane, while he was lounging in his bathtub. I never believed any of it, and that shit all happened before I was born, even. But you never really know, and it pays to be safe. The story also said that her tank had thrown a tread while knocking the mansion down, and that Mrs. Hinkie had climbed out and held up the back end while the rest of the crew fixed it. You hear stupid shit like this and you just know some doink she had snapped at had way too little on his mind, and tried to fill in the gaps by making up stuff to get back at her.

Truth was, Mrs. Hinkie did look like she might have been a marine, and that she might be able to hold up the ass end of a tank. She was a short, round woman, with a perpetual frown, curly brown hair liberally mixed with gray, and really intense blue eyes. And not the sweet, sky-blue eyes that Donnie had, but these kind of gray-blue, iceberg eyes, and she didn't miss much with them, either. She had big arms and tiny feet, and she wrestled bus number 536 around like it was nothing.

Donnie and I always respected her, just because that was the way we were raised, and not because the story also said she could break a guy's neck with a single blow.

There was this long mirror above her that let her see everything behind her, and I could always feel her eyes, watching. She had a short fuse for stupid shit, and a certain set of rules that she expected to be obeyed. Obeyed to the letter.

Donnie and Greg and I, and Michelle Parker, were the first bus stop, and Donnie and I liked to take the same seat in the back on the driver's side, while Greg would sprawl in the one across from us. The bus was never more than half full, so it wasn't like we ever had to share.

We were all talking about the last game against the team from Utica, the Bucks, and not really paying attention to the the stops and people getting on. Greg was sitting forward in his seat, his arms spread across the back of the seat in front of him, describing the winning play to Jeremy Hammerslaw, who had missed the game because he had to go see his Uncle Fred, who was in the merchant marine and only got home twice a year.

Donnie and I had plenty of seat, but somehow we were still shoulder-to-shoulder, and I was leaning towards Greg, grinning at the way that he was telling the story, and Donnie was kind of leaning against me. The seat in front of us was often empty, and was that day, too, as all the little cliques tended to stay together. So I noticed when, as we pulled up at a stop sign, Dickie Ranshaw propelled himself up out of his seat seven aisles ahead and came towards us. We made eye contact, and I could just tell by his expression that he was up to no good.

He looked over his shoulder quickly as he approached us, but Mrs. Hinkie was bent forward, trying to see oncoming traffic from the left. Dickie slid into the seat in front of us, grinning, and I let my eyes go for a moment to where he had been sitting. His buddies, Pete Nicks and Hank Snowden, were both turned our way, grinning and watching.

"Hi fellas," Dickie said, in an overly-friendly tone. "What's happenin'?"

Dickie Ranshaw was about our size, with brown hair cut in a perpetual crew, and actually very pleasant features. We'd grown up together, and we'd had the occasional run in, but for the most part he had never bothered me. In my present state of mind I might even have thought he was cute, except for the fact that I knew what an A-league asswipe he was. When he smiled you could see that he had one tooth that was slightly out of line with the others, and I predicted that there would be a lot more of them in that condition by the time he was an adult. His nature was predatory, and infuriating, and only the fact that he was not bigger kept him from being truly dangerous.

"What do you want, Ranshaw?" Donnie asked, irritation plain in his voice.

Dickie played at being shocked. "Is that any way to talk to a customer?" he asked, leaning back and digging into his pocket. He produced a handful of change, and dug out two nickels. "I'm here so you guys can make some money."

Donnie and I looked at each other.

Greg leaned over then. "You should go back to your seat, monkey, before someone takes a poke at you."

Greg was not an aggressive guy, but he did have an understanding with the rest of the school: you don't bother me, and I won't bother you. The few guys that had disrespected that edict had found themselves getting up off the floor. Greg's speed of movement on the football field held true in other areas of movement as well.

Ranshaw was the type that caused trouble, but usually managed to keep from having it come back on him. He'd never really been hurt, and so he still thought he was unbreakable.

"This ain't your business, Batner. Take a seat."

He turned his gaze back to us, and held up the two nickels. "Is this enough?"

"Enough for what?" I asked.

He tossed a quick look back at his buddies, who were all smiles, and then leaned forward again. "Well, I heard you two were giving blowjobs. And seein' as how I like my rod polished as much as anybody else --"

Donnie came up out of the seat so fast it made me jump. His fist pumped out and connected with Dickie's cheek. The two nickels went flying, and Dickie flopped back out of the seat onto the floor.

The bus lurched, and suddenly pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. I looked up as air sighed into the braking system, and then Mrs. Hinkie was levering herself up out of her seat. She started back to us, her face looking anything but happy.

Dickie sat up, looking amazed, his hand going to his cheek, his eyes wide. "Fuck. That hurt!"

I couldn't help it; I started laughing. So did Greg. Donnie, who had sat back down, simply glared. "Fuck you, Ranshaw."

Mrs. Hinkie arrived then. "What's going on here? Mr. Ranshaw, why are you on my floor?"

Dickie looked up at her, let his eyes come back to us, then returned them to the driver. "Um, I fell out of the seat."

"You fell out?" Mrs. Hinkie wasn't that stupid. She looked at us. "What happened?"

Donnie and I exchanged quick glances. "Um, I wasn't looking," Donnie said.

I licked my lips. "I didn't see, either."

Mrs. Hinkie, narrowed her eyes, then looked at Dickie. "What are you doing back here, Mr. Ranshaw? You know the rule about no movement while the bus is in motion."

I could see the little sparks shooting off behind Dickie's eyes as he thought fast. "Um, I dropped a coupla' nickels and they rolled back here."

"And you risked injury for ten cents? Are you kidding me?"

Dickie looked around on the floor, spotted one of the nickels, and grabbed it up. "Here's one of them." He held it up so that Mrs. Hinkie could see.

Mrs. Hinkie suddenly bent down, squinting. "What happened to your face? It's bruising up even as I look at it."

Dickie actually gulped, his eyes straying to Donnie. "I think I hit it on the corner of the seat when I fell."

Mrs. Hinkie, to her credit, looked concerned. "Are you okay. Does it hurt?"

Dickie swallowed again, his gaze going back to Donnie. There was a puzzled look in his eyes, as if he still couldn't get that Donnie had leveled him. "Yeah. It does hurt."

The bus driver nodded. "Can you get up? Please do so now."

Dickie got to his feet, his fingers dabbing gently at the bruise forming under his eye.

"You will go directly to the nurse when we get to the school," Mrs. Hinkie announced. "And then I will have to file an accident report."

"I'm okay," Dickie said, frowning.

Mrs. Hinkie stood back as far as she could, and indicated that Dickie should pass her. "Go back to your seat, please."

Dickie fired one last look at us, and it held a promise. Just of what...I wasn't certain.

Mrs. Hinkie watched as Dickie went back to his seat, and then turned to us. "Nice right, Mr. Blydon," she said quietly.

I heard Donnie gasp, but Mrs. Hinkie was even then heading back up to the front of the bus.

Greg laughed briefly through his nose, but was doing his best to keep a straight face. As Mrs. Hinkie passed beyond Dickie, Dickie turned and gave us a look, and raised his fist at us. Well, now I knew what sort of promise it was.

"Fuck him," I heard Greg whisper. He grinned openly now. "She saw."

I couldn't believe it, either. "Sure sounds like it." I looked at Donnie. "You okay?"

Donnie nodded. He reached down, out of sight of the rest of the bus, and squeezed my hand. "I'm not takin's shit from anybody, Andy. I'm just letting you know now."

I nodded. "I got your back."

For the barest moment, Donnie looked scared. But then he compressed his lips together, forced a smile, and nodded.

The rest of the trip to school seemed quiet, with the engine beneath us seeming louder then usual. Dickie had his head together with Pete, while Hank hung over the back of the seat before them, listening to them, but occasionally shooting us a glance. I was already getting irritated with the three of them, and had half a mind to just walk up there and tell them where to get off. But...Donnie was riled up enough as it was. I didn't want him to go off again. The way he had reacted to Dickie's simpleminded taunt told me that he was running on fear and anger, and that was always a bad combination for Donnie.

So I just sat there, occasionally squeezing Donnie's hand, until we arrived at the school. Mrs. Hinkie pulled the bus into a spot and killed the engine, and people began filing off.

As Dickie passed her she told him she was going to check to make sure he had actually gone to the nurse, so he had better do it. Dickie frowned, but nodded.

"Just a second, you two," Mrs. Hinkie said to Donnie and I, as we came up to the front. She waved a hand at Greg. "You can go, Mr. Batner."

Greg gave us a supportive look, and left the bus.

Mrs. Hinkie reached over and swung the door shut. She looked at Donnie. "Hand hurt?"

Donnie looked at it. "A little."

She nodded. "I've been driving a school bus for 34 years, gentleman. In that time I have known a number of members of the Ranshaw clan. Dickie's older brothers are on my high school run even now, and the one they call Birdie is another piece of work. The fact is, I drove the elder Ranshaw - Dickie's dad - to school for four years when he was young, and that is why we are having this conversation. Like father, like sons. Dickie's dad was a pure shithead, too."

I couldn't help it, but I laughed. It was the way that Mrs. Hinkie said it, absolutely straight-faced. Donnie grinned at me, and I had to restrain myself from squeezing his hand.

"I like kids," Mrs. Hinkie went on. "Which was why I started driving a bus all those years ago. But I have seen a few really nasty ones in my time, too." She nodded at us. "You two have been riding with me since you were little, and I've never had a problem with either of you. Want to tell me what happened back there?"

Donnie's smile disappeared. "Not really."

The driver's eyes settled on me. "How about you?"

I knew she had seen what had happened, in her mirror. That alone could have gotten Donnie in trouble. But it seemed that Mrs. Hinkie was of a mind not to cause any. That made me feel like we owed her something. She was looking out for Donnie.

My Donnie.

"Ranshaw said something cruddy to us. If Donnie hadn't hit him first, I probably would have."

She shook her head. "I don't need to know what. I suspected it was not nice, to get such a reaction from two quiet kids like you." She gave a little sigh. "I don't actually think that Mr. Ranshaw was hurt, any more than he deserved to be. But I cannot have this kind of thing happening on my bus, okay?"

Donnie nodded, and so did I. "Sorry," I said.

Mrs. Hinkie's eyes moved back and forth between us. "Now that I know there is friction between you, I can promise you that Mr. Ranshaw will not be coming back to visit you again. He gets up one more time while this bus is moving, he can walk to school for the rest of the year."

Donnie gave a little snort, probably imagining that. It made me grin, too.

Mrs. Hinkie gave us a pointed look. "So no more smacking stupid people on my bus?"

Donnie smiled. "I promise."

"Me, too," I said, when she looked at me.

"Okay, you can go." She reached over and swung the handle, opening the side door.

We turned to get off the bus, but then Donnie stopped. He looked at me a moment, bit his lip, then moved around me to face Mrs. Hinkie. "Can I ask you something?"

The woman nodded. "Shoot."

"Um...what did you do before you drove a bus?"

I swear to god that Mrs. Hinkie almost smiled. It came and went really fast, but I saw it, and I couldn't help getting big-eyed in amazement.

"I was a secretary for an insurance company," she said. "Why do you want to know?"

Donnie shrugged, looking a little disappointed. "Oh...I dunno. I was just curious." He forced a smile. "That sounds like an okay job."

Mrs. Hinkie nodded. "It was. Much better than driving a tank."

Donnie gave a startled laugh and looked over at me. I couldn't help giving out a grin.

Mrs. Hinkie's eyes shined a little then, and she raised a finger and pointed at them. "These work, fellas." Then she moved the finger over and tapped her ear lobe. "And these do, too." For a moment those iceberg eyes of hers seemed actually warm. Then she looked at her watch, and waved her hand at us. "You'd better hurry or you'll be late for homeroom. Just remember one thing, okay?"

Donnie and I both nodded. "Yeah, no more fighting," Donnie said.

She nodded. "That, too. But what I was going to say is that people like Mr. Ranshaw don't usually forget when someone shows them up. Watch your back, okay?"

Good advice. I intended to heed it, too.

Another couple of weeks went by. Dickie and his squad avoided us, both on the bus and at school. Donnie was tense about it at first, because, like me, he knew that it was the quiet before the storm, and that those assholes were planning some way to get back at us. My sister was the first to ask me what was up, maybe noticing that I was quieter than usual, and attuned to me enough to know worry when she saw it.

Unlike some of my friends, who continually fought with their older sisters, Dottie and I got along pretty well. She was two grades ahead of me, and went to the high school. We had our moments, like every brother and sister since the start of the race; but most of the time we supported each other pretty well. Nothing like family, right?

I explained that Donnie and I had had a run-in with Dickie Ranshaw, without going into detail. Dottie rode the same bus with Mrs. Hinkie to high school, along with Baird and Preston Ranshaw - Dickie's older brothers. Baird - called Birdie as a play on his name, was every bit the rip-roaring asshole that his little brother was. Preston, called Ox, probably because he was huge, was an extreme contrast, however. Dottie would curl her lip when she mentioned Birdie, but I had already noticed that she was one of the few people that called Preston by his true name.

"He's adopted, or something," she'd once told me.

"Huh?" I'd asked. "Why do you say that?"

"For one, he doesn't look like the rest of his family. They're all gangly and brown-haired like the dad, and Preston has black hair and is built like a weight-lifter. And, he's nice." She'd laughed then. "And, there's no such thing as a nice Ranshaw. So he has to be adopted."

Girls go by a different logic than us guys, but in this case I kind of agreed with her. A Ranshaw that didn't cause trouble was as rare as a bald-eagle that could fly backwards.

She looked at me carefully. "This have anything to do with your friendship with Donnie?"

I felt an immediate sense of alarm. What could she know? It must have showed on my face. She sighed, came forward and wrapped me in a totally unexpected hug. "I love you, Andy. And I also know you very well."

I looked up at her. "What does that mean?" I breathed.

She looked down into my eyes, and I could read her like a book. She knew.


She was my sister.

She lifted a hand, touched the end of my nose with a finger, and then kissed me on the forehead. "You can always talk to me."

I couldn't quite find my voice at first, and when I did it sounded hoarse. "What should I do, sis?"

She shook her head. "Nothing. Not yet, anyway. At some point you might want to tell mom and dad."

"I don't know if I can do that," I said immediately. Talk about some scary shit there!

She shrugged. "Better from you than from someone else."

I could only sigh at that. That it was true was so apparent that it could not be ignored. "Maybe. Eventually."

"I'll be there with you, if you want." She smiled. "I think they'll take it better than you think."

I nodded. "Dottie? You think there's something wrong with me?"

She gave a little laugh. "You really want to ask me that, after we've grown up together?"

I felt my cheeks get warm. "You know what I mean."

She looked into my eyes, and slowly nodded. "Yes. I know what you mean. And no. I do not think there is anything wrong with you."

I sighed. "Then why did this happen to me?"

She looked thoughtful. "Who knows? I'll tell you one thing, though: I was not that surprised when I realized it."

I gaped at her. "Why not?"

"Aw, Andy." She brought up a hand and rubbed my cheek. "I saw years ago that you loved Donnie. And that he loved you. You two are inseparable. Sometimes, things that happen now start way back, and just slowly catch up with us."

That seemed an incredibly smart point of view to me, and I realized that she was right. Donnie had always been the center around which my life revolved. That this was happening now should have surprised me least of all.

"What should I do about Ranshaw?" I asked her.

She shook her head. "Nothing. Wait and see. The worst thing that can happen might be that people will become aware. Other than that, everything else will just go on as usual."

"I think some people know already," I said dismally.

"I think so, too. And nothing has happened yet, right?"

Somehow, that was not quite as reassuring as she probably meant it to be. The fear that everyone I know would suddenly find out that I was in love with Donnie Blydon felt like this huge weight hanging over my head.

I think she was quiet so that I could think about it, and I couldn't help doing that.

I went back over my own words, the ones I had just thought a moment ago. I was in love with Donnie Blydon. That made me smile. I was in love with Donnie. I could see his face in my head, and it filled me with a good feeling. I...loved...Donnie.

I always had, too.

And no matter what came next, I would still be in love with Donnie. He would still be there, and he would need me, and so I had to be there for him. Folding up and hiding was not an option.

And, really, what was I afraid of? I was scared of what people would think, and what they would say, and what they would do. I was scared of trouble, and embarrassment, and being treated like an outcast.

But...if I could, would I trade my love for Donnie away, to avoid all those things?

The answer was clear. No. I would not trade Donnie away for anything.

Dottie was watching me, and maybe she saw my decision. "Have you talked to anyone else about this?" she asked.

I nodded. "Just Greg."

"And did he disown you?"

I smiled. "No."

"Have I disowned you?"

My smile expanded. "Not yet."

She laughed, and squeezed me. "Andy, a lot of people in this neighborhood like you. Donnie, too. Way more people like the two of you, than don't."

I felt my eyes get wider. "You know some that don't?"

She made a little face. "Well, Dickie Ranshaw, I'm assuming. Maybe some of that loser crowd he hangs out with. Do you feel like they count?"

I drew in a long breath, let it out slowly. With that came a feeling of certainty. "No. They don't count."

Me and Dottie have never been real huggers or kissers, but she sure was holding onto me then. She gave me a nice squeeze, which was really pretty comforting. "I think it's probably worse if everybody suspects, but doesn't know," she continued. "It will make them uncomfortable around you. And if you guys keep right on hiding it, people will think you're ashamed of it - that it's wrong. My opinion, for what it's worth, is that you let people know, and that you and Donnie are happy with what you have."

I felt like crying, but I didn't. Instead, I just hugged my sister, and thanked her. I would never forget that talk, or those moments together. My thinking had changed.

I talked with Donnie about my conversation with Dottie. At first he seemed upset that someone else knew, but as we talked he started to see things a little differently. I pointed out that several people now knew for a fact about us and had not kicked us to the curb, and that there apparently were a lot of people who suspected. We had not missed the whispered conversations, or the looks, or even the few embarrassed smiles that even some of our best friends had been giving us.

Even the team had been acting weird around us, with guys we had known for years suddenly seeming distant. Not hostile, just distant. It hadn't affected our play, or theirs, but it had made us feel less like teammates and more like some kind of visiting players. It was uncomfortable, and Donnie and I both had worried about it, without addressing its cause.

Mr. Duncan, our coach, had seemed to have his eye on us a lot more often than usual, and I sometimes caught him watching Donnie and I when we were together, with just that look in his eye that people wear when they are wondering about you. But he hadn't said anything, or acted any different towards Donnie and I. The only thing, other than Mr. Duncan's eyes, that gave away the fact that he might know about us was the number of comments he had made lately about how well we all played together as a team. And he had emphasized, more than once, that a team looked out for its own.

Talk. It was all a result of talk. Talk, and an uncertainty on the part of those hearing that talk on how to act around us. Uncertainty was a wedge that I could see was driving slowly but surely between Donnie and me and the rest of the world. And it would only get worse the longer we did nothing about it.

We'd tried acting less interested in each other, walking farther apart, tried to control the way we acted around each other. It didn't work. The talk was out, and people were watching. And the simple fact that Donnie and I were always together overpowered any pretense we made about not being together. And we could not not be together. We just couldn't.

Yet with all that talk going on about us, no one but Dickie had actually said anything to us. What did that say about things? According to Dottie, it was a good sign, not a bad one.

There were guys in school I felt were gay. Not a lot of them, and none were doing anything that said they were gay. But sometimes a look, or a smile, or a comment, gave away far more than someone wanted to give, or realized they had given. Interest is hard to miss, and I had seen enough of it from Donnie to know exactly what it looked like. There were guys that showed that interest on their faces when they surely didn't mean to, because when it was there is was guys they were looking at or talking to, not girls.

And there's always some guys that are slightly effeminate, or considered pussies, or just acted like total nerds. There were always a couple of creepers, too, just really weird guys. All of them at one time or another had been called, "You fag!"

But it did not make them really gay.

The ones that I suspected actually were gay kept things very carefully under wraps. Mostly.

Miles Dillis, who had been in the middle school with us last year, had admitted to everyone that he was gay. There had been some unpleasant talk, and of course a lot of it was started by Dickie Ranshaw and his bunch. But Miles had kind of tossed it off, gone on about his business, and only a few of the bullying types had persisted. And after Dave Mackenzie had been suspended for two weeks for bullying Miles, that pretty much stopped, too. And now Miles was in high school, and had friends, and had moved on. His life wasn't pleasant every day of the week, but at least he had a life he enjoyed.

Shit, that's any kid.

And the thing was, Miles was out. People knew. And they had gotten over it.

Marla Powers and Jackie Caplan were the school's first openly gay female couple. They had had virtually no problems with that, except for a few guys bemoaning the loss of the two from the pool of available girls, because both of them were acknowledged to be hot. Girls seemed to have a lot less problem with the gayness of their own kind than guys did. And guys had a kind of built-in thing about picking on girls, so Marla and Jackie had had it easy, except for a few stupid comments arriving at their ears.

Again, it had been Dickie Ranshaw who had made the loudest of those, grousing about the fact that two such 'hot babes' had turned out to both be wasted as 'carpet munchers'.

But all of them - Miles, and Marla and Jackie - had gotten on with life with really a minimum of hassle. The one unifying factor to the few problems they did have was Dickie Ranshaw.

"Ranshaw's a nasty little turd," Donnie said, shaking his head. "I always thought he was a prick, but now I'm just realizing how much trouble he really causes."

I nodded. "He's a hater, definitely. But he's all talk, too. His brother, Birdie, is the same way. Cause trouble, then walk away before it comes back to bite. We're just Dickie's current favorite project."

Donnie sighed. "I'm sure me hitting him didn't help any."

I smiled. "Sure felt good, though, didn't it? Even I enjoyed it."

"Yup. But it probably made things worse for us."

Maybe. But, very probably, this thing just needed to run its course. "It's still new, Donnie. People have to have time to adjust."

"Yeah. It's like initiation you have to go through, huh?" He waved his hands in the air and put on a stern face. "You! You gay guys! Eyes forward! Single-file, no talking, bend over, let me see your assholes."

I laughed at the idea, even though it was more true than I'd have once believed. "I guess." I shrugged. "Everything I've read online about gay guys coming out says that first letting everybody know is the hard part, but that after you get past that, a lot of the bullshit eventually goes away."

Donnie looked scared. "So are we gonna?"

"Come out?" I had to really consider that. "I was thinking maybe we would just act cool about it. I don't want to go around and tell people that we're gay. " I reached over and took his hand. "But as far as I am concerned, you're my guy, and I don't really care who knows it."

Donnie frowned. "So we're just going ourselves?"

I nodded.

He considered that, then nodded, too. "Okay. Might be some people that say something. What then?"

"Fuck 'em," I said. "As long as they don't touch us, ignore 'em. Words only hurt if you let 'em." I grinned then. "Everybody knows you bashed Dickie, though. Got a feelin' nobody will be touchin' either one of us."

He sighed. "Always be some haters, I'll bet."

I shrugged. "There's always haters. Not just for gay guys. Some people can't stand anyone or anything that's not just like they are. That's sad, because who wants to be like them?"

Donnie sighed, and came up to me, and then we were holding each other closely. "We'll get through this," he said softly. "I can do anything if I'm with you, Andy."

I closed my eyes, kissed him, and squeezed him against me. I'd never felt happier in my life. "Yeah. Me, too."



"Are you scared?" Donnie's voice was a whisper.

"Yeah, a little. Are you?"

Donnie's arms tightened about me. "Yeah."

I kissed him. "I've got your back."

I felt him smile. "You think we'll be together forever?"


Donnie just sighed, and laid his head on my shoulder. "Promise?"

I hugged him. "Would I lie?"

So that's what we did. People still watched us, and people still talked. Greg kept us informed of the gossip, and also that Dickie and his boys were busy behind the scenes trying to stir up trouble. Greg was just as busy, telling people to cool it. He said we had more friends than we knew, and not to worry about a thing.

Dottie was also supportive. The story had even worked up to her school level, and her best friends had finally asked her about it. Siblings talk, and most of the people that knew me and Donnie had brothers or sisters that knew Dottie. She also said not to worry, that the older crowd was even less concerned about this kind of stuff than my crowd was.

"It's not 1990 anymore, Andy," she told me, "and this isn't Arkansas. Being gay here isn't that big of a deal anymore. Just relax."

The team was still a little split on how to take us. Greg acted like everything was fine, and so did Mikey Mitchell, our quarter and unofficial leader of the pack. When either of those two were around, everyone was cool. Only when it was us and any of the other guys alone, did we sense their discomfort.

Interestingly, no one said a word to us, even Dickie. He was operating under the once-struck, don't press your luck rule now, and he kept his trap shut when we were within earshot. But that he hadn't forgotten about us was plain.

I relaxed, and started treating Donnie like my boyfriend. Despite our agreement to do just that, he was stiff as a board at first, until I started smiling at him every time he froze up, which always seemed to get him to smile back. We didn't go around holding hands, or kissing in public; but I talked to Donnie like I loved him, and I acted around Donnie like I loved him, and I made it quite clear to the whole stinking world that I loved Donnie Blydon.

And still, no one said a thing.

The game between our Crimson Demons and the team from Buffalo, the Bobcats, was a kind of a turning point. There was a winter bite in the air that day, the first failing of the Indian summer weather we had been enjoying thus far. Halfway through the the first quarter, Mikey Mitchell lobbed one way down the field to me, and I somehow grabbed the ball with one hand and held onto it, eluded a Bobcat bent on a tackle, and bolted through a hole in their line and into the end zone. Don't ask me how I did it.

Gary Plunkett kicked the extra point, and the game was hot at seven-oh. It stayed that way for the next two quarters, until late in the third, when the Bobcats scored and tied the game.

These guys were an old thorn in our side, making us fight like hell the year before for the league championship. We were evenly matched, right on top of each other's every move, and the clock was winding down. At the two minute warning we had the ball. Mikey split left and then back, looking for me, then for Donnie, and spied a Bobcat at the last second angling in fast for a sack. Mikey spun out, ran three steps, and then launched the ball down the field before he was taken down.

But it wasn't coming at me or at Donnie. It was going to fall between us. We both took off towards where the ball was going to land, but a Bobcat reached the spot first. His arms went up, and I caught the look in his eyes as he focused on the incoming ball. I screamed like a crazy dude and barreled in, and the Bobcat's eyes flickered towards me just for a second.

It was just long enough. Donnie came up behind the Bobcat, leaped just incredibly high, snatched the ball out of the air a foot above the Bobcat's outstretched hands, spun in mid-air, and slid down the Bobcat's back to land on his feet, running. I howled with glee and chased him right into the end zone, grabbed him up, and hugged him with all my might.

The rest of the team was right behind me. Donnie gut hugged by more guys that day than most gay guys get in a lifetime.

We managed to hold the last minute of the game, and won it fourteen-seven. It was a victory in more ways than one. The team suddenly forgot they'd been acting nervous about Donnie and me, and crowded around. It was the first time some of them had talked to us, more than to say hey or talk game, in a whole week.

Greg ambled around with us after the game, walking between us, his arms draped over our shoulders, like a personal escort. Kids from school patted us on the backs and congratulated us, and everyone seemed to be grinning. Donnie, especially, seemed to be loving the attention, and it just made me happy to see him smiling and laughing so much. It was one of those moments that life hands you way too infrequently to be anything but glorious.

Coach Duncan's pep talk was wonderful. He pointed out again how well we had worked together, how well we had followed the plays, and how well we had improvised when the need to do so arose. He spread his approval around equally, making sure that everyone got some, and once again reminded everyone that a team was a single unit that took care of its own. That his eyes were on Donnie and me when he added that last was likely not missed by anyone.

But it was Mikey Mitchell that made the moment. He'd been getting his own share of the acclaim as the bleachers emptied, as had the whole team for a job well-done. People slowed to offer a good word as they streamed by for the parking area, and Mikey, as quarter, was a center of attention. He finally broke away from the crowd of well-wishers, and came up to us.

Greg pulled his arms off of our shoulders and put his hands together in front of his chest like he was praying, and bowed his head over them as Mikey drew up before us. "Ho, most mighty one. How can we serve you?"

Mikey grinned ear-to-ear. "Shut up, Greg."

We all laughed.

Mikey gave Donnie a little poke, and then one to me. "You guys are awesome, you know that?"

Donnie laughed. "Hey, it was those perfect throws of yours. And all the guys kicked some ass today."

Mikey smiled, nodded, and looked over his shoulder at the rest of the team, who were sprawled in a group on the ground in the shade of a tree, some with family members, talking and laughing over the victory. People still milled everywhere, chatting together, smiling, looking happy. The victory over the Bobcats had us looking at another possible league championship again this year.

"Everyone played well, you're right," Mikey said. For a moment his eyes moved back and forth between Donnie and me. "Um...listen, you guys. I was talking to some of the others, and we wanted to tell you something."

Donnie looked over at me, a sudden look of anxiety in his eyes.

Mikey caught it, and held up a hand. "Just...just wait." He took a breath, leaned closer, and lowered his voice. "We've been hearing some shit about you two for a while, okay? And, um, we can kind of see stuff ourselves."

Donnie moved closer to me, and Mikey followed him with his eyes. "It's okay," he said hurriedly. "That's...that's what I wanted to tell you. It's okay."

"'It's okay?'" I repeated, not sure what he meant.

Mikey nodded. "Yeah. I mean, you guys are okay. With us." He frowned - at the looks on our faces, I guess. "Man, I know I'm messin' this up. I'm sorry." He rubbed at an eye with the back of a hand, thinking. "Um, I've known you guys a long time. We've played a lot of football together. You're good guys."

Greg grinned then. "He's saying that everything's cool. Right, Mikey?"

"Yeah, that's it. Everything's cool, you guys." He leaned even closer. "We don't care if you're boyfriends."

There it was. It couldn't be any plainer than that.

Donnie gave a little shocked gasp and looked at me. I could see the surprise in his eyes - and the uncertainty. I reached over and took his hand, and squeezed it. Donnie looked down at that, his eyes widening, but made no move to pull away. His eyes came back up to mine...and a slow smile spread across his face.

Mikey was watching us, and I could see the small shock he was feeling at this confirmation of what he and the others had been thinking. Up until then it had been all speculation and hearsay. Now, it was a confirmed fact.

Greg came around behind us and draped his arms over our shoulders again. "Thanks, Mikey."

Mikey suddenly grinned. "Man, that was hard as shit. Are we okay, then?"

I looked at him. "You sure everyone is cool?"

He nodded. "Yep. Everyone's cool." He leaned forward. "You're team, right? Anyone gives you guys any grief, they have to deal with the whole team, okay?"

I gave Donnie's hand another squeeze, and let it go. "Thanks, Mikey."

"Yeah, thanks," Donnie echoed.

For a second Mikey looked really sad. "I'm really sorry about the way we've been acting, you guys. We just didn't know what to do." Mikey had been treating us just fine - he was speaking for the team. He was really something, all right.

"You don't have to apologize about anything," I returned. "We're still the same guys you've played with the past two years."

Mikey poked a finger in one ear and scratched. "Yeah. So are we. It just took a little time for us to see that."

The weather got colder, the football season rougher. We somehow maintained our hot streak, but not without some problems. Donnie twisted his ankle and sat out for two games, while me and Sam Stafford took up the slack. Sam was competent, and eager, and he tried like hell, but he lacked Donnie's speed and eye for play, and more of the brunt of picking Mikey's throws out of the sky fell on me.

A full two weeks of ankle massages and some loving from me made Donnie as good as new, and I was glad to have him back for the next game. He was back to his old self, and had relaxed a lot now that the team seemed to be back to normal with us. We won again, and it seemed like we were gonna be unstoppable this year.
It was a late afternoon game, and the sun had already dropped behind the mountains as the crowd broke up, and it was getting dark right before our eyes. One of the things I always disliked about winter was how early it got dark.

"You get cocky, you'll fuck up," Greg warned everyone, after the game, while we were getting ready to head home. He'd been listening to everyone talk about how great we were doing, and now he wanted his say. We were kicked back on the ground, resting our aches before moving on. Greg was sprawled in the twilight somewhere to our rear. Two of the guys had left with their families, but the rest of us were walking it, and not in any hurry to get going. The turnout to watch the game had been small today, probably because of the cold and the possibility of snow.

"We're hot!" Someone else called and everybody laughed. Greg was always a voice of reason, which was one of the reasons I liked him so much. But not everyone else on the team took him as seriously.

"I know your voice, Terry Colsky!" Greg called across the dusk. "You damn near let that Coyote sack Mikey today."

"What?" came the same voice, a little indignantly. "I took that guy out."

"You tripped and fell and he fell over you, you mean. You're supposed to block, not assault."

Everybody had seen the play, and everyone laughed.

"Yeah, yeah," Terry's voice came again. "I'll be more careful."

Mikey got up, stretched. "Fuckin' ground's cold as shit. I feel my muscles knotting up." There was just enough light left to make out the pained expression on his face.

"Must be little knots!" someone called, disguising their voice.

Mikey laughed. "Whoever that was, shut the fuck up." He turned and pointed at Donnie. "Great catch in the second. You should be a juggler."

Donnie grinned. "Who says I'm not?"

"Oh, Donnie!" the same disguised voice called, sounding all dreamy, like a girl on her first date.

Donnie grinned and looked back at the guys. "I know that's you, Greg."

"It is not," said the same voice, but now sounding more like Greg.

Donnie reached over and gave me a little prod. "Andy helped with that play, too."

"Oh, Andy!" Greg called, sounding dreamy again.

Brent Caldwell laughed, and patted me on the shoulder. "Hey, man, your dog's howling at the moon again."

"How much you gettin' paid to act like such a doink?" Jeff Nabely called to Greg.

"I work for free, for the right people," Greg called back.

"How about workin' this for free?" someone else returned.

Mikey shook his head, but he was smiling. "What Greg said earlier is true, you guys. We're doing great, but we can't just expect that to continue. We have to work at it like we're down instead of up, okay? Overconfidence is a killer."

"Oh, Mikey!" Greg called, in the dreamy voice again.

Mikey was trying not to laugh, but not doing a very good job of it. "If I have to come back there and pound you, you won't be happy, Greg."

"But I'm your number one fan!" Greg squeaked, in mock horror.

There was a sudden commotion behind us, lots of laughing, and then a grunt.

"We're sitting on him, Mikey," Junebug Bradford called. "You go ahead."

Mikey nodded. "Just don't break anything, 'cause we need him." He pointed at Kenny Dale. "You punched some big holes in that Coyote line today, boy. They were startin' to flinch when they saw you even looking at them."

"i was feelin' a little aggressive," Kenny acknowledged. "Probably something I ate in the school cafeteria yesterday."

"It was the marshmallow topping on the hamburgers," Jeff called. "Gave me the hershey squirts last night."

"TMI!" Terry said, groaning.

"I hate to tell you this, but that was cheese," I called.

"You got your opinion, I got mine!"

Mikey threw up his hands. "I give up. Just play your best, you guys."

"Oh, Mikey!" Greg called again, sounding more muffled this time.

There were some more sounds of laughing, and some wrestling about, and then Greg's voice came again, sounding surprised. "Oh, Junebug! I didn't know you cared!"

Donnie slid over beside me and leaned close. "It's gettin' cold."

It was. I nodded, and worked my way to my feet. "Gettin' cold, Mikey."

"Yeah, I know. Greg? You need a rescue?"

"Are you kiddin'? Me and Junebug are rockin'!"

There was a small, almost girlish shriek, and a shadowy someone lurched to his feet. "Get away from me! You're crazy!"

Another, slightly larger shadow rose, and gave chase. "But we're so good together! Does this mean it's over?"

Donnie and I both laughed, and I felt him lean against me. That we had become this relaxed with the team all around us was wonderful. It was kind of dark, but it wasn't that long ago that that wouldn't have mattered to Donnie.

A shadow came back towards us, resolved itself finally into Greg. He was grinning. "Junebug said, 'later', guys."

Terry got to his feet. "You scared him off, acting like that, Greg. What do we do if he doesn't come back?" But I could tell by the sound of Terry's voice that he was kidding.

Greg shrugged. "He'll be back. He owes me a kiss."

We headed home. Greg wanted to put his arms over our shoulders again, but Donnie shrugged him off. "We're not carrying you home, Greg," he said, laughing.

Greg grinned. "Okay, be that way. Junebug's my new boo, anyway."

"You didn't really kiss him, did you?" I asked.

Greg grinned. "The fuck I didn't. I have a rule: anyone that lays atop my body is fair game."

Donnie laughed. "I think he is bi, Andy."

"You're not, are you?"

Greg laughed. "Hey, kissing Junebug is one thing, and suckin' him off is another."

I gave him a little push. "Even kissin' guys is a little gay, Greg."

He nodded. "Then I'm a little gay, maybe." He suddenly darted his head forward and planted one squarely on my cheek.

I stopped, stunned. "What the fuck, Greg?"

He stopped, too. "I love you guys. I'm not afraid to show that."

Donnie stepped forward. "Hey, hands off!"

Greg grabbed him, pulled him close, and laid one on Donnie's cheek. Donnie sputtered, and then his hands came up and he pushed Greg away. "Shit! Are you kiddin' me?"

"No," Greg said, and I could tell he meant it. "I really do love you guys."

I shook my head, wondering where this Greg had come from. "And you love Junebug, too?"

Greg laughed. "Nah. He's just cute as can be. That was a fun kiss, not a love kiss." He laughed then. "Least ways, not yet."

He sounded like he was kidding, but I could see Greg's eyes in the light from a distant streetlamp, and he did not look like he was kidding. Greg was always a surprise, and it was getting a lot harder to see where he was coming from these days. It was getting so I never knew what to expect next.

I shook my head at him. "What brought this on?"

He shrugged. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about love, is all. I want some love in my life. And I was reading something online about how to tell if you're in love. One of the things it said was that you suddenly feel really happy when you're around the person you love." He smiled. "Both you guys do that to me."

"What about sex?" Donnie asked bluntly.

"What about it? I don't want to get in bed with you guys. I just love being around you." He leaned forward and gave us a leer. "But knowin' you guys get it on is a little hot for me, I have to admit."

Donnie made an amazed sound. "What? You wanna watch, or something?"

Greg laughed. "Well, I wasn't thinking that, but if you're offerin'..."

"No, thank you," I said firmly. "How much of this is true, and how much is bullshit?"

Greg shrugged. "I really do love you guys."

I looked at him, and suddenly believed him. Greg loved to play, and he was nuts; but if you asked him something straight up, the answer you got was usually the right one.

I looked at him, and then at Donnie. I loved Donnie. I mean, a lot. Did I love Greg, too?

Maybe. Maybe I did, a little. He was a great friend, and that he cared about Donnie and me both was pretty obvious.

I nodded. "I guess I kinda feel the same."

Greg looked pleased. "I'm not trying to get in your pants, Andy. You, either, Donnie. You guys got each other." He shrugged. "I just like being with you."

Donnie looked at me, and stuck his bottom lip out. "I'm okay with it."

"I am, too."

"Great!" Greg said, swooping between us and dropping his arms over our shoulders. "Let's go. It's cold."

He marched us off down the road, and as he did so, his hand slid off my shoulder, and the next thing I knew, he was grabbing a handful of my butt cheek. "Hey!"

The hand jerked back up, and landed on my shoulder, and gave it a squeeze. "Gee, can't you take a joke?"

"What happened?" Donnie asked, leaning forward to look at me across Greg's grinning face.

"Fuckin' Greg just grabbed my ass," I said.

Donnie gave a startled laugh."No, he did not!"

I felt Greg move, and then Donnie's smile turned into a gape. "Hey!"

I laughed. This was gonna be interesting.

On the Sunday after the game, we were hanging out in Donnie's room. Donnie's mom had gone to the city with friends and would not be back until dinner. Donnie and I were laying in his bed, quite naked, after just having some pretty steamy sex. I was laying on top of Donnie, grinning down at him, kissing him and licking his lips, while he grinned up at me.

"I liked what you did," he said, his eyes shining. "Nobody ever sucked on my nuts before."

I showed all my teeth in a big smile. "It was a new thought. But count on it happening again."

His eyes looked up at me, full of affection, and he raised his head and kissed me. "I'm so glad I told you."

I knew just what he meant. "I'm glad, too. I don't know if I would have had the guts to tell you, if you hadn't done it."

There was music playing, but we always had it down so low we really couldn't hear what was on. It was a kind of background noise, like the rustle of leaves on a breezy summer day, which served to make Donnie's room somehow more peaceful. As we had kind of selected Donnie's house as our main hang out, we had gone out of our way to make it homey. Lights that could be turned down, music in the background, lots of pillows on the bed. Donnie's mom worked during the week while we were at school, and on the weekends she hung out a lot with her friends. Donnie said she was a little lonely since she and his dad had split, and was trying to make up for it by doing more things with her friends.

My house was busier, and therefore less cool for two guys to be laying around in bed naked. My dad worked, but he was usually home on the weekends, and my mom was home all the time. Plus I had a sister, who knew about me and Donnie, but with whom I still did not wish to share the sounds of us laughing and bouncing around in the bed. A guy has to have some standards of conduct, you understand.

Donnie and I loved to just lay together, and touch and kiss. We often spent hours doing this on Sunday, when the house was empty. It beat the hell out of Xbox every day of the week.

I was just seeing if I could find Donnie's tonsils with the tip of my tongue when I heard a funny beeping sound. I lifted my head and looked down at Donnie. "What the hell is that?"

Donnie's eyes got big. "Shit! That's the doorbell."

"That's the doorbell?" I repeated, disbelievingly. It sounded like like a big truck backing up.

"Yeah. Let me up!"

I rolled off him, and he rolled out of the bed and stood up. He bent over to grab his briefs off the floor and treated me to a sweet shot of his butthole, causing me to smile. "Where you going?"

He grinned over his shoulder at me. "To see who it is, dum dum. Come on!"

He went to the door and unlocked it, and went out into the hall. I sighed, got out of bed, and bent to get my briefs. There was no one to admire my butthole, though, darn it.

I went after Donnie, found him at the little row of lights to one side of the front door. There was a narrow white curtain over the little windows, which he had edged back and was peering around the edge of.

I heard him give a little laugh, and he turned to look at me. "It's fuckin' Junebug!"

"Junebug?" I repeated blankly. What the hell was he doing here?

Not that he wasn't a friend of ours. But he had been one of the ones acting weird after the stories about us came out. He hadn't been by in a couple of weeks now.

"What do you think he wants?" I asked.

Donnie shrugged. "He's not here to see my mom, I know that."

He slid over to the other side of the door and threw the deadbolt. I gaped. "Are you letting him in? We're in our underwear!"

Donnie gave me a look. "So what? We've all been buck naked together in the shower at school. You think he'll care?"

"We're not at school," I reminded him. "You and I are in our underwear together at your house, with your mom not home."

Donnie made a rude noise. "They know about us, remember?"

Oh, yeah. Shit. And I thought I was the comfortable one with our gayness. Donnie had come along way!

Donnie grabbed the handle and opened the door. Junebug had obviously heard Donnie fooling with the lock, and was expecting to see the door opened. But he was not expecting to see Donnie and me standing there in our underwear. His eyes got big, and he took a step back.

Donnie pushed open the storm door, and a blast of cold air hit us. "Hi Junebug! What's up?"

Junebug - whose real name was Jeremy - kind of gaped at us, his eyes going from our faces to our crotches, where some clear remnant of our boners undoubtedly still showed, and back to our eyes again. His expression made it plain that he'd just decided that coming here was a big mistake.

"" he gulped, shifting from one foot to the other.

Donnie looked back at me, grinning, then reached out and grabbed Junebug by the front of the coat he had on and dragged him inside. "Too cold for ums, buddy," he explained, pulling the storm door to the latch behind the boy. Junebug automatically moved over and made room for Donnie to close the front door.

Junebug looked petrified. Scared. What the hell? I reached over and gave his arm a squeeze. "Relax, man. We don't bite."

He found his voice. "You guys are busy --" He made a move towards the door.

I tightened my grip on his arm and stopped him. "No we're not. What's up?" By now I could see that Junebug was really bothered by something, and I realized that he was here to talk. He had to have known that Donnie and me would be together - he just wasn't expecting us to reek of sex. I tried not to smile at that.

He looked from me to Donnie, and I could see he was upset. I looked at Donnie, and he nodded. We each took Junebug by an arm and moved him towards Donnie's bedroom. He resisted the tiniest bit until we got him going, but moved along easy enough after that. We went into Donnie's room, and Donnie detached himself and closed the door behind us. I heard the click of the bolt being thrown, and so did Junebug. He turned his eyes on us, and his thoughts were plain. Locked in with two raving homosexuals! Donnie and I both started laughing. Junebug's mouth dropped open. "What?"

"You should see your face, "Donnie said. "You look like you think we're about to jump your bones!"

Junebug looked from Donnie to me. "You aren't, are ya?"

I shook my head. "No. We're friends, man. We only jump on the bones of hunky strangers."

Junebug blinked, and then he grinned. "Sorry. I'm a little nervous."

"Any reason why?" Donnie asked. "You've known us for years."

Junebug swallowed again, and nodded. "Yeah. I just didn't know that...that you guys know."

I moved over next to Donnie and put my arm around him, leaned over and kissed his cheek. He grinned. "Boyfriends?" I asked.

Junebug watched us a moment, his eyes holding something I didn't quite understand. He nodded again. "Yeah. That."

I released Donnie, and moved closer to Junebug. "It's just like Matt Jeffers and Carry Kennedy at school," I said. "Or Randy Blackford and Jennifer Allen. Or Dylan Chambers and Angie Warsaw. They're boyfriend and girlfriend. Two people, together." I smiled. "Like Donnie and me."

Junebug licked his lips. "I know. I'm sorry."

Donnie and I looked at each other again. Donnie came over and took Junebug gently by the arm. "You want a Coke or something?"

"No. I'm good."

Donnie nodded. "You wanna take your coat off? It's warm in here."

Junebug nodded, and absently skinned out of his coat and tossed it on the bed.

Donnie led Junebug to the cedar chest and pushed him down to sit on the lid. Then Donnie came back next to me, and both of us sat down on the edge of the bed.

"So, what's up?" I asked, studying Junebug's face.

He had light brown hair and green eyes, and just the sweetest face you could imagine, like the sun came up there each morning. That face announced Junie's good humor and bright intelligence long before he ever opened his mouth. On the football field he was fast and agile, and utterly fair in his play. Junebug was the last person on this earth I'd ever believe had done some cruddy shit to someone.

And, he was also on my very short list of guys in school that - after Donnie - I would have loved to sleep with.

I know, I know. But it's true.

Junebug gave us a smile, and then a small, nervous laugh. "I don't know how to start."

"Just say it," Donnie said, softly. "It's okay."

I was now suspecting that Junebug maybe had heard something he wanted to tell us. Maybe somebody had been talking trash about me and Donnie, or something was up. He just didn't know how to get started about it.

Junebug nodded, and dropped his eyes. " did you know?"

Donnie looked at me, and then back at the other boy. "Know what?"

Junebug squeezed his eyes closed a moment, then opened them again. "How'd you know you"

That was not what I had expected.

I looked over at Donnie, and he shrugged. Him, either, apparently.

"I just knew," I said, without much thought. I mean, there had been no revelation, no epiphany. I had always felt a special thing for Donnie, and as we grew older I had realized that I was attracted to him, too. That I desired him. And loved him.

I had also seen that I was attracted to other boys - Junebug included. Even before I knew about sex, I had imagined being close to the guys I liked.

I leaned forward. "Well, you start to notice things about certain guys - how cute they are, or how much you like them, or how special you feel when you're with them. start to wonder what they look like, maybe...under their clothes."

Junebug nodded, looking unhappy. "That's what I thought. I knew it."

Donnie leaned against me, put an arm around me. "Then you start to think what it would be like to touch them," he said. "And kiss them. And do...other stuff with them."

Junebug's eyelids sank down, and his mouth twisted up, and suddenly his face was running with tears. He dropped his head, and I heard him sob.

Donnie and I looked at each other, stunned.

I got right up and went to sit next to Junebug. Even as I lowered myself next to him, Donnie was sitting down on the other side. We both leaned closer, and gently pressed Junebug between us.

I had a feeling I knew now where this was going. "Junie? You okay?"

He nodded, but didn't raise his head. "I don't want to be gay," he said softly.

I leaned forward, my gaze touching Donnie's. "Are you?" I asked.

There was a pause, and then Junebug nodded.

It was a little bit of a shock. Junie was not a guy I would have guessed was gay. His sweet demeanor and sunshine good looks meant that the girls chased him everywhere, and he had always seemed to like that. Then again, acting is something that most gay guys get good at.

I understood his grief. I had been here, done this, and knew what Junie was feeling. Man, did I know. But I had had Donnie to go through this with me. I hadn't been all by myself when I had discovered who I was.

I put an arm around Junie and laid my head on his shoulder. I felt Donnie doing the same thing. "It's okay," I said. That's all I could think of to say. Somehow, that was what people needed to hear when they were in distress - someone letting them know life would go on.

We sat there for five minutes, maybe more. Junie cried softly, and we let him, just holding onto him so that he didn't have to cry alone. I could feel what he was feeling - his body radiated his distress. It was all I could handle not to cry with him.

Finally, the heaving came less frequently, and Junie settled down. Donnie got up and got the box of tissue, and gave them to Junie. He blew his nose, and then looked at us. "Sorry."

I shook my head, took a tissue and blew my own nose. "It's okay." I smiled. "Just want you to know that what you told us will never get outside this room."

Junebug shrugged. "I can't keep it secret forever."

Donnie put a hand on Junie's arm and patted it comfortingly. "You probably could. I'd have never guessed you were gay. If you keep acting like you're not, no one would ever know." Donnie looked over at me and smiled. "But you wouldn't be very happy."

Junie nodded. "That's what I mean. I could pretend, but...I don't really like girls. Not like for sex, I mean." He sniffed. "I don't wanna be alone my whole life. I want somebody like you guys got."

Donnie smiled. "We're both taken."

Junebug managed to laugh. "I don't mean one of you, stupid. I mean a guy like you."

I shrugged. "Aren't a lot of them around," I said.

Junebug looked back and forth at us, like he thought we might be kidding. "There's Greg."

I laughed, and Donnie laughed. "Greg's not gay," I said.

"He hangs out with you guys," Junie insisted.

I was about to say that so did Junie, and that didn't make him gay - but I caught myself just in time. "The whole team hangs out with us," I said instead. "We have friends at school. Just because they like us doesn't make them gay."

Donnie nodded. "Greg's weird, and he's nuts, but he's not gay."

Junebug nodded. "Yes, he is. He kissed me yesterday when we were rumbling on the football field."

I laughed, remembering the moment. "You guys were just fuckin' around, weren't you?"

Junie shook his head. "No."

Donnie huffed. "Come on, man. We know Greg's crazy. He kissed us, too."

Junebug bit his lip. "He...he felt me through my pants."

I don't know whose jaw sagged lower, mine or Donnie's.

"What?" I said, even though I'd heard him clearly.

Junebug nodded. "Well, he didn't get my dick, because I was wearing my guard. But he was after it."

"You got up and ran," Donnie said. "I saw you."

Junie made a face. "Well, duh. I couldn't just lay there and let him feel me up in front of the whole team." He sighed then. "I wanted to, though."

Donnie looked at me, and then shook his head. "Man, Greg's nuts. He was just fooling around."

Junebug sighed. "I've rumbled with tons of guys before. Nobody ever held onto me like Greg did. He...he...hugged me. I just...I just know." "You just know," Donnie repeated.

Junebug nodded. "it's not the first time he's wrestled with me. We've done it lots of times. It was always special with him. Wrestling with the other guys is just wrestling." Junie's eyes moved between us as he presented his case. "And I always see Greg looking at me. He looks at me a certain way." Junie licked his lips. "I look at him, too."
Holy crap. I had to laugh. The way Greg acted around us, almost anyone would think he was gay. But...he had told me point blank that he wasn't gay, and wasn't bi.

Or...wait. No, he hadn't. He had said he didn't think he was gay, or bi. I looked at Donnie. "What do you think?"

He shrugged. "I dunno." But then he grinned. "Um, but I'd be the last one to be surprised if Greg really was gay."

I looked at Junie. He had hope in his eyes. "You like Greg?"

Junie looked surprised, and then briefly terrified - and then absolutely sure. "Yeah. I've always liked him." He managed a small smile. "He's cute."

Well...Greg was a nice looking dude. Even I could see that.

I leaned closer. "This is important, Junie. What I'm asking, you like Greg like you'd want him for your boyfriend?"

The answer was plain on that sweet face. A slow smile bloomed, and then Junie nodded. "Yes."

Nothing uncertain about that response.

Donnie leaned closer, too. "What will your parents do if they find out?"

Junie swallowed hard. "My mom knows."

Donnie and I gaped at each other.

"You told her?" I asked.

"I had to tell someone or I was gonna go nuts."

"How'd she take it?" I asked. I mean, I knew I'd have to tell my folks someday, too. I wanted to know how that might play out.

Junie compressed his lips. "She cried at first. She asked me if I was sure. I said I was."

That didn't sound good.

Junie offered a small smile. "But then she hugged me, and said she loved me so much, and asked how she could help."

My eyes got a little wet, and I rubbed at them. "She asked how she could help?"

He nodded. "I kinda told her how I liked Greg. And she asked me if he was gay, and I said I thought he was." He nodded at us. "I still think he is."

I nodded back. "Then what?"

Junie sighed. "I'd already told her about you guys. She said I should come and talk to you." He shrugged. "Here I am."

Fucking wow. Junie's mom sounded awesome as hell.

"What did you think we would do?" Donnie asked.

Junie pressed his lips together, looked uncertain. "Maybe help me? Greg's really tight with you guys. He made sure everyone in the school knows that he's your friend. I just thought...maybe you could tell him about me."

Stupid me. I was just about to ask why Junie didn't tell Greg himself when I remembered the little scared dance that Donnie and I had done for so long. I understood immediately.

I looked at Donnie. "What do ya think?"

Donnie showed a lot of teeth in the smile he gave me. "I think we should call Greg and tell him to come over."

I just had to laugh.

But we did that. I called, using my cell. Greg was out in his backyard, tossin' the football with his little brother, and asked me what was up. I just said that Donnie and I had something interesting to share with him, but wouldn't say what.

Oh. And that we were in our underwear.

"Ooh," Greg said, sounding delighted. "I love mysteries. Okay, I'll be over in a few minutes."

I shut off the phone, and smiled at Junie. "He's on his way."

Junie looked scared all over again. "What if he doesn't like me like I like him?"

I had to consider that. "We won't know until we try. But...if he wasn't just playing with you, he must really like you, Junie." The more I thought about it, the more I thought Donnie and I were just blind. Greg was always fooling around with Junie, wrestling with him, joking with him, touching him and smiling. Greg was so physical with everybody that it didn't stand out.

Until now.

Junie grinned. "Um...I laid in bed that night and jerked off and pretended he'd got my dick in his hand."

Donnie hooted. "Ooh. You're not shy, are ya?"

Woof! War stories. I grinned. "Man. If we can get you and Greg together, us four are gonna have a lot to talk about."

Junie looked delighted. "I'd like that a lot."

I heard Donnie make a little noise, and then he came right over and wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. I put my arms around him and kissed back, knowing the things he was feeling.

One, that if we could get Greg and Junebug together, they might be as happy as we were.

And two, it would give us friends that we could share with. Talk. Ideas. Life. I squeezed Donnie hard, kissed him, and opened my eyes. Junebug was watching us, his head canted slightly to one side, a little smile on his lips. But it was his eyes I would remember forever. They were aimed at us, but his gaze was distant, dreamlike, hoping.

His eyes suddenly focused and he saw me looking then, and grinned.

A few minutes later I heard that weird sound again, like a truck backing up. "What is with that doorbell?" I asked Donnie.

He shrugged. "The old bell broke. My dad had that beeper in the basement, and he hooked that up until he could buy a new bell. And then he and my mom split up, and so that's what we have now."


We went to go out into the hall, when I had an Idea. I stopped so fast that Junie nearly ran into me. "Go back and sit on the cedar chest," I told him.


I smiled. "Trust me."

He frowned, but nodded and went back and sat.

I caught up to Donnie and we opened the front door. Greg stood there, his hands pressed down into his coat pockets. He saw us there in our underwear and grinned. Donnie pushed the storm door open, and Greg stepped inside.

"Shit, I though you were kidding about being in your underwear. Gonna let me watch the fun after all, huh?"

I gave him a little smack on the arm as Donnie pushed the main door closed. "No, that's not why you're here."

Real or feigned, disappointment rained across Greg's face. "Aw, you guys are teases."

Donnie and I both laughed. I made sure I was out front as we led Greg back to Donnie's room, and as I went inside I turned back to watch Greg's face.

He had unzipped his coat, and was just pulling it off. "So what's the big rush? You sounded on the phone like..."

He trailed off as he spotted Junie. Greg stopped, and several things crossed his face in rapid succession: surprise, confusion, and then...delight. It was the last emotion, deep and vivid, that convinced me.

"Oh, hi, Junebug. I didn't know you were gonna be here." Greg looked at me. "What's up?"

I went and took his coat from him, and tossed it on the bed with Junie's. Then I pointed at the edge of the bed across from Junie. "Park your butt."

For once Greg just obeyed, without stopping to wisecrack about it.

I walked back and forth in front of Greg, trying to look serious. "Junie came by today with a story to tell. He said that you kissed him yesterday on the field."

Greg grinned. "I told you I did that."

I nodded. "He also said you groped him and tried to feel his dick."

Greg's eyebrows shot up. "What?"

I nodded. "Well...did you?"

Greg looked shocked, and then he looked uncomfortable. And then he grinned. "Shit, I was just playin'. I didn't mean to get you mad, Junebug. Sorry."

I nodded. "Just playin', huh?"

Greg nodded, narrowing his eyes at me. "Yeah. What's up with this?"

I looked at Donnie, who tried very hard to look serious, but couldn't keep the shadow of a grin out of his eyes.

I looked back at Greg. "Seems we have a problem here."

Greg licked his lips, his eyes going to Junebug. "I said I was just playin'. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to piss you off."

"He's not mad," I said then, leaning closer to Greg. "That's not the problem."

He frowned. "It's not? Then what is?"

I gave a big dramatic sigh, and pushed my face closer to Greg's. "The problem is...he liked it."

Oh, talk about fuckin' classic! Greg's face went through so many contortions that I though something would shatter. This continued for every bit of three seconds, and then Greg's mouth simply fell open.


I smiled then. "I said, 'he liked it.'"

Greg leaned to one side so that he could see Junie past me. "Huh?" he repeated.

Junebug got up and came forward, and stood in front of Greg. I backed off a bit to make it easier for them to see each other.

"I liked it," Junebug breathed, looking terrified and enchanted all at once.

I nodded. "Junie likes you, Greg."

Greg just blinked. "Me? He likes me?" It was like he couldn't believe it. "Well...I like him, too."

I nodded. "Junie likes I like Donnie."

Greg's eyes widened slowly, until they could not widen further. His mouth dropped so far open that I could count his lower teeth. His tongue moved inside, and then eyes slowly rose to meet mine.

"Seriously?" he whispered.

I nodded. "Seriously."

Greg's eyes dropped, went to fasten on Junie's. Junie tried to smile through his fear.

"Holy fuck," Greg breathed. His mouth closed, and he swallowed hard. "Holy fuck," he repeated.

I leaned down again. "Now I have the important question, Greg. How do you feel about Junie?"

Greg shook his head slowly side to side, then looked up at me. "This is a joke, right? You guys are burnin' my brain, right?"


Greg looked back at Junie. Looked at him for a long time, while Junie shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

"You really like me?" Greg asked again. He obviously still couldn't believe it.

Junie looked so scared, but also so determined. He came farther forward, and sank to his knees between Greg's feet, and put his hands up and laid them carefully on Greg's knees. "I have for a while now, Greg."

Greg simply watched Junebug for the longest time. Junie watched back, trying to smile, trying to be brave. But Greg's silence was heavy, and I saw the first signs of doubt creeping into Junie's eyes.

But then Greg suddenly sighed softly. "You are so...beautiful," he said, hardly above a whisper.

Junie gave a little laugh, and his spirit soared. "So are you."

Greg smiled, and then laughed. "I know that's not true. But it's nice of you to say it."

Junie leaned closer. "I like the way you look."

Greg sighed again, and looked up at me. "I think I'm in love."

"I hope so," I said. "Because I think if you give some of it to Junie, you're gonna get some back."

Greg gave his head a little shake, and smiled at Junie. "Can I get a hug, just so I know you're serious?"

The speed with which Junebug surged forward into Greg's arms probably said it all. The impact caused Greg to slide off the bed and sit down hard on the floor; and then he and Junie were rolling together on the carpet, laughing. I was suddenly struck by how many times I had seen the two of them doing the same thing on the football field; but I had just never paid any attention to it. Guys rumble on the field all the time. I never understood that Greg and Junie doing it might have some meaning. Yet viewed now, without the pads, and the helmets, and the uniforms, it seemed to carry a lot of meaning.

Greg was a little bigger, and probably stronger, but he let Junie wrestle him onto his back. And then Junie was laying atop Greg, his face just inches above Greg's, grinning down into Greg's eyes.

Donnie came over to me and put an arm around me, and I kissed him, and looked back at the pair on the floor.
Greg grinned. "I got a rule about people laying on top of me, you know. They usually get kissed."

Junebug dropped his face down, and kissed Greg. It was just a quick peck on the lips, a questing first toe in the water; but Greg broke into such a grin it was funny. And then he was lifting his head and pecking Junie back; and then they went back and forth, grinning and laughing and pecking each other. And then Junie dropped his face and it stayed there, and that kiss was a long one.

Greg hugged Junie mightily, and Junie laid his face into Greg's cheek and sighed.

"I thought you weren't gay, Greg," I said, grinning.

He grinned back at me. "I don't think I am."

I laughed. "Well, then what do you call that?"

Greg turned his head and looked into Junie's eyes, and Junie looked patiently back. Greg laughed. "Um...I'll let you know in a month or so, okay?"

Donnie laughed, and squeezed himself against me.

I nodded. Fair was fair. "I'll ask again in a month, okay?"

Greg nodded. "That should be long enough."

And then he kissed Junie again.

Let me tell you about drama class. When we picked our curriculum for the new year, only Math, English and Technology were required studies. The county had a whole raft of other stuff we could choose from to fill out our schedules, and Donnie and I both had taken stuff we liked and felt was good for us, like Twentieth Century History, and Earth Science. Of course there was Health Science - a fancy name for gym - which for us pretty much meant football. That left one class left to be filled, and there was a lot to choose from there.

Donnie was the one that picked it, though. "How about Theater?"

I had laughed at first, thinking he was kidding. "How about Introduction to Ant Farming?"

This was before we had become boyfriends. Well, officially. Even so, I should have sensed that he was serious.

He bumped his shoulder against mine. "I'm not joking. It looks like fun."

I looked to where he had the course open in the curriculum guide. It basically said that the class taught the art of stage, as well as all of the skills necessary to produce a performance behind the scenes. Lighting, sets, wardrobe, casting - even stage direction. Students would create, produce, and perform several productions over the course of the school year.

I had squinted at Donnie, still not a hundred percent sure he wasn't playing. "Yeah? Which part looks fun?"

He laughed. "Come on, Andy. Use your imagination. Don't you think it would be fun to work behind the scenes, with the lights, maybe, or the sound?" He stared at the curriculum book, and then I could see the little fires in his eyes. "Maybe even act in a play. Get dressed up, and have some fun in front of a big crowd?"

"No," I said immediately, feeling stage fright at just his description. "You know I hate crowds."

He laughed, and gave me a playful nudge. "What a pussy! You play football in front of hundreds of people."

"Yeah, and I got a helmet on, and pads, and a uniform that looks like every other uniform, and I don't have to stop when I'm running and look at all those people and say Shakespeare stuff, either."

Donnie shook his head. "Look, it says right here that the instructor, Mrs. Zimmerman, places a focus on 'modern drama by the best playwrights in the world'. I'm sure that means no Shakespeare."

I stared at him. "You're serious."

"Yeah. I think it would be fun."

I made a rude noise with my mouth. "Then you do it. I'll take the ant farming."

He looked disappointed, and I immediately felt badly. Shit. Donnie and I did everything together, and what I had just said was like saying I didn't want to be with him. I then remembered when I had suggested we go out for the football team, and that Donnie had been less interested than I, until I had put my face close to his and smiled, and said, "please, please, please!"

And look at us today.

But Donnie had simply nodded at my answer. "Okay. I'll do it by myself."

Well, what could I do? I'd smiled, leaned closer, and whispered, "You didn't say please, please, please."

He remembered then, and grinned, and pushed his face closer, with his blue eyes full of light, and said, "please, please, please!"

So Theater - forever 'drama class' thereafter - became our last elective class.

And, as it turned out, one of our favorites.

Mrs. Zimmerman was revealed to be this always-smiling, chubby little lady with dark hair and and an expression built in the said, lights! camera! action! The first thing we all noticed after taking our seats the first day of class - after the fact that every seat was not taken, that is - was that Mrs. Zimmerman described everything as if it was taking place on a stage. The first thing she did was cover her eyes, whirl a finger in the air, and point. When she uncovered her eyes, she was looking at Molly Nash, who had reared slightly back in her desk seat, eyes wide.

"What is your name, young lady, and future star of stage and screen?"

A low murmur of laughter had traveled around the seats, as everyone focused on Molly's discomfort at being in the spotlight.

"Molly Nash."

Mrs. Zimmerman glowed. "I am so pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Nash. Would you be so kind as to assist me by handing out that stack of books to the class?" She pointed to a fair-sized stack of textbooks standing on her desk. Molly had made a small face, and then eased herself slowly up out of her seat to comply. Mrs. Zimmerman watched her, as if expecting greatness at every step. Molly went to Mrs. Zimmerman's desk, heaved up the pile, formed a very evident oh my god! with her face at the weight, and turned and walked to the first desk.

"Oh, that's wonderful," Mrs, Zimmerman told Molly, as the girl began walking up and down the rows of seats, slapping the volumes down on every occupied desktop as she passed. "If I were out in the audience now, I would just be struck by your inner anger at being called upon to carry that heavy pile of books around, and your annoyance at being singled out the very first minute for a position of responsibility."

Molly stopped, blinking at Mrs. Zimmerman. The whole class had grinned, but wasn't sure what to make of what they were hearing.

Mrs. Zimmerman had glowed some more, and swooped back and forth in front of us. "Observe, people, how authoritatively Molly has placed the books on each desktop, the slow and methodical pace of her movements, the wonderful glower she wears, even though the pile gets lighter with each step she takes. The audience can feel what is going on inside her, without her having to say a single word." She stopped moving and clapped lightly." A bravura performance, Molly! You are definitely in the right place to make use of your wonderful talents."

There wasn't a single drop of acid in it, either. Mrs. Zimmerman looked wonderfully delighted, actually. Molly suddenly grinned, and went back to handing out the books, looking far happier, while the rest of us decided that we had us a teacher maybe worth listening to.

"This is the power of emoting," Mrs. Zimmerman went on, now that she had our attention. "Or acting, to those who will watch your performances someday. Emoting is the method by which we convey to others what we are thinking and feeling, without obviously standing there and telling them. Some people have the gift of doing this brilliantly on their own, while others have the quality within, awaiting just the smallest push from someone else to bring it forth." She gave a little bow, and a big smile. "That is my job, and why I am here."

I had looked over at Donnie, in the seat next to mine, and grinned, letting him know with my eyes that I was pleased he had suggested this class. If anyone in that room glowed after that, it was Donnie.

In the weeks that followed, we learned a lot about staging a play. We read scripts, and we learned how to interpret stage direction. Donnie and I were interested in the mechanics of production, and with some other kids learned to operate the lights and sound equipment installed in the school's theater. Everyone was walked through the processes so that they would understand them, and those interested in learning more were allowed to play with the equipment during rehearsals of our first play, The Kid With the Magic Fingers. Mrs. Zimmerman informed us that we would do a number of plays throughout the school year, several of which would be major productions open to the public, running for two nights a week for several weeks, and charging for entry. Other plays would show only twice, on Wednesday and Thursday evenings during a given week, and then it would be off to something new. The two-timers would be presented at matinee prices and fall about every two weeks during the school year.

Donnie and I were relieved at the scheduling, because our week nights were free. Football practice was confined to a couple of hours after school, with games held on Saturdays. It left us little free time, which made our Sundays together even more important. But we were together at all other times, too, so what the hell?

Mrs. Zimmerman showed us the several sites online where she could get plays for us to produce. We couldn't just do anything we wanted, because plays were protected by the same kind of copyrights that protected books and movies and stuff like that. Many current plays couldn't be done at all, because a play had to run the whole process of Broadway or off-Broadway production and then film first, before its owners would license it for school production. And as licensing a play for school production was about the same as saying its usefulness as a money maker in other venues was over, it took a while for that process to be complete.

Mrs. Zimmerman had to pay for a performance license for whichever play we chose to produce, which came out of her budget for the entire year. Fortunately, school performance licenses were very reasonable, and Mrs. Zimmerman's budget fairly generous. Old standbys like Our Town and You Can't Take It With You were inexpensive in the extreme to license, and still pretty popular after all these years, and many school theaters still produced them to save money for other projects during the course of the year.

But for our first project we wanted something that would get the kids in and get them interested. We all watched as Mrs. Zimmerman showed us through page after page of plays, almost none of which we had heard of. She said that plays written exclusively for the school market were common, and that they were generally aimed at specific levels of kids. We were allowed to hunt through all three levels - elementary school kids, middle school kids, and high school kids - but the first category was pretty simple and the last category was subject to veto if the subject material was considered too advanced for our age group, so we stuck pretty much with the middle school stuff to begin with. There was a large fantasy section, and so of course we wound up looking there.

The Kid With the Magic Fingers was a semi-musical, about a boy named Cody who has a head injury and finds afterwards that he can play the piano like crazy. I liked it right off because I play piano, and so felt a kind of a special link to the material. It had fantasy elements, and a dream sequence that was utterly cool, and we voted for that play out of a pool of three available that fit the first matinee budget. The music that went with the play was mostly classical, and Mrs. Zimmerman had CDs that she said the sound crew would play while the actor playing Cody faked it at the keyboard. To demonstrate this, she had Jeff Nabely sit at the keyboard of the prop baby grand onstage, and had Ellie Caprically run some stuff on the sound machine.

"This is what theater is all about," Mrs. Zimmerman told us, giving us a brief glow. "To make real what is not, and to bring the audience into the illusion along with us."

Jeff started to 'play'. The piano was a dummy, built by the woodworking shop a few years ago for the theater. It looked real from the back, but its guts were all air. Ellie started the classical piece, which I had heard before but couldn't identify right off. Brahms, maybe. My mom and I had played mostly more modern stuff over the years.

Jeff tried, but he hadn't a clue as to what he was doing. He looked more like a mad scientist at a lab table mixing a formula to revive the dead then he did someone playing a piano.

I raised my hand, and Mrs. Zimmerman looked at me. "Yes?"

"He doesn't look like he's really playing," I said. As if to accent that observation, Jeff - who had heard me - stopped what he was doing, and the music continued on, without a player, until Ellie noticed and paused the CD.

Jeff just shrugged and grinned at the rest of us. "I'm just fakin' it, man. I don't know what it should look like."

Mrs. Zimmerman canted her head to one side and looked at me. "Are you speaking from certain knowledge?"

Aw, man. Sometimes I am just as bad as Donnie - don't know when to shut up. "Well...I can play, if that's what you mean."

Mrs. Zimmerman's eyes should have warned me. "Really, Andrew? How long have you played?"

I kind of cringed at that - only my grandmother called me Andrew. "Would you call me Andy, please?" I answered instead, ignoring the big grin from Donnie, who was seated across from me at the planning table.

Oh - that. The planning table was just this really long table backstage - long enough that all of us could sit at it, with Mrs. Zimmerman at the head. During production the table doubled as workspace for the prop and costume people, but during the planning stages it was like the war room at the Pentagon.

Anyway, Donnie grinned, and I cringed.

Mrs. Zimmerman smiled. "And where would Andrew Lloyd Webber be today if he went by Andy?"

I frowned. "I dunno. Maybe out playing football?"

She laughed, but nodded. "Okay, Andy it is. And now - my question?"

My mom played piano, and I had become interested very early, at about six years of age. "About six or seven years," I admitted.

Her eyebrows went up. "Really?" She stood up, and motioned at me. "Come here a moment."

Everyone rose, and we all followed her down the back steps to the room by the prop department. An upright piano stood against the wall there. "Please demonstrate...Andy."

Until that point, Donnie was the only person I had played around except for mom and dad and Dottie. Donnie was musical, too, and could make some fairly decent noise on his guitar. Sometimes we made noise together, and had a lot of fun doing it.

I looked around at all the faces, then back to Mrs. Zimmerman. "In front of everybody?"

She smiled. "More ears to appreciate you, is all it is, Andy."

Donnie was next to me, and he gave me a gentle push. "Go ahead. You can do it."

I grimaced, but sat on the stool in front of the piano, raised the lid, ran up and down several octaves from middle C on the board, noted that some of the semitones sounded off a bit. "It's a little out of tune," I said.

Mrs. Zimmerman's eyebrows raised at that. "Really? We'll get that fixed."

I licked my lips, feeling nervous. "What should I play?"

Mrs. Zimmerman pursed her lips. "What do you know?"

This wasn't getting us anywhere. I had learned a lot of stuff playing with mom, and I figured that Mrs. Zimmerman, being older, might like some of the same stuff my mom did. So I selected Crocodile Rock, by Elton John, in the key of G major, and launched into it, trying to tune out everybody watching. It was a fun piece to play. Elton John and Billy Joel were the two guys I had learned to like best from playing with my mom.

Nice thing about fingers, they have a mind of their own. Even if my head was nervous, they didn't seem to be. The music flowed out, from my fingers into the keys, and even I thought it sounded pretty good, despite the condition of the piano itself.

I was just hitting the third verse when Mrs. Zimmerman put a hand out and laid it on my shoulder. I took that as a signal to stop, and did. She smiled at me. "You read music?"

I nodded. She whirled, pointed at Donnie. "Donald, would you go back to the table and bring me the folder from where I was sitting?"

I couldn't help grinning at Donald as he looked briefly appalled at the use of his full name, and his eyes touched mine briefly before he nodded and took off.

"He goes by Donnie," I had to say to Mrs. Zimmerman, who just smiled at me in return.

Donnie was back in a flash, a fat manilla folder clutched in one hand. He handed it to Mrs. Zimmerman, who laid it atop the piano and hastily sorted through it. She came up with a fistful of papers, which she handed to me. "Can you play some of this?"

I looked. And was horrified. Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart...

I could read the music, and I had even played some of it before. But...Mozart? Me?

It was a thick sheaf of music. "All this goes with the play?" I asked.

Mrs. Zimmerman frowned. "Well...the music license is open. What that means is, that while we cannot alter even a single word in the script, we can basically choose any music we wish to go along with it. Cody must simply play well for the story to succeed - what he plays is not important. The classical pieces are included with the package because they are in the public domain, and can be performed free of charge."

"So we don't have to use any of this?"

She shook her head. "No."

I looked at Donnie, and he grinned.

"So we can actually play all sorts of cool stuff if we can get the rights to play it? Like - you know - rock stuff, maybe?"

Mrs. Zimmerman smiled. "You interest me. Continue."

"When you showed us that one site where you can get plays, they also had a part where you can get music. I mean, buy the rights to play it, like in a play."

"I know that. We've often purchased performance rights for background music for our plays. It's relatively inexpensive, especially for a limited number of performances."

I grinned. "Well, there you go. I like more modern stuff than Mozart. Like what I just played, for instance." I grinned over at Jeff. "So while Jeff is out on stage, I could sit here and play for him, right?"

Mrs. Zimmerman actually laughed. "The part of Cody has not been cast yet, any more than any of the other parts. Having you play piano for Jeff - or anyone else, for that matter - seems such a waste when you can play the part of Cody yourself."

Son of stupid could I be, not to see this coming?

"Me?" I gasped, looking back at the stage. "Out there? In front of...people?"

Mrs. Zimmerman actually chuckled. "That is what we're here for, am I not correct?" She suddenly looked thoughtful. "There is a variant version of this play available with songs as well as music." She leaned closer to me. "I don't suppose you can sing as well?"

I kind of locked up - couldn't move. Donnie, my sweet and wonderful friend, did not. "Yeah, he can. He sings great!"

"Wonderful!" Mrs. Zimmerman gushed. "Oh, this may turn out to be much more than I originally planned. Now...let me see. I must go back to that site and secure the rights to perform the songs, and get some music..."

I turned my eyes up to Donnie, who was grinning ear-to-ear.

I nodded, felt my tongue finally detach from where it had been stuck to the roof of my mouth. I raised a hand, waggled a forefinger at Donnie in a request for him to come closer. He did, but held up a hand in front of himself, as if he thought I might hit him. But I had no such thought of injuring him. Or, simply injuring him.

He leaned closer, his grin still large, and I nodded at him.

"I'll kill you later," I whispered.

We wound up not making it a full musical, thank heavens. The cost to sing the parts instead of speak them was just a stupid amount more, just because the dialog had been reworked into not so great songs that then came under a different licensing scheme. And, Mrs. Zimmerman soon determined that her class was not anxious to sing - for their first performance, anyway. So we went back to the play as written, much to everyone's relief.

Buying the school performance rights to the piano versions of some rock songs - especially the older ones - turned out to be really reasonable in price. Once you dropped the vocals, it seemed, stuff really got cheap. There were five places in the play's script where Cody went a little wild playing music, and instead of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Chopin, and Brahms, I substituted piano from songs by Elton John, Swedish House Mafia, Bob Seger, Billy Joel, and The Beatles. A little up, a little down, a little fast, a little slow. But all cool.

There were a dozen short takes, which I filled by copping a little key work from songs by One Republic, Ingrid Michaelson, Adele, Train, The Fray, Fastball, Ben Folds, James Blunt, and Avicii. A bit of a mix, if you wanna call it that.

The final scene, during the dream sequence, required something special. My mom helped me to cobble together a shortened version of Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen, retaining the hymn arpeggios in the verses and the pumped classical in the bridges. It turned out awesome, and I practiced it for a week at the house before admitting to Mrs. Zimmerman that it was done. The first time I played it at rehearsal, I went a little crazy. And not just me. Mrs. Zimmerman said it would bring the house down.

"We'll word-of-mouth this play all over the school, but people won't know how tremendous it is until they hear it and see it. The Wednesday night show will get the word out, and I'm predicting that the Thursday show will be a sell out.

The school theater held 450 people. That was 900 eyes, all watching us. Watching me. I was scared shitless.

But, the oddest thing seemed to happen. The more we rehearsed, the easier it got. The more I played in front of the class, the more I felt I could play in front of an audience. My fingers seemed to have no stage fright at all, just a desire to play.

Our first play was where everyone learned how to do stuff, and it took us nearly two months to get the sets done, the wardrobe made, and the special effects engineered. The latter consisted mostly of dry ice to make fog, and a rig with pulleys suspended from the overhead that would allow Cecil to drop down from the 'sky' - the catwalk overhead - to land before Cody in the dream scene. And some colored lights, and eerie sounds. Atmosphere, as Mrs. Zimmerman said, smiling. But on a budget.

Donnie got the part of Cecil, Cody's best friend. He actually read the part well, and was better than Jeff, who really kind of made it clear he wasn't trying to get the role, anyway. He had his heart set on being a special effects guy, and had already shown a knack for modifying things to make them better. There were two other good guy parts, each of which seemed to be the focus of the remaining guys that even wanted to act. The class had quickly split into a few people who wanted to be onstage, acting, and the remainder that wanted to be behind the scenes, which was most everybody. That I was one of the latter did not matter to Mrs. Zimmerman, who seemed to think I wanted to act because I had so stupidly stuck my neck out on the block. She said it didn't matter, anyway, because everyone in the class was going to be onstage at some point during the school year. All of us were going to have the opportunity to bask in the spotlight. Ugh.

Donnie wanted the role of Cecil, not just because he was one of the guys that wanted to act, but because he got to be with me for most of the play. And, in the finale dream scene, Cecil and Cody hug each other, and Donnie made no secret of the fact - at least when we were alone - that he was delighted at the prospect of getting to hug me in front of so many people and have a reason to get away with it. And Mrs. Zimmerman said we were perfect together, and that we seemed to have a good rapport between us that would come across on stage. Ellie Caprically was standing nearby when Mrs. Zimmerman said this, and laughed out loud. "Yeah, you think?"

I liked Ellie. She had a great sense of humor and she was smart, and always fair in dealing with people. I don't know if she had heard that Donnie was my boyfriend, but she did know he and I were best friends. She made it clear that she liked both of us, and I'm pretty sure she got back that the sentiment was returned.

All during this time, Greg and Junie were being careful. They actually were conspicuous on the field now because they didn't horse around like they used to do, but no one really seemed to notice. Greg, if anything, was even crazier than usual now, driven, I think, by his excitement at finding Junie. Euphoric was the word I came up with, when I looked online for a good word that meant crazy-happy. And Junie...well, the sun still came up every morning in that sweet face of his, and he wore that shine everywhere he went now.

The weekend before the debut of The Boy With the Magic Fingers came, and I was so nervous I had trouble getting through the game on Saturday against the Panthers. I nearly dropped a perfect pass from Mikey, only keeping hold of it by some magical glue on my fingers, and just got the ball across the line as some Panther took me down. It was an away game, played on the Panther's field, and because of the weather the turnout in the bleachers had been minimal. For high school football people would put on three coats and come, but middle school games just didn't have the same power to draw, I guess.

Donnie, on the other hand, seemed unbothered by our coming performance together. He saw my nerves over it, I guess, and was very supportive. It was kind of a role reversal for us - usually I was looking out for him a little, as he worried over the things that we faced each day. But now, he smiled a lot, and hugged me a lot - when no one was looking, of course - and was just very sweet.

After the game, which we won by a three point lead from a field goal in the last quarter, we stood around in the cold under a gray sky and discussed what we could have done better. Our defensive guys had been just awesome that day, and only the offense had messed up here and there. But winning always seemed to soften any criticisms, and the coach didn't have a single finger to point. After Mr. Duncan gave us his usual pat on the back and described everyone's contributions - which always managed to cover the whole team - he went off to talk to the Panther's coach and left Mikey grinning at us ahead of his usual praise. Mikey made no mention of my near miss on his pass, mostly because, to him, a completion of any sort means it went well.

Afterwards, though, he did come over and pat me on the back. "You need to relax, Andy. You're wound up, and I can see it."

"It's just nerves," Donnie said cheerfully, putting an arm around my shoulders and squeezing. "The play opens on Wednesday evening and he's almost as nervous as I am."

It was a very sweet thing to say, because Donnie had taken to the stage like a cat does to tuna fish - without the smell. In part it was his attitude change in general since we had been acting more openly in front of people; he understood that a lot of people knew we were gay, and boyfriends, and he had gotten used to it being a minimal cause of friction in his daily life. There were still the occasional looks, and whispers; but Donnie had discovered that looks and whispers were ephemeral, and that as long as you chose not to carry them about with you, they didn't stay around to be bothersome.

We had both grown a little into being gay, and found it a warm and comforting coat, indeed.

Stage fright is a different sort of beast than dealing with people's thoughts. Even though it has a reason for being, it's a hell of a lot harder to say why it's there. I was just nervous in front of crowds of people. I didn't know why.

But, as we had rehearsed the play, I had often looked out into the theater and seen people sitting there, watching. The theater was open to students and staff alike, and we'd already found how many of them were interested in what the theater was about. We had deliberately put the word out on what we were doing, and people had responded by coming to see for themselves. But twenty or thirty onlookers is not a full house of 450 people. The quantitative difference played with my head, and my imagination, and even Donnie's loving reassurances that we'd do fine had not completely tamed the beast that had come to sit on top of my nerves.

It didn't help, one afternoon, when we heard someone laughing out in the theater. The play itself was funny, and there were a lot of scenes with humor. But this laughter had come during a serious scene where Cody and Cecil had been talking about their friendship, and Cecil had sighed and said to Cody, "I'd do anything for you."

I had heard, as I was about to say my next a line, a very soft but distinct voice out in the seats, say, "Yeah, I'll bet he would!" Whispered, but way too loudly.

Donnie had heard it, too. We'd both squinted out into the theater, trying to see who had said that. Mrs. Zimmerman had gone to the front of the stage and admonished the onlookers to remain quiet, and it was just after that that we had seen three people get up from the back row and leave.

Dickie Ranshaw, Pete Nicks, and Hank Snowden. Even in the poor light, I'd recognize those idiots anywhere.

I'd kind of forgotten about them. They'd kept a low profile since Donnie had clobbered Dickie on the bus; but we had been aware of them, sometimes just at the edge of things, watching and whispering, and Greg had been telling us about some of the stuff they'd been saying behind our backs. Interestingly, they had not seemed to be able to get others to speak out against us, and I had started to come around to Dottie's way of thinking - that people just didn't care about gay like they once had. So I had put Dickie and his squad of fucktards to the back of my mind, and even Donnie had ceased to worry about them.

We were in this together, and we both knew it now.

Every now and then Mrs. Hinkie's warning - that people like Dickie did not take kindly to being shown up - came back to my mind; but it had been quite a while now since the incident on the bus, and I had kind of gotten to the opinion that Dickie's failure to rally support against us meant that he wasn't going to be doing anything in retaliation. Guys like him almost never acted alone.

And on the football field, I didn't think of Dickie at all. There we were, another game in the bag, with the year ending in another league championship looking likely.

"I was thinking," Donnie told me, as Mikey went to talk to some of the others.

I managed a grin. "That's always dangerous. What about?"

He laughed. "I was thinking of asking Greg and Junie to sleep over with you an' me tonight."

I had to smile. "Don't you gotta ask me first?"

"I thought I just did." But he leaned closer. "Wanna stay at my house tonight?"

We'd been doing that for years, and recently that practice had taken on a very special new meaning for me. Sleeping with Donnie, all warm and naked against me all night, was a pleasure I had come to love like no other. The sex before sleep was also pretty special, I guess I should say. Not that you probably didn't guess that already.

Greg had sometimes slept over, too, but of course not since Donnie and I became boyfriends. My eyebrows went up at the suggestion that we invite both Greg and Junie. "What are you thinking about?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "Just a cool night with the four of us hanging out together." He smiled then. "That month that Greg wanted is almost up. It's time for him to tell us if he's gay or not."

Ooh. Yeah, I had let that slip my mind, what with everything else going on.

"He's gay," I said, nodding. "He acts like Junie and him are wearing the same pair of jeans."

Donnie laughed. "I know. Fucking Greg is full of shit. I can see he loves Junie just like I can see that Junie loves him. You and me should be the last people he can fool."

Truth, that. I could see the same thing. Greg was even more lively when he was with Junie than he had been before they'd gotten together. And Greg was always with Junie. Even Dottie had made a very casual remark recently about me and Donnie not being alone anymore, but when I had asked what she meant she had just laughed and said I should know even better than her.

I did know. Greg and Junie were feeling the same stuff that Donnie and I were.

I nodded. "It's a good idea. Let's go ask them."

They were over with Jeff and Terry and some of the guys, bullshitting and carrying on. I caught Greg's eye and pointed at Junie, and let Greg get them away from the others.

"What's up?"

I looked at both of them, and grinned. They were standing so close together that they might as well have been rubbing shoulders. I had seen a lot of that with them lately, I realized.

"Donnie and me are sleeping over at his house tonight. We wanted to invite you guys, too."

Junie gave a little gasp and looked at Greg. "Oh, yeah, Greg. Let's do it."

Greg looked surprised. "Serious business?"

I grinned. "Would I lie?"

Greg grinned back. "Okay. I gotta ask at home, but you know my folks'll say yes. They always have." He looked at Junie. "What about your mom?"

"She'll let me," Junie said with certainty. "If she knows I'm with you and Andy and Donnie, she'll be cool with it."

They grinned at each other, and there was no missing that they were both thinking about their first time sleeping together.

I just had to say it. I grinned at Donnie, and cleared my throat dramatically. "So, uh, guys tasted each other's fapple juice yet?"

Junie's mouth dropped open, and he raised a hand to cover the grin that sprang out of it. Greg's eyes widened, and then he just looked embarrassed.

Donnie laughed. "That would be a big yes."

Greg rolled his eyes, but then smiled at Junie. "Never thought I'd love the taste of that stuff."

Junie just nodded. "Yeah."

Donnie and I laughed, and the four of us headed off together.

Not surprisingly, there was no problem with any of the parents. When you're a kid and your folks get used to you doing kid stuff, like sleeping over at your friend's house, they just don't seem to see the possibilities in that as you get older and discover things like sex. There is a lot of protection in being young. From everything I'd ever observed, it isn't until you get ready to start driving that your parents suddenly look at you again and take a new measure of the possibilities in the things that you do.

Donnie's mom didn't mind at all. I was of the opinion that she felt a little guilty about leaving Donnie on his own a lot, and was grateful for the fact that he didn't seem to mind as long as he had at least me to keep him company. To her, the idea of three friends staying over seemed even better.

She went out on a lot of Saturday evenings, but was never home later than about ten or eleven o'clock. She believed that Donnie was old enough and sensible enough to be left alone a little, and the fact that we were always still there when she got home had, over time, relaxed her. She was going out that night, too, and said she would not be late. It just made things more relaxed for us, especially with Greg and Junie having their first all-nighter together.

We had pizza for dinner, and then went to Donnie's room after his mom went out.

And we locked the door.

I had seen both Greg and Junie naked in the showers at school. They both had nice bodies, and I already mentioned that Greg was on his way to eventually having a mouthful of a dick. Junie was like me and Donnie, okay in size, with a little hair on his pubes, but still smooth all over. He had a really cute butt, the kind you want to stick your face into and just rub. Donnie had a butt like that, too, and I had done my share of rubbing, believe me.

We didn't just close the door and rip our clothing off, but rather turned on some music and helped the others ready their bed. For that we had laid some camping pads side-by-side on the carpet and put a couple of sleeping bags on them for extra padding. One of Donnie's plump winter comforters assured that the guys would stay snug and warm together beneath.

We kicked off our shoes and peeled off our socks. The room was warm and comfortable. Greg and Junie flopped together on the end of Donnie's bed, and Donnie and I sat together at the head with our backs against the headboard.

And we talked.

Greg and Junie had wasted little time exploring sex with each other, and it was fun to hear about their first time. We reciprocated by telling them about our first time, and that led to us talking about the things we did together. Greg and Junie looked wide-eyed at us with some of the stuff we had to share, but the way they grinned at each other also seemed to suggest that they were filing it away with the intent of trying it sometime later. That was funny - to see how eager they were to be together.

We talked about school, and football, and the people we knew. At one point, Donnie just reached over and unzipped my jeans, and stuck his hand down inside. I had to smile at that, because Greg immediately grinned and did the same to Junie. That led to everyone's pants coming off, and then shirts, and then before we knew it, we were all naked. It was extremely hot for me to sit there with Donnie's junk in my hand, and mine in his, and watch Greg and Junie play with each other.

But, soon I just had eyes for Donnie, and then he and I were wrapped up in each other. Greg and Junie went to their bed on the floor, and I was dimly aware that they were doing much the same things together that Donnie and I were doing, but I really was far too interested in Donnie to pay more attention. The evening wound on, grew breathless and exciting, and then warm and cuddly, and the last thing I remember was falling asleep with Donnie snuggled close against me.

I felt differently about Greg and Junie after that night. I think Donnie did, too. They were still our friends - that had only become closer. But now we had something shared, that the four of us understood, that nobody else we knew did. It used to be, you saw me or Donnie, and the other was always there, too. Now, mostly, if you saw any of the four of us, the other three were somewhere near.

And I never did ask Greg if he was gay.

The night of the play came. I was nervous all day at school, and at football practice after; but as we met backstage to begin our first night as a team, I felt a weird kind of calm coming over me. I think because I was feeling that it was ready to happen, that it was almost over. In a way, I was excited. We'd put a hell of a lot of work into this, and rehearsed our asses off. And the play did look like it was going to be good.

We'd all peeked out into the theater as the seats filled. The hell with word-of-mouth from this performance filling the place tomorrow night. It looked like it was going to be full this night.

My wardrobe for the play was made up of my own clothing from home. Donnie and the others, too. We were just supposed to be kids, wrapped up in a brief and somewhat magical moment in life. My chief complaint was with the makeup. We all wore this red lipstick, so that our mouths would be visible from afar. Up close it was obvious that we had it on; but even from the distance of the first row our mouths looked pretty normal. I'd already tested this earlier by walking a ways back from Donnie and looking for myself.

Mrs. Zimmerman said it was important that the audience see who was speaking, and lips became colorless under the bright lights, until those in the back of the theater could hardly tell who was saying what. My eyes were also shadowed with light blue to make them look larger, and really blue from a distance. That was my magical quality, I guess, as no one else had it. Donnie smirked at me after it was put on; and whispered that I was really hot that way. I just puckered my lips at him, to remind him that I wasn't the only one.

But it was Ellie Caprically who got us both. We hadn't worn the make up in rehearsal, and once it was on for the performance, there was no hiding it from the rest of the cast. Jeff and the other lucky fuckers that got to stay behind the scenes and do stuff smiled at us, but didn't say anything, thankfully. But Ellie wasn't the sort to stay quiet when she saw something worth commenting on.

"Oh my god!" she breathed, coming up to us backstage. "You guys are prettier than I am!"

We were standing by the prop room, near the door into the hallway. As we were wearing our own clothing, Donnie had taken the opportunity to put in a plug for the team, and was wearing the league champ shirt from the previous year. Mrs. Zimmerman had looked askance at that, but had wisely decided not to add to her worries that night by arguing over the stuff we'd decided to wear.

Ellie whipped out her cell phone, and pointed the lens at us. Donnie and I both held up our hands in front of our faces. "Stop it, Ellie!" I said.

She came a little closer. "Come on, guys. Don't you want to remember this? It's really cute."

Donnie and I looked at each other. Actually, he was really cute with red lipstick on. I grinned at him, and he must have been thinking the same thing.

"Okay," I said, dropping my hand. "Just one."

She took four. Girls!

But I'm glad she took them. I do have the pictures now, along with all the ones that Mrs. Zimmerman took backstage, and that my sister Dottie took from the front row, sitting there next to my mom and dad, and Donnie's mom. And, the ones that Greg took from the same row, sitting there beside Junie. Sometimes, the view of our lives that others have are the most special ones to remember.

The lights went down, and Mrs. Zimmerman went out into a spot and welcomed the audience and described the play.

The Boy With the Magic Fingers is a very straightforward play, for the most part. It opens with Cody and Cecil racing along on their bicycles during a bright summer day, talking and laughing like any guys might do. For this scene we used exercise bicycles, with the bases hidden by a mock-up of shrubs. Donnie and I were in a focused spot, with darkness all about us, bright only where were, out in the summer day.

We are speeding along, talking about all the things that serve to introduce our characters to the audience. What's going on at home, what our friends are doing, what girls we have been exchanging smiles with lately. The characters are straight, of course, but we didn't let that bother us!

The scene runs a little over four minutes, and we are talking excitedly about what we want to do in the coming week, when Cecil suddenly yells, "Look out!" The spot fades quickly to darkness, and special effects plays the sound of a horrendous crash.

When the light comes back up, we're in a hospital room. Cody is laying in the bed, his head wrapped in bandages. His mom and dad - and of course, Cecil - are there with him.

"What happened?"

Bill Blakely, who was playing my dad, gives me a solemn look. "You were hit by a car, son. It came out of nowhere." He turns to Cecil, smiles, claps him on the shoulder. "Cecil called 911. It might have saved your life."

Melissa Tomfridge, who plays Cody's mom, looks worried and holds Cody's hand. "Your head was injured, honey. We have to wait and see how much."

So the stage is set for what comes next.

Cody recovers, and goes home. But he is changed. He keeps commenting that the world somehow looks different, but when people ask him how it looks different, he just shakes his head and cannot say. At first he seems elated, but then it becomes wearying as he realizes that no one can see the things he sees, and he cannot explain them in any way that makes sense. People look at him like he's not right somehow, and even his parents begin to treat him like he's sick. He becomes moody and quiet, and of course that change gets noticed, too.

In the home where Cody lives is an old piano, sitting in a corner, unused, a place for potted plants and framed photographs, and not much else. One day he and Cecil are there at the house, and Cecil is hinting that he knows something is bothering Cody, and, well, can he help? Cody smiles, understands that Cecil wants to help, but still cannot put into words just what it is that is bothering him.

They are sitting on the sofa, and Cody is staring at the old piano.

Originally, we were going to use the prop baby grand that sat to one side of the stage, and sit the old upright behind it so that I could play it. But it looked really awkward that way, and I told Mrs. Zimmerman that most people that might have an old piano sitting around their house were likely to have an upright and not a grand, anyway. She agreed, and we moved the grand offstage. It was far lighter than it looked, being hollow, and us kids got it out of there without a problem.

But maintenance was called to move the upright up onto the stage. It had been tuned, and I didn't want us dropping it or bouncing it around trying to move its much heavier bulk into place.

Anyway, Cody is staring at the piano, and Cecil is talking away. Suddenly, Cody gets up and walks over to the piano, and lays his hands on the cover over the keyboard.

"Something wrong?" Cecil asks, getting up to come over with Cody.

Cody shakes his head, moves a few potted plants and framed photos, and opens the cover. He pulls out the bench, and sits down. Cecil looks at Cody strangely, but then just shrugs, and sits down next to him.

"What are we doing, Cody?"

"Just looking."

Cody runs his fingers up and down the keys, just making noise. Cecil watches, wondering.

"It makes sense," Cody suddenly says.

"What does?" Cecil asks.

Cody grins at him. "Everything."

And he drops his hands, and - at first slowly, but then with ever increasing speed, he starts linking notes, making chords, finding order where there was none before. And then he looks at Cecil and grins, and says, "I see it now!"

Cecil just looks at him. "What do you see?"

Cody laughs. "This!" And then he launches into Old Time Rock and Roll, by Bob Seger. I picked that for the first song because it's very recognizable, and very lively, and it's kind of a shock to the audience to hear this suddenly come blasting out.

When the piano finally crashes into silence, Cecil just stares at Cody. "I didn't know you could play," he says, in an awed voice.

Cody just shrugs, looking a little surprised himself. "Neither did I."

What follows becomes a journey, as Cody gets through his days at school and with his friends, and then comes home every day and sits at the piano. His family first marvels, and then wonders, and then worries over Cody's sudden new talent. But he can only shrug, and say, "It's just music, mom," which does nothing to allay their fears.

Cody gets taken to doctors, and then specialists, and finally winds up in the office of Dr. Sally Marshal, played by Beverly Booth, who listens to the story, reads all of the reports of the many doctors who have come before her, and even listens to Cody play.

"You never touched a piano before your accident?" she asks.


"What do you think it is?" Cody's mom asks.

Dr. Sally has seen and heard more about the human condition than she cares to recall. "I think it's wonderful," she says.

Cody's dad looks surprised. "Really? But...what should we do about it?"

Dr. Sally just smiles. "My professional opinion is go with it."

Cody's parents look at each other. "Go with it?" Cody's mom asks.

"Yes. Go with it. Let him play. Let him expand, and evolve." She bends forward. "It's a gift. Let him enjoy it."

So they do.

But you know how people talk, especially kids. Word gets out. A short interview by the local TV station goes viral online, and the next thing you know, everybody wants to interview Cody and listen to his magic fingers. The family is at first taken aback by all this attention, but as the offers for interviews come with dollar amounts attached, they find it hard to resist them, especially as - at least at first - Cody is eager to take them.

Everybody knows that fame has a cost, right? Cody's life is slowly taken over by his gift. He finds he has less and less time for everything else, including his friends. Including his best friend, Cecil. Cecil becomes a sad face at the edge of the crowd, looking inward, waiting and hoping that things will pass. Cody's life becomes a series of set pieces where he pounds out piano with great joy - the act of playing does make him feel wonderful - but these pleasant moments do not offset the increasingly gray areas of Cody's life where he is feeling lonely and empty.

He begins - at first unconsciously, to act out, having small temper tantrums, and then larger ones. And then the anger spills over into his waking thoughts, and he has a screaming fit that cannot be missed. His parents, suddenly realizing that he is being overcome, start declining the offers, closing the doors, not answering the telephone. Despite the huge surge in public interest in the boy who was struck by a car and became a sudden piano demon, the public has a short memory, and - slowly - the offers slack off, and the phone stops ringing.

This is a pretty simple recounting of what could have been a really complicated story. It was written for the middle school crowd, but really could have been a high school play. I guess what kept it from being overly mature was that a lot what could have been said is left to be inferred by the audience. Some things are best left that way, really. It gave the play many meanings, depending on who you were when you watched.

In the finale, Cody is in bed one night, and has a dream. Here are the mists, and the cool lights. In the dream, he is playing the piano - the Queen piece that mom helped me create - and he is smiling and elated. The joy he gets from playing is evident. But as he finishes, and the music goes away, so does his smile. He gives out a sob, and lowers his head to the keyboard.

The eerie background music slowly comes up, and suddenly, Cody hears a voice. It's his own voice.

I recorded the voice myself, and it was played back through the sound system and paused in all the right places by Ellie, who did an amazing job with it. I really sounded like I was talking to myself. Anyway, what happens is that my voice offers Cody a chance to trade his gift - trade away all the joy he has been feeling at the music that had come into his mind and his heart - in order to get back his old life. In order to get back the comfort of just being another kid at school, the comfort of being able to go places and not be pointed at and talked about. The comfort of not being unusual, and remarked upon, and different. And the comfort of having his old friends back, especially Cecil.

In other words, I offered the old me myself.

There's all sorts of stuff someone could do in a situation like this. Argue. Negotiate. Plead. Yell. Even scream.

But what I do is smile, and say, "Cecil."

Yeah, it's hammy. I didn't write it. But it is a little cool the way it talks about friendship, and makes you think about what's really important in life. I guess it's kinda aimed at parents as well as kids, so that both know that any one thing that is allowed to run away, to take over your life, costs you with everything else. It's about weighing the price of things, and in that respect, if does make you think.

Cody gets up out of bed. He hears Cecil calling him. Up until that point the bed is softly lit, with a window framed behind it, and the moon showing through.

But then a spot comes on, a soft one, but it looks bright in comparison. Cody goes and stands in the middle of it.

"Cody?" The voice is disembodied, distant.

Cody looks about the room, eagerly. "Cecil?

"Man, I miss you, Code."

"I miss you, too, Cecil."

That's where the music in the background gets soft, and less eerie, and where Donnie gets lowered by the wire from the pulleys above. The spot brightens briefly as he and Cody stand and look at each other a moment, and then move forward to embrace each other, and then the spot slowly goes dark again.

"Are you back, Cody?" you hear Cecil ask, softly, as the lights go down. "Really back?"

"Yeah," Cody replies. "I'm really back."

Except that, when Donnie got lowered, he couldn't get the hook undone. He's just supposed to reach around to his back a moment, undo the hook, and let it go. Jeff, and Mike Latrell, who are up on the catwalk running things, are supposed to whisk the wire back before the spot briefly brightens. But when Donnie touched down, there wasn't enough slack in the cable for him to get the hook off the loop on the back of the harness he was wearing under his shirt. The guys above are looking straight down, and from their perspective they can't tell exactly what's happening below. So Donnie touched down, and stepped forward, his hand still behind his back, working to loosen the hook. Jeff and Mike thought the cable was free, and started to haul it back up. Donnie suddenly came up on his tiptoes, and I saw the look of horror on his face.

So I stepped forward then, a second or so early, and took him into the hug. All that weight clued Jeff into the fact that the wire was still attached, and he frantically put some slack back into it. I had my hands behind Donnie, so I could feel that happen, and I got the hook undone and felt it suddenly pull away.

My sister Dottie told me later that, from out in the audience, she could see something weird flutter away from Donnie's back. The hook and wire were colored a matte black, so they were really hard to see. Most people missed the small fuck up, and it wound up not mattering at all.

When the lights come back up for the final scene, me and Donnie are on our bikes again, pedaling along, laughing and carrying on. It's almost like the very first scene, where we are free and life is just fun. After a couple of moments of this, Cecil gets a wild hair up his ass and takes off, challenging Cody to a race. The lights go down as the two bikes are pulled forward out of the scene, accompanied by me and Donnie whooping and laughing.

It's kind of stupid, but also, kind of cool.

I remember thinking that this was a pretty good play, after all, that night. And the next night was sold out, and we wound up doing it again the two nights the following week as an encore before moving on to something else. So I was surprised one day on stage while we were working on the new project, when Mrs. Zimmerman's cell rang and she stepped away to answer it. Acoustics on a stage are a little different than in a lot of places, and I wound up being able to hear her side of the call.

At first it was just hi, how are you doing? But then the play must have come up, because Mrs. Zimmerman laughed, and I saw her nod. "Yes, Magic Fingers was a surprise for all of us. The kids picked the play, and you know how heavy-handed it is. But it's aimed at kids, so I guess it has to be a little over the top. And my class did a simply wonderful job with it, and made it special. We did two repeat performances the following week, to fill the demand from people that wanted to see it. And hear it, of course."

Heavy-handed? I knew what that meant. And I had to think, well, was it?

Maybe. Yeah, I guess it was. It kind of slapped you in the face with the need to weigh the importance of things like fame and ability against the needs of the people in your life. But...I had liked that play. No, I had loved it.

I think I especially loved that play because I loved Donnie, and for me, Cody walking away from Cecil was me walking away form Donnie. I just couldn't do it.

I decided not to hear any more of Mrs. Zimmerman's call, and walked away to find Donnie. He was over talking to Ellie and Jeff about something, and I came right up behind him and put my arms around him. I could feel him tense in surprise, and I could see also the looks of surprise on the other kid's faces.

"Who's that?" Donnie asked. I could tell by the sound of his voice that he was smiling.

I had to laugh. And so did Ellie and Jeff. "Who do you think it is?" I returned.

"That you, Cody?"

I nodded, and pushed my nose gently into the hair behind one ear. "Yes, Cecil. It's me."

He put his hands atop mine, where they lay around his waist, and squeezed them fondly. "Wondered where you got off to. Glad to have you back."

I hugged him gently, and nodded.

The final game of the football season was a home game. We were playing the Hornets, from Rochester. The whole time we had been creeping up the win chart, so had they. They arrived early, and climbed down off their bus looking like they were ready to kill and eat some Crimson, which was pretty much what we looked like, I think, except the food for us was a bunch of crummy bees.

For this game, the school had let the band come out, and they played some stuff to warm up the crowd and get them going. It was a cold January day, but the sun was out, and there was no wind, and it was almost comfortable sitting here on the bench. I felt strangely calm, and I think Donnie did, too; but the rest of the team was shitting marbles. Jeff Nabely couldn't sit - he kept pacing back and forth in front of the bench - and Mikey kept telling him to light somewhere.

Terry Colsky and Will Brandon were arguing quietly over something, but laughing, even a little crazily. And the others were all busy jiggling legs and making faces and looking a little hyper. Next to us, Greg sat next to Junebug, and I kept seeing them holding hands between themselves out of the corner of my eye. I was doing the same thing, squeezing Donnie's hand for comfort, so I got that that was very satisfying, emotionally. If there hadn't been a short wall around the bench and a roof on posts above our head we couldn't have gotten away with it - we'd be seen from the bleachers.

Which were fairly full, by the way.

Across from us, Leann Travers and her little glee squad were stretching and jumping to warm up. We didn't have cheerleaders in middle school, but we did have the glee club, and Leann and her friends there had volunteered to come out in the cold and provide moral support. Behind them, a tarp was draped over the big team sign. At the halftime show, after the band played, the girls would do some organized yelling - real cheers were a little outside their normal activities - and then whip the tarp off the sign.

It was just two sheets of plywood, laid end-to-end and held upright by a right-angle structure of two-by-fours. The face of the sign had been painted crimson. Across that blood-colored field, in large, yellow letters, were the words, Go, Crimson! Next to the exclamation point was a demon face, painted by Mr. Latisse, the art teacher. It was meant to be scary, I think, but was actually a little goofy, if you stopped and looked at it long enough. Most of us didn't, anymore.

It was inspiring, in its own way, and was part of the spirit of the team.

Brother, you want to talk about some tough mothers, that's the Hornets. They scored right off and held us at bay all through the first quarter. In the second we got close enough to kick a field goal, but that still left us four points behind at halftime. We went to the bench and sat, and I think we were all feeling that this might be the game where we got our asses handed to us.

"These guys are good, and they wanna win," Mikey said, walking up and down in front of us. He was hyped, and we all could see it. Donnie was leaning forward next to me, following Mikey's every move. He was hyped, too. I patted his knee, and told him to relax.

He grinned at me. "Relax? All my hair is standing straight up under my helmet! Who the hell can relax?" But he raised and lowered his shoulders underneath his pads a few times, turned his head side-to-side, grinned at me, and settled his weight against my upper arm. I couldn't help grinning back.

"We need to keep these guys off of Mikey better," Greg said, shaking his head. "We've had more incomplete plays this game than in the whole rest of the season. One of these times one of these refs is gonna call Mikey on dumpin' the ball."

Mikey laughed. "I haven't thrown any away yet. I just didn't get them close enough to Donnie or Andy to count." He nodded. "These guys are vicious, all right. But so are we."

Leann and her bunch came out and started their jumping and yelling, which was kind of fun to watch. The people in the stands seemed to think so, too - or, at least those that had come to root for our side. Leann had a lot of energy, I have to admit, and her group put on a good show.

They got to the part where they cheered us on, and then Leann grabbed the edge of the tarp over our team sign and ran with it, pulling it away.

It took me a moment to realize that something was different. I was still a little wrapped up in my own thoughts, and it wasn't until Donnie grabbed my arm that I refocused my eyes ahead.

The sign had changed. The face of it was covered end-to-end in what looked like cardboard, and a new motto had been written on it in red letters three feet tall. It said, very clearly:

Andy Colbert and Donnie Blydon are faggots!

There was a brief, unreal moment, like I lived on a world that swayed back and forth, and the entire thing was briefly swaying away from me. The sounds of the people in the stands diminished, the sun seemed to dim, and my eyesight kind of turned into a telescope as those damning letters jumped straight into my face.

Leann and her girls stood near the sign, just looking at it, obviously at a loss for what to do. I could see them looking over at us helplessly.

I was aware of Donnie standing up, and so I stood with him. And of Donnie walking out onto the field, so I walked with him. We walked out to the center, and stopped, just staring at the sign.

"Oh, Andy," Donnie breathed, and I could feel the horror in his voice. We stood there, just looking, while the world gyrated back and forth around us.

Suddenly, a shadow came up between us us, and then I felt an arm drop around my shoulders. I looked, and it was Greg, and he had an arm around Donnie's shoulders, too. He squeezed, pulling us to him. Junie came out of nowhere and stood in front of us, between us and that sign, like he was defending us from what it said. For a full minute the four of us just stood there, facing down the world that now seemed to have suddenly decided to acknowledge us.

But then I felt more motion around me, and then, one by one, hands landing on my back and my shoulders; and then the whole team was there, all around us. We stood as a single group and stared at the sign, and I could feel all those hands on me, pressing, rubbing, just letting me know that they were there.

I looked, and there were hands on Donnie, too, and he was looking at me. His eyes were wet, but he was smiling.

We could hear people whispering, and a murmur from the stands that sounded angry. And some laughing, too. That came mostly from the Hornet's bench, and when I turned to look, a lot of them were pointing at the sign and laughing. But not all of them. There were a couple of guys on that bench that looked less than happy to see that sign. I stared at their faces, even as they stared at me.

I could feel a vibration in the ground beneath my feet, and a bunch of guys passed us on the other side, just running all out. I whipped my head back around to look.

No...they weren't all guys. I recognized Mike Latrell, and Bill Blakely...but also Melissa Tomfridge, and Beverly Booth, all from drama class. And...shit. A bunch of kids that Donnie and I knew.

And of course, right there in front was someone I definitely knew. Ellie Caprically.

They reached the sign, and Leann and the others moved away from it. Ellie and her bunch peered at the cardboard, and I could see them pointing at something; and then they were ripping the cardboard off, and with that came the letters. The words. Very quickly, the crimson reappeared, and then the yellow, and then the sign once again said, Go, Crimson!

The kids bent down and picked up the pieces of cardboard, tore them into smaller pieces, and carried them off. They waved and grinned as they went by, and I locked eyes with Ellie and nodded.

Mikey came around me, and pointed back at the stands. "Look."

All of us - the whole team - turned to follow his finger. My eyes took a moment to scan the bleachers, but I wasn't sure what I was looking for.

Mikey must have sensed that. "Top row, all the way over at the right."

My eyes went there, and I tensed.

Well, well, well. I should have known.

Dickie Ranshaw, Pete Nicks, and Hank Snowden were there, their faces lit in big smiles, laughing and carrying on, pointing at us, just having a grand old time.

Donnie swore. "You think they did this?"

Mikey made a rude noise. "Does a bear shit in the woods?"

That would be an affirmative.

I raised an arm, and pointed at them. Donnie saw me, and he raised his arm and pointed, too. And then the whole team was pointing.

Dickie and his bunch froze as they realized we were looking. That the whole team was looking. That the whole team was pointing. People in the stands saw us pointing. Quite suddenly, people began to turn, to look at where we were pointing. As all those eyes swung around to touch on Dickie and friends, their good humor simply vanished. Pete Nicks put a hand on Dickie's shoulder and said something, and Dickie nodded. He stood quickly, and so did Pete and Hank. They moved quickly to the steps, went down, and disappeared from view.

"I'm gonna poke that little shithead's eyes out with a stick," Donnie grated. His voice carried a note that alarmed me.

I shrugged out from under Greg's arm and went to him. "No, you're not. You're not getting into trouble. He's not worth it."

"Yeah, he is," Donnie insisted.

I moved closer to him. "No, he's not."

Donnie looked at me. I could see his anger, and his desire to get some payback. It wasn't just about what Dickie had just done, it was about everything. All the fears that Donnie had been suppressing, all the angers, suddenly there in one very glittery, very sharp moment. It's one thing just to hit someone, and another to contemplate the kind of mayhem I saw in Donnie's eyes.

Or, what I thought I saw. Donnie was a sweetheart, but even the nicest people have limits. I was not about to take chances.

I nodded, and lowered my voice. "You do something to him, they'll arrest you. They'll take you away." I leaned even closer. "They'll take you away from me."

I could actually see that sink in. Sink in, and make contact. He stared at me, and then he nodded, the fuse slowly going out. "Okay."

Mikey was still there, near me. "What are we gonna do about that?"

Now he was pointing at the Hornets, who were still laughing and pointing at our team.

Donnie's face grew grim again. "I vote we kill them instead."

Mikey grinned. "Okay. Sounds like a plan."

We broke up the group. Donnie and I patted the other guys on their backs, and thanked them. They mostly looked embarrassed, but they all grinned about it, too. The last thing that Donnie and I did was grab Greg and Junie, and form a little huddle.

"What's this about?" Greg asked.

"We love you guys," I said.

Greg looked quickly from Donnie to me. "And?"

"We just wanted you to know," Donnie said, grinning.

Greg looked surprised, but then nodded. "I do know."

I looked at Junie. "What about you?"

"I know it now," he said. "We love you back."

Donnie gave a theatrical sigh that would have made Mrs. Zimmerman proud. "Good. Then lets play some football."

The game resumed. As the lines formed up, some knucklehead on the Hornets side said, just loudly enough for us to hear. "This'll be easy. They're all a bunch of queers."

Man. Never say that to the guys with the ball, especially when those guys are pissed.

On the hut, our offensive line simply tore into the Hornets. They didn't just brush them aside, but they sure wore them out in a hurry. Donnie and I both were moving, and while I caught sight of a Hornet corner closing from my left, fucking Donnie wasn't even covered! The safeties had been alarmed by the number of our guys that pounded through the defensive line, and they moved in towards the action, and only one of the corners stayed on point with his job. The other had left coverage of Donnie to chase after Greg, who was whooping and making all sorts of crazy noises as he pelted downfield towards the goal with his hands clenched before him like he had the ball held close.

Donnie simply ran like the devil was chasing him, turned at just the right moment like he was telepathic, and picked Mikey's long pass clean out of the air and kept right on moving. It was simply beautiful to behold.

And suddenly, the game was ten-seven.

Momentum is an evil creature, and capricious as hell. When one side has it, it can mean a damn tough game for the other team. Clearly, the momentum had been with the Hornets during the first half; just as clearly, it had shifted to us now. Or rather, we had taken it.

Despite Dickie's intent to simply hurt Donnie and I to the core, what his actions had done was light a fire under our guys that simply wouldn't go out. If adrenalin was external, the smell of it would would have been just everywhere. We weren't just mean and angry now, we were righteous. We won the game, 28-10. It was simply a killing, there in the second half. The Hornets tried to get things back their way, but we were simply not going to let them win, and they couldn't break that will.

The crowd went nuts. Or, our crowd did. People know a cause when they see one, and as the last two quarters had progressed, they had seen one. No one was sure what had happened with the sign, and we learned later that a lot of people in the stands thought the Hornets had had something to do with messing with the sign, and that we were making them pay for it. It only added to the weird atmosphere of the rest of the game, and did nothing to hurt us, as people yelled their heads off in support of the Crimson.

Afterwards, we walked down the Hornets line and shook hands. They were quiet, not even mad. Tired, and a little bewildered over what had happened. They mostly gave us quick hand shakes, not even meeting our eyes.

But one guy grabbed my hand and gripped it, and when I looked at him more closely I recognized one of the grim faces from the Hornet's bench. One of the guys who had not been laughing and pointing.

He looked at my name on the front of my jersey and nodded. "Colbert, huh?"

I nodded. "That's me."

He leaned forward, and his eyes looked into mine. "Good luck."

There were other things in that guy's eyes, things I recognized now. What he said took on some meaning, and I nodded, somehow knowing exactly who I was talking to. "You, too."

He smiled, and I smiled back. And it felt damn good, too.

So, for a second year in a row, we were league champs.

Next year would be high school, and a whole different game. Donnie and I wouldn't even be able to play - not league football, anyway. Not until our Junior year.

I was kind of finding out that I didn't mind that, either. A little bit of rest would be nice. We could still play football, just without all the complications built in.

It would mean more time to spend with Donnie.

His mom threw us a little party. My folks were there, and Greg's, and Junie's, as well as a few odd brothers and sisters. A lot of pizza got eaten, and we all talked a lot, and had a lot of fun.

What was not discussed was what had happened at the game. I caught my mom and dad both watching me a few times during the evening, and Donnie's mom watching us, too. But when her eyes touched on mine, she only smiled, and I didn't feel anything like anger coming from her to me.

Donnie invited me to stay over, and I said yes. I asked my folks right there, and they both said it was okay.

I kind of got that my folks would be talking to me when I got home - when the weekend was over. But for now, they were letting me have my time.

Finally, the party ended, and people started to leave. My mom came over and gave me a big hug - way too big for just winning a football game - and told me she loved me. I was certain then that Dottie was right - it would be easier to tell my folks than I had imagined.

My dad came over and shook my hand, said he was just as proud of me as he could be - and then hugged me, too. Oh yeah. They knew.
Finally, Donnie's mom said goodnight, and then Donnie was closing the door of his room, and locking it.

We got undressed, and got into bed. I'd like to say that we made wild love, but it was actually a very gentle thing. Both of us felt kind of subdued, knowing what was coming with our folks.

After the sex, we just snuggled together under the comforter, and talked about telling our folks. The consensus was that it was time.

"It won't be bad," I told Donnie. "I just feel it won't."

He nodded. "Nope. You're right. I'm not worried." He smiled. "I want my mom to know, now."

Yes. I wanted my folks to know, too. Hiding is a tough way to live a life.

We lay there quietly, holding each other. I loved to feel Donnie against me, and I tried to imagine what it felt like to be him, feeling my skin against his.

Is touch the same for everyone? Is it as wonderful for his skin to feel me, as it is for my skin to feel him? It's a question for the world.

Both of them, actually, because there are two. There's the world we see and hear - the one outside of our heads. The one that knows about touch. It's a busy place, and populated with friends - and enemies - which comes down to people that like us, and people that don't. There are also the people that love us - far fewer in number - but by far the most important people of all. If you put all the people that love you and like you on a scale, and then place everybody else on the planet on the other side, somehow, magically, it all balances out.

And then there's the world that only we know, the one that exists inside. Exploring that one can be both the scariest and the most thrilling adventure of all.

But I've learned there is a way to make it easier. To make it better. The world inside us can seem deep with echoes, and even deeper with the darkness of difficult things. It's because we are there alone, and what is inside us is very large.

But like any space, it can be filled, and that is the key to exploring yourself.

Don't do it alone.

Just find someone special, someone that you love, and take them with you. You'll be amazed at how much better the journey becomes.

Trust me. It works.

Would I lie?


This story is part of the 2017 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Crimson". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 22 July to 13 August 2017 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

Please rate My Crimson Year with the impressions it left you with

Either while reading this story, or afterwards, I found it to be/had/made me (Tick all that apply)

An emotional read
Written with rhythm and pace
Thought provoking
Technically well written
Written with good use of grammar and syntax (this does not mean pedantic use)
Easy to read
It invited me in
I could not put it down
It felt like it was about me. I know it wasn't, but it felt like it
Not just prose, but almost a 'tone poem'
There could be spelling/grammar/punctuation improvements
Interpreted the picture well
Referred to the makeup the boys in the picture are wearing

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