by Geron Kees

© 2016 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.

You never know, when you meet someone new, how they might affect the rest of your life. These first meetings might be interesting, or they might seem inconsequential, or even unpleasant. Sometimes they stick, and a relationship - a friendship - develops; sometimes they don't, and the two of you just move on. The ones that stick are the ones that really matter. The people you meet that become friends. These are the relationships on which we build the rest of our lives.

Meeting Randy Patterson was that way for Roy Beecher.

Randy was the new kid in school, just moved to town. He had sandy hair, blue eyes, a quick and infectious smile, and a wit and humor that kept you smiling all day long. He'd appeared in homeroom with the spring testing period, and fallen right in with everything going on with the junior class crowd like he'd been going to Brent Cove School his entire life. He made a fair number of friends right off, Roy being among them; but by far it was the girls that were most wild about him.

Randy was from San Francisco, about ninety miles down the coast, and he was fit and nice looking, had nice hair and nice clothes, and wore a little gold ring in his left earlobe that had the girls fighting over who got to sit next to him at the lunch table. Randy, for his part, seemed more amused at all the ruckus than anything else, and seemed to actually prefer the company of Roy to that of the tittering girls.

Which was okay with Roy. Roy was pleasant-looking, though not particularly handsome, and had a kind of brownish-gold head of hair and blue eyes and a nice smile. The girls liked him, but no single one had tried very hard to get him, other than a brief surge of interest after he'd first arrived in town during the summer last year. That was okay with Roy, too.

Roy had a bit of a solitary streak in him, and it showed. He had friends, but none that were really close, and the girls also seemed to see that getting next to him was going to take a lot of work. The barrier that was there, while unseen, could be felt, and that stopped most of them from trying to deal with him as more than a school friend. It was for the best, really.

Roy had already come to the sad conclusion that he was likely gay - not sad because it was something he didn't want; sad because it was something that Brent Cove simply didn't recognize as being part of the human condition. There were no gay boys or girls in Brent Cove School - not out in the open, anyway. And the way things were, there probably wouldn't be any soon, either. Brent Cove was as backwards as a California town could manage to be - far more reminiscent of a bible-belt town of the southeast than it was a town of one of the most forward-thinking states of the Union.

Roy had moved with his folks to the little town a year before from L.A., where being gay was not such an issue. In the schools in that beleaguered city, being gay was not only accepted, it was the last thing anyone had time to worry about. The gang problem was so intense in most of the school districts that being gay was something people were relieved to find you were - as long as you weren't carrying, and ready to go to war about it.

Randy moved to Brent Cove with just his mom. He was vague about where his father was, and Roy was more than smart enough not to pursue the question once Randy seemed disinterested in talking about it. Randy's grandmother had owned the little cottage with the pink curtains at the edge of town - the last house you saw before you got into the long and winding stretch of road that led to Route 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway. The old woman had died, and her daughter - Randy's single mom - had inherited the place. She had chosen to come live in the house rather than sell it, and of course her son had come with her.

Things had started well enough. The town school was small, with only about three hundred students in total. Grades one through seven were on one side, and the older kids on the other. They didn't mix much, except sometimes out on the rec grounds, and even there they weren't supposed to. It was usually the little kids who went out of bounds - curious about what their older brothers or sisters might be doing at the other end of the building, or just curious about seeing how the big kids handled school. They were usually sent packing by one of the teachers on yard monitor, after being given a stern talking-to about rules. Brent Cove school was a little old-fashioned that way - small town, Roy thought of it. The high-school side of the building only had about ninety students. If that wasn't small town, Roy didn't know what was.

Roy really liked Randy. The boy had a cool air about him, brought along from the big city, and it was an air that Roy himself recognized, and understood that he had missed this last year living in the coastal sticks. Roy and Randy were city boys, even though they both had lived in the suburbs, and they seemed to understand each other in a way that neither quite could manage with the locals.

They sat together in the lunchroom each day, usually accompanied by a few other boys and girls. Roy shared five of the seven classes he had each day with Randy, and the two of them grew to expect each other's company fairly quickly.

It was at lunch one day that Randy learned that Roy was a bad-ass.

"Yeah," Bobby Kerly was saying to Randy, when Roy sat down with his tray. "Beecher's hands are registered weapons. You didn't know?"

Randy looked at Roy as he sat, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "What's this I hear about you being lethal?"

Roy sighed. He explained then that, when he was ten, he had enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do class back in L.A., and in the five years before he had moved from the city, had made his way up to a 1st Dan Black Belt. "That's pretty fast, according to my instructor - but it's not a record at my dojang, by a long shot. And my hands aren't registered. Bobby has been drinking too much caffeine today."

Everyone at the table laughed. "I dunno, Roy," Mickey Tolson said. "That routine you did at the Halloween Fest at the start of the school year was pretty awesome. Haven't seen Mitch Halder give you the evil eye since."

For the Halloween Fest, where most of the kids were playing guitar or piano or singing or doing comedy skits, Roy had donned his dobak and belt and performed a two-minute routine of offensive and defensive moves - almost a ballet of the art - to a packed auditorium of students and townsfolk. The result had been silence as the dance progressed, and a thunderous applause at the end, from an audience that had never once seen anything like it done live.

The other thing that had happened had been that Mitch Halder, the junior year's best known jerk, had stopped making comments to Roy at school and in town. Roy and Mitch had butted heads from the first day of school last year - Roy the new kid, Mitch the top-dog in his class. Mitch was taller and heavier than every other boy in the eleventh grade, and had the kind of battleship mentality that made him think that size was the end-all when it came to power.

Roy's performance had apparently showed Mitch that size only meant more in the way when it came to speed and pure force, and the bigger boy had stopped making himself known in Roy's presence other than the occasional civil comment delivered in a very friendly fashion.

Roy was not fooled. Once a jerk, always a jerk, most likely. So he pretended that they were on good terms, and the two of them pretty much left each other alone.

In fact, things were going along pretty well for Randy and Roy, and would probably have continued to do so, if it had not been for Laura Pellton. Laura was the closest thing to an easy-lay that a little town like Brent Cove could have in a teenage girl. She liked boys, and she always wanted the ones that the other girls wanted, too. A flirt and a boyfriend thief, she never had a boyfriend of her own for very long, and was always on the hunt. That she was a part of Mitch's crowd was the only thing - at least in Roy's mind - that had kept the other girls from beating her silly all these years.

She had set her sights on Randy. It had started cordially enough, with Laura appearing suddenly at their table in the lunchroom one day and asking if she could sit. Randy had smiled, and told her to knock herself out. That he was interested in seeing what her angle was was obvious; that Laura had no idea she was being indulged for mostly entertainment value, a little bit sad. But it was a fateful move, and one that Randy would come to regret.

Roy would never forget the day it had all gone south. He had been over the moment so many times in his head that it had eventually made him sick. Randy wasn't the only one with regrets for that day.

Randy had been nice about Laura chasing him - friendly and all - but hadn't shown the interest that Laura was looking for. They had played the game every day for several weeks, until Laura had grown tired of a pursuit that showed no gain, and had pounced on her prey with claws extended and teeth glittering. Laura had sat down with Randy at lunch, and had asked him to the Spring Dance the following Saturday. Roy had been sitting at the same table, with Mickey and Robby and Janie Holloway and Linda Lawton, and had seen and heard it all.

Randy had politely declined.

Laura didn't take it well. "Don't you like me?"

"Sure,"Randy had said, smiling. "You're nice."

Laura's eyes had sparkled at that. "Don't you think I'm pretty?"

"Yes. You're nice looking."

"So take me to the dance, Randy."

The boy had smiled, looked around at the others at the table - including Roy - and had shaken his head. "I can't. I'm sorry, you just don't interest me that way."

Laura had immediately pouted, not used to being refused anything. "What, are you gay or something?"

She hadn't meant it seriously - not in Brent Cove. You didn't seriously ask anyone that in Brent Cove.

Too bad Randy hadn't understood that. He'd looked around at the others at the table, smiling nervously. "Um - well, actually, I am."

Roy had frozen in the middle of biting into his sandwich. So had everyone else at the table.

Laura spent a moment showing off her tonsils before snapping her mouth closed again. "You're not serious?"

Randy could've bailed right then - but he just didn't know. "Um - yes, I am."

Laura had stood straight the hell up and yelled at the top of her lungs, "Hey everybody! Randy Patterson says he's gay!"

The whole lunchroom had gone silent. And that silence had become, literally, the hallmark of Randy's life. From that day forward he was either ignored or harassed. Ignored by most everyone, and harassed by the idiots and bullies like Mitch.

After Laura made her announcement, everyone at the table with Randy had simply gotten up and moved, leaving just Roy still sitting there, and him in shock. Here then, was Roy's own inner conflict, completely without warning thrust front-and-center squarely into his face. Roy liked Randy, and Roy wanted so much to stay his friend - but. It was too much, too fast, and Roy's brain - normally as nimble as a playful sea otter - simply locked up tight. Randy had looked at him, his eyes pleading - and Roy had then done the most cowardly and terrible thing he had ever done in his young life.

He had stood, picked up his tray, and walked off.

He'd found a seat at another table, and cast his eyes back at Randy. The other boy was still seated, alone now, just staring straight ahead, realizing at that moment that the world as he had known it had come to an end.

When the bell had rung signaling the return to classes, and Randy had stood, it was to a chorus of catcalls of queer!, faggot!, and cocksucker! Roy had scrunched down low in his own seat, feeling terrible for the other boy, but knowing he couldn't quite bring himself to do anything about it. Not if he wanted to go on living in that crummy little town.

He could have helped Randy - Roy knew that. All he needed to do was stay on as the boy's friend. That's all - a very simple thing, and what most people would expect of their friends - if they truly were friends.

But Roy had bailed, just like the others. Having found a peaceful school existence, having found a level of respect and acceptance, he had been unwilling to take the step he should have taken with Randy, by simply remaining friends and being supportive. To do that would have meant confronting himself then and there - accepting that he was gay, and that he was willing to risk it being known by others. So he had done less than nothing. He had fled.

And he had continued to flee, avoiding Randy in the halls, and in classes, until he could hardly stand the sight of the other boy - or his own face in the bathroom mirror.

But what goes around, comes around, and it had for Roy, too.

A few weeks later he was just sitting down at a table in the lunchroom when it happened. He was by himself - his moodiness and irritability had transferred itself to the usual crowd he ate with, and they had been politely avoiding him just like he had been more purposefully avoiding Randy. Payment that Roy thought only fair, since he had been the one to first abandon a friend.

He had just taken a bite of his sandwich and had looked up, but not at anything in particular, when his eyes moved to just the right spot to see the action unfold. Call it fate, call it Karma - call it being in just the right place at just the right time. The world moves mysteriously, when it demands our attention.

Two tables over, Mitch Halder took a small carton of milk, leaned back towards the table behind him, and poured the white liquid down inside the back of the shirt of Randy Patterson. Randy froze in the act of taking a bite from his sandwich, then jumped to his feet, his food skidding across the vacant table before him. The always vacant table, these days.

Randy spun, his face clouding with anger; but it simply drained away when he saw who was behind him. Randy was no fool. Mitch was bigger, Mitch was badder, and Mitch was cooler. Or, at least, he was cooler here, in this rat's nest of a town.

And, Mitch was not gay, so he had the support of everyone at his table. They all laughed.

"Oh, excuse me, Patterfag," Mitch said then, grinning ear-to-ear. "It was an accident."

"Sure it was," Randy said, turning back to gather up the remains of his lunch.

Mitch pushed back his chair and stood, towering above Randy by a full three inches. "You calling me a liar, queerbait?"

Randy continued to gather up his food, and then his books and folders, ignoring the other boy. A small round of tittering came from the boys and girls seated at Mitch's table. Feeling empowered, Mitch grinned and poked Randy in the back of his shoulder. "I'm talking to you, dicksucker."

Randy finally turned. "I'm not bothering you, Mitch. Why can't you leave me alone?" A logic that never seemed to work with idiots.

Mitch grimaced, leaned down so that his face got right into Randy's. "You bother me by living, fruity-tooty. I don't even want you sitting near me, understand?"

Randy's eyes looked a little moist, like he could cry if he wanted to; but there was too much strength in him - Roy could see it then. The boy just nodded. "I'll go away from you then." He finished gathering his stuff, and then slid past Mitch and was gone.

Mitch watched him go, grinning - and at that moment Roy hated the guy more than he could stand.

And now, after what he had just witnessed, he hated himself for doing what he had done. For leaving his friend in his moment of need. The look in Randy's eyes had been - well, it was the look that Roy felt he himself would have to wear if he one day found the whole world set against him.

But - maybe that was a look he should try on, just once in his life. He nibbled on his sandwich, watching Mitch and the others laughing over at their table, hating himself more and more for being just like Randy, but not doing a thing to help him. And finally, he couldn't take it anymore.

He stood, walked over to the other table, and leaned right down between Mitch and Rick Jackson, who were all grins at what had just transpired.

Mitch blinked and leaned backwards, surprised to suddenly find Roy so close to him. "Oh, hey, Beecher. What's up? We were just saying --"

"I know what you were saying," Roy cut in. "I saw the whole stupid thing."

The table went silent. Mitch's eyes narrowed in anger, the fact seeping in that Roy was not laughing like everyone else. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means you're a punk, Mitch. A stupid, brainless, punk."

Mitch pushed his chair back, but Roy slammed a hand down hard on the other boy's shoulder before he could get up. "You come out of that chair and you're gonna get hurt."

The tone of Roy's voice was unmistakable. Mitch blinked, suddenly remembering who he was dealing with. "What's your problem, man? We were just raggin' on the fag. It's not like he was your friend or anything."

That hurt. Roy nodded, really mad now. "Suppose I told you he was my friend? What about that, huh?"

It dawned on Mitch then that Roy was really mad, and that he was looking for a fight. Mitch had seen the martial arts demo just like the others - only an idiot would want to mess with that. Mitch licked his lips, suddenly subdued. "He wasn't your friend. You ignored him, just like the rest of us did."

Roy nodded then. "Yeah, I did do that. But I didn't do it for the same reasons that you did."

Everyone at the table looked at each other. And Roy was aware that the lunchroom was slowly going silent as more and more people at other tables realized that something was going on.

"What's that mean?" Rick asked, looking confused.

Roy glared at him. "You all ignored him because he was gay. Because he was born with an eye for guys instead of girls. Big fucking deal. Like it's your business what the guy likes anyway."

"How is that different from why you ignored him?" Laura asked, frowning, like Roy was close to being dangerously uncool or something.

Roy laughed. "I ignored him because I was weak. Because I cared what a bunch of...zeroes like you might think if I didn't walk away. And I've had trouble living with myself ever since." He nodded. "And now I'm tired of it, you get me?"

Roy leaned down and stuck his face right into Mitch's. "You even look cross-eyed at Randy again and you're going to have to deal with me." He straightened, and looked around the silent lunch room. "You all hear that?" he asked, raising his voice. "Any of you stupid hicks so much as smile the wrong way at Randy Patterson, and I'll be right there with him to face you down. Got me?"

It was Laura Pellton who asked the obvious question. "You sound like you like him, Roy. Are you a faggot, too?"

Roy clamped his jaw shut, he was so mad. He leaned down and nearly pressed his nose to Laura's. "And to think this all happened to Randy because the school slut didn't get her way. I'm sure one of these other pinheads will fuck you, Laura. They all like looks over brains, anyway."

Even Laura could see the face of danger when it was so close. She dropped her eyes and examined the tabletop.

Roy looked back at Mitch. "I'm gay, Mitch. Want to do anything about it?" He straightened, looked around the lunchroom. "I'm gay, I just said. Anyone want to come here and give me a hard time about it?"

No one moved, and Roy just nodded his head. "That's what I thought." He looked at Mitch. "Don't have any heart for it when they guy you don't like can fight back."

He let his eyes circle the room, and land on the eyes of a few people he liked. Mickey. Bobby. Others. "What you guys did to Randy was wrong." He almost choked up then. "What I did to him was wrong. He's a person, just like the rest of us."

"He's not like me," Mitch said then. "I ain't no fag."

Roy slammed his hand down on the tabletop so hard that Mitch's Coke jumped up into the air. "Are you calling me a fag, Mitch?" he roared.

Mitch actually swallowed hard. He had never seen this kind of anger before. It was hard, it was uncompromising, and it was powerful.

And, he was finally seeing, it was dangerous.

"I didn't say anything about you," he said, more softly. "I was talking about Patterson."

"He's gay, and you called him a fag. I just told you I'm gay, so does that make me a fag, too?" He leaned down quickly and nearly shouted, "Does it?"

Mitch quickly shook his head. "No. Not you. I didn't mean you, Roy."

Roy shook his head. "Then why is it different for Randy?" he whispered.

Roy realized then that one of the teachers was watching from the double doors leading into the hallway. He ignored him, because if he didn't, he would need to acknowledge his authority, and that might stop him from saying what he wanted to say - and he wasn't quite ready for that.

He smiled then. "You scared, Mitch?'

Mitch made a face, and Roy could see that the other boy was scared, but loathe to admit it in front of everyone.

"I asked you a question," Roy repeated softly.

There was a barely-restrained quality to Roy's voice that Mitch could not fail to hear. He looked up at Roy, swallowed again, and then nodded. "Yeah."

Roy nodded, whipped his head around to Rick Jackson, who sat back so fast his chair scraped the floor. "How about you? You scared?"

Rick looked at Mitch, and then gave a small nod.

Roy looked around the room. "How about the rest of you? Does it scare you to know I could kick your asses just because I felt like it? For no good reason at all?"

He started walking in a circle around Mitch's table, his eyes moving among the other tables, touching eyes - some of which dropped or looked immediately away, others whose gazes stuck - and looked embarrassed instead of afraid.

"That I could kick your asses just because I don't like the way you look or the way you think?" he continued, coming back around to Mitch. "Does it scare you to think that I could kick your asses at all, and that you couldn't stop me if you tried?"

He stopped, looked down at Mitch. "That's what you've done to Randy," he said softly. "Filled him with fear." He looked around the room. "All of you. You've made Randy afraid. And why? Because he's different. Because he can't be like you." He shook his head, gave a small, sad laugh. "Who wants to be like you?" He let the question hang a moment, then nodded again. "Hell of a reason to put fear into someone's life, isn't it?"

"Mr. Beecher."

Roy had to look over at the hallway door then. It was Mr. Perry, the Earth Science teacher, who had spoken. He probably had the hall monitor spot during lunch.

Mr. Perry nodded. "Come on with me, Roy. Let's talk about this."

Roy laughed. Hell, if this had been his school back in L.A., by now two big school security guards would have jumped him and cuffed him to the nearest table. But here, the Earth Science teacher asked him nicely to come along. Small town all the way.

Roy nodded. "Be right there." He looked around the room a last time. "You remember what I just said." And then he looked at Mitch, and leaned closer, and whispered," And especially you, Mitch, because I'd already really, really like to mess you up - understand?"

Mitch nodded.

Roy looked around the lunchroom a last time, at the faces of all the people he'd come to know in the last year. Their expressions said it all. He was toast now. Nobody would lay a hand on him, or say a word to his face. But he could count his friends now with no fingers at all.

That being the case, there was no reason to linger. So he walked to the hallway door and went with Mr. Perry, and entered a new stage of his life that, years later, he would be able to at least look back upon, and smile.

It was two days before Randy showed up at Roy's front door. It was a Saturday, and Roy was tired and still hyper over what had happened on Wednesday. When his mom called him and said someone was there to see him, he actually couldn't imagine who it might be.

Who would dare to come to his house now? In broad daylight, no less?

But it was Randy. The other boy looked at him and smiled as Roy stood in the doorway. "Can I talk to you, Roy?"

Roy had mixed feelings about it. In a way, he felt that his current misery was a little bit Randy's fault. If the guy had just kept his damn mouth shut --

But, no. Randy hadn't done anything wrong. And Roy had made his own decision to go the way he had gone. There was no going back.


He called back over his shoulder to his mom that he was going out, and then stepped out onto the little porch at the top of the weathered stairs leading to the beach below. Randy smiled, looking very nervous, and the two of them descended the staircase in silence and walked around the house to look at the ocean.

"Nice place," Randy said, looking back over his shoulder. "Must be nice to live right on the beach like this."

Roy looked back at the house himself. It was a white, six-room - well, a cottage, really - set up on concrete pylons to be well above the high-water mark, with a nice deck on the back facing the ocean and well-endowed on all sides with large screened widows that let in the usually cool ocean breezes. The front had a skirt that ran all the way down to the sand and hid the pylons from view from the road, but the sides and back were open.

The Pacific - at least along the American coast - is a cold ocean, with the Alaskan current running straight down from the north and providing for a chill swimming experience even on the hottest of days. But Roy loved to swim, and use his paddleboard - loved the rolling waves and the constant sound of the surf, a little wild, a little free - just as he viewed himself.

"We like it," Roy said, smiling. That he was not living in the town proper had always been a source of pleasure for him - it appealed to the solitary streak in his nature. But now, after what had happened, it was just a pure blessing.

They went across the sand and stood just above the wet band where the waves lapped with each cycle of the ocean. Like Roy, Randy was barefoot - shoes were a hassle in a place where the water was so near and called so clearly for company.

Roy was also shirtless, and Randy's eyes went immediately to his tat. It was on the inside of Roy's left forearm, a remembrance from his graduation to blue belt.

"I noticed that once before, just peeking out of your shirt sleeve," Randy said, able to see it all now. "Mind if I ask what it is?"

Roy held up his arm. "Lunar spiral. The phases of the moon. It represents the many faces of the sky. No relation to Tae Kwon Do; I just liked it and had it done when I got my blue belt, which represents the sky." He laughed. "My parents were pissed."

"How'd you get that done if your parents didn't know?"

Roy shrugged. "One of the guys at the dojang had an older brother that did skin art at a place a couple of blocks over. We just walked it one day after class. The guy made me promise not to tell my folks where I got it." Roy looked at the tattoo, which was actually not terribly impressive. "It was dumb. But, hey - I was a kid then."

Randy grinned, but it soon faded.

"I heard what happened the other day," he said, looking away into the distant blue of the horizon. "That you stuck up for me. I wanted to thank you for it."

Roy wasn't totally surprised. A small town like this, news traveled fast. Still, with no one talking to Randy --

"Who told you?"

Randy looked at him then, and smiled. "Believe it or not, I still have a friend."

Roy couldn't help a look of surprise. "Really? In this crap town? Who's got balls enough for that?"

Randy laughed. "It's not a guy, it's a girl." He frowned for a second. "Keep a secret?"

"Yeah. No problem with that." They both laughed.

"It's Amy Landrow," Randy revealed then.

Roy had to think who that was. And then, a picture finally came to mind, of a girl with dark hair and a lightly overlarge nose, who wore glasses and had braces on her teeth, who was kind of a background element in most of Roy's classes. A fairly plain girl - not popular by local standards - but nice enough, Roy was sure. Sure now, especially.

She minded her own business, which was a plus around this place. But she also had compassion, and had shared it with Randy.

"Oh, sure, I know who that is." Roy smiled. "Quiet girl."

Randy laughed. "That's her. Well, she lives next to me. She keeps me informed."

Roy nodded. "Okay. So you know what happened. What about it?"

Randy looked at him, his eyes narrowed in the bright sunlight. "Is it true? Are you know, gay?"

Roy had to groan a little at that. "Think I'd have said so if it wasn't true? Maybe I should have just shot myself in the head, instead."

Randy grunted. "It's not that bad, Roy. In my school in San Francisco, I was out. I had a boyfriend, and I had gay and lesbian friends. I never once considered the fact that the way I lived there might not be the way I could live everywhere."

Roy gave out a nasty laugh. "Welcome to Brent Cove. Long way from San Francisco, and I don't mean in miles."

"Yeah. I know that now." Randy nodded again, once more looking out to sea. They stood quietly a moment together while interested gulls circled overhead.

"Ever have a boyfriend?" Randy asked then, out of the blue.

Despite that, Roy was not taken aback. "Not really. Messed around with a friend back in L.A. before I moved here." He looked over at Randy, feeling a small kernel of embarrassment within himself, but feeling it suppressed by the openness of who he was talking to. "Mostly jerked each other off. You know."

Randy grinned. "Mostly?"

Roy sighed. "Okay. We sucked each other off a few times, just before I moved. It was..well, it was weird."

"Yeah? How so?"

Roy shrugged. "Well...I still wasn't sure about myself. I didn't really want to know what I was, maybe. I knew about gay, but I didn't really see what Eric and I were doing as gay. It was just fooling around... you know, just playing."

Randy nodded. "And now it's not."

"No. And now it's not." Roy looked down at the sand, noticed a trail across it that looked like sea lion. "I met Eric at the dojang - where I went for my classes. He was a yellow, I was a white. Belt, I mean. He started before me." Roy grinned. "But I caught up to him pretty quickly." He looked away for a moment. "We got to be friends, but it was a few years before it got to be more."

Randy smiled. "You liked him, huh?"

Roy sighed. "Yeah. He was cool, and he was - well, he was cute. Nice looking. The friends thing grew on both of us, and we got close. We were both twelve or thirteen then. I was just starting to see guys as being something I wanted to look at - I just didn't really know what it was all about then. Pretty stupid, huh?"

"No. I was the same. I got a crush on a guy at school, and was following him around and thinking about him all the time, and still didn't understand for awhile that I wanted to sleep with him. I was just about thirteen then, myself."

Roy found a small, polished stone in the sand with his eyes, bent down and retrieved it, winged it mightily into the sea. "Did you? Ever sleep with him?"

"No. He wasn't gay. He kind of thought I was a pest, but even straight guys can get into being worshipped. I don't think he knew I wanted him, but he did know I was kind of crazy about him, and he didn't try to push me away."

"So what happened?"

Randy shrugged. "It just kind of wore off. One day I noticed someone else that appealed to me, and I was off after him. I still didn't really understand what was going on. Not until I met Chase." Randy smiled then. "My boyfriend."

Roy was intrigued. "He was gay, I take it."

"Yep. I was fifteen then - last year. Chase showed up in my homeroom one day - a new kid. My eyes found him and I couldn't stop looking. He saw me looking, too." Randy smiled at the memory. "Walked up to me in the lunchroom and asked if he could sit at our table. I said yes, of course."

Roy laughed. "Of course." But then the smile slipped away. "You're here now. You moved away from him?"

Randy shook his head. "No. He moved away from me. Only a month or so before my grandma died." He sighed. "Hardest thing that I ever had to do, Roy. One day he was there, the next he was gone. It was like someone took a part right off my body." He closed his eyes. "I cried."

Roy bit at his lip. "Sorry."

"Yeah, me, too. But when my grandma died and mom got that house, I was glad to be moving away from there. Every day I walked around in the halls of that school, I remembered Chase. I thought moving here would be better." He scoffed. "Shows you what I know."

Roy nodded. "Yeah."

Randy looked over at him. "I heard they gave you two days off from school to cool down."

"Uh huh. The rest of the week, Mr. Perry said. It was his call, because he was the lunch monitor that day. He's not too bad - could have been Mr. Tetcher, the gym teacher. He'd probably have wanted to kick my ass." He grinned. "If I had gone off like that back in L.A., I'd probably be in therapy right now with an arrest record."

Randy licked his lips. "What'd you tell your parents?"

Roy looked over at him. "The truth. What else could I do? The whole town must know by now. I wanted them to hear it from me first." He laughed. "They must have kind of known already, because I was a little surprised to find out that they weren't. Surprised, I mean." He shrugged. "Show's you what I know about stuff, too."

"They weren't mad?"

Roy nodded. "Yeah, they were mad. But not at me - at the school, and at the town. My dad called a friend of his who's a lawyer, and they talked for a whole hour. I don't know what they said, but my dad was smiling later."

Randy grunted. "I told my mom I was being picked on, but not until yesterday. She already knew I was gay. She was mad as hell, too, and I had to talk her down so she wouldn't call the principal and scream at her."

"Stupid town," Roy grumbled. "Stupid people."

Randy extended a hand and laid it gently on Roy's forearm. "They can't help the way they are any more than we can help the way we are."

Roy shook his head. "Oh, no you don't. I was born gay, but these people weren't born stupid. They learned that. They must have stupid parents, to be the way they are."

Randy laughed. "I just meant that they're kids, Roy. We're all kids. You know it takes awhile for us to see some things. Say it isn't true."

Roy opened his mouth, then shut it again. "Yeah. Maybe."

"Anyway," Randy said, sliding his hand down Roy's arm and squeezing his wrist, "you and I were starting off to be good friends. I was wondering if we could go on with that now - being friends. I mean, now that everyone expects it."

Roy looked down at where Randy's fingers encircled his wrist. The touch was warm - pleasant. He looked up into Randy's eyes, which were hopeful. Roy remembered the look in those same eyes, the look Randy had worn in the school lunchroom the day he had outed himself.

The day that Roy had walked away from him.

Roy closed his own eyes, again feeling the pain of that moment. "I'm so sorry, Randy. For leaving you alone that day. I really, really am."

He felt Randy nod. "It's okay. I've thought about it more than once, Roy. I'm not sure I can say I would have done differently. But it's done now. I don't hold it against you."

Roy opened his eyes, saw the smile that Randy wore - saw it also in his eyes.

"Yes," he said then. "Believe it or not, you still have two friends in this crummy town."

Randy nodded, looking pleased. "Shake on it?" He withdrew his hand from Roy's arm, extended it.

Roy took the hand, squeezed it warmly, and shook with a certain joy that just rose out of some deep part of himself.

This touch, too, was warm - and pleasant.

So they became friends. They shared five of their seven classes, and they walked together from one room to the next, and sat together in each class. No matter which room it was, the same two seats next to each other were never taken. Same with the lunchroom. The Monday that Roy went back to school, when lunch came around, he just took his tray and went and sat at a vacant table by the door, one he remembered that was seldom used by anyone. Randy came and sat with him, but no one else did. No one else seemed to even notice them.

Roy was familiar with the word that described this condition, from what he had read online about guys being gay in the past. They were pariahs.

In the halls, on the grounds, people just ignored them, like they weren't there. The only time either boy noticed much of a reaction at all was when they went in to use one of the restrooms. If there were other boys at the urinals, they zipped up and cleared out fast. Roy couldn't decide if it was because he was gay or they were just afraid of him personally. Randy told him it was a little of both.

The school staff was also acting odd. Teachers treated both boys respectfully, but seldom said a word to either one unless it was in the process of education. Even then it seemed to be as little as possible. Roy eventually learned that his dad's lawyer friend had had a discussion with the school principal, who in turn had had a discussion with the staff. Hell, there were only ten teachers in the whole high school end of the building. Everyone had apparently decided that, since things were quiet right now, that the less said about anything, the better. It was a very, very odd way of dealing with things, also unlike the brute force approach Roy was used to from the school in L.A.

Only Mr. Perry, their Earth Science teacher, seemed even mildly friendly. He always acknowledged them wherever he saw them, and spoke to them in class just like the other students. He became Roy's favorite teacher simply by default - all the other ones treated him like he was hardly there at all.

But the fact of being invisible was a little bit eerie.

"You really must have scared these people," Randy told him one day, as they walked home from school. Summer break was coming. Graduation for the senior class - all twelve of them - was fast approaching, an event traditionally held on the beach, with a dance and a massive cookout after. Much of the town would be there.

"I guess,"Roy said, feeling subdued. If his instructor back at the dojang knew of how Roy had used his power, he would have been disappointed. Fear was not part of the philosophy. "I just was so mad," he continued. "I went off. Pretty stupid of me."

Randy smiled. "I'm glad it happened. I wouldn't be with you now if it hadn't."

Roy looked over at him, and grinned. That Randy had been making interested noises for a little while now he was aware of. But Roy was scared - scared of entering into something he didn't know how to handle properly.

Randy seemed to read his mind. He stopped, and reached out and stopped Roy, too. "You scared, Roy? Of me, I mean?"

Roy licked his lips. He liked Randy - liked him a lot. He just didn't know how - didn't know how to let him know that.

"No. Not scared of you." Oh...Fuck it. "Scared of us, maybe."

Randy nodded. "That's okay. I'm the same. I just wanted...I need to say --" Randy stopped, looking embarrassed. He took a breath, grinned again. "Think we might ever get something going between us?"

Roy laughed, feeling a sense of relief to see those words out in the sun and air.

He leaned a little closer, smiling. "Is that what you want?"

Randy nodded. "Yeah."

Roy felt a little thrill. "Yeah. Me, too. I just didn't know how to ask."

Randy looked happy. They were on the beach path to Roy's house, and no one was around. He reached down and took Roy by the hand, brought the hand up and wrapped it in his two. Then he smiled into Roy's eyes, and it was a smile that went so deep that Roy couldn't help giving it back.

"It's not hard. You do it like this," Randy said. He cleared his throat, put a serious expression on his face that made Roy's smile widen.

"Ahem", Randy actually said. "Roy, I like you. I like you a lot. Think you and me might be boyfriends?"

Roy tilted his head back and grinned into the deep blue of the sky, wishing he could share this moment with the entire world. When he dropped his head forward again, he felt a joy like he'd never felt before.

"You're crazy," he said, laughing.

"That's the wrong answer," Randy said, still in mock seriousness. "Do I need to repeat the question?"

Roy looked into his friend's eyes, and shook his head. "No. I understood it. And - yes."

A sweet look of joy came into Randy's eyes, too. "Yes - what?"

"Yes," Roy said, more quietly. "I want to be your boyfriend."

It was, in a way, a little like getting married. They'd made their vows, and then they needed to consummate the joining.

That was easy enough. Roy invited Randy to spend the night. Roy's parents were a little startled when he told them, but they seemed more pleased that someone wanted to be Roy's friend than worried over what that friendship might entail. Roy didn't want to be in the house with his parents while he was with Randy - it just seemed a little creepy, and too much up in his parent's faces with it.

So they decided to sleep outside, on a sleeping bag in the sand - the very comfortable sand. Roy had a nice, big, double-sized air cushion, and two sleeping bags that could be opened and used together as mattress cover and blanket. Even on the cusp of summer as they were, in the dead of night the beach could get pretty cool, and you didn't want to be out there with no way to cover up.

Roy had a feeling he would be warm no matter what - that the closeness of a certain someone would keep the chill away no matter what else happened. How could he not smile at that idea?

They planned it for a Saturday evening, so that they could stay up as late as they wanted and not worry about the next morning. They spent the whole day together, mostly in the water, where Roy patiently instructed Randy in the use of the paddleboard; and then they walked down the beach to a spot where sea lions gathered, laying about on the sand like a family of tourists from Minnesota in their first encounter with an ocean.

Roy was delighted that Randy was delighted; the other boy had seen sea lions before, but only from a distance. This was up close and personal; they walked up to the very edge of the little crowd of animals as they sunned themselves happily, and were greeted with a few curious barks as it was noted by the critters that these two new sea lions were somehow different.

"They're kind of used to me," Roy said then. "The first time I came up here, they scattered like a crowd at a rally when the cops show up with the pepper spray. But they've gotten to know me a little, I guess. I still don't get too close - they're wild, after all. But we've gotten to be a little friendly, and now they just look at me and go on enjoying themselves."

"They're amazing," Randy said softly, obviously enthralled. "They're a lot bigger up close."

"And this is as close as we want to get," Roy said. "This is their spot. We don't want to mess it up for them."

Randy smiled at him, his eyes glowing. "No. We don't."

After, they went back to the house and inflated the air cushion, walked it beneath the deck and placed it just under the edge of the house so it would be out of the sun and shielded in case one of the little rains squalls that were common in these parts came along in the night and decided to water the sand. They opened up one of the sleeping bags and spread it out on the cushion, and then opened the other and spread it on top. Then they stood there in silence, looking at what they had done.

"As close to a bed as you can get on the beach," Randy finally said. He was obviously thinking about what might happen here later on.

Roy was a little scared himself, but anticipating the coming evening with a feeling of pleasure. Randy had become such a presence in his days - and now that presence was about to be extended to his nights. He reached out, took Randy's hand and squeezed it. "I'm looking forward to being with you."

Randy looked around a moment - they were alone. The next house was a ways down the beach, and he thought he could see people on the back deck, but wasn't even sure. Roy's dad was out somewhere; Roy's mom was home, but they hadn't seen a sign of her all day.

So far, they had barely touched each other - mostly hand clasps and the occasional hug. It wasn't fear so much as speed - the suddenness of their coming together had yet to wear down into a more casual relationship. They hadn't even kissed properly yet.

Randy decided that needed changing. He sighed, drew nearer, and put his arms around Roy. Roy let him, pulling the other boy close, and closed his eyes as Randy's face touched against his own.

At first it was gentle - they just placed their lips together, pressed once, gave a little smack to make it official.

Roy drew back, felt joy at the smile on Randy's face - but then noticed Randy's look of expectation. "Oh, we weren't done? I'm sorry."

He pressed his face back to Randy's, felt the other boy's eagerness; and this time they touched tongues and let them explore a little. Roy felt Randy's arms tightening around him, and also drew the other boy closer. That there was desire here was plain. But also that there was something else - a need to touch, to be close - to be together. To acknowledge that they were of the same mind, and now to share the unique sparks that were their lives.

It's always been easier to call someone a friend than an enemy. Both relationships have to be made; but the making of a friend usually comes with a certain sense of grace that is diametrically opposed to the turmoil that goes with the making of an enemy. Making a friend is a joy, a fun surprise, a pleasing result of a chance encounter. Making an enemy is none of the above.

Yet both can be traumatic in the making, and when there is trauma in the making of a friendship, the result is usually a strong one.

Roy could feel it now. The trauma - and the strength. He hugged Randy to him, gently at first, and then just a little more forcefully. Randy responded in kind, the touch of his encircling arms gentle but firm in their insistence.

You're not getting away now, they seemed to be saying.

Fine by me, Roy thought, because he had no intention of going.

They kissed a while longer, then simply stood together and hugged, enjoying the warmth of their bare chests together, and the firm presence of each other within the circle of their arms.

Roy also felt Randy's dick, pressing hard against him, solid and insistent through the material of the other boy's shorts. Roy was certain that Randy could feel his own dick, pressing back just as firmly. This was not new for either of them - they had been there before.

Just not with each other. There would be the newness, the suspense. And the joy.

They gently rubbed themselves against one another. Roy wanted to know more about what he could feel, certainly. But he also wanted to wait until later. Later that night, that is.

"Tonight is going to be special," he said softly.

Randy nodded, holding on tight. "I'll wait."

They swam some more in the cool waters, and walked down and watched the sea lions getting comfortable for the night. The animals paid them even less attention the second time, content to be watched, as long as that was all there was to it.

The surf was continuous - a gentle sound that filled the background of the evening. For dinner they went up to the house and ordered a pizza, with Roy's parents smiling and saying hello, but then retreating to the back room to watch TV. Roy understood that they were giving them space, and Randy seemed to think it was pretty cool of them.

The pizza came, was enjoyed, and then forgotten.

The sun settled towards the western waters while the sky there turned orange and deep violet, and Roy took Randy back to the beach and they sat and looked at the sky.

"We don't get a view this good from town," Randy said, sighing. "I am so in love with this place."

"Sure it's just the place?" Roy returned, mostly kidding.

Randy sighed. "No. Might have something to do with the people here, too."

Roy put an arm around Randy's shoulders and laid back into the still sun-warmed sand, letting the other boy's head lie on his shoulder.

"Ever see a real, for sure beach sunset?"

"Why - is it different from the one we get in town?"

Roy nodded. "Oh, yeah. I don't know exactly why, but it is."

Randy grinned, turning his head to look at Roy. "Then I haven't seen one."

"Think you're about to. Look straight up."

Randy turned his head to look at him.. "The sun's going to set over there." He pointed to the western horizon.

"Yeah. But that's not the part we want to see."

Roy gently rubbed the side of his face against Randy's hair as they both stared upwards into the depths of the sky.

Although the sun was going down into a misty horizon of orange and blue, the sky directly above was deep and dark, a great bowl of navy blue, edging ever more to black even as they watched. The sun dropped lower, disappeared into the clouds, and Roy felt that crystalline moment approaching, when the whole world held its breath.

"Keep looking straight up," he said softly.

A noticeable darkening took place as the sun fell below the horizon. Far, far above them, a curious wash of darkness appeared from the east, as though some giant on the other side of heaven had spilled a bottle of ink across the backside of the sky. The dark wave washed slowly westward, the first dim dots of stars appearing in its wake.

Randy took a breath, mesmerized, and Roy squeezed him closer.

The black wave finally crossed the sky and made for the horizon. Another, almost imperceptible darkening - of the very air around them, it seemed - occurred, and the dots of stars overhead began to multiply - first singly, then in small groups - and then, the world stopped holding its breath, and in a sudden rush the sky filled with stars from one side to another.

"Aw - that is so awesome," Randy breathed. "I've never seen that before. Why is it so different here?"

"It's not, really," Roy said. "It's something about the spot where you are located turning into the earth's shadow as the planet spins away into night. It happens very quickly, and it's just tough to see anyplace you don't have a full sky right down to the horizon. In town there's trees and houses and stuff that narrow your view to mostly overhead, and your eyes need that whole stretch of sky to see the sudden change."

Randy nodded. "It was beautiful, Roy." He turned his head and offered a small kiss. "Thanks for sharing that with me."

Roy felt pleased. He returned the kiss, feeling more and more like Randy was supposed to be close to him, touching him. Yes - this was going to be a good night.

"I'm starting to feel like you belong here," Roy said, putting into voice his thoughts.

Randy came up on one elbow and smiled down at him. It was much darker now, with a few lights along the beach standing sentinel duty further down, and the lights from the house above casting soft shadows in the sand nearby them. But they were in a patch of near-darkness, with only the ghost of the sun still somehow illuminating a small ribbon of sky along the wave tops on the far horizon, and the faraway stars overhead, gathered in their thousands, staying the onset of complete darkness.

Randy's eyes held a shine as they looked down at him. "I do belong here, Roy. I belong with you. I felt that even before that day in the lunchroom."

Roy was intrigued. "You mean before you came out?"

"Yes. I liked you the day we met. I liked your quiet, and the feeling of strength I got from you." He shrugged. "I just liked you."

"Did you feel I was gay?"

"No. But I did feel you were open, somehow. I guess maybe it was the city I was feeling. You weren't like the locals at all."

Roy smiled at that. "I felt that about you, too. You felt like old home to me." He sighed. "That's why I can't believe I did what I did."

Now Randy sighed. "Don't bring it up again. It's gone - done. It doesn't matter. You're here now. That does matter."

He leaned down, kissed Roy; and then he was sliding atop him, and they were pressing their bodies together, and kissing with all their might. Roy's hands roved across the smooth, warm skin of Randy's back, rubbing the sand off, his fingertips almost pulsing with the sense of contact.

It was as beautiful an evening as they could have possibly hoped for. Warm and open, with all the space in the world at their command. They rolled in the sand, laughing as they kissed, until Roy wound up on top. He rubbed himself against the other boy, feeling a new urgency in his desire.

"Time for bed, I think."

Randy grinned. "I'm not sleepy."

Roy grinned back. "I didn't say anything about sleeping."

They stood, and rubbed the sand from each other's bodies, then went and sat on the cushion and rubbed the sand from their bare feet. They moved together and kissed again, and Roy felt Randy's hand slide down to gently caress what was pressing so firmly against the inside of Roy's shorts.

He nodded, let his own hand slide down Randy's front, to gently rub what he discovered there. The first touch was a pure thrill, a familiar yet also strange retake on another experience from an eternity ago. He knew right away that he wanted it, wanted what hid behind the cloth, what strove so urgently to meet his fingers head on.

He pushed Randy onto his back, undid the fastener of his shorts, and unzipped the fly. Randy smiled, wanting this, too, letting his hands touch Roy's as they worked. Roy got everything undone, and then carefully pulled the other boy's clothing down and off.

There was enough light to see, and Roy took a breath, enchanted all over again with this new/old experience. Somehow this was different than what he had done with Eric, only a short year ago. This was more - this was deeper. This had meaning. Randy looked up at him a moment before sitting up, and running a hand gently up Roy's thigh. Randy pushed Roy back until he was down, and then undressed him, pulling his shorts down and off. He also seemed to look at Roy anew then, and then he smiled and crawled back atop Roy and settled himself. The feeling was unbelievable as their skin came together - the warmth, the softness, the firmness of muscle and bone beneath, the incredible intimacy of this sharing thing as the feeling spread into every corner of Roy's body and mind.

He placed his hands on Randy's back, let them slide down over his butt. "You're amazing," he breathed, not knowing what else to say.

Randy nodded. "You, too." He dropped his face and they kissed, lost for a few seconds in this new closeness.

Roy could feel the other boy's breath, warm and sweet against his face, with perhaps the smallest remnant of pizza in it. It made him smile, to realize he was so close and personal now.

People are all around us, every day of our lives. They pass, constantly, only a scant distance away; but it is enough space that we never feel them, never sense them as being warm and alive, just like we are. The times they do get close enough for that are more rare, more special, more in need of scrutiny and appreciation. To feel the touch of another person is why we are here on this earth - to share a life that otherwise holds far less meaning without that sharing. Without that touching.

Without that closeness, there can be no empathy, no sympathy, no caring. Without that sharing of touch, people become an abstract concept, approached with the mind and not with the body, which reduces the realization that we are all alike, all one thing, separately aware, but all together in the same very large boat.

We are all alive, and we need each other.

Roy felt dampness in his eyes. "Sorry."

Randy sniffed, nodded. "You're in good company. Maybe another kiss will help."

"I'm sure it will," Roy whispered, raising his head and pressing his lips back to Randy's.

They made love then. It was a far cry from just having sex, and both of them realized it. There was far more emotional need here than just a friendly exchange of hormones could induce. They were investing in each other, and doing it with force.

They lay on their sides, flipped about, and sucked each other's dicks, eyes closed, fingers touching and rubbing and pulling. Roy's head felt blank inside as he simply gave everything he had to the other boy, and felt the same coming in return - felt everything that was inside Randy coming back at him.

It was a little frightening, but absolutely wonderful, too. Much more wonderful than the fooling around that Roy had done in the past.

I'm gay, Roy thought then. And this is what it's about. He had said those words before - I'm gay - but they had never sunk in. They had never meant anything to him, never resounded inside his head.

And now, they did.

Gay. A realization came then: if Roy was straight, and laying here now with a girl, he would feel exactly the same way. Exactly. There would be the same closeness, the same magic, the same joy. The touch would be just as thrilling, just as warm, just as urgent.

Just as human.

It would be the same exact play, but with a different cast performing.

Why can't other people see this? he thought. We are just the same as they are. Roy had never much liked the taste of cum, but he let Randy shoot off in his mouth, and he savored it before swallowing it. Randy did the exact same thing. Roy knew from that moment that this would be the way it was now. There was nothing they could offer each other that would be refused.

After, they snuggled together and pulled the top sleeping bag up to their waists, and kissed, and held each other close.

"It's never been like this for me," Randy finally said. "This is like it's all new."

"Uh huh," Roy agreed. "Me, too. We're in the moment, I think."

Randy was quiet for a bit. Then: "How are we going to play this, Roy? I mean, when a guy and a girl are going together, you see them walking hand-in-hand, and trading kisses in the hallway at school. But what do we do?"

That made Roy think. "Um - I don't know. Somehow, I don't think throwing it everyone's faces will help us. Might just make things worse. This is the only school around here. We can't afford to get kicked out." He nodded to himself. "Respect has to go both ways."

"Yeah." Randy sighed. "In my school back in Frisco, Chase and I acted like anybody else. Kissed at our lockers, held each other's hands. No one acted funny about it."

"They were used to it," Roy observed. "And this is not Frisco. This is just down the road from Bumfuck, Egypt."

Randy laughed in the darkness. "Okay. I can keep my hands off of you at school. What about everywhere else?"

"Well, here, you can see how we can act. My parents are okay with it, obviously." He smiled, thinking how supportive his mom and dad were being. He would have never imagined it, just a while back. "And I guess if we're at your house, it'll be the same."

"Definitely okay at my house," Randy confirmed.

"Well, then there isn't much else. Let's just be cool about it at school and in town." He smiled, kissed the other boy gently. "Doesn't mean you can't look at me like you care."

"I do care, Roy."

Roy nodded, kissed the other boy again. "Me, too, Randy."

Randy sighed. "Too bad this all blew up. I kind of wanted to see what this graduation cookout thing was like."

Roy frowned. He had arrived in town too late the previous year for the bash, but had heard a lot about it from others. It had slipped his mind, what with everything else that had been happening lately.

Shoot. He'd been looking forward to it, too.

"Probably not a good idea to go," he decided. "The whole town will be there. Might be asking for trouble."

"I suppose."

Roy smiled, rubbed a comforting hand down the other boy's flank. "You can sleep over that night. We'll have our own bash."

He could feel Randy smile in the darkness. "Okay. If I'm with you, that's all that matters."

Roy felt a wash of emotion, pulled Randy a little closer against him. That the other boy had come into his life seemed right now. Roy realized how empty things had been for him, before this.

I was alone. And I didn't even understand that. He sighed. "Yeah. That is all that matters."

It was warm and sunny when they awoke. The night had grown chill just before dawn, and they had drawn the top sleeping bag up around them. Now the morning sun was already warming the sands, and it was too hot under the down-filled cover. Roy tossed it aside and pulled his legs out.

"We're naked," Randy whispered, like Roy didn't know it already.

Roy laughed. "Oh, is that what I'm feeling?"

Randy gave him a playful push, but seemed to relax. "Well, I sure won't worry about it if you won't. Let the mailman or someone else come along and find us sprawled naked under your house. If the town wasn't talking about us before, they will be now."

Roy grinned. "It's Sunday, remember? No mail. And no one else will be along. In case you didn't notice, the road ends at my house. That next house down is at the end of its road, too. People don't usually drive to the end of dead-end roads just to see what's there."

"What about your folks?"

Roy just shrugged. "That's why I think we should get up. My mom and dad will probably figure that coming outside might get them a surprise they'd just as soon not see - so let's get dressed and let them free."

They got up and put their shorts on, and then Roy went to Randy and put his arms around him. "I loved sleeping with you."

Randy smiled, gave him a quick but nervous kiss, then looked around. "I keep thinking someone's watching."

"Who cares?"

Randy nodded. "Okay. But - I loved sleeping with you, too."

"We'll do it a lot more, once summer vacation gets here."

"At my house, too," Randy said. "My mom won't mind."

For a moment neither of them said anything. Roy was thinking how lucky they were to have supportive parents. He'd read enough horror stories online about coming out to family that he'd been scared to tell his own what was going on - but it had turned out okay. Randy, too, was lucky to have a mom who loved him for who he was more than the idea that he had to be straight in order to be her son.

"I should run home and take a shower," Randy decided. "I feel a little sticky."

They had been sweating a little beneath the sleeping bag, and Roy felt the same way. "Well - you could shower here." Roy's bedroom had a tiny bath with shower.

For a moment Randy looked tempted. "I'd still need a change of clothing. And - my mom will want to know I'm okay. She's been worried about me lately."

Roy understood that. "Okay. Give me a call when you're presentable, and we'll plan our day." He put on a fake little pout. "That's if you want to spend the day with me."

Randy laughed, but came forward and hugged him. "Yes, I want to spend the day with you. And the summer, and next year, even."

Roy smiled and hugged the other boy. "Sounds good to me." He kissed Randy, made it long and very affectionate, and didn't care one bit if anyone saw. Randy apparently absorbed this unconcerned attitude and went with it, because he made no move to pull away.

But, they still had to breathe, damn it. So they finally parted.

Randy sighed. "Hard to walk away after that."

"There'll be a lot more," Roy promised. "This thing's just begun."

They walked up by the front staircase, looked around again, then gave each other a last quick kiss. "Call me," Roy said.

Randy nodded, and headed off. Roy stood and watched the other boy as he went up the beach path towards town. Just before he went out of sight he turned and looked back, saw Roy still there, and waved. Roy grinned, and waved back.

And then, Randy was out of sight. Roy felt a warm glow, and just stood there smiling. I got me a boyfriend. Wow.

He climbed the stairs, pushed inside through the unlocked front door. He could hear the TV on in the back room, and headed there first.

"So terrible," he heard his mom say.

His dad just grunted.

Roy went into the room, saw his parents seated together on the couch in front of the TV. On the screen was the bulletin Breaking News, and an announcer talking about something.

"What's going on?" Roy asked.

Both his parents looked up at him. His mom's eyes were wet, and his dad looked pretty upset, too.

Roy's mom extended her arms to him. "Oh, Roy. Come here."

Roy crossed to where his mom sat, allowed her to pull him down to sit between her and his dad. She immediately put her arms around him and hugged him.

"What's going on?" he repeated, trying to see the TV.

His dad put an arm around his shoulders and squeezed him, too. "Someone went into a gay nightclub last night and killed fifty people."

Roy was shocked. He heard gay nightclub and killed fifty people, as though the words were somehow magnified.

Killed...fifty...people. "Why?" he asked, looking at his dad.

His father's face crumpled a little, and Roy thought he saw moisture in the man's eyes. "Because they were gay, the police think."

Because they were gay? That's all?

His mom squeezed him, and Roy knew then exactly what she was thinking. That some nut could just walk up to her son - her baby - and take his life, just because he was gay. Only because he was gay.

Roy looked into his dad's eyes, and saw that he was thinking the same thing. He put an arm around each of them, let them be close. For the first time, he realized that his struggle was also their struggle. He wasn't gay by himself. He was gay with family. He'd never even thought of it that way - hadn't realized that he wasn't alone in his worries.

If they were still back in L.A., it wouldn't be so bad. Roy couldn't second guess reality, but he thought that if they were still living there, it might not be so hard on his folks. They would still be upset at the tragedy, but it was the recent events here, in this town, that had them focused on how people would react to their son. They were afraid, but they were afraid for him.

"It'll be okay," he said, trying to comfort them.

His dad nodded. "I'm not worried. You just be careful, okay? I thought we were past this kind of stuff in this country, but obviously I was wrong. Just stay alert, okay, son?"

His mom nodded. "Don't go off by yourself, Roy. I'm glad you have Randy to be with you now. The two of you will be safer together."

Roy nodded, but knew he was likely in no danger. Just because of one awful incident, it was not going to suddenly become open season on gays.

He looked back at the TV. Fifty people killed, just because they were gay. Unreal.

"I need a shower," he said softly. "I'll be okay, you guys. Don't worry."

His dad nodded and squeezed his shoulder, but his mom hugged him and kissed his cheek, and seemed reluctant to let him go.

"Mom," he said softly.

She nodded, released him, wiped at her eyes. Roy smiled, gave her a kiss, smiled at his dad, and got up. He headed back around to his room, went in, and closed the door.

His cell rang. Roy pulled it from his pocket and looked at the display. Randy.


"Roy," came the other boy's voice, sounding breathless. "I just got in and my mom had the TV on. Did you hear --"

"I saw it," Roy interjected.

"Isn't it awful?"

Roy sat on the edge of the bed. "Yes. It's terrible."

"My mom's upset. She wants me to stay here today."

"And what do you want?" Roy asked.

There was a slight pause. "I want to be with you."

"Then come back after you get cleaned up," Roy said. "Make your mom understand you'll be fine. I'm not going to run and hide because of this. I hope you won't, either."

"I'm not sacred. What can happen here? These people may be stupid, but they're not murderers."

Roy nodded. He didn't feel any danger here, either. But he somehow felt the need to be noticed now, too.

Hmm. An idea hit him, started to take form. He was quiet a moment, letting it expand inside his head.

"Still there?" Randy said, after a moment.

Roy nodded, then realized that the other boy couldn't see that. "Yeah. Randy? You still want to go to the graduation cookout on the beach?"

The phone was silent, and Roy could hear Randy breathing.

"I thought you didn't want to go," Randy finally said.

"I've changed my mind," Roy said, coming to a decision. "I'm going."

"Then I am, too."

Roy nodded. "We'll go together, okay?"

"Okay." Randy went silent, and again Roy could hear him breathing. Such a wonderful sound.

"I can't believe someone killed fifty people just because they were gay," Randy finally said, softly. "I don't get that kind of hate."

Roy felt the sadness himself, and remembered the way his parents had looked at him. "Yeah. It's messed up, that's for sure."

"You feel like we are wrong somehow? You know - evil?" Roy couldn't help laughing at that. "No. Do you?"

"No. I'm just me. I see things the way I see them. I don't hate being gay. But I'm scared of it sometimes."

Roy sighed. "That's why I want to go to the grad cookout. I don't want to be afraid to go anywhere, Randy. I shouldn't have to run my life based on what these people think, and I won't do it. We go to that crummy school, and we are just as entitled to go to the cookout as any other student. So I'm going."

"Me, too. We're in this together."

It was agreed - they were going. And, that they would discuss it in detail when Randy came back later.

They said their goodbyes, and Roy went to take his shower.

Randy came back after lunch. He was carrying some papers, and couldn't wait to get to Roy's room.

"I want to show you something."

They sat on the edge of the bed, and Randy laid one of the sheets on the bedspread. On it was a flag, waving in a breeze. The flag had six colored stripes on it: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet.

"What is it?" Roy asked, leaning closer.

"It's the flag of the LGBT community," Randy said. "The Rainbow flag." He looked up at Roy and smiled. "It's for gay pride. I found it online."

Roy smiled, reached out and squeezed Randy's arm. "That's cool. Do you want one, or something?"

Randy laid the other paper on the bedspread. It was an ad printed from online, for a t-shirt company. One of the items for sale was a white t-shirt with the rainbow colors on it. Roy bent closer, read the ad.

"Wow. Twenty-four bucks apiece. That's pretty steep for a t-shirt."

Randy nodded. "Yeah. But I thought we could wear them to the graduation cookout."

Roy laughed, feeling a little surprise at the daring of the idea. "Look at you! That's really a cool idea. I just wanted to show up and walk around and be noticed, see who had the nerve to say anything. But...I like the rainbow thing a lot better." He frowned. "I just don't know about all that money --"

A new thought came to him. "Most of the guys will be dressed for the water. That means a bathing suit or shorts, and no shirt or shoes. Gives me an idea."

He jumped up, went to a dresser and started rummaging through the bottom drawer. "I know I put them in here," he mumbled, moving through the junk of years. The bottom drawer was where he always stowed stuff he knew he wanted to keep but likely wouldn't need again anytime soon.

Ah. He pulled out a small case, closed the drawer.

"What have you got?" Randy asked, peering closer.

Roy held up the case. "Body paint. My grandmother gave it to me for my twelfth birthday. I guess she thought I could make myself up as a clown or something." He looked at the case. "I never even opened them. I hope they're still good."

He came back and sat on the bed next to Randy, and they opened the case.

"Looks like it has all the colors, too," Randy said, getting excited. They tried the caps, opened a few, found the paint inside still creamy and ready to go.

"So where?" Randy asked. He touched a hand to his head. "We could put them on our foreheads."

Roy smiled, lifting his shirt. "We'll be shirtless. I was thinking right on our chests."

Randy laughed, his eyes glittering. "Awesome. I'm in. We'll paint up with the gay colors, and then go to the grad party. See if we can't shake up some people, huh?"

Roy smiled. "Man. You're a monster, dude. I never would have figured."

Randy grabbed him and wrestled him to the mattress. Roy knew he was the stronger, but he let the other boy have his way. "Please don't hurt me," he said softly.

Randy laughed. "Never. I just wanted to kiss you some."

"Okay. You talked me into it."

They kissed for awhile, and then they laid together and made their plans.

Suddenly, things were looking up.

The tension in school seemed somehow to ebb somewhat after the shootings in Orlando. People still stayed away from them, but both Roy and Randy noticed people looking at them from time to time, although no one would meet their eyes; and twice Mickey Tolson approached them in town as they walked together, like he was going to talk to them, but shied away at the last moment. Linda Lawton smiled at them once as she passed in the school hallway, but didn't say anything. And some of the teachers seemed to warm to them, and to treat them a little more like they were just kids instead of some kind of local embarrassment.

Amy Landrow told them across the back fence separating her yard from Randy's one day that people were talking about the Florida incident, and that the unity with which so many people in the country - and the world - had expressed their horror and outrage had some of the locals rethinking their positions on some things. It was one thing to knock on someone, or dislike them, because they were different; and a wholly different thing to kill them in cold blood for it. Plus, Amy said, a lot of the kids she had talked to admitted that they really didn't care much one way or the other about the whole gay thing - it was just that so many of the other kids in school that kind of ran everything held such a vocal anti-gay opinion - or seemed to, in any event - and no one wanted to stand out against them.

And, well, most of the kids were afraid of Roy now. Or, of his anger, at least. No one had ever seen anything quite like that. That serious. So the process whereby Roy and Randy could be quietly reabsorbed into some circles couldn't even get a start.

"You scared a lot of people that day," Amy told Roy. "Plus, you weren't very fair. There were people in that lunchroom who were on your side. Even some of the people sitting at the table with Randy know now they made a mistake by leaving. I know Mickey wants to say he's sorry. And Linda said that she'd much rather hang with you two than that Mitch Halder and that crowd of idiots that hang with him."

"Then why doesn't she?" Roy asked, remembering Linda's smile in the hall the other day.

Amy looked at him, shook her head. "This is a small town, Roy. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone's business. It's hard to be different here. Being different here is like saying you're prepared to go it alone. People would rather fit in - at least on the surface - than to go it alone. It's difficult for these people to abandon the safety of being part of the group." She shrugged. "It will take time. But I think you'll find out you have more friends than you think."

Roy actually understood that. In the big city, you weren't noticed so much. There were countless groups you could hang with. If you didn't fit into one, you tried another one. Someone would always take you in eventually.

Here, it was basically all the same group. Sure, there were the subtle divisions, like jocks and brains. But the hard one was the divide between the cool people and the not so cool people. If you were in the cool group, you were among those that made the pathways others were expected to follow. And if you were not in the cool group, you damn well were expected to follow, or you were going to be made to pay for it. Being a follower meant losing your voice when it came to things that you disagreed with, because the penalty to speak out was to be put out. And no one wanted that.

The students also did not have the luxury of being complete strangers. They all lived within walking distance of each other, more or less, in one small town. They went to the same stores, the same movie theater, the same few doctors. They were one people in their lives; closer, more intimate, less forgiving of outside thinking. No one wanted to be excluded, no one wanted to be picked on, and there was nowhere else to go if you didn't fit in with the general crowd.

That was not to say that there was no diversity. People got away with their individual hobbies, or their games, or their recreations, no matter how outlandish, just so long as when it came to the norm of thinking they were in step with everyone else. That's how people survived in small towns. On the outside, they were townies like everyone else. On the inside - well, on the inside, they were who they really had been born to be.

Roy was willing to bet that there were other gay kids in this town. There were almost three hundred kids in the school here. The likelihood that only two of them would be gay was, well - unlikely. But with the prevailing attitude towards homosexuality in this town - or, at least in the school - they would be deep undercover, afraid to move, afraid to pop up their heads to survey the gay landscape. As accepting as so much of the country had become these days, there were still pockets of resistance like this one, where to be openly that different was to invite destruction.

"You don't seem to mind us," Roy said to Amy.

"You don't see me eating with you in the lunchroom, do you?" Amy said pragmatically. "I have to live here. Hanging with you guys openly would be like putting a target on my back." She smiled. "Plus, you never asked me to sit with you."

Roy smiled back. "Would you, if I asked?"

"Maybe. Not yet, but maybe soon. Things are still a little too hot for me. But I'm working up my nerve."

Roy grinned. "I like you, Amy. You're pretty cool."

She looked embarrassed. "I'm trying. I'm just a little scared yet."

Randy shook his head. "I can't believe this place is so bad."

Amy shrugged. "It isn't, really. People are just locked into their lives. An awful lot of people here let a small group do their thinking for them. Every grade at the high school has that little crowd that runs things. They say being gay is bad, it makes it bad for everyone. People are afraid to buck that and wind up out in the cold. Like the two of you."

"We don't miss them," Roy said. "If they don't want who we are, screw them. I refuse to hide because someone else thinks I'm wrong."

Amy smiled. "You have a lot of strength, Roy. And you have the power to live different and get away with it. Most of us don't."


Amy nodded. "Just remember - you have people on your side. This is the first time anybody in this town has admitted to being gay, and I've lived here my whole life. The idea is going to have to sink in some. Believe it or not, that horrible thing that just happened in Florida is making people here think hard about this. What they are seeing is that those were Americans, killed in their own country, in their own city, not bothering anyone, not doing anything wrong. That messes with people's sense of fairness, Roy. They are starting to look at the whole thing a little differently. They're starting to look at it as an issue of freedom. This can only help you guys, I think."

Roy was impressed. "Pretty smart thinking, Amy. We could use this kind of good conversation at our table in the lunchroom."

Amy smiled, bringing a certain beauty to her face. "I'll consider it an invitation. Just give me a little time."

"School's almost done," Randy pointed out, grinning. "There isn't that much time left."

Amy nodded. "There's always next year." She reached across the fence and squeezed Randy's arm, and then Roy's. "You might try smiling more, Roy. You walk around the school like you're daring someone to say something."

Roy was surprised. "I didn't realize that."

He looked at Randy, who just shrugged. "I didn't notice it, either, Roy."

Amy sighed. "You guys are both so nice. I can't believe people won't come around."

Roy looked at Randy. "We'll try to be nicer."

Randy put his arm around Roy and squeezed him. He looked at Amy and grinned. "He means he will try to be nicer." Randy winked. "I'll work on him."

Amy laughed, but then grew quiet. "Just one thing. Mitch Halder and Rick Jackson. I'd watch out for those two. I can't say I've heard anything specific, but I know those guys hate you, Roy. And they're a couple of jerks."

Roy frowned. "I'll be careful. Thanks for telling me."

The graduation cookout moved steadily closer, and soon was upon them. Both boys had told their parents that they were going, and refused to be dissuaded. Both boys also knew that their parents could simply refuse to let them go; but somehow, that didn't happen. Instead, Roy's parents and Randy's mom got together, and decided to go themselves. At least, they felt, they would be there if something went wrong.

The parents were driving, but Roy and Randy told them they would walk. They wanted to do this together, to be on their own, to stand for what they believed in.

There was a half-day of classes - it was the last day of school - and then everyone was let out to go home. The graduation ceremony started at four o'clock, and the dance and cookout was expected to go all evening.

The set-up for the ceremony and party was on Ryder's beach, just a ten minute walk down the coast from Roy's house. Randy's mom would drop him off at three-thirty and then go with Mr. and Mrs. Beecher in their car to the ceremony. Roy and Randy would don their body paint, and walk down.

Roy called Randy, and said it would save time if he got his paint on and then did Randy's after he got there. Randy said he was disappointed that he wouldn't get to rub his fingers all over Roy's chest, but that he could live with it. Roy laughed at that.

He donned a pair of jean shorts - an old, royal blue pair that he was surprised to find a little tight - tossed his shirt on the bed, and tried to quiet his jangly nerves. He felt just like he was about to take a belt exam at the dojang. Nervous, but confident in his ability to succeed. This was a different sort of test though, one with far more meaning than just another color of belt.

Three-fifteen arrived. Roy went and stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bathroom and carefully applied the six lines of color to his chest: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. He knew from reading online that this was an abbreviated version of the rainbow, arrived at for practicality's sake; but the meaning would still be clear.

These were the colors of the visible spectrum, all the different wavelengths that made up the purity of white light. Many into one.

As an aside, Roy was struck by the irony of the idea of wearing the visible spectrum when he himself was invisible to those around him. It was worth a smile, at least.

He took the package of body paints and went to the front door, went out on the porch and laid the package on the rail and watched the road, waiting for Randy and his mom to come along. Roy's parents came out, leaving the door ajar, looked at his new colors and smiled, and said they were going to wait in the car. There was a lot left unsaid, but the squeeze his mom gave his arm as she passed was more than enough to convey their support.

Roy looked down, felt a tiny crinkly feeling on his skin, like the paint was drying. He dabbed gingerly at the red with a finger; it came away red also. Nope. Not dry yet.

A car came along, and it was Randy and his mom. They got out, and Randy's mom waved, and then got into the car with Roy's parents. They drove off.

Randy came up the stairs, grinning. He was wearing jeans cut off at the knees, and Roy had to take a moment to admire the other boy's clean lines, tanned hide, and beautiful, beautiful smile. Randy looked Roy up and down; nodded his head. "You look great."

"Good enough to kiss?"

"Damn right."

Roy grinned. "Then do it. Mind the paint."

Randy came up and leaned in, and they exchanged a kiss, right there in the open, high up, where every bird for miles could see them.

"Now you," Roy said, picking up the package of body paints. He carefully repeated the color sequence on his friend, until they looked identical, their chests bright in the afternoon sun. Roy closed the paints up and put them back in the case, tossed the thing on a table inside the front door, then pulled the door shut so that it locked.

"Let's go."

They descended the steps, went around to the beach, and headed for the graduation ceremony.

They passed the sea lions - fewer today than usual - who looked back at them with curiosity.

"Good day to be a sea lion," Randy said, his nerves apparent in his voice.

Roy reached out and took his friend's hand, interlacing their fingers, and gripped it affectionately. "Good day to be a human, too."

Randy grinned, moved closer so that their arms bumped together as they walked. "Think this will go okay?"

Roy shrugged. "Yes. We just want to be seen. I don't want to have words with anyone or fight with anyone. That's not why we are going. We just want everyone to know that we have a right to be there, too."

Randy nodded. "Okay. But if there is trouble?"

"Someone says something, ignore them. We aren't going to react to anything unless someone puts their hands on one of us. That happens, you let me take care of that."

Randy squeezed his hand. "Don't hurt anyone, Roy."

Roy shook his head. "I don't intend to. But no one is going to touch us, either."

It was a nice afternoon. The sky was cloudless, and a simply stunning shade of blue. A refreshing breeze was blowing in off the water, which itself rose and fell rhythmically against the sands. They passed a couple of very large boulders, and then an outcrop that squeezed them against the waves; and then the beach widened and the way ahead was clear.

It wasn't all that long before they spied the stage and the chairs and the tents and the assembled cars and trucks that signaled the location of the graduation ceremony. They could hear someone patiently saying testing, over and over, the voice carried on a pair of giant loudspeakers on stands. People milled about, or sat in chairs, or stood in little groups, talking. A large truck off to one side hummed with the sound of a large generator inside, and carefully marked power lines snaked here and there from the truck, placed away from where the crowds moved.

Roy and Randy walked up, still hand-in-hand, and stopped at the edge of the crowd. Several adults noticed them, but simply stared a moment and then went back to what they were doing. A few others looked, curious; but no one really reacted at all. There were a number of students about, and they also offered looks, but turned away as the boys stared back.

"Chairs in the shade there," Randy said, pointing.

One of the rearmost rows of seats sat in the shadow of a large box truck, and no one was there. Roy and Randy went and took the two end seats, relaxing a bit at being out of the general eye. The flow of people around them, which had slowed, resumed as the boys became less noticeable.

"Looks like the whole town is here," Randy said. He nodded to one side, and looked at Roy. "Amy over there, talking to Linda Lawton."

Roy turned and looked. Amy and Linda were looking at them. Linda waved, startling Roy - it was the first real acknowledgment of his existence he had received from anyone in quite a while.

He waved back, smiling. "You see that?"

Randy laughed. "Yep. School's out now for the summer. I was wondering if that might let some people loosen up a little. A lot can happen now that can be forgotten by others over a summer."

Roy smiled at him. "Pretty wise, there, boy."

Randy smiled back, his eyes twinkling. "A certain someone inspires me."

"I'd kiss you for that, but people are looking."

"Yeah? Think they'd get mad?"

"No - envious. That I'm kissing the best looking guy here, and they don't get to."

They both grinned. It was a good tension reliever.

Things seemed to go on about them as if they weren't there. No one stopped and looked at their colors, no one gave them a dirty look, no one did anything. At first Roy was a little disappointed; but then he noticed plenty of other kids sitting around just like he and Randy were doing, and no one was paying them any mind, either. The other kids were dressed just as casually. Most of the boys were shirtless, but not all. Most of the boys were barefoot, but a few wore flip-flops or sandals. The girls wore bathing suits or shorts with halter tops, for the most part. Nearly all of them were barefoot, though a few also wore footgear similar to the boys.

Most of the adults were talking to each other, and most of the kids were talking to each other. And none of them seemed in the least concerned with Roy and Randy. One woman walking by towing a toddler paused as the little girl hesitated and pointed at the colors on the boy's chests, her eyes alight in wonder at the rainbow-on-skin. The woman smiled at them. "That's very festive, guys. Come on now, Sarah." She gave the little girl a patient tug, and they started off again.

"I just had a thought," Roy said, watching them go.

Randy looked at him. "What?"

Roy shook his head. Damn. "Remember when you first showed me the rainbow flag? I didn't even know what it was." He looked at Randy and laughed. "And I'm gay." He waved a hand at the people around them. "I'll bet most of these people - if not all of them - have no idea what you and I have on our chests. They probably think we're just celebrating the graduation or something."

Randy's mouth dropped open. "You think?"

Roy nodded. "Very good chance of it. And you know what else? I'll bet most of these people don't even know who we are. Some of their kids do - but the adults? Nope. They definitely don't know us by sight. So this whole thing may be a lot simpler and a lot easier than we were imagining."

"They don't know who we are," Randy repeated. He laughed. "I was thinking the whole town knew. Maybe they don't."

"I'm sure they don't. Even if their kids told them what happened at the school, they probably won't make the connection with us."

Both boys relaxed in their seats.

Their parents walked by, stopped and talked a moment. They seemed relieved to find the boys sitting easily in chairs, instead of at the center of a circle of men armed with axes. Roy and Randy reassured them, and the folks moved off. They wanted to give the boys their space, but the look that Roy's dad gave him said very plainly that they would not be too far off.

Soon, there was a call for silence, and everyone stood as the National Anthem was played. Then the school principal, Mrs. Sayers, opened the ceremony by congratulating the graduates on completing this first phase of their lives, and wished them well as they moved ahead. Then the Mayor said a few words, and two business owners from town spoke and then offered small amounts to the school for the next year of operations. Mr. Tetcher, the gym teacher and coach of the Brent Cove Chargers, said a few words - mostly bemoaning the loss of his star quarterback and his two best defensive linemen, to which the crowd laughed. Several alumni made quick speeches and offered congratulations, and then the class valedictorian, Jennifer Warner, gave a brief and excited speech. There were rounds of applause for each.

The dozen graduates, now in caps and gowns over their bathing gear, lined up across the little stage to receive their diplomas. The actual diploma ceremony went very quickly. The grinning students were presented their certificates, while people all throughout the audience stood to take pictures with their phones. Then there were several closing speeches by faculty, and then Sheriff Parker took the stage and announced that the partying was ready to begin, and reminded everyone that no alcohol was allowed - there were too many minors present - but that he knew everyone would have a good time anyway. Some people groaned, but most cheered.

"That was quick," Randy said, grinning. "I thought these things dragged on for hours."

"Small town, small ceremony," Roy decided. "That was scarcely an hour."

The grills fired up and the hamburgers and hot dogs went on the grates. Music started playing on the PA system - a mix of current light rock and a few older songs for the parents. There was a dance floor laid out down on the beach, with party lanterns - not yet lit - suspended from poles about its circumference. A dozen younger couples were already there, holding themselves close, their bodies moving to the music. There were a few older couples, too, smiling and enjoying themselves, if not always stepping exactly to the beat.

Open-front tents with awnings shielded tables loaded with soft drinks, lemonade, juices, cookies, brownies, cake, fruits, and nuts, at which both adults and children milled, selecting something to drink and nibble on until the hot food was ready. The sun was warm, but heading now for its evening spot in the sky, and many of the older members of the crowd still congregated on the folding chairs placed out of the direct sunlight beneath wide awnings.

Others - both young and old - had flocked into the ocean and were cavorting about in the cool waters, laughing and calling and whooping.

It certainly looked like a good party.

Randy took his elbow and gave Roy a slight nudge. Roy looked up to see someone standing near them.

Roy smiled. "Hi, Mickey. How've you been?"

The other boy looked uncomfortable, but came closer. "Okay. How about you?"

Roy looked at Randy, and they both laughed. "As well as can be expected," Randy said. Roy just nodded, grinning.

Mickey looked around, obviously uncomfortable. "Can I sit with you?"

Roy patted the empty chair in the row in front of them. "Sure. Have a seat."

Mickey came around and sat, putting his legs through the hole under the backrest and draping his arms over the back of the chair so that he could face them.

He was dressed like they were - shorts and a suntan. Roy had never seen the other boy shirtless, and couldn't help noticing that what was there was quite nice.

"So what's up?" Roy said.

Mickey laughed nervously. "Just like that? What's up?"

Roy nodded. "Yes, just like that. We're friends, aren't we?"

Mickey closed his eyes and squeezed them together for a long second before reopening them. "You're trying to make this easy for me, right?"

Roy sighed. "Yes. We are friends, Mickey. That didn't stop just because we had a difference of opinion."

Mickey bit at his lip, but seemed to relax. "The way you talked that day in the lunchroom, I thought you were telling us all to go fuck off. You looked right at me, too."

"I know. I'm really sorry. I didn't give you a chance."

Mickey looked at Randy. "I'm the one that's sorry, Randy. It was pure crap for me to leave you like that."

Randy shook his head. "It was a bad moment, Mick. None of us were at our best that day."

Roy nodded. "I screwed up, too, Mickey. You shouldn't feel like you're alone in this."

Mickey laughed - a release of tension. "I thought this was going to be a lot harder." He leaned closer. "Can we get back to being friends? For real?"

Roy looked at Randy. "What do you think?"

Randy shrugged. "I still like him. He's kind of cute, too."

Mickey's jaw dropped, and Roy and Randy both laughed.

"Stop," Mickey said, his face reddening. But he grinned.

"You aren't worried about being seen with us?" Roy had to ask.

Mickey immediately shook his head firmly. "No. I wanted to talk to you guys before - but I was chicken. But not because of Mitch Halder and his bunch. I was just afraid you wouldn't talk to me." He raised one shoulder and canted his head towards it, and made a little face. "I didn't want to deal with that."

Roy recalled the two times that Mickey had approached them on the street, but veered away at the last moment. "In town. I remember."

"I'm really sorry," Mickey repeated. "I like both you guys, and I really don't care at all about the gay thing. Honestly."

"What about Mitch and his bunch?" Randy asked.

Mickey shrugged. "Mitch doesn't own me. If he wants to kick my ass he can wait until the next school year. I have all summer to hang with you until then."

"He may not want to wait until then," Roy pointed out.

Mickey frowned. "He's an asshole. I don't know what his problem is." He looked up. "He still talks about you when you're not around, Roy. You made him look bad that day in the lunchroom. And he never did anything about it, either. A lot of people know he's scared of you. Rick Jackson's scared, too. I don't know if you've noticed, but people don't care what those guys say anymore. Mitch is afraid to put his hands on anyone with you in school, and people see that. So no one is listening to him anymore."

Roy had not noticed that. But if his confrontation with Halder now kept the guy from bullying others, he was all for it. "Cool. About time the guy got a taste of his own medicine."

"Is this an all guy thing, or are ladies allowed?"

Amy and Linda came up to stand behind Mickey. Both girls were smiling, although Linda looked a little tense around the eyes.

"Why, do you know some ladies that want to come visit?" Roy couldn't help kidding, straight-faced.

Amy's mouth dropped open, and Linda gave a nervous laugh. But before either could say anything, Roy was on his feet, pulling two chairs around from the next row to face them. "I'm sorry. We'd be enchanted to have you with us, ladies." He bowed.

Randy rolled his eyes, but both girls laughed. "We can sit?" Amy asked.

"Yes," Roy said. "Sit."

They sat.

Linda went through the same nervous apology that Mickey had offered, and was given the same brief response and told to forget about it.

"It was a really stupid day and we all want to put it behind us," Randy said. "Okay?"

"Okay," Linda said, obviously relieved.

Somehow, the five of them together were catalytic. Suddenly, other kids started to stop as they went by, to wave at Roy and at Randy, to say hello. Roy and Randy were courteous and smiling to every one of them. No one else stayed, but everyone that stopped a moment to talk seemed to go away smiling.

"Told you," Amy finally said. "You have more people on your side than you know."

Roy was feeling good, and Randy just glowed with pleasure. Both boys were smiling a lot, and that put the others at ease.

"What's that you have on your chests?" Linda finally asked.

Randy touched his fingertip to his chest, looked at it - the paint had dried. "Colors of the LGBT community." He smiled. "Gay pride."

Amy's eyes got big. "You guys aren't being subtle, are you?" But then she laughed. "Bet you ten bucks most of these people haven't got a clue about what it is."

Randy nodded. "We were just saying that before you got here."

"What's it like?" Mickey suddenly blurted. He immediately looked embarrassed.

Randy grinned at him. "You mean being with Roy?"

Mickey looked like he'd rather he hadn't asked, but nodded.

Randy smiled, looked at Roy. "It's pretty special."

Amy smiled. "I've been able to see that for a while."

Roy gave Mickey a look. "Curious?"

Mickey turned red all over again. "I just...I can't imagine being with a guy."

Roy nodded. "I remember you went out with Barbara Case last year for awhile."Roy smiled. "She was a nice girl. I know you liked her."

Mickey grinned. "Sure did. She went to live with her dad in Sacramento when her mom got sick." He frowned. "That sure sucked."

Roy nodded sympathetically. "You kissed her? Snuggled a little - stuff like that?"

Mickey grinned. "Yeah. Stuff like that."

Roy nodded. "It's exactly the same."

Linda and Amy looked at each other. "Some slight difference in plumbing, I think," Amy said dryly.

Roy smiled. "That's a given. But what I mean is, the touching, the kissing, the being close to a warm body - that is the same. Being together, sharing thoughts, just...just sharing life. When you feel for the other person - it feels the same. Affection. Caring," He smiled at Randy. "Love."

Randy's eyes got big, but he grinned, looking at Amy, then Mickey. "Definitely the love part."

Amy and Linda smiled at each other. "That's so sweet," Linda said. "You make me want to cry, Roy."

"Don't do that," Roy said, waving his hands. "People will think the horrible gay guys are beating you or something."

Amy laughed. "Yeah, no one's going to believe that one. Like I said, I doubt one in ten of these people even know who you guys are, or what those colors mean."

Roy really liked the way that Amy thought. She was smart and observant, and had a very pleasant personality. He was surprised to find that he liked her enough that he wanted to be around her more. Interesting.

People were starting to line up at the tables by the grills, paper plates in-hand. That meant that the first round of burgers and hotdogs were ready. They waited for the initial crowd to disperse, and noted that most other people were wrapped up in talking, swimming, dancing, or just hanging out. There was a lull at the grills.

"You guys hungry?" Roy said then.

It was agreed that everyone was. They got up and went to get in line by the hamburger grill, each taking one of the thick paper plates off the end of a long table placed lengthwise before the grill. The middle and opposite end of the table was laden with trays of rolls covered in clear plastic, marked regular, sesame, and potato, and they each selected a roll and opened it on their plate. Roy put the girls ahead of him, and they each got their burgers and went over to the condiment stand to dress them. Beyond that, a smiling, rotund man with a balding crown stood in a little pocket of shade beneath a small awning, busily loading freshly-cooked french fries into cardboard sleeves and placing them into a rack.

Roy stepped up next. An old woman was at the grill - she must have been in her seventies. She had gray hair, and her wrinkled face was pleasantly tanned, and she favored him with a smile. "What's that on your chest, son? It's very striking."

Uh oh. Roy took a breath, firmed his jaw. "LGBT colors," he said. "It's for Gay Pride."

The woman frowned, narrowing her eyes. "Homosexuality's a sin, boy."

Roy felt Randy tense at his back. But Roy smiled, and thrust his plate forward. "Even sinners gotta eat."

The woman's eyes opened slightly, and she came dangerously close to smiling. She waved her slotted metal spatula at the grill before her. "Well-done, medium, or rare?"

"Medium, please."

The old woman nodded. "Figured you'd pick one right in the middle."

Roy caught the possible double meaning, and almost laughed.

The woman carefully lifted a burger from the middle of the grill, laid it on his open roll. She looked at him as he went to step aside. "What's your name, sinner?"

Roy nodded. "Roy Beecher, ma'am."

She did smile then. "I like a sinner that's polite, anyway. Next."

Roy stepped aside, but didn't move on, watching as Randy came forward.

"Another one, huh?" The woman said, her eyes momentarily touching Roy's before going back to Randy's. "I suppose you want one from the middle, too?"

"Please," Randy said, holding out his plate. He seemed unable not to smile, and the old woman gave a little snort, but found another medium burger and placed it onto Randy's roll. "And what's your name?"

"Randy Patterson, ma'am. Pleased to meet you." He moved to stand by Roy.

Mickey stepped up then, holding out his plate. "I'd like mine well-done, if you don't mind, Mrs. Danbury."

The old woman smiled then. "Well, Michael, at least you can make up your mind. Here you are." She leaned forward then. "Are you with these two?"

Mickey nodded. "They're my friends, yes."

"You look out for them, you hear?" She drew back then. "Say hi to your people for me, okay?"

"Yes'm. Thank you."

They went to put condiments on their burgers, then got fries and drinks, and returned to the chairs in the shade where the girls were waiting.

"What took you guys so long?" Amy asked.

"The old lady at the grill asked me about my colors," Roy said.

Amy frowned. "Mrs. Danbury?"

Mickey nodded. "Yeah. It was kind of weird. She told Roy he was a sinner, but I sure felt like she kind of liked him. She told me to watch out for him and Randy."

Linda and Amy looked at each other.

"Mrs. Danbury is the seamstress at the dress shop in town," Amy said. "She also plays the organ at the church on Sundays."

"I liked her, actually," Roy admitted.

"Most people do," Linda said. "She's very nice, and very patient."

"Is she religious, though?" Randy asked. "I mean, she said we were sinners."

Amy looked like she was thinking about it. "You know, this isn't a really religious town. I mean, people go to church on Sunday, but it's more social then religious. The minister, Reverend Seahorn, talks mostly about things going on in the world and how we should be strong in the face of adversity. There's just the Methodist church here. Anyone wants another denomination, they have to drive to Bodega Bay or Santa Rosa. No fire-and-brimstone stuff here. Probably a point in your favor."

"Every little bit helps," Randy said.

They ate, talking and laughing, although about nothing in particular. It felt good to leave the bigger issues alone for a moment and just talk about stuff. They covered school, the town, and minor events in the news - gossip, mostly, though the boys pretended it wasn't. No one mentioned Orlando again - Roy suspected out of deference to them. Didn't want to spoil the good time they were having. But pretty much everything else was fair game. They finished eating, and the girls excused themselves, saying they needed to use the bathroom - a line of porta-potties on the dunes closer to the road - but that they'd be back. Mickey said he wanted to go talk to his folks for a minute, but that he'd be back as well. So Roy and Randy were left alone in their seats.

"I don't know about you, but I'm having a good time," Randy said, smiling at Roy. "And we almost didn't come."

"Yeah. I'm really glad we changed our minds on that. It's great to have some of the gang back." He looked at Randy. "I really like your Amy, too."

Randy took a deep breath of ocean air, released it. "She's really cool. And smart. If I was straight, I'd be after her."

Roy laughed. He'd been thinking something along the same lines.

"Hello, fellas."

Roy looked up, surprised to hear someone speak to them. "Oh - hi, Mr. Perry. Nice to see you." Randy also said hello.

The teacher came closer, pointed at their chests. "See you have your colors on."

Roy felt surprise. "You know what they are?"

"Yes." Mr. Perry looked around at the teeming beach. "I doubt very many of these people do, however. Your statement may be wasted here."

Roy looked at Randy, then shook his head. "No. It's not wasted. The colors are here, and we are here. It counts, even if people don't know it."

"I see." The man came closer, pulled a chair out, indicated it with a hand. "May I?"

Roy nodded. "Sure. Help yourself."

Mr. Perry sat. "Beautiful evening. I thought the graduation ceremony went well." He looked away for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. The silence went on for a full minute, and Roy and Randy were starting to wonder what was going on, when Mr. Perry gave a small sigh. "I have a little brother, down in San Francisco," he said then. He turned back to look at the boys. "He's gay, also."

Mr. Perry nodded at their stunned looks. "I remember the day we all found out. The day he told us. I had kind of suspected, I think, but my parents were horrified." He shook his head. "It did not end well. My father basically threw David out of the family. My brother moved to San Francisco, and became someone I received cards from at Christmas. My little brother, who I shared so much with growing up." He frowned, gazing inward. "I resented what I thought he did to the family - I blamed him for my parent's unhappiness. I became content just to send him a card at Christmas, too."

Roy looked at Randy, not knowing why Mr. Perry was unburdening himself like this, but somehow understanding that they needed to listen. "I'm sorry," Roy said, not knowing what else to say to this.

Mr. Perry nodded. "Yes. Me, too. Things might never have changed, either. But...when that awful thing happened in Orlando, all I could think of was that I had to talk to my brother. I had to hear David's voice. I called him, for the first time in years. I knew he wasn't anywhere near, Florida, but I was afraid for his safety, anyway."

"He was okay?" Randy asked.

"Yes." Mr. Perry smiled. "He was fine. And we talked for two hours, and we will be talking again, soon. Next weekend I am driving down to see him."

Roy was oddly pleased to hear that. "That's great, Mr. Perry. I'm really happy for you."

"Yeah, that's really cool," Randy said.

Mr. Perry nodded, looking pleased himself. "I just wanted you to know that...well, others are experiencing some of the things that you are. You are not alone. I'm so glad for both of you that your families care and are being supportive."

Roy and Randy just nodded.

Mr. Perry looked up, saw the girls returning, and got to his feet. "I'm sorry. I see I kind of spooked you. I didn't mean to. I just - wanted to share that with someone who would understand."

Roy nodded. "Thanks. We won't repeat it, I promise."

The man smiled at them. "Take care of yourselves, okay?" He waved, and started off. "See you in the fall semester."

Amy and Linda returned. "Wasn't that Mr. Perry?" Linda asked.

"Yeah," Randy said. "He just stopped to see how we were doing. He's a nice guy."

Amy smiled. "That was cool. I always liked him."

Mickey returned, carrying a bunch of ice cream cones stuck in a cardboard sheet. "Surprise! Thought everyone would like something cold." He grinned. "I just got vanilla, because I didn't know what everyone liked." They each took one, and the ice cream was good. They went back to laughing and talking, and just enjoying each other's company.

Six o'clock came, the afternoon ended, and evening came on. They continued to talk and laugh, until someone turned up the PA a notch and the music got a little louder. Roy was surprised then when Linda asked him to dance. "I mean, we don't have to be lovers or anything, just to dance," she said, smiling.

Roy nodded. "You'll have to lead, girl. I'm not a very good dancer."

"I can mange that."

They went out onto the dance floor, and moved together, and settled into a simple box step in time with the music. "Aw, you're not that bad," Linda said.

Her eyes reflected the setting sun, and Roy felt somehow pleased that she was there with him. "I'm glad you came back. I would have eventually come to you, if you hadn't."

Linda smiled. "I was never mad. Just scared. First of Randy, when he came out, then of you, when you went off."

Roy sighed. "My chief claim to fame around here, I guess. Old Temper Tantrum."

Linda laughed. "Sounds like a geyser or something." She gave him a little squeeze. "Randy's pretty lucky, you know."

Roy grinned back. "Bad plot device, where the girl falls for the gay guy, and knows she can't have him."

Linda paused in her step, almost throwing him off; but they resumed immediately.

"I like you a lot, Roy. If you were straight, I might even be after you. But you're not, and I'm not. Doesn't stop me from liking you, and I still think Randy's lucky."

Speaking of which, Randy soon appeared beside them, Amy in his arms. "Just wanted to see how the other half lives," he said brightly, as they passed by.

Roy laughed. "I think I'm the lucky one."

Linda sighed. "I love romance, even when it's off the beaten path."

They danced through a dozen more songs, until the sun set and the lamps were lit around the perimeter of the floor. Randy and Amy coasted by them a few times, dancing a much more lively step, and even Mickey appeared, dancing with a girl that appeared to be about fourteen.

"Little young, isn't she?" Roy commented, but waved at his friend, who appeared pleased just to be there.

Linda gave him a playful jab. "Dummy. That's his sister, Patty. She probably asked him."

"Oh." Roy grinned, and they danced on.

Finally, the music stopped while the CD was being changed, and Roy and Linda went to stand with Randy and Amy back by their chairs. Mickey showed up a moment later, minus his sister. "My mom made me," he declared, grinning, but no one was fooled.

"Oh," Amy said suddenly, "look over by the drinks."

Everyone turned to look that way.

Mitch Halder and Rick Jackson were standing there, their arms crossed, looking at them. As soon as Roy's eyes met Mitch's, he felt an almost physical snap! at the touch. Mitch immediately patted Rick on the shoulder and they both turned and melted into the crowd.

"They're up to no good," Linda said.

Roy looked at her. "Why do you think that?"

She shrugged. "They're always up to no good."

The music restarted - an old Billy Joel song, We Didn't Start the Fire. Randy laughed. "Oh, I can move to this." He bumped his hip playfully against Roy's. "Wanna dance, cutie?"

Everybody laughed, but Roy could see that his friend was serious.

He looked around, weighing impulse against practicality, then sighed. "I'd love to, sweetheart. But the night is going so well - this is the first time we've relaxed in weeks. Let's not spoil it, huh?"

Randy acted like he didn't care, but Roy could see he was disappointed.

Roy gave his friend an affectionate push. "Come on. Let's find a quiet spot and we'll dance by ourselves." He looked at the others. "Be right back."

He took Randy by the hand and pulled him away from the lights. They went around behind the generator truck, looked inside the open door in the side of the box on the back - no one was there. A soft light spilled out of the door and illuminated the sand, revealing a ready-made circle rimmed by pieces of grayed driftwood. Perfect.

They were out of sight, and therefore out of the public mind.

"Dance, boy?" Roy asked, extending his hand.

Randy laughed, came to him, and they began moving to the music, rubbing their bodies together, holding onto each other tightly.

"I'm having the best time," Randy said softly, laying his face alongside Roy's.

Roy kissed him, nodded. "Me, too. Just being with you here has been amazing."

Randy pulled his face back, smiled into Roy's eyes. "Is it too early for me to say I love you, Roy?"

Roy felt a brief wash of emotion, and hugged Randy to him. "No. It's not. I love you, too, Randy."

They closed their eyes and danced on, until the music ended. Roy smiled and opened his eyes. "That was cool."

He sensed the arrival of others before he saw them.

"Hey, fellas. Little dancing, huh?"

Roy turned, going grim, and automatically settling into Joon Bi - the ready stance.

Mitch Halder and Rick Jackson stood there, along with three others. Roy recognized two of them as Will Kestle and Greg Snepper - two of the day's new graduates. The last boy was a stranger.

All of the boys looked hostile except for the stranger, who simply looked curious. He was tall, like Mitch, dark-haired, nice-looking, maybe eighteen or nineteen - not a student.

"Want you to meet my cousin, Craig," Mitch said. "He's a chop-socky guy like you, Beecher. I thought you two should meet."

The stranger nodded. "Craig Keefer, Ama San Dojo, Santa Rosa. Fifth Kyu, Blue." He gave a little bow.

Roy nodded. "Roy Beecher, Soon Wha Dojang, Los Angeles. First Dan, Black." He also bowed.

The newcomer looked at Mitch. "You're an idiot, you know that?"

Mitch looked shocked. "Huh?"

Craig looked at Roy and smiled sadly. "My cousin here told me he had a problem with a guy picking on him who knew a "little judo". He asked me to meet you and see what I thought."

Roy smiled back. "Actually, it's your cousin that was picking on my friend here."

Craig sighed. "There's a surprise." He looked at Mitch. "First of all, a dojang signifies Tae Kwon Do, not Judo. Secondly, the man here is a first dan black. That's an expert level, in case you didn't know. I'm bigger, but that means nothing. If he didn't kill me outright, I probably would talk with a squeak for the rest of my life if I survived."

Mitch simply gaped. "You can't take him?"

Craig laughed. "Haven't you been listening? Take my advice, cousin: take your pals and go home, before you get hurt."

Mitch licked his lips. "I can't. I'm here now. Even if we left now, Beecher would be out to get us. We're going to fuck him up first, so he can never do that."

Roy held out his hands. "Nothing's happened yet, Mitch. We're just talking. Friendly, like. Go away and leave us alone."

Craig put a hand on his cousin's arm. "Listen to the guy, Mitch. You're going to get yourself hurt."

Mitch looked at him. "He can't take four of us. We'll pound him."

Craig laughed. "Yeah? Well, I'm leaving. You'd better follow me, if you know what's good for you."

Roy surveyed the others. Their faces looked white in the semi-darkness, their eyes large and staring. Fear. Roy had seen it enough times in his life to recognize it when he saw it.

Mitch continued to look stubborn, staring at Roy. Finally, he shook his head. "I'm staying."

Craig looked at Roy. "He's family, man. My dad'll kill me if I walk off and leave him here to get messed up. How can we resolve this?"

Roy sighed. "All of you just walk away."

"There's good advice." They were suddenly bathed in light. "Nobody move just yet, please."

A second light came on, and a man walked into it's beam, carrying the first flashlight.

Sheriff Parker.

He looked around. "Someone want to tell me what's happening here?"

No one said anything. Finally, Roy looked over at him. "We were just talking, Sheriff."

"Uh huh. I heard some of it."

"He was going to mess us up," Mitch said then. "He's nuts."

Sheriff Parker pointed a finger at Mitch. "You just lost any credibility you might have had with me, Halder. I heard enough to know who the aggressors were here."

"Nobody laid a hand on us," Roy said. Randy nodded.

Sheriff Parker turned and walked up and down the line of boys facing Roy and Randy. He stopped, put his hands on his hips, and shook his head slowly. "Halder, Jackson, Kestle, and Snepper. I know all of you. Four against one, huh? Think your moms would be proud of that?"

The boys all frowned, and everyone studied the ground except for Mitch. He seemed unable to take his eyes off of Roy and Randy.

Sheriff Parker poked him to get his attention. "So what did you boys think? You'd just come over here, beat up on this guy - maybe break a few bones? Maybe kill him?"

Will Kestle gasped. "We weren't going to kill anybody, Sheriff."

The officer nodded. "Maybe you didn't intend to - but things happen." He shook his head. "What were the words you had in mind for this? Were you going to teach this boy a lesson? Were you going to get even? How about show him who is boss?" Even Mitch looked at Sheriff Parker now. But all the boys remained silent.

Sheriff Parker nodded. "Okay. Then I have some words for you. Maybe you'll like these better." He leaned towards them. "Assault. Battery. Attempted Murder. First Degree Murder. Hate crime. Prison." He stopped. "Mean anything to you?"

The boys all looked scared then.

"That's exactly where this was leading, gentlemen. If someone hadn't seen you coming after these boys and came and got me, you boys might have just thrown away the rest of your lives." He glanced back at Roy. "Or even lost your lives, or been seriously injured. From what I've heard, this boy can take care of himself."

Craig raised a hand slightly. "Uh, I'm Craig Keefer, Officer. Just visiting tonight. I wasn't part of this."

Sheriff Parker nodded. "I know, I heard. Come on over here and stand with these people." He waved a hand to his rear.

Roy looked then, saw Mickey and Amy and Linda. And his parents. And Randy's mom. And another uniformed officer, holding the other light. All were standing at the back of the truck, watching.

Mickey raised a hand slightly, and gave a supportive wave. Roy grinned at him.

Sheriff Parker's attention went back to Mitch and his friends. He shook his head. "Stupid. Just...stupid. Kestle. You and Snepper - I just saw you on the stage a few hours ago, ready to start out in life. This is a hell of a way to begin, don't you think?" He sighed again. "I heard enough here tonight to settle the issue of intent in my mind. Even though nothing happened, I'm going to have to arrest the four of you."

"That's not fair," Mitch blurted. "We didn't do anything."

"Really?" Sheriff Parker went right over and stared into the boy's face. "You know that threatening someone is a crime?"

Mitch looked over at Roy and Randy, his face a mask of hate.

Sheriff Parker leaned forward and took a finger and poked Mitch in the shoulder to get his attention. "Don't make this worse than it already is, got me, Halder?"

The officer straightened. "I don't have enough cuffs for the four of you, so come on over here. I'm going to put plastic restraints on you. With any luck you can be released into your parent's custody later this evening."

"My dad's going to know?" Mitch said, sounding horrified.

Sheriff Parker nodded. "You're all underage. Your parents have to know." He looked over at the other officer. "Come and help me, Dan."

The other officer nodded and started forward. Sheriff Parker turned to look at Roy and Randy. "Go over with your parents, fellas. I'll talk to you in a minute."

Roy and Randy both nodded, and moved away.

Again, it was Roy's sixth sense that warned him. Even as he heard his father yell his name, Roy was turning. He saw Mitch Halder then, with a large piece of driftwood in his hands, swinging it like he was on the baseball field at school, going for a homer. The arc of travel for the stout length of wood leaped into Roy's vision - it was going straight for the back of Randy's head.

Mitch's face was twisted almost beyond recognition, and his eyes held the worst kind of hate that Roy had ever seen. Murderous hate.

The world slowed down. Roy moved, his brain screaming commands at his muscles, making them respond as they never had before. He surged forward, grabbed Randy even as it was just dawning on the boy that something was amiss. Roy twisted hard, using all the muscles of his body, throwing Randy past him - and then tried to step back.

But, there are limits to human speed, and at the last second he realized he wasn't quite going to make it. He turned his head and closed his eyes, trying to duck and thrust his head back away from the approaching wood.

And then the lights went out.

Roy heard voices, people talking. But he couldn't understand them. They came and went. He felt himself being moved, lifted. Then an odd motion, and someone holding his hand. And then, sleep.

The voices came back, but now they were more distant. Still, he couldn't make them out.

Roy opened his eyes, felt like he was swaying high in the air at the end of a very long rope. He looked around, moving just his eyes, and saw he was in an unfamiliar room. He was on his back, in a bed. There was a doorway nearby, and the door was open. His parents stood just outside, talking to Sheriff Parker and a man in a white jacket.

Slowly, the sense of swinging through the air diminished, and was gone.

Someone still had hold of his hand. He moved his eyes there now, drawn to the touch.

There was a chair by the bed. Someone sat in it, the upper part of their body lying on the bed, face turned into the mattress. The person's arm was extended, and their hand had hold of Roy's. The grip was warm, steady, comforting, with an occasional squeeze just to let Roy know it was there.


The boy turned his head, and Roy saw a face that had obviously known grief. The eyes were red, still moist.

"Are you crying for me?" he whispered.

Randy's head jerked, and his eyes came up.

"Oh, Roy," Randy breathed. He got up from the chair, never letting go of Roy's hand, and laid carefully beside him, leaned down and touched his lips gently to Roy's. Roy pressed back, wanting so much to make it a proper kiss.

"What's this on my head?" he asked, sensing then a mass just above his eyes.

"You're bandaged," Randy said softly. "Leave it."

The people at the door heard them, and came into the room. Roy's parents came to the other side of the bed, and his mom leaned down and kissed him. "Oh, I'm so glad you're awake, honey." She moved, and to Roy's great surprise, his dad leaned down and gave him a kiss, too.

"We were worried about you there, kiddo."

Roy could see now that his mom had also been crying, and maybe even his dad. Randy's mom was there, too, and all she seemed able to do was smile at Roy.

"Am I hurt?" he asked - kind of to everyone.

The man in the white jacket smiled. "I'm Doctor Henson, Roy. I'm looking out for you while you're here with us." He pulled a small flashlight from his pocket, and bent over Roy. "Can you follow this with your eyes for me? This is the first time you've been awake since you got here." He looked into Roy's eyes, flicked the light to one side. Roy's eyes bounced after it. Then the light went the other way, and Roy's eyes chased it again.

Roy smiled. "Am I hurt, Doc?" he repeated.

"You have a headache, Roy?"

Roy nodded. "Yeah."

The doctor nodded. "You have a short, simple fracture to the right side of the frontal bone of your skull. We're treating you for concussive injuries, too. But your scans are all good, and I think I can say that nothing inside is damaged."

Roy grinned. "Other than the obvious stuff?"

Everyone smiled.

"Well," the doctor said, his own smile widening, "I can't claim to know what might have been going on in there before your injury. But it sure looks to my eyes that you are going to recover just fine."

Sheriff Parker stepped forward then. "I'm so sorry this happened, Roy. I have already told your folks that we are taking the blame for this one. I just had no idea that Halder would ever do anything like he did." He looked sad. "I've been sheriff here for twelve years. I watched these kids grow up." His eyes came up to meet Roy's. "You just never know."

Roy's dad shook his head. "I already said we don't blame you, Jeff. We saw everything. You were moving Roy and Randy to safety when that boy picked up the piece of driftwood and swung it. It happened so fast that I don't know what you could have done to stop it."

Sheriff Parker looked at him. "I should have put all four of them on the ground and put the restraints on them then and there. I let the fact that I know them and their families slow my thinking. They're my neighbors. But in this case, I should not have treated them as if they were."

"It's okay," Roy said. "I sure don't blame you. I'm glad you showed when you did." He frowned. "How'd you do that, anyway?"

Sheriff Parker smiled. "Your friends saw those boys follow you. Mickey Tolson came and got me, and the Landrow and Lawton girls found your parents and brought them. You were lucky you had friends there."

Roy looked at Randy, and they both smiled. Roy let his eyes go back to the sheriff. "What's going to happen to Mitch?"

The man looked unhappy. "Well, he's a minor in the eyes of the law - for the moment. I have a feeling that the prosecutor will pursue this as a hate crime, and the mood in the courts is especially grim since Orlando. Mitch will need to undergo psychological evaluation to determine if he is fit to stand trial. My personal opinion is that he has some issues, but that's not my call. If he's found fit to stand trial, there will be a hearing in juvenile court to determine if he is to be prosecuted as a juvenile, or as an adult. Because it is a hate crime, and because he's only a year to his eighteenth birthday, I see him going to the adult system and standing trial for attempted murder. He could be facing twenty years - maybe more."

Roy was aghast. "I don't want that. I won't press charges."

Roy's dad put out a hand. "Now, wait a moment, son --"

"It's okay," Sheriff Parker said, smiling. "Roy, you're in a hospital bed with a head injury. I'm afraid you're not in a position to make decisions just now. You will need to be discharged before your wishes can be taken into consideration, and those wishes will need to be made to the court, not to me." The sheriff leaned closer. "Plus, you are a minor, Roy. Your dad can prefer charges in your name."

Twenty years. Mitch would be an old man when he got home. Roy looked up at his father. "Tell me you won't, dad. Mitch is an ass, but he's a kid. Don't take his life away."

Sheriff Parker shook his head. "Son, Mitch went too far. Even if both you and your parents decline to press charges, I can still do it myself in the name of the State of California, and I intend to do it. Mitch wasn't just angry - there was more to it than that. I think he needs some serious evaluation. I have no intention of having him just put back on the street without feeling confident that there is a good chance that he will not go off again." He shook his head. "He could have killed Randy, Roy. Or you, since you got in the way. Mitch's life, at least for a few years, is not going to be entirely his own."

Roy felt a wash of sadness. He didn't hate Mitch. There had already been too much hate in this thing. Why does it have to be this way? He looked up at Randy. He might have lost him. Randy meant so much to him, too. His feelings must have showed, because Randy smiled, and leaned down and kissed him again. "It'll be okay, Roy. You need to rest, okay?"

Roy was suddenly sleepy. "Yeah. I guess."

He sighed and closed his eyes.

"Can I stay, doctor?" he heard Randy ask.

"Well, you're not family --"

"We'll all stay," Roy's dad said, firmly.

Roy opened his eyes. "Please, doc?"

Doctor Henson nodded. "I'll fix it. And be back to check on you later."

Roy's parents squeezed his arm, and his mom kissed him again, and then both went to settle on the couch by the bed. Mrs. Patterson also sat. They all looked exhausted.

Sheriff Parker said again that he was sorry, and just happy that things had not been worse. If he was worried about his job, he didn't seem to show it. Roy held no animosity for the man. Mitch went nuts for a moment - Roy knew that now. It wasn't Sheriff Parker's fault that he had acted like a human being instead of a super cop. The whole thing was just a terribly bad moment for all of them.

The doctor and the sheriff left, and his and Randy's parents lay back and closed their eyes. Roy could see that they were tired, and felt guilt that their distress was his fault.

Randy seemed to know what he was thinking, He dropped his head, kissed Roy. "It's not your fault."

Roy looked up at the other boy. "I love you, Randy."

Randy nodded. "I know you do. And thank you for showing it tonight. You probably saved me from getting really hurt." He gave another kiss, then gently rubbed Roy's cheek with the back of his fingers. "I love you with all my heart, Roy."

Roy sighed, feeling wonderful, despite his headache. "I'm sleepy."

Randy kissed him again, then slid back and settled into the chair by the bed. But he never let go of Roy's hand, and squeezed one more time. "Go to sleep. I'll be right here."

Roy closed his eyes, and drifted away.

And the next morning, when Roy awoke, Randy was still there, and still holding his hand.

Time heals all wounds, the old saying goes. The three boys with Mitch that night received probation and went back to their homes and families. The court considered the fact that neither Roy nor his family wished to prefer charges, and the simple assault accessory charges against the three boys proffered by Sheriff Parker did not extend to the act Mitch had carried out on his own when all four were technically in custody.

Sheriff Parker received a reprimand, but kept his job.

To no one's considerable surprise, Mitch Halder was deemed psychologically unfit to stand trial either as a juvenile or an adult on his charges, and was sent to a facility upstate, where he would be held and receive therapy until his eighteenth birthday, his status after that to be reviewed again in the adult system.

Roy felt badly about that, but also knew there was nothing he could do about it. Some things are beyond control.

The summer vacation moved on. More of their old friends came back - Bobby, and Janie among them - and they seemed to easily make new ones. There were still occasionally hostile looks - mostly from adults - and a few from other kids; but, for the most part, the wall of invisibility that had been erected about them disappeared. Good thing, because they had ceased to act invisible by then. School started again, and this year there were no problems with the cool kids. In some fashion, that mantle had switched owners, and Roy and Randy were surprised to find themselves two of the seniors wearing it.

The town finally got used to seeing them on the streets, sometimes hand-in-hand, sometimes not - but almost always together. It went from a horror to a joke, and then simply to no comment at all. Far fewer people had been aware of the things happening in their town and school than either Roy or Randy had thought.

One day, Roy and Randy were in town, standing in line at the bank to deposit their paychecks. They had both secured afternoon jobs at the Kent Farm, a stable that bred horses. It was grunt work - cleaning up and looking after the animal's food - but they could work after school for a few hours and make some money, and that was what mattered.

The line was moving slowly. Randy was ahead, and he and Roy were just making do with the wait.

Roy felt a soft touch at his back. "Hey there, sinner. How are you?"

Roy turned, saw an old lady behind him - recognized her right off as the hamburger server from the beach party last year. "Well, hi, Mrs. Danbury," he said, managing to snatch her name from memory at the last moment. "How are you?"

"Oh, I'm just fine. How are you pair? I hear nice things about you these days."

Randy turned to look back, too. "Really? That's a surprise. Who would do that?"

Mrs. Danbury smiled. "That would be telling, now. Let's just say I hear it from friends."

"Your friends, or our friends?" Roy asked impulsively.

The old lady laughed. "Why, they're one in the same, Roy."

"You remember my name?" Roy was surprised.

"Certainly. Roy and Randy. How could anyone forget you pair? Of course, the lovely colors you were wearing the day I first met you have stuck in my mind. How goes that little business these days?"

Roy and Randy both smiled at each other.

"You still see us together, don't you?" Randy said.

"Yes." She reached forward and patted both of their arms. "You should come to church every now and then, and hear me play. My music is good for sinners like you."

Roy smiled. "We aren't all that religious, Mrs. Danbury."

The woman shrugged, leaned forward. "Neither am I. I just love to play!"

Roy's jaw dropped. "Then what's with the sinner thing?"

Mrs. Danbury smiled. "Oh, that. I just wanted to see if the two of you were committed to your beliefs. You satisfied me that you were. That's the most important thing we have in this world, boys - the things we believe in. What you say is one thing - what you do in support of what you say is what matters." She patted them again. "I like you because you are both ready to fight for what you believe." Her smile slipped, and she rubbed Roy's arm a bit more fondly. "I'm just glad you weren't seriously hurt defending your beliefs, Roy. That happens to too many of us these days."

It took a moment for that sink in. "Us?"

Mrs. Danbury nodded. "Yes. Us. We're all sinners, under the skin." She smiled. "You and I are more alike than you might imagine. Oh - the line's moving. Let's go, or we'll be here all day."

The moment stuck with the boys - a further sign that gay was about both sexes, all ages, and all time periods. That others struggled to be themselves, in their own fashions, just like Roy and Randy did.

Roy and Randy got their driver's licenses, and their lives opened up a little more for them. Brent Cove ceased being the world and reverted to the lesser piece of it that it should have rightly held in their minds all along. Their perspectives changed again as they discovered that roads led in every direction - all into the future.

They turned seventeen - their birthdays were less than a month apart. Randy's mom came to Roy's house, and the parents and the boys had a cookout on the deck and enjoyed another beautiful evening together.

Time became less noticed. The school year passed quickly enough, and one day Roy and Randy found themselves on stage with Micky and Amy and Bobby and Linda, and twenty-three others, receiving their diplomas. It was a big class graduating that year.

At the dance afterwards, Roy and Randy danced together by the ocean, surrounded by others, and no one looked at them askance or said a thing. Not that they noticed, anyway. They had no illusions that the world had fully come to accept them. There would always be those who felt freedom was their own property, only to be dispensed in their own likeness. But for the moment, at least in Brent Cove, time had come over to their side to visit.

So that was how it went.

These days, Roy scarcely thought about the events of only a year before. He was no longer the gay guy, the outcast. He was just another townie, a little different, a little more out there. But a lot more accepted.

To his friends he was just Roy. To his boyfriend, Randy - who he now knew was the love of his life - when they were together, alone, he was sometimes lovingly called ROYGBV.

That was for the colors that acronym signified, part of a more common awareness these days - a banner for a lifestyle slowly reaching acceptance. It was a set of colors that defined Roy and Randy, and who they were.

Gay, and okay with it.

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet. The colors of the spectrum; many, into one. It represented the countless differences with which humanity expressed itself, yet still stood as one people.

In private, between Roy and Randy, it held another meaning, a special one - just theirs. It was a name Randy had given Roy, in one inspired moment of love and respect.

It was his name, Roy, followed by the letters GBV.

Gay Boy, Victorious.


This story is part of the 2016 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Rainbow Boy". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 14 August to 4 September 2016 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 competition home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

Rainbow Boy
Please rate ROYGBV 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
Well laid out (paragraphs etc)
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
Cheering (made me happy)
I identified with at least one of the characters
It felt like it was about me. I know it wasn't, but it felt like it
The plot was tough to read. (a tough [good] experience, not hard to read)
Not just prose, but almost a 'tone poem'
There could be spelling/grammar/punctuation improvements
Interpreted the picture well

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