We're Working On It

by Richard Norway

Chapter 11

Richard found his way to the kitchen Saturday morning, looking for a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, he had to make some first which was usually his first action of the morning. Cory had been with him for a month, and he was grappling with a conversation that he had to have with him. It was about Cory's father. In a way it would be good news, but it came out of a tragedy.

Once the coffee was steaming in the cup before him as he sat at the kitchen table, Richard began the process of waking up while trying to read the morning newspaper. The day appeared to be starting out kindly with the sunlight from the windows beginning to brighten up the kitchen. Just then Richard could hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and a moment later, a sleepy Cory walked into the kitchen rubbing his eyes in an effort to keep them open.

"Morning, Cory."

Looking around but not being able to see clearly yet, Cory asked, "Got any more coffee?"

"Plenty left over on the counter. Get a cup and pour yourself some."

Cory meandered over to the cupboard and retrieved a mug which he filled with coffee and then slid into the chair opposite Richard. Cory began sipping from the mug while his eyes tried to focus on the back of the newspaper that Richard was reading. Within moments, Richard put the newspaper down and looked at Cory. He knew that Cory was still sleepy and decided to get Cory's mind going before he brought up the subject of his father.

"So, how has your first month of school been? Not too bad, I hope."

Cory looked up smiling.

"Oh, it's been good. Classes aren't too hard, and I've kept up pretty good so far. Yeah, it's going good. Oh, and I've made three good friends, Matt, Kevin, who you've met, and Kelly. You haven't met her yet. Kevin's my best friend but you know that. Anyway, it's been a great month."

Cory's smile broadened as his brain began to start working.

Just then the telephone rang, startling Cory into a little more consciousness. Richard stared at the phone for a moment wondering who was calling so early, but then remembered that he had been expecting the call sometime in the next few days. After sliding out of the chair and walking over to the telephone, Richard picked up the receiver.


A slight pause

"Yes, of course"

After a long silence, Richard nodded his head and replaced the receiver. Richard looked at Cory. Cory was now awake.

"What's wrong, Richard?" Cory asked.

Richard didn't fumble with his words.

"A couple of weeks ago, Mark started asking some questions about you and your dad to people up in Plymouth where your dad is still living. Well, it got back to your dad that someone was asking about him."

Cory's face went totally expressionless. Richard watched Cory's reaction and then continued.

"It seems that your dad had started asking questions of where you were living now."

"What do you mean?" Cory shouted. "He wants to know where I'm living?"

"When we found out that he wanted to know where you were, I asked Mark to have someone watch him a little closer. Mark hired a private detective to watch him. It turns out that your dad was only interested in extorting some money out of me. I guess he thought that he could cause a lot of heartaches and grief if he tried to get you back."

"That bastard!" Cory whispered to himself.

"There's no chance of that, you know?" Richard asked while looking directly at Cory.

"Oh man, I hope not."

"No. You're here legally, but he could still cause a lot of grief, if he wanted to try."

"Why didn't you tell me about this?"

"Because we didn't know anything really. And besides, you were just getting used to your new home and school and started making some new friends. And like I said, I really didn't know anything until just now."

"Has he done anything yet?" Cory asked.

Richard continued to look at Cory without answering his question. But thinking about it for a moment, Richard realized that it was probably time to tell him the whole story. It was now too late for the extortion.

"Cory. Listen to me for a second. Mark told me the rest of what your dad's been up to in that phone call just now. Your dad was out drinking with a couple of his friends two weeks ago. When they left the bar, it was late, and they were pretty well loaded by then. On their way to his truck, they ran into an older gay couple walking their dog. Well, your dad and his cronies thought they'd have some fun with them. They started giving them a hard time and wouldn't let them pass, and as it went on, it got a little ugly."

"What do you mean ugly? What'd they do?"

"When the two men tried to go around your dad and his friends, your dad picked up an iron bar and hit one of the men on the head."

Richard looked at Cory whose face was in disbelief. Cory was silent. Richard looked down at the floor for a moment and then looked back up directly at Cory.

"The man died yesterday."

Cory, hearing this, turned from Richard slowly as his eye mist began to form. Looking away from Richard, he said quietly to himself, 'Oh fuck!'

"What happened to my dad?" he finally had to ask, still not looking at Richard.

"There were too many people around him when this happened, and they all had seen what he'd done. He was arrested last night along with the other men that were with your dad that night. He's being charged with second degree murder and a hate crime."

Cory remained silent for a moment.

As he turned back to Richard, Cory said, "You know? I really don't care. He'll finally get what he deserves."

But then, the wetness of Cory's eyes returned.

"Oh my God, Richard, that man died. I feel like shit. I can't help thinking that it was partially my fault either."

"It wasn't your fault, Cory, and you know that. Your dad made his choices. You had nothing to do with it."

Cory remained silent, deep in his world.

"Will it ever end?" Cory finally whispered to no one, but Richard had heard him.

"It's over now Cory. It really is over. I think we've heard the last of your past life."

Cory remained silent, but slowly nodded. He was thinking of his past life now as Richard had just brought it to the table. Cory couldn't get that night out of his mind, the night that had saved his life.

"About that night you picked me up," Cory started to say, speaking to the window.

"You don't have to say anything about that night if you don't want to."

"No. I want to say this to you."

Cory slowly turned back to Richard.

"I probably need to say this more than anything right now. It's been something unsaid since that night. A month ago, I was cold and alone and really didn't know where to turn. My dad had kicked me out for being gay. Then, from nowhere, you stepped into my life. I was nowhere, man. I had nowhere to turn. It was like I had just walked into an unforgiving brick wall. Life was over for me."

Cory had a hard time continuing.

"But there you were. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am now who I am because of you. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you, except to become the man who you want me to be. But you never wanted me to be the man you are. You want me to be the man who I can be. I want to be that man too. I owe you that. I owe you more than I'll ever know. I've never said this to you before and it's something that needs to be said. I owe you my life, Richard."

Cory finally let it out. He wasn't holding back. He couldn't, not to the man in front of him. Not this man. Not to the man becoming his 'dad'.

Richard grabbed Cory and pulled him into himself. He'd never heard a teenager talk like this before. Cory had been himself, revealed himself, opened up his very soul to the outside world. Teenagers don't do this. But here was Cory, vulnerable, allowing himself be vulnerable. But there was more to this, a lot more. Richard realized that by Cory allowing himself to open up and be vulnerable, he was showing courage, real, not put on, courage, the kind of courage that comes from knowing what is right and following that path, courage that comes from inside, inside his very being.

Richard also knew that Cory was still 15. Yes, he was growing, trying to become a man, but something inside of Cory, something that was hard to touch, hard to put into words, something that is just a part of Cory was emerging – call it 'will'. Call it what you want but call it Cory.

Cory will grow and have self-doubts. Hell, we all do at that age, but that 'something' inside of Cory will drive him to make the right decisions, the right choices, and probably get him in a lot of trouble too along the way. Cory will act on his own feelings. That's something that the rest of the world needs to learn. Act on what you feel is right and not what the rest of the world thinks you should do.

Richard couldn't speak or even think anymore. All he wanted to do was hold onto Cory as Cory gripped him. They cried together as a family does.

The silence between the two lasted for a while. As they calmed down, Richard loosened his hold and Cory slipped away.

Cory began. "Richard? There's something else."

Richard continued to watch Cory.

"What is it, Cory?"

Cory looked at Richard quietly before he spoke again.

"I think I may have met someone. I mean I've met someone who I kinda like more than like. Does that make any sense?"

Cory turned and couldn't look at Richard.

"Oh? So, who's the lucky guy who's going to steal you away from me?" Richard laughed, but not wanting to.

"It's not funny, and no one's going to steal anyone away!"

"Well, that's good then. I think I like this guy, whoever he is, already. Do I know him?"

Cory didn't answer. He had a hard time trying to say his name out loud.

"Cory? Sounds like you'd like to keep this to yourself. Do you want to keep him a secret for a while, until, you're sure?"

"No. But, I don't really know what to think right now."

Cory had returned to being 15 years old.

"Why don't you tell me who the lucky guy is?" Richard asked.

Cory quickly turned to Richard and blurted, "It's Kevin. I can't get him out of my mind."

"Kevin seems like quite a nice boy. I like him, you know?"

"Yeah, but he confuses me."

"Why? He seems to like you."

"I know, but he confuses me because I don't know how I feel about him..."

Cory had to pause.

"...because I don't know what love is. I've never been in love before, and I don't know how to describe how I feel towards him. It's just something I don't know how to put into words. Am I making any sense at all?"

"Yeah, I think I know where you're going, Cory. If you can't tell me exactly what you feel, then try to describe the feelings in any words you can think of."

"This is hard. All I know is that I can't stop thinking about him. He's even in my dreams at night. When I feel lonely, he's always there to be with me, maybe to put his arm over my shoulder or just give me a friendly smile. Every time he touches me, my brain explodes. When I look in his eyes Richard, I feel like my feet are puddling on the floor. I can't move, I can't look away, I can't do anything. When he's feeling down, all I want to do is hold him in my arms to be his strength, like he does for me. I want to be with him all the time. I want to be with him forever. If he ever gets hurt, I'd give him my body, any part of me, to make him whole again."

Cory stopped speaking, looking at nothing in the room. Cory was back in Kevin's world.

"You want to know something Cory? Poets have tried to describe love for thousands of years. But I don't think I have ever heard a more honest, from the heart, more true description of what love is than what you just said."

"But what do I do, Richard? I can't think. I can hardly breathe when I'm with him. And then I can't breathe when I'm not with him."

"Well, here's a question that you might think of asking. Do you think he's gay?"

"No, he's not. I have no idea. I just don't know. No, I know. He's straight, I think, but, but he likes me, I..."

"He does like you; you know?"

"I know that. Sometimes I think he actually loves me. I just don't know in what way. God, my head is so screwed up."

"Have you every thought of asking him?"

"Have you gone completely insane? I can't ask him that."

"Why not? It's probably the only way you'll ever find out, unless, of course, he tells you first," Richard answered.

"No! I can't. What if he isn't gay? What if after I tell him, it ruins our friendship? What if he can't stand me after I tell him? What if he wants to leave me? I can't lose him, Richard. I just want him to be with me."

"But what if he is gay? What about the happiness that you'll miss if you don't take that chance?"

"Richard, I can't do that. I just can't. I'm so scared right now."

Richard walked over to Cory and wrapped his arms around him as Cory buried his eyes into Richard's shirt, again. Richard could feel the wetness of Cory's tears spread through the cloth to his skin.

Richard softly spoke, "Cory, you'll know when the time is right. At some point you'll know what Kevin will say to you even before you ask."

"I only wish I could be as sure as you are." Cory softly replied.

Richard could feel the fear in Cory right then and wished he could give him some confidence. He tried to remember the uncertainty, the lack of self assurance, the ever present constant fear inside of a teenager just trying to grow up. He had been 15 once, but the reality of what he had felt back then had faded over the years. But he also knew that Cory had something inside of himself, something that would make this all work out, that Cory would work out himself.

Richard had an idea just then.

"Look Cory. You're going to be 16 next weekend. Why don't we invite your friends over and have a birthday party for you?"

"A birthday party? I haven't had one since I turned 12."

"Well, it's about time then. It'll be fun. Tell everyone it'll also be a pool party. You can barbeque burgers or dogs and just enjoy some time with your friends."


Cory was excited now. He started pacing, no, prancing, around the kitchen floor, around and around the cooking island deep in thought.

"Hey, we can play all kinds of games, and swim, and..." He said with his arms going in circles, continuing his pacing.

Richard had to stifle a laugh. "A birthday party will be just the thing for you for your 16th. And being it's your 16th birthday, we'll call it your coming out party."

Cory stopped dead.

"No way! No frigging way! I am NOT coming out," he almost screamed at Richard.

"Calm down, Cory, that's not what I meant. A 16th birthday is like a debutant party. It's the traditional party when someone reaches adulthood. Of course, that tradition started hundreds of years ago when being 16 was practically an adult. Today the law says you have to be 18. I didn't mean that you have to 'come out' like you're thinking."

"Good, cuz I'm NOT coming out like that yet, maybe never!"

"You'll know when the time is right, Cory," Richard said as he walked to Cory and gave him a hug.

That Kevin was never going to know walked all over Cory's synapses.

The next week at school started off slowly for Cory as he went through the days. He seemed to really enjoy his schoolwork, but as the weekend birthday party approached, his excitement grew. Having his friends, especially Kevin, at his house for the party was going to make his life just 'perfect.'" Life was good.

Cory had invited Matt, and of course Kevin, along with Kelly, her friend Dawn and Dawn's boyfriend, Josh. He didn't know much about Dawn or Josh, but he had spoken to them a few times at school when they were with Kelly. It was going to be a small party, as Cory had only been in that school a short time, and these were his friends, so far.

Cory had stopped riding his bicycle to school, preferring to walk home with Kevin and sometimes with Matt too. As he approached the front of the school after classes on Friday, he spotted Kevin waiting for him. His heart skipped a beat, as was usually the case when he looked at Kevin after not seeing him for 30 seconds or more.

"God, he is so hot," Cory said to himself as goose bumps ravaged his body again.

"Hey, dude, ready for our party tomorrow?" Kevin asked as Cory approached him, banging his knuckles with him in that familiar greeting of teenagers.

"Not yet. I still have to clean up the back yard today and get the pool cleaned and stuff.

"Need some help? I could sure use a dip in the pool when we're done," Kevin grinned, eyebrows lifting rapidly.

"Geez, Kev, you are such an exhibitionist. You just want to pretend you're this swimming team super jock. Cory frowned. "And what do you mean 'our' party? This is MY party. You don't turn 16 for another month."

"Don't best friends share? I want to share this with you." Kevin paused for a moment, looking away from Cory.

Kevin turned back to Cory.

"Okay, okay. I know I'm much too young for you, so let's just say that it'll be preparation for 'my' 16th coming out party, okay?"

Fear and anticipation ran through Cory. Was Kevin saying that he's gay and will be coming out? No way. Kevin's just trying to get Cory with that debutant shit, but Cory could play his game too.

"So, you're going to wait until you're 16 before you come out, huh perv?"

Kevin shot a look at Cory, and Cory saw fear in his eyes for an instant, but then that fear quickly evolved into the look of the devil.

"Only to you, my dear," Kevin whispered, eyebrows bouncing.

Cory stared at Kevin, praying that what he said was true, but realized that Kevin was being just Kevin. He smacked his arm.

"What a perv, man. You're so full of shit you scare me sometimes."

Cory was in no way ready to go into what might have happened if Kevin kept up that little joke of his.

"Get your pervy ass in gear and let's go clean the pool," Cory told Kevin.

As they walked toward Cory's house, they talked mostly about school, homework, the possibility of Cory, Kevin and Matt being on the swim team together when there were enough openings, the party the next day, you know, nothing earth shaking.

The back yard didn't look that bad though, only a few leaves on the grass and a few pieces of paper that had blown in on the wind and had stuck to the back fence. The pool however needed vacuuming and fresh chemicals tossed in. Cory assigned Kevin the task of picking up around the back yard, while he got the hose and vacuum head out of the pool house. The pool house to the right of the pool had a changing room, towel storage area and a shower to clean off the chlorine after swimming the pool.

Cory let the self-moving vacuum head reach the bottom of the pool and turned on the suction. Satisfied that it was moving across the pool bottom, he turned his attention to the deck furniture. Everything looked fine except for a layer of dust on the tables and chairs.

Cory looked around for Kevin and saw him in the back corner of the yard, staring at him!

What the hell? Why's he looking at me like that? God he can be so lazy but damned cute, he thought.

"Hey slacker! You done with the yard yet?" Cory shouted.

Kevin seemed to be shaken out of his daze.

"Yup. What do you want me to do next?"

"Why don't you go into the kitchen and get that rag from the counter. Wet it down and can you wipe off the table and chairs? I'm going to fire up the grill and get it cleaned.

Kevin bounded back to the deck, but slowed as he passed Cory, who was still standing poolside.

"Pool looks miiiiiighty inviting," Kevin said as he passed, eyebrows wiggling in that up and down mode again.

"Get your work done first, Groucho, then we'll think about the pool."

Cory tried to swat Kevin's arm again, but Kevin had too quickly ducked inside the sliding glass doors before Cory could get to him.

Cory again melted as he smiled in Kevin's direction, although he couldn't see him at that moment. Cory wished that he could just tell Kevin about himself. Why does he have to be so straight? Why does this have to be so difficult? Cory questioned his life.

Kevin returned and started wiping the patio furniture. He returned to the kitchen several times to clean the towel he was using, as Cory waited for the grill to heat up so he could use the wire brush on it.

It was now Cory's time to watch Kevin while he waited. As he watched him, he had to admit that Kevin was gorgeous as he noticed how his brown hair was trimmed and combed forward with the front bangs gelled up into a short wall above his forehead. Those blond highlights were so striking, he thought. They brought out the soft blue green of his eyes like pools of water. Cory wanted to drink of that blue water, to quench him, to...

"Hey! Stop drooling," Cory heard Kevin yell.

"Huh? Oh, sorry. I guess I was daydreaming," hoping Kevin wasn't thinking about what Cory was thinking.

"Well, I'm just about done here. Scrape the grill and let's get wet." Kevin had that grin back on.

"Okay. Okay. It'll only take a minute."

Cory quickly scrapped the grill as Kevin returned the towel to the kitchen.

As Kevin popped his head through the sliding glass door, he shouted, "Ready?"

"Yup." As Cory returned the wire brush to the shelf under the grill, he yelled back, "Okay, let's go get changed. The new chemicals in the pool have been in long enough now for it to be okay."

Cory entered his bedroom in front of Kevin and went directly to his dresser. Rummaging through a drawer, he pulled out his pair of board shorts and turned around. Kevin was just standing in the middle of the room, staring at Cory.

"What?" Cory asked.

"I don't have any trunks."

"Well, all I have is one pair of boarders."

"Where are your racing trunks?"

"That's an old pair, kind a ratty. They hardly even fit me anymore. I'm growing, you know?"

"Yeah, I noticed," Kevin returned.

Cory shot Kevin another one of those looks. He couldn't understand why all the double meanings were coming from Kevin. Was he reading far too much into what Kevin had been saying? Or did Kevin really mean what Cory thought he meant? Cory thought he was losing it. He figured that he was just hearing what he wanted to hear.

"Okay, if you want to wear them that's up to you. But you've been warned. At least we'll be alone this afternoon, so you won't have to feel embarrassed, cuz it's only me here with you."

Kevin's smile lengthened as he took the old Speedos from Cory.

"Well, you know Cory, since it's just the two of us, we can just skinny dip, you know?"

What is with Kevin? There's nothing more than that that Cory wanted to do right then, but what in the hell was Kevin saying? What had gotten into him? Did he really want to go naked with Cory in the pool? Maybe it's because the boys had been in the shower together so many times after gym class that Kevin didn't feel shy around Cory anymore. That's it! Cory thought. It's got to be. Kevin's just being natural. There's nothing more to it, right? Kevin didn't have any gay feelings at all toward Cory he thought.

"Nah, it's too light out, so just put on the Speedos and let's jump in and cool off."

Cory knew that he sure needed to cool off just then.

Cory reached behind his head, grabbed the neck of his tee, pulled it over his head and threw it on the bed next to Kevin. Kevin hadn't moved yet. Cory pulled off his shoes and socks, turned around and started to pull down his shorts, but stopped, still bent over and looked under his arm at Kevin.

"Come on, dip shit. Get changed," he said to Kevin.

With that, Cory, with his back to Kevin, stripped off his shorts and boxers and stepped into his board shorts and pulled them up. Once finished, he turned around to see Kevin sitting on his bed with just his trainers and socks off, still looking at him.

"Earth to Kevin," he said.

Kevin shook his body quickly.

"Oh, yeah, give me a sec," as he quickly stripped and pulled on the older Speedos...RIGHT IN FRONT OF CORY!

Now it was Cory's time to watch Kevin. He watched Kevin thinking that he had the nicest ass. Why didn't Cory see it like that in gym? Cory guessed it was because he was always looking at the wall instead of around the shower room. Or maybe it was because Cory was alone with him right now and no one can catch him watching him. Shit...except KEVIN HIMSELF.

Cory quickly turned from Kevin and ran from the bedroom.

"Meet you at the pool, Kev."

Once outside, Cory knew that he had been getting hard from watching Kevin get undressed. Cory knew there was only one thing to do. He dove into the water. As he surfaced, sweeping his head to the side to get his bangs out of his eyes, he saw a huge body in front of his eyes. 'Oh shit.' he thought as Kevin bombed into the water just beside him, causing his bangs to once again droop over his eyes.

As Kevin surfaced, Cory splashed him with a wave of water from the skidding heal of his hand.

"Dip shit. Take it like a man," Cory shouted as he continued to splash water onto Kevin's face.

Kevin returned with his splashing onto Cory's face. They continued until Kevin finally petered out.

"Okay, okay. Enough, man. You're going to drown me, and you'll never see me again."

That stopped Cory flat.

The two boys horsed over to the side of the pool and Kevin finally pulled himself out of the water at the shallow end.

"That's enough for me," Kevin said. "I've cooled down from having to slave under my task master," he laughed out to Cory.

Cory couldn't help but see his old Speedos Kevin was wearing, and they were wet. Cory noticed that the older Speedos really hugged him, and, and, Oh my God! Kevin looked HUGE in them.

"Hey, Cory, I better get home. It's getting late and Mom wants me home for dinner soon."

Cory also jumped out of the pool. "Okay, but don't forget. The party starts at 5:00 tomorrow afternoon. You can come early and help me set up, if you'd like."

"Okay. Sounds like a plan. I'll see you about 4:00, okay?"

Cory smiled again.

"See you then. Oh, and don't forget your trunks, doofus."

"Now why would I want to forget those?"

"Perv!" Cory yelled.

Kevin winked and strolled back into the house.

Cory slept in until almost 10:00 the next morning. When he couldn't stand the sun brightening his room anymore, he got out of bed, completed his morning routine in the bathroom, and went downstairs to the kitchen in only a clean pair of boxers.

Richard eyed Cory as Cory grabbed a bowl for some morning oats and nuts.

"Why only the boxers?" he asked.

"Huh? Oh. Shit. Sorry. I guess I'm not awake yet."

"Don't swear," Richard chided the boy who was only half awake.

"I'll put something on. Be right back."

"That's okay. I guess since it's your birthday today, you can go around in your birthday suit if you'd like."

"Oh shit, I almost forgot it's my birthday."

"Don't swear," Richard chided again.

Cory became excited again, remembering it was his 16th birthday. 'I'm almost a man,' he thought.

"Richard? Now that I'm 16..." Cory slowly let out, "...what are the chances of me getting a car?"

"A car?"

That request shocked Richard. He knew it was coming, but when it did, he still wasn't ready for it. He also knew that he was stalling.

"Um," Richard began. "Well, not until you've passed Driver's Ed at least and then not until you've passed your learner's permit exam and then maybe not until you've passed your driver's test. And then again maybe not until I retire," Richard had to laugh. He couldn't hold it in any longer.


It was approaching the end of October, and the weather in Southeastern Michigan could be unpredictable. It was still warm, so a pool party was still possible although it probably was going to be the last time until next spring.

Kevin's mom dropped Kevin off and he showed up at the door at 3:30 that afternoon. Cory hadn't expected him until 4:00, so when he stood standing at the door, Cory was surprised. Actually, he wasn't too surprised as Kevin could be unpredictable. No, Kevin could be just Kevin and all what that means.

"You're late!" Cory sprang on Kevin trying to addle him.

"I'm not late! I'm early!"

"Okay, you're early. So, what are you doing here so early then?"

"Um, nothing better to do, I guess," Kevin grinned at him through the doorway.

Cory knew that Kevin was here early because he was just as excited about the upcoming party as he was, and maybe, just maybe, Kevin just wanted to be with Cory.

Kevin looked at Cory. Then his eyes dropped lower and widened.

"Um, Cory, what are still doing in your underwear? It's the middle of the afternoon."

"Hey! It's MY birthday. Richard said that I could wear my birthday suit if I wanted to. But this is as far as he'd let me go, not the real thing."

"Humph. Don't you ever call me a perv again, you perv."

They laughed together. Cory felt so good just to be with Kevin. They just seemed to click so much together. Again, Cory had to ask himself what he was thinking, even considering, that would be going anywhere further.

They spent the next hour getting out paper plates, plastic cups, napkins, chips, dips and all the other trappings of a party to set up around the house and the deck, then Cory ran upstairs and got dressed.

Matt was the first to arrive, and of course he was right on time. Kelly and her friends didn't show up until almost 5:30.

When the chimes rang for the late arrivals, Cory had to yell as he ripped open the door, "You're late you know?"

"Hey. I have to be fashionably late. Gotta attract that future boyfriend with my sophistication, you know?" Kelly laughed as she strode through the doorway. "But I can see that there's not much hope here," she chided Cory.

Cory wondered where that was coming from. There's nothing wrong with the guys at the party, except maybe for him. Kelly must really be trying to get Matt because his avoidance was getting to her.

"Hey, Kelly, glad you got here," Matt said strolling up behind Cory with a can of Coke in hand. "You guys want something to drink? Sorry, but my underage friend here only has Coke and Dr. Pepper, no beer."

"Hey, dork, Richard's in the other room, so stuff it back in your pants." Cory blatted out.

"Yeah, we gotta be good tonight," was Matt's retort.

Matt thought for a moment. "By the way, where is Richard? I thought he'd be here."

"He wants to be here, but only if we get into trouble. He knows what kids are like, so he's going to stay away in his study unless we need him," Cory responded.

"Well, it's Cory's coming out party, so come on in," Matt said turning to the three people standing at the doorway.

Josh's eyes widened.

Kelly grinned.

Cory wanted to know what it is with these people. Everyone seemed to be trying to get him to 'come out,' but Cory wasn't buying into their crap. Hell, they didn't even know that Cory is gay. Cory was not feeling good about the evening.

"Oh, does everyone know Dawn and Josh?" Cory continued.

"Hey guys," Matt said. "Yeah, we've met at school a few times. Good to see you guys again," Matt said sticking out his hand, first shaking Dawn's hand and then Josh's.

"Hey, Matt, good to see you again," Josh said shaking Matt's hand only two times before letting go.

"Come on in guys," Cory slipped in trying to defuse the small amount of tension that appeared at his door. "The pool's out back and you can change in the pool house next to it."

"Grab a drink from the ice bucket out back. Get changed and we'll party hardy, and without the beer," Cory said glaring at Matt.

"Oops," Matt slipped out.

Kevin then strolled into the living room as everyone else was leaving to head through the kitchen and outside.

"Hey guys. Glad you finally showed up," Kevin said as they passed him.

Kelly, Dawn and Josh just strode by without saying anything.

"What's up with those three?" Kevin whispered to Cory when the others were out of ear shot.

"I'm not sure, but I think Kelly's pissed at Matt because he won't return her sooooo obvious advances, and I'm not sure why Josh seems to be uptight. Dawn seems to be oblivious to what's going on."

"I know Josh. He's in my Lit class. He's always been friendly to everyone. He's not a jock, and seems to get along with everyone, so I know it's not just a popularity thing. He just seems to be a nice guy. If he seems upset, it's gotta be something that's really bothering him."

Cory thought for a moment and then said, "Look Kevin. We can't solve everyone's problems tonight. Let's just have some fun on my birthday."

"You got it, man." They clacked knuckles again and headed out to the back yard.

Kevin stopped, grabbing Cory's arm just before they reached the sliding glass doors leading to the deck outside.

"What?" Cory asked.

"Oh, shit man. I forgot my trunks."

"You didn't? I told you man. I specifically told you to bring them. Now what're you gonna do?"

"Well." Kevin said slyly with a chuckle, "We could always go skinnying," those brows at it again.

"No fucking way, man! There's no way you're getting in that pool without trunks."

Kevin couldn't contain himself. Kevin's eyes instantly told Cory that Cory had been had again. Kevin pulled his own pair of Speedos out of his back pocket.

"You're not, man. You're so not going to do that. You're not going to wear those here, are you?"

"Why not? It's just a pair of swimming trunks. Look Cory, everyone here has seen the swim team either during practice or at meets, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose."

"Okay, so what's the difference?"

Cory thought for a moment.

"Alright, alright – be an exhibitionist. See if I care. I'm going to wear my boarders."

Kevin grinned and headed toward the pool house change room. Cory went upstairs to his room and put on his board shorts.

Cory's problem wasn't that Kevin was going to be wearing a pair of Speedos, and that everyone would see Kevin half naked. Cory's problem was that HE was going to see Kevin half naked in those Speedos.

As the late afternoon rolled on, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Kelly had lost her attitude toward Matt, and Josh seemed to have calmed down around all of the kids at the party. Everyone, including Kevin parading around in his 'nakedness' had enjoyed playing around in the pool. Cory was fuming at everyone watching Kevin. Kevin didn't seem to care one bit.

As the evening approached, Cory fired up the grill and put on dogs and burgers. It was a good reprieve from having to watch Kevin all evening. Cory wasn't really mad at Kevin for wearing those Speedos. He was jealous that everyone else had seen his half 'nakedness,' and it wasn't just him and Kevin alone.

Everyone settled into the dinner hour, sitting around the table or sitting on the lounge chairs by the pool stuffing themselves like only teenagers can do. A quiet fell on the group, having been satiated with food. Kelly was the first to speak.

"Hey. How about a game? I know Trivial Pursuit is old hat, but it might be fun. I saw it on the stack of games Cory had pulled out for tonight."

Kelly and Dawn jumped at the chance to outdo each other with their willingness. Josh said that he wasn't interested in Trivial Pursuit, so bowed out. Matt and Kevin joined in, leaving just Cory and Josh by themselves.

The game was played in the living room with the four of them trying to out do each other with their superior knowledge about everything. Finally, after 20 minutes of play, Josh elbowed Cory and pointed his head toward the sliding glass doors. Cory knew that Josh wanted to talk to him privately, so followed him outside.

Josh, without speaking to Cory, walked to a lounge chair by the pool and sat down. Cory followed, wondering what was up, and sat in the lounge chair next to Josh's.

Josh looked at Cory briefly, and then slid around and rested on the back of the chair, putting his hands behind his head, legs out straight, looking at the stars.

"Sit back Cory. Just relax. I'm not going to bite you."

That surprised Cory. He didn't know what Josh was getting at but followed suit and relaxed into the reclining chair. Both boys fixed their gaze on the emerging stars for a few moments of silence.

"Cory. I don't know you very well, but from what I've heard and seen tonight, some things aren't settling in too well."

Cory froze.

Josh waited for a moment letting his words entertain Cory.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Cory shouted in defense of himself.

Josh waited for a moment, continuing to look at the stars, turning his can of Coke in his hands, then, turned his head to Cory.

"Cory, are you gay?"

'Shit, fuck, oh crap. What do I say to this guy? He knows. He knows all about me. What's he thinking right now? Shit! How does he know? Can I trust him? Hell, I don't even know him that well. What's he gonna do to me? I know. He's about to beat the crap out me. I'm NOT coming out!' rattled through Cory's brain, nonstop.

"What the hell are you talking about, man?" Cory finally answered.

"Don't be a dip. You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Cory couldn't believe what was happening. He didn't know how this guy knew who he was, what he dreamed about. Cory didn't even know him. Why did Josh know Cory so well? This was NOT happening. Cory knew he was dreaming. He just knew it. But he wasn't. Josh was right next to him. This was fucking real.

"I don't have a fucking clue. I'm not gay, man," Cory replied, hating himself for having to say that.

"Okay. You can believe what you want, but I think I got to know you over the evening. There's more to you than what you're saying. I saw it all night. But I have to say this to you, and I know it's not my place, but Kelly is a very good friend to me and Dawn. She's worried about you, Cory. I don't think she knows why or what you're all about or why you're doing this, but in the short time that I've known you, I think I've figured it out, especially tonight."

"What are you talking about, man?"

"I'm talking about the way you look at Kevin, you fucking asshole. And I'm talking about the way Kevin looks at you. God man, it's so obvious. You're in love with him and he's in love with you and you and he are so playing a fucking game."

Cory sank into his lounge chair trying to avoid even being near this guy.

"Look, Cory, we're not friends, so maybe I have no right to say this to you or even about you and Kevin, but I have to tell you that I think you're really fucking up. I see stars in Kevin's eyes when he looks at you. It's just so obvious. I'm saying this because you're affecting other people, people who I care about. Because of this 'game' that you and Kevin have going, Kelly is beside herself. She's worried about the both of you. You're going to ruin both Kevin's and your life, man, unless you stop playing this game. Just tell him, Cory."

"Kevin's straight, man. I have no fucking future with him."

Josh sat back in his chair, keeping his gaze on the stars.

"Well, Cory, keep up the game, and you'll both lose. I see you wanting him, but you're so scared to say anything. Just tell him, man. Do yourself a favor and Kevin too," was all that Josh could say.

Cory didn't know how well Josh knew Kevin but was sure that he didn't know him that well. Cory lied to himself that he was not losing. He was winning because Kevin was still with him.

Josh got up from the lounge chair, turned back to Cory for a moment, shook his head and walked back into the kitchen as Cory watched him walk away.

Cory stayed in the chair, wanting to be alone in his thoughts. Then it hit him. He had just come out to Josh!

Cory remained outside alone with his thoughts. As the party inside wound down, Cory could hear the noise lessen. He realized that he had been out there for half an hour, so he slowly got up from the lounge chair and headed back inside. He knew he had to play host.

Once inside, he turned his head from side to side, but the place was empty.

"What the fuck. Where is everybody?" Cory said out loud.

Cory moved across the kitchen toward the living room, it was so quiet. He wondered if everyone had gone home. He was thinking of himself as a failure with this host stuff for staying outside for so long.

Cory screamed as all of his friends jumped through the doorway in front of him singing 'Happy Birthday' to him. He just had 90 % of his life scared out of him, and he gasped for air, holding his chest. When the singing was over, Kelly rounded the doorway carried a cake with candles on it. Richard was right behind her.

"Got ya, didn't we?" Kevin whispered in his ear and then grinned, those brows at it again.

"You are so going to get it next month when it's your turn." Cory shot back at Kevin. "And I'm cutting off your eyebrows."

Richard walked up to Cory. "Well, cut the cake Cory. Everyone's been eyeing this thing for an hour now, and I can't keep the wolves at bay much longer."

"Okay, okay. Just let me catch my breath for a minute. But aren't I supposed to make some wish and blow out the candles or something first?"

"Yup" Kevin jumped in. "But remember, you only get one shot at this, so blow it right on the first try."

Kevin couldn't stop his grinning.

Josh grinned too.

Cory shot a look at Kevin that made Kevin jump back. 'Won't Kevin ever stop?' he thought. Cory hoped Richard didn't hear that.

"Cory. Think of a wish while I light the candles and make it a good one. Remember, this is your once in a lifetime coming out party."

"Richard! Will you just shut up about that? That's not funny," Cory yelled back at him.

Of course, what could Richard do after that? He kicked up his laughing.

Cory thought for a minute. Then it became a minute and a half. He couldn't make up his mind. At first, he thought of wishing that Kevin could be his boyfriend, but that was too much. Then he thought of wishing for a car, but Richard made sure that was out of the question for a while. Then he settled on just one thing. He looked at Kevin wishing for one small thing, just one thing that would make this day memorable, something that he would never forget. He wished that Kevin would kiss him tonight.

"Don't tell anyone what your wish is. It won't come true if you do," Richard said as he finished lighting all 16 candles."

"Don't worry, Richard. I have no intention of telling anyone what my wish is."

"Well, Cory, I'm waiting – blow away!" Kevin jostled in.

Cory swiped at Kevin but missed.

Cory took in as much air as his lungs could ever possibly hold. He wanted so much for his wish to come true. He blew and blew, swinging his head from side to side so as to hit every candle. Finally, he had no more air left. His face fully red and his eyes clouded from the effort, he calmed, and his vision returned. He stared at his birthday cake. Every candle was still burning.

"What? What happened?" Cory asked as he looked at a grinning Richard and then shot a glance at Kevin who was howling.

"You didn't? You didn't really do this to me, did you? Those were those trick candles, weren't they?"

"We couldn't help it Cory," Richard finally said. "It was Kevin's idea and we thought it was hilarious. Oh, the look on your face when you tried to blow out all the candles was priceless. You really wanted that wish, whatever it was, didn't you? But the look on your face when you looked up at the still burning candles, well that was just too perfect."

"Ha, Ha," was all that Cory could say as he saw Kevin's lips fading from his life.

Cory grumblingly cut the cake and served everyone, and then sat at the kitchen table with the others to enjoy his piece. It was quiet while they ate. Cory was especially quiet after the joke that they had pulled on him.

Richard returned to the kitchen holding a small box brightly papered with a bow on top.

"I told everyone not to bring gifts, but I had to get you something. Everyone saw it earlier and chipped in, so this is from all of us." Richard announced handing Cory the small box.

Cory looked around at everyone watching him, took the box from Richard and set it on the table and sat down with the box in front of him. He looked at it for a moment and then back at the faces all around him, and then back toward the box.

"Well, open it for Christ's sake, will you!" Kevin shouted.

"Okay, Okay. Hold your pants," as Cory unwrapped the box and then opened it.

It was a watch.

Cory did not have a watch. His dad had never bought him one. Cory had never in his life owned a watch. He looked up at Richard while holding the opened box in his hands. Tears were forming, one by one draining down his cheeks as he just looked at Richard.

"It this for real, Richard?"

"Yes, Cory. It's for real. Happy birthday, son."

Cory got up from the table, practically ran to Richard and threw his arms around him. He couldn't speak. It didn't matter because his friends all around him were clapping.

"Ah, Cory?" Kevin spoke up as the hands in the room started to fall silent.

Cory turned from Richard to look at Kevin.

"I know I shouldn't have done this, and I apologize to you all for doing this. But Cory is my best friend. I had to get him something to wish him a happy 16th. Here Cory. This is from me," holding out another small box.

Cory walked over to Kevin and slowly took the small box from his hand and looked down at it. His eyes returned to Kevin's. What he saw in Kevin's eyes was something that he had seen before. It wasn't there when they first met, but it started to appear within the past few weeks, maybe a month. He wasn't sure how long it had been there, but he knew what it was.

He saw love in Kevin's eyes. That glassy look in his eyes, that glassy look of love that he knew was for him.

Cory stared at Kevin for a moment. Everyone in the room saw it too but remained silent. They all knew.

Cory didn't go to the table like he had with Richard's gift. He stayed in front of Kevin as he began opening the box, first the bow, placing it on the table, then the paper. He wanted to keep them. Then he lifted the lid on the small flat box and inside...was a silver wrist ID bracelet.

Cory looked up at Kevin again and then back to the bracelet. The engraved name across the top plate read 'CORY.'

He turned it over and on the back was engraved these words. 'YOUR FRIEND FOREVER - KEVIN.'

Cory faced Kevin, but he couldn't see him. All he could see was a blur as he stepped into him and placed his arms around his shoulders, still holding onto the box and the bracelet. Cory lightly kissed Kevin on the cheek.

"God, this means so much to me. Thank you, Kevin. I will keep this always."

Josh turned to Dawn and Kelly at that moment. "Oh, for Christ's sake," he whispered. "Look at those two. They just reek of it, and it's so thick you couldn't cut it with a torch, but they can't utter the words."

"Oh, I think it's too soon," Kelly whispered back.

Cory released Kevin and started putting on the bracelet, his hands trembling. Kevin stopped him.

"Here, let me help you."

Kevin took the bracelet from Cory's hands and wrapped it around Cory's right wrist. He was reserving Cory's left wrist for his new watch.

When it was finally clasped into place, Cory couldn't take his eyes from it. He held his hand to it, moved it around his wrist, felt it next to his skin. Cory's mind was telling him, 'Kevin has given me this. What I feel is Kevin, Kevin touching my skin, touching my skin through the bracelet. I got my wish tonight even if I didn't blow out those silly candles. I got my kiss from Kevin, through this bracelet.'

The room watched. The room full of people remained quiet for Kevin and Cory, giving them this moment.

Finally, Kelly spoke up. "Look guys. It's getting late, and I have to get Dawn and Josh home. Cory, Happy Birthday, man. I'll see you in school on Monday."

After Cory said his goodbyes, Dawn, Josh and Kelly headed for the front door, waved and left.

Matt walked up to Cory and gave him a hug, saying, "Happy 16th, Cory. Glad you finally made it."

"Thanks for coming, Matt."

Matt gave Cory a wink, turned and was also soon gone.

Richard told Cory to just leave the stuff out until tomorrow. He'd help him clean it up then. Eventually Richard headed for his bedroom leaving Cory alone with Kevin.

"Good birthday, Cory?" Kevin asked.

"Oh God, Kevin, it was the best."

"Sorry about the little joke we played on you."

"It's okay. I'm glad everyone had a good time."

"You know, it's kind of quiet out. Why don't we jump in the pool? You know, just the two of us to relax after the day. What do you say?"

"That sounds really good right now."

"Let's go then."

Kevin led the way through the sliding glass doors with Cory following. There was no loud laughing of earlier, just two boys quietly slipping into the water, together.

Neither boy was swimming. They just stayed by the edge of the pool, heads just above the water, only their hair visible from the deck. They didn't touch, physically, but emotionally they were not just touching, they were connecting.

"I want to thank you again for the bracelet Kevin. You're the best friend who I've ever had, you know that don't you?"

"Cory. I really meant what I said. You're my best friend. You mean a lot to me."

Those words coming from Kevin meant so much to Cory, because he knew what the word 'friend' meant to Kevin.

Cory turned from Kevin, putting his head back on the pool's edge and looked at the stars, not letting the inches that separated them get any larger.

"I feel so much at peace when I'm around you," Cory whispered.

Kevin was silent, lost in the moment, but finally answered.

"I really like being with you," he whispered.

Both boys watched the stars quietly alone in the pool that night, neither feeling the need to speak.

After 10 minutes of silence, Kevin turned to Cory.

"I've never had a friend like you before, Cory."

Cory then slowly turned to Kevin.

"You are someone very special to me, Kev."

Cory looked down for a moment, but then returned his eyes to Kevin's.

"Please don't take this wrong or get upset that I'm saying it, but...I love you."

"Don't worry. I know how you meant it. I love you too, Cory."

It was so softly spoken. Kevin then slowly moved his head toward Cory and softly kissed him on the cheek.

Cory looked at Kevin, smiled, and slowly nodded his head.

Why did it have to be so hard for Cory, so impossible to do? Why couldn't he love Kevin the way he wanted to, needed to? And why couldn't Kevin love Cory the way Cory wanted him to? These thoughts overpowered Cory.

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