A Penny on the Train Tracks

Chapter 8

"...I didn't follow you here! I swear." Mikey's voice grabbed me the second I opened the door. The sound of sheer panic underlying his words and very recognizable to those who knew him best.

"Really?" His father said as he put his empty coffee cup down on the counter hard, causing all three boys to jump and huddle protectively around Mikey. "You brought your gang with you, even the big one." He spat out as he knocked over one of the stools in his attempt to stand up, glaring at me as he did.

'Started the day drunk again? Nice.' I thought to myself as I stepped forward and let the door close behind me. "Boys, grab that booth on the end," I said, putting myself between them and the 'old man'. "I'll be there in a couple of minutes." I added before turning to face my worst childhood memory. His face was priceless too. One would think that someone had just slapped him to get an expression like that. The funny thing is, in my memory of him from this era he was this huge hulking monster whose presence demanded that you tread lightly. Face to face with him now, the playing field a little more even; a smile uncontrollably surfaced on my face as I confirmed my earlier realization, he's 'just a man'. "Let me buy you a coffee Buzz." I said in a friendlier tone than I even thought was possible.

"Buy me a coffee?" He slurred. "You trying to be funny?" He added as he took a step in my direction.

"Whoah! Okay now Buzz," The big man working the grill said as he made his way out from behind the counter. "This nice young man is trying to be friendly with you. Don't make me have to call the police again."

"Real friendly." Dear old Dad said, his eyes still locked on me. "Friendly with me, friendly with my kid. A little too friendly if you ask me." He said as he tried to take another step but the big man grabbed his shoulder, causing him to stumble. "Keep your coffee. Keep the little bastard too. He's nothing but a useless pain in my ass."

"That's it." The big man said as he steered my father toward the door. "Call the police Karen, tell them it's Kevin again." He said over his shoulder as they both awkwardly maneuvered toward the door.

"Whoah, whoah... I'm leavin'." He said as he tripped and stumbled for the door. "I've got better places to go anyway." He added as he shot me one last death glare. "He's faggy enough already, try not to teach him to be even more friendly with guys there, FRIEND." He said with a satisfied sneer as he fell backward out the door and stumbled onto the sidewalk out front.

I watched the boys all crane their necks to see out the window as a police cruiser that was passing by saw the commotion and pulled over. Just like I had seen many times in the past; Dad runs his mouth to the cop, the cop listens and after maybe a full minute he's heard enough to cuff him and take him somewhere to sleep it off and get even angrier at the world. "That's that then." I said motioning to the boys to sit down. "Mikey, are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Mikey flatly answered as both Joshie and Dale put their arms around him. "I should have known he'd come here."

"Me too." I shook my head and added as the large man came over to our table. "I'm sorry about that guys." He said looking at the three boys cramped in one side of the booth. "You're his son, aren't you?"

"Yeah." Mikey almost whispered.

"Don't worry about it." I said knowing Mikey was humiliated and just wanted to be left alone. "I think we're going to need a few minutes to get it back together though."

"No problem." The man said with a knowing nod. "Just let Karen know when you are ready to order. Breakfast is on us today, okay?"

"Thanks, that's really kind of you." I said, silently searching my memory for his name as I did. When the man left, I looked at Mikey and asked "I don't remember that guy at all and I feel like I should know his name. Has he been here long?"

"No" Mikey replied. "Never seen him before."

"This mean you're gonna be goin' to your aunt's again?" Dale asked, triggering the tears Mikey was working so hard to hold back.

Oh right, that was the routine, wasn't it? Dad went out and got tanked up, got himself locked up for a day or so, comes home angry, goes after me or Ma and we get packed up for a trip to our aunt's house unless we know about it in advance and can get out of the house to avoid him. Either way, stay out there for a week or so and let him explode all by himself. Then he starts crying that he's sorry and it will never happen again and that he's going to stop drinking so much... Yadda, yadda, yadda. It's no wonder I wasn't able to keep all that many friends.

"Mike, we should go back to the house." Mikey sniffled as the other two boys huddled in tight.

He was right and I hated to admit that I knew that he had the same thought I did. 'It's time to get out of the storm's way again.'

"Mike, before we go can I go and sit in the car with Dale for a few minutes?" Mikey asked and I knew why. When this happens, there won't be time to say goodbye, there never was. "Before we come back in, I'll call Ma and warn her too."

"You two go ahead." I said as I put my keys and some change for the pay-phone in front of him. "Joshie and I will stay here and have a coffee to give you both some alone time."

"Thanks Mike." Dale said as he grabbed everything off the table and took Mikey's hand. "I'll come get you when we're done."

"He has to leave because of this?" Joshie asked, looking so lost as the boys disappeared from view.

"It's for their safety when his father gets this bad. When he gets out he's going to be angry and he will explode over it. It's just safer to get out of his way." I replied as I waved for the waitress. "Unfortunately, as usual; Dale and Mikey get split up."

"That's not fair." Joshie said now looking deflated. "Maybe he can come stay with my family for a while."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate your offer but, he won't leave his mother, younger brother and sister. There’s a lot of weight on those little shoulders." I replied as the waitress stepped up to the table.

"What can I get you boys?" She asked with a smile.

"Two coffees please." I said with a sigh. "We won't be able to stay as long as we had hoped."

"I'm sorry to hear that hun." She said reaching over the counter to grab the decanter, turning over two cups on the table, she wasted no time pouring them. "Don't forget, these are on us."

"Thank you ma'am." Joshie sweetly said, earning a smile and a pinch on the cheek.

"You are very welcome, cutie." She finished, putting a handful of creamers on the table from her apron.

Joshie smiled wide at the waitress but as soon as she stepped away from the table, it faded quickly. "This sucks." He began as he started spooning sugar into his cup. "I was just starting to get to know you guys and we were really getting along with each other and that NEVER happens..." He ran on, still adding sugar in an absent minded manner but, now angrily shoveling it into the cup. "...it's just not fair." He finished, the tears starting to fall.

I watched as he quickly wiped his eyes, new tears instantly replacing the old ones. He added four more spoonfuls of sugar and then poured four creamers into his cup and began to stir mechanically, almost as if on auto pilot. "Josh, I know this is going to be hard to believe but, you aren't losing your friends you know. When they get back, as long as you don't allow them to lose touch, they won't." I knew that was one of my worst failings over the years. 'Distance.' Let a little time pass after being separated from someone I care about and if I didn't hear from them I would automatically assume that they want nothing to do with me anymore. The more time that passed, the more I felt that I had no business reinserting myself into their life. 'How many friends did I lose over the years for no good reason?'

"I hope so." He said as he put his spoon on the table and lifted his cup. "It's just not fair." He added before taking a sip from his cup. His facial expression was priceless; it took everything I had to keep from busting out laughing. His eyes instantly opened wide and he began making strange sounds, almost as if the coffee was burning his mouth or something. He made two fists and started waving them up and down like a weird bird trying to take flight before finally spitting his coffee back into the cup. "Oh my God! BLECH! That's awful!." He said with half a smile surfacing, instantly changing the mood. "How many sugars did you let me put in it?"

"Let you put in it?!?" I laughed. "I just thought you were trying to make syrup out of it."

"Blech..."He said, still spitting in his cup. "Yeah, adult supervision." He giggled. "You're supposed to stop me from doin' dumb stuff like that."

I waved to the waitress as I began to laugh. "I don't have THAT kind of time there buddy. Have you considered hiring someone? You know, like a personal lifeguard that could have slapped the cup from your hands or tackled you to the floor to save you from yourself."

"Funny." He grinned as the waitress arrived at the table. "Ma'am, could I have another coffee? He let me put too much sugar in this one."

"He did?" She smiled, picking up the cup in a tone that was just as overly sweet as his own. "How dare he. What a mean man."

"Great, I'm surrounded." I laughed as I watched the waitress pour him a new cup while Joshie proceeded to start wiping off his tongue with a napkin. "He doesn't need allies you know."

"He doesn't, but the cute ones get them free of charge." She stated with a smile as she ruffled his hair getting a shy smile and a deep red blush as a reply. "If you boys need anything else, just let me know."

"I think she likes you." I grinned, taking a sip from my cup.

"Yeah well, she's a she and not a he..." He said in a poetic tone with a satisfied smile. "...and not a he is not for me."

"Where'd you learn that?" I asked amused.

"Just made it up." He said after beginning to add sugar once again. "Why? Do you like it?"

"Actually, yeah. It was cool." I said taking a sip from my cup and looking out the window. "You know, we're probably going to have to drop Mikey off at his house before we go to the hospital now."

"Yeah." He replied, instantly losing his smile. "Dale will probably want to go home too now." He added.

"Well, he will probably be upset and want some time alone so you might be right. Hopefully, he'll still go with us to see Tommy first." I added.

"Do you still want me to help out with the room?"

I put down my cup and locked eyes with him. 'Does he think I'm gonna ditch him now that the other boys won't be around?' I thought realizing just how quickly the brightness in his blue eyes seemed to vanish. "You think you're getting out of work that easily?" I said with a smile watching that hopeful look virtually melt away. "You don't think hanging out with just me will be too boring, do you?"

"No Way!" He perked up and almost shouted. "I just thought since you are closer to them and because they sorta wanted me to hang around that if they weren't gonna be there..."

"That I wouldn't want you around?" I finished for him. Joshie nodded his head and let his gaze settle on the cup in front of him. "Joshie, we may have a lot yet to learn about each other but there is one thing I want you to be absolutely clear about." I paused until he looked back up at me. "I want you around." I continued. "You and I have a lot in common and a lot still to learn about each other but one thing I know right now is that you are a friend and that is something we both need right now. Not only do I want you around but, I'm not looking forward to the time when you decide that you're sick of hanging out with some old dude."

"Old. Heh." He said with a shrug. "Just cause you're older doesn't make you old." He said placing his elbows on the table. "So I can stay?"

"Of course you can, dufus." I laughed. "If you don't I'll have to chase you down and torture you."

"Good." He said as he lifted his cup to his lips, freezing suddenly as he added with an evil smile "Good that I can stay not that you want to torture me."

"Ha. Ha. Ha. Very funny." I said as I noticed Dale heading back into the diner. "He looks serious." I managed to get out just before he made it to the table. "Ok buddy, what are we doing?" I asked causing Dale to look at me with a bemused expression.

"I was gonna ask you that," Dale said with a smirk. "Mikey called his mother and she thinks it would be a good idea if they weren't home when his dad gets out."

"Understandable," I said with a sigh. "Did Mikey say what he wants to do?"

"Yeah." Dale said in a tone that by itself screamed 'disappointment'. "He wants to be able to pack his own stuff this time."

I forgot about how much I hated when Ma would pack for me. I was hanging out with older boys when we went there and she always seemed to pack the clothes that I was embarrassed to wear around them. Stuff that I didn't like or that didn't fit right and I always wondered how she always seemed to miss the cooler stuff that I owned. "We should probably get going then." I took a good sized gulp from my cup before asking, "Are you gonna go help Mikey get his stuff together?"

"Well, we were gonna go see Tommy. I don't want him to think that we didn't mean it when we said that we'd visit."

"Don't worry. I'm sure he'll understand after I explain what happened. You should be with Mikey right now. He doesn't tell you enough how much he hates it when you guys are separated for long periods." I said remembering regretting having never told Dale those same words when I had the opportunity to so long ago. "Joshie and I will drop you two off at the house and go sit with Tommy. If you want, I can come get you afterward and we can head for the motel."

Dale shrugged his shoulders, looking like a lost puppy. "If it's okay, I kinda just wanna go home for a while." Dale half mumbled.

"No problem buddy," I said putting my fingers under his chin and raising his eyes to meet mine. "He feels the same way, I know he does."

"Yeah, I know," Dale said as I watched Joshie swallow the last of his coffee.

"Let's get rolling so you and Mikey can spend some time together before he has to head for his aunt's," I said while Joshie and I scooted out of the booth. "Thanks Karen," I said to the waitress, who winked at me and waved to Joshie.

"You're welcome. You boys come back anytime." She said with a smile and a wink aimed at Joshie, earning another blush for her efforts.

"She soooo likes you dude." I laughed, getting punched in the gut as he ran out of the door toward the car. "Not my fault you're so cute."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Mike, I'm so sorry you got wrapped up in all of this." Julie said as the boys slowly climbed out of the car and huddled on the sidewalk. "I'm not sure how to explain this but, we are going to go spend some time at a friend's house for a while..." She began before I cut her off.

"Julie, there's nothing to explain. Let's just say that my father was a lot like Mikey's so, I understand more than you know."

"Thank you." Julie smiled as she redirected her attention to the three boys on the sidewalk. "Michael, Dale, we need to get moving. Say goodbye to Joshua and Mike so we can get packed up and get going. Dale, we'll swing by your house on the way unless you would like to go with Mike."

"I'll stay Mrs. Avery." Dale said as the two boys took turns hugging Joshie and then me. "I have your number Mike. I can call, right?"

"Anytime my friend." I said with a smile. "Julie, that goes for you guys too. Call anytime if you need anything or even if you want to check in. I know Joshie would like to know that you guys are okay." I said and Joshie nodded his head enthusiastically.

"I'll have Mikey check in with you guys once we get settled in." Julie said as she began to usher the boys into the house. "Get a wiggle on guys, lots to do and little time to do it in." 'One of Ma's sayings that I haven't heard in years.' I smiled but I really wanted to hug her right then and there.

Just as I was about to turn for the car, Mikey slammed into my side. "Maybe you and Joshie can come out to Auntie's house. You know how to get there."

"We could but, that would be a little weird." I said wrapping my younger self in a tight hug. "You'll have some fun there with the guys, you always do." I said with a knowing smile.

"Yeah. You're right." Mikey said as he turned to catch up with his mother. "Bye guys. I'll call, I promise."

We made it almost all the way to the hospital before Joshie finally broke the silence. "What does Mikey do at his aunt's house anyway?"

"Be a kid." I said getting a confused look from my passenger. "You know, ride bikes, skate, swim, goof around. There are a couple of boys there that he spends time with that look out for him." '...and other things...' I continued in thought remembering being two years younger than Mikey is now seeing my first nudie magazine or learning what boys do when they get excited from them. Even now I look back on how they treated me fondly.

"Oh, then this will be like a break for him?" Joshie asked turning to look back out the window.

"For a while," I said, turning the car into the parking lot. "It'll get old soon and he will miss his close friends here."

After we parked, Joshie scooted over and got out of the car on the driver's side and just stood there for a moment before finally closing the door. "I already miss those guys." He said with a sigh. I put my arm across his shoulders and began to walk toward the entrance.

"So do I." I said, smiling when his arm wrapped around my midsection and squeezed. "But thankfully you're here so I don't have to be alone."

Inside the lobby, next to the reception desk was an armed police officer who looked like a professional wrestler squeezed into a uniform that was about one size too small. I nodded in acknowledgment toward him, just out of courtesy but, he merely squinted his eyes as if I was somehow bothering him. To each his own I suppose. The woman working the desk today was a timid little brunette, complete with the bun in her hair and school teacher, black rimmed glasses. Her attention was so focused on whatever it was she was working on that I believe that she had no idea that we were even there. Suddenly I pictured the officer being stationed here just to keep her from hurting herself with a stapler or something because she was so frail looking and had to stifle a snicker. As we waited for her attention, I noticed that the lobby was unusually empty so, I decided breaking the silence would be a great start. "I've never seen it so quiet in here." I stated as if I was speaking to Joshie which worked, her gaze literally shot up from her desk and settled on us.

"Yes." She coldly stated as the officer watched the entire interaction with suspicion visible in his expression. "Can I help you?"

I felt Joshie's grip on me tighten as he cleared his throat. "We're here to see Tommy Russo Ma'am."

"Oh, I don't think so." She replied, shocking us both with her 'matter of fact' tone and gaining more of 'Officer Hulk's' interest. "Thomas Russo is not receiving visitors who are not escorted by a court-appointed liaison."

"Oh no," I sighed; "what happened now?"

With one finger, she pushed her glasses higher on her nose, before she put down what she had in her hands. "The courts have stepped in for Mr. Russo's protection and ordered police presence and only approved persons may see him."

Joshie looked at me and then back at the receptionist. "But we're family." He said, tightening his grip on my midsection.

"I'm sorry but, to protect Thomas from outside threats that have been made, it is recommended that he not be allowed any visitors unless cleared by Child Protective Services who will approve of and supervise any and all visits." She said coldly before shuffling some papers on her desk. "Would you like to fill out a request to meet with a court appointed liaison? It will only take about twenty four hours to do the required background checks and to schedule the visit."

"That's crap." Joshie spat. "We aren't gonna hurt him and he has to sit up there all alone because of all this."

I put my hand beneath his chin and redirected his gaze toward mine. "You're right but, they don't know that yet. So, to insure that Tommy will be safe, they will keep everyone away until they are sure that they know who is and isn't a threat."

"Can't Tommy just tell them?" He asked with the obvious look of confusion on his face.

"He could..." I began, slowly trying to think carefully how to word my thought; "but it isn't easy to tell if a child that has been hurt like Tommy has been, is stating that an adult isn't a threat because they really aren't or, because he may be afraid of what will happen to him if he tells on them."

"Oh." Joshie half whispered. "I'm sorry I raised my voice, Ma'am."

"It's quite alright young man." She said as she resumed whatever it was she was working on and the officer that looked as if he was going to get involved went back to looking indifferent. "Supervised visit request forms can be obtained here and at the Child Welfare Office in the District Courthouse."

"Thanks for your time," I said flatly as I turned and led a very disappointed 12-year-old toward the door. "Looks like none of our plans for the day are going to happen."

"Wait a minute." Joshie almost shouted as he broke his grip on me and rushed back up to the desk. "If I write a note to Tommy, could you give it to him Ma'am?"

The woman tilted her head and thought for a moment before she let a smile finally break her expression. "I don't see why not. It would be good for him to know that you tried to visit." She stated as she produced a pad of paper and a pen. "I can't allow you to seal it in an envelope though. The officer in charge of his safety will need to look at it before he gets it."

"Okay. Thanks." Joshie smiled before he began writing a decent length note. When he was finished, he tore the sheet of paper off the pad and folded it in half. "Thank you. I hope it makes him laugh."

"I'm sure it will." She said as she accepted the paper and handed it over to the officer who pulled out a walkie-talkie and went around the corner, probably to arrange this have the note sent up. "You are a very thoughtful boy. Thomas is lucky to have people like you in his family."

"Bye." He stated as he rushed me and resumed his death grip on my midsection.

As we reached the door I looked down at him and smiled. "What did you write?"

He giggled and said, "That I was gonna talk you into buying a cake so we could put a file in it so he could break out." He looked back up at me with a satisfied smile. "I also wrote down my phone number so he would have it in case they let him make phone calls."

"That's a good idea," I said as I ruffled his hair. "The cops will probably even get a laugh out of your note."

"I hope so. So, what are we gonna do now?" Joshie said as we stepped outside and paused. "It's not too late yet, we could still get some work done on your room."

"Not a bad idea." I said letting my mind wander a bit. "I would like to stop at a place I haven't been to in a while." I said realizing that I haven't explored this side of the tracks yet and my old Jr. High School still exists in this time. Back home it had been torn down to make room for a bigger, modernized middle school.

"Okay." Joshie smiled. "What place?" He asked as he finally let me go and picked up the pace toward the car.

"I'll explain when we get there," I replied with a smile as I dug in my pocket for the keys, not finding them. "HEY!" I yelled ahead as I watched my new friend reach the car and begin to unlock the door. "You little pickpocket. Gonna start calling you Dodger."

"Dodger?" He asked, his confused expression causing me to laugh.

"You know, The Artful Dodger. Oliver Twist?" I said with a pause. "Charles Dickens?" Still nothing more than a shrug. "Oh come on now, really? The book is kind of boring but it was made into a really good movie." 'A couple in my time, actually...'

"Oh," Joshie said with a grin. "maybe it's on cable and we can watch it sometime."

"Or we could rent it," I said without thinking, getting nothing more than a confused look in response as he climbed into the car. 'You dope, people around here don't have VCRs yet.' His response a reminder that I still don't belong here.

"You're weird." He giggled, letting me off the hook as he put the keys in the ignition and started the engine. "So, we go to your secret place, get some food, go home and do some work, get some food and maybe watch a movie. Right?"

As he slid over to the passenger side of the car, I had to laugh. "No food with the movie?" I asked with a laugh getting a serious stare from him as he buckled his seatbelt.

"Well, snacks maybe." He announced seriously before we both laughed and I started to drive.

As I started up the car I thought again about Oliver Twist and I started to sing half under my breath, "Only to find some piece of mind, I have to pick a pocket or two." Looking over at Joshie I had to laugh as he just rolled his eyes and looked back out the window.

"You're weird." He giggled.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ten minutes later we were pulling up out front of yet another school. Josh was silent as I parked the car, and remained so as we both climbed out. He walked over to my side and we both leaned up against the fender and just looked over the group of small buildings that made up the classes of the local Jr. High School and the two larger buildings in the center of it all that were the office/nurse and the auditorium/trade classes. Memories of this place just made me smile.

"So, why are we here?" Joshie asked, head-butting my arm for emphasis.

"I had to see it." I answered honestly. "There is so much that happened at this school." I said, followed by a sigh. "Like over by the office. There was this one time I turned to come down the stairs just in time to catch a snowball square in the face. My nose bled so bad that the area looked like a crime scene." I laughed and got a giggle out of Joshie. "The nurse got sick to her stomach and when my mother came to pick me up; she asked her how she even became a nurse because she kept violently gagging."

"How is that a good memory?" Joshie giggled. "Doesn't sound fun at all."

"You'd have to know my friends. That nose bleed was a badge of honor for me. I wasn't a big kid so taking a hit like that, throwing snow balls back and laughing about it was kinda bad ass with the small group I hung out with." I said redirecting him to the base of the steps. "Right there, while my mother was giving the nurse a hard time about being squeamish, a boy I had a crush on sat down and talked to me for the first time and," I pointed to the auditorium; "a couple of months later behind that building he actually kissed me."

Suddenly, Joshie was extremely interested. "Really?" He asked leaning back to look me in the eye. "How'd that happen?"

I led him over to the steps and motioned for him to have a seat. "It was a dare, kinda," I said with a thoughtful grin. "It's probably a story you don't want to hear."

"Oh come on." He almost whined. "I told you about Mike."

"It's a little embarrassing." I said with a chuckle. "I actually kinda tricked him into doing it." When I realized that he wasn't going to say anything because he wanted me to go on, I continued. "Well, to start, his name was Chris. I met him when I moved back into this area for like the third time I think, in the middle of the year. He was cute. Like, 'Oh my god, I can't even talk to him' cute and I got the desk right next to him. I have no idea how many times he would catch me sneaking a glance at him. He had the softest, shiniest chestnut colored hair that was always perfect; bright blue, almost gray eyes that you could get lost in and mile long eyelashes, the warmest, softest smile I've ever seen... I have no idea how I didn't fail that class, honestly." I said with a laugh. "Anyway, he tried to make small talk with me now and then and of course, I babbled like a total moron when he did. The day I caught the snowball, he sat and talked to me and told me that he thought I didn't like him because I never seemed to want to talk to him. I tried to pretend like it was no big deal but inside I was jumping up and down that he even cared. It was that day that I learned that we both had subjects that we could use some help in that the other was good at and with that, we now had something real to talk about. I could actually get through an entire sentence with him without looking like a fool."

"He sounds awesome." Joshie smiled and rested his head on my shoulder with a sigh. "Did he end out feeling the same about you?"

"Oh god no." I said with a shrug. "We did stuff with each other that I'm sure he would never have done with me if he knew I was actually gay but, he was never more than a very close friend and a secret crush." I thought for a moment. "Well, we used hang out at his house for an hour or so most days after school and about an hour before school started. Just to spend more time talking and goofing around, we used to take the long way to and from school. At his house there were plenty of times we would look at dirty magazines and for fun, sometimes we would experiment with some of the stuff we saw in pictures with each other. I had done that before with a couple other boys when I was really young and the prospect of doing it with someone I felt like this about was just unreal. I knew he was straight and he thought I was so, there was no chance of it going to far," I sighed. "or any further than it already had which kinda sucked. We were having fun and that was all I guess I could hope for. More actually because I practically memorized every inch of his body in that time because we were so comfortable with each other. Anyway, we used to play a kind of game that we started calling 'Gay Chicken' which would simply mean that randomly when we were alone, we would lean in as if we were going to kiss the other. He originally started it and I almost didn't pull back the first time which would have ended the game right then and there I'm sure. I jerked back at the last moment and said, 'Okay, okay. You win.' and we would laugh about it over and over again. After the next time when I started it and found out he was having fun doing this, it became something we would start doing in more risky places and more often. You know, to try to see who would back out first. I was horrified that he would stop doing it if I ever let us come into contact so, I let him win like, a lot.

"The day that he actually kissed me, we had just taken a test in science. I was better in science and he was better in math so, we used to help each other study. Well, he was acting all big and bad cause he felt really good about how he thought he did and he started to lean in toward me like he was gonna kiss me as the class was breaking up. I jerked back and mouthed 'stop it' which to him was a huge win. On our way to the next class, I wandered out behind the auditorium and he followed me with this big smile on his face. I asked him if he was nuts because he tried doing that in front of the entire class and he just laughed. So I smiled and dared him to try it again, warning him that this time 'I' was going to win. I smiled and crossed my arms like a second before his lips came into contact with mine and I remember thinking afterward how he must have thought he was adding insult to injury because during the encounter, his tongue actually found mine. It was only a couple of seconds but in my memory it lasted forever. It took me a second but when I finally composed myself I patted him on the shoulder and said 'I win.' which in all honesty was more truth than he would ever know."

We sat in silence for a few moments before Joshie cleared his throat. "Mike, can I ask you a question?"

Without even looking over at him I replied "Sure buddy, what do you want to know?"

"So um," He began. "What did he get on the test?"

About 5 full seconds passed before he began to giggle. "Really? That's your question." I shook my head and laughed.

"Well sure." Joshie almost squeaked. "It would have been a total waste of time if he only got like a C, right?" He laughed as he tried unsuccessfully to scoot away from me.

Putting the now laughing, squirming boy in a loose headlock I started to give him a noogie which got him laughing harder. "I'm never telling you a serious story again you clown." Once I let him go, we both sat back and finished laughing. "B+" I stated simply, breaking the silence that had settled over the conversation.

"I knew you'd remember." He smiled without even looking in my direction. "I remember all the small stuff with Mike and I think you and I are a lot like each other that way." He said with a warm smile. "We played around a lot like you and Chris but, we both wanted to be close. I wish we thought up gay chicken but, it wouldn't have worked with us. That would just be kissing and we were both okay with that really early." He laughed as he pulled his feet up on to the same step that he was sitting on and wrapped his arms around his legs. Resting his chin on his knees he sighed again and continued; "There was this one day when we first started to hang out with each other, he hinted around that he wanted me to sleep over at his house but, I wouldn't take the hint. He'd say stuff like 'We would have more time to hang out if you stayed at my house once in a while." Or "Maybe you could leave some clothes at my house in case you ever decided you didn't want to leave when we hang out there." He never just came out and asked. I remember watching him just before I finally said I'd like to sleep over. He was writing in his notebook, it was a note to himself to remember to grab his baseball uniforms out of his locker so his mom could wash it." Joshie breathed in deeply before continuing; "I always thought it was a little dumb but, I remember realizing that I thought everything about him was just amazing. I mean I always felt that way but at that moment it was just so overwhelming, you know? I watched how he wrote every letter and how he would put this little loop on his 'B' or how his 'G's weren't closed like I made mine or how he wrote 'Ma' instead of 'Mom' or something just like I do. I even remember wishing I was left handed too just because he was and I thought it looked cute when he wrote. His lips moved when he wrote, like he was trying to silently tell his hand what to write. It's like everything that happened I memorized and then ran through my head over and over afterward so I could never forget it, just like you with Chris. I even remember that it was exactly 2:42 when I finally asked him if I could sleep over. He dropped his pencil and looked like I just handed him an early birthday present or something."

I ruffled his hair and nodded. "That's me." I grinned. "With someone you care about like that, you really do memorize absolutely every moment you can. With me it was because I knew it was only temporary and with you I'll bet it was for fear that it wasn't real."

"That's exactly it." He said, sounding a little surprised. "Like I'm gonna wake up the next day and it was all just a dream." He smiled at me and as if deciding I could be trusted, he pulled out his wallet and took out a rather beaten up piece of folded up notebook paper. After seeming to consider it further, he tentatively handed it to me. "Go ahead, open it."

[ Don't forget to bring home both baseball uniforms so Ma can wash them ]

"You kept the note." I said with a smile as I carefully folded it back up.

Joshie smiled and you could see his eyes beginning to tear up. "Yeah, he never finished writing it." He said as the first tear began its path down his cheek. "Actually, he even forgot to grab his uniforms that day too. He was really excited and looked like crap in his next game." He finished with a sniffle and a laugh. After a pause he looked up at nothing in particular and said; "You must think I'm a baby."

"Come here." I said as he slid over and snuggled into a half hug. "I don't think you're a baby at all. As a matter of fact, with everything you've been through and for the way you punished yourself for so long, I believe the total opposite." I gave him a squeeze and felt him begin to softly sob into my shirt. "We've both been through some pretty rough times and I think we both learned to hold on to the good memories as if our lives depend on them. Hell, at my age Chris should be a long forgotten or at least a distant memory but, because I couldn't just let him go in my mind, it's almost like he will always be with me just the way he was back then. I'll bet the same is true for you with Mike."

"It is." He sniffled. "Mike, what ever happened to Chris anyway?"

"Well, that's a tough story." I said clearing my throat. "The end of that year, I had to have a pretty embarrassing surgery and I explained it to him thinking that he'd understand."

"What was the surgery for?" He asked and after a moment of silence added; "I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Oh boy." I half laughed. "You laugh and I'll smack you." I added with the comical 'I'll bop you' hand gesture witch got the laugh I was looking for, causing his tears to be forgotten for the moment.

"I won't, Please don't beat me mister..." Joshie said not being able to contain his laughter even if it was accompanied with a sniffle.

Once he was quiet I took a deep breath and just blurted out, "I needed a surgery to fix a little issue I was born with that got blown off until I was like 13." I said trying to leave out as many details as he would allow. "By then it was too late and I ended out losing something that an ignorant person would have way too much fun teasing me about."

"Like what?" Joshie innocently asked. "I won't laugh, I promise."

"One of the boys," I said motioning toward my groin. "It could have been cancerous because it stayed in my abdomen, where it doesn't belong; way too long," I added noticing his serious stare. "I still had a son so, it really didn't affect anything."

"Cancer?" He asked. "That's scary. And you were about my age? I would've flipped out."

"Nah, I kinda went into shock when they told me and then just blindly did everything they suggested. Nothing came of it later in life so, I was pretty lucky." I took another deep breath and continued; "Anyway, Chris had no idea what was wrong so when he came to visit me in the hospital just before I went in for surgery, I told him. To make a long story short, over a week later I was able to go to the school to get my books and assignments so I could get ready for final exams. When I got there, Chris and a few of the bigger kids were hanging out near one of our classes and when I tried to say Hi, one of the bigger kids cleared his throat and said 'Wow Chris, now that you mention it, he does kinda lean to one side. I never noticed it before.' and they all laughed."

"Chris laughed too?" Joshie asked with real concern in his expression.

"He did." I said staring out across the grass that led to the gym. "He wouldn't look me in the eye though. Stared at the ground or looked past me at the other guys the whole time. He had to look cool in front of his new friends I guess. It took everything I had not to start crying before going inside and on my way back out of the class I stopped and tossed my science book at him and said 'Good luck on the final.' and just walked away." I just shook my head. "He tried to call me a couple of times and even came by my house but I wouldn't talk to him. We moved again soon after so, that was the last time I would ever speak to him."

"That's sad," Joshie said, resting his head back on my shoulder in silence as if he was deep in thought. After a few minutes, he tilted his head and looked at me with a nod. "You should have talked to him one more time and told him to kiss your ass."

"Where were you when I needed you?" I laughed and ruffled his hair thinking to myself that in all reality, none of this has even happened yet in the here and now so he literally could have been around. "I guess I just wanted to see this place again. Partly because you and the other two stooges have reminded me of my past a lot lately." I continued, "You have also been really open and honest with me, I owe the same in return."

Josh's cheeks began to flush and he looked off in the other direction. "I wish I was older." He stated simply.

"Heh, and I wish I was younger," I said as I stood up. "We just gotta be happy being who we are I guess."

"So, um..." Joshie said as he got to his feet. "Was he the only boy you had a crush on?"

"When did we decide to focus on me here?" I asked leading him away from the school and toward the gymnasium, which was on the other side of the property.

"I was just curious." Joshie scrambled to get out. "I'll mind my business if you want me to."

For a moment I was actually thinking about telling him to focus on something other than my own pathetic crushes but, knowing the struggles he is going through, I figured maybe it would be helpful for him to know that he is far from being alone in dealing with being gay in a world that seems to judge you based solely on that fact. "Nothing that would ever amount to any more than just messing around with dudes that were straight." I said, as he screwed up his expression. "It's true. The two teens who taught me what to do when you are looking at dirty magazines, both straight. They both grew out of the phase of messing around with each other and a younger kid and got girlfriends. Chris, straight. Even if it was questionable from where I stood most of the time. There were a hand full of others that I started looking at dirty magazines and stuff with that it was easy to allow it to turn into something I could pretend was a relationship."

"You mean sex?" He asked seriously. I wanted to joke with him but his serious look told me that a joke right now could possibly hurt his feelings.

"In a sense." I replied. "You've kinda been there I guess." I said trying to find the words. "When I first started out as an 'overly adult' eight year old," I paused and shook my head a little. "What went on between me and the two older boys in my life at the time was sex as far as I was concerned. They were looking at pictures that were mainly focused on naked woman by themselves or doing stuff with guys. At first I was curious about what they were looking at and what was going on in the pictures but, the closer we got and the more comfortable we got with each other; the more interested in what they were doing and how I could be involved I became. It wasn't long before I didn't look at the pictures at all anymore and focused on what they were doing and how much they liked it when I did for them what I saw in the pictures."

"Oh wow." Joshie gasped. "You were only 8?"

"When it started, yeah." I shrugged. "It lasted on and off until I was like 15 or 16. By then what happened with Chris was in the past and when I wasn't out there with them there were a couple of other friends that liked to have company when they did what most boys consider to be secret. Toward the end one of the two teens from back then had a girlfriend and didn't spend any time with me anymore and the other one, who I had become the closest to; took it a little further than we ever allowed things to go the last time we would ever be together just after telling me that he was going into the Army, which let me know that even though it had to end, he really did care about me." I said noticing my hands were shaking. "Wow." I said holding my hands out for Joshie to see. "It's still hard to talk about."

"I'm sorry," Joshie said as he took my hand and ducked under my arm to get back into his half hug as we continued to slowly walk. "Have you ever heard from him again? The one that went into the Army?"

"Not at all." I frowned. "I was told by his father years later that he got shipped out overseas after he finished boot camp and that he enjoyed where he was stationed so much that he decided to stay there."

"Do you think he was actually gay? I mean you said he went further the last time. Like you actually had sex, right?"

"Yeah." I said with a smile. "One of the only times in my life when someone would focus on me and since I trusted him to not hurt me, I was actually able to enjoy it." I said as we reached the gym. "You know, I've never talked to anyone about this before."

Joshie simply looked up at me and smiled before he walked up to the gym doors and peered through the window. "This is a weird school." He stated turning back toward me. "There are like what? Seven separate buildings? You must have frozen in the winter time."

"Yup." I said, laughing at how he jumped topics but happy to be let off the hook for a while. "Tell you what. Let's get back in the car, stop talking about the past for a little while, go get some food and then see if we can get that room to really look like someone lives in it."

"Can we stop at the store on the way back?" He asked with a grin. "If we're gonna spend the rest of the day getting sweaty and dirty and the rest of the night in front of the TV we gotta have snacks." He grinned as we picked up the pace back toward the car.

"Ok, just as long as you don't force me to stop at another restaurant." I smiled. "I'd really like to get some work done."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Having won the coin toss and getting to shower first, I sat on the end of the bed waiting for Joshie to finish before curling up to pass out for the night. "I have no idea how I would have gotten all this work done without you." I said as Joshie came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. "Once we throw some paint on that last wall, it will actually look like it was never abandoned."

"Yeah." He yawned as he finished drying his hair and offered me the brush to help get it back under control. "I'm even too tired to watch anything on TV now." He grinned as he plopped himself on the bed in front of me and I just started brushing.

"Good," I said to the back of his head. "There's nothing on anyway."

Joshie sat in silence as I finally got the brush to stop finding snarls. When I was finished he scooted back onto the bed and lay down with a contented sigh. "Thanks." He grinned when I got up and put the hair brush away. "Mike, are you happy being alone?"

After thinking for a moment I sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. "Technically, I'm not alone. You're here with me."

"You know what I mean." He groaned as he propped himself up on the pillows. "Don't you wish you had someone? I mean... Ah... You know."

I shook my head and took a deep breath. 'Why do these conversations have to be so hard?' I thought as I tried to figure out how to answer him. "I do know what you mean." I began, grabbing his right foot and in an absent minded manner, started rubbing it. When he smiled and closed his eyes I said, "There is nothing I want more in life than to spend it with someone I really care about. It's more than just being lonely though. It feels like loneliness but it's really just a feeling of not feeling like your life is complete." I said with a nod, happy I was able to say it without sounding like a fool. "It's just a feeling though. Your life isn't complete until the final whistle blows, know what I mean?"

"Yeah but, what if you never find someone who feels the same way you do?" He asked now beginning to relax into the pillows. "I don't think I'll ever find someone like Mike again."

"You won't." I said, instantly getting Joshie's eyes to pop open wide. "I'm sorry but it's true. Mike was someone special in your life and no one will ever be special in exactly the same way. If that was possible then people would just be replaceable." I said as his stunned look seemed to fade a little. "Every single important person to ever pass through your life will be important in their own way. If you are out looking for another 'Mike' then you are going to miss out on other potential relationships because no one will ever measure up." I shifted and started on his left foot, which got him to relax and close his eyes again. "Who were you looking for when you found Mike?"

Joshie shrugged his shoulders and said, "No one really. We just met and got along with each other. Everything that happened after that just happened."

"You never expect it when it happens and if you're lucky, it will last for a long time. If not, then you have a memory that lasts the rest of your life. That's not nothing."

"You aren't lonely?" He asked with a sigh.

"Not at the moment," I replied watching a weak smile form on his exhausted face. "You're making that pretty impossible actually."

"Good." He said with a yawn. "You know you're wrong though, right?"

"Oh really? How so?" I asked with a grin.

"You're another Mike and you're important to me so by looking for another Mike I found someone important." He opened his eyes and gave me a satisfied smile. "So you're wrong."

"A clown," I said as I squeezed his foot one last time before standing up. "You need to go out and look for a clown."

"Well, you think you're pretty funny." He said with a giggle as he started to inch himself toward the other side of the bed, away from me. "Just gotta work on your makeup now."

"Oh. Ha, Ha." I said before he reached the other side of the bed and in his attempt to stand up quick, lost his towel on the floor. "That'll teach ya." I said as I pulled the blankets back and climbed in. "I pulled out a clean pair of shorts for you to sleep in, they're on the chair where you can leave the towel instead of on the floor, slob." I barely got out as a wet towel hit me in the face. "Eeeeewwww! You dried your butt with this." I laughed.

"Shut up, it's clean." He said with a giggle as he pulled on his shorts and switched off the overhead light, the only source of light in the room now filtering in through the curtains from outside. "Any room left in there for me?"

"Yup." I said as I lifted the blankets and he climbed in, backing right up to my chest and grabbing my arm to pull it around himself. "Hey Mike." He almost whispered once he snuggled in. "Thanks for not treating me like a little kid."

I gave him a squeeze, kissed the back of his head and sighed in response. "Well, with everything you've gone through, I don't see you as one." I replied, pausing when I felt him squeeze my arm. "I should be thanking you honestly. It's nice to just be able to talk to someone about absolutely anything."

"Yeah, it is." He said with a little rasp in his voice and the only sounds to follow were the sounds of his breathing becoming steady and shallow.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Black...Here we go again. I really hate this dream.

"I can't anymore..." a man's voice says, sounding as if it was echoing through a tin can. Yelling can be heard off in the distance. I can hear a soft murmuring of people, they sound far away, I can't understand them. A rhythmic, almost mechanical noise drones on over it all as the sobs of what sounds like a boy rises to the surface. I feel the familiar soft and furry item in my hand as it feels as if someone is squeezing my closed hand with it in it. Then I feel as if everything around me is being jostled and the goes deathly silent. A headache, a sore throat. I feel like I can't breathe deeply enough and it scares me. More voices, now sounding like a party as heard from the bottom of a swimming pool. "Goodbye..." That first voice says, it's a familiar voice even though I can't quite place it. Suddenly that last day at my aunt's house pops into mind before another goodbye from years ago that made me feel like crying. "You've done this for me so many times." He said as the blackness surrounding me slowly becomes his bedroom.

I remember feeling the hot, wet feeling as he took my boyhood deep inside his mouth. I can almost feel it right now, I grab the pillows on the bed and try to stop myself from moaning out loud but failing as a high pitched squeak escapes my throat and with a laugh he shushes me.

He asks me if he's doing okay and smilies when I can't do much more than nod my head in response. Pressure, intense pressure feels like it is building with every movement he makes. I try to thrust into his mouth but he puts his arm across my midsection to stop me and continues teasing the pressure into becoming unbearable. I close my eyes tight and tense up.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"God I love you." I whisper, causing him to increase his suction and speed.

I clutch my pillows tight and open my eyes, instantly realizing that I'm not in his bedroom, this is the motel room. I am on the verge of an extremely powerful orgasm and I lie back and want to pretend this is still a part of my dream. I look down and see nothing but long blond hair, not short brown; rhythmically moving in time with the intense feelings that are rapidly bringing me to the edge. 'I should tell him to stop.' I think to myself, but my mouth won't work. 'He's so good at this. Let him have what he wants.' I absently think as I'm rapidly approaching the point of no return and I lie back and allow him to continue. 'Say something, this isn't right! This is exactly how you let yourself get hurt years ago, remember!?!' "Joshie..." I squeak out but he ignores me. 'This CAN'T happen.' I almost scream in my head. "Joshie, stop." But he picks up the pace again and I know I don't want him to stop. "Joshua..." I get out with a little more volume but, he continues to ignore me. 'I'll go to jail for this!' Is my last thought before reason finally wins out and I finally come to my senses. "JOSHUA!!! STOP IT!" I shout with a little panic surfacing in my voice and I literally fall out of bed when I push him away.

"What's the matter?" He almost pleads with an absolutely horrified look on his face. "It felt good, didn't it?" He says as tears begin to well up in his eyes. "You were enjoying it! I know you were. You said you love me! You did!" He got out as he scrambled to get to his feet. "I thought that's what you wanted!" He cried.

"I didn't want that, is that what you think I wanted? It's not!" I almost shout, my adrenaline rush making me shiver all over as I stumble around trying to get my shorts pulled back up and untwisted. "Not from you!" I continued, instantly realizing what I was saying and who I was saying it to. "Joshie, I didn't mean it that way..." I began but he was already out of the bed gathering his clothes in his arms and in nothing more than his briefs, he threw the door open and turned his tear stained face back in my direction. "Josh, wait a minute, please I..."

"I won't bother you anymore." He cried, cutting me off. Just as I tried to open my mouth again, he slammed the door hard.

"Oh my God, what have I done?" I ask the closed door as a dull headache begins to make itself noticeable and the air feels even thinner than it did earlier. I rush around the bed and open the door to see Joshie, with an arm load of clothes run past his uncle who was standing in the doorway; crying hard in nothing more than his underwear. As Ed looks up in my direction, I freeze like a deer in the headlights. My only thought: 'I have to get out of here... Right Now!'

* * * * * * * * * * * *

To Be Continued...