The Ultimate Gift

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Ryan Bartlett

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This story utilizes characters previously introduced in various Sanitaria Springs stories. You really should read them first. Thanks to Cole, as always, for his suggestions and improvements and editing. Thank you to Ryan for suggesting this story and being so great to work with.

Lucien

Charlie wasn’t in school that day and everyone assumed he was sick. He hadn’t answered any of Robin’s texts but Robin didn’t seem worried. I was fully aware when Robin asked me to sit with him at lunch it was because his boyfriend wasn’t there. Even though it hurt a little I was pleased he’d taken my advice and talked to Charlie over the weekend. I'd been right that Charlie was facing some emotional issues over his future and possible adoption and felt better after getting it off his chest, and Robin was grateful for my insight. I was torn – on the one hand I was happy to have pleased Robin while on the other hand that happiness took him further away from me and deeper into Charlie's embrace. Still, I was basking in Robin’s attention when his phone rang, the caller ID flashing Marcia Miller’s number, Charlie’s foster mom.

I knew something was wrong the instant Robin bolted from his seat and ran for the table Kale and Chase were sharing. It had to be bad, something Robin needed protection from. I dropped my fork and chased after him across the crowded lunchroom. I skidded to a halt alongside him just as he started to speak.

“Kale, we gotta go, we gotta go right now!”

“Easy Robin,” said Kale. “What’s wrong?”

“Charlie, there’s been an accident. He’s at the hospital!”

Kale didn’t hesitate. He and Chase got out of their seats and once again I followed along. We ran out of the lunchroom and down the hall and didn’t stop until we got to Kale’s car. After the deer incident Kale’s parents had replaced his BMW SUV with a used, but really sharp, Audi convertible. The top was down and I hopped in the backseat with Robin before Kale and Chase even had their doors open.

I watched Robin in the backseat, so scared and so vulnerable. His body language was not the easy, smiling, sunny Robin I knew so well. His hands were wandering restlessly, unable to be still. I reached out tentatively and touched his hand, which curled reflexively around my own. He looked at me and for the first time I felt like he needed me. I squeezed his hand and gave him a tight lipped smile.

“You’re a good friend, Lu. I’m glad you’re here,” said Robin.

“Call Mom and Dad,” said Kale from the driver’s seat. “Let them know what’s going on and see if they can meet us there.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Robin agreed and took out his cell, glad for something to do.

He wasn’t able to get through to either of his parents. He called the courthouse and found out from the clerk that his dad’s court was in session. He tried his mom at home and on her cell but she didn’t answer either line. She carried her phone everywhere she went in case of an emergency like this, in case one of her boys needed her, but turned it off during appointments. Robin left her a message, sighed in frustration, and turned to stare at the woods as they flew by. The entire time he never let go of my hand.

It took almost an hour to get to Greater Binghamton Health. Kale dropped me and Robin off at the emergency room while he and Chase parked the car.

“We’ll be right behind you guys, okay?” said Kale before he pulled out of the emergency bay.

“Yeah,” Robin nodded before running inside.

We stopped at the nurse’s station but before Robin could ask for Charlie, his foster mom spotted us.

“Robin, over here,” Marcia called out. Even at a distance the evidence of her tears was obvious.

“What happened?” said Robin when we joined her. She was sitting alone in the corner with a well-used handkerchief. She stood and hugged us both before answering Robin’s question.

“Alan was taking Charlie and Molly to school this morning,” she sniffled. “They dropped Molly off and were heading to the high school. The car in front of them stopped suddenly and Alan swerved to miss it but lost control and went off the road.”

“Oh my God. Are they okay?” asked Robin.

“Alan’s got a broken arm and a concussion,” said Marcia. She seemed reluctant to continue, her voice caught in her throat.

“What about Charlie,” said Robin in a small, frightened voice.

“Charlie...he...he was reaching for his backpack. It was in the backseat and he took off his seat-belt so he could reach it.”

“Is he okay?” Robin asked frantically, afraid of the answer. I watched the tears forming in his eyes.

“He was thrown from the car when they went off the road,” Marcia cried. Her hand came up and covered her mouth as the tears rand down her cheeks. “He’s with the doctors now. They don’t know...”

Robin collapsed into the chair beside Marcia and hid his face in his hands. His shoulders shook with sobs and I felt tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe this was happening! As much as I wanted Robin to myself, Charlie was my friend. I loved him too, in a brotherly sort of way, and the thought of us losing him...it made my heart sick. I was going to sit by Robin, to let him know he wasn't alone, but when I saw Chase and Kale coming down the hall I met them there so Robin wouldn’t have to hear the story again and renew his fear and pain.

When we joined Robin he refused to look up from his hands. I think he was praying, begging God to spare Charlie’s life. Perhaps we all would now – what else could we do?

“Chase, can you try calling my mom and dad?” Kale wiped a tear from his eye and sat next to Robin. He put his arm around his brother and Robin buried his face in Kale’s chest.

“Yeah, I’m on it,” Chase sniffled and he wandered away from us to make the call.

With nothing else to do I took the seat next to Kale. He held Robin protectively, as if daring whatever hurt his brother to come back and face him. I felt useless and desperately wished there was something I could do besides wait. With everyone else occupied I finally realized my own family didn't know where I was or what had happened. I sent a text to Alec, hoping he wasn't busy and noticed the message. Seconds later he texted back, “On my way.” I breathed a sigh of relief – Alec was always there, even replacing my last phone when I childishly destroyed it.

I slipped my phone back into my pocket just as a door opened from behind the nurse’s station. A doctor in blue scrubs with his hair under a surgical cap emerged and strode toward us.

“Mrs. Miller?” said the doctor.

“Yes, I’m here,” Marsha answered. She stood and we all stood with her. “How’s my son?”

“Mrs. Miller, Charlie’s injuries were quite extensive. The accident broke his neck and I’m afraid…” the doctor began.

“No,” she whispered, her voice cracking. “No, no, no.”

“I’m truly sorry. We did everything we could,” the doctor sighed.

The knot in my stomach tightened. I wanted to throw up and then I looked at Robin. He fell to his knees; Kale and Chase dropped down beside him and wrapped their arms around him. I moved in to join them when Robin unleashed the most painful, primeval cry I’ve ever heard. His pain reverberated through my body and I slumped into a chair, helpless.

Robin

The next few days passed by in a blur. In some ways it seemed like we’d just left the hospital, in others it felt like I’d been wandering through purgatory. Now Kale was knocking on my door telling me it was time to head over to the church for Charlie’s funeral. Charlie’s funeral, I can barely say the words. They sound so foreign coming out of my mouth. Charlie shouldn’t be dead. I know accidents happen every day but hadn’t Charlie been through enough in his life?

“Rob,” he said softly from my door. “It's time to go. Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’m going to be,” I sighed.

Kale crossed from the door to my bed and when I stood he wrapped me up in a powerful hug. He’d hardly left my side the last few days and I was grateful. I don’t think I’d have been able to get through this without my big brother, all of my big brothers, Chase, Sasha, Alec - they’d all been there for me. I felt so desperately devastated I couldn't go anywhere without someone being right there to support me. Even if it was 'just in case' I hadn't been out of their sight.

“I love you Robin,” Kale whispered in my ear. “Everyone’s here, waiting down stairs because they love you too. We’re all here for you, understand?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I can do this, I’ll be okay.” I knew no such thing. I didn't know if I could even force myself to go to church. Every time I saw the sadness in my friends eyes reflected back at me, it all slammed into me again that he was gone. Yes, they loved me – but he was gone.

Kale nodded and put his arm around my shoulder. We walked down the stairs and he was right, everyone was there. Mom and Dad stood with Jamie, Alec and Sasha were next to Chase as were Zap and Travis. I saw Lu there too. He was standing in the corner with his hands in his pockets looking down at his feet. His eyes drifted up to me as we came down the stairs and he pulled away from the wall, straightening in a show of strength for me. I tried to put on a show of bravery for my friends and family, but all of us held anguish just under our stoic masks. They missed Charlie too. I wasn’t alone. We would get through this together, somehow.

Comforting hugs greeted me at the bottom of the stairs and the next thing I knew I was in Kale’s car with him and Chase. My parents offered to drive but once again I wanted to be with my brothers. Save for Lu all of my friends were dating other boys - I knew they’d understand the loss, the devastating loss, I was feeling. Mom, Dad and Jamie led the way followed by me, Kale and Chase, and the rest of the guys were behind us in Alec’s car. Kale, Chase, Alec, Sasha, Zap and Travis were serving as pall bearers and I reached into my coat pocket to make sure my note cards were there.

Alan and Marcia Miller had asked me to give Charlie’s eulogy and as painful as I knew it would be I felt I had to do it. Charlie was my first in a lot of things. First – and only – boyfriend. He was so special; he opened my eyes to the idea that I could love another boy. I could never do that, make someone love me the way Charlie made me love him. I had to hold myself together long enough to tell everyone exactly what we had all just lost.

We pulled up to the church and a strange man greeted us. Pastor Alan was in no condition to lead the service and had arranged for a pastor from Binghamton to do the honors. I walked into the church surrounded by my friends who watched over me like a pride of lions. I'd never felt so protected, had never felt closer to my family – blood and found. I was pleased to see the church so crowded - it meant my Charlie was loved and that warmed my heart.

Charlie’s father, his birth father, the bastard who beat him and threw him away like garbage, was there. He sat in a corner by himself and had the decency to at least look sad. I’d been prepared to see him. When I met with Pastor Alan to talk about my speech he'd told me Charlie’s dad would be there. The pastor said it would be wrong for us to keep him away and while I didn’t agree I wasn’t going to disgrace Charlie’s memory by making a scene. Instead, when his eyes met mine, I glared. My glare became hard to hold as my eyes watered. It was only a few weeks ago that Charlie was telling me about the good memories of his father – before it had all gone so horribly wrong. I wiped my eyes and, with that, left him to stew in his guilt.

“Come on, let’s find our seats,” said Kale, as he nudged me forward, guiding me with his arm around my shoulder.

Charlie’s foster family sat on the right side of the aisle, my family sat on the left. The guys had to meet up with the funeral director and prepare to bring in the casket so I sat with my parents, Jamie and Lu. Dad had arranged for Charlie to be buried in the Kirkwood family plot so my ancestors would be there to watch over him until I met him in eternity; the thought was both comforting and morbid.

We stood when the casket came down the aisle and I might have fallen over if it hadn’t been for Jamie and Lu. My knees wobbled and Jamie grabbed my forearm while I felt Lu's hands keeping me from falling. They kept me on my feet while my brother and our friends tenderly carried Charlie to the front of the church. When the casket was gently set in place the pall bearers took their seats with us in the front pew.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” the visiting pastor began.

I tried to listen to the things he was saying, but I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t understand why Charlie had been taken from me. I didn’t understand why he’d faced the pain of losing his mother and being rejected by his father only to die a brutal death just when things were looking up for him – for us. I didn’t want to hear how God works in mysterious ways. There was nothing mysterious about Charlie’s death, it was cruel and unfair and I don’t know if I want to believe in the kind of God who lets something like that happen.

“I would now ask Robin Kirkwood to come forward and share his thoughts about our brother Charlie,” said the pastor.

It happened so fast, he’d finished his remarks and now it was my turn to speak. I stood on my rubbery legs, hands reached out, patting me, supporting me, making sure I didn't fall and once I was up and walking, somehow I made it to the podium without stumbling. I pulled my note cards from my breast pocket, looked out at the congregation, took a deep breath and then…nothing. I couldn’t speak. It was as if my voice had failed me or refused to cooperate with my brain. I looked out over the sea of mourners and found the eyes of so many in pain. So many people watching me in pain, whose sorrow was swelling as they watched me – the boyfriend, the son, the brother they loved as I tried to tell them how special he had been.

“Charlie…Charlie,” I muttered pathetically. As I tried to speak the tears began to fall from my eyes and a wave of grief flooded my soul.

Mom started to stand but Kale was quicker. He came to the podium and put his arms around me protectively. His hand moved up and down my back as I began to blubber into his shoulder, shaking uncontrollably.

“It’s okay,” Kale whispered. “I’m right here, I’ve got you.”

“I...I can’t do it,” I managed between sobs.

“It’s alright, you don’t have to,” said Kale.

“Someone has to speak for Charlie,” I sniveled.

“Give me your note cards.”

I handed Kale my 3x5 cards and practically fell into my mother’s arms as I climbed down from the dais.

“You’ll have to excuse my brother,” Kale apologized to the congregation. “He’s been shattered, as we all have been over Charlie’s loss. While Robin isn’t able to speak himself I’m going to share his words with you,” said Kale, brandishing my note cards.

“My boyfriend, Charlie Cooper, wasn’t a person so much as he was a force of nature. The moment I first met him I felt drawn to him like the sun draws the planets into its orbit. He was my sun and stars and like the sun Charlie burned brightly but now the light is gone,” Kale read.

“Each of us comes into this world alone and along the way we meet the people who help us to grow and become the person we’re supposed to be. Charlie taught me what it meant to love someone with my whole heart and because of him I’m a better person today than when I met him. I’ll carry Charlie with me like a hand-print on my heart for the rest of my days…”

I sat their listening to my brother read my words and felt like a fraud. Most of it was stuff I’d picked up from song lyrics because it hurt too much to say what was in my heart. The truth is I don’t know what I’m going to do without Charlie. It was like there was a gaping hole in my life where an important piece of the puzzle that was me had been ripped away. Without that piece I’d never be complete. I felt like I’d never be whole again.

Lucien

I listened as Kale read the words Robin had written but something didn’t seem right. Robin opened up to me the night of the dance at Sophie’s church. He’d spoken about how much he cared for Charlie and while the things Kale was reading were sweet, Robin himself had never waxed so poetic. I watched him there in his mother’s arms and all I wanted to do was hold him. I wanted to comfort him and tell him that though he was hurting now, when he was ready, there would be love in his life again. Then I felt like a complete ghoul.

Poor Charlie was dead and Robin was facing probably the hardest time in his life and all I was doing was being selfish. As much as I wanted him in my life – all of him - I knew what Robin needed now was friends who cared about him, not some jerk crushing on him. I tried my hardest to push my feelings deep down into the pit of my stomach so I could be the friend he needed. Anything else would have to wait.

When the service was over the congregation gathered in the social hall. The ladies of the church had been cooking for days and presented lunch for the grieving mourners. People ate, told stories about Charlie and all too soon turned to more mundane topics, how the kids were doing in school, office gossip, vacation plans. It was so sad. Charlie wasn’t even in the ground yet and it seemed like people were already moving on.

I looked for Robin to see how he was reacting to the conversation around us. I hoped it wasn’t hurting him to hear it but as I searched the social hall I couldn’t find him. I got up and started roaming the church until I found him back in the sanctuary staring at a stained glass window.

I’d always thought of Robin as something of a superhero. He reminded me of a young Superman, confident, strong and beautiful. That day he looked more like a young Bruce Wayne, fresh from the loss of his parents. He was still beautiful with his perfectly combed black hair and stunning blue eyes but his skin seemed more pale then it had before and his shoulders slumped in his black suit. I watched him for a moment before he sensed my presence.

“Charlie and I came out under this window,” said Robin, without taking his eyes off the stained glass image of Christ.

“Um, what?” I replied like an idiot. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Charlie and I had a run in with his dad - his bio dad, not Pastor Alan. It was pretty tense. The next day I hugged him under this window and held him in my arms. I didn’t care who saw,” Robin explained, voice soft and full of the emotion of the memory.

“That’s really sweet.” That was the Robin I loved and I was glad to know, under the pain, he was still there.

“You see how Jesus is smiling down at us?”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“I told Charlie he was smiling for us and if he was smiling he must have approved of our relationship.”

“Yeah, of course he would,” I agreed.

“I’m not so sure anymore, Lu,” Robin sighed, clapped me on the shoulder and then walked away.

I watched him go, my mind a blank. How could I help him? How could I be supportive and tell him everything would be okay? I couldn't say it because I couldn't bring Charlie back. I couldn't give him what he wanted and it left me hollow.

Robin

The days turned to weeks and the more time passed the more I missed Charlie’s presence. He was such a huge part of my life; I missed him in everything I did. It was hard to talk to my brother and my friends about it. I loved them all and knew they would do anything to help me, to make me feel better, but being around them and their happy boyfriends was just a reminder of what I’d lost. Even spending time with Lu was hard; he was trying desperately to give me space and support, but every time I looked in his eyes I could see both his love for me and how hurt he was that I was hurting. He made my heart break even more, constantly reminding me of the love I’d always seen in Charlie's eyes.

When Charlie died Pastor Alan and his wife told me I could take anything I wanted to remember him by. Kale and Chase went with me to the parsonage and held me together while I grabbed some of his clothes. We weren’t the same size but I never intended to wear them. I grabbed them because they smelled like him and when I cuddled with them it was like a piece of him was still with me.

I also grabbed his teddy bear because I knew how much it meant to him. It had been his mothers and she’d passed it down to him when he was born. It was the first thing he grabbed when he left his home in Binghamton and entered the foster care system. It was two weeks after his funeral and I held his teddy bear in my arms as I stared at the picture of us on my nightstand.

The picture was taken over the summer when we’d all piled into Alec’s old rust bucket for a ride out to the state park. We went swimming and I somehow managed to get a massive hole in my shorts. When I went to the locker room to change I found that someone had taken my underwear out and replaced them with this ridiculous G-string with a crotch made out of threads of candy. I knew it could only be Charlie. He’d taken home economics and sewing something like that totally fit his sense of humor.

“Did you put that stupid thing in my bag?” I’d asked when I returned to my friends and pulled Charlie aside.

“What thing?” he'd said, playing dumb.

“The thong of Smarty’s,” I'd whispered in his ear. He'd been unable to contain his giggles.

“What can I say, I like a little flavor when I’m down there,” he’d laughed.

“You are so incredibly mental,” I'd laughed and kissed him on the nose.

“I’m mental for you, Robin Kirkwood,” he’d smiled and I kissed him again.

“Hey guys, over here.” We'd turned and found Kale pointing his camera at us. I'd pulled Charlie close to me and we'd smiled just in time for Kale to take the shot.

As I sat staring at the picture I knew I’d never get Charlie back but started thinking there might be a way to feel close to him again. I couldn’t go to Kale, or Chase. I couldn’t go to Alec or Sasha, Zap or Travis. All the gay boys I knew were either relatives or in relationships. There was only one person who could give me what I needed and cared about me enough to give into my demand.

Lucien

Coming home and finding the place to myself was a rare treat. I’d gotten texts from both Mom and Alec while I was riding the bus after school. Mom reminded me she and Dad had an appointment with their lawyer in Binghamton about my adoption.

They were going to stay and have dinner in town before coming home. Alec’s note said he was over at Sasha’s and to call him when I was hungry, that they’d take me out for dinner. In the meantime I slipped out of my school clothes and had a good wank without having to keep quiet about it.

When I was finished using my body like it was my own personal amusement park I put on a t-shirt and some gym shorts. I plopped down in front of the TV and was just firing up the Xbox when there was a knock at the door. I was sure it was some kid selling candy for a school fundraiser or, worse, some Jehovah's Witness who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the door and found Robin on the front step.

“Robin, hi! What are you doing here?” I was unable to contain my delight at seeing him. Lately it seemed like he was avoiding me.

“I came over to see you,” he smiled.

“Really? Come on in.” I'd assumed he'd wanted to speak to Alec about something. Alec, Sasha and Chase had all stepped up to take care of Robin. Still, he said he was here to see me...and my heart shivered.

“So, are your mom and dad home?” said Robin, once I shut the door.

“No, they’re in Binghamton for the evening.” I was about to add why they were there, but let it go. Bringing up adoption would lead him to think of Charlie and he seemed more like himself right now.

“What about Alec?”

“Over at Sasha’s. Why?”

His hands pushed my shoulders back into the wall and I felt a flair of panic. Was he angry? Had my attempts to be there if he needed someone been misinterpreted as disrespectful? But then those thoughts were wiped out as he kissed me. No tenderness, no whisper touches – it was fierce, hungry even.

Mixed in the river of love and lust that was raging through me, there was a large current of panic, of fear. He wasn't ready! He doesn't love me! He is rebounding! I struggled to push him back, but the struggle was mostly internal. I could smell him – his skin and his shampoo. His tongue was pushing into my mouth and I shuddered involuntarily and returned his kiss in spite of my misgivings.

Guilt spiked through me as I felt that letting this happen would be taking advantage of Robin. But, he'd come to me. No matter what my mind said, my body was completely vulnerable to anything Robin wanted of it. My heart beat as a trip-hammer, and another part of me swelled with the thought – Robin wants me! My heart nearly burst through my chest when his hand dropped to the front of my shorts and rubbed my erection.

“Stop,” I panted as I pushed him away. I needed a second to think, I needed to clear the haze of lust clouding my mind.

“Please, Lu,” he pleaded, putting his forehead to mine and staring into my eyes. “Lucien...I need this.”

It was wrong, it felt wrong, but then he kissed me desperately again and I knew it wouldn't matter if I'd shatter into a million pieces afterward; I'd give Robin anything he asked of me. “Let's go to my room.”

Robin pushed the door shut and shoved me against the wall, savagely kissing me. I responded, sucking his tongue in and pulling him tight to me. He kicked his shoes off and he broke the kiss long enough to pull his hoodie and shirt off with one move. Pulling on my own shirt he slammed into me again, his mouth pushing aggressively against my lips and his bare chest crushed to mine.

With a sudden spin he threw me back onto my bed. His eyes were half lidded, not seeing me, and he pulled the fly of his jeans open and shoved them down in haste. I saw, briefly, his black Calvin Klein boxer briefs hugging him before he was tugging on my shorts, stripping me bare before him. I tried to stop him, I tried to voice my concern because his actions betrayed his body – he was flaccid behind his form fitting underwear and his eyes were no more than slits.

Then I was in his mouth and could no longer see his closed eyes or his lack of arousal. All I could see was Robin – the boy I loved – going down on me. The feeling of being blown was incredible, but the fact that it was Robin nearly brought me over the edge. I was thankful I'd whacked it earlier or I'd already be done. I put my hand to his silken hair, stroking it. I heard paper tearing and as he pulled off of me, not looking at my face, he unrolled a condom onto me.

It was my fantasy come true. I’d dreamed of Robin taking me and making me his and then I saw him naked in that locker room at the state park. I wanted to fuck him that day, I dreamed about it at least three times a week and the appearance of the condom suggested I was about to be granted my wish. I couldn’t stop now even if I wanted too. Lust had a hold of me and it was calling all of the shots.

“Fuck me,” said Robin as he nipped at my thighs.

“Are you sure? Robin, you can have me if you want. Anything you want...”

“No, no,” Robin whispered angrily.

“Come up here and…” I began. I wanted to kiss him, to look in his eyes. I wanted to tell him I loved him.

“No, get behind me, take me,” said Robin, his words filled with urgency, frustration.

He shifted to the side, knees on my bed and I moved around behind him. I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to look in his eyes as I entered him, but then I was looking down on him. His pale feet hanging off the edge of the bed, the calf muscles with their dusting of fine, dark hairs and porcelain skin – twitching as they worked to keep him balanced in front of me while I shifted behind him.

I let my hand move up his spine, feeling the smooth skin – hot under my fingers, his breath heaving. I let my hand wander as far as the hair of his head, my erection pressing against the cloth of his underwear. I dragged my hand down his back slowly, reveling in finally, finally touching the guy that meant everything to me. I took his underwear by the band and pulled down and flattening my hand to feel the firm muscles of his ass – the dimple as he flexed at my touch – and then pushing them down his thighs. I rubbed his thighs a few times, reveling in their silky hardness. I took one of his ankles and straightened his leg enough to guide the underwear down one leg and then the other, rubbing the skin with my open palm.

There he was, offering me what I desired. Him wanting me. I slid close, my erection slipping off and onto one firm buttock. I slid back and moved towards his waiting hole and said, “Robin, I love you.”

He shook. I paused. He gasped and then shuddered as a great sob ripped through him.

“Robin?” I asked gently.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” he wept. He pulled away from me, drawing his legs and body to one end of the bed. He was naked and sobbing and I felt my libido crash as the current of guilt overwhelmed me. Robin looked like a victim, like someone had taken advantage of him – and that someone was me.

“I...I don’t understand,” I rolled over and lay by his side. I wanted to make space, to make him comfortable. I also wanted to hold him, to let him know I hadn't meant to take advantage of him, of his vulnerability.

“I came here because I miss Charlie,” he whispered, still not meeting my eyes.

“I know you miss him, Robbie. We all do. But what made you come here if you missed Charlie?” I asked quietly, calmly. As if I had a fucking clue what I was doing.

“I wanted to feel him inside me again. I thought if I came here and had you do it, the memories would be so powerful that…I’m sorry Lu. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He started to cry again, hot tears and shaking with his ragged breaths.

“Robin you didn’t hurt me.” I said it softly, stifling my desire to reach out and hold him. I felt like I should confess that I had felt so little control over myself – he should know it wasn't his fault, that he was my one true weakness.

“You’re sweet and beautiful. Your first time should be special and romantic. You don’t deserve to be used.”

“Robin, I…”

“I gotta go,” said Robin. He bolted up and grabbed his jeans.

“Robin, wait. Wait, please!”

He slipped into his clothes almost as fast as he’d gotten out of them and ran out of my house in his stocking feet while I screamed for him to wait, that I was sorry.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked the empty room before flopping back on my bed with an exasperated sigh.

What was I thinking? I sat up and clamored off my bed. I pulled the condom off the tip of my penis and threw it angrily. Why couldn't I just control myself? I snarled, kicked my dresser with the ball of my foot and regretted it – but it gave me clarity enough to think – Robin comes first. Where was he? Probably walking home, feeling used and worthless. Great job, Lucien! What a friend you are! Any puppies around you'd like to kick today?

I grabbed my phone and hit the button for Kale. He picked up two rings later.

“Lu, what's up?”

“Kale. I fucked up. I don't have time to explain, but Robin just left here and he needs you. I think he's walking. Please, please,” I said, my voice breaking into the hitching from emotion. Emotion that meant I would break down soon. Not until I got Robin some support, though. “You have to pick him up. Please.”

“Yeah, of course I will. I'm grabbing my keys now. What happened, Lu? Talk to me.”

“I can't,” I said with a cracking voice. “I just can't, Kale. Please forgive me. Please...ask Robin...no, no,” I sniffed.

“Lu, you're scaring me. Calm down and talk to me.”

“Don't worry about me. It's all my fault. Find Robin.” I hung up and waited a moment for my shaking to dial back. I couldn't ask Robin for forgiveness – I wasn't sure I could be forgiven. I dialed Alec and got his voice mail. I left a hitching message, trying not to cry, then texted a short message that I needed him.

It wasn't right, me feeling sorry for myself. Robin came to me in pain, trusting me and I climbed right into his pants. I threw my phone onto my bed, grabbed my head and screamed. I pulled my hair, I raged and kicked before plunging my fist into the wall. I screamed again, in physical pain. My hand was scraped and my knuckles were already swelling. I punched the wall again and was glad for the pain. I punched again. And again.

“Lu! Lucien! Stop!” My hand was a bloody mess. I wasn't sure how many times I'd hit the wall, I'd lost count. It was Alec with Sasha standing behind him, horrified. I looked up into Alec's eyes and watched his face dissolve as tears welled up and made my world a watery mess. Dull pain throbbed in my hand and I leaned my head forward, the top on Alec's chest.

“Here, Lucien,” Sasha said gently. “Let's get you dressed and get a look at that hand.

I looked down and realized I was still naked. Thank goodness I'd pulled the condom off my dick. I snorted in spite of myself at the sheer absurdity and accepted some clothes from Sasha. Saying they'd be just outside the door Sash steered my brother out the door. Hushed words flew as soon as my door closed and I could hear the buzz as they kept it down.

I pulled on underwear, and struggled to do it with one hand. My right hand was aching and unable to close. It was swelling and had blood all over the knuckles and running down in between my fingers. Shit. I struggled into a pair of jeans, but there was no way I'd be able to manage socks. I contorted myself into a tee shirt and then Sasha was tapping on the door and opening it a crack.

“Need a hand with the socks?”

I looked down, “Yeah.”

He walked over and pulled the pair apart, I lifted my foot and he struggled to push them on. I felt like a little kid again, when my dad had pushed my socks onto my feet and I began to cry again, softly. Sasha didn't comment, just slipped the other sock on and then sat next to me, arm around my shoulders and his head tilted to mine.

“It's all my fault, Sasha.”

“I'm sure that's not true,” he said softly, rubbing my back.

“It is. I took advantage of Robin,” I said. “I'm the big...biggest piece of...shit.” I stumbled over the words, but refused to cry anymore. I didn't deserve the luxury.

“Why don't you tell me what happened?”

“I told you, I took advantage.”

“That doesn't tell me the whole story, though. How about some details.”

I sighed. “He showed up this afternoon. He said he wanted to see me. I was...I was so happy,” I said and my smile crumpled as I struggled not to break down again.

“Yeah, of course you were. I know how much you love Robin, and let's be fair you've been suffering as you watch him hurt.”

“Yeah. He's been avoiding me lately. So when he showed up I figured he needed to talk to Alec.” I looked at Sasha with his warm eyes and said to him, urgently, so that he'd understand I didn't start out a horny scumbag when Robin had shown up. “He's been getting so much from you guys. I really didn't mind sharing. I mean...

I sighed, “Yeah, I wish I could give him what you guys can. But the fact is, I can't. I'm just happy you guys are there for him.”

“He knows you're there for him too,” Sasha said.

“It's not the same. But that's not the point. So,” I cleared my throat, “So he showed up and said he wanted to see me and I was pretty overjoyed, I guess. Then he asked if anyone else was home and when I said no...” I didn't want to continue. It would make it sound like it was Robins' fault. Instead I jumped ahead.

“We made out. Things got kind of...hot. We were going to...” I looked at Sasha and ducked my head, “you know. Then Robin started to cry. He wanted to feel like Charlie was holding him again...making love to him. He said I was the only one that could help him feel...like that.”

“Oh, I see.” Sasha said. “It sounds like he needed some comfort.”

“Yeah, but...Sasha I knew he wasn't ready!” I wailed. I stood and felt myself begin to work up to the guilt ridden rage I'd been in earlier. “I knew he was rebounding! I knew he...that I...he was vulnerable! I took advantage of him and almost...” I spun around and screamed. Alec burst into the room and I stared at Sasha and yelled, “How can I say I love him if I'm willing to take advantage of him?”

Sasha held a hand out to Alec who hovered by the door. Sash looked at me and I felt instantly worse – I was yelling at him and none of this was his fault. My guilt was compounded.

“Lucien, from what you've described...Robin wanted you to comfort him. You did. It went farther than he could go,” Sasha held a hand out to me and I went to him, reluctantly. He steered me to sit back down next to him.

“He's suffered a horrible loss. Someone he loved was taken from him. He turned toward someone else that loves him and, it sounds like, he tried to feel like...well, he was trying to ease his pain.”

“But...I...”

“Lucien, I know you feel badly. I don't think you bear quite the responsibility you think you do. When you throw in how much you love Robin and how you've dreamed of holding him – making love to him...”

I colored and looked up at him. “How do you...oh, big mouth.”

“Hey,” Alec said stepping into the room, “I need advice on my little brother. I go to the smartest guys I know.”

“Well, we should probably postpone the rest of this talk. Suffice to say, for now, that all this guilt doesn't belong to you, Lucien. Let's get that hand looked at.”

“My folks will meet us at the emergency room. Come on,” Alec said and that's how, an hour later, I was getting my hand set in a splint. The emergency room doctor said I was lucky I didn't need the orthopedic surgeon. After the splints they put me in an air cast and told me it'd take three weeks to a month to heal. Alec was in the waiting room handling our parents and I was grateful for that.

Robin

“Rob, I'm worried,” Kale said.

“I know. I'm sorry,” I replied. I stared out the window, unable to meet his eyes. “It's all my fault.”

“You're grieving and it was a mistake. You're allowed to make mistakes.”

“It wasn't like, oops! This was a mistake with a capital 'M'!” I said. “My first time with Charlie...I'll never forget it. Doesn't matter what else happens, I have that memory and I can remember how I felt. I almost took that from Lucien just because I know he loves me enough to...do anything I asked of him. I took advantage of his feelings for me.”

“Okay, I understand how you feel about that, logically. But let's be real. You and I both know he's wanted to be in your bed for a long time. I know, I know,” Kale held up a hand as I started to open mouth. “He's never crossed any lines, he's never interfered or tried to get between you and Charlie. Even the flower thing was excusable. But do you really think he's heartbroken that you guys fooled around?”

“I was going to let him fuck me.”

“Okay...I'm not seeing the problem, as long as you both wanted it.”

I snuffled and rubbed the moisture from my eyes. “I didn't want Lucien. I wanted Charlie. Kale,” I sighed, “I wasn't even hard. I thought...but when he was ready...he touched me, not like Charlie – he touched me a whole different way; it was a whole different kind of love. But when he said...he loved me...I couldn't do it.”

“But that's okay! It's great! You didn't take that from him like you were afraid of.”

“Kale, you idiot!” I barked. “I crawled into his bed and used his love against him! I wanted him to fuck me so I could pretend he was my dead boyfriend! I tried to rush it along, I tried to work him up as fast as I could because I knew - I knew! - if he said that, I'd fall apart...”

“Rob...”

“Kale. I was there because he's the only one I could take advantage of.”

We sat in silence, the only sound that of the wipers wicking away the light rain. Kale put the car in gear with a sigh. He was giving up for now. He navigated the streets back to our home and when he parked I climbed out without speaking. I bypassed the places my family would be – the TV room, the kitchen – and went straight to my room.

I felt dirty. Guilty. I stripped off my clothes and climbed into the shower, scrubbing my skin to the point of discomfort. I reached around to scrub behind and heard Lu – sweet Lucien whisper in my ear – 'I love you, Robin.' I felt like I should cry, but was unable to. Perhaps that was best; I'd done a lot of it lately.

I felt tired a lot. I'd start to feel a little better and then something small would happen. A joke Charlie would have liked or a movie we'd have snuggled to. Sometimes it was just a memory and I'd be crying somewhere. I thought back to Charlie, to the last time we'd been together. It had been fast – no time for anything much. He'd worn new khakis to church and they showed off his assets so well I thought I'd be struck down for all my impure thoughts.

After the service we'd snuck into one of the old wardrobes and had quick, fervent blowjobs. Our sex was heightened by the sheer naughtiness, the possibility of being caught. I tried to draw on that now, the feeling of his lips on me – of his hardness in my mouth. His panicked squeaks as he tried to stand up, to hold his balance.

It was no use. No matter how much I thought, stroked, pulled or prodded my dick wouldn't stand up. I slumped in the shower as the water began to cool. Shit.

I stayed in my room for the weekend. Kale tried maybe five times to start talking about it again, and I finally had to tell him to fuck off to get some peace. I could have talked about it, it would have been easy to because it was all that was on my mind – eating me up. After all, on reflection, I didn't just mind fuck Lucien but I'd betrayed Charlie's memory. I'd even said it to Kale, but I hadn't recognized its true meaning. Lucien's touch was different. It had brought unexpected memories of Charlie, not the ones I thought I needed right then, either.

I'd needed Lu to respond to my aggression, to give in to my demands. I wanted him in me so that I could pretend it was Charlie behind me. I'd even been deliberate with the position, so that I wouldn’t open my eyes and see Lu. But then he touched me, stroked me, a caress that brought back another memory. It was of Charlie and the first time we were in the same bed together. His tentative touching of my abs, our first innocent touches that would build into more.

Lucien hadn't been so innocent. I should have known he wouldn't, after all I had known for some time that he was stuck on me. He'd hidden it well and, if I didn't have some inside information, I might have missed it. Only because I had my eyes on Charlie; if I'd been single then I'd have noticed Lu as if he'd set himself on fire.

But, that was the beginning of the end, the touch. His hand up my spine – not just the gentle, hesitant touch of Charlie. It was the caress of someone who has been waiting, hoping and loving at a distance for so long they wanted to put every bit of themselves into each simple act. Touching my skin was his Holy Grail, and I felt that in the gentleness, the reverence of his touch. Then, of course, he seemed to have a thing for my legs. The touch running down my spine had tapered into the way he'd cupped my ass.

Charlie had never done that. It was a quick rub as he kissed me and ran a hand down my back, but not a caress like my ass was...I don't know. Charlie had loved my ass. But then Lucien had rubbed my thighs as if they were something special. I knew they were just legs, but when Lu touched them he made me feel how he thought of them – and then my calves and ankles also as if they were regal, worthy of adoration. I'd felt like there wasn't a place on me that wasn't special, sexy to him – but more than sexy, as if that crude word could convey what his fingertips were telling me about my own body.

I'd started to realize that I wasn't thinking of Charlie, then. When Lu's dick slid off one of my ass cheeks I'd thought, 'it's too late now.' I'd thought, 'you didn't even bring lube, you idiot.' And I'd thought, 'You're about to take away his chance at a special first time – and he's not Charlie.' He proved it when he'd whispered he loved me. Charlie said it before or after – never during.

It was all too much. It played in my head and I was thankful I hadn't gone through with it. But, mentally, I'd betrayed Charlie. That was my single, consuming thought. What would he think of me now?

Monday I trudged through the halls, people ignoring my bad mood. I did my best to avoid Lucien, he probably hated me for playing with his heart. I hated myself a little. It was still nice enough to eat outside and I did, avoiding Lu in the only time we overlapped. As the days and weeks passed, and as the days grew colder I stopped going to lunch altogether. I nibbled things throughout the day in class and hung out in the library. I tried reading the sports pages, tried to follow my teams but really all I did was wonder if Charlie would have been able to forgive me.

Two weeks after Thanksgiving, Kale turned into a huge pain in my ass and cornered me in my room.

“Rob, you have to forgive yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“Charlie wouldn't want this for you.”

“Yeah.” I clutched Charlie's teddy bear and turned slightly away from Kale, not so subtly letting him know he could let himself out.

“Rob...I'm worried for you.”

“I know.”

“Can we...please talk to me. I'm begging you. I can't take any more of Jamie's bullshit.”

I grunted a laugh. Jamie'd been in a lot more trouble lately for his mouth. My parents were kind of liberal folks and thought Jamie was just in a phase. Now he was up to compound swear words and they were earning him some groundings.

“Please?”

“Kale,” I sighed. “You just want to try and convince me to put things behind me. Like I can snap my fingers and just...I don't know. Stop grieving? Stop feeling guilty or stop fall...” I cut myself off.

“Falling in love?”

“No. I wasn't going to say that.”

“Okay. How about we leave that for a minute. I want to ask you a question that scared the fuck out of me, okay?”

“Kale, I'm not going to hurt myself. I feel like shit, but I don't want to die.”

“It's not that. Not quite. Rob, what if it had been you?”

“What?” I asked, turning my head to him.

“What if you had died and not Charlie? What then?”

“I...don't understand.”

“Okay. Let's say that you had died. Charlie would have been heartbroken. Agreed?”

I rolled my hand at him to continue.

“How long before he can start to feel better, Rob? How long should he have to suffer and miss you before he can start to have any happiness?”

“That's...” I sighed. I saw where he was going. “I feel like I'm betraying him. By forgetting him. By moving on.”

“That's noble and believe me when I say that your loyalty is one of the qualities that makes you so goddamn special. But does being loyal mean you can never love or be loved again?”

I hated to answer. Felt wrong, but I knew it wasn't. “No.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I hated that he was right. I hated that I felt a part of me seizing on this as a life preserver – a rope to climb out of the darkness. But he'd done it, the stubborn bastard. He'd planted a seed of hope.

“Did you know Lu broke his hand?”

“What?” My eyes went wide. “What happened? Is he okay?”

“Yeah. He got the cast off last week. He says it's a little stiff, but he's glad he can jerk off again.”

We chuckled. “How'd he break it.”

“Oh, it was dumb.” Kale looked at me. “He thought he took advantage of some guy he loves.”

Lucien

“Hey, wow, those are some smelly fingers. Are you sure you don't have a girlfriend?” Alec asked me as the last of the tape was removed from my fingers.

“Alec, shut up,” I replied. The tech pretended to ignore us. Good thing, I think she could have kicked our asses.

“Still, weeks worth of blind dates, gotta be happy to have your steady back.”

“Alec!” I leaned my head back. “Sasha! Sasha, come get him!”

“Hey, now don't get me in trouble!” Alec grinned. Sasha opened the door behind us and I heard him tell Alec to come there. Alec left and the tech flashed a thin lipped smile.

“Your grip may not be strong enough, yet. Take a few more days of blind dates.” Her shoes squeaked as she left the room and I felt fire burning on my cheeks.

I hadn't seen Robin since that day, not in any substantial way. He was a ghost at school and he didn't come on any of the group stuff we did. I told Kale I'd stay behind so Robin could go, assuming I was making him uncomfortable, but he couldn't get Robin out of the house. It just wasn't the same – the outings were always more fun with him.

I'd noticed that, with him missing, and I don't know why I didn't before. The things we did were still better than a stick in the eye, but they just weren't as fun without Robin. I was feeling doubly guilty about the whole thing, but it didn't stop me from flogging my dong within an inch of it falling off anytime the memory of his lips on me came back. Jesus, how I was missing him. I'd even tell him to forget the whole thing if I could just see him again, just go back to the silly dance we'd been doing where I'd hide my feelings from him.

It was school, too, where Robin became scarce. I'd even taken to watching over him once in a while through a window, watching the sun come down on his face as he ate outside. I longed to go talk to him, to apologize, to come up with the words that would fix this. I even toyed with the idea of just asking him to punish me in some way – but then, maybe that's what he's doing.

Just a few weeks before Christmas, with my adoption date coming, I decided to ask Alec for some help. It wasn't an easy decision to make because it would entail having to talk about the night I had almost lost my virginity to a boy I still loved. But, getting adopted without him being there...I hoped he'd come.

“Hey.” Alec stood in the doorway.

“Hey,” I replied.

“So, big day looms closer. Soon I will smile because you're my brother,” he said and took a running leap and crashed onto me, squishing me to the bed. I was struggling under him, spitting and snapping as he maniacally cried out, “I'll laugh because there's nothing you can do about it!” He mussed my hair and sat up.

“Dick,” I said, sitting up and running my fingers through my hair.

“Yep. So.”

“Really? Again?” I whine.

“Yep! It's 7:30.” Alec flipped through his phone and showed me a picture.

“No.” I said.

“This one?”

“No.”

“Check out his arms!”

“No.”

“Wow, he should be in porn.”

“No.” I shoved him. “No! The answer is always no! None of them look better than Robin so stop with these freaking trolls!”

“No horns, not a troll.”

“Alec!”

“Okay, fine. So if nobody is better than Robin – anywhere in the universe – why aren't you chasing him?”

“Because I used him! I took advantage!”

“He came to you,” Alec pointed out.

“I should have known something was wrong,” I told him, slumping. “I did know something was wrong! But, listen, I wanted to ask you before I called Kale. I want Robin to come to my adoption. Do you think he will?”

“I hope so. I miss watching you moon over him.”

“Alec,” I stomped my feet, “be serious!”

“Lu. I don't know when Robin's going to heal. What I do know is, you have to leave the door and the window and the barn door open for him to come back. So ask Kale to see if he will come.”

“What barn door?”

“Hm?”

“That...never mind. I'll ask Kale.”

“You're going to ask Kale about barn doors? Don't you think he and Chase should...hey! Quit shoving!” he laughed as I pushed him out the door.

I strode back and forth in my room, pacing. I called Sasha first, asked him what he thought. He said yes. I called Chase. He said yes. So, I called Kale.

“Hi, Lucien. I have you on speaker while I drive. What's up?”

“Kale. Listen, I've been thinking. Um,” I covered my eyes even though no one was there to see me. “I know Robin is still...see the thing is, my adoption date is coming up. Robin is still family no matter what happened and it wouldn't be right if...I'd really appreciate it if...” I sighed.

“You want me to ask him to come?”

“Please. Tell him...tell him I'm sorry for what I did and if he doesn't want to forgive me, I understand. I just want him to...I need to share this with everyone I...” I couldn't tell Kale I loved his brother. Not after what I did, not after what he'd probably been through trying to help him heal.

“You love him. I know, Lucien, we all do.”

“Yeah. Will you ask him? Please?”

“Sure. I'll do what I can.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Later that same evening, I lay awake. Lately there was something I was starting to think about. I had replayed the encounter over and over in my head. I'd described it entirely for Sasha, eventually, even the bits that didn't make Robin look so innocent. But it wasn't until then that I remembered what Robin had said. I blurted it to Sasha – because I couldn't tell any of this to Alec. He'd given me a book called 101 Sex Positions, somehow thinking that would help. This wasn't Alec's kind of fight – there was nothing to stand between, no way to defend me from myself.

The point was, though, Robin had called me sweet and beautiful. He had, I knew he had, just before he ran out. But what could I do with that?

Robin

“Today’s the big day,” said Kale, leaning against my door frame.

“Christmas is still almost a week away,” I reminded him.

“Not that, dork,” Kale smiled. “It’s Lucien’s adoption day.”

“Oh,” I sighed. “I forgot.”

“No you didn’t,” said Kale, smugly. “I’ve mentioned it to you almost every day for a week.”

“Yeah.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Are you going to come?”

“He doesn’t want me there,” I sighed.

“Robin, you know for a fact that isn't true. Despite what happened, and whether you like it or not, you’re part of his family. Do you really want to hurt his feelings by not going?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt Lu any worse then I already had.

“We’ve gotta pick up Chase before we head for Binghamton. I’m going to be ready to go in 15 minutes. I’m not going to have to come back in here, am I?”

“I’ll be downstairs after I get dressed,” I sighed.

“Good boy,” Kale smirked and shut my door so I could change.

I got out of bed and headed for my dresser. A few minutes later I marched downstairs and rolled my eyes when I found Kale waiting for me in the living room with Jamie. I’d inadvertently put on a navy blue V-neck sweater over my t-shirt. It was dark enough that standing next to Kale in his similarly styled black sweater we looked like twins. Jamie was quick to notice it.

“Check you fuckers out,” he giggled. “You look like a pair of queer bookends.”

I was about to tell him off but Kale had a better idea.

“Jamie, have you ever heard of the Fraternal Birth Order Theory?” asked Kale.

“No,” Jamie quirked an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“It’s this theory that says the more male siblings you have the more likely you’ll be gay.”

“So?” said Jamie, his cute little face looked puzzled.

“So Robin and I are both gay, what chance do you think you have?” said Kale with a wink at me.

Jamie scratched his head for a moment then a light bulb went on over his head when he figured out what Kale was getting at.

“MOM!” Jamie shouted. “Kale said I’m gay!”

“And what did you say to make Kale say that?” Mom snickered as she joined us.

“Nothing,” said Jamie, innocently.

“A likely story,” said Mom. Kale and I struggled to contain our laughter. “You boys better get going if you’re going to pick up Chase. The Mouth and I will be leaving in a few minutes.”

Jamie wasn’t wrong, Kale and I were dressed too alike for comfort but since I didn’t have the energy to change I made sure to grab my letter jacket instead of my toggle coat which was identical to Kale’s. We kissed our mother on the cheek and headed for the car. Lu had invited our entire family to his adoption hearing; my dad was even presiding over it. Kale was right; it would have really hurt him if I didn’t show up.

I hopped in the backseat when we picked up Chase and Kale started the long drive to Binghamton. I’d been making this trip all my life, it was already mid-afternoon and while I’d been lounging in bed all day, and, well, the gentle rocking of the car and the familiar scenery lulled me to sleep.

I found myself walking through a dense fog and as it cleared I realized I was standing in the middle of the empty bowling alley. I was wondering how it got foggy inside when I spotted a solitary figure with a shock of red hair sitting by himself.

“Charlie?” I blinked and rubbed at my eyes.

“Hey, Robin,” he smiled.

“Okay, its official, I’ve lost my mind,” I continued to blink.

“You’re not crazy,” Charlie continued to smile. “You’re having a dream.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” I sighed and sat next to him.

“You’ve been having a pretty rough time, huh?” said Charlie.

“I miss you so much,” I began to sniffle.

“I know, I know,” Charlie said soothingly as he cradled me in his arms.

I latched on to him with all my strength and would have squeezed the life out of him were he not dead already. He held me for a long time, rubbing gently up and down my back, occasionally kissing the top of my head. Eventually the tears stopped. I sat up and wiped my eyes. It made my heart feel good just to see him.

“I hate seeing you like this, Robin,” Charlie sighed.

He always called me Robin, never Rob or Robbie. He said he’d never known another Robin and thought my name was cute. It always made me blush when he said stuff like that but the sound of my name coming from his lips always made me smile, even if it was only on the inside.

“I hate feeling like this but I can't help it. I miss you so much and I feel bad because…” I began.

“Because you’re in love with Lucien?”

“I…I can’t help that either,” I sniffled and hide my face in my hands.

Charlie wrapped his arm around my shoulder and squeezed me gently.

“Robin, it’s okay.”

“But…” I started.

“But nothing. I know you loved me and that if I were there right now you’d never look at another guy. I died, you didn’t. It’s not only okay for you to move on; you need to. I know you won’t forget me,” Charlie explained.

“It doesn’t feel right. It makes me so conflicted,” I admitted.

“I want to show you something,” said Charlie as he conjured a picture out of thin air.

“What’s this?”

“It’s an image of what could be,” said Charlie, as I studied the picture.

It was of me and Lu. We were hugging each other tightly as snow fell around us. Our cheeks were pressed together and the smiles on our faces…we looked so incredibly happy.

“You’re holding on to me too tightly,” said Charlie. “You’ve grieved for me Robin, you can let me go now.”

“It’s only been a few months…”

“So what? Do you think true love comes along every day? You’re lucky, you’ve found it twice. First with me and now with Lucien and trust me, that boy loves you with all his heart,” said Charlie.

“I know,” I admitted. “But…”

“There’s that word again.” Charlie rolled his eyes and grinned. “Look at that picture and tell me you don’t see love in his eyes.”

“I hurt him, Charlie. I used him. I almost took something away from him I had no right to take.”

“His butt cherry?” Charlie giggled.

“It’s not funny. He deserves his first time to be just as special as ours was,” I huffed.

“So make it special.”

“Charlie, I…”

“Robin, I’m not suggesting you ravage the poor guy when you get to the courthouse. I’m saying it’s okay to let yourself be in love. You and Lucien deserve to be happy. This picture, it’s what I want for you. Do you believe that?”

I looked up at his face, into those sparkling emerald eyes and it was true, they betrayed no hint of a lie. He stroked my cheek, smiled his special smile and said, “Well?”

“I… well, I guess. Yeah, I do,” I said and nodded my head.

“Good,” Charlie smiled brightly. “Because it’s time for you to wake up.”

“Huh?” I muttered but then my eyes were open and Kale was shaking my shoulder.

“Get up ya bum, we’re here.”

Lucien

We were sitting on a bench outside the judge’s chambers, me, mom, dad, Alec, Sasha and our lawyer, when the clerk called my name. Travis and Zap were supposed to be coming too, but one of their parents was bringing them.

“Lucien Rousseau?” the clerk announced.

“Here,” I replied as I rose to my feet.

“His honor will see you now,” she smiled.

I looked back at my family and saw warm and loving expressions on their faces; save for Alec who crossed his eyes and tried to touch his nose with his tongue. I stifled a giggle and walked through the massive oak doors.

I’m not sure why I was so nervous when I walked into Judge Kirkwood’s office. He was Kale and Robin’s dad, I’d been to his house more times than I could count but I guess considering my future hung in the balance it was natural to be at least a little concerned. Everyone said my chat with the judge was just a formality but until he made his ruling and struck his gavel I was a ward of the state. How would anyone feel? I desperately want the Kutsenko’s to be my new family and you know how it is when you want something that bad. It feels like it could be taken away with the blink of an eye.

“Hello Lucien,” Judge Kirkwood smiled as I entered his office. “I’m just finishing a bit of paperwork. Why don’t you take a seat and we’ll get started in a second?”

“Sure thing, Judge,” I replied as I sat in the comfy leather chair across from his desk.

There was no denying Judge Kirkwood was Kale, Robin and Jamie’s father. He had their black hair and blue eyes, and in fact, with his serious face, he looked like a grown up version of Kale. I made a note of that in my mind. Everyone teases Kale about the ever present frown on his face but as I sat their watching his father sign the documents on his desk I realized Kale wasn’t frowning, he was just serious. When the judge put down his pen and looked across the massive desk at me the serious expression was still there but there was a twinkle in his eye. The serious face might be Kale’s but the eyes were so much like Robin’s my stomach did a little lurch.

“Lucien, the reason for this little chat is I wanted to talk to you before I make my final ruling on this adoption. I want you to know that you can be completely honest with me. No one will ever know what’s said in this office, okay?”

“Yes sir,” I nodded.

“Good,” he smiled. “Now, how do you like living with the Kutsenko’s?”

“It’s great,” I replied.

“You can do better than that,” the judge grinned.

“Right, well, it’s like…” I fidgeted. “It’s like the first time I’ve felt like I have a family since my dad died…”

“Go on.”

“The Kutsenko's let me know rules, and Alec shows me how to break them,” I grinned. The Judge's mouth twitched like he wanted to laugh, but he was busy being serious.

“They all love me,” I continue, “and I think they are really fair. I can talk to them. My brother, Alec, is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“How so?”

“He never gives up on me, he never puts me down. He finds ways, constantly, to let me know how much he cares. We've bonded so strongly...” I thought on the emptiness I felt at Robin's absence. “There are some things I think only a quality big brother can get you through. I'd be lost without him.”

The judge seemed to like my answers and after a few more questions he told me I was free to go, that he was ready to make his ruling. When I left his office I was surrounded by my family but before they could ask how things went the clerk informed us we should head down to courtroom three.

Once we got to the courtroom I took a seat with Mom, Dad and our lawyer at a table in front of the judge’s bench. Alec and Sasha sat behind us, Mrs. Kirkwood, Jamie and Travis and Zap had arrived along with some other friends and family who sat with them while I fiddled with the tie Mom made me wear. Then the door opened and Kale walked in with Chase and Robin. He came! I was so thrilled he came I wanted to run over and hug him but the bailiff's voice kept me in my seat when it thundered across the courtroom.

“All rise for his Honor, Judge Andrew J. Kirkwood. Broome County Family Court is now in session!”

We all stood and Judge Kirkwood walked into the room, his black robe billowing around him. He quickly waved us back into our seats.

“We are gathered here today to address the petition brought by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Kutsenko who are seeking to legally adopt Lucien Rousseau, a minor child in their custody under the supervision of the Broome County Department of Children and Families. After reading the petition and reviewing all relevant files I am prepared to render my ruling,” said Judge Kirkwood.

“In speaking with Lucien it is clear to me that he both loves and respects Mr. and Mrs. Kutsenko and wishes this adoption to become legal and binding. I have also read a report, filed by Department of Children and Families which states that the Kutsenkos have provided a warm and loving environment for Lucien, have nurtured him and provided him with a stable home.”

“The petition filed by Mr. and Mrs. Kutsenko clearly expressed their desire, and that of their son, Alec, to welcome Lucien into their family. They have expressed their love and deep affection for Lucien and I find them to be individuals of high morals and good character. Mr. and Mrs. Kutsenko, Lucien, would you please rise?”

I stood between Mom and Dad and each of them squeezed one of my hands.

“On behalf of the great state of New York I, Judge Andrew J. Kirkwood, hereby proclaim that Lucien Rousseau shall henceforth be recognized as the lawful son of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Kutsenko and that adoption papers shall be issued reflecting said status. Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Judge Kirkwood banged his gavel.

It was over. With the simple banging of the judge’s gavel I officially had a new family. I belonged to someone and they belonged to me. I swore I wasn’t going to cry but I couldn’t help it. Mom and Dad both hugged me and before Alec muscled his way in I was in tears. After Alec finally let me go I got hugs and congratulations from everyone, everyone but Robin.

“Where did he go?” I asked as Kale released me.

“I don’t know, he was here just a minute ago,” said Kale, frowning as his eyes scanned the courtroom.

“I…” I started.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find him,” Kale smiled reassuringly.

“You’re coming to the party, right?” I asked timidly. My parents were throwing me a welcome to the family party at our home that evening.

“Of course, wouldn’t miss it,” Kale replied, smiling and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Would you please let Robin know I'd like it if he came?” I asked as I looked down at my feet.

“I'll tell him, Lu,” Kale sighed.

“Yeah,” I nodded, then accepted another hug from him.

That was all the time I got to think about Robin as I then fell into my brother's clutches. He took me by the wrist and began introducing me to people as his brother, Lucien Kutsenko. It was kind of silly when he did it to people we knew – but that wasn't enough for Alec, not by a long shot. He dragged me out of the court and began introducing me to total strangers.

He pulled me up to clerks' windows and ducked into any open office doors. I started fighting back, trying to break his grip but he was unstoppable, hooting and dragging me across the polished marble floors to tell everyone about his brother. Years from now, I may look on this fondly. As it was, I'd settle for not dying of embarrassment.

Robin

I was so happy for Lu! Despite all the weird stuff that’d happened between us in the past few weeks, there was no way I could have sat in that courtroom and not been absolutely thrilled for him. I was also happy for another reason. The dream I had in the car gave me a lot to think about. I was pretty sure it was my subconscious telling me it was okay for me to have feelings for Lu, that it would even be okay with Charlie. I felt a spring in my step that I hadn’t felt in months and as soon as Dad banged his gavel I dashed out of the courtroom.

I wanted to hug Lu as much as everyone else but I couldn’t face him in front of a crowd. I had so much I want to say to him after what I did to screw things up, cheapening his feelings for me – and mine for him. I wanted this to be special, I wanted to do it right and pray that he'd forgive me.

“There you are,” said Kale as he and Chase rounded the corner.

“Hey,” I greeted.

“Don’t you hey me,” said Kale in frustration. “Everyone is in there celebrating with Lucien and the one person he’d be happiest to have with him takes off? That’s not the Robin I know.”

“I know Kale, I’ve been a dickhead,” I agreed.

“You need to go in there and…” Kale started then came up short. “Wait a minute, what?”

“Look, I’m not saying I’m over Charlie or that I don't hurt anymore but, well, I feel different now.”

“What do you mean?” asked Chase.

“I had this dream on the way over and Charlie…” I started then realized it sounded a little crazy. “It doesn’t matter. I feel a lot better than I did and I know what I need to do with Lu.”

“Check it out,” Kale teased. “I spend months trying to get him to come around and all I needed to do was take him for a ride in the car and let him nap.”

“Kale, you helped me a lot more than that. You’ve been there every step of the way and don’t think for a minute I didn’t notice. I love you big brother,” I smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

“Aww, isn’t that sweet,” Chase giggled.

“You’ve been there too, blondie, so pucker up,” I teased and then blew a raspberry on Chase’s cheek.

“Lu wants you to come to his party,” Kale looked at me expectantly.

“Come on, I’ve gotta run home then, before we go.”

Lucien

We had to race home in order to get there in time to finish setting up for the party. Mom and Dad had invited pretty much everyone they knew from relatives to friends and business associates. I think they were as excited as I was and that made me feel great.

Alec started introducing me, again, but at least everyone knew me here – and more importantly, knew my crazy brother. Sasha snagged hold of him during this mess and gave him a look that, I think, only Sasha knows how to give Alec – one that was filled with tender affection while still asking what the heck he thought he was doing.

“I'm introducing my brother to everyone,” Alec replied to the unspoken question, as if it were obvious.

“But, sweetheart, everyone here knows Lucien.”

“They knew Lucien Rousseau! But everyone hasn't met my brother, Lucien Kutsenko!”

“Ah. Carry on then.”

When he put it like that, I stopped fighting back and just enjoyed his enthusiasm. Sometimes I thought I'd never understand my brother completely, but then perhaps that was part of his charm. There was also the fact that he tried to be unpredictable – or at least express himself in unpredictable ways.

I wondered where Robin had run off to after the court session. I wondered why he’d bothered to come at all if he was just going to duck out when it was over and I disliked how disappointed it made me. I tried to keep him off my mind as I greeted my guests but it was hard. When he'd appeared in court, so handsome in his sweater, my heart had leapt. I'd thought maybe this was something that could bring us together, enough to try and heal.

When he'd disappeared afterward I was left in disappointment and disillusionment. I should have been grateful that he was there when I'd begged for him to be there, but his departure had made me feel like it was an obligation, not something he'd wanted to witness. More and more I felt like I'd lost him – and not in the sense that I'd never share a bed with him. More that I'd lost everything from him – his friendship, his personality, all the things that make up everything there was to love about Robin Kirkwood.

Judge and Mrs. Kirkwood arrived with Jamie and after I hugged them and thanked the judge I asked them where Robin was but all they knew was he was with Kale. More guests arrived and then Kale and Chase walked in alone.

“Congratulations buddy,” Kale said and hugged me for the third time that day. Kale was getting really good at hugs. I extended the hug, knowing he'd see the look on my face. I knew he'd know what I wanted to ask – who I hadn't seen – and I didn't want to cheapen his congratulations, Kale deserved better than that.

“Thanks,” I smiled, then accepted a hug from Chase. Chase's hug was different. He didn't have the practice of a big brother but he had the enthusiasm to make up for it – his hug was crushing.

“Ugh! I'm so jealous of Alec,” Chase held me by the shoulders and looked at me critically. “Can you be my little brother too? I mean, just on every other weekend or something? We can alternate holidays?”

“Chase,” I said in a little bit of an embarrassed whine. Partly because of his sentiment but partly because I had a sentimental response. “I have four older brothers, I just live with one of them.”

His eyes moved from side to side, looking at me and counting the people. His smile lit his whole body as he pulled me in close for a quick hug and said, “I'll talk to Alec about visitation.”

We laughed and I felt pretty good – except that under the mirth was a ball of ice, my ungrateful heart that still longed for Robin to be here. To smile at me. To be happy. He was a missing piece of the puzzle, one that was important enough to throw the whole picture out of whack.

I smiled at them both and was about to run up to my room to get my head clear when Kale smiled, mischievously – something I was completely unprepared for. It was just an alien look on his face, but his words hit my heart like lightning.

“We left you something on the front porch.” Casually said, as if it were a gift for a job well done. Just something they'd picked up on the way – no big deal. But his smile, something he'd picked up from Alec perhaps, told me. Robin – he was here.

“Oh. A...present?” I asked. I looked at the door, wanting to run and scream in victory. But I also didn't want to over do it. Appear too eager or...

“Lucien,” Chase said, a quick swipe to the side of my cheek with the back of his fingers. “It's cold out there. Don't keep that sweet boy waiting – you've both been waiting long enough.”

I was both nervous and excited at the same time. He was here! Robin was waiting just outside my front door! But he hadn’t come in. Why hadn’t he come in? The question consumed my mind in the brief seconds it took me to race to the door.

It was dark outside and freezing. I regretted not stopping for a coat but as I shivered I turned and found the object of my affection standing at the edge of the porch, leaning casually against the railing. He was coiled, trying to appear at ease but nervous. I knew Robin's body language – I'd watched him enough, I should have. I walked over to him slowly, as if he were a mirage that might disappear if I moved too fast or got too close. We just stared at each other for a few seconds before he extended his hand. Even in the dim light coming from the windows I was able to read the card in his hand. It was the card from the flower I’d sent him months earlier.

I took the card in my hand and glanced at it, reading the words I thought he'd never know had come from me: Robin- Your eyes are the windows to the most beautiful soul I know -C.

I looked up at him and he smiled, produced another card attached to a green rose. He held it out to me and I accepted it, my fingers brushing his as I took the flower. I looked into his eyes and his lips cracked a stressed smile, nodding at my hand. I glanced at the envelope – Lucien Kutsenko – and smiled as I thought of Alec's joy. I opened the card and found in tiny, careful script – Lucien -The soul you see in my eyes is only a pale reflection of yours. Love, Robin.

My lips clamped together, trembling. I brought my eyes up to his, trying so hard to read his expression. It kept shifting, things I couldn't interpret. Did I see what I wanted? Was it what he wanted? I decided to follow Chase's example to us all and take a risk – and I pulled Robin to me.

His arms were around my waist in moments. Not tentative, not aggressive, just a return of my own embrace. I didn't know how long this would last, I didn't know if...I knew I had hope, now. I moved one hand enough to take my glasses off, then I turned my face into his neck, resting the bridge of my nose to his warm skin and let his scent fill my lungs.

I know, unsexy as it sounds, that scent is one of our strongest senses with respect to memory. I was transported to the memory of pretending to fall asleep on him, stealing a moment to lie on his shoulder and pretend he was mine. His scent from bouncing off one another playing games with our brothers. His scent in my home as he'd come to me to ease his pain.

Now, in his arms, I could attach him to my day. Getting my family. Getting extra brothers, by virtue of telling Kale and Chase and them accepting that emotion from me – that bond, that responsibility. All of this culminated in burying my face in his neck and holding him close. I didn't move my hands, not even to rub his back. I was still and we just were.

“You're shivering,” he said into my ear.

“I don't care. I have missed you so much - so much, you just don't know. I just don't want to stop holding you, ever.”

“You'll freeze,” he said, a hint of humor in his voice.

“I won't.”

“Lucien,” he said softly. “Lucien, look at me.”

I shook my head, gripping him harder. I felt the fatigue in my arms from holding him so tightly for so long, but I couldn't let go. I wouldn't.

“Lucien,” he said. “Lu.”

“Don't call me that,” I mumbled.

“Don't call you what?”

“Lu.”

“Why not? Everyone calls you Lu.”

I move back a little and look into his glittering blue eyes. “Because when you say Lucien it sounds like you love me.”

The corner of his mouth turned up and he put an open hand on my cheek. “That's because I do.”

“What?” I say. I'm overjoyed; I'm filled with doubt. I want to shake him and ask why he'd say such a thing to inflate my hopes and I want to hold him so that he can never leave me. I want to go inside - it's fucking cold out here.

“Don't say anything else,” I said to him, his mouth open to reply. “Robin, we need to get all this...mess out of our way. Will you stay over tonight? Just to...you don't understand what it does to me when you say you love me.”

“Are you sure? I mean, after last time...” Robin withdrew his hand, but I grabbed it, holding it between my own.

“We need to talk about that. No secrets, I can't carry this guilt anymore and I need to be able to tell you how sorry I am.”

“How sorry...you are?” Robin asked, dumbfounded.

“Please? Stay over?”

He nodded, his face confused. We went inside and, as I closed the door, we were faced with our brothers. Except Alec, who was by the window and trying to pretend he hadn't been watching. I glanced at Robin, who looked a little abashed. I decided that I wasn't letting him leave until we had nothing left to say, and if I lost him tonight – but no, I wouldn't. I just wouldn't.”

“Robin and I need to talk. I'm going to ask all the 'rents if he can stay over tonight.” Both Kale and Alec started to open their mouths, likely to protest and I held up a finger to still them; “Just to talk.”

They glanced at each other and my suspicion that they all knew everything about our aborted attempt to screw was confirmed. Alec and Kale stared at each other, perhaps sharing a conversation only those who are big brothers can. They glanced at Chase and Sasha, including them in the silent discussion. Then, Kale turned and said, “Okay.”

I left Robin with them, admonishing him not to run away again, and went to find my parents. They were talking with the Kirkwoods and smiled widely at my approach.

“There he is,” the judge said.

“You must be very special, Lucien,” Mrs. Kirkwood said, giving me a wide smile. “Robin hasn't left the house voluntarily since Charlie passed.”

“I feel pretty special today,” I admitted with a smile. “Actually, I'm going to kind of push the envelope and ask for a special favor – even though I've gotten so much already today.

“Robin and I need to have a chance to...fix our friendship. My adoption gave us a reason to be together, and I don't want to waste the opportunity. I can't do it now and ignore the other guests, so Robin and I were hoping it would be okay if he stayed over tonight.”

“Really?” The Kirkwoods glanced at each other and seemed to share a similar moment to that of the brothers. Slight nods and Mrs. Kirkwood agreed.

Dad pulled me aside on the pretense of getting something from the kitchen. “Help me out - Robin is the one you just came in the front door with, right?”

“Yes.”

“I can't help but notice...the person you had your heart set on – Alec said blue eyes, dark hair and pale. Coincidence?”

I looked over my shoulder and couldn't see any of the guys. I turned back to Dad and said, “No coincidence.”

He seemed a touch startled. “I'm not used to the straight truth.”

“I love him, and that's the truth. We need to talk, and that's the truth.”

“Well...okay then.”

I was able to relax and enjoy the party from that point forward, not worrying about the conversation to come. I even let Alec drag me around and introduce me to people for the second or third time, just because it made him so happy. But, at last, it was over and our guests left. Robin, Alec and I helped to clean up and then we went upstairs. I closed the door to my room, leaning against it. Robin took off his expensive dress shoes and sat down on the bed. Jesus wept, he was so beautiful.

Robin

So we were here, ready to talk. I had worked things out in my head, how I would apologize and a blueprint for explaining myself. I didn't want to hold anything back – any chance I had for salvaging something with Lu – no, Lucien – depended on communication.

The problem was, I hadn't anticipated his thinking he owed me an apology. When Kale had said he'd broken his hand over our...failed liaison...I thought it would have been in anger at me. But, perhaps he'd been carrying some guilt around though I couldn't understand why.

I looked up at him, leaning against the door. He was dressed in his suit, but he'd started to come undone from wearing it so long. His shirt was only partially tucked in and his tie was long gone, probably wherever his blazer was. He was staring at me and I recognized the look now for what it was. Longing. His look was the one he'd been giving me for over a year – oh, not outright. Not like he'd openly stare, but I'd caught that look. From the corner of my eye and when I'd turn my head and find him turning away.

Charlie was right, I could see. Lucien loved me with all his heart.

“Robin. Before we talk...can I just hold you again?” Lucien asked, his voice soft, pleading. As if I might say no.

I stood from the bed and met him in the middle of his room and felt his arms hold me close like he had on the front porch. I put a hand in his hair as he tossed his glasses aside and pushed his face into my neck. He didn't nuzzle, didn't kiss. He just...breathed. I let my fingers move idly through his hair while letting my other hand move slowly up and down his back.

“I'm so happy right now. Just a few more minutes,” he said. I made no response except to drop my chin to his hair. He felt so warm and real and the only thing he had in common with Charlie's hug was the love I felt from the contact.

Charlie had been shorter than I was by nearly three inches. The first time we fooled around he'd lain on top of me to kiss and I'd felt his excitement buried in my stomach while my own pressed against his leg. Lucien was taller, but not taller than I was. Charlie's arms had been slim, nearly thin, like the rest of him. Lucien felt substantial in my arms, that much more to hold on to – solid, sturdy. Dependable.

I felt a sigh shudder through him, the herald to his slow withdrawal. He lifted my hand, looking down as he held it between his own hands. He slowly lifted my fingers to him, folding them and kissing them. I'd never felt like someone would find things about me to be special like Lucien did. My fingers had their uses, but he treated them like they were precious and had some kind of beauty all their own.

“Okay.” He released my hand and took a seat on his bed. He untied his dress shoes and tossed them towards his closet door. He pulled his legs up and leaned against his headboard and I retook a seat near the foot of his bed, leaning back against the wall. If he stretched out his feet he could probably touch my leg, but then I might just crawl up, lay my head on his chest and we'd never get this done.

“I'm sorry, Robin.”

“You don't have anything to be sorry about,” I replied. “It was my fault.”

“I've been rolling this around in my head, Robin. Is it...do you mind if I just say it? I know it's not all me – I understand that – but I know some of it is.”

“If you...need to.”

“I'm sorry I fell in love with you,” he started. I felt my heart drop – that was a hell of a thing to be sorry for. “I first saw you when you were practicing for Lacrosse. You looked so strong, so...”

I glanced at him as he paused, thinking he was looking off and hunting for the right words. But he was not, his eyes were on me. Perhaps waiting for me to look and acknowledge his words.

“You were so beautiful and I was feeling so low, so worthless...” He smiled and said softly, “I used to dream you'd come and save me from the group home, from my life, and take me somewhere I could be happy. With you. I guess that puts an awful lot of pressure on you.”

I felt a familiar heat in my cheeks. How could he see me that way? Surely that was no longer the case, not with what I'd done.

“Alec, he tried to let me be friends with you so I could see you for someone other than a superhero or something.” He smiled and my own lips curled a bit. “But the more I got to know you, the more my feelings moved from a crush or...or infatuation to full blown love.”

I glanced down at my hands, moving in my lap. I shifted, wanting to touch him again but knowing he wasn't finished yet.

“I felt like such a bad person, wanting so badly to be close to you, for you to love me. Putting that unsaid pressure on you.” He paused. “I wanted to hate Charlie, you know.”

“Hate Charlie? How could you do that?” I asked, baffled and a little hurt.

“I wanted to, because he had you,” Lucien admitted. “But I couldn't because he loved you so well and you were happy. So, I couldn't. I tried so hard to let it go – I swear I did. I didn't want to make trouble, to be that guy. But it all got worse, way worse last summer.”

I searched my mind for an incident that I might not have recognized as a turning point. I vaguely recalled that Lucien had seemed more distant when school started but I couldn't pinpoint when that had begun.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, to understand that I have to tell you something else,” he said, his cheeks flushing. “I mean, it probably comes as no surprise to you but...”

“It's okay, Lucien.” I tried to encourage him, wondering what could be so embarrassing.

“For a while,” he said, looking down at his own restless hands, “I'd been dreaming – fantasizing – that you'd...make me yours.”

I tried to interpret his euphemism but all that came to mind was he wanted me to date him. “I couldn't date two people...”

“No, you couldn't. I just dreamed you'd...take me. Much more loving than that, but I wanted you...inside me. Making love to me.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I'm not wearing my glasses, I'm kind of glad I cant see your face right now,” he said with a nervous giggle. I stood and took his glasses from the dresser he'd tossed them on and placed them on his face. He looked up, embarrassed but still maintaining eye contact.

“Is it my turn to talk yet?” I asked.

“No,” he said with a grimace. “I have a lot more to tell you. This next part is really, really embarrassing and...I just don't want there to be any secrets between us, no matter what happens next.”

I nodded and resumed my seat, but instead of sitting near the foot I moved to the middle of the bed. Lucien's toes slipped under my thigh and I was pleased – there was some contact.

“So, you remember when we all did the clown car thing with Alec's old car?”

I smiled reflexively at the memory and nodded at Lucien, watching his face – dying to know what was so important about that day.

“Well...you know how you ripped your swim suit?”

I nodded. Charlie's fault – and considering what was in my bag, likely on purpose.

“Well...I was coming out of the bathroom when you...were changing.”

I thought back to the incident, tried to roll back from the moment I found that stupid g-string. I couldn't think of anything special that had happened – I'd taken off the bathing suit, tried to put on the damn g-string – which had broken,spilling candy all over the floor, which I stepped on and it hurt like stepping on Lego's. I'd nearly fallen, if I recall – and then there had been running feet and a slamming door. I brought my eyes up to Lucien's, the red in his face covering not just his cheeks but his neck.

“I saw...everything. From that moment I didn't just want you to make love to me, I wanted you...like I'd never wanted someone before.”

“Lucien, I was just changing,” I said, downplaying the incident. I have to confess, though, that I was hoping for a glimpse into how he saw me – to bolster my own courage for when he let me talk.

“Yeah, you were,” he nodded. “But Robin – your legs...I always thought they were so, so...sexy doesn't cover it, the word is inadequate. But when I saw your...butt... when you bent over,” Lucien looked down and put his hand on his forehead like a visor. “All I wanted to do was have sex with you. When you were jumping around some, from stepping on those candies...”

I felt a little embarrassed that he'd seen that, but it was kind of funny too and I let out an involuntary chuckle. He lifted his eyes and smiled a bit, breaking some of the tension – some of it sexual for sure – between us.

“Robin, have you ever noticed the muscle on someone's leg? How it shakes when they walk?”

I nodded that I had.

“Your legs were doing that...and your butt...and then you almost fell and your dick kind of, flopped around...every sexual thought I've had for months comes back to seeing you that way.”

I looked down and smiled. I thought my legs were just legs – they get me where I want to go. Even though Charlie liked my ass, Lucien appreciated it on a whole different level. If anything, it sounded like Lucien found me sexier than I thought possible.

“I'm sorry, too, about the flower.”

“Why? I loved it.”

“Because I thought you'd think it was from Charlie. I didn't realize you guys were going through a hard time. I ended up hurting you, making things worse.”

“Well, you didn't intend that and you made everything more than better afterward. Although, I was kind of wondering why you only put 'C' as the signature. If you wanted me to think it was from Charlie, why not just put his name?”

Lucien dropped his eyes and spoke to his hands, which were turning over themselves. “Because it gave me an out. I knew you'd see the 'C' and think it was from Charlie, and I thought at worst there'd be some forgettable mystery about who sent you a flower from him.” He looked up at me and confessed, “But a ton of people at school were calling me 'Cowboy', so...”

“I understand, now,” I told him. He wanted to tell me he loved me without making a mess. Poor Lucien, how this must have thrown him into a tizzy when things had gone wrong.

“So...when you showed up and said you were here for me...when you kissed me – I knew you weren't ready,” he said waving a hand. “I knew it – but Robin, you were kissing me, something I never thought would happen. I wanted to stop because I loved you, but...”

“You couldn't stop because you loved me.”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “After, when we were up here. I knew you weren't seeing me. I saw how you weren't looking at me. Weren't saying my name. Weren't...” he sighed deeply and said, “hard. I couldn't do what we were doing – about to do – without telling you I loved you. Even if you weren't really...there for me...I still loved you.

“And Robin I'm so, so sorry for taking advantage of you.”

My guilt trebled. But now, he'd told me his side - now it was my turn.

Lucien

I let out a shuddering breath, finally unburdened of all my secrets. I'd tried to watch his face carefully as I'd spoken, at least until the part where I told him I'd seen him naked before. That was hard – but now it was out there. Whatever happened after tonight, it wouldn't be damaged because I'd held anything back.

“So, my turn?” he asked.

“If you still want to talk to me,” I said. “Considering I just told you I've been in love with you for a year and I perved on you and have been wanking over you. You might feel a little weird right now.” His mouth curled into a smile, “Maybe you should hear what I have to say before you beat yourself up too much.”

My toes were under his leg, but were suddenly exposed as he pulled his knees to his chest. I wanted to maintain contact with him – any contact - so I straightened out my legs and covered his feet with my calves. He glanced at me, perhaps heartened by that and started to speak.

“I always had girlfriends before Charlie. When I read the statistic about the chances for someone to be gay going up the more kids there are, I figured if it was going to be anyone it'd be Jamie. So, you can imagine my surprise when Kale came out.”

“Poor Kale, he was probably stressed out.”

Robin smiled, “He was. Totally uptight, he let every fear he'd ever heard of – and a few he probably made up – convince him that we'd reject him. But, of course, in his heart he knew we never would.”

“Of course not. You have a great big brother.”

“Thank you, I know.” Robin glanced up at me and said, “He thinks of you as a little brother too. I think that's made this...issue harder for him. He's basically counseling us over an incident of incest.”

I burst out in nervous giggles and so did Robin. We sobered fairly quickly and he amended, “Well, really I think he felt a little torn because he wanted to be there for both of us. Pretty sure he and Alec had a mind meld.”

I remained silent to that and let him focus, knowing he'd just let off a little steam.

“Anyway. When I felt that first attraction for Charlie I was...bewildered. I wasn't against the idea of being gay or bi or whatever but I'd never really thought of it as it applied to me. I mean,” he sighed and said, “I'd done stuff with girls and liked it. When I fantasized I thought of girls – and then, all of a sudden, here is this boy making me feel like I had been for girls.”

I held my tongue, but was starting to worry that Robin was building up to a nasty conclusion – like he only felt that way for one boy and I wasn't him. That he'd even tried to be attracted to me and failed. I tamped down on my worry and decided I wouldn't borrow that trouble.

“So I talked to Kale – which was tough because he'd just come out at school and he and Chase were hanging out with Sasha and Alec all the time.” He smiled, remembering, and said, “Kale was so happy.”

I shifted a little, my position growing uncomfortable, and arranged myself so that I could put my feet over Robin's. I giggled to myself – I was playing footsie. This was reinforced when he wiggled his toes against mine.

“Anyway, we talked and he gave me some advice. Everyone knows it worked out, but...” He glanced up at me and said, “People don't know a lot of private things about couples, you know? Like how others don't know what you...saw and how you felt about that.”

I squirmed.

“Lucien,” Robin's lips trembled and then curled up at the corners. “Did you tell anyone?”

“I...uh...maybe Alec.”

“Oh. Oh boy.” He tilted his head back and chuckled.

“What?”

“I told you how much Alec and Kale have been talking, right?”

“Yeah, but Alec wouldn't...you're not saying...Kale knows?” I said, my voice rising.

“Not just that – if Kale knows and Alec knows...”

I slumped, “Then so do Sasha and Chase.”

“Yeah.”

“I'm so...why is that funny?”” I said, covering my face as Robin chuckled.

“I'll get there. So, Charlie...” he sighed. “Charlie taught me that the gender wasn't as important as the person. Charlie wasn't really athletic and he was noticeably thin, so maybe not what a lot of guys would see from, like, across the room and have to go talk to him – you understand?”

“Maybe. But I could see why you loved Charlie; it was part of the reason I couldn't hate him. He was a great guy.”

“Yeah, he was,” Robin agreed. With a deep sigh he continued, “So we fooled around as much as we could. We did a lot of the...major things...but his physical attractiveness wasn't the main thing for me.”

I began to think he was about to tell me that he wasn't attracted to me because I was too pretty or something. That would be a first.

“So when you tell me how you fell...for me, it makes me feel good that someone else sees love that way. Although,” he blushed, “it is a real ego boost to hear the way you talk about my parts and pieces.”

“I can say a lot about them,” I offered.

“Maybe another time,” he said gently. “I still have some hard stuff to get through.”

I sat and waited, rubbing one foot over his. Just as a reminder that I was still there, still close.

“When Charlie...died,” he hesitated, “I knew I'd lost something special, something...vital. I felt like I'd never love like that again. I was mad at God and the universe for making Charlie's short life so unhappy.”

“But he was happy with you, Robin,” I said urgently. He reached down and patted my lower leg, and then didn't remove his hand.

“I know. I didn't want to hear how I should get over him. I felt like I had to keep him alive in my heart, and I obsessed over the things we'd done and said. I...” he squeezed my ankle and then moved his hand back into his lap. “I knew you were stuck on me, for a while now.”

“How long?” I asked, dreading the amount of time I'd been looking like a lovesick idiot.

“Uh...last year.”

“Last year?” I said, unbelieving. “Like when last year?”

“Um. You remember when Alec was having us meet, accidentally – on purpose at gym?”

“Are you...are you serious?” I asked, my jaw dropping.

“He wasn't being malicious. I was told it was because everyone was trying to make sure there'd be people to watch out for you in high school.”

“Alec,” I grunted.

“Kale, too. But that wasn't my point. What this all comes back to is...how massively I betrayed you and Charlie.”

“What?” I stared at him. He started to shift, but this time it was me grabbing his ankle and anchoring him in place.

“Lucien...” his voice hitched and he looked down at his hands. “I was hurting so much. Charlie...we'd shared our beds with each other, you know? I was so desperate to feel that again, to feel like Charlie was still there to love me – because I was sure no one would want to love me like he did, no one.” He wiped at his eyes and inhaled deeply, forcing the tears back and holding himself together.

“There was no one else who...wanted me...like that.” He sighed and lifted his eyes to meet mine and said miserably, “I knew what I was doing. I knew you loved me, that you wanted me and so I used you to feel closer to Charlie. I was selfish and self-centered and now I'm so ashamed. I'm sorry.”

He dropped his eyes and we both sat for a moment, digesting the others words. Just as important as what he'd said was what he hadn't said. He'd told me so many weeks ago that I was sweet and beautiful. Outside he'd told me he loved me. I knew I could forgive him – hell, I'd never held it against him. But would he forgive himself?

“Robin, you say you're sorry and I believe you. Do you believe me when I say I'm sorry for my part in this?”

“I don't see what you have to be sorry for,” he sniffed.

“Robin...I'm asking for your forgiveness.”

“You have it, even though I don't know what for.”

“I had to know because,” I shifted on the bed, letting his leg go but pulling his arm towards me, dragging him up to lie next to me. I lined us up, side by side, and looked in his eyes. “I had to know because you told me I was sweet and beautiful. Then, today, you told me you loved me. I have nothing to forgive you for, but I want you to be able to forgive yourself.”

“How can you say...”

“Robin, I forgive you because I love you.” I stared in his eyes, daring him to look away. He did not.

“You still love me? Even after...everything I did?” he said, and now his voice began to tremble with emotion.

All kinds of flowery, florid prose dashed through my head but I picked out the most important part and said, “Yes. I do.”

His breath shuddered out and then he was pulling me to him, holding me. I felt his chest shaking against mine and I stroked his back and touched his hair, trying to comfort him. He pulled back and his cheeks were covered with tears. I stroked one track away with my thumb and asked, “Why are you crying?”

“Because you love me. I'm so, so happy that you love me.”

Call it cosmic timing, call it the curse of Alec or just dumb luck, but at that exact moment – in the middle of our ridiculously tender moment, a book crashed down on us. We giggled, and I sat up as Robin rolled onto his back, hand to his chest while he chuckled. I picked up the book and groaned.

“What?” Robin asked, tilting his head up.

“Never mind,” I said.

“No, Lucien, no secrets – not anymore. What?”

“Robin,” I whined. He held his hand out, a stern look plastered to his face. I sighed and handed him the book.

“101 Sex Positions,” Robin giggled. “Alec?” he asked. I nodded.

“He gave it to me to try and get over you.”

“That's dumb.” He put the book aside and smiled. God it was so great to see him smile.

“Want to go outside and make snow angels?”

“Uh...okay.”

We pulled on our shoes and grabbed coats – I was sure we were the first kids in the history of the world to make snow angels in dress clothes. We went out and flopped over on our backs, holding hands, and made snow angels in the front yard. We lay in the preternatural silence as snow flurries began. I felt him tug my hand and I rolled to meet him, lying on our sides in our thin dress clothes in the drifting snow.

“Lucien, you could do a lot better than me.” His eyes dipped down, looking at the snow and he said, “But I wish you wouldn't.”

“Better than...” I pushed him over and pinned him in the snow, looking down on his face. I said, “There isn't anyone better in my eyes.”

His smile. He was smiling at me – for me. I felt the warmth in my chest, my heart filling my entire body with warmth, love for this boy. He shivered and I did too. We went inside, back to my room and tossed our dress clothes aside. Everything was soaking but I hesitated to pull off my underwear. I was about to give Robin a questioning glance when I felt something wet hit the side of my head. I jumped and looked down at the garment – Robin's underwear. Looking up I saw him pulling the blanket up over himself in my bed, smiling.

“Robin,” I said hesitantly.

“No sex,” he said, “probably. I just need you to come warm me up.”

My underwear was getting clammy and I knew that I was going to get hard. I delayed, switched off the over head light, turned on the reading lamp. One more look at Robin, lying on his side, bare shoulders above the covers. Screw it, I pulled down my underwear and slid under the covers, turning my back to him. He didn't slide closer, perhaps thinking I was scared – and I was – but I pushed back until I was touching him.

I felt him move closer, molding his body to mine. His breath was hot on my shoulder, his arm on my chest and holding me close. I brought my hand up and held his, twining our fingers together.

I pulled his hand forward and kissed his fingers, then dragged his arm so he could hold me. His fingertips moved slowly on my chest and I turned over and awkwardly wrapped him in my arms, burying my face in his neck.

“You seem to like that,” Robin said softly. I nodded. “Tell me why?”

“I...this might sound silly, but I like the way you smell. Your skin is...”

“I understand,” he said and kissed my hair. Of course he understood, he was the guy with the experience. He'd had a boyfriend.

“Robin...” I wasn't sure how to ask. I mean, on the one hand here he was naked in my bed – for the second time. The circumstances were different, to be sure, and he'd said he loved me. But I needed to know if he loved me...like that. I needed to hear him say it. But how do you ask something like that?

“What?” he asked, his voice a whisper.

“Do you think you could ever love me...like a boyfriend?”

“Are you talking about sex?” he asked, his nose buried in my hair and his lips making small kisses.

“No...I mean, yeah sometime, but...”

“Oh, you mean like this?” he asked and tilted my head back with his finger under my chin. It was the gentlest kiss, the softest touch. His hand slid from my cheek to the back of my neck, holding me in place. The kiss progressed, not quite to chaste, not quite so sweet and innocent. His tongue probed and I welcomed it. He pulled back slowly, a smile I didn't recognize on his lips.

“What?” I asked breathlessly. “Why'd you stop?”

“I just wondered if I'd answered your question,” he said.

“Tell me again.”

And so he did. We kissed until I felt that I had his answer, undeniably. I rolled over and turned out the beside lamp and then backed up until he was in close behind me.

“So...did you get your answer?” he asked.

I nodded, pushing my back against his chest and pulling his arm around me. I sighed in contentment, reveling in the heat of his body – the silky feel of him pressing himself to me.

“Robin, have I ever told you how beautiful you are?” I asked quietly, wondering if this was going to sound corny – or if it already did.

“Not in words, not to me. I got all my information second hand, and sometimes it came when I was getting teased. But,” he snuggled in and kissed my shoulder causing a shiver to ripple through me, “you've told me when you touched me.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we were in here before, you know...” he hesitated.

“It's okay, Robin. That can't hurt us anymore. Go on.”

“When you touched me...it wasn't exactly the touch someone gives when they've never done it before. It was the touch of someone who'd dreamed about it so many times...it was like you already knew my skin.”

His hand trailed down my side and to my hip as I held the other, fingers entwined. I squeezed his hand softly.

“That's how I knew you loved me. Your touch told me things your words hadn't. You touch parts of me, like my legs, and make them seem like...”

“They're beautiful. Like art,” I said, “Very, very sexy...art.”

“I don't know how you can be...poetic about something like my legs,” he said with a pleased sigh.

“Do you like it when I talk about how beautiful you are?” I asked.

“When you say it, I can almost believe it.”

He adjusted his position, the bottoms of my feet now on the tops of his. His knees pressed into the back of mine and his growing erection was pressed against my cheek. His chest pressed against my back with each breath. I turned my head toward him, his breath now passing past my cheek.

“Robin?”

“Yes, Lucien?” he asked, nuzzling my neck. I loved it when he said my name. His lips moved, he shifted and was now looking down on my eyes.

“I promised them we wouldn't have sex,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, letting a hand wander into my hair.

“I never told them we wouldn't make love. Would you make love to me, Robin?”

The moonlight from the window spilled in, the snow falling outside. Robin's face rose up above me. “You want me to make you mine?”

“Yes. More than anything I want to be yours.”

“Only if you will make me yours, too,” his breath tickled my ear, “Lucien.”

He kissed me, tenderness building to desire. His sweet breath was there, and then the soft, gentle lips covered mine again. His hands moved to explore me and mine moved across his skin, tracing every nuance. I explored the hard planes of his chest and the delicate cheekbones of his face, then drifted to the muscular quiver of his ass. There was a gasp and shudder when I found his hardness. He felt incredible, perfect in my hand. But I was not satisfied just touching, just holding a part of him, even that part. I would not be satisfied with anything quick. I would accept nothing but taking my time to examine each and every part of him.

I pushed myself up, moving him onto his back. I ran my fingertips across his skin, teasing the warm flesh. The moonlight lit him in the most romantic, erotic way and his skin broke out in gooseflesh as my fingers made their delicate path down, down his legs – those magnificent legs! - and then I returned the favor he'd started to give me so many weeks before. As I did I caressed the pretty columns that were his legs, feeling them shudder in testament to the pleasure I was giving him. As I continued, my hands everywhere on him, his excitement and expectation rose, as did mine, and for both of us our emotions grew with them.

I was his and he was mine, we made sure of that throughout that cold night. It was tender and it was sweet, just like Robin himself.

The sun rose as I lay with my head on his chest, my hand gently roving over him. I drifted to sleep thinking: that book was going to come in real handy.

THE END